Clueless Defender of The Moral Argument
Posting this gif again because damn.
If atheism is true, there’s no basis for objective moral values and duties. And if everything’s ultimately reducible to physical processes and matter just behaving according to law, it seems pretty tough to build a moral foundation that doesn’t leave you as a total…
When I saw the ‘commonly formed’ argument on morality, I agreed with you. At first glance, it does indeed seem faulty. But if we clarify it, we can find a better conclusion.
I can’t stand people who don’t have respect. Given your myriad misunderstandings of my position and the hastiness of your fault-filled response, I told you I wasn’t planning on responding because I have other pressing matters. Rather than leaving it at that, you indulge your ego. Not only do you respond to this, but after what I said, you chose to respond to another post regardless of what I said. Allow me to correct your faults.
Starting with your argument on the first point of the common morality argument, my first response is simply: moral objectives can exist without God.
BUT, moral objectives cannot be substantiated without God. Let’s review morality briefly: morality is an absolute set of rules defining right and wrong. At first glance, it seems atheistic. God isn’t necessary to define those, right? But for the laws of morality to be proven, they must come from a moral authority. If there is no God, and we are all just humans, then anyone saying “This is right”, or “This is wrong” is just stating their opinion. That opinion is no better than yours or mine. To have a standard of moral objectives, we must then have a moral authority, namely God. So to have proven laws governing morality, we must have a God.
In my response to by-grace-of-god—a response I linked you to—I addressed this issue. This is precisely why I accused you of skimming. You and her share the same view in ethics—a view known as substantive realism. Let’s consider the fatal flaws your position has:
- Substantive realism is the view that states that “there are correct procedures for answering moral questions because there are moral truths or facts, which exist independently of those procedures, and which those procedures track.”1
- Whether you argue that morality is simply objective or it’s objective because it hinges on god, your view begs the question and thus isn’t justified.
- Given that your view begs the question, we need to look elsewhere; in other words, given that it isn’t enough to posit that morality is contingent on a deity, we’ve more work to do.
- Enter my view, procedural realism: “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”2
- Such a procedure would be Kant’s CI procedure or Smith’s problem-solution model. Or it could be something simpler. The procedures could even vary. One thing is clear, however: morality is constructivist and more specifically procedural and this is evidenced by the codification of law throughout history.
You straw man the problem-solution model below, so we’ll get to that later. However, you completely disregard Kant’s CI procedure. There are four formulas3:
1) The Formula of the Law of Nature: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature.”
Kant placed a lot of emphasis on autonomy. Modern Kantians like John Rawls and Christine Korsgaard place similar emphasis on autonomy, but they also speak of self-legislation. This formulation is compelling because moral truths could arise from mere human agency rather than divine authority.
One may contend that a psychopath would will murder as if it were a universal law of nature. However, another point you missed in my essay The Moral Algorithm, is that morality is equivalent to crowdsourced knowledge. Rebecca Goldstein puts it this way:
There’s some ideal algorithm for working it out, for assigning weights to different opinions. Maybe we should give more weight to people who have lived lives that they find gratifying and that others find admirable. And, of course, for this to work the crowd has to be huge; it has to contain all these disparate vantage points, everybody who’s starting from their own chained-up position in the cave [Plato’s cave analogy4]. It has to contain, in principle, everybody. I mean, if you’re including just men, or just landowners, or just people above a certain IQ, then the results aren’t going to be robust.5
This was my point about moral epistemology. You mentioned this in your other hasty response, so I’ll address the point here since it has become germane to this discussion. In that reply you accuse me of reification fallacy. The accusation hinges on semantics and to put it bluntly, your subpar reading comprehension. I didn’t state that moral epistemology decided anything nor did I refer to it as a method. Though I’m sure you weren’t alluding to this approach, the methodological approach to moral epistemology and to epistemology overall is simply one approach among a few (e.g. psychological; ontological; evolutionary). In any case, that people possess moral knowledge is a given regardless of what view you advocate. You’ve been quibbling about moral classes and that’s precisely what led you to accuse me of reification fallacy. Though Sam Harris doesn’t use my choice of words, namely moral classes, he clearly alludes to the concept:
Whenever we are talking about facts, certain opinions must be excluded. That is what it is to have a domain of expertise; that is what it is for knowledge to count. How have we convinced ourselves that in the moral sphere, there is no such thing as moral expertise or moral talent or moral genius even? How have we convinced ourselves that every opinion has to count? How have we convinced ourselves that every culture has a point of view on these subjects worth considering? Does the Taliban have a point of view on physics that is worth considering? No. How is their ignorance any less obvious on the subject of human well-being?6
In the same vein, Goldstein talked about ruling out the peculiarities of certain people. Every moral opinion doesn’t count and that’s because some people and groups are morally superior to others. Unless you want to argue that people are generally on par with the Taliban when it comes to morality, you’re admitting to the fact that their are moral classes. A simple corollary are economic classes. It’s clear that some people are prosperous and others are not. Some people can afford mansions and luxury cars; some people can afford a three-story house; others can barely afford an apartment and still others can scarcely afford a room. In like manner, some people are simply morally superior to others and when looked at objectively, you’ll quickly realize that religious affiliation has nothing to do with it. Some people, for instance, can see the injustice in discrimination and perpetrating acts of prejudice against minorities and gays. You, given your blog’s description, probably cannot see how that’s unjust or perhaps you’re apathetic in that regard—and the fact that you’re a Christian has done nothing to do away with your discriminatory views. Given that I’m not anti-anyone and certainly not pro-Hispanic, I can claim moral superiority. Since you’ll accuse me of mere assertion, allow me to elaborate.
