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Materialism and Moral Clarity

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Its been fascinating to read the discussion started by Barry Arrington that seems to expose some critical holes in the moral thinking of materialism. The discussion seems to range from justifying the existence of pornography to denigrating religious organizations that proselytize as they offer help and assistance to those in need. And, as Barry pointed out, the discussion is 41 posts in (actually as of now 53 posts), and still no materialist has condemned the views of the poster called Seversky on moral grounds. Perhaps having to decide between helping women in poverty by buying pornography or by funding a religious charity is too morally complex a choice for clarity for a materialist, so I want to offer an alternative.

So, here’s a simple thought experiment for any of the materialists (or philosophical naturalists, or atheists) among our number here at Uncommon Descent. Perhaps this simple thought experiment can bring some clarity to moral questions from a materialist persepctive.

Here goes: You’re in a large city and walk up to a a busy street corner. Heavy traffic is whizzing by in both directions on the street you need to cross. As you prepare to cross, you notice next to you a smallish, frail, elderly woman, carrying some shopping bags, who also needs to cross the street, but is quite obviously nervous and frightened of the attempt. You now have 3 options: 1) you can ignore her completely and just go about your business; 2)you can push her into the traffic; 3) you can assist her to get safely across the street. The moral question is, what is the right thing to do and why is it the right thing to do (that is to say, how can we know that is the right thing to do)?

72 Replies to “Materialism and Moral Clarity

  1. 1
    tsmith says:

    if you push her into the traffic, just think of all the healthcare costs we could be saving! and it would help save social security for the children!!!

    /sarc

  2. 2
    Monastyrski says:

    The right thing to do would be to do nothing but pray for her soul. Who are we to second-guess God? Perhaps the old lady desired some sinful activity, like watching porn, while she stood there at the curb, and God punished her by directing heavy traffic her way.

  3. 3
    quaggy says:

    DonaldM,

    Since Barry has yet to respond, but since you seem to support him, could you please explain why this comment:

    “As for charitable donations, I cannot speak for Richard Dawkins but I know I would prefer to give to those that do not include proselytization [sic] as part of their program.”

    is equivalent to wanting women to be held in sexual slavery?

  4. 4
    DonaldM says:

    Quaggy,

    Leave that question for Barry’s thread. Do you have any response to what I’ve proposed in this discussion. I want to stay on topic here.

  5. 5
    O'Leary says:

    Quaggy at 3, the key question is, WHO will actually do something about a problem?

    It’s not always a choice between a religious and a secular charity but between a religious charity and nobody at all.

    My obstetrician friend who cashed in her possibly lucrative and well-respected career in Canada to go teach midwives in Africa – using modern techniques – would not likely have done that if she were not a devout Christian, who wanted to serve her Lord by saving mothers and babies, via teaching midwives scientific medicine.

    (No doubt Eric Pianka would be scandalized because he hopes the human population will shrink, not grow. But there you are.)

    I am not saying that materialist atheists wouldn’t do that in principle, but that very often you find that a traditionally religious person or charity is in fact doing it now.

    So you either give to them or you don’t help. It’s not a supermarket.

    And in the case of helping destitute girls lured into the sex trade, waiting for some secular group to come along could mean waiting too long. I give money to anyone I think will really help.

    proselytization [sic]? Oh come on! Anyone who has been through an education in the tax-funded school system knows perfectly well how much proselytization [sic] goes on there, on behalf of a materialist mindset. I experienced some of it myself forty years ago, and the pace has swiftened since.

    Just as nuns teach the Christian faith to the orphans they raise, the tax-funded school system teaches the materialist faith to troubled youth in high school. It would be interesting to see which lasts out the millennium, not that I’ll be around for it.

  6. 6
    ellazimm says:

    I am not about to condemn Seversky’s views based on your misrepresentation of them. I will condemn your false version of them however. You and Barry need to get off this tirade before you embarrass yourselves; even some of your staunch supports think you got the wrong end of the stick.

    And clearly helping the old woman across the street is the right choice. Why? Because it’s that kind of behavior which contributes to the kind of supportive and progressive society I want to live in. And Ms O’Leary: some people help those less well off because of their faith but not all. I propose we judge a person based on what they do NOT what they say or what they believe.

  7. 7
    O'Leary says:

    Ellazimm, you write,

    “And clearly helping the old woman across the street is the right choice. Why? Because it’s that kind of behavior which contributes to the kind of supportive and progressive society I want to live in.”

    So that’s your vote. You are very sure you are right, and I agree, but there are many instances of people doing otherwise.

    “And Ms O’Leary: some people help those less well off because of their faith but not all. I propose we judge a person based on what they do NOT what they say or what they believe.”

    Never doubted it. Am I to assume then that you would give to a religious charity?

  8. 8
    ellazimm says:

    I help maintain the church grounds in my local village AND I support charities based on what they do with the money NOT on their ideology.

  9. 9
    ellazimm says:

    My son goes to a Church of England School and prays frequently in school. Things are different over here.

  10. 10
    ellazimm says:

    I support anyone who helps make their community and the world a more loving, caring place. Irrespective of race, creed, etc. I’d bet everyone who contributes to this blog feels exactly the same way; I’m sorry Barry doesn’t make that assumption but would rather think that one of his patient and polite contributors holds repulsive views.

