Intelligent Design

A Lesson in Rational Discourse for RDFish

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I sometimes despair of even the possibility of rational discourse with the ID opponents who post regularly on these pages. In this post I will try to give you a template for rational, logical discourse using my last post as an example. Before I do that, I will give you a couple of hints about the basics.

All arguments rest on premises. Here is the classic:

1. All men are mortal
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Socrates is mortal.

In order to refute an argument you must do one of two things: Show that it is invalid or show that is unsound. “Invalid” means the conclusion does not logically flow from the premises. In other words, an invalid argument is an illogical argument. “Unsound” means that the premises are faulty. In summary, therefore, to show an argument is wrong, you must show either that it is illogical or that the premises are false.

Here’s a hint for RDFish, who apparently does not understand this: Responding to an argument that is not made does not refute the argument that is made. So, for example, if an argument is that materialism does not ground morality, a counter that says “neither does objectivism” does not respond to, far less refute, the original argument. There is even a name for this fallacy (tu quoque, which is the formal name given to the 2nd grade playground taunt “same to ya”).

Now for the example. Here is the challenge in my last post:

Materialist premises lead ineluctably to the following conclusions. There is no such thing as “good.” There is no such thing as “evil.” There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences, and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

My challenge to materialists was to show how any of the conclusions I’ve reached based on materialist premises are not in fact compelled by those premises.

If you are going to refute the argument, you are going to have to show how one or more of the premises is an error or you are going to have to show how the logic fails.

Another hint for RDFish: Arrogant, dismissive condescending asshat statements like “any freshman knows that is wrong” do not count as a refutation of a premise.

My argument rests on three main premises:

1. On materialism there can be no such thing as “good” and “evil.”

No fair equivocating on those words, which is the usual dodge we get. It is clear that in this context I am using the terms in the same sense that Dawkins used them: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden : A Darwinian View of Life (London: Phoenix, 1995), 133.

If you are going to refute the statement, you will need to show how Dawkins was wrong.

2. There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences.

Here I am appealing to the same concept as Bertrand Russell when he said, “I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it.” Russell on Ethics 165/Papers 11: 310–11.

If you are going to refute this premise, you are going to have to find the refutation that eluded Russell.

3. Finally, I say on materialist premises all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

If you are going to refute this premise, you are going to have to show how on materialist premises there is something else other than the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain that result in preferences. Your refutation must be strictly monist, for materialism, by definition does not allow for appeal to dualism.

Another hint for RDFish: Appeal to “immaterial fields” is not a refutation unless you can actually show how “immaterial fields” result in the phenomenon you are trying to account for. Without demonstrating the chain of causality, such appeals are no better than saying “it’s magic!”

Finally, if you cannot defeat any of the premises, you must show how my argument does not hang together logically. You must show how the premises do not lead to the conclusion.

122 Replies to “A Lesson in Rational Discourse for RDFish

  1. 1
    ebenezer says:

    In the last post’s thread there was a deal of “materialism can provide morality” arguing which was backed up with appeals to “this behavior enhances survival or reproductive value”, followed by a deal of “how can anyone say that materialism has only survival or reproductive value with which to determine morality?”

    Therefore, a note before we proceed: for the purposes of this exercise (refuting the OP’s argument), the most efficient practice would be to not confuse “what ensures that I have more offspring” and “what harms my species” with “what is absolutely right” and “what is unquestionably wrong”.

  2. 2
    REC says:

    Isn’t the (informal)fallacy tu quoque usually applied to remarks directed at the speaker? That is: you can’t speak of rational discourse because you’ve behaved irrationally in past discourse. It is directed at the speaker.

    Directed at the argument you give: “So, for example, if an argument is that materialism does not ground morality, a counter that says “neither does objectivism” does not respond to, far less refute, the original argument.” there might be a point to be made. If NO rebuttal in a debate satisfies a criterion, and no logic could satisfy that criterion, could we not declare that criterion invalid and move on?

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    1. On materialism there can be no such a thing as “good” and “evil.”

    No fair equivocating on those words, which is the usual dodge we get. It is clear that in this context I am using the terms in the same sense that Dawkins used them: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden : A Darwinian View of Life (London: Phoenix, 1995), 133.

    Barry, can you unpack what you think Dawkins means by this? I have a different view of what we mean by good & evil, which means that they do exist (because they are constructs of human society), so it would be useful to know if we’re discussing the same thing. Unfortunately in the quote Dawkins doesn’t give a definition of what he means, so it’s not clear to me what exactly he does mean. And my answer to this would thus be different to my answer to your last post, in which you wrote

    The point of the OP is to get reductive materialists to admit that they don’t get to use words like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked,” in any sense other than “that which I personally do not prefer, which personal preference can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of my brain.”

    But I can and do use ‘use words like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked,” in any sense other than “that which I personally do not prefer’ without necessarily agreeing with the Dawkins quote. So this feels like you’re moving the goalposts (in fairness, probably accidentally).

  4. 4
    Joe says:

    One fault I can see- the word “competing” should be changed to “along”:

    “Materialist premises lead ineluctably to the following conclusions. There is no such thing as “good.” There is no such thing as “evil.” There is only my personal preferences along with everyone else’s personal preferences, and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.”

    Not all personal preferences will be competing but they will exist together.

    However that is moot because we wouldn’t exist in a materialistic world as there aren’t any processes capable of producing us in a materialistic world. The materialists of today ride on the coat-tails of other philosophies as it suits their whims and they all hail emergence- as in obviously cooperation is an emergent behaviour as we see it throughout biosphere. (tautology)

  5. 5
    ebenezer says:

    REC @ 2:

    Directed at the argument you give: “So, for example, if an argument is that materialism does not ground morality, a counter that says “neither does objectivism” does not respond to, far less refute, the original argument.” there might be a point to be made. If NO rebuttal in a debate satisfies a criterion, and no logic could satisfy that criterion, could we not declare that criterion invalid and move on?

    Does this mean that “neither does objectivism” is the only “rebuttal” to the OP’s argument? It’s no rebuttal; it’s a completely separate argument which happens to confirm the OP’s argument on the way.

    A rebuttal could satisfy the criterion. It just would have to show that materialism can logically declare anything to be meaningfully “right” or “wrong”. Logic could satisfy the criterion: it just needs to show how a materialist’s idea of “good” or “bad” has, by the materialist’s own standards, any anchoring in something other than electro-chemical processes which by chance are now going on in the materialist’s personal brain.

