Evidence for God: Humanness, From a Personal Angle

Part of the extended series Evidence for the Faith

How do we know Christianity is true? What evidence is there for our beliefs? The answers to the first question are as broad-ranging as the question itself. The answers to the second depend on which beliefs we have in mind.

This series is title, in part “Why I Believe.” I don’t intend to stay focused on that for long, since my reasons for belief need not have anything to do with anyone else’s. The real question is Why should I believe, if I should at all, and why should you?

A Personal Reflection
Still I want to kick off this series with a personal reflection before I move into a more formal presentation of a cumulative case for Christianity. I’ll begin with the topic of Christianity and humanness. One reason I’m starting there is because, for me, it was the start of my move from a vague occult agnosticism toward believing in Christ. I want to tell that story as a story, not intending to lay it out with philosophical or evidential rigor, since that wasn’t the way I experienced it at the time. I’ll come back around to the same topic with a formal argument. I expect someone will point out—with great glee and gusto—that there’s no good argument in what I’m sharing here. Let me re-emphasize that I will attempt to produce that kind of blog poset very soon, but it’s not my purpose this time. I want to start this series on a more personal note.

Rejecting the Faith: Church, Alternatives, and Failure
I rejected my parents’ Christian faith when I was a teenager. We had a really poor pastor at our church for far too many years: old (to my eyes), dour, confrontational, and insensitive, even to the point of asking the mother of a friend of mine, the Saturday after the dad had committed suicide, if she might want to sell him her deceased husband’s boat since she “probably wouldn’t be wanting it much now.” That made it hard to think very highly of Christianity.

Meanwhile I was disocvering an enticing alternative in the occult. My brother and I read every book we could get our hands on about Ruth Montgomery, Jeane Dixon, Edgar Cayce, and other spiritualists and psychics. We had a ouija board, and we dabbled in seances. It was all great fun, but it also led me to set Christianity on a shelf.

Neither of those facotrs, however, was nearly the barrier to belief that my own disappointment with Christianity kept proving to be. I was a “brain” at school, and just about the least athletic kid on the playground. I had good friends at school and around home, but being small and slow, I learned early on to be careful who I offended. Don’t get on the big kids’ bad side: that was my credo. I knew how I could get hurt if I messed that up.

From what I had learned at church from a young age, I gathered that God was way bigger than any of the big kids I’d learned to be cautious around. So I did my best not to get on his bad side.

It didn’t work.

I knew right and wrong. On the surface I did okay, but inside I knew I wasn’t meeting the Christian standard (or what I thought it was, at the time). I’d prefer not to go into details; they don’t matter now anyway. What matters is how many nights I lay awake, beating myself up for not measuring up. Finally I gave up.

It wasn’t working. I still went to church because my family expected it, and because it was a place to sing and occasionally to play trombone, which was my real love at the time—I studied the instrument in college and played professionally for a while—but there was nothing spiritual about it.

Human Needs Met and Unmet
I turned away from Christianity because it failed to meet my human needs. Now, though when I consider why I believe, what comes to mind before anything else is how well it meets human needs—far better than any other worldview.

A Fun Digression—With a Point
The turning point for me was when I went to college, on my own, free from parental oversight, able to make my own decisions for my own reasons. I had a girlfriend at the time, a year younger than me, living back home while I was at school ninety miles away. One day she came for a visit. She and I sat down on opposite ends of my bed to talk. We kept a circumspect distance from each other. My roommate, Wayne, whom I had known only a few weeks, took the courteous route and excused himself. (This story ties in to my faith journey, you’ll see in a moment. In the meantime it’s just fun to tell it.)

Debbie and I talked for a while, and then I took her on a walk to show her the music buildings. Michigan State University is a very large school, and the two music buildings were about a three-quarter mile walk from my dorm. We toured them, then came back to the room, and sat down to rest and talk, just as we had been. Wayne opened the door, saw us there, said a rather embarrased “Excuse me!” and quickly left.

After a short break, Debbie and I went to visit my brother, living off campus a little over a mile’s walk away. We spent some time with him, then returned to the room, seating ourselves on the bed again, not touching one another. It wasn’t long before Wayne opened the door, saw us there, said a rather embarrased “Excuse me!” and quickly left.

MSU was a Gilson family tradition: my sister was studying there, too. So a while later we walked over to Barb’s place, which was even further. If I remember right, we had dinner with her and her husband. Then it was back to my room, where we assumed our same semi-distant positions on my bed. Wayne opened the door, saw us there, said a rather embarrased “Excuse me!” and quickly left.

Debbie left to go home not long after. When Wayne came back, he had just one question: “Were you two sitting there on your bed just talking like that the whole day?”

From his perspective we had behaved ourselves rather amazingly, sharing a bed the whole day (or so he thought) without ever touching. And maybe it was amazing—although I did have family members nearby who would have known if we hadn’t shown up as expected.

What Does It Really Mean To Do RIght? And Why?
Later I asked myself, “Why behave? Why do right” It wasn’t just a question about touching, or even about casual sex. It was deeper and rougher than that. I tried to think of some reason to do what I had been told was right, and I couldn’t come up with one. It occurred to me that if I had chosen something even as violent as rape, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate a good reason not to do it.

I’ve shared this story before, and someone told me, “Look, Tom, if you can’t think of any good reason not to rape a woman, you’re hardly even human. It’s obvious enough to the rest of us.” For me at the time, though it was a tough call. It was tough partly because I knew violence of that sort was wrong. I had no trouble with that. When I asked myself just what it meant to be wrong, though, I had trouble coming up with an answer. I could get caught, which would be bad news for me; but I took the question deeper: If I knew I’d never get caught, would I know it was wrong? . It would hurt the woman, obviously, and I knew I was supposed to care about that—and I did care about it, believe me—but what if I hadn’t? (There are far too many men who don’t!) What principle would stop me from harming her? I couldn’t think of one.

It Takes God For It To Make Sense
I was still at a stage of rejecting Christianity, but it came to me then that if there was no God, then right and wrong were probably a matter of what one preferred to do, what one could live with himself doing, and what he thought he could get away with. That made perfect rational sense to me. Indeed, I’ve had many atheists (not all, but many) argue that position in the years I’ve been blogging. There was only one problem: I knew it was wrong. I knew it was wrong. I knew there was something actually bad, evil, wrong—however you want to put it—about doing harm to another human being. And the only way I could make sense of it being actually wrong was if there was such a thing as real right and real wrong, which, it seemed to me at the time, required that there be a God.

It was a few weeks later that friends of mine shared how I could know God in a new way, a way of grace and forgiveness, not failure and beating myself up. I won’t go into that whole story now. Still I wondered whether I had been right about my moral conclusions: couldn’t there be some way to get to real right and wrong apart from God? I took an ethics course the next semester, in which we studied Kant’s categorical imperative, Mill’s utilitarianism, and de Beauvoir’s “ethics of ambiguity.” All it did was seal my conclusion: there was nothing in their systems, apart from God, that produced a real right and wrong.

Force-Fit or Naturally Fit?
I think just about everyone believes that right and wrong are real. If they don’t, it’s because they’ve talked themselves out of it with some difficulty in order to accommodate a worldview where real right and wrong don’t fit. Frankly I think they can make that work, to a degree. It’s just that what we all know about morality—that it’s real—fits far better in a theistic system than in any other. Moral reality can be hammered uncomfortably into non-theistic systems. It fits comfortably in a universe where a good God is the foundation for all reality.

That’s one of my reasons for belief, told in story form rather than with any attempt at philosophical rigor. I’m still promising to come back soon with a more systematic argument. Maybe you know me better now, though.

Evidence for the Faith
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Comments 229
  1. Bill L

    This is a good post Tom. I look forward to the others to come. Now I am not saying this disproves anything, but I do find some things interesting and I have long wondered about them…

    One, you say that you dabbled in the occult. I have long wondered if there is a tendency among some portion of the population to believe in or have an inclination towards agenticity and patternicity; more specifically, I wonder if there is an identifiable subset that is less inclined to believe in them. I think agenticity and patternicity are likely the norm in humans as an evolved survival trait. I have never really felt that so many of the things many people believed in were likely real (from the ghosts my mother believed in, to the ESP that many of my friends believed in). I’m not saying this makes me right (in fact it may make me wrong). I am just wondering if in your experience as a psychologist you have found these traits more common in people who either are or become religious believers.

    Two, you mention your early need to not make others angry – it seems especially those in authority or power. This is also something I have long wondered about. Do you think there may be a commonality among believers (of any religion or supernatural phenomena) to tend to err on the side of belief (thus avoiding a type II error)? I ask you this with respect to your profession as a psychologist.

    Thanks a bunch

  2. BillT

    …but it came to me then that if there was no God, then right and wrong were probably a matter of what one preferred to do, what one could live with himself doing, and what he thought he could get away with.

    And people wondered why I posted quotes from Ted Bundy that said exactly the same thing. How far are really any of us from that. Ok, maybe not what Ted Bundy did but from cutting corners in a lot of other places, some of them very bad places.

  3. G. Rodrigues

    @BillT:

    How far are really any of us from that.

    When for example, I watch a fantastic display of irrationality on this very blog — and I have watched many — the proper response should be to dress up in sackcloth, sit on cold ashes, beat on the chest in lament and repeat ad infinitum “But for the grace of God there go I”.

  4. JAD

    From the OP:

    I think just about everyone believes that right and wrong are real. If they don’t, it’s because they’ve talked themselves out of it with some difficulty in order to accommodate a worldview where real right and wrong don’t fit. Frankly I think they can make that work, to a degree. It’s just that what we all know about morality—that it’s real—fits far better in a theistic system than in any other. Moral reality can be hammered uncomfortably into non-theistic systems. It fits comfortably in a universe where a good God is the foundation for all reality.

    In other words, if a non-theist, like Sam Harris, wishes to have moral system, which has an objective basis, he must, so to speak, “reinvent the wheel.” But of course, then we are confronted with the problem: Is Sam Harris’ moral system objective because objective moral values really exist apart from him and he just knows that, or is it because that is what Mr. Harris, as another mortal human being, claims? However, if Sam Harris (who BTW hates religion) were God, man’s creator, he wouldn’t have that problem. This just goes to illustrate the irony that man beginning with man is an insufficient basis for human morality.

  5. BillT

    ..the proper response should be to dress up in sackcloth, sit on cold ashes, beat on the chest in lament and repeat ad infinitum“But for the grace of God there go I”.

    And I just hate that sackcloth and ashes stuff!

  6. SteveK

    Good thoughts, Tom. The moral sense is probably what drives most of us toward concluding that God is a reality. That, and the inability to fit that perception into an objectively godless reality that lacks purpose. It does that for me.

  7. Andrew W

    “Look, Tom, if you can’t think of any good reason not to rape a woman, you’re hardly even human. It’s obvious enough to the rest of us.”

    What we often miss is how much this statement assumes. The desire to protect one’s own is almost universal to humanity. But there are many, many moral systems where those who are not “one’s own” are fair game, if you’re strong enough to get away with it.

    One of the core ideas of Christian justice is that everyone – no matter how flawed – is God’s own, and no-one is strong enough to get away with mistreating what is God’s.

  8. Bill L

    Tom,

    I didn’t mean to sound rhetorical in #1. I really am hoping you will answer those two questions (even if the answer is just ‘I don’t know’).

    Thanks

  9. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    Good read. Am going to enjoy this as it unfolds.

    My only real question regarding this post is the word “humanness” in the title. Do you not think animals, especially mammals and primates can have these same thoughts? Not in the same way, obviously (different language, different brain size, etc) but the inherent empathy involved in not doing “bad” things to others? Does your belief that God made man in his image rest fairly solidly in the fact that these things are solely in our minds?

    If so, what are your thoughts on all the evidences of primates sharing these thoughts/traits? And if not then what does make us “special”?

    Cheers
    Shane

  10. Tom Gilson

    No, I do not think there’s the slightest evidence that animals have a rational and moral life that comes anywhere within the same galactic region of humans’. I don’t think there could even be any controversy about this.

    I don’t want to go down an orangutan trail, so I’ll answer your final paragraph simply by saying that primate experiments’ results have often been oversold (I’ll leave that homework to you), and even at their best they do not show any of the great apes caring much about, for example, conducting research to discover whether other primates are rational.

  11. Larry Tanner

    I see this assertion, but I cannot tell from the OP what its essential context is:

    I think just about everyone believes that right and wrong are real.

    What makes you think this?

    “Real” in what sense?

    If everyone believes that right and wrong are real, does that provide any indication that they are real?

    If wrong has reality in the sense you mean, does wrong have the same ultimate creative source as right?

  12. JAD

    I believe Tom was referring to objective moral values. According to W.L. Craig,

    To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them.

    Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/our-grasp-of-objective-moral-values#ixzz2sewJQxTT

    I think Craig answers a couple of the questions you raise.

  13. Larry Tanner

    JAD,

    On the contrary, that WLC passage raises some of the same questions and answers none. For example, the question of the reality of good and evil are not addressed at all. WLC does not even use the words “real” or “reality.”

  14. Tom Gilson

    JAD is correct.

    To answer your question further, good has objective reality in that it is an aspect of the eternal character of God. As such it is fundamental to the furniture of creation, so to speak, because it is fundamental to the nature of the creator. God is purely good, there is no taint or shadow of evil in him.

    Evil has no independent reality, rather it is the privation of good, somewhat as darkness is the privation of light. Evil is real in the sense that there can be real privation.

  15. Ordinaryseeker

    JAD,
    If what you quote is true, then what Tom has said is false, for it would mean that things we intuitively feel are good in our lives right now could be only what we have been brainwashed into believing is good and not what is “really” good.

  16. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “No, I do not think there’s the slightest evidence that animals have a rational and moral life that comes anywhere within the same galactic region of humans’. I don’t think there could even be any controversy about this.

    Well you’d be wrong. lol I won’t expand on this here because it’s not what this post is about, but have you spoken on this before in a thread where I can reply?

    Cheers
    Shane

  17. Tom Gilson

    LOL all you like.

    Look, I know there could be controversy about anything. Apparently there can be controversy over whether it’s provable that you don’t have a Loch Ness monster in your living room. I don’t mean that it’s impossible to find someone on the web with another position. I mean that there’s no rational room for controversy.

    Oh, and if your point of controversy means you disagree over the size of “galactic region,” just let it go. If you can’t see a large, huge, very significant difference (which is what I meant there) between humans’ rational and moral lives, and the rational and moral life of any animal, then you are forcing your eyes not to see what’s clearly there.

    As I said previously, our research doesn’t show “any of the great apes caring much about, for example, conducting research to discover whether other primates are rational.”

  18. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “LOL all you like.”

    I will, thanks. I’m a pretty happy guy.

    “I mean that there’s no rational room for controversy.”
    “If you can’t see a large, huge, very significant difference (which is what I meant there) between humans’ rational and moral lives, and the rational and moral life of any animal, then you are forcing your eyes not to see what’s clearly there.”

    Then it should be pretty easy to show me the rational and moral behaviours people have that primates don’t.

    “any of the great apes caring much about, for example, conducting research to discover whether other primates are rational.”

    There’s a great line in the Hitchhikers Guide comparing the lives of men and dolphins and each of them thinking they are the smarter species when looking at the same data. But I will give you that our study of other animals rationality and morality is evidence of a larger IQ in our case, which is not in doubt. I don’t believe it’s an example of greater rationality and certainly not morality.

    Cheers
    Shane

  19. Tom Gilson

    Shane,

    Perhaps you mean that animals have less immorality than humans: they don’t go to war, for example. The fact remains that humans’ mental lives exhibit considerably more reflection on morality. By “considerably,” I mean different galactic neighborhoods again.

    And perhaps you mean that animals exhibit less irrationality than humans. Perhaps you mean they don’t make errors of reasoning. If so, that would be for the same reason I don’t make errors of grammar in Portuguese: I don’t know enough Portuguese to make grammatical errors in that language. (I do make grammatical errors in German.)

    Or perhaps you mean something other than that. If so, then I’d like to know what it is.

  20. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    I am an evolutionist who does not believe in God. I believe humans evolved over time. Our bodies are the result of selective pressures during breeding that meant certain genes were better at getting themselves reproduced. Our brains, and therefore our minds, were crafted the same way. As such our minds are similar in function to the animals closest to us on the genetic family tree, in the same way our bodies are.

    “Perhaps you mean that animals have less immorality than humans: they don’t go to war, for example. The fact remains that humans’ mental lives exhibit considerably more reflection on morality. By “considerably,” I mean different galactic neighborhoods again.”

    I am not trying to pick a winner in the morality stakes, but just say that primates have a morality. The fact that mammals have a morality, and the closer they are related to us, the more similar it is to ours, is evidence that it evolved with us instead of being something endowed upon us from God. Also, reflecting on morality does not equate to being more moral. I think you have said that inbuilt human morals come from being made in God’s image rather than the result of any time spent thinking about them.

    Also, I’m talking about species as a whole. Individual members in any “higher” species have their own personality. There are primates who are considerate and kind and primates who are jerks, just like people. I think this adds to the argument that the minds of people and other animals came from a common ancestor.

    “And perhaps you mean that animals exhibit less irrationality than humans. Perhaps you mean they don’t make errors of reasoning. If so, that would be for the same reason I don’t make errors of grammar in Portuguese: I don’t know enough Portuguese to make grammatical errors in that language. (I do make grammatical errors in German.)”

    Again, I’m not trying to rank species, but just show that both species behave rationally. They remember. They problem solve. They use tools. This is evidence that rationality evolved over time with the brain.

    Morals and rationality cannot be part of the “humanness” if they are apparent in other animals. If primates inherently know rape is wrong in the same way people know rape is wrong then the most likely explanation is that both our minds came from a common ancestor with that innate moral. This is what you would expect from evolution.

    Cheers
    Shane

  21. JAD

    Shane’s appeal to the hypothetical evolutionary origin of morality in animals or humans begs the question of whether objective moral values exist. I would argue that if human morality is the result of some kind of mindless evolutionary process (and i think that is highly questionable) then there cannot be objective moral values. At best moral values, duties and obligations are the result of some kind a herd instinct or “group think”. But if that is true, what makes our group think any better than Nazi group think? “Evolutionary morality” then leaves us with an unresolvable dilemma.

  22. BillT

    If primates inherently know rape is wrong in the same way people know rape is wrong then the most likely explanation is that both our minds came from a common ancestor with that innate moral.

    How would or do you know primates “inherently know rape is wrong.” Is there some or any evidence that this is true? This is utterly absurd. The dominant male mates with whoever he can and if replaced that dominant male will do the same. Rape involves an intentional violation of the will of the victim. Where is there any knowledge of either the “intention” or the “will” aspects. This is nonsense.

    And that on top of that the idea of evolved morality violates what is known about evolution. For morality to evolve it would have to evolve among groups but evolution works only on individuals. An individual with an evolving morality would have no reproductive advantage if not a very distinct disadvantage.

  23. Bill L

    BillT

    I will not deal with your first paragraph. I also do not know if it is true or not, or just a hypothetical. But I do want to address this:

    And that on top of that the idea of evolved morality violates what is known about evolution. For morality to evolve it would have to evolve among groups but evolution works only on individuals. An individual with an evolving morality would have no reproductive advantage if not a very distinct disadvantage.

    You are right that evolutionary traits evolve in individuals. But if in those individuals, a better reproductive advantage is conferred, then those offspring will become the new group. The idea with an evolved morality is that evolved cooperation (among other things such as traits for social cohesion) gave a competitive advantage.

    I really recommend Matt Ridley’s “The Origins of Virtue” if you have the time.

  24. Tom Gilson

    The problem with that theory, Bill L, is that there’s no clear connection between competitive advantage and goodness. Consider The Planet of the Apes, where apes’ advantage was not considered an expression of moral goodness.