You’re admittedly anti-gay. This makes clear that you advocate restrictive legislation against them. You will protest the legislation of gay marriage in your state even if it’s already legal in your state. You have probably argued to invalidate the love gay couples share; this is quite common among conservatives. They misrepresent gays by accusing them of succumbing to so called sinful concupiscence. How am I morally better than you? I wouldn’t advocate restrictive legislation against a group if whatever they’re doing isn’t harming anyone. Other than your self-righteousness, what do you care if gays marry? Are you at their weddings? Are you watching them as they consummate their marriages? Are you there when they choose to raise children? You might clamor about public displays of affection, but it’s not like straight people don’t forget to get a room! Given your self-proclaimed discriminatory stances, I can honestly say you’re in a lower moral class than I am.
2) The Formula of the End Itself: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”
What is meant by treating a person never simply as a means, but always as an end? This means to extend kindness to others with no intention of exploiting them (e.g. I’ll befriend this guy because he’s rich). You may contend that this sounds like Jesus’ Golden Rule. Unfortunately, the Golden Rule isn’t original to Jesus. Patricia Churchland puts it succinctly:
The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is very often held up as a judicious rule, and exceptionless rule, and a rule that is universally espoused, or very close to it. (Ironically perhaps, Confucius, though known to prefer the development of virtues to instruction by rules, might have been among the first to give voice to a version of this maxim, though given his broad approach to morality, it is likely he offered it as general advice rather than as an exceptionless rule.)7
Like Churchland, I don’t think the Golden Rule is sufficient. Also, this formulation isn’t the Golden Rule. Kant argued that if we were to act to harm others, civilization would come to an end. It follows then that we’ll act to the benefit of one another. This is where Kant’s notion of a Kingdom of Ends comes from. We’ll get this shortly.
3) The Formula of Autonomy: “So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxims.”
This is related to the first formulation, but this formulation puts more emphasis on autonomy and like modern Kantians would argue, self-legislation. This formula of autonomy has manifested itself time and again. Morally superior people are not only admirable, but they compel one to emulate them. This formulation is prominent in rearing children. Children learn moral behavior from their parents. They quickly learn what’s apt and what’s inappropriate given other people’s feedback. If they do something wrong, they’re scolded. If they do something right, they’re commended. Going back to the notion of inverting authority into oneself, the child then becomes an adult who (roughly) follows the moral values instilled in her during childhood. She then becomes an autonomous self-legislator.
4) The Formula of the Kingdom of Ends: “So act as if you were through your maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.”
This formulation is the most compelling given that it absorbs, so to speak, the other formulations.8 Kant didn’t only speak of wills; he spoke of rational wills. Thus, under this formulation, we are to act in such a way that would be acceptable in a community of rational wills.
Ultimately, your demand for an authority is quelled by the fact that we, at the very least, possess the potential to legislate. That is to say that anyone of us can be exemplary moral agents. Kant’s rational will is preferable over the Hobbesian sovereign who can bend and break laws as he pleases. Sounds a lot like that god you worship. I’ll get to this shortly.
1 Korsgaard, Christine M., and Onora Neill.The Sources of Normativity, p. 36-37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
3 Pecorino, Philip A. "Chapter Two: Ethical Traditions". Queensborough Community College. 2002.
4 Cohen, Marc. "The Allegory of the Cave." University of Washington. 2006
5 Goldstein, Rebecca. Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, p.105. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. Print.
6 Harris, Sam. "Science Can Answer Moral Questions". Tedtalks. TED, 22 Mar 2010. Web.
7 Churchland, Patricia Smith. Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality, p. 168. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011. Print.
8 Bagnoli, Carla. "Constructivism in Metaethics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2011.
That is the meaning behind the first argument. Technically, we can have an objective standard of morality, but we must remember that without God, that standard is worthless.
Quod gratis asseritur gratis negaritur. That statement is a mere assertion and nothing more. This is precisely the issue with substantive realism.
Moving to your argument regarding the Trinity. You made a statement boasting of your ability to prove the Father and the Son don’t exist, yet provided no evidence of doing so. Then again, you can’t prove that we’re not all brains strapped to a bunch of wires in a laboratory, being manipulated by an evil scientist.