  11. 11
    tragic mishap says:

    Monastyrski:

    I can’t blame you for not reading the Bible. Actually, yes I can.

    The right thing to do would be to do nothing but pray for her soul. Who are we to second-guess God? Perhaps the old lady desired some sinful activity, like watching porn, while she stood there at the curb, and God punished her by directing heavy traffic her way.

    Luke 13:1-5
    “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

  12. 12
    Nakashima says:

    Mr DonaldM,

    Let me first note that it was a forced choice of alternatives that started this moral train wreck of misrepresentaton. While your question is not the same ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ false dichotomy that Dr Dembski oh so morally first proposed (light heartedly, of course), wouldn’t it be better to just ask what people would do?

    For example, if I offered to carry her bags while helping her across the street, I could acquire additional social stature (from the drivers of the stopped traffic) and then when we are on the other side, I run off with the bags, thus acquiring material benefit as well. Like a lion at a watering hole, I might actually loiter about this heavily travelled intersection, waiting for old ladies to appear. 😉

  13. 13
    JamesBond says:

    I’m a materialist, I’d probably help the old lady across the street.

    I wouldn’t donate to a religious charity if there was a secular alternative.

    PS: What’s with the increasingly frequent posts on religious stuff here? Isn’t it in your best interests to distance ID from religion as much as possible?

  14. 14
    Mark Frank says:

    The question was – what is the right thing to do. Assuming not oddities then of course it is (3). How do I know? Because that will almost certainly reduce her discomfort/ suffering.

  15. 15
    O'Leary says:

    Ellazimm, you write,

    “I help maintain the church grounds in my local village AND I support charities based on what they do with the money NOT on their ideology.”

    I congratulate you on an excellent volunteer and giving strategy.

    Church grounds can usually be used by anyone for non-nuisance purposes (at least here in Canada), so helping to maintain them is an excellent community benefit.

    Re money, it is wise to know just what the ideology is when deciding (but I expect you agree).

    (We’ve had trouble with some charities that turned out to be funding terrorist organizations, but if you stick to the main stream, you won’t likely encounter them.)

  16. 16
    O'Leary says:

    JamesBond at 13, you write: “PS: What’s with the increasingly frequent posts on religious stuff here? Isn’t it in your best interests to distance ID from religion as much as possible?”

    I didn’t know that civic virtue was an explicitly religious project. Civic virtue is under discussion here.

    The question of whether people help other people’s grandmothers is – as Ellazimm rightly says – the question of what kind of a human society we want to have.

    If we are strict neo-Darwinists, we might believe in the “selfish gene” and help only our own kin.

    Apparently, most humans in Canada are not fans of the selfish gene, because we are fairly generous with outsiders, some say to a fault. Maybe the local Darwinists should apply for a research grant to fund missionary work. I sure hope they fail.

    Of course, they could always disown Dawkins’s “selfish gene” and try to come up with a more rational theory of human evolution.

  17. 17
    DonaldM says:

    JamesBond

    I’m a materialist, I’d probably help the old lady across the street…

    PS: What’s with the increasingly frequent posts on religious stuff here? Isn’t it in your best interests to distance ID from religion as much as possible?

    1. You didn’t tell us why that’s the right choice…or more to the point how we can know that is the right choice.

    2. There’s nothing in my OP about religion. I’m asking a straightforward moral question.

  18. 18
    DonaldM says:

    Nakashima

    For example, if I offered to carry her bags while helping her across the street, I could acquire additional social stature (from the drivers of the stopped traffic) and then when we are on the other side, I run off with the bags, thus acquiring material benefit as well. Like a lion at a watering hole, I might actually loiter about this heavily travelled intersection, waiting for old ladies to appear.

    The question I asked was not what you would do…the question was what is the right thing to do and how can we know it is the right thing to do. That is very different. You’ve brought in a different question…interesting perhaps in its own right, but not what’s being asked here. How would you answer the question as posed?

  19. 19
    DonaldM says:

    ellazimm

    And clearly helping the old woman across the street is the right choice. Why? Because it’s that kind of behavior which contributes to the kind of supportive and progressive society I want to live in.

    Your explanation of why doesn’t really answer what was asked. I asked “The moral question is, what is the right thing to do and why is it the right thing to do (that is to say, how can we know that is the right thing to do)?” Note that I qualified the ‘why’ question to focus on how we can know it is the right thing to do. I appreciate that you’d want to help her because that is the sort of society you’d prefer to live in. But one’s personal preference doesn’t tell us how we can know what is the right thing to do.

  20. 20
    O'Leary says:

    Nakashima at 12, you write at : “For example, if I offered to carry her bags while helping her across the street, I could acquire additional social stature (from the drivers of the stopped traffic) and then when we are on the other side, I run off with the bags, thus acquiring material benefit as well. Like a lion at a watering hole, I might actually loiter about this heavily travelled intersection, waiting for old ladies to appear.”

    No one should try this in my neighbourhood in Toronto. We jail serious perps.

    I doubt a typical criminal court judge here would be much interested in claims about acquired social stature. If a person wants to acquire social stature in prison, well … he’d better talk to the Angels, not the judge or me.

  21. 21
    DonaldM says:

    Mark

    The question was – what is the right thing to do. Assuming not oddities then of course it is (3). How do I know? Because that will almost certainly reduce her discomfort/ suffering.

