Atheism Darwinist rhetorical tactics Ethics Science, worldview issues/foundations and society

Reply To An Argument Against Objective Morality: When Words Lose All Meaning

Spread the love

I had originally intended to post this in the comment thread to my first article here as a guest author, titled, Does It Matter What We Believe About Morality? In the end, however, it turned out to be sufficiently long and detailed that it seemed to warrant a new original post. If it’s preferred that this type of thing simply stay in the comments section then please let me know for future reference.

In comment #39 for that article, Popperian made some thoughtful contributions. This is a reply to that comment, with most of his original text reproduced for reference.

—————————————-

Popperian, you said:

 

Think of it this way…

Before one could actually apply any set of objective moral principles, wouldn’t this necessitate a way by which one could actually know what those objective moral principles are?

I would say that before one could intentionally apply any given objective moral principle (or truth) in a correct way, the person would first need to know what that moral principle was. But it would not be necessary for a person to perfectly grasp all objective moral truths before they could intentionally and correctly apply any of them. Of course, it is also the case that someone could happen to act in accord with an objective moral truth without necessarily knowing that it is a moral truth, and even if they are not specifically trying to act in accord with some moral truth for its own sake.

In other words, on the view that objective morality exists, people can act in accord with moral truths regardless of whether they know those truths or care to act in accord with them, because there are objective moral truths that exist to be acted in accord with (Moral Ontology) whether people know them or not (Moral Epistemology).

 

[HeKS: As for the truth of the existence of objective morality, I’m of the opinion that belief in objective morality is properly basic, in the same way that it’s properly basic to believe in the existence of external minds and the reality of the past.]

This appears to be a sort of foundationalism. However, one major criticism of foundationalism is that where one chooses to stop, and therefore what one choose to consider not subject to criticism, is arbitrary.

But I never said that a properly basic belief in objective morality is not subject to criticism. If I thought it was immune to any criticism as a result of thinking it is properly basic then I wouldn’t have bothered to address the common arguments / criticisms that are leveled against it, such as the one offered by Acartia_bogart.

 

So, rather than having basic and non-basic beliefs, a better, simpler explanation is that we adopt ideas that we do not have significant criticism of. And, I’m suggesting that moral ideas are subject to this same process of rational criticism, just like all other ideas.

Believe it or not, I think that might be going too easy on basic beliefs if we accept as basic (or what I’m calling basic) any idea for which we haven’t happened to have heard any significant criticism, though maybe I’m misunderstanding you.

First of all, I think we should try to criticize our own basic beliefs, but what I think seems like a reasonable criteria for a basic belief is one that seems to be coherent, that seems to make sense of, at a deep level, the breadth of the human experience, that seems to result from the deeply held rational intuition of humanity in general, that is not logically incompatible with other properly basic beliefs, and that does not face any logical defeaters (which would show that it necessarily fails at least one of the previous criteria), but which can, nonetheless, not be proven to be true, at least in isolation, by a purely deductive argument or through incontrovertible tangible evidence.

 

IOW, conjecture and criticism, in one form or another, is our best, current explanation for the universal growth of knowledge in brains, books and even genes.

This claim, at least in part or if taken as absolute, seems to assume the non-existence of God, or at least that if God exists he has not, does not or could not communicate knowledge to humans. Still, this point may be moot, because you seem to be trying to convince me that a belief in objective morality ought to be subject to criticism, which is something I’ve never denied.

In one of my comments I offered this quote from atheist Peter Cave:

“Whatever sceptical arguments may be brought against our belief that killing the innocent is morally wrong, we are more certain that the killing is morally wrong than that the argument is sound… Torturing an innocent child for the sheer fun of it is morally wrong. Full stop.

In response, you said:

 

As pointed out, we cannot positively justify any moral principle, but we can criticize the idea of torturing an innocent child and discard it.

First, I think I would be more inclined to say that we cannot, in isolation, deductively prove the truth of any given moral principle. I’m not so sure we can’t “positively justify” any objective moral principle as part of a larger picture and argument that includes God’s existence.

That said, I’m not sure how you think we can criticize the idea of torturing an innocent child and discard it without assuming the existence of objective moral truths. You could discard it as something that doesn’t personally appeal to you, but you couldn’t discard it as something that is objectively wrong such that there would be any basis for compelling someone else not to do it.

Of course, you could try to argue, as many do, that torturing children for fun is not helpful to the progress and survival of society or humanity as a whole and so it shouldn’t be done, but arguments of this kind are fraught with problems.

For example, perhaps the most obvious problem is that there’s not much reason to think that such actions would have any long-reaching effect on society or humanity as a whole if they were relatively rare, which means that this utilitarian standard (“it’s not good for the progress and survival of society and humanity”) would still fail to identify any given case of torturing a child, or of doing anything else, as being wrong under the guiding principles of the moral system. And hey, if the child survives he might even go on to reproduce. No harm, no foul.

To address this deficiency, people sometimes resort to the idea that we can identify something as being morally wrong in this kind of utilitarian system simply by measuring the moral value of an action against the question, “What if everyone did that?” Sure, it’s hyperbolic, but it’s an attempt at a consistent measure in a pinch. Well, when we measure child-torture against that question, I suppose we can agree that if everyone in society was committed to torturing children for fun, society would probably go downhill quite a bit, though it’s certainly possible that society and humanity as a whole might still survive, grim though it may be, provided the torture didn’t go on too long and the majority of children survived to reproduce. It’s amazing what people can get used to.

Of course, even those who propose the idea of determining what is morally right and wrong in light of such hyperbolic considerations tend to quickly shrink back from its implications. Why? Well, even though the possibility exists that society and humanity might ultimately survive in some way even if everyone was committed to the torture (but not murder) of children for fun, society and humanity would have no chance of getting off so easy if we ask this question about the practice of homosexuality and abortion. If everyone was committed to the practice of homosexuality and to aborting babies, society would crumble and humanity, without question, would die off. This puts us in the rather uncomfortable position of having to affirm that, within such a utilitarian moral system governed by the “What if everyone did that?” principle, the practice of homosexuality and abortion would be even more morally abhorrent than the torturing of children for fun. Frankly, I think you’d have difficulty finding many Christians who would agree. The conclusion certainly runs contrary to the modern zeitgeist.

Really, though, there’s a much deeper problem with this moral system, which is that it simply assumes that the continued progress, prosperity and survival of society and humanity as a whole ought to somehow be considered objectively good. But in the absence of objective moral truths there is no rational basis for thinking this is true, as the radical environmentalists calling for the extinction of 90% of the human race would be only too happy to tell you. On what basis could you compel them to agree with your opinions about the value of humanity’s survival? No such basis exists.

You continued:

 

To illustrate, according to the Bible, God also supposedly punishes women by causing their womb to miscarriage, drowned children in the flood, threaten to kill all the first born in Egypt if the Israelites are not released, but then hardens the heart of the Pharaoh and makes good on his promise, teaches the use of a “bitter water” as a sort test/punishment to abort a fetus conceived through infidelity and commands the death of children and non-virgin women of peoples that are “enemies” of his chosen people.

However, given current day knowledge of the impact of those choices on people, would we accept this sort of behavior today from, well, anyone?

Rather than addressing each of your Biblical examples in detail to consider whether you have accurately understood and represented them and their context [1], I’m going to stay focused on the topic of the original article and point out that even if we allow that you are correct in your understanding and presentation of these issues, the fact remains that if objective moral truths do not exist, you would have no rational basis for not accepting this or any other sort of behavior from anyone anyway. You could dislike it. You could come up with arbitrary rules to prevent it. But you could never come up with any rational basis for claiming that someone who chooses to ignore those rules has done anything truly wrong. Nor could you come up with any rational basis for why anyone should feel compelled to agree with your arbitrary rules or the underlying philosophy on which they might be based.

 

The best explanation for moral progress is that we guess about which responses we could make in a given situation, guess which of those are the most moral, then criticize them. It’s an iterative, error correcting process, not a process of justification.

What you don’t seem to understand is that if objective moral values, duties and truths do not actually exist, then everything you just wrote is incoherent.

In order to make progress there needs to exist an actual destination and an objectively correct direction of travel. If objective moral truths don’t exist, then the concept of moral progress is simply incoherent. We could make moral change, but we could never make actual moral progress because there is nothing to progress towards and no correct direction or path upon which to travel.

It is also incoherent to talk about guessing which human responses are “most moral”. What does that even mean if objective moral truths don’t exist? Trying to guess at which responses are “most moral” would be like trying to guess at which lion in the zoo feels most guilty about the fat content of its lunch, or which rock in the park loves its children the most. They are merely words strung together without any coherent connection to reality. It’s simple nonsense.

And, again, it’s incoherent to talk about changes in a moral system as being “an iterative, error-correcting process” if objective moral truths don’t exist. In their absence, there can be no such thing as moral error, and so there can be no such thing as moral error-correction.

 

In fact, I’d suggest that the idea that we have somehow have obtained one, unchanging set of moral principles is, in of itself, immoral as It doesn’t take into account what we know, or the lack there of, and changing conditions, etc.

Without objective moral values and duties, the concept of “immoral” is incoherent. You cannot make an objectively true value judgment about any thing or action if objective moral values and duties don’t really exist. Why should we take into account what we know or don’t know? Why should we account for changing conditions? Your argument hinges on the implied validity of ought statements but you have no rational basis for insisting that any oughts whatsoever really exist.

 

To deny that we can make progress is bad philosophy.

Funny, and here I thought that incoherence and logical absurdity was bad philosophy.

 

Evil is the lack of knowledge because the laws of physics are really not that onerous to what we really want.

If objective moral truths don’t exist, nothing is evil. Things might be disliked, annoying, contrary to personal tastes, etc., but certainly not evil.

 

For example, as far as we know, the laws of physics do not prohibit the transfer of an unwanted fetus into a woman who wants a child or even creating an artificial womb. As such the only thing preventing us from doing so is knowing how. This is not to say this wouldn’t lead to new problems to solve, but it would render abortion unnecessary.