That bit of pretended epistemological skepticism at the end is completely irrelevant. You’re not going to impress an aspiring philosopher with musings akin to that of a pretentious undergrad student. More importantly, it’s a red herring. I don’t have to address that last bit to address what’s actually relevant given that I made a statement and didn’t substantiate it at that point in time. You should know two things. For one, I’m not the type to make bare assertions. Secondly, my discussions on this blog hinge on two things—one being the continuity of discussions and the other being the assumption that people are familiar with what I’ve previously written on the topic at hand. It’s rather unfortunate that I come across so many people who produce microwaved responses that demonstrate an egregious level of misunderstanding.
In any event, I’ll borrow from recent discussions to demonstrate a case against the son. I can also demonstrate a case against the father, but in the interest of brevity and because it’s not necessary, I’ll do what comes simplest.
Matthew 27:57-58 speaks of a Joseph of Arimathea. He came to Pilate to request Jesus’ body so that he may be buried. That files in the face of what we know about Pilate and the treatment of criminals who were crucified. Assuming the narrative is true, it’s highly unlikely Pilate would have listened.
Pilate was not a beneficent prefect who kindly listened to the protests of the people he governed. Was Pilate the sort of ruler who would break with tradition and policy when kindly asked by a member of the Jewish council to provide a decent burial for a crucified victim? Not from what we can tell. As Crossan dismissively states: “[Pilate] was an ordinary second-rate Roman governor with no regard for Jewish religious sensitivities and with brute force as his normal solution to even unarmed protesting or resisting crowds.” Even more graphic is the complaint of Philo, who lived during Pilate’s time and indicated that his administration was characterized by his “venality, his violence, his thefts, his assaults, his abusive behavior, his frequent executions of untried prisoners, and his endless savage ferocity” (Embassy of Gaius 302).1
These are the very books Christians depend on when claiming that the resurrection was historical, which it wasn’t. So what proof would we need? Historical evidence. The evidence is actually condemning. So let’s follow the logic. To assume a resurrection, you need to assume two things first: death by crucifixion and burial—hence the empty tomb. That leads to some problems. If Jesus was crucified, as is attested in historical accounts of crucifixions, he would have become a corpse on the cross and likely would not have been buried. Ehrman puts it this way:
The point of crucifixion was to torture and humiliate a person as fully as possible, and to show any bystanders what happens to someone who is a troublemaker in the eyes of Rome. Part of the humiliation and degradation was the body being left on the cross after death to be subject to scavenging animals.
John Dominic Crossan has made the rather infamous suggestion that Jesus’s body was not raised from the dead but was eaten by dogs. When I first heard this suggestion, I was no longer a Christian and so was not religiously outraged, but I did think it was excessive and sensationalist. But that was before I did any real research on the matter. My view now is that we do not know, and cannot know, what actually happened to Jesus’s body. But it is absolutely true that as far as we can tell from all the surviving evidence, what normally happened to a criminal’s body is that it was left to decompose and serve as food for scavenging animals. Crucifixion was meant to be a public disincentive to engage in politically subversive activities, and the disincentive did not end with the pain and death—it continued in the ravages worked on the corpse afterward.
Evidence for this comes from a wide range of sources. An ancient inscription found on the tombstone of a man who was murdered by his slave in the city of Caria tells us that the murderer “hung…alive for the wild beasts and birds of prey.” The Roman author Horace says in one of his letters that a slave was claiming to have done nothing wrong, to which his master replied, “You shall not therefore feed the carrion crows on the cross” (Epistle 1.16.46-48). The Roman satirist Juvenal speaks of “the vulture [that] hurries from the dead cattle and dogs and corpses, to bring some of the carrion to her offspring” (Satires 14.77-78). The most famous interpreter of dreams from the ancient world, a Greek Sigmund Freud named Artemidorus, writes that it is auspicious for a poor man in particular to have a dream about being crucified, since “a crucified man is raised high and his substance is sufficient to keep many birds” (Dream Book 2.53). And there is a bit of gallows humor in the Satyricon of Petronius, a one-time advisor to the emperor Nero, about a crucified victim being left for days on the cross (chaps. 11-12).