    That doesn’t really tell us how we can know it is the right thing to do. If the alleviation of suffering/discomfort is the motivation for right action, then we need an explanation as to how can we know that the alleviation of discomfort/suffering is the right thing. As it stands, your explanation as to why merely restates the 3rd option in a slightly different way. It may be that helping her across the street will result in reducing or eliminating her suffering/discomfort…but that still doesn’t tell us how we can know that that is in fact the right thing to do.

  22. 22
    Monastyrski says:

    I have a feeling where DonaldM wants this to go: how can you “know” it’s right to help the old lady when you don’t believe in “objective morality”. Right, DonaldM?

  23. 23
    chrisdornan says:

    I think ellazimm@6 does have a point. In my opinion the thread is being saved by Denyse O’Leary who is manifestly qualified to hold this kind of discussion. Perhaps others could pay more attention to her blogging example! They could find worse models.

  24. 24
    DonaldM says:

    Monastyrski

    I have a feeling where DonaldM wants this to go: how can you “know” it’s right to help the old lady when you don’t believe in “objective morality”. Right, DonaldM?

    Acutally, no. The question can be answered whether one does or doesn’t accept the notion of objective morality (OM).

  25. 25
    Larry Tanner says:

    The moral question is, what is the right thing to do and why is it the right thing to do (that is to say, how can we know that is the right thing to do)?

    I hope I would choose option #3 because it’s the kind of behavior my parents and teachers both advocated and exemplified.

    It may also be worthwhile to consider the moral merits/demerits of options #1 and 2. For example, is it immoral to choose option #1? How can we know? What about option #2?

    One other question that crossed my mind: is the song of songs pornographic? how can we know? Nothing specific intended by it, just one of those thoughts that may be interesting for readers across the spectrum.

    And, if the notion of objective morality is going to make its inevitable appearance here: I’ll throw in my two cents of an opinion that it makes an interesting notion, but that’s all it is…an interesting notion.

  26. 26
    fmarotta says:

    Having been in situations in which I perceived someone to be in need of help, allow me to offer a perspective. In some such situations I have offered help. Sometimes that offer is accepted; at other times it is refused. When I have offered help in such situations, I feel I have acted compassionately and ethically. When I have done nothing, it could be for a variety of reasons, including (a) feeling unsure of my interpretation of the other person’s state, (b) feeling unsafe either due to the environment or the appearance and/or actions of the other person, (c) being constrained in other ways. In such cases, I don’t recollect a case where I acted in an unethical manner.

    So for the case in hand, I would hope that I would not feel some constraint to prevent me from offering to help, but what happens after that is dependent on whether the lady in fact would accept my help.

  27. 27
    ellazimm says:

    Objective morality . . . . what difference does it make? We’re all reasonable and intelligent people, we all know what is right . . . does it matter how we know? As long as enough of us do to support our legislatures and police forces to deal with the few who don’t. I guess I really don’t get it: I thought we were here to discuss the scientific validity of intelligent design and yet Donald and Barry seem more interested in scoring philosophical points against decent intelligent people who basically feel and act the same way they do.

    This whole notion that accepting evolution implies a moral-less world view is so clearly NOT the way most people, not just most materialists/darwinists/humanists/atheists but most people, behave I just don’t see the point in arguing about it.

    Whether some generous creator imbibed us with the notions of right and wrong (and some folks clearly missed that memo) or human beings just kind of figured it out on our own (and again some folks were absent from school that day) does it really matter? What matters is that we all want to be treated with respect and dignity and most of us on this planet think we should treat others that way.

    The only reason I can see for arguing about it anymore is to try and win some other argument. And I don’t think that argument has anything to do with evolution vs intelligent design: the science.

    But I’m wrong a lot. I am trying really hard NOT to put words into other people’s mouths or judge them based on their ideology and I’d like to be judged the same way.

  28. 28
    Barry Arrington says:

    Larry Tanner asks: “is the song of songs pornographic?”

    No.

    Some people say there is no such thing as a stupid question. I wish to congratulate you for your work in falsifying that hypothesis.

  29. 29
    Mark Frank says:

    #21

    DonaldM wrote:

    That doesn’t really tell us how we can know it is the right thing to do. If the alleviation of suffering/discomfort is the motivation for right action, then we need an explanation as to how can we know that the alleviation of discomfort/suffering is the right thing. As it stands, your explanation as to why merely restates the 3rd option in a slightly different way. It may be that helping her across the street will result in reducing or eliminating her suffering/discomfort…but that still doesn’t tell us how we can know that that is in fact the right thing to do.

    DonaldM – I expect you know that you are raising an age old question that has been the subject of whole books by great philosophers over the ages. I somehow doubt that we are going to add much light debating on this forum.

    For the record – I believe that there are certain motives which are moral in nature – such as seeking to reduce others suffering. To ask how we know these are right makes as much as sense as asking how we know that something is funny. It is just a feeling we have – an important one. Hume call them moral passions. Any other account of morality has to grapple with the problem – why do what is right?

  30. 30
    camanintx says:

    DonaldM

    The moral question is, what is the right thing to do and why is it the right thing to do (that is to say, how can we know that is the right thing to do)?

    When you ask how “we” can know that it is the right thing, are you assuming that there is only one correct answer? Wouldn’t the answer you get depend on who was answering and what morals their society espoused?