    But no, a separate argument aimed at the OP’s non-materialistic view doesn’t refute the OP’s argument. Ideally there’d be something more than that which could be offered by way of refutation.

  6. 6
    Joe says:

    Bob O’H:

    Barry, can you unpack what you think Dawkins means by this? I have a different view of what we mean by good & evil, which means that they do exist (because they are constructs of human society), so it would be useful to know if we’re discussing the same thing.

    They are constructs of society exactly because materialism doesn’t have a say, Bob.

  7. 7
    Jerad says:


    Perhaps we should settle the issue of god existing first then eh?

    UD Editors: Jerad, we understand that you are desperate to deflect and change the subject. But here’s another hint: Deflecting and changing the subject is not rational discourse. It is, in fact, a coward’s way to avoid an argument instead of facing it.

  8. 8
    Barry Arrington says:

    Bob @ 3. Why do you expect me to do all the work for you? Dawkins’ meaning is crystal clear to me. Why don’t you tell me what you think he meant. BTW, the “different view” of which you speak is the very equivocation I warned against in the OP. Again, Bob, you have not refuted an argument by resorting to equivocation of terms.

  9. 9

    Barry –

    One moment your three statements are your conclusions:

    Materialist premises lead ineluctably to the following conclusions. There is no such thing as “good.” There is no such thing as “evil.” There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences, and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

    In the next moment they are your premises:

    My argument rests on three main premises:

    1. On materialism there can be no such thing as “good” and “evil.”…

    2. There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences….

    3. Finally, I say on materialist premises all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain…

    So, are these statements your premises, or are they your conclusions?

  10. 10
    Piotr says:

    Your first premise is faulty, to begin with. Dawkins speaks of the Universe at large, not about human affairs. There is no “good” or “evil” on Pluto or in the Andromeda Galaxy. Moral values are human constructs, and their applicability is restricted to human societies.

    Your second premise is imprecise and partly wrong. Since we share the same biological heritage and often a similar cultural background, many of our moral values are shared. My preferences don’t necessarily compete with your preferences. We may disagree on some of them, but certainly not on all. Morality is not a formal logical system and doesn’t have to be entirely self-consistent (especially since emotions play an important part in differentiating between “right” and “wrong”). Moral conflists may well be internal — when one and the same person’s preferences contradict one another. Moral choices usually involve conflict resolution, and some conflicts leave you with no “good” option (consult any Greek tragedian).

    Your third premise equivocates on the verb “to reduce”. The physical processes in the brain are necessary for the functioning of the mind, and there are no extra magic components. That doesn’t mean that the patterns of electrochemical activity can be described and explained with reference to individual molecules. What you see on your computer’s scren is “just pixels”, but the pixels form non-random patterns which mean something to you. When you look at the screen, you pay attention to those patterns only, ignoring the pixels. The extreme reductionism you seem to be alluding to is a straw man.

  11. 11
    Barry Arrington says:

    RB @ 9

    Conclusions can be premises to further argument.

  12. 12
    Andre says:

    Piotr

    Your first premise is faulty, to begin with. Dawkins speaks of the Universe at large, not about human affairs. There is no “good” or “evil” on Pluto or in the Andromeda Galaxy. Moral values are human constructs, and their applicability is restricted to human societies.

    Are you suggesting humans are more than atoms or electro chemical processes? Are you sure you’re a materialist?

  13. 13
    Piotr says:

    #12 Andre,

    The term “materialist” is so vague that I’m not sure I match your idea of one.

  14. 14
    Barry Arrington says:

    Piotr @ 10:

    Dawkins speaks of the Universe at large . . .

    Are you suggesting that the earth is not part of the universe. How odd. Let me give you another hint: Just because you can say some idiotic thing in response to an argument, does not mean you should.

    Your second premise is imprecise and partly wrong.

    So are you saying you have finally found the refutation that eluded Bertrand Russell? Fabulous. You are going to be famous! Or are you equivocating on the terms just as I warned against in the OP. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you are not smarter than Russell. Don’t be sad; hardly anyone is.

    The extreme reductionism you seem to be alluding to is a straw man.

    Then you have the obligation to demonstrate what causes you to make choices other than the electro-chemical processes in the brain. Saying, as you essentially have, that something else is involved, is an evasion. You might as well have said “It’s magic.” Unless you can show the causal adequacy of some other explanation, you’ve got nothing.

  15. 15
    Andre says:

    Piotr

    What type of materialists are you then? Give us clarity on it.

  16. 16

    Barry:

    Conclusions can be premises to further argument.

    Of course, but that’s not what you’ve done above. You’ve first described your three statements as “three ineluctable conclusions.” Then you cite the same three statements as the premises of your argument.

    So, in this particular argument, are they premises, or are they conclusions? If they are premises, what conclusion do you draw from them in the syllogistic manner of your example vis Socrates’ mortality?

  17. 17
    ebenezer says:

    Piotr @ 10:

    Dawkins speaks of the Universe at large, not about human affairs. There is no “good” or “evil” on Pluto or in the Andromeda Galaxy. Moral values are human constructs, and their applicability is restricted to human societies.

    And if human affairs are a product of the Universe and its components bumping into each other and accidentally combining chemicals in ways that (we’re to believe) render the combination self-conscious, how did the Universe impart moral values to human affairs? Who’s to say that these values are indeed “restricted to human societies”? What allegiance do we owe to the universe, or to chemicals?

    Your second premise is imprecise and partly wrong. Since we share the same biological heritage and often a similar cultural background, many of our moral values are shared. My preferences don’t necessarily compete with your preferences. We may disagree on some of them, but certainly not on all. Morality is not a formal logical system and doesn’t have to be entirely self-consistent (especially since emotions play an important part in differentiating between “right” and “wrong”). Moral conflists may well be internal — when one and the same person’s preferences contradict one another. Moral choices usually involve conflict resolution, and some conflicts leave you with no “good” option (consult any Greek tragedian).

    So… we just blindly accept what we’re told by our “biological heritage” and by the culture we happen to be born into? Not all cultures share the same values, as was noted in the previous thread. If they did, we couldn’t even deduce from that that those values would be “right”—just that we collectively agreed to accept them. Biology’s influence doesn’t exactly bequeath moral imperatives: if our chemical composition had turned out slightly differently, so the materialist must maintain, we’d have had a completely different “moral sense”. So we’re back to fearing chemicals for needing to avoid the fear of God?