In sum, the common Roman practice was to allow the bodies of crucified people to decompose on the cross and be attacked by scavengers as part of the disincentive for crime. I have not run across any contrary indications in any ancient source. It is always possible that an exception was made, of course. But it must be remembered that the Christian storytellers who indicated that Jesus was an exception to the rule had an extremely compelling reason to do so. If Jesus had not been buried, his tomb could not be declared empty.2
Given the above, if we assume he was crucified, then given historical evidence, we’d have to assume he wasn’t an exception. However, what if we do assume he was an exception? Let’s say he was pulled down from the cross for some reason. Would he have been given a proper burial? Ehrman offers the following:
My second reason for doubting that Jesus received a decent burial is that at the time, criminals of all sorts were, as a rule, tossed into common graves. Again, a range of evidence is available from many times and places. The Greek historian of the first century BCE Diodorus Siculus speaks of a war between Philip of Macedonia (the father of Alexander the Great) in which he lost twenty men to the enemy, the Locrians. When Philip asked for their bodies in order to bury them, the Locrians refused, indicating that “it was the general law that temple-robbers should be cast forth without burial” (Library of History 16.25.2). From around 100 CE, the Greek author Dio Chrysotom indicates that in Athens, anyone who suffered “at the hands of the state for a crime” was “denied burial, so that in the future there may be no trace of a wicked man (Discourses 31.85). Among the Romans, we learn that after a battle fought by Octavian (the later Caesar Augustus, emperor when Jesus was born), one of his captives begged for a burial, to which Octavian replied, “The birds will soon settle that question” (Seutonius, Augustus 13). And we are told by the Roman historian Tacitus of a man who committed suicide to avoid being executed by the state, since anyone who was legally condemned and executed “forfeited his estate and was debarred from burial” (Annals 6.29h).
Again, it is possible that Jesus was an exception, but our evidence that this might have been the case must be judged to be rather thin. People who were crucified were usually left on their crosses as food for scavengers, and part of the punishment for ignominious crimes was being tossed into a common grave, where very soon one decomposed body could not be distinguished from another. In traditions about Jesus, of course, his body had to be distinguished from all others; otherwise, it could not be demonstrated to have been raised physically from the dead.4
Thus, given historical evidence, we can’t even assume that he was taken down from the cross after being crucified. We also can’t assume that he was given a proper burial. Therefore, we can’t assume that the Gospel accounts are reliable. Even if we assume all of that, the resurrection itself is a dubious assumption (see here). Proof isn’t mere assertion. Again, quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur. I’ll spare you the problems with assuming that the Gospel Jesus was historical. I’ve probably given you more to consider than you bargained for.
By the way, if we take the narrative at face value, it makes little sense. According to John 19:38-42, he was buried in a new tomb and clothed in linen with spices. This special treatment makes no sense in light of the fact that the Jews wanted him crucified because he was calling himself their king (see Luke 23:1-3, which is to be read in conjunction with Luke 22:66-71 and 23:5-19). Also, Acts 2:36 and 3:13-17 explicitly blames the Jews and recall, it’s widely held that the same author wrote both Luke and Acts. Given all this, if my reasoning hasn’t be clear, it makes no sense that they buried him in accordance with their customs after wanting him crucified because he was claiming to be their king. Thus, even if taken at face value, the narrative is confused.
Lastly, there’s the issue of Joseph of Arimathea. It’s likely he wasn’t a historical person.
Richard Carrier speculates, “Is the word a pun on ‘best disciple,’ ari[stos] mathe[tes]? Matheia means ‘disciple town’ in Greek; Ari- is a common prefix for superiority.” Since commentators have seen the burial by the outsider Joseph of Arimathea as a contrast to the failure of the disciples and intimates of Jesus, the coincidence that Arimathea can be read as “best disciple town” is staggering.4
That the name can be read in this way definitively rules out coincidence and makes it more likelier that the author of Mark used the character in a literary way. In other words, the author wasn’t looking to convey historical events. Ultimately, we have compelling reasons to doubt his burial, assuming he existed; therefore, without getting into the problems inherent in notions of resurrection, we have compelling reason to doubt his resurrection.
1 Ehrman, Bart D.. How Jesus became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, p. 163. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2014. Print.
2 Ibid. (p.157-158, 160)
3 Ibid. (p.160-161)
4 Kirby, Peter. “The Case Against the Empty Tomb”. Infidels. 2001.
Next, you stated that the explanation of ethics is incomplete, but that we shouldn’t reject it. Your next statement was simply stating that relativism is not the consequence of atheism, but offered no other alternative. So your paragraph here was rather vague and unsupported. So say that relativism is not the only alternative to objective morality without God, and yet providing no alternative gives me no reason to believe your claim of it existing. He who asserts must prove.
So she who asserts mustn’t prove? It definitely seems your rule doesn’t apply to you. The reason I say procedural realism is incomplete is because, as is common in philosophy, further elucidation is always possible. There are always points that have to be clarified or even defended. This response is a case in point. Unlike zealots like yourself, I needn’t an absolute explanation. Though you think your case is adequate, it isn’t. It’s fallacious and lacks justification. Given my presentation here and before that, in the links I provided, I definitely offered an explicitly stated alternative. That you don’t like the alternative isn’t my problem.