Why doesn’t God, being all knowing, divinely reveal the knowledge of how to do these things, avoiding the problem all together; as opposed to merely divinely revealing not to abort children, which he would have done quite poorly. If God supposedly “programmed” us to already objectively know not to abort children anyway, why repeat the same thing, rather than provide a soluiton?

I’m sorry, but this is simply absurd. You are trying to argue that abortion becomes necessary simply because a pregnancy is unwanted and that God therefore ought (there’s that word again) to reveal to humans some kind of amazing technology so that a mother’s will need never be made subject to another human’s right to life. The fact that a woman who becomes pregnant decides she doesn’t want the child does not make the abortion of that child necessary. She could carry the child to term and then make arrangements for the child to be placed in someone else’s care. But even if this whole argument weren’t absurd, there would be no grounds for saying God ought to do anything at all if objective moral values and duties didn’t really exist.

 

Having set out to actually solve this problem and, by the sweat of our own brows, create the knowledge of how to solve it, wouldn’t that make us more moral than God?

What is this “problem” you speak of? If objective moral truths, values and duties don’t truly exist then the state of any moral system at any point in time can never be a problem. There is nothing to solve. There’s no problem and no solution because there’s no objective reality to act as an ultimate standard. A moral system simply is what it is. Others will be different. But one will never be objectively better or worse than another. How can not solving a moral problem that doesn’t exist make us more moral than God? And how can anyone be more moral than anyone else? None of these statements make any sense if objective moral truths don’t exist.

Of course, then there’s the fact that if objective moral truths do exist, they must be grounded in God, in the very nature of what he is, and moral values and duties stem from his commands, which are necessarily consistent with his nature. If this is the case, then the very concept of being more moral than God is utterly incoherent.

And, well, if you decide that maybe you do believe in the existence of objective moral truths, values and duties but you think they can be grounded in something other than God, then you must jump on the bandwagon with Alex Rosenberg and the myriad other atheists and materialists who have been trying to find a rational way to ground objective morality in something other than God for the past 150 years.

______________________________
FOOTNOTES:

[1] In spite of not addressing your individual examples in detail, I will make a few comments on this issue.

It is notable that whenever someone seeks to paint God as some kind of moral monster in order to suggest that either objective moral values don’t exist or at least cannot be grounded in God, they universally rely on the Old Testament alone. They have precious little and not very harsh criticism to offer of the moral model set forth in the New Testament. But why is this? It is, after all, the same God in both the Old and New Testament, as the NT informs us repeatedly.

Well, if we’re interested in getting anything even resembling an accurate understanding of this matter, we need to ask ourselves whether there were any underlying factors to explain the different requirements set out for God’s people in those different time periods. And, as it happens, there are at least two significant ones that should immediately come to mind.

First, in OT times, the ransom to make possible the forgiveness of sins on the part of imperfect humans had not yet been paid by Christ. As I said in my original article, part of the point of the Mosaic Law was to make the Jewish people understand just how much that ransom was needed. Why? Because, as Romans 6:23 says, “The wages sin pays is death”.

Second, the Jewish people were in a very unique position. They were a people selected out of the nations for a special purpose, to participate in a covenant arrangement with God in order to receive a lofty gift and privilege. Consider the passage in Exodus 19:3-8:

Then Moses went up to the true God, and Jehovah called to him from the mountain, saying: “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and to tell the Israelites, ‘You have seen for yourselves what I did to the Egyptians, in order to carry you on wings of eagles and bring you to myself. Now if you will strictly obey my voice and keep my covenant, you will certainly become my special property out of all peoples, for the whole earth belongs to me. You will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites.”

So Moses went and summoned the elders of the people and declared to them all these words that Jehovah had commanded him. After that all the people answered unanimously: “All that Jehovah has spoken, we are willing to do.” Moses immediately took the people’s response to Jehovah.

The Jewish people willingly and unanimously entered into a contract with God, fully informed of its strict moral guidelines and the payment for gross sin. This was not some covenant that was foisted upon them or that they agreed to blindly. They knew what was required of them but also knew of the reward that was promised to them. If they remained faithful and lived in accord with the terms of the contract they would become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” to God. In order to become that kingdom of priests, however, it was vitally important that they remain morally and spiritually pure, which is why the punishment for immorality, whether of a sexual or spiritual nature, was both severe and swift.

When it came to the action that God had Israel take against other nations, however, it was not because they contravened the strict requirements of the Law Covenant, but because they grossly and continuously violated the “law written in their hearts” (Romans 2:14, 15), having become utterly morally repugnant and corrupted beyond repair. The Canaanites, for example, routinely burned babies alive as sacrifices to their gods.

God didn’t take any pleasure in the destruction of these people, though. Consider Ezekiel 33:11.

“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!’

Many of these nations simply refused to turn from their wicked ways, and when they reached their fullest potential for moral destitution, God sent Israel against them, though, as we see with the Canaanites, the primary purpose of the military action was to drive them out the land and away from any close contact with Israel. Plenty of warning was provided to these nations and the Israelites didn’t hunt down and kill those who chose to flee. Rather, they killed only those that chose to stay and fight. Furthermore, when peoples of these nations agreed to change their ways and asked for mercy, that mercy was granted to them. The militaristic language of ‘killing everyone that breathed, man, woman and child’ was often hyperbolic, as was common for that time and place, and we often see that there were, in fact, plenty of survivors.

Trying to second guess God’s moral decisions and commands is inherently problematic, if not completely incoherent. Even if we were to assume that the often hyperbolic language used in this context was actually literally fulfilled, we can only look at the situation from our modern and limited perspective. Whenever humans make the choice to kill large numbers of people, there is inevitably collateral damage, if there’s even any specific target at all rather than just an attempt to wipe out everyone alive. Such choices are always made for the benefit of the person making the choice, in line with their own selfish desires or skewed ideologies. But even if their motives were somehow just, humans simply don’t have the capacity to read the hearts of people, foresee future outcomes, and identify precisely the correct point in time when moving against a large group will result in an outcome that is just and without collateral damage.

God does not have the aforementioned limitations. God acts to wipe out what is objectively evil and he does so at a time that is appropriate, when the moral degradation of a society has reached its zenith, which sometimes only comes hundreds of years after the warning is initially issued to them. When it came time for God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he told Abraham that if there were even just 10 righteous people among all the wicked ones, he would spare the cities. Why should we think, then, that he would have Israel move decisively against wicked nations at a time and in a way that would have them “sweep away the righteous with the wicked”? (Gen. 18:23) Scripturally, we have every reason for thinking that he would not do that. When a human attempts to look back across thousands of years to a time and place utterly foreign to our modern circumstances in order to second-guess the morality and actions of the very Being who grounds moral values and duties, the result is bound to be hopelessly arrogant and ill-informed. Such judgments can only hold any weight if we operate under the assumption that God’s insight into a matter and power to control its outcome are as limited as our own and if we assume that because the moral judgments of modern society are different than the ones at work back then, the modern ones must be  better simply as a result of being newer. This is a fallacy often referred to as “Chronological Snobbery” or “The Appeal to Novelty”. I tend to just call it “The Modernism Fallacy”. It essentially holds that change itself is identical with progress. In the current context it leads to the belief that modern moral opinions and value judgments are inherently better than older ones specifically because they are modern, and so moral change is to be considered identical with moral progress. The reality of the matter, however, is that when it comes to morality, modernity can offer something different, but it can offer no rational basis for claiming that what it offers is objectively better. It can offer no objective moral value for any person or thing, nor can it rationally compel any person to do what is good or to avoid what is bad.

 

57 Replies to “Reply To An Argument Against Objective Morality: When Words Lose All Meaning

  1. 1
    TSErik says:

    I’ve always maintained it is most reasonable to believe in objective morality.

    Often mental gymnastics are played in order to avoid this view. People will conflate morality with the subjective justification and say that all morality must be subjective. This is absurd.

    There is NO society on Earth that lacks a concept of murder. Societies may differ on justifications of ending another life, but justifications are a response to an innate conscience.

    I’ve heard responses of, “All cultures have music, so that means it is an objective truth?” This is silly. This objection conflates morality and justifications.

    As justifications are a response to innate morality, music is a response to the waves (which objectively exist) that we call sound. Again, the music is subjective, just as the justifications are subjective. However, the morality and sound are not.

    If someone could find evidence of a culture that completely lacked the concept of murder, I may need to reevaluate my ideas. As it stands, it is most reasonable to accept the concept of objective moral truths.

  2. 2
    KRock says:

    Excellent post HeKs!

  3. 3
    Barry Arrington says:

    The ontology/epistemology category error might be demonstrated by the following exchange.

    Anti-IDer: If an objective standard of morality existed, everyone would always agree on moral issues. People disagree in good faith about moral issues. Therefore, an objective standard of morality does not exist.

    ID proponent: Using the same reasoning I could say that if sub-atomic particles existed, everyone would always agree on the interpretation of quantum mechanics. People disagree in good faith about the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Therefore, sub-atomic particles do not exist.

    To say that something exists (ontology) is not the same as saying I or anyone else has perfect knowledge (epistemology) about that thing.

  4. 4
    Barry Arrington says:

    In the above exchange HeKS several times caught Popperian smuggling in objective morality through the back door as he tried to push it out the front door.

    It seems to me that perhaps the best proof that objective morality exists is the fact that one cannot argue against it without assuming it.

  5. 5
    HeKS says:

    Thanks KRock.

  6. 6
    Phinehas says:

    HeKS, you should definitely post more. A lot more. You have a special ability to explain difficult concepts in plain language.

    As a further point to Popper’s:

    However, given current day knowledge of the impact of those choices on people, would we accept this sort of behavior today from, well, anyone?

    Comparing God to everyone else when it comes to morality will always be problematic until others can give the same justification that God gives convincingly:

    …for the whole earth belongs to me.