  25. Shane Fletcher

    Hi JAD,

    “I would argue that if human morality is the result of some kind of mindless evolutionary process (and i think that is highly questionable) then there cannot be objective moral values. At best moral values, duties and obligations are the result of some kind a herd instinct or “group think”. But if that is true, what makes our group think any better than Nazi group think?”

    I think you are right. There are no objective morals handed down from an external source. They are part of the evolutionary process which would mean that these morals are more likely to propagate the genes that drive them. Likewise the genes that promote “immoral” behaviour, such as the “Nazi group think” that murder is okay either leads to diminished chance of those genes being passed on, or the extinction of that species. Cannibalism is inherently viewed upon as wrong by almost all cultures today. I would suggest it is because a culture where that is acceptable would soon die out.

    “Evolutionary morality” then leaves us with an unresolvable dilemma.”

    Which is what?

    Cheers
    Shane

  26. Shane Fletcher

    Hi BillT,

    “How would or do you know primates “inherently know rape is wrong.” Is there some or any evidence that this is true? This is utterly absurd. The dominant male mates with whoever he can and if replaced that dominant male will do the same. Rape involves an intentional violation of the will of the victim. Where is there any knowledge of either the “intention” or the “will” aspects. This is nonsense.”

    You don’t believe female apes can turn down a male who wants to have intercourse? You don’t think a male ape could then overpower the female to force himself upon her? Or you don’t think that this would be obvious to a human observer?

    “And that on top of that the idea of evolved morality violates what is known about evolution. For morality to evolve it would have to evolve among groups but evolution works only on individuals. An individual with an evolving morality would have no reproductive advantage if not a very distinct disadvantage.

    I believe you are confusing reproductive advantage with survival advantage. Peacocks have enormous colourful tails because the peahens choose the males with most colourful plumage to mate with. No-one would deny that having that huge tail is a disadvantage to the bird because it makes it easier prey to predators but the genes for larger brighter tails are being passed on more than those of smaller plainer tails, because of sexual selection. The same thing is seen in many varieties of tropical fish where the female is drab and unassuming but the male of the species is bright and colourful with long fins.

    All that’s needed for morals to evolve is for it to be a trait that makes it more likely that a female will mate with a male. This of course, is only true if rape is not commonplace. Of the male can force himself upon any female he wants, then there is no sexual selection in play.

    Cheers
    Shane

  27. Tom Gilson

    But what makes “reproductive advantage” become “morality”? Is morality anything other than a labeling behavior by which we encourage other behaviors that support reproductive fitness? I contend that on evolution, that’s exactly what it is: it is a behavior, it involves a label, thus it is a labeling behavior; and its purpose, as you have said, is to support reproductive advantage.

    We could just as well label beakers in the lab: “viable sperm” and “non-viable sperm.” It’s just a label. With “right” and “wrong” we don’t label beakers, we label behaviors, but for exactly the same purpose.

    The thing is, there’s nothing in there that has anything to do with rightness or wrongness, other than their being the chosen labels. And the problem with that is that we all know that “right” and “wrong” are more than labeling behaviors.

  28. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “And the problem with that is that we all know that “right” and “wrong” are more than labeling behaviors.”

    In what way are they more than labels attached to behaviours?

    Cheers
    Shane

  29. JAD

    Shane,

    If there are no objective moral values you cannot say that the Nazi’s were wrong. They certainly did not think they were wrong. They lost WW II not because of genetics but because the Allies, who had a different set of moral values and beliefs, beat them. Following your logic we’d have to conclude that had the Nazi’s won WW II (and they easily could have), and had become a dominant world power, then antisemitism would be an acceptable moral belief.

    Darwinian evolution, according to several prominent Darwinian thinkers– E.O. Wilson, William Provine, Michael Ruse etc. is not concerned moral truth, or the rightness or wrongness of moral values. It’s only “concerned” with survival. Indeed natural selection is completely impersonal. It’s not concerned about anything.

  30. Tom Gilson

    Shane, they are more than labels because (according to Richard Joyce’s perceptive analysis),

    Moral judgments (as public utterances) are often ways of expressing conative attitudess, such as approval, contempt, or more generally, subscription to standards; moral judgments nevertheless also express beliefs; i.e., they are assertions.
    Moral judgments pertaining to action purport to be deliberative considerations irrespective of the interests/ends of those to whom they are directed; thus they are not pieces of prudential advice.
    Moral judgments purport to be inescapable; there is no “opting out.”
    Moral judgments purport to transccend human conventions.
    Moral judgments centrally govern interpersonal relations; they seem designed to combat rampant individualism in particular.
    Moral judgments imply notions of “desert” and “justice” (a system of “punishments and rewards”).
    For creatures like us, the emotion of guilt (or “a moral conscience”) is an important mechanism for regulating one’s moral conduct.

    Further from his book Evolutionary Morality:

    What is a moral judgment?
    ` Practical clout (57)
    63: Whatever kind of practical oomph moral prescriptions are imbued with, it doesn’t have its source in internal or external sanctions, nor in some institution’s inviolable rules, nor in the desires or goals of the person to whom it is addressed.

  31. Bill L

    Tom,

    @30, you are right… there is no clear connection with “goodness” in some platonic ideal. But this is not a problem for the theory. Though it may be a problem for “objective” morality.

  32. Shane Fletcher

    Hi JAD,

    “If there are no objective moral values you cannot say that the Nazi’s were wrong.”

    Why can I not say they were wrong according to my subjective moral values?

    Cheers
    Shane

  33. Shane Fletcher

    Hi BillT,

    To keep it short and to the point.

    As a rule male primates don’t force female ones to have unwanted sex.

    If the female of the species is more likely to mate with a male that is more moral than his counterparts then this gives the individual with evolving morality a reproductive advantage.

    Cheers
    Shane

  34. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “Justice (and the associated notion of desert), in particular, seems to transcend labeling.”

    I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble following this. Are you saying because it’s subtle or hard to quantify it can’t have evolved over time and primates don’t show examples of it?

    Cheers
    Shane

  35. BillT

    If the female of the species is more likely to mate with a male that is more moral than his counterparts then this gives the individual with evolving morality a reproductive advantage.

    “If”, indeed. But how would you know this? You don’t and can’t or even know if primates “choose” to mate in any way that even approximates the choices humans make. This is nothing but wild speculation without a shred of evidence. And I believe your beliefs about whether primates “force” females to have sex is equally without a factual basis based on the same above lack of ability to quantify “choice” in any way.

  36. JAD

    Shane @ #40 re: #35,

    Why can I not say they were wrong according to my subjective moral values?

    Then you cannot say that the Nazi’s were really wrong or what they did was really evil. It’s just a matter of your opinion. I think that is a dishonest and morally irresponsible position. Obviously you are not a moral person. How can you be? You don’t believe that morality really exists.

  37. Ethan

    I don’t know… I’ve been following these discussions the past few days and I’m still confused… Does Shane appeal to a standard or not? He says he doesn’t, then he says he does. From what I can gather, he’s trying to defend some sort of subjective morality that was passed down to him via natural selection. Somehow the female apes rejected all the jerk male apes and voila millions of years later he’s aware that the Nazis too were jerks…

  38. Shane Fletcher

    Hi BillT,

    ““If”, indeed. But how would you know this? You don’t and can’t or even know if primates “choose” to mate in any way that even approximates the choices humans make. This is nothing but wild speculation without a shred of evidence.”

    I don’t believe that Peahens make a choice to mate with peacocks with large tail feathers in the same way we choose. But whatever primeval drive the peahen has to choose a partner in this way has affected the genetic make up of the species. The evidence is undeniable.

    Male bower birds make elaborate nests to attract a mate. Large structures decorated with bright and shiny objects. The female chooses a mate based on the structure, and immaterial of the cognitive reasons for her choice, she is genetically altering the behaviour of her species by deciding which male to mate with. Again, that is undeniable.

    If a female chimpanzee can choose who mates with her AND chooses males who are more “moral” then she can influence the genetic behaviour of the following generations. The cognitive reasons behind the choice are immaterial.

    “And I believe your beliefs about whether primates “force” females to have sex is equally without a factual basis based on the same above lack of ability to quantify “choice” in any way.”

    Male primates have to woo a female. She accepts or rejects the proposition. That is a basic choice that I didn’t think required any quantification. However, If the male tries to drag her away and force himself upon her she will fight back and call out for help. Is that a clearer quantification of her choice not to have sex? Then others in the group will come to her aid. The offender will be punished. The victim will be comforted. All things that would happen in a society with “morals”.

    Cheers
    Shane

  39. Shane Fletcher

    Hi JAD,

    “Then you cannot say that the Nazi’s were really wrong or what they did was really evil. It’s just a matter of your opinion.”

    Obviously it’s my opinion. Why does that mean I cannot have one? I thought it was a basic tenant of any free society that everyone was entitled to one.

    How is your belief in what is right or wrong based in God any less of a personal opinion?

    “I think that is a dishonest and morally irresponsible position.”

    You will need to explain why.

    “Obviously you are not a moral person. How can you be? You don’t believe that morality really exists.”

    You have jumped from my having a subjective morality to my believing morality doesn’t exist. They are two different, and by necessity contradictory things. I would like to hear how you made that jump.

    Cheers
    Shane

  40. Shane Fletcher

    #46

    Hi Ethan. Pleasure to meet you.

    “I don’t know… I’ve been following these discussions the past few days and I’m still confused… Does Shane appeal to a standard or not? He says he doesn’t, then he says he does. From what I can gather, he’s trying to defend some sort of subjective morality that was passed down to him via natural selection. Somehow the female apes rejected all the jerk male apes and voila millions of years later he’s aware that the Nazis too were jerks…

    My position is this:

    The evidence that all life on earth is a cousin of all other life on earth through common ancestry is overwhelming.
    There are “infinite” examples of natural selection at work which shape both physicality and/or behaviour.
    The closest cousins are those who share an ancestor with us most recently in the past, and therefore are the most similar to us, physically and mentally.
    Primates are our closest cousins, and they share many physical and mental traits.

    Now In Tom’s post his young self had trouble articulating why he knew instinctively that rape was wrong. He gives the credit to God for laying this unconscious “truth” in his mind (or soul if he believes it resides there). But then the question remains why do primates have this same “truth”? It is my position that the reason he “knows” rape is wrong AND primates “know” rape is wrong is because we share an ancestry where this “knowledge” originated. Because the alternatives are:

    God bestowed these morals on animals other than man, which decreases (or eliminates?) our place as special on the earth.
    Or God bestowed these morals on man but they evolved independently in the primates we see today. This removes the specialness of God’s gift to man.

    We have no problems accepting that primates and man both have opposable thumbs because we share a common ancestor that had one. Likewise it makes sense that we share a sense of morality because of our common ancestry.

    Cheers
    Shane

  41. Tom Gilson

    Shane @#40, which I quote in full:

    Hi JAD,

    “If there are no objective moral values you cannot say that the Nazi’s were wrong.”

    Why can I not say they were wrong according to my subjective moral values?

    Cheers
    Shane

    I thought this might be a good time to ask you whether you had noticed that you may be the only person on any blog anywhere who signs every comment with “Cheers” and his or her name. When you attach it to a short comment like this it just seems wrong, and when you do it repeatedly, it gets really, really annoying. I’m going to require you now to stop it, period.

    Got it?

  42. Oisin

    I thought the sign-of was an important part of his posts, expressing politeness and cordiality. I find it upsetting that this annoyed you enough to make him stop.

  43. Tom Gilson

    You’re ducking the question. Was it wrong?

    You see, Shane, I actually don’t mind one bit if you use the Cheers, Shane, signoff. If you haven’t deduced it by now, it was a ploy on my part, in which I did something I thought you might consider wrong, in hopes you would call it wrong. My ploy failed, and so I have gained nothing by it. I do hope you’ll feel free to return to your favored signoff. Please accept my apologies for using you in that manner.

    I still wonder, though, whether you have ever said, “That was wrong!” Or, “That was really right!” with respect to some person’s morally significant decision. Have you?

  44. Billy Squibs

    A good ploy but it was doomed to failure. There was never enough at stake. You have to deny the validity of the things that the subjective moralist holds most dear. You must appear to trample on their most cherished beliefs.

    Shane Fletcher:

    God bestowed these morals on animals other than man, which decreases (or eliminates?) our place as special on the earth.
    Or God bestowed these morals on man but they evolved independently in the primates we see today. This removes the specialness of God’s gift to man.

    I find this quote irritating because it’s pretending to be something that it’s not. Instead of including the opinions of Christians who might have something else to say on the matter – and thus representing the views of your opponents – your list demonstrates your particular bias about what constitutes special.

    This said I think your general argument regarding the evolutionary basis of morality is compelling (at least to my limited knowledge) and therefore has some theological and philosophical heft. I admit that the notion that other animals such as apes experience emotions similar to ours is personally challenging (I would highly recommend watching the brilliant documentary Project Nim) but not in the way you have outlined above.

    But it’s not all bad news. If you are correct then poor Oisin who was upset a while back can take heart. Whatever sense of injustice he may have felt was just an evolutionary artefact. One that can be overcome! You just have to realise that it’s a cunning trick of nature.

  45. Bill L

    Even if a strict materialist who did not believe in any kind of “objective” morality were to feel in his deepest feelings that something is wrong, it will remain that – wrong to whom it really matters. He sees it as the duty and responsibility then to convince others that his position is correct in the sense of achieving the highest morality – harmony and happiness among his fellow humans, and other sentient creatures.

    That is why the ploy was doomed to fail. Pointing out that there may be no cosmological morality in no way diminishes what one feels and thinks. That is what many see as our humanness from a personal angle.

  46. Ethan

    Bill L,

    This was addressed above with regards to Nazism. What’s wrong to some people isn’t wrong to others. What’s wrong to an agreed group of people isn’t wrong to another. Your argument is basically the same as Shane’s unless you mean something more by “deepest feelings”

  47. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “You see, Shane, I actually don’t mind one bit if you use the Cheers, Shane, signoff. If you haven’t deduced it by now, it was a ploy on my part, in which I did something I thought you might consider wrong, in hopes you would call it wrong. My ploy failed, and so I have gained nothing by it. I do hope you’ll feel free to return to your favored signoff. Please accept my apologies for using you in that manner.”

    Wow. My father-in-law always called me naive. I’m sure he would feel justified in this with yet another example of me taking things at face value and not looking at the layers beyond. This perhaps says things about my particular belief system. But I stand by my reply above, which is that this blog is your personal property and the rest of us are visitors. We need to respect your rules.

    Apology accepted. It was a reasonable idea to try and make a point. I would try and list my exact thoughts in order but I don’t trust myself to objectively remember them now with this new information. I do remember feeling bad for upsetting you and any other member of the forum that might have found my actions annoying. I wondered why you hadn’t mentioned it before in a more relaxed manner rather than waiting until “the camels back was broken”. I’m sure I felt upset at the time, but right now I can’t quantify if that was a feeling of injustice or “being wronged” or of embarrassment and guilt on my part for upsetting you.

    Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was meant to distract me. The thread discussion regarding the “proof of negatives” has just ended (for the moment?) after my last posts which I think clearly define my thoughts on the matter (apart from a comment from Bill L) and your “rebuke” was posted here after a couple of clarify thoughts from me on the evolution of morality. At the time it seemed like a way of trying to change the subject. I’m sure you can see how I jumped to that conclusion, and can accept my apology for those thoughts. You were obviously unaware of them, but I feel the need to air them none the less.

    “I still wonder, though, whether you have ever said, “That was wrong!” Or, “That was really right!” with respect to some person’s morally significant decision. Have you?”

    All the time. As I said above, the nazi’s were wrong. FGM is wrong. Tattooing and piercing of infants is wrong. I agree that all the people that do these things think they are right in doing so and I disagree with them because they are infringing on someone else’s freedom, even if that someone is their own child. And by freedom infringement I mean on a permanent level, not in the sense of grounding a teenager for misbehaving or not letting them eat chocolate whenever they want. These things are different to locking a child in a basement for years or starving them for weeks on end.

    I don’t think I’m answering your question in the way you want me to, though. How about your objections to gay marriage … You make that choice for moral reasons and I definitely think you are wrong. Is that closer to the mark?

    Cheers 🙂
    Shane

  48. Shane Fletcher

    #59

    Hi Billy Squibs

    “A good ploy but it was doomed to failure. There was never enough at stake. You have to deny the validity of the things that the subjective moralist holds most dear. You must appear to trample on their most cherished beliefs.”

    This is a good point. My most cherished belief is that people should be free to live how they choose as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others. Feel free to pick an example to show that I am wrong, or at least hypocritical with regard to an example.

    “I find this quote irritating because it’s pretending to be something that it’s not. Instead of including the opinions of Christians who might have something else to say on the matter – and thus representing the views of your opponents – your list demonstrates your particular bias about what constitutes special.”

    Sorry it irritated you. I think it is heavily implied that everyone’s posts on a blog or forum start with the words “I think/believe …” I welcome all contrary opinions and the evidence to back them up. I’m sure you will agree that I cannot know the opinions of all other Christians and therefore cannot hope to include them in my own thoughts on the matter.

    “This said I think your general argument regarding the evolutionary basis of morality is compelling (at least to my limited knowledge) and therefore has some theological and philosophical heft. I admit that the notion that other animals such as apes experience emotions similar to ours is personally challenging (I would highly recommend watching the brilliant documentary Project Nim) but not in the way you have outlined above.

    I would love to hear you expand or clarify this.

    Cheers
    Shane

  49. Shane Fletcher

    #61

    Hi Ethan,

    “This was addressed above with regards to Nazism. What’s wrong to some people isn’t wrong to others. What’s wrong to an agreed group of people isn’t wrong to another. Your argument is basically the same as Shane’s unless you mean something more by “deepest feelings””

    Bill L was clarifying my point, so yes the argument is the same. The question to you is, what is incorrect with my argument?

    Cheers
    Shane

  50. Bill L

    Ethan,

    You are correct. As difficult as that argument may be to accept, it just may be true.

  51. Ethan

    Hi Shane, you put human and animal morality on an equal plane. To be honest I kind of stopped following your arguments when I felt you stopped putting the effort in to consider additional evidence… Pretty much right after Tom pointed you to Richard Joyce.

  52. BillT

    My question is how is anyone taking what Shane has to say about morality in animals seriously? I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much sheer speculation and projection as he has put forth in the above posts. The examples he cites are behavioral and explainable, as they have traditionally been, by instinctive/communal behavior. Projecting this as moral or even pre-moral behavior is speculative nonsense.

  53. Bill L

    BillT

    Projecting this as moral or even pre-moral behavior is speculative nonsense.

    Perhaps if you could explain why it is nonsense that may be helpful. I am listening.

  54. BillT

    Morality involves agency, self conscious decisions, and choice regarding one’s actions. How is any of that present in animal behavior. He’s the one asserting this. What does he offer to show any of this besides recounting behavioral antidotes and simply calling it morality.

  55. Bill L

    From what I have read, self conscious decisions and choice are easily documented in primates (Frans de waal has many good books on the subject) but perhaps you interpret the observations differently. What do you mean by agency?

  56. Shane Fletcher

    #66

    Hi Ethan,

    I’m still trying to understand the point Tom is making there. I can’t look at additional evidence if I don’t understand it. If you think you can clarify it, please do.

    Cheers
    Shane

  57. Shane Fletcher

    Hi BillT,

    “Morality involves agency, self conscious decisions, and choice regarding one’s actions.”

    Tom’s post indicates spending time with a woman and it not occurring to him to try anything physical with her. Does this mean his morality was not in play? He can only be considered moral if he thought about raping her but made the decision not to?