Your argument on moral classes is inherently flawed because all forms of morality are merely opinions if there is no higher entity backing them. Thus, the moral classes themselves are just the classifications of one man, as there has been no argument made for anything other than a vague notion of objective moral values without any authority, which is relativism. Despite what you say about not being a relativist, your arguments prove otherwise. No one class has any moral high or low ground, because both are opinions. Something cannot be objectively wrong unless we have a moral standard from a moral authority.
He who asserts must prove and yet you’ve offered no justification for the notion that objective morality requires an authority. Laws don’t always require a lawgiver, but if you were to refer back to the first section, you would see that I addressed the issue of authority. I also addressed these allegations of relativism; procedural realism has nothing to do with normative relativism. You took offense to me saying you’re clueless, but the fact that you don’t know the difference between one view of ethics and another proves that you’re sans a clue. The one thing that’s worse than ignorance is pretended knowledge. As for moral classes, refer back to the section aforementioned.
Your last sentence is of interest because it shows that the proponent of a moral argument for god is also an advocate of Divine Command Theory. Divine Command Theory falls victim to the Euthyphro Dilemma: is what is good commanded by god because it’s good or is it morally good because it’s commanded by god? If the former, god isn’t necessary to sustain morality. If the latter, anything is permissible. Choose wisely.
For a more esoteric take on Divine Command Theory, consider my essay Utilitarian Command Theory. In it I argue, using the Hobbesian sovereign, that if there exists a sovereign who wills laws according to utilitarianism and he wills laws that represent the greatest good for the greatest number, then he could, in theory, legislate laws that are detestable though they benefit the general population. On those grounds we can reject Utilitarian Command Theory, so it would be absurd to not reject Divine Command Theory given that god doesn’t account for the greatest good for the greatest number. There’s no shortage of verses in where he commands the Israelites to murder the infants and children of people he saw as enemies. Were those commands good because he commanded them? It would be absurd to accept the premise unless one believes in the dubious notion of inherited sin—a belief that has problems of its own and more importantly, a belief that’s pivotal to your lord’s purported sacrifice on the cross.
The circularity of the argument you mentioned is no better than your own. Your own view of stating that objective ethics exist without a god begs the question of where they came from or who enforces them? What makes them right, or ethical? To simply state that objective morality exists without a god begs all of these questions.
This is another error that could have easily been avoided had you familiarized yourself with my position. I laid plenty of resources at your table and you skimmed. Taking from a response I linked you to, I stated the following:
Generally speaking, humans are moral agents. This, in part, can be traced given evolution. There are, for instance, empathy, cooperation, and care for kin in nature. Therefore, the rudiments of morality can be seen in nature and not surprisingly, it is mostly seen in mammals—the phylum we pertain to. Given our common ancestry and given the congruence of our brains, whatever procedures (e.g. problem-solution; CI procedure) we employ to answer moral questions will be objective. Even if it doesn’t start out that way, it will get that way (e.g. Kant’s Kingdom of Ends). Given that morality is an example of crowd-sourced knowledge, the peculiarities of this or that individual or group will eventually be weeded out.
In another response I linked you to, I stated the following:
An explanation can consist of the following parts: evolution and/or neurobiology, genetics, cultural evolution, etc. The reason I offer a choice between evolution and neurobiology is because people have questioned whether evolution is necessary when explaining morality. In other words, who’s to say we evolved to be moral? What if our moral instincts find their origin in our brains? This is Churchland’s line of thinking in her book Braintrust. Then again, contrast that with Korsgaard’s view, which is based on Nietzsche’s internalization of man. She maintains that we, as primates, may have internalized what was once external authority. In other words, when you look at most primate societies, you’ll find an alpha. This alpha serves as an authority. As h.sapien became a separate biological population, this sort of authority was seldom needed. Eventually, we developed autonomy and upon doing so, we internalized the authority that was once external. In this sense, evolution can serve as morality’s foundation.
So this succinctly answers the question of where morality comes from. The question of who enforces morality has already been answered in previous sections, but there’s also an answer in Nietzsche’s internalization of man. The question of what makes them right was also answered in previous sections. Refer back to Kant’s formulations. My view, unlike yours, begs no questions. Had you comprehended my responses, you would have known that.
Moving down, the argument that procedures make something moral is rather stupid. A correct procedure is amoral. The correct procedure for walking down a hallway does not make walking down a hallway moral or immoral. Going beyond that, how does one decide what is and isn’t a correct moral procedure? Morality is entirely opinion without authority, so who is to say that murdering you for promoting atheism isn’t morally wrong? Or to murder me for promoting theism? Or that it’s murder at all, because the very word ‘murder’ implies moral wrong. You can say that it’s compatible with history, but that’s a fallacy. Majority does not equal morality.
A word of advice: learn philosophy or stray from philosophical discussions. Not only have you miscomprehended and thus misrepresented my views, you now misuse semantics to try to drive a failure of a point. The procedures aren’t amoral; they’re non-moral. The procedures themselves can’t be moral any more than atoms can be moral. The procedures, however, can be objective. In Kant’s last formulation, we find a population who has come to terms with a procedure. This procedure, which finds corollaries in the real world, is objective. It’s not objective on the basis of consensus, but rather, on the basis that everyone can see how they’re best served by it.