  7. 7
    HeKS says:

    @Phinehas #6

    HeKS, you should definitely post more. A lot more. You have a special ability to explain difficult concepts in plain language.

    Thanks Phinehas, that’s very kind of you to say.

    As a further point to Popper’s:

    However, given current day knowledge of the impact of those choices on people, would we accept this sort of behavior today from, well, anyone?

    Comparing God to everyone else when it comes to morality will always be problematic until others can give the same justification that God gives convincingly:

    …for the whole earth belongs to me.

    Excellent point.

  8. 8
    roding says:

    Heks, some argue that there is indeed object morality, but it can be explained from a biological perspective. What are you thoughts on that?

  9. 9
    Phinehas says:

    roding:

    Explained how, from a biological perspective? Just saying “biological perspective” isn’t really an argument.

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Downfall – trailer and famous bunker scene – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpyMeBrljfQ
    Did you ever wonder what was the real translation of those Hitler parodies? This video shows the actual translation.

  11. 11
    roding says:

    Phinehas,

    Explained how, from a biological perspective? Just saying “biological perspective” isn’t really an argument.

    I’m not making the argument myself, just saying some do – perhaps Sam Harris in The Moral Landscape might be an example of this. I’m just curious to Heks thoughts on the matter.

  12. 12
    HeKS says:

    @roding #8

    I guess that my specific thoughts would depend on the particular “biological perspective” that is in view. There are two that I’ve commonly come across, though I’ve never seen a particularly compelling argument for either.

    One biological basis that is offered for morality is evolutionary psychology. It is argued that because the morality is not arrived at through the deliberate reasoning of human minds but is implanted by evolution and genetically determined, the morality is therefore objective. In reality, though, this just offers an insight into the matter of Moral Epistemology (how we come to know what we think we know about morality), and the only way it differs from the theistic view of how it is that humans have some natural grasp of objective moral truths is that the Evo-Psych explanation says that humans have these ideas by chance, whereas the theist says humans naturally grasp these ideas by design. In any case, the concept that we might have genetically determined illusions about morality that we have no control over does not somehow make the existence of an objective set of corresponding moral truths real. Accidental beliefs cannot serve as a rational grounding for an overarching set of objective moral truths that are binding on moral agents. Once one realizes that his beliefs about objective morality are merely historical accidents, he has rational grounds for disregarding them when he finds that course of action to be of benefit, not for thinking that he or anyone else ought to feel compelled to abide by them. Most thoughtful moral philosophers that I’ve read or observed in debates have readily acknowledged that evolutionary psychology is not a sound grounding for objective morality. This view seems to be held primarily by evolutionary scientists with no particular genius for philosophy.

    Another biological basis that has been offered for objective morality basically argues that because we’re smart, can think about morality, and can consider moral questions, we therefore have inherent moral value and are subject to moral duties. Oddly, I’ve seen some philosophers take this approach, but I find it thoroughly underwhelming, since it simply assumes that there is truly something inherently good in being smart, in thinking about morality, and in considering moral questions, but it is entirely unclear why any of this should be true unless objective moral truths, values and duties have independent existence.

    This line of argument really just raises the same question I address in the OP, which is the question of why we should consider something like the progress, prosperity and survival of society and humanity as a whole to be inherently good if there isn’t some objectively true moral standard against which these propositions can be measured. Even if we were to assume that the laws of physics and chemistry could somehow get a whole bunch of atoms into the right order to bring about the existence of intelligent beings that can ask moral questions, why should we consider this anything more than an interesting and unexpected curiosity? Why should we consider it somehow inherently good? Would it have been inherently bad if this historical accident had never happened? I don’t see how.

    Anyway, those are my basic thoughts on trying to ground the existence of objective moral truths in some kind of “biological perspective”.

    Take care,
    HeKS

  13. 13

    HeKS

    It is argued that because the morality is not arrived at through the deliberate reasoning of human minds but is implanted by evolution and genetically determined, the morality is therefore objective.

    In my opinion you get evolutionary psychology, if not exactly backward, then inside out. Take this statement from one of the originators of the discipline:

    To find someone beautiful, to fall in love, to feel jealous, to experience moral outrage, to fear disease, to reciprocate a favor, to initiate an attack, to deduce a tool’s function from its shape—and a myriad other cognitive accomplishments—can seem as simple and automatic and effortless as opening your eyes and seeing. But this apparent simplicity is possible only because there is a vast array of complex computational machinery supporting and regulating these activities. The human cognitive architecture probably embodies a large number of domain-specific “grammars,” targeting not just the domain of social life, but also disease, botany, tool-making, animal behavior, foraging and many other situations that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to cope with on a regular basis.

    Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1994). Beyond intuition and instinct blindness: Toward an evolutionarily rigorous cognitive science. Cognition, 50, 41-77.

    What this analogy with vision captures is the notion that what human evolutionary history has originated is not specific content in each of these problem domains, but rather specialized cognitive abilities – adaptations – that enable the rapid and efficient processing of information in each domain.

    Hence the characterization, “It is argued that because the morality is not arrived at through the deliberate reasoning of human minds but is implanted by evolution and genetically determined” has it backward (inside out?): What evolutionary psychology postulates is that it is precisely evolution that has equipped individuals with the ability to reason (and compute) rapidly across many domains, including the social and moral domains, and therefore (in part) accounts for the ability of individual persons to solve problems in those domains. It also accounts for the fact that the outcomes of this problem solving, like the panorama of vision, seem simply to be obviously “there,” when in fact massive neurobiologically based cognitive processing with evolutionary origins lies behind that simplicity.

    It strikes me that what most people have difficulty wrapping themselves around is the notion that much of this processing is non-conscious.

  14. 14
    bornagain77 says:

    Is Objective Morality A Tangible Part Of Reality?
    That objective moral values really do exist is readily apparent to most people with common sense, save for the most die hard atheists who are willing to deny anything and everything rather than ever admit there is any evidence for God.

    “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
    – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    Understanding self-evidence (with a bit of help from Aquinas . . . ) – November 30, 2013
    Excerpt: Therefore, the amorality of evolutionary materialist ideology stands exposed as absurd in the face of self-evident moral truths. Where, such moral yardsticks imply that we are under government of OUGHT, leading onward to the issue that there is only one serious explanation for our finding ourselves living in such a world — a theistic one.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....m-aquinas/

    Neo-Darwinists, with their insistence that chaos (i.e. randomness) is the ultimate creator of everything, simply cannot maintain a consistent identity towards a stable, unchanging, cause for objective morality. In fact, Dr. William Lane Craig calls it a ‘knock down’ argument against atheists:

    The Knock-Down Argument Against Atheist Sam Harris’ moral landscape argument – William Lane Craig – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xL_vAH2NIPc

    And as the preceding quote, article, and video show, refusing to acknowledge that objective morality is self evidently true results in logical absurdities.
    Showing a position to be logically inconsistent is indeed a powerful argument against a position being true, but there is another way to make the case for objective morality even stronger.
    Since, as a Christian Theist, I hold that God continuously sustains the universe in the infinite power of His being, and since I also hold that God created our ‘inmost being’, i.e. our souls, then I also hold that morality is a real, objective, tangible, part of reality that we should be able to ‘scientifically’ detect in some way.
    I think this quote from Martin Luther King is very fitting as to elucidating what the Theist’s starting presupposition should be for finding objective morality to be a ‘real, tangible, objective’ part of reality:

    “The first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws.”
    – Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

    And, contrary to what the materialist/atheist would want to presuppose about objective morality, (that it is basically illusory!), we find much evidence to back up Dr. King’s assertion that “there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws”.
    For instance, we find that babies have a caring, loving, touch from the baby towards the mother’s uterine wall is found very early on in a baby’s development. In other words babies have an innate moral sense very early on, before they have even had a chance to learn them, thus directly contradicting one Darwinian notion that morals are merely societal constructs that we learn as we grow older.

    Wired to Be Social: The Ontogeny of Human Interaction – 2010
    Excerpt: Kinematic analysis revealed that movement duration was longer and deceleration time was prolonged for other-directed movements compared to movements directed towards the uterine wall. Similar kinematic profiles were observed for movements directed towards the co-twin and self-directed movements aimed at the eye-region, i.e. the most delicate region of the body.
    http://www.plosone.org/article.....ne.0013199

    This ‘caring touch’ is also displayed in twins:

    Twin fetuses learn how to be social in the womb – October 13, 2010
    Excerpt: Humans have a deep-seated urge to be social, and new research on the interactions of twins in the womb suggests this begins even before babies are born.,,,
    The five pairs of twins were found to be reaching for each other even at 14 weeks, and making a range of contacts including head to head, arm to head and head to arm. By the time they were at 18 weeks, they touched each other more often than they touched their own bodies, spending up to 30 percent of their time reaching out and stroking their co-twin.,,,
    Kinematic analyses of the recordings showed the fetuses made distinct gestures when touching each other, and movements lasted longer — their hands lingered. They also took as much care when touching their twin’s delicate eye region as they did with their own. This type of contact was not the same as the inevitable contact between two bodies sharing a confined space or accidental contacts between the bodies and the walls of the uterus,,,
    The findings clearly demonstrate it is deep within human nature to reach out to other people.
    http://phys.org/news/206164323.....-womb.html

    Even toddlers display a highly developed sense of ‘moral justice’:

    The Moral Life of Babies – May 2010
    Excerpt: From Sigmund Freud to Jean Piaget to Lawrence Kohlberg, psychologists have long argued that we begin life as amoral animals.,,,
    A growing body of evidence, though, suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life. With the help of well-designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life. Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone.,,,
    Despite their overall preference for good actors over bad, then, babies are drawn to bad actors when those actors are punishing bad behavior.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05.....&_r=0

    This following study goes even further in establishing the objective, tangible, reality of morality by showing that ‘Moral evaluations of harm are instant and emotional’:

    Moral evaluations of harm are instant and emotional, brain study shows – November 29, 2012
    Excerpt: People are able to detect, within a split second, if a hurtful action they are witnessing is intentional or accidental, new research on the brain at the University of Chicago shows.
    http://medicalxpress.com/news/.....brain.html

    And although split second reactions to hateful actions are pretty good, non-locality of morals (i.e. morals that arise outside of space and time and are grounded within the perfect nature of God’s being) demand a more ‘spooky action at a distance’, i.e. quantum, proof.
    And due to the seemingly miraculous advances in science, we now have evidence for objective morality to even this ‘spooky’ beyond space and time level:

    Quantum Consciousness – Time Flies Backwards? – Stuart Hameroff MD
    Excerpt: Dean Radin and Dick Bierman have performed a number of experiments of emotional response in human subjects. The subjects view a computer screen on which appear (at randomly varying intervals) a series of images, some of which are emotionally neutral, and some of which are highly emotional (violent, sexual….). In Radin and Bierman’s early studies, skin conductance of a finger was used to measure physiological response They found that subjects responded strongly to emotional images compared to neutral images, and that the emotional response occurred between a fraction of a second to several seconds BEFORE the image appeared! Recently Professor Bierman (University of Amsterdam) repeated these experiments with subjects in an fMRI brain imager and found emotional responses in brain activity up to 4 seconds before the stimuli. Moreover he looked at raw data from other laboratories and found similar emotional responses before stimuli appeared.
    http://www.quantumconsciousnes.....Flies.html

    Can Your Body Sense Future Events Without Any External Clue? (meta-analysis of 26 reports published between 1978 and 2010) – (Oct. 22, 2012)
    Excerpt: “But our analysis suggests that if you were tuned into your body, you might be able to detect these anticipatory changes between two and 10 seconds beforehand,,,
    This phenomenon is sometimes called “presentiment,” as in “sensing the future,” but Mossbridge said she and other researchers are not sure whether people are really sensing the future.
    “I like to call the phenomenon ‘anomalous anticipatory activity,’” she said. “The phenomenon is anomalous, some scientists argue, because we can’t explain it using present-day understanding about how biology works; though explanations related to recent quantum biological findings could potentially make sense. It’s anticipatory because it seems to predict future physiological changes in response to an important event without any known clues, and it’s an activity because it consists of changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin and nervous systems.”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....145342.htm

  15. 15
    bornagain77 says:

    As well, the following experiment, from Princeton University no less, is very interesting in that it was found that ‘perturbed randomness’ precedes a worldwide ‘moral crisis’:

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KE1haKXoHMo

    Mass Consciousness: Perturbed Randomness Before First Plane Struck on 911 – July 29 2012
    Excerpt: The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened – but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.,,
    Now, even the doubters are acknowledging that here is a small box with apparently inexplicable powers. ‘It’s Earth-shattering stuff,’ says Dr Roger Nelson, emeritus researcher at Princeton University in the United States, who is heading the research project behind the ‘black box’ phenomenon.
    http://www.network54.com/Forum.....uck+on+911

    Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research – Scientific Study of Consciousness-Related Physical Phenomena – peer reviewed publications
    http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/publications.html

    Thus we actually have very good empirical evidence supporting Dr. King’s observation that ‘that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws’.
    In fact, since the emotional reactions happen before the violent images are even viewed, or before the worldwide tragedies even occurred, then one would be well justified in believing that morality abides at a much deeper level of reality, (i.e. in the perfect nature of God’s being), than ‘mere’ physical laws of the universe do (just as a Theist would presuppose that morals would do prior to investigation).
    Moreover, the atheistic materialist is left without a clue as to how such ‘prescient morality’ is even possible for reality.

    Also of note to objective morality being grounded in the perfect nature of God’s being,, at the 17:45 minute mark of the following Near Death Experience documentary, the Life Review portion of the Near Death Experience is highlighted, with several testimonies relating how every word, deed, and action, of a person’s life (all the ‘information’ of a person’s life) is gone over in the presence of God’s perfect love:

    Near Death Experience Documentary – commonalities of the experience – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTuMYaEB35U

    Matthew 12:36-37
    “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

    Verse and music:

    John 3:19
    This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

    Black Eyed Peas – Where Is The Love?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpYeekQkAdc

    Supplemental note:

    Ask the Experts: What Is a Near-Death Experience (NDE)? – article with video
    Excerpt: “Very often as they’re moving through the tunnel, there’s a very bright mystical light … not like a light we’re used to in our earthly lives. People call this mystical light, brilliant like a million times a million suns…”
    – Jeffrey Long M.D. – has studied NDE’s extensively
    http://abcnews.go.com/Nightlin....._gydvW8jbI

  16. 16
    drc466 says:

    HeKS,

    Great post. Playing devil’s advocate* for the moment – it is possible to take at least some of Popperian’s response, where he “[smuggles] in objective morality”, as an argument from the approach of “assuming what you say is true (objective morality exists), here is why it is logically inconsistent”. This is a strategy opponents of materialism (me included) often use, to show how materialism is logically incoherent even given it’s own assumptions.
    To put it another way, rephrasing Popperian: If objective morality is true, how come one of the primary advocates for objective morality (Judeo-Christian belief) is so inconsistent in what they call right or wrong over time? How can entire generations of believers in objective morality swing 180deg over certain issues (such as abortion) over history? if moral ontology, why is moral epistemology so flexible/changeable?

    *I’m a staunch believer in objective morality, but I’m curious as to how you’d respond to this particular argument?

  17. 17
    roding says:

    Heks, thanks for taking the time to reply to my question. Good food for thought.

  18. 18
    HeKS says:

    @Reciprocating Bill #13

    Bill,

    Unless I’m misunderstanding you, you seem to have completely missed the point.

    Roding asked me what I thought of arguments for objective morality from “a biological perspective” – which is to say, arguments that attempt to ground objective morality in biology rather than in God – though he didn’t identify any particular arguments. In my response I highlighted the two main arguments I’ve come across multiple times that attempt to ground objective morality in biology in some way.

    Now, you’ve taken issue with the first argument because you think it doesn’t accurately represent Evolutionary Psychology. All the more power to you. It’s not my argument. If it fails to accurately capture Evo-Psych, that hardly makes it a stronger argument for grounding objective morality in biology, right? My purpose was to explain why I thought the argument didn’t work to ground objective morality even if its underlying premises were granted. I was trying to represent the argument accurately, not the field of Evo-Psych. If we accept your summary of the conclusions of Evo-Psych instead, then we will continue to conclude that it does not give us any basis for grounding objective and binding moral truths in biology, or even for thinking that they really exist. That was the point. I wasn’t offering a discourse on the field of Evo-Psych.

  19. 19
    HeKS says:

    @drc466 #16

    That’s a good question. I think I addressed some of that in the footnote to the OP, but I’d be happy to provide some further thought on that issue. I’ll try to get to it a little later tonight.

  20. 20

    HeKS:

    In my response I highlighted the two main arguments I’ve come across multiple times that attempt to ground objective morality in biology in some way…My purpose was to explain why I thought the argument didn’t work to ground objective morality even if its underlying premises were granted.

    DOWN boy.

    You mischaracterized the fundamental claims of evolutionary psychology. What works or doesn’t work given misstated premises has no bearing upon the implications evolutionary biology, through evolutionary psychology, may have for human moral reasoning.

    That said, would you provide a cite or link to a claim that evolutionary biology/psychology can ground “objective morality” and “binding moral truths?” You say you’ve come across such arguments multiple times, but I can’t recall anyone making that claim for it.

    Rawrrf.

  21. 21
    JGuy says:

    I like and find interesting an observation Sean McDowell noted once before.
    Basically paraphrased: Evil can’t exist without good. But… Good can exist without evil.

    Whoa! 😛

  22. 22
    HeKS says:

    @Reciprocating Bill #20

    I’m a little confused by your tone. Are you like this with everybody or am I just special?

    You mischaracterized the fundamental claims of evolutionary psychology.

    No, actually, I didn’t. I related an argument that I have heard made on occasion that attempted to ground objective morality in biology. The central claim of the argument was that our beliefs about morality stem from our genetics, which are the product of our evolutionary history, and that this in some way makes them objective because they originate from some source (our genetics, resulting from our evolutionary history) other than just our subjective reasoning and deliberating.

    Now, what you are saying is that this argument that I’ve seen presented misrepresents fundamental claims of evolutionary psychology. Perhaps, but that’s not really the point one way or the other. I wasn’t asked about my thoughts on Evo-Psych or to describe its fundamental claims. I didn’t write a post about Evolutionary Psychology. I was asked about my thoughts on arguments I’ve come across for the objectivity of morality that attempt to ground it in biology. The argument I described is one that I’ve come across. I didn’t say it was specifically people who work in the field of Evo-Psych who have used it. I don’t really care that much one way or the other in this context. Again, the point is not “What is an accurate representation of the fundamental claims of Evo-Psych?” The point is “What arguments of a certain type have I come across and what do I think about them?” I’m not sure what you don’t get about that.

    And really, what is your point here? Are you trying to suggest that I’ve somehow intentionally created a strawman and presented a weaker argument for the objective reality of moral truths on the basis of Evolutionary Psychology than that field is capable of offering? If so, then by all means, please let me know what the stronger argument is. But it seems to me that your claim is that Evo-Psych does not provide us with a reason to think that moral truths have objective existence independent of our beliefs about them, which I agree with, so I really don’t understand what your issue is. You seem to find it really damning that I’ve happened to hear people make an argument that you think doesn’t accurately represent the field of Evo-Psych. There’s not much I can do about that.

    What works or doesn’t work given misstated premises has no bearing upon the implications evolutionary biology, through evolutionary psychology, may have for human moral reasoning.

    Honestly, I don’t know what the point of that sentence is supposed to be.

    That said, would you provide a cite or link to a claim that evolutionary biology/psychology can ground “objective morality” and “binding moral truths?” You say you’ve come across such arguments multiple times, but I can’t recall anyone making that claim for it.