    Cheers
    Shane

  58. BillT

    Moral agency is an individual’s ability to make moral judgments based on some commonly held notion of right and wrong and to be held accountable for these actions.

    Where in animal behavior are “judgments based on some commonly held notion of right and wrong” or any accountability. Where is there any evidence of the level of self-consciousness and choice necessary to evaluate commonly held notions of right and wrong or the evidence that those commonly held notions exist for anyone but humans.

    And you’re misinterpreting what Tom said as well. Tom knew that it would be wrong to do something unwanted but couldn’t square that with a worldview that had no moral accountability. That’s the conflict. What we know to be right and wrong and a worldview that can’t support that knowledge.

  59. Shane Fletcher

    #73

    Hi BillT,

    “Where in animal behavior are “judgments based on some commonly held notion of right and wrong” or any accountability. Where is there any evidence of the level of self-consciousness and choice necessary to evaluate commonly held notions of right and wrong or the evidence that those commonly held notions exist for anyone but humans.”

    Hierarchy in primates, alpha male, beta male, etc. Same for women, Alpha female, beta female, etc. The primates have a commonly held notion of seniority, and the respect given to each of them according to where they are in the pecking order. They understand wrongness to be individuals trying to usurp the order and there most certainly is accountability for any that do wrong.

    However, it is the exceptions to this “commonly held notion of right and wrong” that really highlight the “moral judgements” of the community. Infants under a certain age (it differs depending on the species) are free from retribution for usurping the order. For example, coming upon a source of water chimps drink in the order of their seniority, but infants under a year or so come and go as they like during the procession of the elders. They are exempt from this “notion of right and wrong”.

    Another example of the exception of hierarchy is the fact that apes respect ownership. Anything that an individual has, a stick useful for digging holes in a termite mound for example, belongs to that primate, and if another wants it, even one more senior in the hierarchy, they must ask to use it. They do not just take it. Those that do just take things from another will find themselves punished, and by the whole community, not just the aggrieved individual. An exception, again, is made for infants.

    “And you’re misinterpreting what Tom said as well. Tom knew that it would be wrong to do something unwanted but couldn’t square that with a worldview that had no moral accountability. That’s the conflict. What we know to be right and wrong and a worldview that can’t support that knowledge.”

    Many have made this comment, BillT, but no-one has explained to me the problem. Why can’t my worldview as an atheist and an evolutionist support my knowledge of what is right and wrong?

    Cheers
    Shane

  60. Melissa

    Shane,

    They understand wrongness to be individuals trying to usurp the order and there most certainly is accountability for any that do wrong.

    Been chatting to some primates lately have you? The fact of the matter is that you have no idea what primates do and don’t understand.

    Why can’t my worldview as an atheist and an evolutionist support my knowledge of what is right and wrong?

    Because there is no teleology and teleology is required for there to be rational foundations for statements of right or wrong. There has to be a way humans should be and act for any action to be judged right or wrong.

  61. Bill L

    Melissa,

    Been chatting to some primates lately have you? The fact of the matter is that you have no idea what primates do and don’t understand.

    I just got two new lab assistants this semester. Luckily, they both speak English and I can ask them questions about what they do and don’t understand. But of course it’s not always that easy. They may tell me they understand something when they really do not. I have to check their techniques and results as they work and infer from their behavior. It takes some work, but I feel that by the end of this semester I’ll have a pretty good idea about what they do and don’t understand.

    It’s much harder with animals – we all agree. But is it impossible? Whenever I sit by my desk my cat nudges at the blinds until I open them a bit. It seem rather obvious that she understands that she will get a better view of the birds outside (there are a bunch on the house next to mine) and that she understands that I must open the blinds for her (she only does this behavior when I am next to the blinds at my desk).

    Should we say that we have no idea if this chimp understands how to solve this problem? Or can we make reasonable inferences?:

  62. Shane Fletcher

    #75

    Hi Melissa,

    “Been chatting to some primates lately have you? The fact of the matter is that you have no idea what primates do and don’t understand.”

    People have chatted to primates via sign language. Chimpanzees have been able to have a concept in their mind, make a gesture with their hands that represents it to successfully communicate it to a human who sees the hand movement and connects it to the same (or similar) concept in his mind. We have a very good grasp of what primates understand.

    “Because there is no teleology and teleology is required for there to be rational foundations for statements of right or wrong. There has to be a way humans should be and act for any action to be judged right or wrong.”

    I believe humans should be free to act in any way they choose that doesn’t impinge on the freedom of another. I use that as my foundation for making statements/judgements about right and wrong.

    Cheers
    Shane

  63. Billy Squibs

    This is a good point. My most cherished belief is that people should be free to live how they choose as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others. Feel free to pick an example to show that I am wrong, or at least hypocritical with regard to an example.

    What has should got to do with it? Would it not be more representative to say that you would prefer if people are “free to live how they choose…”? Man alive! Subjectivists so easily slip into the language of moral transcendence.

    But this utilitarian notion that you endorse is so vague that you could drive a bus through it. I assume that both of us happen to live in democratic societies that grant freedoms while also actively impinge on them. It really isn’t as simple as “do whatever as long as you don’t harm people”. But perhaps your perspective is a little more nuanced.

    Sorry it irritated you. […] I’m sure you will agree that I cannot know the opinions of all other Christians and therefore cannot hope to include them in my own thoughts on the matter.

    You shouldn’t have to apologise for my irritation. That is my own beef. Perhaps I should have kept it to myself.

    Now let’s clear something up. I never stated that you have to know or include the opinions of all Christians, Shane. Rather, I suggested (or hoped to suggest) that your assessment of the options and also what constitutes the Divine specialness of mankind was heavily biased by your negative slant.

    Perhaps you did consider the Christians out there who think that morality is evolved while also thinking that there is an objective moral yardstick to to measure against. However, you didn’t mention this. Instead, you gave us the notion of evolved morality as a glass half empty option for Christians. To paraphrase, “the science says X and that means that you have only A – which I’ve phrased in a jaundiced manner – or option B – to which I’ve applied some negative spin”.

    I would love to hear you expand or clarify this.

    Sure! But first I should answer why I don’t find the notion of evolved morality immensely troubling. This would be for the reason that I alluded to above, i.e. I think there is a transcendent moral reality to move towards. It might be that given enough time monkeys and dogs and frogs will evolve morality that is comparable to ours. Indeed, watching Project Nim I think that I see emotional behaviour that is suggestive of this chimp possessing some emotions similar to ours. However, I also think I see a beast that is incapable of forming a moral stance on what one should do or why rape is morally repugnant. (So perhaps not too much different to some moral subjectivists out there :P)

    Now to the answer (and I fear it will be a little too short for you). I am troubled because I see an animal that is intelligent and can feel emotions yet is regularly killed, eaten, experimented on, kept as a (dangerous) pet and so on. I empathise with the creature.

  64. BillT

    Shane,

    I’ll defer to Melissa’s reply. (And no, neither yours nor Bill L’s reply effectively countered it.)

    P.S. Neither intelligence, social order, nor problem solving show that animals have moral agency or anything like it.

  65. Oisin

    BillT:

    Neither intelligence, social order, nor problem solving show that animals have moral agency or anything like it.

    What suggests humans have it, then?

  66. Shane Fletcher

    Hi BillT

    “P.S. Neither intelligence, social order, nor problem solving show that animals have moral agency or anything like it.”

    And why is that? They are rational beings with a sense of right and wrong who act accordingly and dole out punishments to those do “wrong”. It seems to me that’s the exact definition of moral agency. So please explain how my definition is wrong or how the examples don’t fit.

    Cheers
    Shane

  67. Shane Fletcher

    #78

    Hi Billy Squibs

    “What has should got to do with it? Would it not be more representative to say that you would prefer if people are “free to live how they choose…”? Man alive! Subjectivists so easily slip into the language of moral transcendence.”

    I don’t understand your problem with ‘should’. Is

    My most cherished belief is that people ought to be free to live how they choose as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others.

    any better?

    “But this utilitarian notion that you endorse is so vague that you could drive a bus through it. I assume that both of us happen to live in democratic societies that grant freedoms while also actively impinge on them. It really isn’t as simple as “do whatever as long as you don’t harm people”. But perhaps your perspective is a little more nuanced.”

    Well as a single sentence to sum up morality it must be vague. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ is vague. But you can extrapolate concepts from it.

    I live in Australia, a free country, but a country with laws. These laws should serve two purposes; either the running of the country (e.g. collection and spending of taxes) or the protection of its citizens. Most freedoms we lose to protect other citizens (e.g. laws on minimum legal age to drive a motor vehicle). The taxes we pay partially for our benefit (schools, hospitals, fire service, roads, etc) so we can use these services “for free”. They also pay for our army, police force, etc and as such are another example of protecting our citizens and as such is a freedom that we lose to help ensure the freedom of another (or indeed ourselves if we ever need the police).

    A law prohibiting gay marriage neither helps run the country or protects its citizens. It is in place simply to deny freedom to a percentage of the population and as such should be abolished.

    Does that help clarify my position?

    “You shouldn’t have to apologise for my irritation. That is my own beef. Perhaps I should have kept it to myself.”

    Not at all. If my actions have caused harm I can’t make amends or even apologise without knowing about it.

    “Now let’s clear something up. I never stated that you have to know or include the opinions of all Christians, Shane. Rather, I suggested (or hoped to suggest) that your assessment of the options and also what constitutes the Divine specialness of mankind was heavily biased by your negative slant.”

    They were the only options that occurred to me. I couldn’t think of a good way that the evolution of morals can be used as a positive for the Christian theology. In the same way I can’t think of a positive for the physical evolution. It diminishes God, imo. I totally understand the Young Earth creationists who deny the overwhelming evidence. They need to believe that an all powerful God could create everything 6000 years ago. Why would he do everything over 14 billion years if he could do it in an instant? There is no positive spin that I can see. So my negative slant is not something that is leading my assessment but rather the outcome of it.

    “Sure! But first I should answer why I don’t find the notion of evolved morality immensely troubling. This would be for the reason that I alluded to above, i.e. I think there is a transcendent moral reality to move towards.”

    Assuming you believe in a Fall that requires our redemption, did mankind originally have the perfect morality? Or were we closer to it?

    “It might be that given enough time monkeys and dogs and frogs will evolve morality that is comparable to ours.”

    I don’t know much about frogs, but I don’t think they live in a communal environment on which our concept of morality is based. Morality usually relates to how our actions effect another individual.

    “Indeed, watching Project Nim I think that I see emotional behaviour that is suggestive of this chimp possessing some emotions similar to ours. However, I also think I see a beast that is incapable of forming a moral stance on what one should do or why rape is morally repugnant. (So perhaps not too much different to some moral subjectivists out there :P)”

    lol. Moral stance is an interesting question though, as it generates the notion of putting into words what you actually feel. Primates don’t have language so do not have this ability. But that doesn’t preclude them from having those feelings or being able to make those choices which they can demonstrate and we can observe.

    Likewise I can have a moral stance on something, and yet be unable to explain it. I think incest is wrong, even consentual intercourse between adults, say brother and sister, who are over 20, using precautions to prevent pregnancy. Or even say post menopause so pregnancy is not an issue. I understand that this is a contradiction to my belief of “freedom” as there is no harmed party, but I can’t support it and I can’t give my opinion words to say why not. Now Christians (or some of them at least) will believe that God has instilled it in my psyche where as I believe it is because of the genetic downside to inbreeding. The genes that discouraged incest will have made better progeny than those that encouraged it and will have spread more rapidly through the population. This belief is supported by mating choices made by primates as well. And so we have two species that make the same moral choice without being able to verbalise why.

    “Now to the answer (and I fear it will be a little too short for you). I am troubled because I see an animal that is intelligent and can feel emotions yet is regularly killed, eaten, experimented on, kept as a (dangerous) pet and so on. I empathise with the creature.”

    Ah I see. The trouble is not with the animals but rather people. That is very understandable.

    Cheers
    Shane

  68. Bill L

    Because there is no teleology and teleology is required for there to be rational foundations for statements of right or wrong. There has to be a way humans should be and act for any action to be judged right or wrong.

    Today I went to the grocery store and bought fresh veggies, beans and rice. Was I irrational for doing so?

    Well, why did I go? Answer: I was hungry and needed food. I performed a series of actions that were initiated by my feelings. I don’t see that as irrational given my motivation.

    So what if my feelings motivate me to be happy? In a world where I am the only human, I can pretty much do what ever I want (presuming I do not have feelings for other sentient creatures like aardvarks). But what if there are two people? If we both want to be happy, we will presumably agree not to do things to one another like bash each other in the head with a rock, if we recognize that by performing such a practice, we are just as likely to end up as the one being bashed. This is where game theory starts.

    But of course one can object – but nothing makes it wrong in a real or cosmological sense. There is just feelings and opinion. Isn’t one opinion just as valid as another? The answer is “no” if you have a common objective.

    This is when we observe that most people want to be happy. We may also observe (after much game theorizing) that this probably the only viable goal where you have more than one human with an interest in living.

    So is this an objective morality? No, probably not in the sense that many theists would prefer (Let’s hope their God is not an evil one, or if he has created goodness then it’s hard to see how this would not be the ultimate subjectivity – but let’s set that aside for now). If this is the way the universe really works, let’s hope we don’t avoid looking at the truth no matter how lonely it may make us feel. Presumably God gave us rules and morality for a reason – perhaps they were a way for people to be happy.

    How do we decide if an action is right? Well, does it frustrate our goal of being happy? Does it interfere with the ability of another to achieve that goal? What else makes sense to for the words “right” and “wrong”?

    The regress game
    But then BillL, what if the Nazis were happier by eliminating the Jews?

    Is that a good rule that they have developed? Might is right? What about when the tables are turned? Won’t they sound like hypocrites when they are conquered? So how viable is that option? These rules must be extended to those who make them.

    Is this as easy or as comforting as a rule-giver, no – but it may be the best we have if the world is so.

  69. Billy Squibs

    any better?

    Are you joking? That’s a serious question, btw. I can’t tell.

    I would have assumed that most people who hold a strong position on morality (such as you) would be familiar with objections like this. In my estimation Hume talk a lot self refuting crap about forks and the like but it seems here he was correct.

    Substituting one word with another word that carries the same meaning (at least in the context of this debate) does not help your position one jot. It’s like saying “”OK, you say I can’t go to drink in the pub, my dearest wife. How about I go for a drink in the bar instead?”.

    A law prohibiting gay marriage neither helps run the country or protects its citizens. It is in place simply to deny freedom to a percentage of the population and as such should be abolished.

    Does that help clarify my position?

    It would if was asking about your stance on gay marriage. But I wasn’t. It’s even less helpful when you introduce an admitted inconsistency into the mix. If you were being consistent then you would be campaigning for the sexual freedoms and even a celebration of those consenting adults who want to engage in incest. Why? Because in the moral framework you think you subscribe to incest is not wrong in any categorical sense, it’s just something you find to be personally distasteful and, well, a little bit icky.

    Suggestion for you, Shane. Get a t-shirt with “‘Murder is wrong’ is not a fact, it’s a matter of opinion” printed on it because that seems to me to most succinctly represent moral subjectivism. You’ll make a killing selling them if they hold a Reason Rally in Australia.

    There is no positive spin that I can see. So my negative slant is not something that is leading my assessment but rather the outcome of it.

    If I think it’s true to say that morality is evolved and I don’t agree with your negative spin that should tell you something about how you presented the options.

  70. Tom Gilson

    Shane, you say, “My most cherished belief is that people ought to be free to live how they choose as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others.”

    Are you going to impose that belief on me? I think that’s impinging on my freedom: specifically my freedom not to consider freedom the chief (or only) moral value.

  71. Billy Squibs

    In this instance it was intended. Though if we live in a deterministic universe I can’t really take much credit for it.

  72. Shane Fletcher

    #85

    Hi Billy Squibs,

    “Are you joking? That’s a serious question, btw. I can’t tell.

    I would have assumed that most people who hold a strong position on morality (such as you) would be familiar with objections like this. In my estimation Hume talk a lot self refuting crap about forks and the like but it seems here he was correct.”

    I don’t understand the objection. Or I don’t understand how it relates to my opinion. I’m not using any “is” statements that I’m aware of. Is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” substantially different to “You should love your neighbor as yourself.”?

    “It would if was asking about your stance on gay marriage. But I wasn’t. ”

    I was trying to show you the “nuance of my perspective”. You say “But this utilitarian notion that you endorse is so vague that you could drive a bus through it.” So do you have a less vague notion of morality?

    I understand the inconsistency. Possibly the only difference between primates and man is that we can hold contradictory thoughts simultaneously.

    “‘Murder is wrong’ is not a fact, it’s a matter of opinion”

    Possibly we’re getting close to the underlying point you’re tying to make here, but if I believe it, it is my opinion. Facts are things that no-one can disagree with given the evidence.

    “If I think it’s true to say that morality is evolved and I don’t agree with your negative spin that should tell you something about how you presented the options.”

    It tells me you disagreed with them. Then you have the chance to say why. Then I ask questions about your thoughts on why. Rinse and repeat.

    Cheers
    Shane

  73. Shane Fletcher

    #86

    Hi Tom,

    “Shane, you say, “My most cherished belief is that people ought to be free to live how they choose as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others.”

    Are you going to impose that belief on me? I think that’s impinging on my freedom: specifically my freedom not to consider freedom the chief (or only) moral value.”

    No I am not going to impose my belief on you or anyone. It’s my belief alone. Orange is my favourite colour. Not going to try and change your opinion on that. I prefer Pepsi to Coke. But that’s just me.

    Cheers
    Shane

  74. Tom Gilson

    Suppose then that some court of law tried to impose its will on me. Suppose the court decided to cage me up because I did something the authorities didn’t prefer. What moral right would they have to do so?

  75. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    The courts apply the laws of the land to its citizens. I don’t think it’s accurate to say they act according to moral rights, but rather they uphold the laws, which are created by the government, which is elected by the people.

    Ideally the laws of the land reflect the will of the majority of the citizens but at the end of the day the government makes the laws. I don’t believe they do so because of a moral right, however, but they act with the power that the citizens give them.

    Cheers
    Shane

  76. Tom Gilson

    Shane, are the laws not moral? If so, then how is it morally acceptable to lock people away for years at a time? Your answer here is power, not morality. I suppose you’re aware, aren’t you, of the difference between government built on a principle of power rather than moral responsibility?

  77. Tom Gilson

    What I mean to say by that is this: what you’re describing here is utterly chilling. If you don’t feel the same way about it, then you really need to read more history and politics.

  78. Bill L

    Tom, suppose for a moment morality were truly subjective. Would the fact that we find this utterly chilling be cause for rejecting a truth?

    Perhaps more importantly, as a psychologist, do you think people may be prone to rejecting true beliefs because they find them unpleasant?

  79. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    Do you not find The Patriot Act utterly chilling? Do you think that it was born from moral responsibility or a principle of power?

    The gun laws in your country … from moral responsibility or a principle of power?

    Being imprisoned for refusal to pay income taxes … from moral responsibility or a principle of power?

    The assertion that marriage is only between one man and one woman … from moral responsibility or a principle of power?

    Cheers
    Shane

  80. Tom Gilson

    If we know that A is true, then it doesn’t matter what B, C, D, … are, A is just true. So if morality were truly subjective and if it were known to be truly subjective, then nothing could be a good cause for rejecting it.

    If we do not know, however, that A is true, then B, C, D, … could potentially be good reasons to reject it. In this case, the plain historical fact that a power-based approach to government and justice has led to horrific consequences–consequences that most people would judge as immoral–could be a good reason to doubt the worldview that leads people to think that power is the basis for government and its justice.