    Your third premise equivocates on the verb “to reduce”. The physical processes in the brain are necessary for the functioning of the mind, and there are no extra magic components. That doesn’t mean that the patterns of electrochemical activity can be described and explained with reference to individual molecules. What you see on your computer’s scren is “just pixels”, but the pixels form non-random patterns which mean something to you. When you look at the screen, you pay attention to those patterns only, ignoring the pixels. The extreme reductionism you seem to be alluding to is a straw man.

    No one’s arguing that “patterns of electrochemical activity can be described and explained with reference to individual molecules”. Materialists must argue, however, that in the end, all of those patterns amount to nothing more than the result of a chance assemblage of individual molecules. The repeated computer-related metaphors are, I’m afraid, profoundly misguided: a computer was designed by an intelligent cause, built using systems devised by an intelligent cause, and used to display pixels arranged by an intelligent cause into “non-random patterns which mean something to you”. On materialist premises, none of this in the least applies to humans, the universe, morality, or anything else.

  18. 18
    Piotr says:

    Barry,

    The idiocy is all yours. You know so much about logic: where exactly did I say or imply that the Earth was not part of the Universe? But there are no humans on Pluto, so there’s no good or evil there, just as there are no towns, languages, books, etc. In your opinion, is it good or evil that Pluto forms a binary dwarf planet system with Charon?

    UD Editors: This is what you wrote: “Dawkins speaks of the Universe at large, not about human affairs.” The only rational conclusion to be drawn from this sentence is that you are suggesting that Dawkins did not include “human affairs” in his statement. That is just stupid, because the clear meaning of Dawkins statement includes human affairs especially.

  19. 19
    Piotr says:

    #15 Andre,

    I’ve no idea. You tell me, or classify me if you must. I don’t think of myself as an “-ist”.

  20. 20
    Bob O'H says:

    Barry @ 8 –

    Bob @ 3. Why do you expect me to do all the work for you?

    because you’re the one asking the question, so I think it would help if you could clear up what you are asking. You wrote “in this context I am using the terms [‘good’ & ‘evil’] in the same sense that Dawkins used them”, so if I am to discuss the terms in the sense that you are using them, then I have to understand what you mean by them. If I start trying to answer using the terms as I understand them, and am wrong, then we’ll both get confused and annoyed. I hope you’d want to avoid that.

  21. 21
    Jerad says:

    Why not just post my entire comment and let the readers decide if I was off-base or not? It’s your blog, do as you will but I’d rather my comments were completely omitted or completely posted.

    UD Editors: Because I am sick to death of the opponents who are totally unable to refute the argument of the OP (such as yourself) responding instead with distractions, diversions, threadjacking and changing the subject. Yes, it is my blog Jerad, and on this thread you will stay on topic or you will get edited. Why don’t you just admit that you are unable to refute the OP? If you don’t want to admit that, why don’t you actually demonstrate how the argument is invalid or unsound instead of trying to jack the thread. That you want to jack the thread instead of responding to the OP speaks volumes by the way. Do better Jerad.

  22. 22
    niwrad says:

    Mark Frank #170

    niwrad: The persons who really help us are not those who condescend with our errors, rather those who put us before our own contradictions and incoherencies.

    Mark Frank: I have been providing that service to you guys for about a decade and never had a word of thanks!

    Personally I didn’t thank you because nowhere you have shown contradictions and incoherencies in my non-materialist design theist worldview. But if you find them I am ready to answer you and thank you.

  23. 23
    Barry Arrington says:

    Bob @ 20.

    You are engaging in Darwinian Debating Device # 7: Definition Deficit Disorder.

    Definition Deficit Disorder (“DDD”), also known as the “me no speaka the English distraction” and “definition derby” is a form of sophistry by obfuscation that demands that one’s opponent fulfil unreasonable or even impossible definitional criteria, not to advance the debate but to avoid the debate by claiming one’s opponent cannot adequately define their terms.

  24. 24
    bFast says:

    This topic bores me. The “I know what you should think” perspective of the post is, in my opinion, unwise and undignified.

    I therefore present a truly secular, truly materialistic foundation for a moral code. This is effectively the foundation taught to me in a secular school of psychology.

    For an individual, a healthy environment is one where the individual can flourish. Specific metrics for “flourishing” have been established. For instance, Freud discussed the trap of psychological defenses, and their resultant neuroses. Maslow discussed his hierarchy of needs which keep us from “self actualization” (a term most usually very misunderstood by the layman.)

    In this model, the terms “good” and “evil” are inappropriate. However, the terms “better” or “more healty”, and “worse” or “less healthy” are appropriate. The ease with which one can flourish is the judge of “better” and “worse”.

    While I am an individual, we are a society. As a society it is our challenge to create a society which is “better” for more members of that society, and “worse” for fewer members of the society. It is this metric that is our judge of what behavior is appropriate, and inappropriate.

    Now, lets get to your simple statement of logic:

    You said: “Materialist premises lead ineluctably to the following conclusions. There is no such thing as “good.” There is no such thing as “evil.” There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences”

    How say ye?

  25. 25
    kairosfocus says:

    Jerad, I see you are suddenly eager to take up the question or the reality/rationality of theism. Okay, here is the thread that was recently sticky headlined for the better part of two weeks. It is still open for trade. KF

  26. 26
    Piotr says:

    So are you saying you have finally found the refutation that eluded Bertrand Russell? Fabulous. You are going to be famous! Or are you equivocating on the terms just as I warned against in the OP. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you are not smarter than Russell. Don’t be sad; hardly anyone is.

    Many people have already told you the same thing, so I don’t think I’m so terribly smart. Can you make a sensible comment here, or will you just sneer? Anyway, I don’t refute subjectivism. I point out that subjectivism doesn’t rule out intersubjective agreement (for reasons other than divine command).

    Tell me, Larry, is your “objective” morality logically self-consistent in every respect? Do other proponents of objectivist ethics always agree with you about every moral judgement? If not, who is right and how do you know?

    UD Editors: Having failed miserably Piotr changes tactics. “subjectivism doesn’t rule out intersubjective agreement” I never said it did. Go back to the OP where you will find this: “Responding to an argument that is not made does not refute the argument that is made.” Then he jumps to an attack on objective morality. Go back to the OP and you will find this: “So, for example, if an argument is that materialism does not ground morality, a counter that says “neither does objectivism” does not respond to, far less refute, the original argument.”

    Piotr, you just can’t seem to help yourself. Even when you are warned in advance, you jump right to the fallacies you were warned against. This should cause you to rethink and do better. I doubt that it will.

  27. 27
    Barry Arrington says:

    bFast @ 23 disdains the argument and jumps right to the equivocations. He is past help.