    You seem to think that I’m trying to use these claims to support my view that objective morality exists. I’m not. I’ve already said that I think they’re wrong and ill-conceived.

    Can I provide you with an example of this argument being used? I suppose, if you really think it’s necessary that I provide a source for an argument that neither of us thinks is valid and the existence of which I’m not using to prove anything.

    The last time I remember seeing a version of this in writing was when someone tried to use it on debate.org. Fortunately for me I saved portions of it:

    Evolutionary traits and morality, in many ways, go hand in hand. If we take a neo-Darwinian stance on the issue of morality, I think natural selection forms a convincing case for an objective code of morality.

    Evolution and adaptation of biological structures began with simple prokaryotic organisms, which ultimately led to the existence of a wide array of structurally unique organism types, which includes us, humans. We and our biological traits are products of evolutionary development.

    Here is my argument for a morality founded on objective principles, through the lens of evolutionary theory:

    1. Human thoughts are objective biological functions of the brain
    2. The human brain, and therefore its biological functions, have been objectively standardized as a direct result of evolutionary development
    3. Human thoughts have been objectively standardized as a direct result of evolutionary development
    4. Morality is a direct product of the human brain’s thought function
    5. Morality has been objectively standardized as a direct result of evolutionary development

    ….

    Thoughts are biological phenomena that are produced by brain functions

    ….

    Genetically, the human brain develops in a structurally unique way that is distinct from those of other species and unique to the human species. This is, of course, a direct result of evolutionary development, specifically speciation. It follows that brain function is also standardized in such a way that is unique to humans.

    ….

    A function is greatly influenced by the structure that produces it. In the same way, human thought is greatly influence by the structure of the brain. And if the structure is a product of evolutionary development, then it follows that the function (thought) that is founded on the structure is a product of the same.

    ….

    Structure has been standardized by evolutionary development. Therefore, function has been standardized by evolutionary development. Therefore, thought has been standardized by evolutionary development. Therefore, morality has been standardized by evolutionary development.

    And it follows that morality, then, has an objective basis, founded on traits acquired through evolutionary development.

    So, here is a person who tried to argue that morality was objective because the thoughts we have about morality are ultimately determined by our evolutionary development and history. Of course, this must all be taken with a grain of salt, because this person thought its origin in evolutionary development and history was sufficient to make it objective and yet he held that objective moral truths didn’t really exist outside of our minds. It’s a weird argument. I don’t think it’s particularly impressive. But there you go … there’s one version of that type of evolutionary argument for objective morality that I’ve come across.

    I was not a party in this debate, but after it was finished I commented to this person:

    The model of morality that [you describe] is not only not objective … it’s hard to say if it’s really even subjective either. It’s simply physically deterministic and there’s no reason whatsoever to think it or any another thought (within this model of mind and thought) has any value or truth content or is dependable in any way at all.

    This was his reply:

    “Physical determinism,” as you call it, is objective in nature.

    I’ve also heard a version of this argument offered in live formal debates. I believe it has been used by opponents of William Lane Craig in at least one or two debates (though it’s possible it was with someone else), but with the number of debates I’ve watched, which is far more than I can keep track of, I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head which ones it was used in, and under the circumstances I have no intention of going back through countless hours of debates to try to find it for you.

    Take care,
    HeKS

  23. 23
    Joe says:

    Evolutionary psychology makes fundamental claims? The implications of evolutionary biology are what? That we will never be able to figure out how living organisms really work.

  24. 24
    Phinehas says:

    RB:

    What evolutionary psychology postulates is that it is precisely evolution that has equipped individuals with the ability to reason (and compute) rapidly across many domains, including the social and moral domains, and therefore (in part) accounts for the ability of individual persons to solve problems in those domains.

    And is this notion that evolution has equipped individuals with the ability to reason something that you endorse? Do you owe your ability to reason to evolutionary forces that did not have reason as their goal?

  25. 25

    Phinehas:

    And is this notion that evolution has equipped individuals with the ability to reason something that you endorse? Do you owe your ability to reason to evolutionary forces that did not have reason as their goal?

    It is my view that any person, at any given moment, expresses three tiers of history: one’s personal history, the history of the culture in which one is embedded, and evolutionary history. These are progressively more general, yet expressed simultaneously. As I write these words, I express ideas that arise from a personal history that is in many ways contingent and idiosyncratic – as is everyone’s – hence the uniqueness and incompleteness of my subjective view of the world. Simultaneously, these words carry forward elements of my enclosing culture, in that their lexical meanings and grammatical functions were historically established and stabilized within our language community over no more than the last 7000 years, the span over which languages as diverse as Sanskrit, Gaelic, Latin, and Greek evolved from a common linguistic ancestor. Hence their function here simultaneously reflects something of my own purposing and a contingent thread of Western linguistic history, as carried forward in both writer and reader. Also reflected herein is our human evolutionary heritage. Arguably, the ability to both utter and comprehend grammatically complex speech is an evolutionary adaptation of the human species. Nested at still greater removes are aspects of hominid, primate, mammalian, and vertebrate organization, reflecting progressively deeper evolutionary origins and increasingly ancient expressions of chance and contingency. All told, each of us carries forward, and is embedded in, an astounding quantity of personal, cultural and biological history, with the result that many human psychological states often carry “the ancient alongside the new” (Povinelli). Note that, on this view, there is no necessary contradiction between explanations at the individual, cultural, and evolutionary levels; all may, and oftentimes must, operate simultaneously in human behavior.

    (Remember to recycle)

  26. 26
    Joe says:

    From RB’s non-sequitur:

    It is my view that any person, at any given moment, expresses three tiers of history: one’s personal history, the history of the culture in which one is embedded, and evolutionary history.

    That holds true for any organism. Yet it appears that only humans are equipped with the ability to reason.

  27. 27

    Joe said:

    From RB’s non-sequitur:

    Well, to be fair, one should expect a fairly large percentage of non-sequitur responses from mindless biological machines.

  28. 28
    Phinehas says:

    RB:

    So, yes? No? Forgive me, but I can’t really tell from what you’ve written.

  29. 29

    Phinehas:

    So, yes? No? Forgive me, but I can’t really tell from what you’ve written.

    Good sign.

    Neither “Yes, evolution equipped individuals with the ability to reason, and I owe my ability to reason to evolutionary forces that did not have reason as their goal,” nor “No, evolution did not equip individuals with the ability to reason, and my ability to reason owes nothing evolutionary forces that did not have reason as their goal” expresses my views.

    What to do?

    Fortunately, these statements don’t exhaust the possibilities, so describing views that I actually hold is the thing to do. So I’ve reproduced a paragraph from another context that, more or less, does that.

  30. 30
    Phinehas says:

    RB:

    You are right. I left out the possibility that you are devoid of reason in the first place, but I did so purely for charitable reasons.

    If you possess reason, either you owe this to evolutionary forces that did not have reason as their goal or you do not. What you wrote @25 seems more an attempt to avoid this issue than to address it.

  31. 31

    Phinehas:

    If you possess reason, either you owe this to evolutionary forces that did not have reason as their goal or you do not.

    As I stated above, this does not exhaust the possibilities. Another possibility is that specific instances of human cognition and reasoning have origins in, and simultaneously express, evolutionary events of various depths in history, long accumulations of cultural invention atop that evolutionary innovation and individual human histories, experiences and actions.

  32. 32
    HeKS says:

    RB,

    Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I think Phinehas is asking you where you think your ability to reason came from. Do you think that the human ability to reason results from an evolutionary innovation/adaptation?

  33. 33
    HeKS says:

    Just an additional note …. If you think that the ability to reason about particular domains arose at different times as parts of separate evolutionary events, the answer is still “yes”. The question, after all, is not about the general history of human reasoning on different issues, but about the source or cause of the ability to reason at all, whether that ability arose all at once or incrementally.

  34. 34
    Acartia_bogart says:

    Joe: “That holds true for any organism. Yet it appears that only humans are equipped with the ability to reason.”

    This is simply untrue. If you qualified it by saying that humans, as far as we know, are able to reason at a level superior to all other animals, it would be a factual statement.

    Chimps and other primates have been shown to problem solve. Even my cat has learned how to open our sliding screen door, and how to climb fence boards in the absence of claws. Is this not the result of reason? Or what about an octopus’ ability to unscrew a jar to get at the food within?

  35. 35
    Joe says:

    Acartia_bogart:

    If you qualified it by saying that humans, as far as we know, are able to reason at a level superior to all other animals, it would be a factual statement.

    The words “it appears” does just that.

    Chimps and other primates have been shown to problem solve. Even my cat has learned how to open our sliding screen door, and how to climb fence boards in the absence of claws. Is this not the result of reason? Or what about an octopus’ ability to unscrew a jar to get at the food within?

    So that means they are reasoning?

  36. 36
    Joe says:

    LoL! “do” not “does”

  37. 37
    Acartia_bogart says:

    Joe: “so that means they are reasoning?”

    How would you describe it (to appease the barrister, I did not use the word ‘define’)? I don’t see how you could describe this as blind instinct, unless the designer planned for sliding screen doors. If you toddler learned to open a sliding door, whether through watching you open it, or through trial and error, you would not hesitate to attribute this to your rug-rat’s ability to reason (oh, isn’t he/she smart), but if a cat does the exact same thing, why would you not attribute it to the same cause? Reason. Is it because you have been told from birth that humans are the only one of god’s creation that can reason, or is it because of objective observation?

  38. 38

    HeKS:

    [We are] asking you where you think your ability to reason came from.

    I thought I was clear:

    Evolutionary events of various depths in history that adapted the human body and brain, long accumulations of cultural invention atop that evolutionary innovation and the contingent histories, experiences and actions of individuals themselves. Biological evolution is only one of several components of that account.

  39. 39
    HeKS says:

    @RB #38

    Yes, I read your previous comments, but “cultural invention” does not give a person an objective capacity for or ability to reason. Cultural invention may be responsible for certain theoretical frameworks within which you happen to deploy your reasoning ability, but cultural invention does not imbue humanity with the underlying capacity for rationality and reason that allows for cultures to invent theoretical frameworks in the first place.