  81. Tom Gilson

    Your question 96 gets into some controversial decisions governments have made. I’m looking at a much deeper underlying principle. The answer to all your questions, though, is that if any of those decisions are enacted on the basis of power, then their underlying morality is in doubt.

    The same is true for laws against murder. If there’s no moral reason, but only a principle power, behind prison sentences for murder, then the justice system is a organized thuggery.

  82. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “The answer to all your questions, though, is that if any of those decisions are enacted on the basis of power, then their underlying morality is in doubt.”

    If it’s possible that they were enacted on a basis of power than that precludes the assumption that all laws in the country must be based in morals, and that therefore the courts cannot enforce them due to a moral right, which was your original question.

    Some of your states execute people for first degree murder. The people and/or politicians in these states have chosen capital punishment for this crime. I might suggest this is organised thuggery. But the fact remains that they subjectively believe it is right to kill someone in these circumstances. Other states do not. Morally these are quite different beliefs. It seems that if there is an objective morality then one of these positions is wrong. The fact they both exist, even though one of them is morally wrong is another illustration that the law is arbitrary, decided by the politicians, who were given the power to do so by the voting public.

    Cheers
    Shane

  83. Tom Gilson

    Cheers indeed, if you think the law at its best is organized thuggery, which is what I think you’re saying.

    My point is not that the law at its best is moral. My point is that the law has a moral basis underpinning it, that in a just society there is morality under the law, and that good persons can work toward a just society.

    None of that is possible on your view.

    None of it.

    Cheers.

  84. SteveK

    It seems that if there is an objective morality then one of these positions is wrong.

    Yes, this is what objectivity requires.

    The fact they both exist, even though one of them is morally wrong is another illustration that the law is arbitrary, decided by the politicians, who were given the power to do so by the voting public.

    This is a weird statement. The fact that one is wrong illustrates it’s arbitrary? Really? I think what you wanted to say was this: the fact that neither is wrong illustrates it’s arbitrary. This is the naturalistic position, and you’re right, it is arbitrary.

  85. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “My point is not that the law at its best is moral. My point is that the law has a moral basis underpinning it, that in a just society there is morality under the law, and that good persons can work toward a just society.

    None of that is possible on your view.

    None of it.”

    Please explain where the morality underpinning the law comes from and why my view renders good persons working towards a just society impossible.

    Cheers
    Shane

  86. Shane Fletcher

    Hi SteveK

    “This is a weird statement. The fact that one is wrong illustrates it’s arbitrary? Really? I think what you wanted to say was this: the fact that neither is wrong illustrates it’s arbitrary. This is the naturalistic position, and you’re right, it is arbitrary.”

    What I wanted to say was: the fact that two different states can chosen two different punishments for the same crime illustrates that the their is not an objective morality underpinning the law. The law is made by politicians according to their personal viewpoint. The fact that gay marriage is legal in some states and not others is probably a better example of that.

    Cheers
    Shane

  87. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “Why do I need to explain when I was echoing you?”

    How were you echoing me? I made no assertion that different world views on morality underpinning law would result in different abilities of good persons working towards a just society. That was all you.

    In fact you say it’s an impossibility, which if true would it make simple to prove your case. So please do.

    “More explicitly, please explain how it is just and moral to imprison people for violating “arbitrary” laws.”

    Well I think we agree that it’s not just or moral if the law being broken is itself not just or moral as in The Patriot Act.

    Then there are laws that are not based in morality in the strictest sense, but are none the less necessary, like paying income tax. Is it just and moral to imprison someone for breaking this law?

    Then there are laws that are based on a moral stance, such as the pretty much universal view that murder is wrong and should be punished. However there are plenty of instances of people having committed murder and a jury of their peers have decided not to imprison them. Here’s an example from exactly 12 months ago.

    http://gawker.com/man-who-stabbed-wifes-lover-to-death-acquitted-of-murd-1462254391

    My point, Tom, is that it needs to be established that it is just and moral before I need to show the ‘how’. And the legal system is littered with examples that indicate that is not the case.

    Cheers
    Shane

  88. Tom Gilson

    You, Shane, have said that there is no morality in law, that it is strictly about the application of power. See for example #92:

    Ideally the laws of the land reflect the will of the majority of the citizens but at the end of the day the government makes the laws. I don’t believe they do so because of a moral right, however, but they act with the power that the citizens give them.

    The application of power without a moral foundation cannot be just.

  89. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “Ideally the laws of the land reflect the will of the majority of the citizens but at the end of the day the government makes the laws. I don’t believe they do so because of a moral right, however, but they act with the power that the citizens give them.”

    Please show me how I am wrong. The number of laws that have come and gone tell me that they are indeed based on a subjective morality that is subject to change. Prohibition was introduced in 1920 then repealed in 1933. Could both of those changes have been made due to an objective morality? The gradual move to give women and African Americans the same rights as white men was due to the subjective change in the individual morality of the populace (or the majority of them) that they should be treated as equals.

    Cheers
    Shane

  90. Tom Gilson

    Shane, see all my comments from about #90 onward, esp. #97.

    Suppose I’m wrong. Is it wrong for me to be wrong? That’s a serious question.

  91. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “Suppose I’m wrong. Is it wrong for me to be wrong?”

    Morally? No. I wouldn’t even say you were wrong for spreading a wrongness unknowingly. But these dialogues are about learning, IMO, and what we do with the things we learn.

    Cheers
    Shane

  92. Billy Squibs

    The gradual move to give women and African Americans the same rights as white men was due to the subjective change in the individual morality of the populace (or the majority of them) that they should be treated as equals.

    And what if there is a subtle shift in the collective morality of a populace towards the enslavement of blacks or the murder of people from a bordering country? Why is your view better?

  93. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Billy Squibs

    “Why is your view better?”

    I’ve said numerous times I believe that all people should have the right to live free.

    But I don’t think that’s your real question. You might actually want to ask, “Why do you believe your view is better?” The answer to that is because of the way I was raised, the things I’ve learned in my life and the fact that I have empathy. But I think what you really want to ask is “How can you know your view is objectively better if you think morality is subjective?” And this is a pointless question if there is no objective morality.

    If primates and other lower mammals have a sense of right and wrong, and I think it’s easily demonstrated that they do, then morality evolved. If morality evolved then it is subjective in the individual. If it’s subjective in the individual then there is no objective standard.

    The evidence Tom mentions in is post is the fact that he has morals, and they must have come from somewhere. It’s appealing to the argument from irreducible complexity that that has been used for all the physicality’s that used to be hard to explain. If you can demonstrate why there must be an objective morality then please do. But stop asking “How can you see the difference between right and wrong?” Lower species contain plenty of examples of how eyes evolved as well as morality.

    Cheers
    Shane

  94. Melissa

    Shane,

    The answer to that is because of the way I was raised, the things I’ve learned in my life and the fact that I have empathy.

    So you think it’s OK to force someone to live the way you prefer even though you know your preference is not rational but rather the product of societal conditioning and emotion?

    Wow.

  95. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    My belief is based on a foundation of not forcing anyone to live in any particular way at all.

    As always, though, how is your belief that gays should not be able to marry not based on your own societal conditioning and emotion?

    Cheers
    Shane

  96. Melissa

    Shane,

    My belief is based on a foundation of not forcing anyone to live in any particular way at all.

    You don’t support societal sanctions against some of the ways of living that you don’t agree with?

    As always, though, how is your belief that gays should not be able to marry not based on your own societal conditioning and emotion?

    Since I don’t deny what is patently obvious – that universals exist and that natural things are directed towards particular ends, I have a rational foundation for moral beliefs. When I make a moral judgement I am attempting to align that judgement with reality.

    I just find it morally and rationally dubious to think it’s OK to pass judgement on someone else because they don’t agree with you on something that has no real right or wrong answer.

  97. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “You don’t support societal sanctions against some of the ways of living that you don’t agree with?”

    I believe in protecting the freedom of all citizens equally. This entails having sanctions against “ways of living” that would impact on the freedom of others.

    “Since I don’t deny what is patently obvious – that universals exist and that natural things are directed towards particular ends, I have a rational foundation for moral beliefs. When I make a moral judgement I am attempting to align that judgement with reality.”

    Please spell out the ‘universal’ and the ‘natural direction’ that applies in the example of gay marriage.

    “I just find it morally and rationally dubious to think it’s OK to pass judgement on someone else because they don’t agree with you on something that has no real right or wrong answer.”

    You could be right. But that’s not evidence that God exists. Wanting a definitive ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in the face of the reality that none exists is just wishful thinking. I see red in a particular way. The wavelength of light reflected from a ‘red’ object is interpreted by my brain, through my eye, to give me the representation that I call red. Almost certainly you will see red differently. It would pointless and inconsequential for us to argue that there is a ‘true red’ as set by God. We see red subjectively.

    How do you ‘pass judgement’ on whether something is beautiful or not? Where’s the standard of beauty that we should all be referring to with regards to paintings or people? What makes the perfect song? Is there a right and wrong with regards to music? What makes the funniest joke? Or the scariest movie? Or the most uplifting poem? These things are all subjective. Morals are the same.

    Now there will be a huge consensus by the public on all of these things. That’s why there are popular movies and paintings worth millions. When the subjective opinions of large numbers of the population agree you end up with The Beatles changing the musical landscape forever. Likewise the vast majority of us believe murder is wrong, along with rape and theft, and we punish those that do them. This brings me back to saying that primates have the same beliefs and punishment system, illustrating the evolution of subjective morality, as opposed to the complete lack of evidence that morals are endowed upon us by God.

    Cheers
    Shane

  98. Melissa

    Shane,

    Please spell out the ‘universal’ and the ‘natural direction’ that applies in the example of gay marriage.

    Since marriage is not a natural substance it does not have a natural end, so the example you have picked wouldn’t apply in this case and my answer was more to do with morality in general and I’m not about to explain why homosexual acts would be immoral according to natural law theory, I’m sure you can work that out yourself. Marriage at it’s best traditionally protected women and the children that naturally resulted from sex providing a stable long term home. I think it is clear that the decoupling of sex and reproduction in the minds of people and the resultant emphasis of marriage for the couple has been disastrous for children. Broken families and abortions continue to rise. Extending the definition of marriage continues the decoupling of sex, marriage and children in the minds of the public and so I don’t believe it is in the best interests of our society.

    You could be right. But that’s not evidence that God exists. Wanting a definitive ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in the face of the reality that none exists is just wishful thinking

    Since the argument isn’t- I want a definitive right or wrong to exist therefore God exists I’m going to ignore this blatent straw man. The point that I’m making is just that if someone doesn’t believe there is right and wrong (such as you) then to judge others actions and beliefs in this matter and label them wrong is either a contradiction or a manipulation.

    The wavelength of light reflected from a ‘red’ object is interpreted by my brain, through my eye, to give me the representation that I call red. Almost certainly you will see red differently. It would pointless and inconsequential for us to argue that there is a ‘true red’ as set by God. We see red subjectively.

    That’s only true if you agree to a mechanistic conception of nature which I do not. Interestingly it is the move to remove all qualitative aspects of reality that makes qualia so problematic.

    How do you ‘pass judgement’ on whether something is beautiful or not? Where’s the standard of beauty that we should all be referring to with regards to paintings or people? What makes the perfect song? Is there a right and wrong with regards to music? What makes the funniest joke? Or the scariest movie? Or the most uplifting poem? These things are all subjective. Morals are the same.

    Same as above. Really you’re begging the question here. Just because we disagree does not mean the answer is subjective.

    This brings me back to saying that primates have the same beliefs and punishment system, illustrating the evolution of subjective morality, as opposed to the complete lack of evidence that morals are endowed upon us by God.

    Primates have the same beliefs? Really? There is no evidence that they engage in moral reasoning. That does not mean that there is not good for a primate or bad, but there is no evidence that they grasp or reason about what is good and bad. If you mean endowed by God in some kind of mysterious way I would agree. What is good for us is to fulfill our nature, that is the proximate source of morality.

  99. Tom Gilson

    Shane, I’ve been out of the conversation for a bit, but I need to confront you with some issues and questions.

    First, and most important, you are expressing seriously inconsistent viewpoints when you say you believe all of the following:

    a) “My most cherished belief is that people ought to be free to live how they choose as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others.”
    b) “No I am not going to impose my belief on you or anyone. It’s my belief alone. Orange is my favourite colour. Not going to try and change your opinion on that. I prefer Pepsi to Coke. But that’s just me.”
    c) “I live in Australia, a free country, but a country with laws. These laws should serve two purposes; either the running of the country (e.g. collection and spending of taxes) or the protection of its citizens. Most freedoms we lose to protect other citizens (e.g. laws on minimum legal age to drive a motor vehicle). The taxes we pay partially for our benefit (schools, hospitals, fire service, roads, etc) so we can use these services ‘for free’. They also pay for our army, police force, etc and as such are another example of protecting our citizens and as such is a freedom that we lose to help ensure the freedom of another (or indeed ourselves if we ever need the police).
    d) “I believe in protecting the freedom of all citizens equally. This entails having sanctions against ‘ways of living’ that would impact on the freedom of others.”

    If some persons are sanctioned for not going along with the law, then the government is not allowing people to be free to live how they choose to live.

    I’ll grant that you place a qualifier on your cherished belief: “As long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others.” Yet you have provided no moral basis for that qualifier. As far as I can see it is your personal value. You have no reason for it other than the reasoning in, “I prefer Pepsi to Coke.”

    Governments routinely impinge on persons’ freedom: that’s what incarceration is all about, not to mention taxes, regulations, conscription, and much more besides. I’m not free to build a shed within six inches of the road in front of my home. I’m not free to erect a tall radio tower in my back yard. I’m not free to use my home office for personal use—not even a little bit—and gain a tax exemption for that office, under U.S. tax law. My personal freedoms are constantly being impinged upon.

    And it’s all for the sake of some persons’ chosen preference for how society should be run. If I get thrown in jail, it’s because my preferences butted up against theirs, and they exercised their power to excise me from society. You said yourself,

    Ideally the laws of the land reflect the will of the majority of the citizens but at the end of the day the government makes the laws. I don’t believe they do so because of a moral right, however, but they act with the power that the citizens give them.

    The government has no moral right to incarcerate anyone, by your own words. Now, either the government is acting immorally or amorally, on your view. I don’t think you hold to the possibility of real immorality, so the practice of “justice” is really amoral. Justice itself is amoral.

    This turns justice completely on its head, you know. Not only that, you have voiced frequent objections to the view of morality in government by pointing to laws you consider to be wrong: laws concerning capital punishment and gay “marriage,” in particular. Now, I disagree with your moral (yes, moral!) stance on those laws, but suppose I didn’t disagree. (Indeed, I’m sure if we looked long enough it wouldn’t be hard to find laws that we both consider to be mistaken, wrong, immoral.)

    The question then must be, what does that prove about the law’s moral underpinnings? You seem to want to make it a demonstration of the law’s amorality. It shows nothing of the sort. What it shows is that there can be differences of opinion regarding what constitutes a good, moral, just law. There can be wrong opinions. If there can be wrong opinions, there can also be right opinions. Your cases in point prove nothing in favor of your position.

    So you have a contradiction in your thinking, and your attempt at resolving it is ineffective. One belief or the others of yours must be wrong. Either there must be some good reason for government to exercise power, which involves morality, or else there is no real morality, in which case there is no good reason for government to exercise its power.

    You tried to throw off a self-contradiction earlier in this thread:

    I understand the inconsistency. Possibly the only difference between primates and man is that we can hold contradictory thoughts simultaneously.

    Actually the difference lies in our ability to hold and to assess thoughts self-reflectively. But we’ve argued that enough already. You’re wrong anyway. We can entertain contradictory thoughts simultaneously, but we cannot knowingly believe contradictory thoughts simultaneously. I insert “knowingly” because we can do it unknowingly: the person who doesn’t understand multiplication and division could simultaneously believe that 2*2=4 and 4/2≠2. The person who understands the operations, however, could not believe both of those at once.

    Similarly you cannot believe that government has moral standing to do anything that it does whatsoever by way of restricting persons’ freedom, while also believing that government acts on an amoral principle of preference in enacting its laws and an amoral principle of power in enforcing them. You may think you believe both of those at once, but it’s impossible: they contradict.

    If you recognize that and opt for the latter, denying that government has moral standing to do anything that it does by way of restricting persons’ freedom, then you cannot simultaneously believe that anything (anything!) government does is just; for justice is inextricably tied up with what is right, which is inextricably connected with what is moral.

    In opting for that position you deny the existence of justice, and you deny the possibility of any just law or any just enforcement of law.

    Finally:

    You may respond to that with something you’ve said more than once: “That doesn’t prove there is a God.” Rather than going there now, how about if you just let us know which of these you reject. Then we can move on to the God question. Here’s the list; you must reject at least one of them:

    1. Some of what government does has at least the potential of being moral.
    2. Some of what government does has at least the potential of being just.
    3. Governments have a duty to restrict persons’ freedom differentially based on numerous factors, the most obvious being their behavior in society.
    4. Laws are enacted on the principle of preference and/or power.
    5. Laws are enforced on the principle of power.

    I think you’ve affirmed all of these at one point or another in this thread, but you cannot believe them all simultaneously.

  100. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “Since marriage is not a natural substance it does not have a natural end, so the example you have picked wouldn’t apply in this case and my answer was more to do with morality in general”

    That’s what I was wondering. Thanks for clarifying.

    “I’m not about to explain why homosexual acts would be immoral according to natural law theory, I’m sure you can work that out yourself.”

    How do you rationalise homosexual behaviour in animals with regards to morality in the natural law?

    “Marriage at it’s best traditionally protected women and the children that naturally resulted from sex providing a stable long term home. I think it is clear that the decoupling of sex and reproduction in the minds of people and the resultant emphasis of marriage for the couple has been disastrous for children.”

    Perhaps it’s clear to you, but I would like to see some data to back up that conclusion. Also, what are your thoughts on fixing the problem?

    “Broken families and abortions continue to rise.”

    The abortion rate peaked in 1980 and in 2011 was at it’s lowest rate since 1973.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/study-abortion-rate-at-lowest-point-since-1973/2014/02/02/8dea007c-8a9b-11e3-833c-33098f9e5267_story.html

    “Since the argument isn’t- I want a definitive right or wrong to exist therefore God exists I’m going to ignore this blatent straw man.”

    I think that was entirely the point of the OP.

    “The point that I’m making is just that if someone doesn’t believe there is right and wrong (such as you) then to judge others actions and beliefs in this matter and label them wrong is either a contradiction or a manipulation.”

    I do believe in a right and wrong, but subjectively so. The people that get judged by our society perhaps believe in a different right and wrong than the one reflected by our laws. The real question is how should our society work if there is no objective right and wrong? We should have no laws? We should put no restrictions on anyone doing anything? That is not sustainable in a community of any size. Do you have another suggestion of how it should be managed?

    “That’s only true if you agree to a mechanistic conception of nature which I do not. ”

    You think we all see red in the same way? The incidence of colour blindness in society would suggest otherwise.

    “Same as above. Really you’re begging the question here. Just because we disagree does not mean the answer is subjective.”

    Ahh … I think that’s exactly what it means. These things are not dependent on laws of physics or the rules of math. They are not facts. They are opinion and therefore subjective. I am interested to hear you explain otherwise.

    “Primates have the same beliefs? Really? There is no evidence that they engage in moral reasoning. That does not mean that there is not good for a primate or bad, but there is no evidence that they grasp or reason about what is good and bad.”