  28. 28
    ebenezer says:

    Piotr @ 25:

    Anyway, I don’t refute subjectivism. I point out that subjectivism doesn’t rule out intersubjective agreement (for reasons other than divine command).

    And…? Nothing rules out two people agreeing that the sky is pink and green with turquoise polka dots, but that won’t make the sky so. There can be intersubjective agreement all throughout the universe, on any number of points and for any number of opinions, and yet materialism can say that “no, there’s actually one concrete answer for whether it’s wrong to [say] kill someone”? On what basis can it say that?

    This pointing out isn’t refuting the OP’s argument. It doesn’t establish that materialism ultimately can look to anything more than electro-chemical processes to determine questions of morality, and if it cannot look to anything more, it can’t have a meaningful “right” or “wrong”.

  29. 29
    kairosfocus says:

    BF: If you look carefully, you will see that the terms used above thinly disguise good vs evil. They do not solve the problem. The issue is, that inescapably, we are self aware, reasoning creatures who by and large find ourselves under moral government. That points to a world foundational IS capable of bearing the weight of OUGHT. Thanks to Hume’s guillotine argument, it has to be foundational. It has to be real, and IS, and it simultaneously has to ground OUGHT. Where, the dismissal of the sense of ought as a grand delusion by whatever name, ends in implying self referential incoherence for mindedness. That is the challenge you face, especially if you have to try to construct OUGHT out to atoms and particles, energy, space and time interacting blindly per chance and mechanical necessity. This is a patent case of want of adequate cause. Hence, the evasions above and in previous threads. For, incoherence and factual-causal inadequacy are major worldview grounding tests. KF

  30. 30
    StephenB says:

    Here is my challenge, which is relevant to the post:

    Materialists, (which I define as physicalists) Tell me how you get from [a] Electro-chemical processes in the brain to [b] right/wrong, or good/evil, or moral/immoral. Lay it out for me and be sure to define your terms. I have already presented my alternative case for a designing intellegence, which remains untouched. Either make your case or admit that Barry is right. Do you have the intellectual fuel to answer the challenge or do you not?

    REC, Bob O’H, Piotr, Jerad, RB?–Bueller?–anyone? anyone?

  31. 31
    bFast says:

    Sooo, where is your error of logic. It is here, “There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences.”

    That is incorrect. It is an error of scope. It is society — the collective — that makes the laws, rules, mores, educational plans. It is society that decides what is acceptable and what is criminal. Society does so for the preservation of the society, not for the preservation of the individual.

    “disdains the argument and jumps right to the equivocations.” This post squarely addresses the argument — the logic.

  32. 32
    ebenezer says:

    bFast @ 31:

    A simple question will point out your own statement’s error of logic: Does society always get it right?

  33. 33
    Barry Arrington says:

    bFast @ 31

    Your argument is “might makes right.” As KF has pointed out many times, Plato refuted this argument thousands of years ago. Try again.

  34. 34
    Hangonasec says:

    ebenezer @1. Right off the bat you misunderstand the position taken.

    In the last post’s thread there was a deal of “materialism can provide morality” arguing which was backed up with appeals to “this behavior enhances survival or reproductive value”, followed by a deal of “how can anyone say that materialism has only survival or reproductive value with which to determine morality?”.

    Since nobody in fact took the position you assert, perhaps you could clamber down off your high horse? I know you and several others think that is what is being claimed when one describes a generalised moral sense as potentially in existence because its social benefits enhanced the survival of its bearers. But it is not.

    If a species has a genetic predisposition towards kindness within its social group, and that trait enhances the survival of that group, and hence persists along with it, it does not follow that materialist morality = anything which one might imagine enhances survival or reproduction. Such as rape, or the murder of more distantly-related children. I find the universal inability of opponents to grasp this simple point baffling.

  35. 35
    Andre says:

    bFast

    So might makes right then? Have you learnt anything from history?

  36. 36
    Piotr says:

    UD Editors [speaking in bold text through the loudspeaker on the ceiling]: This is what you wrote: “Dawkins speaks of the Universe at large, not about human affairs.” The only rational conclusion to be drawn from this sentence is that you are suggesting that Dawkins did not include “human affairs” in his statement. That is just stupid, because the clear meaning of Dawkins statement includes human affairs especially.

    Dawkins talks about “Nature” (capitalised) as opposed to strictly human affairs. If you are struck by lightning and die, your death will be a tragedy to those who love you. But the lightning itself, as a natural phenomenon, is neither good or evil. You can’t blame it for killing a human being. If you develop a fatal disease because of a mutation in one of your genes, it’s terrible news for you personally, but the mutation itself is just a natural copying error, morally neutral. We are of course part of the natural world, but our affairs are a small local business. Moral values can be attached to human choices, intentions and deeds, but not to things beyond human control.

    UD Editors: Now you are suggesting that human affairs are outside of what Dawkins was talking about; then you backtrack on that. Piotr, the first rule of being in a hole: Stop digging. Your last sentence is a mere substance-free assertion. You have yet to refute any of the premises of the OP.

  37. 37
    Andre says:

    Hangonasec

    Nobody is saying materialists are not moral. Stop doing that!!!

  38. 38
    bFast says:

    Ebenezer, “Does society always get it right?” Nope.

    BA: Your argument is “might makes right.” I don’t think so. More accurately, strong makes right, and healthy makes strong.

  39. 39
    Silver Asiatic says:

    UD Editors: Sorry SA. But this thread is not about defending objective morality. I will not allow either supports or opponents to push it in that direction.

  40. 40
    Andre says:

    I’m strong I hate basketball players let me use my strength to break their necks and make the world right with no more basketball players.

    Strong makes right…. healthy makes strong….

    Sounds like those that are fit survive and if they survive they are fit.

  41. 41
    ebenezer says:

    Hangonasec @ 34:

    Since nobody in fact took the position you assert, perhaps you could clamber down off your high horse?

    Ironic that you should be the one to say so—see your own comments on the last thread at 99, at 124, and then contradictorily at 181.

    99:

    If life originated and evolved solely through materialistic mechanisms, morality is not possible.

    I ask again: why not? Being well-disposed towards others, and deprecating socially disruptive behaviours, can enhance the survival of a social species.

    124:

    If a species benefits from sociality (‘benefit’ being simply enhanced survival and reproduction) then modes that enhance the benefits (so defined) of sociality will be favoured; modes that diminish it will be disfavoured. This is a good few miles away from my meaning ‘socially disruptive behaviour’ to be ‘that which I personally do not prefer because of impulses generated by the electro-chemical impulses in my brain’.