  40. 40
    Joe says:

    Acartia_bogart- computers solve problems without the use of reasoning.

  41. 41
    Acartia_bogart says:

    Joe: “Acartia_bogart- computers solve problems without the use of reasoning.”

    Thank you for proving that you will jump at any excuse to rationalize that animals don’t reason. Please answer my question

  42. 42
    Box says:

    Acartia-bogart, do particles in motion reason?

  43. 43
    Mung says:

    Arcatia_bogart:

    This is simply untrue. If you qualified it by saying that humans, as far as we know, are able to reason at a level superior to all other animals, it would be a factual statement.

    How are you defining ‘superior’ today?

  44. 44
    Mung says:

    I agree with A_b that animals reason. After all, humans are animals and humans reason. But plants don’t reason. And animals are not intrinsically superior to plants. So who cares.

  45. 45
    Andre says:

    This is by far the best argument I’ve come across against materialism!

    A Dilemma for Materialists

    In my experience, it’s often difficult for my intelligent atheist friends to seriously consider arguments for the truth of Christianity. An argument from the resurrection of Jesus remains implausible because their worldview fundamentally excludes this sort of event. In light of this, I’d like to engage one popular form of this worldview, namely philosophical materialism.

    Thus here’s my dilemma for materialists:

    1. Either subjective experience, in its capacity as subjective experience, is relevant in the explanation of behavior or it is not.

    2. If subjective experience is relevant in the explanation of behavior, then materialism is absurd (more than that, it is unambiguously false).

    3. If subjective experience is not relevant in the explanation of behavior, then materialism is absurd.

    4. Therefore, materialism is absurd.

    The conclusion necessarily follows from those three premises, if all are true, so let’s examine each premise one at a time.

    Premise (1): A Philosophical Axiom

    Premise (1) is obvious and uncontroversial. It appeals, in philosophical jargon, to the “law of the excluded middle”, which holds that for any assertion X, either X is true or not-X is true. One example of this axiom is that either Barack Obama is a horse or he is not a horse. There can be no “middle” position wherein he is somehow neither of those two possibilities. Premise (1) is simply another example of the same axiom where “subjective experience, in its capacity as subjective experience is relevant in the explanation of behavior” is used instead of “X” or “Barack Obama is a horse”.

    Premise (2): A Definitional Point

    “Materialism” is a term used somewhat inconsistently by philosophers. However, materialists of every stripe are at least committed to the “causal closure of the physical domain.” For this reason, the truth of materialism and the explanatory relevance of subjective experience are mutually exclusive.

    Perhaps most commonly, “materialism” is used interchangeably with “physicalism” as the view that everything including people consist of nothing by physical matter and that a person’s mental states just are (or at least are reducible to) physical states of their brains. But I am using the term in a broader sense to encompass the position known as “dual aspect theory” (or sometimes “property dualism” or “non-reductive materialism”) as well.

    Dual aspect theorists are willing to admit that mental states are something distinct from physical states and that they are not reducible to physical states. This means, as the dual aspect theorist David Chalmers has put it, that our mental states are such that they could not be explained by anything we could reasonably apply the term “physics” to. Rather, on this theory there are as-of-yet undiscovered “psychophysical laws, specifying how [mental states] depend on physical properties.”

    Importantly, however, both physicalism and dual aspect theory (and any other theory that could reasonably come under the term “materialism”) is committed to what may be called “The Causal Closure Thesis.” This thesis holds that there are no non-physical causes that operate on the physical level. This does not rule out the possibility—important to some theories of quantum mechanics—that some physical events are uncaused and random. But it does mean that even though the dual aspect theorist admits that non-physical mental states exist, he denies that they have any effect on the physical domain.

    As Chalmers puts it, “the physical domain remains autonomous,” and “the view makes experience explanatorily irrelevant.” Rather, the true explanation of behavior may be diagrammed as follows:

    The sole explanation of the behavior in question (reaching for an apple) is the antecedent physical cause of that behavior. There may be an arrow from a physical state of affairs to the mental state of desiring an apple, but there could never be an arrow from that or any other mental state to a physical result. Stephen Hawking is a materialist and demonstrates his commitment to this position in his recent book The Grand Design:

    “Recent experiments in neuroscience support the view that it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determines our actions, and not some agency that exists outside those laws…It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behaviour is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.”

    Therefore, if materialism is true, then subjective experience, as Chalmers has put it, is “explanatorily irrelevant”; Premise (2), in other words, is sound.

    Premise (3): Why Materialists Can’t Employ an Evolutionary Theory of Knowledge

    It is tempting to jump to an overly simple objection to the materialist position at this point. Physics is governed by physical laws, not reason. As Victor Reppert has put it, when there is an avalanche the rocks do not move as they do because they think it would be a good idea to do so, but because they “blindly” obey non-rational physical laws. Why should we expect the atoms in our brain to behave any differently? Shouldn’t they too blindly follow non-rational physical laws? And, if so, why should we expect the result of such non-rational behavior would be rational and trustworthy? And, of course, the materialist must, to avoid absurdity, think his mental states are rational and trustworthy or else he could have no reason for believing materialism to be true in the first place.

    C.S. Lewis used this as the basis for an argument for the existence of God in his book The Case for Christianity:

    “Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

    But haven’t we made that dangerous inference Richard Dawkins is always warning us about from the appearance of design to the existence of design? And, in this case, like so many others, shouldn’t we look to Darwinism to set us straight? William Hasker provides a nice summary of the position:

    “The central idea of Darwinist epistemology; is simply that an organism’s conscious states confer a benefit in the struggle to survive and reproduce. Such responses as discomfort in the presence of a chemical irritant, or the awareness of light or warmth or food, enhance the organism’s ability to respond in optimal fashion. For more complex animals there is the awareness of the presence of predator or of prey, and the ability to devise simple strategies so as to increase the chances of successful predation or of escape therefrom. As the organisms and their brains become more complex, we see the emergence of systems of beliefs and of strategies for acquiring beliefs, and the strategies that lead to the acquisition of true rather than false beliefs confer an adaptive advantage. Natural selection guarantees a high level of fitness, including cognitive fitness.”

    But though this Darwinist sort of reasoning is quite convincing as an explanation of the apparent design of certain physical attributes of living things (such as the warm coat of arctic animals or the beaks of finches) it is unconvincing as an explanation of the reliability and rationality of mental states under a materialist worldview. This is because on such a worldview, as I noted above, subjective experience is utterly irrelevant as an explanation of one’s behavior. If this is true, then there is no survival advantage to proper thinking, meaning that evolution would be powerless to naturally select for proper thinking.

    For example, if one person reacted to a vile of poison with the thought that poison is healthy and delicious and the physical state of running from the poison his thinking would be naturally selected over a person who reacted to the vile by thinking poison is poisonous and proceeded to take a sip. As Hasker puts it, on materialism “conscious experience is invisible to the forces of natural selection.” Or, in Chalmers’ colorful words “[t]he process of natural selection cannot distinguish between me and my zombie twin.”

    In light of this, we can see that if subjective experience is not relevant in the explanation of behavior, then we have no reason for believing our thoughts to be true and, therefore, no reason for believing that subjective experience is not relevant in the explanation of behavior. Any position we might take under such conditions would be absurd, so Premise (3) is also sound.

    A Religious Conclusion

    Now we’ve reached the unavoidable conclusion that materialism is absurd. But so what? Thomas Nagel notes that we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that Christianity or even theism is true from such an argument. He calls the “overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind…ludicrous.” And he admits that “the capacity of the universe to generate organisms with minds capable of understanding the universe… has a quasi-religious ‘ring’ to it.” But he concludes that “I think one can admit such an enrichment of the fundamental elements of the natural order without going over to anything that should count literally as religious belief. At no point does any of it imply the existence of a divine person.”

    I think that Nagel is right about this. In fact, even C.S. Lewis provides further evidence for this position. Lewis converted from atheism in reaction to the argument above (or something very near to it). But he did not immediately convert to Christianity. Instead, he sought refuge in the philosophy of absolute idealism.

    But such philosophies have problems, which is why you see so few absolute idealists today. And, in any event, once materialism is given up, the door for Christian apologetics is thrown wide open. A reassessment of the argument for the resurrection, for example, is warranted.

    http://www.strangenotions.com/.....terialism/

  46. 46
    HeKS says:

    @drc466 #16

    Hi drc466,

    Sorry for the delay in response.

    Great post. Playing devil’s advocate* for the moment – it is possible to take at least some of Popperian’s response, where he “[smuggles] in objective morality”, as an argument from the approach of “assuming what you say is true (objective morality exists), here is why it is logically inconsistent”. This is a strategy opponents of materialism (me included) often use, to show how materialism is logically incoherent even given it’s own assumptions.
    To put it another way, rephrasing Popperian: If objective morality is true, how come one of the primary advocates for objective morality (Judeo-Christian belief) is so inconsistent in what they call right or wrong over time? How can entire generations of believers in objective morality swing 180deg over certain issues (such as abortion) over history? if moral ontology, why is moral epistemology so flexible/changeable?

    *I’m a staunch believer in objective morality, but I’m curious as to how you’d respond to this particular argument?

    As I think I said before, this is an interesting question.

    First of all, I don’t think that the objective moral requirements of Christianity have actually really changed over time, nor do I think the objective moral requirements of Christians have really changed from those of the Jewish people in the OT.

    Keep in mind, not all commands given by God are necessarily directly correlated to objective moral truths, values and duties. For example, if God says, “Go over to that city and tell them to stop burning babies or else I’m going to drive them out of their land”, that command is not, itself, a deeper moral truth. We could say it’s an objective moral truth that humans ought to obey God, and that people ought not to burn babies, so we can say that the command is in harmony with or derived from certain moral truths, but in and of itself it’s simply a command.