    Moral reasoning

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

    “There are four components of moral behavior. The first of these is moral sensitivity, which is “the ability to see an ethical dilemma, including how our actions will affect others.” The second is moral judgment, which is “the ability to reason correctly about what ‘ought’ to be done in a specific situation.” The third is moral motivation, which is “a personal commitment to moral action, accepting responsibility for the outcome.” The fourth and final component of moral behavior is moral character, which is a “courageous persistence in spite of fatigue or temptations to take the easy way out.”

    A Rhesus monkey that refuses to pull a chain to supply itself with food when it knows that it will simultaneously shock a companion, is demonstrating all the components of moral reasoning.

    http://www.madisonmonkeys.com/masserman.pdf

    Cheers
    Shane

  101. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “I’ll grant that you place a qualifier on your cherished belief: “As long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others.” Yet you have provided no moral basis for that qualifier. As far as I can see it is your personal value. You have no reason for it other than the reasoning in, “I prefer Pepsi to Coke.””

    What moral basis do I have to provide? It is my personal value. My belief. As I have said I hold it because of the way I was raised, and the fact I have empathy.

    “What it shows is that there can be differences of opinion regarding what constitutes a good, moral, just law. There can be wrong opinions. If there can be wrong opinions, there can also be right opinions.”

    The first sentence does not lead to the second and third. If we all have a subjective morality we can have a difference of opinion. The right and wrongness of everyone else’s opinion is in relation to my opinion not to an objective right or wrong.

    “Either there must be some good reason for government to exercise power, which involves morality, or else there is no real morality, in which case there is no good reason for government to exercise its power.”

    As I have said, ideally the laws of the land reflect the subjective morality of the majority of its citizens. But there are plenty of reasons that a government will exercise its power that are not related to morality. The obvious being the financial gain of the people making the laws. Another being the ability to inflict punishment on a section of society that the law makers don’t like.

    “1. Some of what government does has at least the potential of being moral.
    2. Some of what government does has at least the potential of being just.
    3. Governments have a duty to restrict persons’ freedom differentially based on numerous factors, the most obvious being their behavior in society.
    4. Laws are enacted on the principle of preference and/or power.
    5. Laws are enforced on the principle of power.”

    Okay, let’s say I reject 1 and 2.

    Cheers
    Shane

  102. Tom Gilson

    Everything in your response up to your final sentence was simply commentary, Shane. You show your true colors at the end: You do not believe in the possibility of justice or of governmental morality.

    No cheer there. I think your sign-off is a lie you’re telling yourself.

    Tell me, what would you think about living in a manifestly unjust society?

  103. Melissa

    Shane,

    The abortion rate peaked in 1980 and in 2011 was at it’s lowest rate since 1973.

    You’re riggt I was wrong about this. If you still want some information of the question of homosexual animal behaviour I can point you in the right direction but you are going off topic.

    “Since the argument isn’t- I want a definitive right or wrong to exist therefore God exists I’m going to ignore this blatent straw man.”

    I think that was entirely the point of the OP

    What exactly makes you think that?

    I do believe in a right and wrong, but subjectively so.

    What does it even mean to say something can be subjectively right or wrong? I mean you can quite easily label your own behaviour wrong but you have no business judging anyone else’s behaviour.

    You think we all see red in the same way? The incidence of colour blindness in society would suggest otherwise.

    No. Why must we all see red the same way for red to be an objective aspect of reality?

    Ahh … I think that’s exactly what it means. These things are not dependent on laws of physics or the rules of math. They are not facts. They are opinion and therefore subjective. I am interested to hear you explain otherwise.

    Facts are not limited to those things that are dependent on the laws of physics and the rules of maths. Science itself presupposes certain philosophical ideas that would escape your definition of fact. For a discussion of qualia try here:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2008/10/some-brief-arguments-for-dualism-part.html

    A Rhesus monkey that refuses to pull a chain to supply itself with food when it knows that it will simultaneously shock a companion, is demonstrating all the components of moral reasoning.

    I just don’t know how you can claim that. You have no idea what’s going on inside the monkey’s head.

  104. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    Listened to the radio interview. Good to be able to add your voice to these comments. Also, I’m famous! 🙂

    “Everything in your response up to your final sentence was simply commentary, Shane. You show your true colors at the end: You do not believe in the possibility of justice or of governmental morality.”

    Well of course it’s commentary. It’s my opinion. What else should there be?

    Tom, I thought this would have come up by now as rebuttal to my views, but please let me know how I’m wrong. How does morality enter the laws of the land? Where does it come from? I think that needs to be addressed before I answer your last question.

    Cheers
    Shane

  105. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “You’re riggt I was wrong about this. If you still want some information of the question of homosexual animal behaviour I can point you in the right direction but you are going off topic.”

    I would like that a lot. Cheers.

    “What exactly makes you think that?”

    “It Takes God For It To Make Sense”

    “And the only way I could make sense of it being actually wrong was if there was such a thing as real right and real wrong, which, it seemed to me at the time, required that there be a God.”

    “I took an ethics course the next semester, in which we studied Kant’s categorical imperative, Mill’s utilitarianism, and de Beauvoir’s “ethics of ambiguity.” All it did was seal my conclusion: there was nothing in their systems, apart from God, that produced a real right and wrong.”

    “It’s just that what we all know about morality—that it’s real—fits far better in a theistic system than in any other. Moral reality can be hammered uncomfortably into non-theistic systems. It fits comfortably in a universe where a good God is the foundation for all reality.”

    “What does it even mean to say something can be subjectively right or wrong? I mean you can quite easily label your own behaviour wrong but you have no business judging anyone else’s behaviour.”

    I must ask this again.

    The real question is how should our society work if there is no objective right and wrong? We should have no laws? We should put no restrictions on anyone doing anything? That is not sustainable in a community of any size. Do you have another suggestion of how it should be managed?

    “Why must we all see red the same way for red to be an objective aspect of reality?”

    My point was not about the existence of red but our interpretation of it. The same with beauty, humour, etc. Most people would say there is beauty in the world but exactly what that was would be different for everyone.

    “Facts are not limited to those things that are dependent on the laws of physics and the rules of maths.”

    I did not say it was. I said opinions on beauty were, by the definition of ‘opinion’, subjective.

    “I just don’t know how you can claim that. You have no idea what’s going on inside the monkey’s head.”

    I can claim that by examining the evidence and coming to a conclusion. If you can come to a different conclusion by the same evidence, please elaborate.

    You have no idea what’s going on inside anyone else’s head. But you can claim to know their moral reasoning by their actions.

    Cheers
    Shane

  106. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “If you don’t know, Shane, I can’t help you.”

    … well that’s just an out and out lie.

    I’ve been married 25 years. Early on in our marriage I would do something stupid and my wife would be upset with me. I would ask her what was wrong and she would reply,

    “If you don’t know, I can’t tell you.”

    Have you ever had that? Didn’t you find it annoying and unhelpful? My wife was lying. She could easily tell me what was wrong. And it didn’t take us long to establish that this was not a helpful way to continue a discussion or handle a conflict.

    So Tom, either

    1. You have the ability to explain your belief and you choose not to.
    2. You don’t have the ability to explain your belief because you don’t know why/if it’s true or don’t understand how/if it is true.
    3. You know that you are so bad at explaining things that no-one can ever understand the point you are trying to make.

    It’s obviously not 3. If it truly is 2, then you have no business arguing that my position is false. I’m confident it’s 1.

    My belief

    1. Individuals have subjective morals
    2. Individuals elect officials to govern them including making laws and seeing them applied to the population
    3. These officials, individuals themselves with their own subjective morals, make the laws as they see fit
    4. Other individuals, also with their own subjective morals, uphold these laws as they see fit (police, lawyers, judges, juries, etc)

    Where am I wrong, Tom? How is there an over riding morality inherent in the government, independent of the subjective morals of the individuals that make it up?

    Cheers
    Shane

  107. Melissa

    Shane,

    The part if the OP says nothing about Tom wanting there to be a definitive right and wrong nor does it imply that.

    When I asked you what business you have passing judgement on other people’s behaviour your answer amounts to “what alternative is there?”. You’re quite happy to resort to manipulation and might makes right to get your way.

    My point was not about the existence of red but our interpretation of it. The same with beauty, humour, etc. Most people would say there is beauty in the world but exactly what that was would be different for everyone.

    But are they correct about that? The “argument” that since people do not all agree on something it must be subjective is a non-starter, I’m really surprised how many times this is trotted out as if it is obvious. Yes, redness, beauty and goodness as objective parts of reality are very hard to justify given materialism and so you conclude they are subjective but did it ever cross your mind that maybe it’s your metaphysics with the problem? I would think you would need a very good reason to agree to throw so much of our experience into the illusionary pile but not a single good reason is ever forthcoming. An alternative view for you to consider is that edness and beauty involve a response but it is a response to something objective in the thing -it’s form. Goodness is measured against a things nature.

    There is no need to produce torturous explanations explaining away what we know to be true from our experience of being human. It’s definately not for the sake of science. Materialism ironically undermines science itself if you dig down far enough. I know in the work that I did, synthesizing new anti-cancer drugs, it’s very difficult to make sense of the process employed to make new compounds if there are no formal and final causes.

    I did not say it was. I said opinions on beauty were, by the definition of ‘opinion’, subjective.

    Sorry, I’m not sure why you included the bit about physics then. So you were just repeating your opinion that they are subjective not offering further argument?

    I can claim that by examining the evidence and coming to a conclusion. If you can come to a different conclusion by the same evidence, please elaborate.

    You have no idea what’s going on inside anyone else’s head. But you can claim to know their moral reasoning by their actions.

    I can ask them. All the evidence you’ve got for primates is outward behaviour, and that cannot demonstrate moral reasoning.

  108. Tom Gilson

    Shane, Shane, I don’t appreciate the character attack one bit. The fact is, you’re wrong in your list of three options; the answer is (4) none of the above.

    I have pointed you already toward what you should know about the dangers of a power-based government. Your answer was essentially, “so what, it doesn’t prove I’m wrong.” So I can’t take the obvious consequential route to explaining it. The other route to an explanation goes like this: If you deny that there is such a thing as justice and morality, then you deny some of the basic knowledge you have had from infancy. You deny your own humanness. If you’re willing to set that aside, then I can’t help you. I can only call you back to what you know—to your humanness.

    There is only one reason anyone would deny that there is such a thing as justice, which we can know either through its manifestation or its violation. Same with morality: there is only one reason anyone would deny it. That one reason is that they have taken a hammer to their own humanness and pounded it into a naturalistic-atheistic shape, which by its entailments cannot allow for justice or morality.

    I can call you—and I still will—to climb out of your bed of Procrustes and embrace your true nature as a human being. That’s all I have left to offer you.

  109. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “When I asked you what business you have passing judgement on other people’s behaviour your answer amounts to “what alternative is there?”. You’re quite happy to resort to manipulation and might makes right to get your way.”

    I don’t think I would categorise me as being happy about it, but that appears to be the facts of the matter. To paraphrase Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: If you eliminate the impossible, what ever remains, not matter how unpalatable, must be the truth. If I am wrong in the conclusion I have reached please point out the error. You yourself have helped steer me in this direction, so you understand the logic of it. Saying you don’t like the result is not an argument against it.

    “But are they correct about that? The “argument” that since people do not all agree on something it must be subjective is a non-starter, I’m really surprised how many times this is trotted out as if it is obvious.”

    Is it really so surprising that people naturally take the position that matters of opinion are subjective?

    “An alternative view for you to consider is that edness and beauty involve a response but it is a response to something objective in the thing -it’s form.”

    But the form is valued by an individual who comes at the object with her own baggage of life experience. A song cannot mean the same thing to all people in the way that a mathematical equation or the law of gravity does.

    “Goodness is measured against a things nature.”

    Are you saying the more something fulfils its true nature the better it is? Is this an individual nature for each thing, or do all dogs, for example, have an ideal dog nature that we measure them against, so that a fighting pit bull is not as good as a seeing eye labrador. Who is to know what is a things true nature?

    “I know in the work that I did, synthesizing new anti-cancer drugs, it’s very difficult to make sense of the process employed to make new compounds if there are no formal and final causes.”

    This sounds like an interesting topic of discussion. But it sounds like you are referring to chemistry, which is another of those things rooted in the laws that govern the universe and not subject to individual opinion.

    “Sorry, I’m not sure why you included the bit about physics then. So you were just repeating your opinion that they are subjective not offering further argument?”

    Yes. I was giving examples of things that were not open to opinion to highlight the difference.

    You have no idea what’s going on inside anyone else’s head. But you can claim to know their moral reasoning by their actions.

    I can ask them. All the evidence you’ve got for primates is outward behaviour, and that cannot demonstrate moral reasoning.”

    That is very rarely true. Most acts of moral reasoning you know about are through stories passed on by others, through news, history, etc. People you can never get hold of to get first hand accounts of their thoughts. A lot of these people speak a different language to you and you could not converse with them even if you could get hold of them. A lot of these stories involve the death of the person involved, again removing the opportunity to talk to them. But in all of these cases you can make a claim to know/understand their morality.

    You must also concede that people lie, so even if you could ask them questions it is substantially different to being in their head. Maybe they exaggerated what they did or the reasons they did it. Or even if they did it at all. Perhaps they are taking credit for someone else.

    The point that you need to be able to talk with and hear from someone to know their motivations is fallacious. I have 4 children and I could certainly understand their needs and wants long before they could talk. Different cries and sounds they made, coupled with their movements indicated if they needed a nappy change, had wind, an ear ache, wanted to play, etc. Now that they can talk I can see when they are lying to me about something, I can read between the lines to see what they actually want when they ask me a question and I can sometimes provide them an answer before they have opened their mouths to ask the question. My sister-in-law is Japanese and her family speak little english, but we can get together and communicate fine.

    There are people, like law enforcement officers, that professionally study humans and their behaviour. They can know when someone is lying or hiding something. I have no doubt you have experienced this yourself with family and work colleagues. This is the reason for the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.”

    Finally if I gave you information of a study that showed a series of men went days without eating because they discovered that the mechanism that supplied them food also administered an electric shock to another man, you would logically come to the conclusion that it was their moral reasoning that led to this behaviour. You wouldn’t need to talk to them to come to that conclusion.

    Cheers
    Shane

  110. Tom Gilson

    Shane,

    This is question-evading:

    Is it really so surprising that people naturally take the position that matters of opinion are subjective?

    This is question-begging:

    This sounds like an interesting topic of discussion. But it sounds like you are referring to chemistry, which is another of those things rooted in the laws that govern the universe and not subject to individual opinion.

    This is question-mongering (asking a question that has an answer in a form that implies that it doesn’t):

    Are you saying the more something fulfils its true nature the better it is? Is this an individual nature for each thing, or do all dogs, for example, have an ideal dog nature that we measure them against, so that a fighting pit bull is not as good as a seeing eye labrador. Who is to know what is a things true nature?

    This is question-manipulating (surely you know there’s a difference between human empathy/communication and human-chimp communication!)

    That is very rarely true. Most acts of moral reasoning you know about are through stories passed on by others, through news, history, etc. People you can never get hold of to get first hand accounts of their thoughts. A lot of these people speak a different language to you and you could not converse with them even if you could get hold of them. A lot of these stories involve the death of the person involved, again removing the opportunity to talk to them. But in all of these cases you can make a claim to know/understand their morality.

    This is a missed opportunity for a good question. (You could have asked, and some of us could have explained a far better answer than the one you provide here.)

    You must also concede that people lie, so even if you could ask them questions it is substantially different to being in their head. Maybe they exaggerated what they did or the reasons they did it. Or even if they did it at all. Perhaps they are taking credit for someone else.

    This is a question that falls fall before it even gets asked:

    Finally if I gave you information of a study that showed a series of men went days without eating because they discovered that the mechanism that supplied them food also administered an electric shock to another man, you would logically come to the conclusion that it was their moral reasoning that led to this behaviour. You wouldn’t need to talk to them to come to that conclusion.

    I wouldn’t conclude that at all! I would conclude that it was pain-aversion, not moral reasoning!

  111. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “The fact is, you’re wrong in your list of three options; the answer is (4) none of the above.”

    But that doesn’t help explain your last post. When my wife would use that phrase after I asked her if she was upset, her meaning was, “You should know, or you should be able to work out why, and if you can’t it’s because you are sooooooooooo dumb!” This is the meaning I also attribute to your words. I didn’t add it to my original list because I wanted to see if you would offer that conclusion yourself. For the record, that answer still belongs as a subset of 1. You could try and explain but you choose not to. This is illustrated because you have now attempted to do it.

    “Shane, Shane, I don’t appreciate the character attack one bit.”

    Yeah, it was a bit harsher than it should have been. I apologise for the tone. It was a reaction to the inference that I was dumb or unwilling to learn or blind to the self evident.

    “I have pointed you already toward what you should know about the dangers of a power-based government. Your answer was essentially, “so what, it doesn’t prove I’m wrong.” So I can’t take the obvious consequential route to explaining it.”

    As I understand this argument:

    1. Other governments have done terrible things from positions of power.
    2. These things are acknowledged to be immoral.
    3. Our government have not done these terrible things.
    4. Therefore our government must be moral.

    That’s fallacious and does nothing to explain morality inherent in the government system. If I have misrepresented it, please correct me.

    “The other route to an explanation goes like this: If you deny that there is such a thing as justice and morality, then you deny some of the basic knowledge you have had from infancy. You deny your own humanness. If you’re willing to set that aside, then I can’t help you. I can only call you back to what you know—to your humanness.”

    I don’t deny that I have morality. I never have. All individuals do, but it is a subjective thing. I find it interesting that you use the word infancy, rather than birth, because I believe part of the subjectiveness is inherent in the way we are raised.

    But the question, asked by you, is

    “Suppose then that some court of law tried to impose its will on me. Suppose the court decided to cage me up because I did something the authorities didn’t prefer. What moral right would they have to do so?”

    Individuals have a morality, but I don’t think a government, or company, or club, etc can, and you have not shown how it can be. The laws/rules made up by the individuals in these entities may be based somewhat or even wholly in the subjective morality of the individuals, but this doesn’t instil a morality in the U.S. Government, General Electric or the Carlton Football Club.

    If a billionaire puts aside money to create a foundation to help the needy is the foundation he creates morally good? Are the people that are employed there morally good by association? No. The foundation is just doing administration work and moving money around to the people that need it. The billionaire can be seen to be doing morally good works. Anyone that volunteers their time to work for free can be seen as morally good. An argument can be made that anyone that works there for less than they could earn elsewhere could be doing morally good work. But the foundation is not its own entity without the people there and it has no morals what so ever.

    The rules in place in the organisation are there to facilitate its running. Hopefully they are good and efficient rules to help get the most money to the people they need it. But it is incorrect to say that the rules are there by any form of ‘moral right’. This is analogous to the laws put in place by the government to facilitate the running of the country.

    As always, if I am in error, please point it out. I would very much like to hear your answer to your own question.

    Cheers
    Shane

  112. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “I wouldn’t conclude that at all! I would conclude that it was pain-aversion, not moral reasoning!”

    How is denying oneself food so another doesn’t get electrocuted not moral reasoning?

    Cheers
    Shane

  113. Melissa

    Shane,

    You yourself have helped steer me in this direction, so you understand the logic of it. Saying you don’t like the result is not an argument against it.

    I understand the logic of it if your metaphysics was inescapably true but there are plenty of reasons to think that it is your metaphysics that are at fault. Most people act as if objective morality exists, I think most people only go the subjective road because they don’t see how morality could be objective. Do you really have good enough reasons to think that materialism is true to deny the things that make you human? To be honest, I just don’t get it, the arguments given in support of materialism are generally lame.

    Is it really so surprising that people naturally take the position that matters of opinion are subjective?

    If you define opinion as necessarily subjective then no, but opinions may be judgements made on the basis of objective facts. Not to mention the fact that if you claim that opinions must be subjective then my position is that the judgement that something is morally good or bad is not an opinion.