  31. 31
    Larry Tanner says:

    Some people say there is no such thing as a stupid question. I wish to congratulate you for your work in falsifying that hypothesis.

    Glad to oblige, although given your track record I suspect you have mis-read my comment.

    The more important question, however, is how can we know? Care to answer or do you prefer to repose in smugness?

  32. 32
    Nakashima says:

    Mr DonaldM,

    As with Seversky and Dr Dembski, I am opting out of your choices, and simply giving a light hearted example.

    As to the source of my choices, the Golden Rule. The Evolution of Cooperation is a fun read.

  33. 33
    Reg says:

    Given that a busy street corner is one of the worst possible places to cross the road, I would first look up and down the street to see whether a pedestrian crossing, bridge or subway is available. If so, I would point it out to the Frail Old Lady – assuming that she hadn’t noticed it. If not such crossing facilities are available, I would first ask her if she wants any assistance crossing, then assist her if she wants my help. Why is this the right thing to do? Because the sum total of my social experiences tell me that is right to help people who need our help, and that if I was in her position I’d probably appreciate someone doing that. So a combination of social experience and empathy.

  34. 34
    steve_h says:

    I agree with earlier posters who prefer to live in a harmonious society and don’t find the murder of others and ourselves appealing. And I want to live in the sort of society that will help my mum across the street and may in future help me.

    Now, I assume for the sake of argument that the old lady had just bought a fox, a chicken, and some corn and that you can only carry one item at a time while escorting the old lady.

    1) Ask the old lady if she needs any help. Frequently in these scenarios, it turns out that the old lady has just arrived here from the other side, and had no intention of crossing.

    2) Tie up the fox. Cross the road with the old lady and the chicken, leaving the fox to defend itself and the corn against the local (materialists/theists/id proponents).

    3) Ask the old lady to wait with the chicken while you get the rest of her shopping and warn her to be wary of the locals.

    4) Cross back across the road alone to your starting point.

    5) Take the corn. Cross back to the old lady.

    6) Leave the old lady with the corn and return with the chicken.

    7) Take the fox across the road to the old lady leaving the chicken to defend itself against the bad guys.

    8) Return to get the chicken. Finding nothing, and suddenly realizing that the old lady is about to denounce you as a chicken thief to the world. So buy a similar looking chicken and take it back to the old lady and the fox and the corn only to find that some kindly atheist/theist/idists had already brought the original chicken across.

    9) Look forward to a nice meal.

  35. 35
    steve_h says:

    Rats! That should be a deadly serious number 8, not a smiley.

  36. 36
    Graham says:

    I think monastyrsky got it right at #22.

    And, as someone else said, how do we ‘know’ something is funny ?

    All this thread will do is contribute to global warming.

  37. 37
    avocationist says:

    Well, the evolutionists will answer that we have evolved to live in cooperative societies, and that it does not need to include kin only, because, as someone said above, he would like to think that if his mum were out there, someone would help.

    It’s interesting that most people want to help and don’t know why. Let us remember that whether we profess to believe or not, we are all endowed with a soul/conscience. Our professed belief is not really the cause of more moral behavior.

    I think a clue to something deeper than just genes is that people get such an incredibly good feeling when they help, and often go so far out of their way to do so, even risking themselves at times for complete strangers.

    I wouldn’t call morality objective though. Rather it is utterly subjective – seeing as it (IMO) comes from the soul. The Kingdom of Heaven is within.

  38. 38
    avocationist says:

    That good feeling, again in my humble opinion, is that we have experienced and helped cause an increase of love, which is the realness and joy of life.

  39. 39
    DonaldM says:

    ellazimm

    Objective morality . . . . what difference does it make? We’re all reasonable and intelligent people, we all know what is right . . . does it matter how we know? As long as enough of us do to support our legislatures and police forces to deal with the few who don’t. I guess I really don’t get it: I thought we were here to discuss the scientific validity of intelligent design and yet Donald and Barry seem more interested in scoring philosophical points against decent intelligent people who basically feel and act the same way they do.

    This whole notion that accepting evolution implies a moral-less world view is so clearly NOT the way most people, not just most materialists/darwinists/humanists/atheists but most people, behave I just don’t see the point in arguing about it.

    And Mark Frank

    For the record – I believe that there are certain motives which are moral in nature – such as seeking to reduce others suffering. To ask how we know these are right makes as much as sense as asking how we know that something is funny. It is just a feeling we have – an important one. Hume call them moral passions.

    On the contrary, I think it is extremely important to understand and answer the question ‘why be moral.’ Of course its a question rooted deeply in one’s worldview. That’s the point.

    Ellazimm makes the point that accepting a Darwinian view of the origin of humans does not imply a moral-less worldview. I agree. The question I’m getting at is: how can that moral worldview be explained in purely materialistic Darwinian terms.

    The consensus here on the question posed in the OP seems to be that option 3 — helping the woman to cross the street safely — is the correct moral choice. What surprises me a bit is how many don’t seem to think that explaining or understanding why (or even asking why) is all the important, as exemplified in the two quotes above by Ellazimm and Mark Frank.
    I have to disagree with that. If we do not know why a certain choice is the morally correct one, (and further don’t even think it is important to ask why), then there seems little justification for saying that it is the right choice, beyond personal preference, or that’s just the way it is. I find that wholly unsatisfactory.