    Let’s consider a different example. If God says, “Don’t eat from the fruit of that tree or you will surely die”, that doesn’t mean that eating fruit from trees is an objectively evil thing to do.

    When it came to the Mosaic Law, many of the rules were not directly reflective of objective moral truths but were practical measures intended to maintain a hard distinction between the Jewish people and the pagan nations that surrounded them or to make them keenly aware of the need for moral and spiritual cleanliness in light of the intended outcome of the Law Covenant, which was to make of them “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. These were rules intended to help the Jews adhere to the moral truth that worship to God should be pure.

    At the same time, God made temporary concessions to the desires of the people (divorce, multiple wives, etc.) where doing so would not directly impact the purity of their worship and did not involve gross sin. God, being the originator of the marriage arrangement, could obviously make such concessions if he desired without contravening any moral truths grounded in his nature. So, again, not every aspect of the Mosaic Law should be considered as directly reflective of some deeper moral truth that is binding through time.

    Moving to the issue of waging war against wicked nations, this should not be viewed as reflective of some deeper moral truth either, like “it’s good for humans to wage war” or “it’s good for humans to attack bad people”. When Israel moved against these nations, they were being directly used as an instrument of judgement by God at his appointed time. If they had done exactly the same thing of their own volition, it would have been wrong, because it is not within the province of God’s people to decide to wage war or mete out justice through military action. It’s just that in that time period, God used his chosen nation as his instrument of judgement.

    The capital punishment that took place under the Mosaic Law should be understood in the same way. As I pointed out in my OP, there was no arrangement yet in place for the forgiveness of sins that warranted death. The capital punishment that happened under the Mosaic Law was sanctioned by God during that time period and under that particular arrangement, which was an arrangement that was understood, accepted and entered into willingly by the Jewish nation.

    When we get to the NT, Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 –

    Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill.

    Jesus fulfilled all of the requirements of the Mosaic Law by the way he lived and then sacrificed his life. Upon its fulfillment, the Law Covenant became void. An arrangement for the forgiveness of sins previously warranting immediate death under the Mosaic Law was now in place, so capital punishment was no longer sanctioned for God’s people. Instead, unrepentant sinners who would not change their course were ousted from the Christian congregation in order to protect the congregation from the bad influence and hopefully bring the person to their senses.

    And, of course, it should be noted that even with the ransom in place, the persistently wicked will again be judged by God in the future, but instead of using his human followers to mete out justice, he’ll use his Son directly. This is why Christianity makes no allowance for Christians to initiate violent action or war against wicked people. It is no longer and never again will be the job of humans to carry out God’s judgement on people. That is a change in arrangement, not a change in morality.

    Now, in spite of the Law Covenant becoming void once it was fulfilled, that didn’t mean that the objective moral truths underlying the Mosaic Law stopped being true. The difference was that, due to the new arrangement in place as a result of Jesus sacrifice, Christians had the freedom to dwell on and apply those principles for themselves without needing rules to tell them how to do so in every scenario. Instead, they developed their own conscience and tried to live in accord with Jesus words at Matthew 22:37-40 –

    And He said to him, ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.

    “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’

    “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

    According to Jesus, these were the ultimate moral truths underlying the Mosaic Law and most of the other stuff we find in the OT. Everything was intended to draw attention to the utmost importance of these two moral duties, and punishment in the OT (i.e. prior to the ransom) was meted out, in various degrees, for the failure to fulfill these duties. These same moral duties of fully loving God and our neighbors are to guide Christians, both in Jesus’ day and now.

    Very few additional explicit commands were given to Christians over and above these primary ones, though there were a few, such as the instruction given to the congregations by the apostles in Acts 15 following the circumcision debacle …

    Acts 15:28, 29 – For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you except these necessary things: to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled (or: What is killed without draining its blood), and from sexual immorality.

    … and the continued injunction on the practice (as opposed to the orientation) of homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9, and probably a few other things that are not immediately coming to mind.

    Of course, we can still benefit by looking back to the laws instituted under the Law Covenant. For example, we can discern how God views abortion based on the value he attributed to the life of an unborn child under the Mosaic Law [1].

    So I would say that the objective moral truths did not change between the OT and the NT, or between the NT and now, but certain auxiliary laws and arrangements instituted directly by God did change. That some who profess to be Christians have drastically changed their view on matters that relate to certain moral truths, like the sanctity of life, only tells us that some who profess to be Christian pay little heed to the moral guidance of the Bible, neglecting it or going beyond it, either due to inattention, or to suit their own selfish desires, or to be viewed as more acceptable to a secular society, or for some other reason. This, however, does not call into question the existence of objective moral truths, values and duties.

    I hope some of that helps to answer your question.

    ____________________
    FOOTNOTES:

    [1] Popperian, in his original comment that this OP responds to, mentioned a trial of ‘bitter water’ to test for adultery that was intended to cause an abortion if the woman had been unfaithful. This is a little misleading.

    The mere concept of this trial is mentioned once in the entire OT in Numbers 5. There is no scriptural record of it ever having been carried out and no scriptural elaboration of what it entailed beyond this bitter water causing the woman’s belly to swell and her “thigh to fall away”. The “thigh” was often a reference to the reproductive organs, and the term for “fall away” can also be rendered as “rot”, “fail”, “waste away”, and a number of other similar ideas. Some have interpreted this reference to causing the “thigh to fall away” as an indication that this bitter water would cause the woman to have a miscarriage, but the Biblical description of the ritual makes no reference to pregnancy, and the other laws regarding the causing of death to an unborn child make this interpretation unlikely. The far more likely interpretation is that this bitter water would cause the woman to become infertile, which was a highly unattractive prospect for a woman of that time. And yet, as I’ve said, there is no Biblical record of this trial ever being carried out, much less of it actually causing a woman to become infertile.

  47. 47
    Mark Frank says:

    Hi Heks
    I am going to be away for a couple of weeks starting tomorrow so this is probably my last comment on the  subject.

    For example, it is logically possible that the extremely consistent ways in which we’ve observed physical reality behave throughout history are not the result of a set physical laws that constrain its behavior but are merely the result of an astronomically improbable string of chance outcomes, such that it is entirely possible that the next time you drop a hammer it will hit the ceiling instead of the floor. Does the knowledge that this is logically possible make you feel emboldened to jump off a tall building this afternoon?

    There are two key differences between your belief in gravity and your belief that killing people is wrong.
    1 ) At different  times and different places people have had radically different views. The crusaders thought it was quite OK to massacre the inhabitants of Jerusalem. You could say that at one time people thought the earth was round and now we know better. But it is not comparable. There was no discovery or proof that killing other races was wrong. Attitudes just changed. Even now your beliefs on some very significant moral issues such as abortion and euthanasia probably differ from large numbers of other sincere educated adults from a similar culture.
    2) Someone who does not believe in gravity will soon come up against the realities of the world in very concrete way.  There is no equivalent for your moral beliefs.
    In the end the ultimate guide you have as to what is wrong is your personal conscience. How do you know it is working correctly?
     

    As I said earlier, I consider a belief in Objective Morality to be properly basic, and I addressed in more detail what I mean by that in my second article here responding to Popperian (linked in comment #52). So I can acknowledge the mere logical possibility that I or anyone else could be mistaken in my view of the moral status of any given action, but I also recognize that I have no rational reason to believe I am mistaken in the absence of any powerful reason to think I am.

    That is about your belief that that morality is objective not about your specific moral beliefs such as  killing other races is wrong.  But this is all a beside the main point. I am interested in the hypothetical (but by your own admission logically possible) event that you come to realise that mass murder is actually morally acceptable. At that point you would presumably find your emotional reaction to mass murder differs greatly from the objective truth about its morality.  Which wins?
     

    While it is physically possible for you to condemn something as evil, there is no rational basis for you to do so. I return to the comments of Alex Rosenberg:

    Rosenberg is wrong. It is perfectly possible to provide a rational basis for a subjective opinion. We all do it all the time about all sorts of subjective issues – whether things are funny, awesome, disappointing, attractive etc. and morally good or evil is no exception. I cannot understand why people deny something so obviously true. This is old territory for me. Subjective issues can be of great importance, others can care deeply about your opinion, and there can be good reasons for holding them. Did you read the small document I linked to on the subject?
     

    But this just isn’t true. The subjective element remains in our own personal moral proddings and feelings. Our subjective experience of moral reality makes it powerful and moving for us, but the acknowledgement that it reflects a deeper reality is what makes us individually feel compelled to act morally even when we might have selfish reasons to act otherwise.

    But what makes it matter for you that it is good or evil? Why would you try to do the good thing as opposed to the bad unless it is your emotional reaction (or fear of punishment)? You have made the emotion a contingent add-on to morality while I would put emotion (specifically compassion) at the heart of morality. And personally I think the former is more dangerous than the latter. The crusaders, Stalin, and Robespierre all put aside compassion for the sake of a principle.

  48. 48
    StephenA says:

    But what makes it matter for you that it is good or evil? Why would you try to do the good thing as opposed to the bad unless it is your emotional reaction (or fear of punishment)? You have made the emotion a contingent add-on to morality while I would put emotion (specifically compassion) at the heart of morality.

    Ah the question of ‘Why do good?’. It’s kind of an odd question because, by definition, good means ‘that which we ought to do’. So the question can be rephrased as “Why should we do what we should do?” And yet the need for an answer still presses on us.

    If doing good is simply about fulfilling our desires (for example our desire to help others), then naturally the moment our other desires become stronger than our compassion we ‘ought’ to follow those other desires, right? Or do we have some reason to prefer compassion outside of compassion itself?

    Thinking that people naturally prefer to be compassionate over their other desires is… naive at best. People are lazy, selfish, spiteful and worse. I know I am. I frequently have to force myself not to follow my desires and instead follow a principle (“Love your neighbour as yourself”).