    181:

    …fundamentally, I don’t see how either of you can get “survival and reproduction are what should be maximised”, still less “rape is good”, from what I wrote regarding the origins of the moral sense under a materialist scenario.

    99 and 124 on that thread equated survival-enhancing behavior with morality (i.e. right and wrong). 181 implied that there’s anything other than that to the materialist definition of morality.

    Now to twist my comment at 1 here to mean “materialists say that ‘anything’, if one might imagine that it enhances survival or reproduction, is moral” is to evade the point. Which is: it doesn’t matter that materialists object to some actions which might be taken as increasing survival or reproductive value; materialism is offering nothing other than increased survival or reproductive value with which to judge the morality of any action.

  42. 42
    ebenezer says:

    bFast @ 38:

    Ebenezer, “Does society always get it right?” Nope.

    On what basis do you say “Nope”?

  43. 43
    bFast says:

    “On what basis do you say “Nope”?”

    Two bases:
    > As a society we keep changing our mind. If we always got it right we would not need to do so.

    > Other societies have really quite different moral codes and standards. If societies always got it right, this would not be so.

  44. 44
    ebenezer says:

    As a society we keep changing our mind. If we always got it right we would not need to do so.

    What if a society decided to do away with the odd million or six unwanted harmless humans? What if we happened to be two of those? Would that action be right? What if we weren’t?

    Other societies have really quite different moral codes and standards. If societies always got it right, this would not be so.

    But societies by definition get it right: they are societies!

    The very truth that two societies disagree on “moral codes and standards” eliminates this cause of morality. This is just proving the OP’s point.

  45. 45
    Piotr says:

    #28 ebenezer,

    “no, there’s actually one concrete answer for whether it’s wrong to [say] kill someone”? On what basis can it say that?

    Is there one concrete answer? In my system of values, killing is bad, which doesn’t mean that it can’t be the lesser of two evils in some extreme situations. Even the Bible says “Thou shalt not kill” — and what follows? A list of minor misdemeanours or totally harmless acts for which the offender “shall be stoned with stones that he die”. Stoning or hanging for things we wouldn’t punish with a fine today? It doesn’t strike me as the type of world-view in which human life is valued very highly.

  46. 46
    bFast says:

    Andre (40), “I’m strong I hate basketball players let me use my strength to break their necks and make the world right with no more basketball players.”

    Oops, missed the point. The terms “strong”, “healthy” and “might” in this context is a characteristic of the society, not of the individual. We as a society believe that people who play out what you described make us as a society weaker. We therefore respond by putting such into little cells wrapped by strong bars.

  47. 47
    StephenB says:

    bfast

    That is incorrect. It is an error of scope. It is society — the collective — that makes the laws, rules, mores, educational plans. It is society that decides what is acceptable and what is criminal. Society does so for the preservation of the society, not for the preservation of the individual.

    So all laws are just if society makes them?

    ——————————————————————————————-
    American society accepted slavery in the early 20th century.
    American society rejected slavery in the late 20th century.

    Which society was right and just? Why was it right and just?

    ——————————————————————————————–

    American society once made abortion illegal.

    American society later made abortion legal.

    Which society was right and just? Why was it right and just?

  48. 48
    Andre says:

    bFast

    The collective aka the majority? So again you mean might makes right…..

  49. 49
    ebenezer says:

    Piotr @ 45:

    Is there one concrete answer? In my system of values, killing is bad, which doesn’t mean that it can’t be the lesser of two evils in some extreme situations.

    What if killing is bad in (say) my system of values? If it’s not bad in someone else’s, I can’t complain when that someone else wants to kill me—it’s not bad for him!

    And yes, if the OP’s argument is to be refuted, there should be one concrete answer. I think that was sort of the point. 🙂

    Even the Bible says “Thou shalt not kill” — and what follows? A list of minor misdemeanours or totally harmless acts for which the offender “shall be stoned with stones that he die”. Stoning or hanging for things we wouldn’t punish with a fine today? It doesn’t strike me as the type of world-view in which human life is valued very highly.

    First: The following, from the OP, is worth noting here. “Responding to an argument that is not made does not refute the argument that is made.” The OP is not arguing for or against the Bible or anything to do with it. Its argument has to do with whatever materialism considers “morality”.

    Second: This is completely irrelevant. The entire Bible is written with the understanding that humanity and the universe were created by God, who must necessarily be allowed to set the rules for His creation without any gainsaying on its part. By a materialist understanding, this is exactly (to borrow from the Biblical metaphor) like a pot, which we take to have been formed from completely unguided processes, discovering what it takes to be a fictional account of a Potter, and objecting to that Potter’s use of His pots.

  50. 50
    kairosfocus says:

    Piotr:

    I see I need to cite a certain Sir Francis Crick, in his 1994 The Astonishing Hypothesis — and in UD’s images collection the page scan can be found:

    . . . that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.

    (Someone else already tried THAT stunt.)

    So, nope this is not a strawman hypothesis, though Sir Francis has stated it rather baldly, it is usually stated with a bit more finesses. (Typically, as some form or other of a facet of the so called hard problem of consciousness.)

    KF

  51. 51
    bFast says:

    StephenB, “American society once made abortion illegal.
    American society later made abortion legal.
    Which society was right and just? Why was it right and just?”

    StephenB, please understand, I am an IDer, I am a theist, I am a theistic moralist. I do, however, believe that BA has radically overstated his case, to the point where it is indefensible. Further, in his post “RDfish is an idiot” he stepped far beyond decorum, and he became what he hates.

    The latter, however, is a great segue into this question. Let me also put my “materialist hat” back on. We as a society have moved in the direction of avoiding capitol punishment. We do so because we believe that killing any of our own citizens makes us mean, and making us mean makes us unhealthy — weak as a society.

    We think, however, that killing babies is ok because they haven’t passed some strange right of passage we call birth. Our position in this matter is simply, well, crazy.

    We take this position purely for the convenience of those who practice the “free love” that we adopted as a value back in the 60s. We somehow believe that “free love” makes us healthier. I personally believe that it does not. I believe that “free love” is a major cause of divorce, and that divorce is a major cause of the lack of emotional health in our citizenry. I believe that the best way to raise a child is to give the child a two parent home where the two parents can demonstrate how to work out conflict by working out their own conflict.

    Alas, we have solved the “responsibility problem” associated with “free love” by becoming mass murderers. I cannot find a better example of a case for society not always getting it right than the case of abortion.