    The question “where does our moral sense come from” is a legitimate scientific question, as well as philosophical one (to answer Ellazimm’s worry that this doesn’t seem to be a scientific question or have anything to do with ID or evolution). On the Darwinian view our moral sense is, by definition, the end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter of energy evolving over eons of time through chance and/or necessity. Given that origin, we have no basis to say “this option is right” or “this option is wrong”. We can state a preference, but that is all.

    In the question given in the OP if person A says option 2 is the correct choice and person B says option 3 is the correct choice, on the Darwinian view, both moralities are the end product of the Darwinian process. Darwinian explanations do not provide with the means to judge between them.

    But, as has been shown in the discussion here, we do judge between them. Wherever that moral judgement comes from, it is not itself the end product of the blind, purposeless forces of matter and energy evolving over eons time through chance and/or necessity. So what is its origin? Trying to explain it in Darwinian terms seems to get us nowhere…or at least nowhere coherent. Maybe our moral sense, those things which we can not not know, as Dr. Jay Budziszewski discusses in his book What We Can’t Not Know, is giving us a strong indication something else at work in our origins beyond just the Darwinian process. And maybe that something is Intelligent Design.

  40. 40
    William J. Murray says:

    Ellazimm asks: Objective morality . . . . what difference does it make? We’re all reasonable and intelligent people, we all know what is right . . . does it matter how we know?

    Don’t you think that Torquemada, Hitler, Stalin & Mao and their cronies thought exactly the same thing?

    It is precisely through unexamined premises that anything can be rationalized. Materialists argue as if they have the free will to make or discern truthful statements, but their premise invalidates that ability. Darwinists can believe what they believe only by not examining their premise that through chance and deep time all things are possible.

    Premises matter. Without a sound premise, all sorts of incoherencies – such as “I know what’s moral even though I don’t have the free will to deliberately make such an intentional evaluation” – are offered up as sound explanation.

  41. 41
    ellazimm says:

    Donald, I’m not sure I agree it is a scientific question but I better understand your interest and I thank you for taking the time to elucidate your view. I am completely unqualified to participate in the discussion further but will continue to follow it with interest.

    Just to be clear: I am a strong supporter of my local vicar and my local church. I am part of a community and do what I can to help uphold the things that make it place I want to raise my child. Which means, in part, people looking our for each other and respecting each other. I expect to be treated the same. To me this is just so obvious that asking where it comes from is like asking where the natural numbers come from; interesting to some but probably not something you’ll ever be able to settle. 🙂

  42. 42
    ellazimm says:

    I don’t know what Hitler, et al, thought in their heart of hearts. But I do know that in the case of WWII a coalition of Christians, Jews, some Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Gerkhas (not sure if they’re Buddhists . . .), atheists and even a few Native Americans fought to defeat the Axis powers which included Christians and Shintos and whatever else the Japanese were.

    Premises matter but they don’t always seems to prevent people perpetrating crimes against humanity and their lack doesn’t stop people from doing the right thing. I teach my son to treat other with dignity and respect. I’m sure you do the same with your children, if you have any. We both get there, that’s the important thing.

  43. 43
    William J. Murray says:

    And if we both don’t get there? Why is it that your coalition had the moral authority to wage war and stop hitler? Or is moral authority not an issue, and it’s really just about who has the better army? If Hitler had the better army, and won out, and his moral authority won the day, would you today be counting “exterminate the Jews” and teaching your children that Jews and blacks were subhumans be an acceptable “place where we both got to”?

    Moral authority by mutual agreement can still rationalize anything.

  44. 44
    Larry Tanner says:

    @39

    On the Darwinian view our moral sense is, by definition, the end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter of energy evolving over eons of time through chance and/or necessity. Given that origin, we have no basis to say “this option is right” or “this option is wrong”. We can state a preference, but that is all.

    But why does the origin of the moral sense take away your ability to say “this option is right” or “this option is wrong”?

    If you have a moral sense, can you not say “this option is right” or “this option is wrong”?

    It’s important to learn about the origins of the moral sense, but I fail to see what these origins have to do with making moral choices now and in the future.

  45. 45
    ellazimm says:

    Yeah, sometimes the bad guys win. People frequently act out of fear, greed or stupidity. But, overall, I think the human race is slowly “getting it”. Most of us don’t burn witches anymore, or own slaves, woman are even allowed to vote in lots of countries. Those activities were supported AND opposed by people of faith. I’m sure you think, like me, that the Crusaders had a perverted reading of the Holy scriptures but, like Hitler, they probably thought they were right.

    I find it too difficult to sort out the various interpretations of which absolute moral codes are the right ones. Some Christians think homosexuality is fine, some think it’s an abomination. Some Christians think women should be priests, some don’t. During the middles ages some Christians killed other Christians because the first group decided the second group were heretics.

    I wish I could back a move to impose a set of premises in hopes that many of the ills of the world would be solved. It just never seems to work so I put my “faith” into education and setting a good example. And supporting the peace makers and bridge builders. 🙂 It doesn’t work all the time either. But I’d rather light a lamp than curse the darkness. And I bet you feel exactly the same way! 🙂

  46. 46
    DonaldM says:

    Larry

    But why does the origin of the moral sense take away your ability to say “this option is right” or “this option is wrong”?