  49. 49

    HeKS:

    Yes, I read your previous comments, but “cultural invention” does not give a person an objective capacity for or ability to reason. Cultural invention may be responsible for certain theoretical frameworks within which you happen to deploy your reasoning ability, but cultural invention does not imbue humanity with the underlying capacity for rationality and reason that allows for cultures to invent theoretical frameworks in the first place.

    The observation that cultural invention alone cannot confer the capacity to reason has no bearing upon the model I describe. It is my view that cultural invention is built atop and made possible by 50,000 – 80,000 centuries of hominid and human evolution, events that culminated in the human body and brain, the human capacity for sociality, tool intelligence, the efficient acquisition and deployment of language, human theory of mind, capacities for coordination, cooperation and distributed cognition, and so forth, the foundations of human cognition and reasoning. In turn, the subsequent, much more rapid accumulation of cultural invention (by means of “the ratchet effect”) has, across many millennia, originated (among other things) indispensible formalizations that have amplified these foundational cognitive abilities. These formalizations span human institutions and disciplines as diverse as the trades and their traditions, the formalizations of logic and mathematics and the massive social networks that enable the acquisition of scientific knowledge, cultural inventions that accomplish otherwise impossible intellectual and technological feats. Years of intensive tutelage (itself a cultural invention) are often required before individuals are capable of expertly utilizing many of these skills and participating in those networks.

    In short, human individuals functioning within their communities represent a unique evolutionary solution, one composed of an elaborate, communicative, social set of adaptations that permit us to be born only half-built, with the essential second half acquired through immersion in the cultures into which we are born. This is as true for reasoning as it is for art, music, the formation of cooperative communities, the elaboration of technology, and myriad other human adaptations.

  50. 50
    Mung says:

    According to Reciprocating Bill, it just happened, that’s all, should be accepted as a scientific explanation, and anyone who argues against “stuff happens” ought to be excluded from rational debate, but because it is obvious to everyone everywhere that “stuff happens.” Science sez so.

  51. 51
    HeKS says:

    @RB #49

    I didn’t say that cultural invention alone cannot confer the capacity to reason.

    I said that cultural invention simply cannot confer the capacity for reason at all. Period.

    You can teach someone to effectively use their capacity for reason by helping them understand the finer points of logical thinking, or you can teach them ways of thinking about certain issues or domains, sometimes in the context of theoretical frameworks that were developed by and inherited (through oral or written transmission) from cultural ancestors, etc. But you cannot teach someone to have the underlying capacity for reason and rationality. A goldfish doesn’t have this capacity and it isn’t because nobody has taken the time to teach it to them. A billion lifetimes of intensive tutelage would not give a goldfish the capacity for reason and rationality. The capacity for reason and rationality in humans had to originate somehow. Some process or event conferred on humanity the capacity for reason and rationality. What is the cause, the source, of the underlying capacity for reason that allows humans to think about and accomplish all the amazing things they do? Was it biological evolution, whether Neo-Darwinian or otherwise?

    Your answer in previous comments is not remotely clear. The way you have worded your answer makes it somewhat difficult to discern whether your references to human evolution are to be understood as references to biological events, cultural and intellectual events, or both. And it is unclear whether the myriad human adaptations you refer to are biological evolutionary adaptations, or cultural and intellectual adaptations to new data, ideas, etc.

  52. 52
    Mark Frank says:

    #48 Stephenb

    Time for one more before we set off.

    The question is not:

    “Why ought we do good?” – which would indeed become the tautology “Why ought we do what we ought to do?”

    The question is “why do good” which becomes “why do what we ought to do?” – a very different question.

    Some motives are altruistic – compassion being the obvious one – other are not. Our altruistic motives are why we do what is good . All of us find our altruistic motives compete with others that are not altruistic. They are motives for doing things that we ought not to do. Sometimes one wins out, sometimes the other.

    Either we do good for altruistic reasons such as compassion or not. If not, then we do good for reasons of self-interest i.e. some kind of carrot and stick arrangement. Do you really require a carrot and stick to do good (albeit a divine one)?

  53. 53
    StephenA says:

    ‘Why do good?’ is a better way to put it. And your answer seems to be ‘Because we happen to be feeling altruistic at that moment.’ So what happens when we stop feeling altruistic? Nobody ever has their altruistic desires being stronger than all of their other desires all the time. Why should I prefer altruism?

    If by ‘carrot and stick arrangement’ you mean ‘something imposed on myself from outside’ then yes. We all do. If you think people will be naturally inclined to do good without a ‘carrot and stick’ then you have clearly never had anything to do with raising children.

  54. 54
    Mark Frank says:

    #53 StephenA

    And your answer seems to be ‘Because we happen to be feeling altruistic at that moment.’ So what happens when we stop feeling altruistic? Nobody ever has their altruistic desires being stronger than all of their other desires all the time.

    Then you stop being altruistic – just as if your non-altruistic desires weaken at some point you stop being selfish, if your religious desires weaken at some point you stop being pious. That is just the nature of motives. I don’t understand your point.

    Why should I prefer altruism?

    Altruism is the answer to why I prefer to do some things. To ask why I prefer altruism would be the beginning of infinite regress.  It is like asking why would I prefer to do what I prefer.

    If by ‘carrot and stick arrangement’ you mean ‘something imposed on myself from outside’ then yes. We all do. If you think people will be naturally inclined to do good without a ‘carrot and stick’ then you have clearly never had anything to do with raising children.

    I mean appeals to non-altruistic motives – rewards and punishments – in order to get people to do altruistic things. What a grim view of human nature you have. We brought up two children with very little resort to carrot and stick. We mostly appealed to their natural compassion and sense of fairness. They seem to have become fairly ethical young men.  My brothers and sisters have had similar methods and success with their children. Come to think of our own upbringing featured very little reward and punishment.

  55. 55

    HeKS:

    Your answer in previous comments is not remotely clear. The way you have worded your answer makes it somewhat difficult to discern whether your references to human evolution are to be understood as references to biological events, cultural and intellectual events, or both.

    I find that a little hard to believe. Break it down:

    “50,000 – 80,000 centuries of hominid and human evolution” refers to the hominin and ultimately human biological evolution that occurred across the five to eight million years that have passed since human beings and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor.

    “The subsequent, much more rapid accumulation of cultural invention (by means of “the ratchet effect”) has, across many millennia…” refers to the subsequent, much more rapid accumulation of cultural invention (how else to say it?) across time scales of thousands rather than millions of years.

    And it is unclear whether the myriad human adaptations you refer to are biological evolutionary adaptations, or cultural and intellectual adaptations to new data, ideas, etc.

    The products of hominin and human biological evolution enumerated above include adaptations such as “the human body and brain, the human capacity for sociality, tool intelligence, the efficient acquisition and deployment of language, human theory of mind, capacities for coordination, cooperation and distributed cognition, and so forth, the foundations of human cognition and reasoning.”

    The products of human cultural innovation include “(among other things) indispensible formalizations that have amplified these foundational cognitive abilities. These formalizations span human institutions and disciplines as diverse as the trades and their traditions, the formalizations of logic and mathematics and the massive social networks that enable the acquisition of scientific knowledge.”

    The relationship is that the human capacity for cultural innovation and transmission is founded upon a suite of biological adaptations, and indeed itself may be regarded as an adaptation. That cultural innovation, founded upon human biological evolution, has in turn originated the capacity (ability) to engage in fantastically diverse modes of cognition and behavior beyond those directly originated by biological evolution, including novel modes of representation and operations performed across those representations (enabling creativity, thinking and reasoning).

    A goldfish doesn’t have this capacity and it isn’t because nobody has taken the time to teach it to them. A billion lifetimes of intensive tutelage would not give a goldfish the capacity for reason and rationality.

    Similarly, a billion lifetimes of tutelage would not confer upon you the ability to live your life underwater unassisted by technology. Goldfish lack the evolutionary foundation for those modes of reasoning, just as you lack adaptations for full time underwater living. So you should let them be.

    Conversely, human beings that survive outside of any human cultural ocean (say, a feral child) display gross impairments of language, behavior and reasoning. Sayeth Wikipedia:

    Feral children lack the basic social skills that are normally learned in the process of enculturation. For example, they may be unable to learn to use a toilet, have trouble learning to walk upright after walking on fours all their life, and display a complete lack of interest in the human activity around them. They often seem mentally impaired and have almost insurmountable trouble learning a human language.

    They certainly do not hold forth on the rules of right reason. That’s because we are born only half-built, with the essential second half acquired through immersion in the cultures into which we are born.

  56. 56
    StephenA says:

    Then you stop being altruistic – just as if your non-altruistic desires weaken at some point you stop being selfish, if your religious desires weaken at some point you stop being pious. That is just the nature of motives. I don’t understand your point.

    Then on what basis can you ever condemn someone for failing to be altruistic? If a paedophile’s desire to rape a child is greater than his altruistic concern, and assuming he believes he can get away with it (i.e. setting aside carrot and stick motivations), why should you be angry at him for simply acting on his motivations? According to you there is no reason for him to have ever acted otherwise.

    My ‘grim view of human nature’ is the Christian view by the way. Man is a fallen creature and every one of us is a sinner. Unless we acknowledge this base fact then the Gospel is nonsense. I realize of course that you already consider the Gospel to be nonsense, but maybe if you ever read it it will make more sense to you if you consider it in this light.

  57. 57
    Box says:

    Andre #45: It is tempting to jump to an overly simple objection to the materialist position at this point. Physics is governed by physical laws, not reason. As Victor Reppert has put it, when there is an avalanche the rocks do not move as they do because they think it would be a good idea to do so, but because they “blindly” obey non-rational physical laws. Why should we expect the atoms in our brain to behave any differently? Shouldn’t they too blindly follow non-rational physical laws?

    Yes, of course. And one should stop right there. It is not at all an “overly simple objection” to note that reason cannot be explained by blind chemical reactions. Whatever particles in motion are doing they are simply not capable of reasoning. Whatever amoebae are doing they are not capable of writing Othello. To suggest that these things are possible is not merely false but obviously false.

Leave a Reply