  52. 52
    Piotr says:

    UD Editors: Now you are suggesting that human affairs are outside of what Dawkins was talking about; then you backtrack on that. Piotr, the first rule of being in a hole: Stop digging. Your last sentence is a mere substance-free assertion. You have yet to refute any of the premises of the OP.

    I don’t believe UD Editors can’t distinguish between “human affairs” (the things humans plan or do) and the rest of the Universe (including a lot of what happens on Earth but doesn’t depend on human choices). Dawkins doesn’t say or imply that it’s morally neutral if you steal your neighbour’s bicycle (which is an example of a “human affair”). But an earthquake is a totally indifferent natural phenomenom, not a human agent or a tool used by such an agent. It can’t be tried for murder if it kills people, and you can’t blame anyone for its occurrence.

    Far from the Earth, where there are no humans at all, the notions of “good” and “evil” are totally meaningless. (I leave the question open if there’s other intelligent life out there and if their values are likely to be similar to ours. I have a private opinion about that, but the whole thing is too speculative.)

  53. 53
    ebenezer says:

    Piotr @ 52:

    Right, so you assign moral weight to the actions which humans take or don’t take. On what basis do you do that? Why can’t you blame lightning for killing a human being—why can you blame another human? Everything in the worldview of materialism is material. Lightning is scary; maybe an individual human is not. Is that all there is to it?

    At what point does matter graduate to become moral? Who determines that point? On what grounds is mere matter responsible to anyone or for anything?

    Why, on materialist premises, is it not morally neutral if I steal my neighbor’s bicycle? Because he doesn’t like it? What if I do?

    These are not rhetorical questions. In order to refute the OP’s argument, you will have to answer them.

  54. 54
    Barry Arrington says:

    Piotr @ 52:

    Now I see what you are doing. You are trying to change the meaning of the words Dawkins used to fit your position that Dawkins is not talking about people. But that is false. He clearly intends to include people as the previous sentence shows:

    In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

    Now, Piotr, you have been caught lying. You might say, “I didn’t know what the previous sentence said, so I am not lying.” But a 30 second Google search would have shown that sentence. Instead, you just make things up to suit your argument. That is, at the very least, a reckless disregard for the truth. It is utterly reprehensible. You owe an apology to everyone on this website for your behavior.

    Here’s another hint: When you feel the urge to lie (or recklessly disregard the truth if you prefer) to support your argument, you should resist that urge. That is another tenant of rational discourse.

    Wake up man. Rethink. Do better. In case you have not noticed, I am trying to shame you into better conduct. It does not seem to be working.

  55. 55
    Mark Frank says:

    SB #30

    I am not engaging with Barry’s verbal warfare – but I can maybe answer SB without getting too much abuse.

    SB

    Materialists, (which I define as physicalists) Tell me how you get from [a] Electro-chemical processes in the brain to [b] right/wrong, or good/evil, or moral/immoral. Lay it out for me and be sure to define your terms.

    right/wrong good/evil moral/immoral are words that express a type of endorsement/condemnation of acts or states of affairs. They are distinct from other endorsements/condemnations in that they are based on a set of motives that have in common that they are altruistic rather than self-interested. These motives include compassion, a desire to see fair play, and a number of others (The total effect of such motives is our conscience).

    motives are propensities to act in certain ways (or sometimes the things that spark those propensities into action). They are almost certainly electrochemical states in the brain although of course we have no idea what those states are

    Having done the definitions, the path from one to the other seems straightforward.  It is all very clear when you realise moral words do not describe some attribute of an action or state of affairs but are prescriptive words expressing the speaker’s reaction to those actions/states of affairs.

  56. 56
    Piotr says:

    #49 ebenezer,

    What if killing is bad in (say) my system of values? If it’s not bad in someone else’s, I can’t complain when that someone else wants to kill me—it’s not bad for him

    In a stable society the vast majority of people don’t want to kill one another, and will agree with me that killing is bad. Of course whole societies can sometimes run amuck and head for disintegration among a bloodbath. Fortunately for reasonable people like you or me, such societies have been outcompeted by more peaceful ones, which value cooperation and discourage internal conflicts. Here in Europe we have abolished the death penalty, ever for terrorists and serial murderers. I strongly believe it’s the right thing to do and I wish countries like China or the USA did the same. I know some people, also in my country, who have a different opinion. I am glad they are not numerous enough to influence the law-making process.

  57. 57
    ebenezer says:

    Piotr @ 56:

    Here in Europe we have abolished the death penalty, ever for terrorists and serial murderers. I strongly believe it’s the right thing to do and I wish countries like China or the USA did the same. I know some people, also in my country, who have a different opinion. I am glad they are not numerous enough to influence the law-making process.

    But just that proves the OP’s argument. If they were numerous enough to influence that process, they’d have their way. You’d (from your comment) consider their way wrong, but if we take the society to be the determiner of right and wrong, it is you that would be wrong, since society would have overall disagreed with you. “There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences, and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.” Right now it just happens that the possessors of one set of brains rather than those of another are powerful enough to enforce their preferences on everybody else.

    Clearly a society—stable or no—cannot be relied upon to always rule in favor of one unchanging right or always against any unchanging wrong. Yet if all societies could, all that would tell us is that they’d agreed, not that they had hit upon the right “right” or “wrong”. A meaningful standard of right or wrong, as would be expected if the OP’s argument were sound, is nowhere to be found given materialist premises.

  58. 58
    Piotr says:

    #54 Barry,

    Where exactly does Dawkins speak of human actions or intentions? He refers to “a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication” — things over which we have no control. Instead of googling and quote-mining Dawkins you could take River Out of Eden and read the whole Chapter 4, where Dawkins explains how difficult it is for “us humans” to come to terms with the indifference of Nature (whether it does or does not affect us) precisely because we are social animals and the need for moral evaluation is deeply ingrained in us.

  59. 59
    Barry Arrington says:

    Piotr @ 58:

    My God man! Really? You really are shameless and disgusting. I give up.

  60. 60
    Piotr says:

    ebenezer,

    But just that proves the OP’s argument. If they were numerous enough to influence that process, they’d have their way.

    That wouldn’t make them right in my (subjective) opinion. I was against the capital punishment when it was still used in my country. I was right (again, in my own opinion). I don’t take society as the determiner of my personal values. For example, I’m a non-believer in a society which is predominantly Roman Catholic and where the church remains very influential. The majority of Poles regard it as more or less self-evident that traditional Catholic values are good just because they are traditional Catholic, and they quite often “have their way”. That doesn’t make them right of me wrong in my considered opinion. Fortunately, it’s no longer a matter of life or death. W can agree to disagree, and negotiate a social compromise.