To decide what is a correct moral procedure, deliberation and time rather than assertion and religious faith are needed. Time is needed to weed out peculiarities. It took Americans close to a century to abolish slavery, for example. It took them that long to realize the injustice in owning and exploiting other people. This realization came by way of opposition and debate.
Another reason you should learn philosophy or stray from these discussions is that your attempts at anticipating my points are horrendous. You try to anticipate that I’ll appeal to the majority and insert a precooked punchline as if that makes a cogent case. Of course majority doesn’t equal morality. Neither does a singular lawgiver no matter how divine. That’s fallacious! If morality were mere opinion without an authority, we would have never made laws prohibiting murder. Such laws predate the Bible (see here), so Judaism nor Christianity can take credit for that. Moral progress comes by way of the aggregation of moral knowledge. I’d much rather continue the discussion on how to better our moral outlook than to prematurely close the book on discourse due to patently religious reasons.
As for the problem-solution method, who is to say that a problem is a moral problem? People pillaging a village may be a problem on a financial scale (the cost of rebuilding), but how do we know that it is a moral problem?
Another reason you should learn philosophy or stray from these discussions is that you seem to lack understanding of context. The problem-solution model is contextual. People pillaging a village clearly results in a moral problem. The problem-solution model need not address any fiscal ramifications. The problem-solution model need only address what’s wrong with pillaging. What’s a better way of solving territorial disputes? How can we convince guerrillas that their behavior is immoral? How can we convince them that there are better ways of attaining power and resources? Any problem-solution model should present a number of alternatives. With this model, it’ll be more difficult for everyone to see eye to eye on a solution, but solutions needn’t be unanimous to be effective.
Thus, I find, over the course of your moral views expressed in this essay, that you really have no actual atheistic standard of morality and thus fall prey to the problems of relativism.
I know this is a broken record at this point, but either learn philosophy or stray from these discussions. You can’t accuse someone of having a view without demonstrating that they actually support said view. That is to say that for your accusation to stick, you would have to demonstrate that my views imply relativism. You’d be hard-pressed to make such a case.
Ultimately, apart from teaching you a thing or two, I hope to have scarred that ego of yours that’s being fed by all of your one follower who made you blush. Next time I tell you your response is inadequate and that I have other pressing matters, it will be best to just leave it alone. Given the elaborate nature of this response, I hope it’s enough to say that your other response faces many of the same problems found in this response. As such, I’ve no good reason to respond to that reply. My sincerest hope is that you seek to understand alternative views—even if you think they’re erred. More than knowing, as an aspiring philosopher, I value understanding. I know, for instance, that the moral arguments for god fail to make a case for god; that, however, will not keep me from understanding the arguments—and understanding them even better than proponents of the arguments.
Christians Should Give Up On The Moral Argument
If atheism is true, there’s no basis for objective moral values and duties. And if everything’s ultimately reducible to physical processes and matter just behaving according to law, it seems pretty tough to build a moral foundation that doesn’t leave you as a total subjectivist.
Here’s what I mean: If there’s no good and no evil, like Richard Dawkins says in his book, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, then there is “no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference” in our universe. How’s that for a description of reality?
What this means is that if atheism’s true, then what’s “good” or what’s “evil” is basically just you saying what you happen to like or what you happen to not like. So as an atheist, you could say “I don’t happen to like the idea of human trafficking” or “I don’t prefer to be the victim of spousal abuse.” But you couldn’t have any kind of real, moral grounding to call it objectively evil—if atheism is true.
Mikel Del Rosario
Usually, for the moral argument to work, the Christian first has to paint his opponent as a normative relativist—as if that’s the only position available to opponents who reject your sort of substantive realism. I’m an atheist. I’m also not a normative relativist. Furthermore, Dawkins isn’t my voice. I have my own and thus, I will disagree with him about some things though as I show later, he’s not actually saying what Rosario thinks he’s saying.
Once setting aside the normative relativism you want us to accept, the next thing to do is to address the moral argument as usually formulated. To that we now turn. Thankfully, I’ve already addressed this argument before and at length.
Let’s consider the argument as commonly formulated:
P1 If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
P2 Objective moral values and duties do exist.
C Therefore, God exists.
Without providing any alternatives just yet, I’ll attack this argument directly. Starting with P1, it’s useful to point out the predilection that’s hiding in that sentence. How can you know that objective moral values and duties can’t exist even without a god? You can’t know that. Thus, you’re simply assuming that that’s the case; it follows that you’re imposing faith rather than knowledge. I agree with P2. P2 is the only sound premise in the argument. However, it is possible to have true premises and a false conclusion. That makes for an invalid argument. Let’s assume both premises are true. Though this would require a separate discussion, C is demonstrably false. The Judeo-Christian god doesn’t exist. God, according to Christianity, is triune. Thus, I can demonstrate that there’s no father or no son or no holy spirit. Those are my options. I am very adept at demonstrating the nonexistence of the father and the son based on the empirical methodology of history. By default, the holy spirit is cancelled out since they’re one. It follows that the argument is then invalid.