    This sounds like an interesting topic of discussion. But it sounds like you are referring to chemistry, which is another of those things rooted in the laws that govern the universe and not subject to individual opinion.

    Except that if you think about it, which most people don’t, it is very hard to understand what the chemist is actually doing and why it is so successful if materialism is true.

    But in all of these cases you can make a claim to know/understand their morality.

    No I do not claim to understand or know peoples morality. All I claim is that people are engaging in moral reasoning. Part of that is because they are human and so we know (absent any defect) that they are capable of reasoning. Humans write and talk about moral reasoning, evidence that they engage in moral reasoning. I have first person experience of engaging in moral reasoning myself. You have none of this evidence for animals and you cannot assume that they experience what we experience.

    Edited to add: Some links that touch on the issue of homosexual behaviour in animals.
    http://souldevice.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/the-nature-of-natural-law-arguments/
    http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2012/03/does-homosexual-behavior-in-animals-mean-its-natural-for-humans.html

  114. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “Hi Melissa,

    “I wouldn’t conclude that at all! I would conclude that it was pain-aversion, not moral reasoning!”

    How is denying oneself food so another doesn’t get electrocuted not moral reasoning?

    Cheers
    Shane”

    My mistake in addressing this to Melissa. Whilst revisiting this I see it was you commenting on my answers to Melissa. So I address this question to you. Although i am interested in Melissa’s response to the same point.

    Cheers
    Shane

  115. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “We can entertain contradictory thoughts simultaneously, but we cannot knowingly believe contradictory thoughts simultaneously. I insert “knowingly” because we can do it unknowingly: the person who doesn’t understand multiplication and division could simultaneously believe that 2*2=4 and 4/2≠2. The person who understands the operations, however, could not believe both of those at once.”

    I didn’t bring this up earlier because I didn’t want to distract from getting an answer from you on how government gets moral rights. But people do that all the time. It is the basis of superstition and luck. Your country has a sparsity of thirteenth floors. Despite rational thinking and the knowledge that the floor numbered 14 will actually be the 13th people will skip over that number. Everyone knows the odds of rolling a dice or two and having a particular number show. Having a pretty girl blow on it will not affect the odds at all. Neither will any routine you have when watching your sports team play affect the result of the game. People have a great ability to believe things they know to be at odds with reality. Perhaps that falls into your category of ‘unknowingly’ but I don’t think so.

    You believe that God loves everyone more than I love my own children. You believe God will send billions of these people He loves so perfectly to hell, something I would never do to my children.
    You believe God’s love is manifest in everything He does, including giving Satan free reign to turn Job’s life into a misery.

    You believe murder is wrong because of God’s command.
    You believe Abraham was right in planning to murder Isaac on God’s command.

    Cheers
    Shane

  116. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “I understand the logic of it if your metaphysics was inescapably true but there are plenty of reasons to think that it is your metaphysics that are at fault”

    Interested to hear those reasons.

    “Most people act as if objective morality exists, I think most people only go the subjective road because they don’t see how morality could be objective”

    I would disagree whole heartedly with this statement. 7 Billion people on the planet … absolutely no way you can make a claim to what “most people” do. Any claim you want to make about what most people in your country, state, city do adds to the argument that their subjective morals are shaped by their genetics and upbringing. It is an unmitigated fact that there are large numbers of people in this world whose morals allow them to do any number of atrocities.

    “Do you really have good enough reasons to think that materialism is true to deny the things that make you human?”

    Tom, is this called a loaded question?

    “To be honest, I just don’t get it, the arguments given in support of materialism are generally lame.”

    Happy to hear any of these if you want to list them.

    “If you define opinion as necessarily subjective then no, but opinions may be judgements made on the basis of objective facts.”

    I am interested in an example of this, because I cannot think of one myself.

    “Not to mention the fact that if you claim that opinions must be subjective then my position is that the judgement that something is morally good or bad is not an opinion.”

    Well that goes hand in hand with your belief that morals are objective.

    “Except that if you think about it, which most people don’t, it is very hard to understand what the chemist is actually doing and why it is so successful if materialism is true.”

    I don’t understand what you are saying here. Do you mean repetitive chemical reactions?

    “No I do not claim to understand or know peoples morality. All I claim is that people are engaging in moral reasoning. Part of that is because they are human and so we know (absent any defect) that they are capable of reasoning. Humans write and talk about moral reasoning, evidence that they engage in moral reasoning. I have first person experience of engaging in moral reasoning myself. You have none of this evidence for animals and you cannot assume that they experience what we experience.”

    I think this experiment is nuanced enough to demonstrate moral reasoning. If you have another explanation, please put it forward.

    Also, thanks for the links. They out forward some good points about separating a homosexual sex act (especially under the pressure of hormones, pheromones, etc) and a homosexual lifestyle. A quick search has not given me any results of pure homosexuality in the animal kingdom yet, but there is plenty of evidence of bisexuality amongst primates, who use it as a social tool, and it is quite separate from sex for reproduction. Any search of Bonobos will give you heaps of articles about it.

    And I don’t understand the argument of “a things nature”. It seems pointless for a non living thing, and the only thing a living thing needs to do is reproduce itself. If it. Is good at that the species will survive. If not it will go extinct as 99% of things have.

    Cheers
    Shane

  117. Melissa

    Shane,

    Interested to hear those reasons.</blockquote<

    The problems of explaining free will, moral realism, intentionality, regularity, the problem of induction, the lack of rational foundations for the self, scientific realism and in fact a general descent into skepticism about everything, not just God. If you want more details Feser's the last superstition gives an entry level overview.

    It is an unmitigated fact that there are large numbers of people in this world whose morals allow them to do any number of atrocities.

    Well they’re not actually atrocities given your view. Which is an example of my point. The question is how many people do not act as if there is a good way to live and a bad way. How many people do not refrain from judging other people’s actions and especially those in far away places and times as wrong or right. When they teach their children they tell them lying or whatever is really wrong, not just that they it will be easier to fit in if they don’t do these things. People in general champion the person who fights unjust laws but the concept of a law being unjust doesn’t fit in the framework of subjective morality.

    Happy to hear any of these if you want to list them.

    The only ones I’ve heard are riffs on the success of science and Ockam’s razor or that there’s no evidence (which is true if you ignore the problems I listed above). What are your reasons for thinking materialism is false?

    I am interested in an example of this, because I cannot think of one myself.

    Medical opinions, opinions about the existence of God, the correct interpretation of quantum physics. All these have right and wrong answers but people disagree about what they are. The answers are not subjective, which is why disagreement over morality does nothing to show that moral good and bad themselves are.

    I think this experiment is nuanced enough to demonstrate moral reasoning. If you have another explanation, please put it forward.

    Well, I disagree. There is no way to determine whether the behaviour is a result if instinct or reasoning.

  118. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “Well they’re not actually atrocities given your view. Which is an example of my point. The question is how many people do not act as if there is a good way to live and a bad way. How many people do not refrain from judging other people’s actions and especially those in far away places and times as wrong or right. When they teach their children they tell them lying or whatever is really wrong, not just that they it will be easier to fit in if they don’t do these things. People in general champion the person who fights unjust laws but the concept of a law being unjust doesn’t fit in the framework of subjective morality.”

    People teach their children to support a specific sporting code/team and like a certain type of food, speak a certain language and follow a specific religion. All these things are subjective and not put forward as such. People all over the world raise their children and instil them with their own morals, many of which are contradictory with the way other people are raising their children.

    If morality was subjective, could a champion not see it as unjust and fight against it? The concept of unjust laws needing a champion to fight against them doesn’t fit in the framework of objective morality.

    “What are your reasons for thinking materialism is false?”

    I’m only just learning the labels but I can’t see any reasons to doubt materialism at the moment.

    “Medical opinions, opinions about the existence of God, the correct interpretation of quantum physics. All these have right and wrong answers but people disagree about what they are. The answers are not subjective, which is why disagreement over morality does nothing to show that moral good and bad themselves are.”

    Thanks for the examples. But none of those are opinions made on the basis of objective facts. The facts are unknown and so the opinions are still subjective.

    Cheers
    Shane

  119. Melissa

    Shane,

    Thanks for the examples. But none of those are opinions made on the basis of objective facts. The facts are unknown and so the opinions are still subjective.

    Okay, there seems to be some confusion here. When we describe morality as objective we mean that there is an objective fact of the matter whether something is right or wrong. We are talking about the ontological status of morality. Good and bad does not exist only in human minds but as an objective fact about humans. There can be opinions about objective matters and subjective matters which is why pointing out that there is disagreement over the answers does not mean there is no objective fact of the matter. A lot of science is considered provisional and open to being overturned on the basis of further evidence so would also come under your description of subjective opinion.

  120. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “Good and bad does not exist only in human minds but as an objective fact about humans. ”

    I disagree. Is there still confusion?

    Cheers
    Shane

  121. Melissa

    Shane,

    I know that is what you’re claiming but it rather confusing when you also lump medical opinions and the question of the existance of God into the same subjective category.

  122. Melissa

    Shane,

    If morality was subjective, could a champion not see it as unjust and fight against it? The concept of unjust laws needing a champion to fight against them doesn’t fit in the framework of objective morality.

    The concept of laws not aligning with objective morality makes perfect sense, not so with subjective morality. All you have is laws that don’t align with certain people’s preferences.

  123. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “I know that is what you’re claiming but it rather confusing when you also lump medical opinions and the question of the existance of God into the same subjective category.”

    People have different opinions about what constitutes good and bad behaviour, which God, if any, exists and what is the best medical treatment for a patient. These things all come from an individuals point of view depending on what they have learned throughout their lives.

    Is there a perfect treatment for an a certain individual with a certain illness? Probably, but I don’t think we are anywhere close to being able to do that and there are many illnesses that we just can’t treat at all. Our knowledge, while bounteous, is also far from complete. It doesn’t matter if there is a perfect way to treat cancer if we don’t know what it is.

    Is there a correct answer to the God/s question? I would think so, but there’s no way we can know that either. Putting forward God’s existence or not as an objective fact is meaningless if it can’t be verified and we have to rely on our own experience anyway.

    Is there one correct moral yardstick we can use to measure the actions of people according to their circumstances? Maybe. But if there is then God has it, and as such it is useless to us here on earth.

    “The concept of laws not aligning with objective morality makes perfect sense,”

    How so?

    “not so with subjective morality. All you have is laws that don’t align with certain people’s preferences.”

    Yes. In a democratic society the laws are in place because the majority of the people hired a representative who espouses similar subjective views to enact them. As society evolves over time, you get new individuals with their own subjective views who work to influence the opinion of others. The majority opinion changes and the people ask for laws to be amended.

    In a non democratic society the laws change according to the subjective morality of the people who have control.

    Cheers
    Shane

  124. Melissa

    Shane,

    People have different opinions about what constitutes good and bad behaviour, which God, if any, exists and what is the best medical treatment for a patient. These things all come from an individuals point of view depending on what they have learned throughout their lives.

    You are lumping all these things together as if they are the same but you admit later that at least the last two have objective right and wrong answers. Since they do we can apply our reasoning to attempt to get our answers as close to right as possible.

    The same is true if objective morality exists we can apply our reason to get as close as possible given what we do know. Where there is differences of opinion we can try to work out who is making the error. That seems to me to be a much better description of what is happening in moral debates. People really seem to be trying to convince others of the truth of their position. The situation of knowing what is good and bad is not as hopeless as you make it out to be. I would argue that the yardstick is in human nature (or essence) which is accessible to human reason.

    Putting forward God’s existence or not as an objective fact is meaningless if it can’t be verified and we have to rely on our own experience anyway.

    Your statement here is meaningless as well if we apply it to itself.

    “The concept of laws not aligning with objective morality makes perfect sense,”

    How so?

    Because the people in power can be wrong about what is good and bad or they could not care what is good or bad.

  125. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “People really seem to be trying to convince others of the truth of their position.”

    As they would if morality was subjective.

    “I would argue that the yardstick is in human nature (or essence) which is accessible to human reason.”

    What reason is there to believe that all humans have the same human nature or essence? It seems to me that if people are looking within themselves for the moral yardstick it is certainly a subjective thing. If they are looking with humans as a whole, then it is more of an averaging of all the subjective morality to be found within individuals.

    “Because the people in power can be wrong about what is good and bad or they could not care what is good or bad.”

    And why can that not be the case if morality is subjective?

    Cheers
    Shane

  126. Melissa

    Shane,

    As they would if morality was subjective.

    There is no truth to any position.

    What reason is there to believe that all humans have the same human nature or essence? It seems to me that if people are looking within themselves for the moral yardstick it is certainly a subjective thing. If they are looking with humans as a whole, then it is more of an averaging of all the subjective morality to be found within individuals.

    My suggestion is to do some reading, I can’t give you a lesson in A-T metaphysics in a combox. Here is a post on morality that touches on some of the issues but you probably will need to read his book, which would be worthwhile if you are interested in learning a bit about alternative viewpoints.

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2011/07/does-morality-depend-on-god.html?m=1

    And why can that not be the case if morality is subjective?

    Because you can’t be wrong about something that is subjective.

  127. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “There is no truth to any position.”

    That’s fair enough. But that doesn’t stop people from trying to change the opinion of others. On what is a good movie, or who they should vote for.

    “Because you can’t be wrong about something that is subjective.”

    Again, fair enough. So I would replace the arbitrary “good” and “bad” with “better” or “worse” for their constituents. They can be wrong about that and/or not care about that.

    Cheers
    Shane

  128. Melissa

    Shane,

    That’s fair enough. But that doesn’t stop people from trying to change the opinion of others. On what is a good movie, or who they should vote for.

    So there’s no truth to any position but people are still trying to convince others of the truth of their position?

    Again, fair enough. So I would replace the arbitrary “good” and “bad” with “better” or “worse” for their constituents. They can be wrong about that and/or not care about that.

    Better or worse would still be just as arbitrary as good or bad on your view.

  129. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “So there’s no truth to any position but people are still trying to convince others of the truth of their position?”

    I would say there is no absolute truth to any position on morality but people are trying to convince others that their opinion is a better one to hold.

    “Better or worse would still be just as arbitrary as good or bad on your view.”

    But they are degrees on a scale, shades of grey, rather than the black and white of good and bad. And the results are measurable towards an aim. Is a law regarding the mandatory wearing of seat belts in privately owned motor vehicles going to save lives? If it does, then the general population is better off with that law in place. If it kills more people then they are worse off.

    Cheers
    Shane

  130. Melissa

    Shane,

    I would say there is no absolute truth to any position on morality but people are trying to convince others that their opinion is a better one to hold.

    Better on what grounds? Not more in line with what is truly good for them, because you deny there is any such thing.

    If it does, then the general population is better off with that law in place. If it kills more people then they are worse off.

    But that assumes that it is good for them to live and bad for them to die which is what you are measuring your better and worse against.

  131. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    Yes. Longevity and quality of life. I think that’s tied in with people being free to live as they choose. What do you think a government should measure its better and worse against?

    Cheers
    Shane

  132. Melissa

    Shane,

    Yes. Longevity and quality of life. I think that’s tied in with people being free to live as they choose. What do you think a government should measure its better and worse against?

    It doesn’t matter what I think the government should measure their better or worse against. If you can’t see that your better and worse assumes a good and bad, then I can’t help you.

  133. Billy Squibs

    I would say there is no absolute truth to any position on morality but people are trying to convince others that their opinion is a better one to hold.

    Again, better by what standard? What if the majority of one society thinks it is better to repress a sub-section of their own society?

  134. Tom Gilson

    Right. If there’s no standard, then everyone who says, “This is better,” is wrong. Everyone. That would include Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no “better.”

  135. Billy Squibs

    Shane, I wonder what you, a passionate supporter of gay rights, appeals to when considering the wrongs of recent developments in Uganda?

  136. Bill L

    Tom, Melissa and Billy Squibs,

    Would any of you say that we could objectively state/observe that dogs prefer certain states of mind – that is, they avoid pain and seek pleasure?

  137. Bill L

    Tom,

    Would you say that pain and pleasure are states of mind?

    Do you think dogs experience pain and pleasure?

  138. Tom Gilson

    I would not necessarily agree that pain and pleasure are states of mind. Our attitude toward them, our reflections on them, are certainly states of mind. For an animal, though, I’m not sure that applies. Pain could be simply an aversive conditioner, for all I know. In other words, I just don’t know.

    How does this connect to the rest of the conversation?

  139. Bill L

    If you can objectively realize that sentient creatures seek happiness, then there are only certain ways of getting there (game theory).

    Notice in 155 Billy Squibs said: “What if the majority of one society thinks it is better to repress a sub-section of their own society?”

    If you play those scenarios out when there are more than one persons in the world,

  140. Bill L

    If you can objectively realize that sentient creatures seek happiness, then there are only certain ways of getting there (game theory).

    Notice in 155 Billy Squibs said: “What if the majority of one society thinks it is better to repress a sub-section of their own society?”

    If you play those scenarios out when there is more than one person in the world, repression fails as a long term strategy. [Do you ever wonder if this is why God gave us certain rules like the Golden rule? Maybe they work for a reason(?)

    This is why I said Harris’ idea of objective morality is only as objective as something like a science of medicine. (Unfortunately, for your needs, it is not more so).

  141. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Melissa,

    “It doesn’t matter what I think the government should measure their better or worse against.”

    You live in a democratic society and I’m assuming you like that you do. So you need to explain this comment. Why doesn’t it matter what you think?

    Cheers
    Shane

  142. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Billy Suibs,

    “Again, better by what standard? What if the majority of one society thinks it is better to repress a sub-section of their own society?”

    Then that sub-section of the society will be repressed. This is exactly what we see.

    Cheers
    Shane

  143. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “Right. If there’s no standard, then everyone who says, “This is better,” is wrong. Everyone. That would include Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no “better.””

    If there’s no absolute standard then there can be no absolute right or wrong. With a subjective standard there can be a subjective right or wrong.

    I have asked this question before, but how would the world work differently if there was only a subjective morality? What evidence is there that there is an objective morality at work because something we see today could not exist if we all only had our own subjective morality.

    I’m also still waiting to hear where you think the government gets its moral rights.

    Cheers
    Shane

  144. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Billy Squibs,

    “Shane, I wonder what you, a passionate supporter of gay rights, appeals to when considering the wrongs of recent developments in Uganda?”

    I don’t know why I need to appeal to anything. It is my opinion that the new laws there are wrong. I don’t feel the need to justify it beyond my belief that all people should be allowed to live freely, as I have stated many times.

    Cheers
    Shane

  145. Tom Gilson

    With a subjective standard anything can be subjectively right. Slavery can be subjectively right, just as racial equality can be. Child sacrifice can be subjectively right, just as loving and nurturing children can be.

    If you’re okay with that, and all you care about is how the world would work differently, then I have nothing to offer you; for this blog is about thinking through what’s right and wrong to the greatest extent possible, and you don’t think there is such a thing as that. It doesn’t matter where government gets its moral rights. That is, it matters to me, but not to you, and if it doesn’t matter to you, then why would you care if I answer?

  146. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    Well you asked the question of me. I assumed you would have an answer that would bolster your argument. If you don’t then that’s fine but you shouldn’t put it forward as though it is evidence for something.

    “If you’re okay with that”

    “What I’m okay with” has nothing to do with the facts. I’m sure you could enlighten me on the term for the type of question you just asked, but thinking things would be better if there was an underlying force at work does not make it so. And so we are left with a situation whereby people choose their own morality OR there is an underlying objective morality that people are free to ignore and choose their own morality. The second one has a useless redundant layer so the odds fall in favour of the first, as per Occam’s Razor.