    If you have a moral sense, can you not say “this option is right” or “this option is wrong”?

    It’s important to learn about the origins of the moral sense, but I fail to see what these origins have to do with making moral choices now and in the future.

    I’m not saying that the origin of our moral sense takes away our ability to make a moral choice. What I am saying is that if our moral sense is indeed the end result of a Darwinian process as I described earlier, then regardless of the moral choice we make, we are merely stating our own personal preference because we’d have no way of really saying “this is right” or “this is wrong” beyond our preference. Indeed, on Darwinism, any moral choice is itself the end result of the Darwinian process…that is to say the end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter and energy evolving over eons of time through chance and/or necessity. How then to know what really is right or wrong? That’s the point.

    But, we behave as if we truly believe innately that certain things are always right for everyone in all times and places, and likewise certain things are always wrong for all people in all times and places. Its difficult to see how a Darwinian process would produce such an innate sense and suggests to me that something far more is at work.

  47. 47
    TempHut says:

    Oleary at 16

    “If we are strict neo-Darwinists, we might believe in the “selfish gene” and help only our own kin.”

    Luckily neo-Darwinists (as well as Biblical creationists) believe every person is their own kin.

  48. 48
    O'Leary says:

    DonaldM at 46, in my experience, all normal humans believe this.

    Having looked after many children, I have heard the cry “Stop shoving! Take your turn!!” any number of times.

    I doubt you’d hear the same ideas in a wolf pack. True, wolves take their turn at a kill, but it is all about who’s on top and who’s not.

    Children effortlessly learn (from parents and guardians, in part) a sense of priority based on mathematical precision, not on Darwinian fitness.

    Whence its origin?

    Indeed, one way to identify a seriously troubled child is that he has difficulty understanding this principle. For example, he shoves a small girl to the ground and doesn’t understand why everyone else is horrified by what he has done. He doesn’t understand that he has behaved like a wild animal, not a human being in a civil society.

    Some of that kid’s problems may be easy to resolve, some may not be. We do what we can. But we better keep doing it. And Darwin and his followers may not be much of a help.

    That’s why I am here and not somewhere else.

  49. 49
    camanintx says:

    DonaldM, #46

    What I am saying is that if our moral sense is indeed the end result of a Darwinian process as I described earlier, then regardless of the moral choice we make, we are merely stating our own personal preference because we’d have no way of really saying “this is right” or “this is wrong” beyond our preference.

    Since the argument for an objective moral standard is difficult to make, even for creationists (read Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue), how is this problem unique to Darwinian processes?

  50. 50
    TempHut says:

    “Some of that kid’s problems may be easy to resolve, some may not be. We do what we can. But we better keep doing it. And Darwin and his followers may not be much of a help.”

    True, though you could replace Darwin with Newton, Einstein or any other sucessful scientist.

  51. 51
    Clive Hayden says:

    camanintx,

    Since the argument for an objective moral standard is difficult to make, even for creationists (read Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue), how is this problem unique to Darwinian processes?

    There are answers to this in Theology, since, in Theology, you meet a personality, but there are no answers in biology or evolutionary psychology to this dilemma. Does evolution determine what is right? Or does it adhere to a transcendental and more fundamental morality than anything it produces?

  52. 52
    Larry Tanner says:

    Isn’t theology “just a theory”?

  53. 53
    Graham says:

    To DonaldM:
    … suggests to me that something far more is at work.

    Why dont you just come clean ? Tell us all what you think it is.

  54. 54
    zeroseven says:

    Graham is right. Rather than just saying it is difficult to see how a Darwinian process could produce an innate sense of morals, you need to go on and say what you think could produce such an innate sense.

    Aside from this you have not explained at all why a Darwinian process could not produce it. Simply using words like “blind” and “purposeless” doesn’t help at all. Why shouldn’t a purposeless process produce an innate sense of morals?

    The fact that there is some very interesting research coming out now indicating moral judgments in other animals (such as dogs and coyotes) does suggest that a “purposeless” process could well produce a moral sense.

    And earlier on you posit another process that might produce a moral sense – ie “Intelligent Design” but give absolutely no indication as to how this process might produce such an outcome.

  55. 55
    steve_h says:

    @~24

    DonaldM

    Monastyrski
    I have a feeling where DonaldM wants this to go: how can you “know” it’s right to help the old lady when you don’t believe in “objective morality”. Right, DonaldM?

    Acutally, no. The question can be answered whether one does or doesn’t accept the notion of objective morality (OM).

    DonaldM@~39
    On the Darwinian view our moral sense is, by definition, the end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter of energy evolving over eons of time through chance and/or necessity. Given that origin, we have no basis to say “this option is right” or “this option is wrong”. We can state a preference, but that is all.

    I think you got nailed there.

    DonaldM@~46
    But, we behave as if we truly believe innately that certain things are always right for everyone in all times and places, and likewise certain things are always wrong for all people in all times and places.

    It’s possible to imagine such things but it requires some work (eg the person who rapes children or murders people for fun), but imperfect Darwinian processes do not favor those examples. Maybe they could if the situation were radically different, but I don’t want to be there. Generally we don’t want to murder people, but even if we did, our intellect allows us to see the advantages of cooperation and the disadvantages of living in a world were we may murder others but everybody else may want to murder us: the numbers just don’t work out. The people that do like to murder people tend to be shunned or even killed by the people who don’t wish to be murdered, which in Darwinian terms isn’t so great.