    UDEditors: You do, however, appear to believe that lying or a reckless disregard for the truth are good. So why should we care what you think?

  61. 61
    ebenezer says:

    Mark Frank @ 55:

    motives are propensities to act in certain ways (or sometimes the things that spark those propensities into action). They are almost certainly electrochemical states in the brain although of course we have no idea what those states are

    Having done the definitions, the path from one to the other seems straightforward. It is all very clear when you realise moral words do not describe some attribute of an action or state of affairs but are prescriptive words expressing the speaker’s reaction to those actions/states of affairs.

    This is making the OP’s point. “There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences, and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.” Why do we owe respect to one set of electrochemical states rather than to another?

    And actually, no. It is not very clear, if we’re talking about any proposed refutation of the OP’s argument:

    1. If “moral words” indeed “do not describe some attribute of an action or state of affairs” and are only prescriptive, then the materialist has no basis for morality. It’s all in what any given individual or powerful-enough organization of individuals feels like at the moment.

    2. If “moral words” actually describe attributes of actions or states of affairs, and we determine those based on electrochemical states, then it is up to the materialist to explain why we should act on the result of those electrochemical states and trust them as having gotten “morality” right.

  62. 62
    ebenezer says:

    Piotr @ 60:

    I was against the capital punishment when it was still used in my country. I was right (again, in my own opinion). I don’t take society as the determiner of my personal values. For example, I’m a non-believer in a society which is predominantly Roman Catholic and where the church remains very influential. The majority of Poles regard it as more or less self-evident that traditional Catholic values are good just because they are traditional Catholic, and they quite often “have their way”. That doesn’t make them right of me wrong in my considered opinion. Fortunately, it’s no longer a matter of life or death. W can agree to disagree, and negotiate a social compromise.

    I don’t disagree that it’s sometimes useful to agree to disagree. Yet that doesn’t come anywhere close to refuting the OP’s argument—especially since regardless of what anyone says, everyone acts as though (and deep down, believes that) there’s only one right in regards to morality, and only one wrong. We may agree to disagree with a cannibal on key issues. That does not mean that he is right to eat us.

    The point of the OP’s argument is that there is no “right” and “wrong” if one accepts materialist premises. If a disagreement between you and another party “doesn’t make them right [or] me wrong”, then you’re saying that neither the other party nor yourself are right or wrong, and thus agreeing to a lack of any right or wrong.

    This is what the conclusion of the OP’s argument implies. In a world where electro-chemical processes are all that can be used as a measure of morality, nobody is to say whose electro-chemical processes have it right.

  63. 63
    Bob O'H says:

    Barry @ 23 – I’m sorry, but this isn’t a “debating tactic” – I am genuinely trying to understand where you’re coming from. You appear to be making contradictory demands, which probably means I don’t understand what you’re trying to say, and rather than take guesses I’d prefer to ask for clarification.

  64. 64
    Barry Arrington says:

    Bob @ 63: I’ll give you a chance to prove what you say. Surely you are not totally out to sea without the faintest notion about what the terms mean. Therefore, you should be able to give a summary of what you think they mean. Do that and I will meet you half-way by telling you if you are correct and if I don’t believe you are I will tell you why.

  65. 65
    JDH says:

    Mark Frank wrote:

    It is all very clear when you realise moral words do not describe some attribute of an action or state of affairs but are prescriptive words expressing the speaker’s reaction to those actions/states of affairs.

    But how are “prescriptive words expressing the speaker’s reaction…” any thing else but “…my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences”

    I don’t think any theist has a problem with admitting that a personal preference does not have to be personally serving or about the speaker at all. The point is that as soon as you try to label something moral as anything except competing personal preferences, you are appealing to some objective standard outside of what is available to the materialist.

    I don’t see why this is not clear to you.

  66. 66
    StephenB says:

    bfast

    The latter, however, is a great segue into this question.

    Wait just a minute. Not so fast. If society was wrong the first time and right the second time, then what is your standard for making that judgment. You have immediately abandoned your claim that society can be the judge since, as you acknowledge, society can judge wrongly.

    How do you know society wasn’t right the first time and wrong the second time? Are you saying that society always moves in the direction of health and never in the direction of destruction? Did Germany’s society move in the right direction from 1930 to 1950? Is Islam moving in the right direction?

    Let me also put my “materialist hat” back on. We as a society have moved in the direction of avoiding capitol punishment. We do so because we believe that killing any of our own citizens makes us mean, and making us mean makes us unhealthy — weak as a society.

    So its mean to execute 50 guilty criminals in one year but it isn’t mean murder 1,250,000 innocent babies in that same year? That is a strange sense of proportionality. Is that what you call moral progress as judged by societies ever changing standards?

  67. 67
    Mapou says:

    IMO, morality is not a property of physical matter. Morality is a spiritual concept. The reason is simple: physical matter cannot be moral, period.

    The only reason that we have a subjective notion of morality is that we are spiritual beings, i.e., our brains are controlled by our spirits. Thus morality is proof that there is more to mind than just the physical brain. It is proof of spirit.

  68. 68
    Barry Arrington says:

    Lest anyone is inclined to believe Piotr’s infamous falsehoods (which he shamelessly maintained even after correction), here are some other things Dawkins says about morality that demonstrate the original quote was not “mined” out of context (the charge he retreated to after he had been caught out):

    What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question.

    Justin Brierley: “Ultimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we’ve evolved five fingers rather than six.”

    Richard Dawkins: “You could say that, yeah.”

    I again call on the cowardly Piotr to retract his accusations and apologize.

  69. 69
    Piotr says:

    #62 ebenezer,

    The point of the OP’s argument is that there is no “right” and “wrong” if one accepts materialist premises. If a disagreement between you and another party “doesn’t make them right [or] me wrong”, then you’re saying that neither the other party nor yourself are right or wrong, and thus agreeing to a lack of any right or wrong.

    But it’s always been so. No two “objectivist” ethics agree about everything. I try to identify “good” values (those that deserve to be endorsed, as far as I’m concerned [UDEditors: Like lying and a reckless disregard for the truth?]), but of course I don’t normally invent them. I select them from what our civilisation can offer, so naturally many other people are likely to support them too. Human sacrifice, the ritual killing of captives, slavery, horrific punishments, the burning of witches at the stake, etc., were all widespread not so very long ago in societies strongly convinced that their value systems were god-given and beyond dispute.