    Cheers
    Shane

  147. Tom Gilson

    Shane, it is evidence, actually, but it’s not evidence that I can force on you. What I mean is this: there is only one conceivable reason you could deny what you know to be true, which is that justice is better than slavery, and loving nurturance is better than child sacrifice. I believe you really do know those things to be true, by the way. The only reason you could deny their truth would be to salvage your metaphysical commitment, your belief that the world is a place of blind, pitiless indifference, in Dawkins’ terms.

    The moral argument for God is powerful and persuasive to people who are willing to see that their moral knowledge really is knowledge. If you won’t do that, then you’re like the extreme fundamentalist who denies that scientific knowledge really is knowledge. For that fundamentalist, science isn’t “evidence.” For you, your moral knowledge isn’t “evidence.” For the extreme fundamentalist there comes a time when others must say, “I have nothing more to offer you.” I have reached that same point with you in this discussion.

  148. Tom Gilson

    By the way, this sidesteps everything:

    And so we are left with a situation whereby people choose their own morality OR there is an underlying objective morality that people are free to ignore and choose their own morality. The second one has a useless redundant layer so the odds fall in favour of the first, as per Occam’s Razor.

    Morality is not a matter of usefulness but of what is right and what is wrong, what is better and what is worse. Your razor slices off rightness and wrongness, justice and injustice, good and bad, better and worse. It slices off your own knowledge of these things.

  149. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “For the extreme fundamentalist there comes a time when others must say, “I have nothing more to offer you.” I have reached that same point with you in this discussion.”

    And that’s fair enough. I certainly don’t expect nor want you to keep repeating the same arguments if they are not enough to convince me of your position. I will reply to your last posts but feel free to leave the argument there.

    “I believe you really do know those things to be true, by the way.”

    I do believe those things to be true. But not because of some unknowable sense of what is right and wrong but because of my beliefs and experience. The argument regarding the absolutist use of the language is just semantics to me. I’m just following your and Melissa’s instance of the application of these words to follow them to their natural conclusion. I can’t be responsible for you not liking where they take you and the insistence of creating another layer which is more palatable.

    “The only reason you could deny their truth would be to salvage your metaphysical commitment, your belief that the world is a place of blind, pitiless indifference, in Dawkins’ terms.”

    And the only reason you could deny the truth is to salvage your metaphysical commitment to an omnipotent creator. See how that argument isn’t very useful? You are not the first Christian to tell me I am trying to ignore the facts because they don’t tell me what I want to hear. I am discussing things with a young earth creationist who is adamant that the only reason I believe in an ancient universe is because I need to fit things into my world view. I love her to death but I think even you will agree that she is ignoring the truth of the matter, not I. I tell her I am trying to follow the facts where they lead me. I’m not trying to shoehorn any evidence to fit my world view. That is the antithesis of what I want, which is simply the truth.

    “The moral argument for God is powerful and persuasive to people who are willing to see that their moral knowledge really is knowledge.”

    There is no evidence anywhere that knowledge can be acquired in anything other than first hand experience. I do believe moral knowledge is knowledge. I just reject the idea that is implanted in my head by a supernatural being because there is no evidence for that to be the case.

    “If you won’t do that, then you’re like the extreme fundamentalist who denies that scientific knowledge really is knowledge. For that fundamentalist, science isn’t “evidence.” For you, your moral knowledge isn’t “evidence.”

    The Christian fundamentalist is denying observable and testable fact. I am not, and never have, denied that we have a morality. I am denying that it comes from an unseeable source because that is not observable or testable. The evidence that moral behaviour is seen in other animals gives me the knowledge that morality evolved in the individual and we each have a subjective sense of what is right and wrong. You have nothing to back up your claim. The best you can do is try and ignore the moral behaviour seen in animals or explain it away in other terms. Like a young earth fundamentalist who tries to poke holes in radiometric dating, etc. Now you are entitled to believe what you believe, but labelling it as knowledge doesn’t make it so.

    “Morality is not a matter of usefulness but of what is right and what is wrong, what is better and what is worse. Your razor slices off rightness and wrongness, justice and injustice, good and bad, better and worse. It slices off your own knowledge of these things.”

    No it doesn’t. I know what is right and wrong is. And I know how/why I know. You, on the other hand, are without the your knowledge and stuck with the contradiction of God’s actions as having to be perfectly good when it seems patently obvious that they are not. How can a perfectly good God sentence billions of His children that He loves to hell? How can a God who is perfect good tell Abraham to murder his son? How can He let Satan torture Job? How does a perfect God with perfect Love allow Jephthah sacrifice his daughter as payment for winning a battle? You will tell me that all these things must be moral, because they were the will of God. But if anyone tried to do these things today and said they were doing it because God told them to, you would not support their actions.

    Cheers
    Shane

  150. Melissa

    BillL,

    If you play those scenarios out when there is more than one person in the world, repression fails as a long term strategy. [Do you ever wonder if this is why God gave us certain rules like the Golden rule? Maybe they work for a reason(?)

    Of course that’s the reason, God commands for our good – our objective good. There of course would be many people who don’t care about the long term and don’t believe there is an objective good so appealing to long term consequences would fail.

    This is why I said Harris’ idea of objective morality is only as objective as something like a science of medicine. (Unfortunately, for your needs, it is not more so).

    I think medicine is just as objective as morality but if you are committed to denying formal and final causes then they are both subjective.

    A couple of years ago there was some discussion around deaf children of deaf parents. They would have been able to get implants but the parents didn’t want them to because deafness was not a defect that needed to be fixed. Common sense would tell us that is silly, of course the auditory system is for hearing and the extent to which it doesn’t fulfill that purpose it is defective. But if you have a prior commitment to a mechanistic conception of nature then any purpose we perceive is entirely in our minds (materialism has an even bigger problem because it does away with mind). The denial of the purposes we perceive in nature flows from a prior rejection of final causes. My question is what is the evidence that supports a belief that the final purposes we perceive in natural substances are not a feature of the thing itself?

  151. SteveK

    Common sense would tell us that is silly, of course the auditory system is for hearing and the extent to which it doesn’t fulfill that purpose it is defective. But if you have a prior commitment to a mechanistic conception of nature then any purpose we perceive is entirely in our minds

    Agreed. This is one of those truths that many people need to let sink in – especially those with arguments that amount to “Science(tm), therefore God is unnecessary”

    Without an objective purpose, you cannot say that medicine is fixing anything – because fixing implies that something is malfunctioning, and this word implies a functional purpose which it deviated from. A biological system may be functioning differently than it did before, but that’s all you can say about it.

    The medicine results in a change back to some prior functioning state. Is that prior state the proper functioning state? Dumb question. There is no proper functioning state because there is no objective purpose. It may be the best state for your subjective purpose, but that doesn’t nullify the fact that medicine doesn’t fix anything.

  152. Bill L

    Melissa,

    My question is what is the evidence that supports a belief that the final purposes we perceive in natural substances are not a feature of the thing itself?

    I’m not sure I know the answer to that Melissa. I suppose the first bit of evidence would be that evolution seems to be a blind process. There are variable offspring that are then best able to survive by certain features they contain. I think it’s rather objective for us to look at something like anomalocaris and make some statements about it (e.g. it wanted to live, it used those elaborate head limbs to capture prey, etc.). But these features were generated not through a top-down process, but rather a bottom-up one.

    Streams and rivers don’t seek the sea, they follow path of least resistance downhill. They are not meant to provide drinking water to wildlife, rather, wildlife uses them.

    I certainly feel that purpose is more intuitive. But initially, not changing doors made more sense to me when I first encountered the Monty Hall Problem.

  153. Bill L

    Steve K,

    Do you think it is objective to say that dogs seek happiness and avoid pain?

  154. SteveK

    I’m not sure what’s going on inside the mind of a dog and what sensations they experience. It does appear as if they avoid pain. Why do you ask?

  155. BillT

    How can a perfectly good God sentence billions of His children that He loves to hell?

    God doesn’t sentence anyone to hell. Those who go, choose to go.

    How can a God who is perfect good tell Abraham to murder his son?

    A bit more nuanced interpretation is in order. Abraham’s son wasn’t murdered, was he? And God provided the sacrifice as well.

    How can He let Satan torture Job?

    The Bible makes it clear that misfortune falls on everyone. Job is no exception.

    How does a perfect God with perfect Love allow Jephthah sacrifice his daughter as payment for winning a battle?

    First, it’s not at all clear that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter. Second, if he did he acted in direct violation of God’s commands.

  156. Bill L

    Steve K,

    To be clear, I’m not sure either. But I think we have good reasons to think it is the case.

    The rest follows from what I said to Tom in 163. I know we’ve been over this before. So I’m not sure what more can be said at this point.

  157. Melissa

    Bill L,

    I suppose the first bit of evidence would be that evolution seems to be a blind process. There are variable offspring that are then best able to survive by certain features they contain. I think it’s rather objective for us to look at something like anomalocaris and make some statements about it (e.g. it wanted to live, it used those elaborate head limbs to capture prey, etc.). But these features were generated not through a top-down process, but rather a bottom-up one.

    Evolution is interpreted to be a blind process because final causes have already been rejected. I’m not sure what you’re trying to convey in the second part of your reply. Is it your position that ears really are for hearing and so can be defective or not? If you think ears are only defective relative to a person’s interests why do you think that?

    I certainly feel that purpose is more intuitive. But initially, not changing doors made more sense to me when I first encountered the Monty Hall Problem.

    This is a fairly standard response that is offered by skeptics quite often – refer to some other area where our intuitions let us down. I have a general rule of thumb, accept common sense unless I have very good reasons not to and only if the denial of common sense does not lead to global skepticism. That’s why I want to know, what are the good reasons for thinking common sense is wrong on this? Reasons that don’t also undermine your other knowledge claims.

  158. Bill L

    Melissa,

    Evolution is interpreted to be a blind process because final causes have already been rejected.

    I’m not so sure they were so much rejected as deemed unnecessary for the theory.

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to convey in the second part of your reply. Is it your position that ears really are for hearing and so can be defective or not? If you think ears are only defective relative to a person’s interests why do you think that?

    Well, I suppose something has to put purpose there in order for anything to be for anything. That seems to be the case almost by definition; so I suppose you are right there. I’m just not sure there is an objective purpose from God. But if we can objectively say (I’m not certain we can or not) that animals seek happiness, at least we know there are certain things that will help them accomplish these goals. Ears are good for that.

    In one part of my reply I mentioned streams and rivers. Is this what you were referring to not understanding? I’m trying to remember back to my philosophy class all those years ago… Didn’t Aristotle believe that a natural place was the cause/explanation of gravity? I see teleology as similar to this outdated concept.

    This is a fairly standard response that is offered by skeptics quite often – refer to some other area where our intuitions let us down. I have a general rule of thumb, accept common sense unless I have very good reasons not to and only if the denial of common sense does not lead to global skepticism.

    Maybe I am too skeptical. I certainly believe that is possible and it is to be avoided – so good point. I think it is important to balance that line between credulousness and unwarranted skepticism – as I’m sure you do. Perhaps my Bayesian priors are to see too many people make mistakes on too many intuitive issues. In fact, I think I see scientific progress as a long history of correcting this as it seems almost everything we (humans throughout time) once though obvious and intuitive turned out not to be so.

    That’s why I want to know, what are the good reasons for thinking common sense is wrong on this? Reasons that don’t also undermine your other knowledge claims.

    Well, I’m ok with having my knowledge claims undermined. But I realize there is a point where we have to say – “OK, this is the best I have and I have to start somewhere.” I pull myself up by my bootstraps. So given our different approaches and different amounts of skepticism, I suppose we will arrive at different answers. My experience has told me that we have mostly been wrong about most things (at least to some degree), until we find good evidence and use systematic reasoning.

  159. SteveK

    I’m not so sure they were so much rejected as deemed unnecessary for the theory.

    Whoever is saying this is speaking before he thinks it through. Science can’t function without this ‘unnecessary’ part that you speak of.

    From here:

    Aristotle shows that an opponent who claims that material and efficient causes alone suffice to explain natural change fails to account for their characteristic regularity.

    Where there is regularity there is also a call for an explanation, and coincidence is no explanation at all.

  160. Bill L

    That’s a good point Steve K, thanks for the link. I did not know if something like “It’s good for the flourishing of the animal” would be considered a final cause or not. Melissa had asked about “a feature of the thing itself” and I did not think she would accept reproduction and survival as qualifying.

    So Melissa, does that work for you?

  161. Melissa

    BillL,

    I’m not so sure they were so much rejected as deemed unnecessary for the theory.

    OK, how do you go from final causes are not needed in this particular scientific theory to final causes do not exist.

    But if we can objectively say (I’m not certain we can or not) that animals seek happiness, at least we know there are certain things that will help them accomplish these goals. Ears are good for that.

    What does happiness mean? I think if you probe here you will find the circularity and the weakness in Harris’ morality.

    Didn’t Aristotle believe that a natural place was the cause/explanation of gravity? I see teleology as similar to this outdated concept.

    Aristotle’s philosophy is not dependant on his science. In what ways is teleology similar to Aristotle’s concept of a natural place.

    Well, I’m ok with having my knowledge claims undermined. But I realize there is a point where we have to say – “OK, this is the best I have and I have to start somewhere.” I pull myself up by my bootstraps. So given our different approaches and different amounts of skepticism, I suppose we will arrive at different answers. My experience has told me that we have mostly been wrong about most things (at least to some degree), until we find good evidence and use systematic reasoning.

    I think you misunderstand me. I think you need reasons to discount something that do not simultaneously undermine other claims that you claim to be true. What I don’t see in this dismissal of teleology is good evidence and systematic reasoning. So if you have some good reasons and systematic reasoning I would like to know what it is.

    Edited to add: I think the difference between us is that you are comfortable pulling yourself up by the bootstraps at a level that I think requires more digging.

  162. Bill L

    Melissa,

    First, did you notice my exchange with Steve K culminating in 183?

    Does that change anything for you?

    (Also, you didn’t really use many question marks in your last post, but I’m assuming you would like me to answer them, correct?)

  163. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    Sorry, I didn’t respond to this point.

    That’s a good point Steve K, thanks for the link. I did not know if something like “It’s good for the flourishing of the animal” would be considered a final cause or not. Melissa had asked about “a feature of the thing itself” and I did not think she would accept reproduction and survival as qualifying.

    This is where terms need to be defined properly because you are heading in the right direction but if the terms are free floating it doesn’t help you. I would define flourishing as the state where your your natural ends are fulfilled. Humans have many natural ends (reproduction being one of them) but they are all subordinated to our overarching end which is to know God (that bit isn’t going to be agreed by you). These natural ends (purposes or goals) are objective aspects of being human. So if we have natural ends we have objective morality.

    Edited to add:

    (Also, you didn’t really use many question marks in your last post, but I’m assuming you would like me to answer them, correct?)

    My main question from the previous post would be what are the good evidence and systematic reasoning that underpins your belief that teleology is not a real feature of the world. Or why you think I’m wrong not to consider the evidence you’ve put forth as good.

  164. Bill L

    In Steve’s link, the flourishing is really about survival and reproduction. Would you consider that as at least one kind of final cause?

  165. Bill L

    As to your edit, I personally have no idea why you don’t consider my argument good. Perhaps your Bayesian priors? Perhaps you are committed to your worldview? There seem so many answers. I could probably turn the question around on you and I doubt that would get us very far.

    Right now I wake up in the middle of most nights thinking about what exactly it takes to change someones (my own) mind on a topic. I ask myself what should change my mind. I find myself wanting to accept Christianity, but I just can not (yet).

  166. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    In Steve’s link, the flourishing is really about survival and reproduction. Would you consider that as at least one kind of final cause?

    I don’t think you have fully understood what the article is getting at. The article says:

    One thing to be appreciated about Aristotle’s reply is that the final cause enters in the explanation of the formation of the parts of an organism like an animal as something that is good either for the existence or the flourishing of the animal. In the first case, something is good for the animal because the animal cannot survive without it; in the second case, something is good for the animal because the animal is better off with it.

    The flourishing is defined as the animal being better off. But how to define better? The answer is a more complete fulfilment of it’s natural ends. Something is good for an animal if it results in the animal flourishing. The problem for the person who denies teleology is how to define flourishing in a non-question begging way.

  167. Tom Gilson

    Bill L., an Aristotelian final cause is not some entity’s final end or final destination, it is its original, intended, or natural purpose, goal. The Greek telos, from which we get teleology, means purpose, goal, end, or intended outcome.

    The terminology of “final” cause is confusing, in my opinion, but it it what it is.

  168. Bill L

    Tom,
    I did understand that. But thank you anyway.

    Melissa,
    It’s still not clear to me what you think the issue is or what you think I missed in the link. The article seems to define better in terms of the kinds of things it needs (the right kind of teeth to be more efficient at eating) so it is better adapted to survival.

    It seems that living things are distinct from non-living things in that they are, well, alive. It also seems similar to the idea that living things want to be happy. So that’s why I asked the question to you – do you think we could objectively say that dogs want to be alive and that they seek happiness?

    I’m saying on this I may actually agree with you about a teleology. If we agree that knowing that sentient creatures seek to be alive and that they seek happiness, and we can know this objectively – then that may be their teleology.

  169. Bill L

    No worries. I’m sure I will need more stuff explained to me in the (probably very near) future.

  170. SteveK

    Bill L,
    Having read Cold Case Christianity, I thought you might appreciate the video below that retells Jim Wallace’s story in a little under 6 minutes.

    http://cbn.com/tv/3259344951001

    I particularly liked the part where Jim asks “Why do we need a savior?” because it fits into the discussion you’ve been having with Melissa regarding morality and natural ends / final causes.

    If human life has no purpose to it, then no human being can actually be morally deficient. ** Their will, their desires, their plans, their actions cannot be immoral, they can only be different compared to some other person.

    But nobody thinks that. For this reason, I consider the human moral experience be one of the best evidences for the existence of God.

    ** If you were to participate in an event that had no purpose or goal to it, there is literally nothing you could do that would get you closer to winning the event (which is analogous to becoming a more morally good person).

  171. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    It’s still not clear to me what you think the issue is or what you think I missed in the link. The article seems to define better in terms of the kinds of things it needs (the right kind of teeth to be more efficient at eating) so it is better adapted to survival.

    Not quite right, what is good for the organism is to have the things it needs to live a better life. What the article doesn’t explicitly spell out is that better means the creatures natural ends are more completely met.

    So that’s why I asked the question to you – do you think we could objectively say that dogs want to be alive and that they seek happiness

    I don’t know what we could say about what dogs want or seek. It’s hard to know what it is like to be a dog.

    People though, in general want to be alive and seek happiness. People want/seek/desire what they in some way think is good for them. What is actually good for them is to fulfil their nature and natural ends. The natural ends are an objective feature of the whole creature and are not just present as conscious goals. Therefore people can be wrong about what is good for them and seek the wrong things. That is what gives you an objective morality.

    I’m saying on this I may actually agree with you about a teleology. If we agree that knowing that sentient creatures seek to be alive and that they seek happiness, and we can know this objectively – then that may be their teleology.

    Teleology is not just present as conscious seeking. That much is clear from the article. The final causes are present even if not consciously acknowledged. Teleology is also the explanation for non-living regularities in nature. The problem with basing a morality on what creatures consciously seek is that it is subjective not objective. How can you be wrong about what you consciously seek? Also what do you really mean when you use the word happiness?

    The thing with Harris morality is that it seems plausible because it is very close to the truth. The problem is that he denies the one thing that it needs – teleology inherent in the natural world.

  172. Jenna Black

    Melissa,

    I refer to the Gospel of John 10:10 when Jesus states his purpose or his “teleology” in coming to us as our Messiah: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

  173. Shane Fletcher

    Hi BillT,

    “God doesn’t sentence anyone to hell. Those who go, choose to go.”