You argue that morality becomes relative if god doesn’t exist. Yet we seem to agree that it’s objective though, on my view, it can be demonstrated that the Judeo-Christian god doesn’t exist. The question is, how then is it objective without god? Can we offer an explanation? Ethics has become one of my focuses for precisely this reason and I’ve come across a few explanations that are compelling. Granted, some are incomplete. Some are less compelling than others. But the fact that an explanation is incomplete is no reason to reject it and it certainly doesn’t warrant certainty that there is no possible explanation. That’s precisely what Rosario claims, however: without god, not only can we not have objective morality, but we can’t offer an adequate explanation for its existence. This is false. Thus, relativism isn’t the consequence of morality without god.
Also, towards the end, he mentions moral ontology and seems to imply a distinction it has with moral epistemology. Relativism and objectivism do not have to be at odds. After all, even William Lane Craig acknowledges what I call moral classes (compare that to socioeconomic classes). For instance, the West has more moral knowledge than the Korowai in Papau, New Guinea and thus, Westerners are a higher moral class than the Korowai are. This relativistic knowledge rests on moral epistemology and not on moral ontology. Something can be objectively wrong though some culture or some person refuses to recognize it.
The Moral Argument for God rests on what Christine Korsgaard calls substantive realism—the view that states that “there are correct procedures for answering moral questions because there are moral truths or facts, which exist independently of those procedures, and which those procedures track.”1 Like Korsgaard, I agree that substantive realism begs the question since it assumes moral standards without providing a basis for them. What’s worse is that theistic substantive realism also assumes the existence of god and thus, further begs the question. It’s viciously circular. So, in light of this, what’s my alternative?
Korsgaards’s view—a view that I share—is procedural realism, which states that “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”2 You can consider for example Kant’s CI procedure, a few of which are compatible with human moral behavior. This is a point argued forcefully in my recent essay on the possibility of a pluralistic moral algorithm.3 Also, the view is compatible with societal norms, moral universals, and the emergence of law at different times throughout history. If the procedures come before the answers, then there’s no need to assume that we know the answers before we find them. It follows that Adam Smith’s problem-solution idea is another procedure we can consult. I expound on that idea and formulate a working model that aligns with our moral behavior.4 Given what I’ve surveyed, it should be obvious to anyone that the apple has fallen far from the relativist tree.
Lastly, there’s something I need to correct in Rosario’s quote. He misquoted Dawkins and misunderstood what Dawkins is saying. Dawkins said the following:
"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”5
He’s not speaking of this relativism Rosario invokes. He’s clearly alluding to nihilism—both existential (made obvious by “no purpose”) and moral (made obvious by “no evil, no good”). Those are completely different views; they have no place in Rosario’s presentation. Apologists fancy themselves philosophers, but in my experience they’re always missing a key characteristic in every good philosopher: an attention to detail. To confuse relativism for nihilism is an egregious error.
Notes & Works Cited
1 Korsgaard, Christine M., and Onora Neill.The Sources of Normativity, p.36-37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
3 The notion of a pluralistic moral algorithm and consequently, an individualistic moral algorithm can be related to procedural realism. Procedural realism states that “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”Korsgaard adds that because people are rational agents, they have an ideal person they want to become and they thus guide their actions accordingly. What’s most important on her view is that moral agents self-legislate. Self-legislation aligns perfectly with the notion of both an individualistic and a pluralistic moral algorithm. It also aligns perfectly with Kant’s autonomy formulation of his categorical imperative which states that one should act in such a way that one’s will can regard itself at the same time as making universal laws through its maxims. Arguably, something much simpler than Kant’s formulation can be at play when speaking of autonomy and self-legislation. However, Kant’s formulation of the Kingdom of Ends takes us from individualistic to pluralistic because the formulation states that one should act as if one were through one’s maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.
4 See Here
5 Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, p.120. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1995. Print.
There is No Problem of Good
So, becoming an atheist doesn’t seem to help us make better sense of evil. But even more than this, the atheist position’s got another problem to deal with: The Problem of Good. In other words, naturalism has the challenge of providing a sufficient moral grounding for goodness itself—in addition to making sense of evil in the world. And that’s a pretty tall order for a philosophy with absolutely no room for God.
— Mikel Del Rosario
In my experience, a lot of Christians seem to think that an inverse argument defeats an argument. In other words, if one can simply turn an argument on its head, it’s defeated. Before showing you why there’s no Problem of Good, I want to point out that it is based on a false analogy.