  56. 56
    camanintx says:

    Clive Hayden, #51

    There are answers to this in Theology, since, in Theology, you meet a personality, but there are no answers in biology or evolutionary psychology to this dilemma. Does evolution determine what is right? Or does it adhere to a transcendental and more fundamental morality than anything it produces?

    Even if you think Euthyphro’s dilemma has been resolved (and I would love to see this explanation), unless you can prove the existence of the deity behind the theology, how would any morality derived from said personality be any different from the believer’s personal preference?
    If an objective morality does exist independant of any deity, why wouldn’t evolved organisms be able to devine these objective morals?

  57. 57
    Graham says:

    To DonaldM: As a few of the above posts suggest, its pretty simple to see how morality can evolve (eg: species that eat their babies dont get to propogate).

    So, again, what do you propose in its place ? I think its pretty clear from your posts what you are getting at but it would be better if you could just come right out and say it.

  58. 58
    avocationist says:

    DonaldM,

    “What I am saying is that if our moral sense is indeed the end result of a Darwinian process as I described earlier, then regardless of the moral choice we make, we are merely stating our own personal preference because we’d have no way of really saying “this is right” or “this is wrong” beyond our preference.”

    This is not so, because even in a materialist, Darwinian universe there is actually one overriding imperative, and that imperative is Life.

    That which supports life stays and evolves. And life is not just about being nasty, brutish and short. It is about being abundant, safe, emotionally sound.

    At the same time, as Caminintx said,

    “how would any morality derived from said personality be any different from the believer’s personal preference?”

    I’d like to think that we don’t have a “because I said so” moral system, but rather that morality is a fundament of reality, of how reality really is, and not a whim of God.

    In other words, I think our moral sense derives from the innate goodness of the divinity, from whom all existence flows.

  59. 59
    Upright BiPed says:

    “This is not so, because even in a materialist, Darwinian universe there is actually one overriding imperative, and that imperative is Life”

    The drive to survive?

    I have wondered; what are the exact coordinates within the genome that causes the chemical reactions formerly known as living organisms to wish to persist, as oppossed to seeking stasis as the stately rocks, or heat traveling to cold?

    If materialism is true, and is to explain all phenomena, then certainly a chemical cause must exist, no? Surely it can be described given that its origin is no longer in question.

    And what about this “wish” itself? Shall we call it something else? A drive? A need? An instinct? And if so, an instinct from what? A drive created by our chemicals; an intense need perpetuated as a byproduct carbon perhaps?

  60. 60
    O'Leary says:

    Temphut at 50,

    You quoted me and added,

    “Some of that kid’s problems may be easy to resolve, some may not be. We do what we can. But we better keep doing it. And Darwin and his followers may not be much of a help.”

    True, though you could replace Darwin with Newton, Einstein or any other sucessful scientist.”

    To the best of my knowledge, neither Newton nor Einstein wrote a long racist tract, as Darwin did (the Descent of Man).

    Claiming that black people are closer to gorillas than white people is not the best way to make peace in the schoolyard in my experience.

    I’d like to know if, at any point, Darwinists have ever simply disowned the racism, instead of covering it up or misrepresenting it as not really Darwin’s views, to protect their prophet.

  61. 61
    tribune7 says:

    I vote for charity — for Seversky.

    I whole-heartily defend his freedom not to give money to organizations whose views he doesn’t share.

    But can we all agree that the underlying incident that is the basis for this discussion shows that the NSF has lost all credibility to speak as any kind of authority?

    Oh, and would Seversky defend our freedom not to give money to organizations whose views we don’t share i.e. like the NSF and a host of other tax-supported institutions?

  62. 62
    TempHut says:

    Oleary @ 62

    Darwin was almost certainly a racist by modern standards and would have a tough time keeping any job if he were alive in 2009 and shared his views publically. The statment about gorillas is simply false and can be shown so with modern genetics. Not sure what else you want me to say. A wrong view held by Charles Darwin is a wrong view.

    What is your overall argument about “Darwinists” not being able to help poorly behaved kids? Kids misbehave because Darwin was a racist? Kids misbehave because the Theory of Evolution (like general relativity or quantum mechanics) is not a good guide to child rearing?

  63. 63
    O'Leary says:

    Temphut at 62,

    My question is whether Darwinists have actually admitted and disowned the racism (and the consequent eugenics).

    I don’t need anyone to explain to me that it isn’t true.

    It’s the buckets of whitewash that concern me, not the condemned, rotting structure.

  64. 64
    Mark Frank says:

    #61

    But can we all agree that the underlying incident that is the basis for this discussion shows that the NSF has lost all credibility to speak as any kind of authority?

    Because 7 employees out of 1200 have been found guilty of misconduct related to pornography? On this basis there would be very few institutions including many churches that have lost all credibility to speak as any kind of authority.

  65. 65
    Mark Frank says:

    Correction to #64

    That should read:

    Because 7 employees out of 1200 have been found guilty of misconduct related to pornography? On this basis there would be very many institutions including many churches that have lost all credibility to speak as any kind of authority.

  66. 66
    Clive Hayden says:

    Mark Frank,

    Because 7 employees out of 1200 have been found guilty of misconduct related to pornography?