    I would suggest billions do not make that choice at all as they have no knowledge of the place. But in any case, what happens to someone in hell who then wants to be with God?

    “A bit more nuanced interpretation is in order. Abraham’s son wasn’t murdered, was he? And God provided the sacrifice as well.”

    Never mind the outcome. Imagine God telling you to kill your son … that is an horrific command to be made to anyone. And then imagine your father tells you that you are to be the sacrifice at your journeys end. Do you think the psychological pain/damage disappears for either of them with a simple “No. You don’t have to do it now. Here’s a ram you can use instead.”?

    Shane

  174. Jenna Black

    Shane,

    Allow me to give you my understanding and interpretation of the story of Abraham and Isaac here. I offer this as an example of how I as a Christian read the Old Testament with an open mind and heart to understand what its stories teach us about God and my Christian faith.

    The story of Abraham and Isaac is about God “testing” both Abraham’s and Isaac’s faith. I interpret the story in large part from the point of view of prophesy. Abraham was being tested for God to see if he was worthy of being the father of a nation who would make a Covenant with God, the nation of Israel. The sacrifice of Isaac is loaded with symbolism: Was Abraham willing to sacrifice his beloved son out of faith in God and God’s purpose, saying to himself “I don’t understand what God wants from me and why but I have faith that God has a purpose.” When God is satisfied that Abraham has demonstrated his faith and Isaac as well (being an adult who could have resisted his father), then God substitutes a lamb for the sacrifice. This is prophecy about the Messiah, the Son of God and the Lamb of God, who God sacrifices out of His love for humankind. What we learn from this story is about the great faith that proved Abraham worthy of having one of his descendants be the Messiah.

  175. SteveK

    I would suggest billions do not make that choice at all as they have no knowledge of the place.

    Think of it like choosing to pursue and love what you want rather than pursue and love God – and God saying “Have it your way, Shane”.

    G. Rodrigues linked to this video on that subject.

  176. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Jenna,

    I understand the symbolism and the set up and pay off with regards to Jesus crucifixion. That doesn’t stop it being an awful, awful story. If God is omnipotent He has no need to test anyones faith. God has already promised that Abraham will be the founder of a great nation so testing him at this point seems moot unless He plans on reneging on His deal. The only logical reason to ask this of Abraham is so that Abraham can find out something about himself, and the rest of the world can find out something about Abraham. And what everyone finds out is that Abraham would willing kill his son if God told him to. Do you think that did good things for the Abraham-Isaac relationship? The Abraham-Sarah relationship? The Abraham-anyone relationship?

    Consider the news story below. It’s an absolute tragedy, but can you find any good in the fact that this woman believed she was following God’s orders? Can you find the smallest piece of admiration that she was willing to kill her own children when she heard God tell her to? She is demonstrating the faith of Abraham even if she was mistaken about hearing the command from God.

    http://edition.cnn.com/2004/LAW/04/03/children.slain/

    Sincerely
    Shane

  177. Shane Fletcher

    Hi SteveK,

    Thanks for the link. Interesting video. I would like to know what kind of scriptural backing there is for the idea of people getting to make their choice in the instant of their death or a bus line from hell to heaven, because it is not something I have heard of before. My point was that there are billions who had never heard of the Christian God before there death and therefore had no way to pursue a relationship with Him. I would say it’s impossible to reject a relationship with someone you have never heard of. Likewise it’s impossible to reject a relationship with someone you don’t believe is real. However if the truth is revealed to us at the moment of our death and we get to make our decision then, it does seem to make life a bit of a waste of time in the scheme of things.

    Cheers
    Shane

  178. SteveK

    My point was that there are billions who had never heard of the Christian God before there death and therefore had no way to pursue a relationship with Him.

    We come into the world as rebels, and we will leave the world in the same condition unless we are redeemed.

    I would say it’s impossible to reject a relationship with someone you have never heard of.

    I said that they choose to love what they want.

  179. Bill L

    Melissa,

    @ 196

    How can you be wrong about what you consciously seek? Also what do you really mean when you use the word happiness?

    I’m still trying to think about this and I am also thinking about your other statements. I don’t have any great answers…

    It seems that the way to be wrong about what one consciously seeks, is by not being aware of what one consciously seeks or by not being aware of how one would get there. The psychopath believes one thing will bring what he wants (presumable some kind of happiness) but is utterly mistaken (from what little I know of them, they report that their acts do not bring them the kind of satisfaction they wish for). Also if someone is not aware that he is actually seeking happiness, but mistakenly believes he loves misery, we need only show him that he truly seeks happiness if we thwart his plans. Anyway he would arrive at a logical contradiction if he were to be allowed to actualize his misery.

    I think that our experiences of ourselves as humans and our knowledge of that can allow us to extend our empathy to non-humans, since their actions, parts of the brain that respond to stimuli and so on tell us that their wants are similar to ours.

    By happiness I mean those (I believe objective) states of the mind where we feel that things are as they should be – where we want to be.

    Again, going back to a world where more than one sentient being interacts, there are only certain ways that you will get there. This is what morality is.

  180. Bill L

    Melissa,

    Going back to 180:

    This is a fairly standard response that is offered by skeptics quite often – refer to some other area where our intuitions let us down. I have a general rule of thumb, accept common sense unless I have very good reasons not to and only if the denial of common sense does not lead to global skepticism.

    It seems brains mostly evolved for the benefit of motion. Hence we are pretty good at intuitively judging how to throw a ball over a home plate, or at how to walk down a set of stairs , or pour a glass of wine (things that are rather difficult for computers/machines). But we did not evolve to do complex mathematics (so computers are pretty darn fast at long division).

    It also seems that human brains (specifically) evolved to communicate with others (verbally and non-verbally) especially as a means of cooperation. So we are pretty good at intuitively judging what others are saying and feeling.

    But it seems to me that our intuition fails us rather often when we are tasked with problems outside of these areas. I’m not sure about this, so I want to get your opinion… When it comes to mathematics we have to undergo a great deal of training. There is little that is intuitive. When it comes to chemistry, we are similarly bad through intuition. Pick any number of complex topics and we find we are bad at them without specific training and rigorous thought – hence our need for millennia of slow progress to understand the Earths motion in relation to the Sun.

    Assigning agency seems like one of these difficult issues. “Primitive” peoples throughout time seem to assign agency to any number of causes (there’s a spirit in that volcano, there are ghosts in those woods, etc.). I think this is the reason I proceed with skepticism in this area – we commonly make mistakes in these subjects.

    As a matter of fact, I wonder if we haven’t been mostly wrong when it comes to our intuitions about these kinds of complex problems. I don’t think global skepticism is in order, but global caution is.

  181. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    It seems that the way to be wrong about what one consciously seeks, is by not being aware of what one consciously seeks or by not being aware of how one would get there.

    We could be wrong about how we want to achieve a goal but by definition we could not be unaware of what we conciously seek.

    By happiness I mean those (I believe objective) states of the mind where we feel that things are as they should be – where we want to be.

    So happiness is a state of mind we find ourselves in when our goals are met. But we know that we can be unhappy even though our conscious goals are met. Which means our conscious goals were not the right goals. But if conscious goals are the only goals that exist for me how can they be the wrong goals?

    But it seems to me that our intuition fails us rather often when we are tasked with problems outside of these areas. I’m not sure about this, so I want to get your opinion… When it comes to mathematics we have to undergo a great deal of training. There is little that is intuitive. When it comes to chemistry, we are similarly bad through intuition. Pick any number of complex topics and we find we are bad at them without specific training and rigorous thought- – hence our need for millennia of slow progress to understand the Earths motion in relation to the Sun.

    I don’t know about that. The average person can get a decent handle on mathematics and normal physical feats. Elites in both areas undergo rigorous training. Some people find mathematics difficult, some find it intuitive. I think the time taken to understand the Earth’s motion in relation to the Sun is much more a factor of building up enough data and information. Knowledge is cumulative.

    Assigning agency seems like one of these difficult issues.

    But I’m not talking about assigning agency. All I’m talking about is realising that teleology is a real aspect of the natural world. God doesn’t automatically follow from that, He requires further argumentation. In fact Aristotle recognised natural teleology but did not connect that necessarily to his First Cause. It was Aquinas who produced the arguments that proceed from natural teleology to God.

  182. Jenna Black

    Shane, RE: #201

    The woman in the story you provided a link to from CNN was judged to be insane by a jury of her peers. Has/did a jury of his peers judge Abraham to be insane? Do you claim that Abraham was insane? Let’s set aside unrelated stories and false analogies in the analysis of the accounts of Abraham and Isaac from the Old Testament.

    Other than this diversion, I think we are making progress. You say this: “The only logical reason to ask this of Abraham is so that Abraham can find out something about himself, and the rest of the world can find out something about Abraham.” This remark indicates that you do accept that God had a logical reason and purpose in commanding Abraham to take Isaac up onto the mountain to sacrifice him. The concept of sacrifice is key to this story. Abraham obeyed God, even though he did not understand God’s reasons (logic). It is also logical and reasonable to conclude that God knew that Abraham would pass the test and that Isaac would not be sacrificed. Abraham learned that God can be trusted, even when Abraham (and his descendants) don’t understand God’s commands and God’s purpose and reasoning in the moment. It was not until many generations later when Abraham’s “seed” Jesus was sacrificed for humankind’s salvation and redemption that we see the reward for Abraham’s faith and obedience. This is the nature of prophesy and revelation. What do we think of Abraham’s faith today? I don’t know about you, but I have a deep love and admiration for Abraham, who is the Father of the followers of three world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. No one I know of believes that Abraham was insane.

  183. Bill L

    Melissa,

    We could be wrong about how we want to achieve a goal but by definition we could not be unaware of what we conciously seek.

    I see what you are saying and perhaps I just phrased it badly. I mean something more like we loose sight of our goals. [Sorry, my politics is obviously going to come through on this one]…

    I think both environmentalists and coal supporters have a common goal – they want to be happy, and want others to be happy. The coal supporters believe the way to happiness is to have good paying jobs and a thriving economy. In the process of advocating for that, they have lost sight of their original purpose (happiness) and have focused on other issues (being pro-mountaintop removal for example) and at the same time anti-environmentalist since they see them as standing in their way. Yet environmentalists may know that we could change the world to such an extent that it may no longer be a place worth living in. Maybe the environmentalist has even lost sight of the goal and has strictly focused on being anti-coal.

    In this way, both may be wrong about their conscious goal – believing they are seeking one thing, when they are actually seeking another. So in this sense, we agree on the first three sentences that follow:

    So happiness is a state of mind we find ourselves in when our goals are met. But we know that we can be unhappy even though our conscious goals are met. Which means our conscious goals were not the right goals.

    Then you ask:

    But if conscious goals are the only goals that exist for me how can they be the wrong goals?

    Because they are not the only ones that exist. You would just be unaware of what your true goals are.

  184. BillT

    Shane,

    We all have free will. We all choose. And the answer to your question is…no one knows what happens or if this ever happens. However, C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” does offer some insight into both of your questions.

    Your insight into Abraham’s state of mind is fascinating. Did you get that first hand? I’d say Abraham did ok in the long run. What do you think?

  185. Bill L

    Steve K,

    Thank you for the videos. I do find them interesting and his approach is cogent.

    However:

    ** If you were to participate in an event that had no purpose or goal to it, there is literally nothing you could do that would get you closer to winning the event (which is analogous to becoming a more morally good person).

    This sound like a good reason to want to believe in a God (one I also find myself drawn towards). But it does not seem like good evidence for a God.

  186. SteveK

    Bill L,

    This sound like a good reason to want to believe in a God (one I also find myself drawn towards). But it does not seem like good evidence for a God.

    It’s very good evidence for objective morality, just like our sense of touch is good evidence for physical objects.

    Would you agree with this: there are realities in the world that are factually morally good/ evil? If you do, then the event we are all participating in is not without a purpose and naturalism is false.

    If you don’t agree with that statement then there’s no objective problem of evil that needs to be overcome. There’s only a subjective problem of human psychology that someone could work toward altering so that the illusion of objective good/evil goes away.

    What do you think, Bill: should we develop a pill to rid our minds of the subjective perception of evil, or should we actually rid the world of evil?

  187. Melissa

    BillL.,

    Because they are not the only ones that exist. You would just be unaware of what your true goals are.

    Exactly. Which means that there is intrinsic teleology in nature apart from humans concious goals and desires and therefore there is objective morality.

  188. Bill L

    Steve K,

    It’s very good evidence for objective morality, just like our sense of touch is good evidence for physical objects.

    This is where I’m not so sure that it isn’t something more like a quirk of our intuition, sort of the way we intuit cultural differences. Most of my Hindu friends feel deep in their hearts that the killing of cows is morally wrong (big-time wrong); they also feel that wearing one’s shoes inside is morally wrong (in a lesser way). I personally feel that causing the suffering of sentient creatures is morally wrong (hence I don’t eat meat). It seems intuitively obvious that I would notice if a man in a gorilla suit walked in front of me on a basketball court and thumped his chest, that I would notice.

    Would you agree with this: there are realities in the world that are factually morally good/ evil?

    I certainly agree that things seem that way. But I wonder if we are defining words like “moral, good and evil” in a way that makes sense. I think we agree that it would take a mind to define what is moral or good. So it seems that you are looking for an ultimate subjective moral or good – God. It is his opinion that matters since he is the one who creates reality. I think you are on solid ground with that idea.

    But this is an instance where I find myself asking – what is “morality” and what is “good” exactly? It seems that these are ideas that are linked to and subservient to things like happiness and well being. And I don’t see how it makes sense to think of them in any other way, even for a theist. In this way there is no illusion since states of the brain are real. And making the problem go away does nothing to achieve the happiness and well being of sentient creatures. So we indeed do have something to work towards.

  189. Bill L

    Melissa,

    I meant that one has misunderstood their true goals, unless you want to consider that human drive to be happy a kind of intrinsic teleology. Which is kind of what I’m asking about. Do you think of it that way?

  190. Billy Squibs

    “In this way there is no illusion since states of the brain are real.”

    Then merely thinking something makes it real?

  191. Bill L

    Billy Squibs,

    Well clearly we are talking about emotions (as distinguished from what is more commonly called “thinking”) and the states of the brain that elicit emotions are real.

    I think the only things that are necessary for this view is to concede that happiness is what we can objectively say is the condition that sentient creatures seek (that seems to be the most difficult part). If you do grant that, then “morality, good and bad” are terms that serve this teleology.

    It may not be the single most ultimate teleology imaginable. But it may be the highest one their is.

  192. Billy Squibs

    So somebody sacrificing their happiness for whatever reason is doing what exactly?

  193. SteveK

    Bill L

    Most of my Hindu friends feel deep in their hearts that the killing of cows is morally wrong (big-time wrong); they also feel that wearing one’s shoes inside is morally wrong (in a lesser way).

    Focus on the question does morality exist objectively rather than on which moral category something fits into. If moral goodness exists objectively, then that’s what you have to deal with as a naturalist.

    It seems it does exist that way – objectively – and if it does someone, somewhere is correct when they conclude that “hey, this is objectively good, and you who disagree are factually wrong”.

    The only other option is that it doesn’t exist objectively and we can only speak of subjective perceptions. Hence my “take a pill” option to rid ourselves of the anxiety and guilt that comes with the illusion of evil in the world.

    There is no middle ground, Bill.

  194. Bill L

    Steve K,

    I’m not so sure about the no middle ground thing. I honestly don’t know if we can objectively say that humans and other sentient creatures seek happiness as a matter of teleology. But if we can say that, it seems that there are only certain ways to get there. This seems as close as we could get to objectivity.

    If happiness is a matter of opinion (I’m inclined to think it is not) then that would be subjective. Even if that were the case, then I think the best you could work to achieve is a utilitarian morality. Which I think it would be hard to imagine anyone who would not want this.

  195. Billy Squibs

    You say that happiness in the highest teleology imaginable – at least to you. (Note how you smuggle in a value judgement here by claiming it is the highest.) What about somebody who intentionally deprives themselves of happiness. This could be something as mundane as the daily sacrifice all parents make for their children or something as striking as a soldier laying down his life for his comrades.

    If you are claiming that happiness is the the highest goal any one of us can achieve you are arguing for the highest form of selfishness imaginable.

  196. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    I meant that one has misunderstood their true goals, unless you want to consider that human drive to be happy a kind of intrinsic teleology. Which is kind of what I’m asking about. Do you think of it that way?

    What are these true goals? If they are not what we consciously seek then how do they exist?

    The human drive to be happy seems to cash out to a drive to obtain the feeling humans have when their goals are met. Therefore to define human teleology in terms of happiness is circular. The human goal is to be happy. Humans are happy when there goals are met. Their goals are to be happy …

  197. Bill L

    Billy Squibs,

    Soldiers and Mothers are doing exactly what they think will make them happy. Happiness does not mean a short-term state of bliss. You have to apply utilitarian ethics to their fullest extent.

  198. Bill L

    Melissa,

    The goal of happiness is a state of the mind. I agree that this might be circular, but I don’t know why this would be a bad way to look at it.

  199. Melissa

    Billy Squibs,

    What about somebody who intentionally deprives themselves of happiness. This could be something as mundane as the daily sacrifice all parents make for their children or something as striking as a soldier laying down his life for his comrades.

    Yes I think happiness is a bit misleading. I think really what all humans desire is to be fulfilled (or the Christian might say – to have joy, which is deeper than happiness). Of course if we put it that way then the circularity is obvious. It is obvious that the goals requiring fulfillment are not just those we consciously decide (as the atheist will claim) because we know we can be wrong about what will fulfil us.

    In the words of Augustine “My heart is restless until it finds it’s rest in thee.”

    This drive points us towards God if we would not just ignore it and explain it away.

  200. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    The goal of happiness is a state of the mind. I agree that this might be circular, but I don’t know why this would be a bad way to look at it.

    If it’s circular then it doesn’t explain anything. What is doing the work in the explanation is not the happiness but the goals. So then you need to think about how these goals exist.

  201. Bill L

    Melissa,

    If it’s circular then it doesn’t explain anything. What is doing the work in the explanation is not the happiness but the goals. So then you need to think about how these goals exist.

    This is a tough one. Thank you for helping me think about it.

    It almost seems as though there are different components or areas of thought and feeling in the mind (I want to loose 10 pounds, but I sure would like a doughnut). So maybe we have our goal-seeking drive that leads us to certain states of mind.

    Of course I realize these are both states of mind and that both would be found in the brain of a single individual. But I wonder if it is useful to think of minds as these separate “components” in this way.

  202. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    Of course I realize these are both states of mind and that both would be found in the brain of a single individual. But I wonder if it is useful to think of minds as these separate “components” in this way.

    I suppose it depends on useful for what.

    We both agree that we often have competing desires. We decide to fulfil some desires and not others. Sometimes we decide to fulfil the wrong desires but how can that be? That’s the question you need to ask.

  203. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Jenna,

    “Has/did a jury of his peers judge Abraham to be insane?”

    I think this would be an interesting exercise, actually.

    “Let’s set aside unrelated stories and false analogies in the analysis of the accounts of Abraham and Isaac from the Old Testament.”

    The story is unrelated, but the question i asked is not rhetorical. Do you think that there is anything redeeming about a woman who followed through on orders she thought she received from God? You want to tell me that Abraham was good to want to sacrifice his son because God told him to. Leaving aside how the story ends, because obviously Abraham didn’t know that as he was living it, how are his actions good? How is it good of God to ask that of him? To examine the end of the story is to say, ” the ends justify the means” which is another way of saying that we can bend our own morality for a greater good.

    Sincerely
    Shane

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