The Problem of Evil cites an incongruity between an omnibenevolent, loving deity and the existence of evil in the world. The Problem of Good, on the other hand, cites a supposed incompatibility between naturalism and the existence of good—as if naturalism is somehow equivalent to a perfect, all-loving deity. The analogy is simply false.
The strongest version of The Problem of Evil doesn’t point at all evil but at gratuitous evil. In other words, even in a world where god existed, it’s reasonable to expect murderers. However, in a world where god exists, can one expect genital mutilation as a religious practice (note: I am not caricaturing Judaic circumcision but rather highlighting the practice as seen in extremist Islam)? In a world where god exists, can one expect child sex rings? Some evil is too gratuitous to be compatible with such a deity.
On naturalism, however, this is what you would expect. If humans are susceptible to functional and structural abnormalities and thus susceptible to various psychological shortcomings, it is reasonable to expect a pedophile, a psychopath murderer, and so on. In a world without god, one’s personality isn’t due to a divine soul but rather to whatever state the brain is in; furthermore, one’s personality is subject to change because of neuroplasticity and the possibility of damage or adverse effects from sleep deprivation, drug and/or alcohol abuse, and so on. We would also expect some people to be born defective. Thus, evil is explained quite simply on naturalism.
How about good? That’s also not a problem. Earlier I showed that it’s based on a false analogy; however, another thing that’s clear is that it’s a variant of the Moral arguments for god. Instead of saying that morality has no grounding if not in god, this argument states that good can’t arise naturally. The notion is simply false. If evil can arise naturally due to neurological, psychological, and, one might add, genetic abnormalities, good is simply the default state in the absence of the aforementioned. Altruism arises in nature. Empathy, cooperation, and a care for kin arise in nature as well, so it’s no surprise they exist in a social animal like humans. Such cooperation is the very basis of nuclear families and ultimately societies. There have been and are societies and cultures that have had no contact with even the notion of the Judeo-Christian god, so a believer would be hard pressed to explain how those people are good. To say they have in them a god-infused soul or primordial goodness is to beg the question. The naturalist need only remind you that kindness toward each other is expected. If this is truly the only life one has, assuming said person is normal, why would you lead a life of discord, lack of empathy, and so on? It’s simply not conducive to your continued survival or well-being.
Given this brief survey, it’s safe to conclude that there’s no Problem of Good. Good and evil are to be expected in a world of psychological beings subject to neurobiological and genetic plasticity. Evil, however, is incongruent with your beliefs and given the vast literature on the subject, it’s a tough philosophical problem to address. On my view, if one simply presses against my amygdala, I’ll be dubbed evil.
For as long as evil has existed, people have wondered about its source, and you don’t have to be too much of a scientific reductionist to conclude that the first place to look is the brain. There’s not a thing you’ve ever done, thought or felt in your life that isn’t ultimately traceable to a particular webwork of nerve cells firing in a particular way, allowing the machine that is you to function as it does. So if the machine is busted — if the operating system in your head fires in crazy ways — are you fully responsible for the behavior that follows?1
If you damage or impair my orbifrontal region, I might display an inordinate lust for children.
In a celebrated 2003 case published in the Archives of Neurology, for example, a 40-year-old Virginia schoolteacher with no history of pedophilia developed a sudden interest in child pornography and began making sexual overtures to his stepdaughter. His wife reported his behavior, and he was arrested and assigned to a 12-step program for sex offenders. He flunked out of the course — he couldn’t stop propositioning staff members — and was sentenced to prison. Only a day before he was set to surrender, however, he appeared in a local emergency room with an explosive headache and a range of other neurological symptoms. Doctors scanned his brain and found a tumor the size of an egg in the right orbitofrontal cortex, the region that processes decisionmaking and other so-called executive functions. The tumor was removed and the compulsive sexuality vanished along with it. Less than a year later, the tumor returned — and so, almost in lockstep, did his urges.2
Simpleton apologetics is never well-thought out. People like Rosario and certainly bloggers like yourself seek to misrepresent competing views—to reduce them in such a way as to make them appear ridiculous. Yet naturalism, despite your wishes, isn’t ridiculous. It’s, in fact, far more cogent than your beliefs. Your beliefs are actually ridiculous and persist only because you’ve simplified them the way modern Christians are fond of doing. “God is good” is a modern phrase that finds its roots in selective reading. If taken as is and when adding the fact that there’s no way to read the entire Bible as allegory, it’s impossible to believe that your god is good. He, on many occasions, purportedly murdered children callously for no reason other than the fact that their parents worshiped other deities or committed some act he considered abominable. Therein lies the most demented aspect of Christianity: the belief in inherited sin; the notion that a child can pay ransom for the crimes of his forefathers. The problems are completely on your end. It’s high time you accept that.
1 Kluger, Jeffrey. "Evil Brains: Can Science Understand Them?". Time. 3 May 2013.