    Of course it depends on which 7, and what positions they hold, what other poor decisions they’ve made, how much money and time and resources have been lost, etc., if it is the upper echelons and not the functionaries and janitors, then yes, I think we have a right to discredit them.

  67. 67
    O'Leary says:

    Clive Hayden, there is a similar big problem here in Canada with “human rights” commissions.

    Some employees and contractors were going on the Internet, pretending to be Nazis, to entrap other citizens.

    There is no significant Nazi threat in Canada. Nazis here are assumed to be the buffoons of Hogan’s Heroes, if anyone even remembers the show, let alone the Nazis.

    In one case, the CHRC “snitches” abused a private citizen’s e-mail address.

    Meanwhile, there are “death to the Jews” marches in the streets of Toronto, and … crickets chirp, as far as the establishment is concerned.

    I have linked to this outrage at the Post-Darwinist frequently.

    This situation is analogous to the NSF problem: The fact that some people are allowed to get away with outrages in a publicly funded organization tells you something about the character of the organization. Usually, the organization needs a change of leadership, at least in my experience.

    Like,why did NSF people think they could be surfing porn at WORK – and billing the office? Incredible.

    If they don’t have anything to do that would interfere with their porn plans, maybe either their positions or the whole organization should not exist.

  68. 68
    Phinehas says:

    From a biological perspective, I am a failure as a human being. I have a fitness of zero, primarily because my sentimental gene keeps screwing over my selfish gene.

    When you get down to the cold, hard scientific facts of the situation, I exist to further my genes. Any other “purpose” to my life is illusory, is it not? To be sure, over many generations, evolution has also given me feelings for my family, but these exist to assist in furthering my genes. In my particular case, however, those feelings end up being counter-productive to the purpose for which they were originally intended.

    You see, I found out a number of years ago that my wife has poor egg quality and that it is nearly impossible that we will conceive children of our own. If it were not for the sentimentality with which evolution has burdened me, this information might have prompted me to leave my wife and seek out a more fertile mate in order to propagate my genes.

    It gets worse. For sentimental reasons, we adopted a young boy. His blond hair and boisterous chemistry play havok with my own sentimental chemistry so that, even though I know that I am investing energy in propagating someone else’s genes instead of my own, I can’t seem to stop myself.

    So, now I have quite the conundrum. Though my sentimental gene is dragging down my fitness, my intellectual gene has evolved to the point that I recognize that my sentimental gene is illusory–or at least that it is not functioning in the way that it should. Given that my primary purpose is to reproduce my genes, shouldn’t I ignore this sentimentality and leave my wife and child? Or maybe I shouldn’t ignore it, because my sentimental gene has become detrimental and should be culled from the gene pool as a result? On the other hand, that would also cull out the intellectual gene that allows me to see my sentimentality for what it is.

    Naturalistic morality is just so confusing for me. Can someone give me a hand here?

  69. 69
    TempHut says:

    O’Leary at 62

    “My question is whether Darwinists have actually admitted and disowned the racism (and the consequent eugenics).”

    I have a tough time understanding what you want from whom. If by Darwinists, you mean people who think evolution is a largely correct scientific idea then I am one. So in that case I am not sure what you want me to do. I am not a racist and never have been. Is that enough? What else do I have to do? I also think other correct scientific theories were first discovered by racists. Do I need to disown their racism as well? Can I do this all together or do I need to disown each seperately?

    If by Darinist you mean followers of the prophet Charles Darwin, I don’t think they have disowned his racism because I don’t think they exist.

  70. 70
    avocationist says:

    Upright Biped,

    “The drive to survive?

    I have wondered; what are the exact coordinates within the genome that causes the chemical reactions formerly known as living organisms to wish to persist, as oppossed to seeking stasis as the stately rocks, or heat traveling to cold?”

    Ha, ha, I cannot answer that as I don’t believe that to be the case. I play devil’s advocate here at times when I think the Other Side is being misunderstood.

    In this case, I am referring to more than the drive to survive in an individual. I was pointing out that in the Darwinian system, life is the one imperative, and that includes life in every sort of success. So it is not strange for the desire to help others to have evolved, and for a moral system to evolve.

    But I agree with your points because I don’t think matter is an adequate explanation for these drives. And I have noted that many of the Darwinists here have seemed strangely incurious about the origin of their moral sense. This is truly an interesting question.

  71. 71
    Phinehas says:

    @avocationist

    I was pointing out that in the Darwinian system, life is the one imperative, and that includes life in every sort of success. So it is not strange for the desire to help others to have evolved, and for a moral system to evolve.

    Yes, but in the Darwinian system our intellect has also evolved to the point where we recognize the “imperative” and “desire” and “moral system” for what they really are: random occurrences that were selected for their benefit to our fitness.

    So, as enlightened believers in the Darwinian system, what do we do when we realize that our particular fitness would be better served by operating counter to those desires and morals? What imperative do I follow, given the situation I’ve described in my previous post? And why?

  72. 72
    avocationist says:

    Phinehas,

    I don’t really have an answer. Perhaps some traits trump personal fulfillment in reproduction. As I said, even though life is the imperative under the Darwinian system, it is a mistake to think that means no more than reproduction, no matter how nasty, brutish and short. If all it meant was reproduction at any cost, we would not be able to live fulfilled lives.

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