    This is what the conclusion of the OP’s argument implies. In a world where electro-chemical processes are all that can be used as a measure of morality, nobody is to say whose electro-chemical processes have it right.

    Nobody “measures” morality in this way. Morality is the art of making the most satisfactory choices in the context of human interactions. Electrochemical processes belong to a different level of reality.

    UDEditors: In Piotr’s moral system lying or a reckless disregard for the truth are good. So why should we care what he thinks?

  70. 70
    Piotr says:

    #68 Barry,

    Supporting your quote-mining with more of the same? Go ahead, make my day.

    UDEditors: In Piotr’s moral system lying or a reckless disregard for the truth are good. So why should we care what he thinks? Piotr, at first we believed you were just stupid and that perhaps our efforts to correct you would be fruitful. But we were wrong. You are affirmatively mendacious, and we can’t fix that. Bye bye.

  71. 71
    ebenezer says:

    Piotr @ 69:

    No two “objectivist” ethics agree about everything.

    Again, remember from the OP: “Responding to an argument that is not made does not refute the argument that is made.” The OP’s argument still awaits refutation, whether “objectivists” can “agree about everything” or not.

    Human sacrifice, the ritual killing of captives, slavery, horrific punishments, the burning of witches at the stake, etc., were all widespread not so very long ago in societies strongly convinced that their value systems were god-given and beyond dispute.

    This again does not refute the OP’s argument: what says, in a materialist worldview, that any of that was wrong? Yet it also does not argue well against a non-materialist view. If God created humanity and instructed it to obey Him alone, and most of humanity broke up into very many groups which went on to obey quite other gods and completely rebel against everything He commanded, that would tell us of nothing wrong with God at all.

    Nobody “measures” morality in this way. Morality is the art of making the most satisfactory choices in the context of human interactions.

    Right. Obviously we don’t determine morals by examining our brains with a measuring tape, either… yet if the materialist is correct, the decision of what “choices” we deem “most satisfactory” is entirely up to the result of electrochemical processes in our brains, as the OP said.

    Electrochemical processes belong to a different level of reality.

    In a materialistic worldview, how many levels of reality are there? Is this the beginning of a dualistic argument?

  72. 72
    lack of Focus says:

    Barry@59: “My God man! Really? You really are shameless and disgusting. I give up.

    That is probably too much to hope for.

    UDEditors: And it is probably too much to hope that you will put up a cogent argument in defense of your position instead of snits, snears and distractions. But we do keep hoping.

  73. 73
    StephenB says:

    Piotr

    Human sacrifice, the ritual killing of captives, slavery, horrific punishments, the burning of witches at the stake, etc., were all widespread not so very long ago in societies strongly convinced that their value systems were god-given and beyond dispute.

    Good grief. You really are shameless. You assume (and imply that we should all agree) that slavery, burning at the stake, and human sacrifice are all evil acts while denying the existence of good and evil. It really is a scandal what materialist metaphysics does to the human mind.

  74. 74
    Box says:

    StephenB: It really is a scandal what materialist metaphysics does to the human mind.

    I second that. And I do believe we see repetitive behavioral patterns here that call out for a psychological explanation. This is not merely a difference of opinion.

  75. 75
    lack of Focus says:

    UDEditors: And it is probably too much to hope that you will put up a cogent argument in defense of your position instead of snits, snears and distractions. But we do keep hoping.”

    Barry, I have explained the conditions under which I would participate in a discussion with you. They were simple. Stop acting like a spoiled child. Obviously you are having difficulty honouring this request. Cheers.

  76. 76
    RDFish says:

    Hi Barry,

    It is of course screamingly funny for you to lecture me on rational discourse. The highlight was your admonition to avoid “asshat” comments, immediately on the heels of titling a thread “RDFish is an Idiot” and responding to my arguments with nothing but childish namecalling. Truly hilarious, thanks for the laugh.

    Moving on, I shall endeavor once again to make a few of the many problems with your “argument” clear to you, but naturally I hold little hope you will read, understand, or respond to what I say.

    Materialist premises lead ineluctably to the following conclusions. There is no such thing as “good.” There is no such thing as “evil.”

    Here, you cleave to your own (unstated) definitions of “good” and “evil”, and then declare that these definitions are incompatible with your (unstated) defintion of “materialism”. This is not an argument, it is a tantrum. You simply decide that the way you understand the meaning of these words is the only accceptable conceptualization, and nobody else is allowed to understand them in other ways.

    Philosophers have discussed moral theories that are both “materialist” and “objectivist” for centuries, and there is no problem characterizing the meaning of these terms in ways that permit debate over the relative merits and justifications of those moral systems. The fact that you don’t like the way these words are defined in these other theories does not mean that your moral theory is superior, or that has any merit at all; it simply means that you are unwilling to even discuss the topic.

    There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences,…

    As many times as you’ve been corrected on your cartoonish characterization of subjectivism, you can’t help yourself. If I characterized theism as a belief in a “big white-haired man living in the clouds” you would rightly object that I wasn’t capturing what sophisticated theists actually believe. Yet you blithely use these silly phrases to try and make subjectivism seem stupid. It is your parody of subjectivism that is stupid, not the philosophy itself. Our moral sense bears no relation to whim or preference, and a moment of honest introspection should reveal to you that you are no more capable of altering your moral sense than you are able to alter the color you perceive when you see the sky.

    In my view, however, this is not of central importance in a discussion of subjectivism; rather, the central point is that there is no such thing as an objective morality, a point that you are loathe and unwilling to engage.

    …and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

    I have no idea why you think “electro-chemical processes in the brain” have anything to do with this topic, and obviously neither do you. If our brains worked according to some other processes, would that somehow give meaning to the words “good” and “evil” that aligned with your conceptions of these words?

    I look forward to your response, which I expect to be more of the same: petulance, insults, and not even a glimmer of understanding of the issues involved.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  77. 77
    Box says:

    RDFish: I have no idea why you think “electro-chemical processes in the brain” have anything to do with this topic, and obviously neither do you.

    This may well be one of the most idiotic statements I’ve ever seen.

  78. 78
    bFast says:

    StephenB, “If society was wrong the first time and right the second time, then what is your standard for making that judgment.”

    Wow! You didn’t get that from me! In my opinion society was wrong the second time on the abortion question.

    The biggest problem with the IDers argument is that it dis-enables y’all from joining the public debate. If morality presupposes the existence of God, then all those who reject God will automatically reject all of your moral arguments. I am determined not to be so disenfranchised. I therefore find ways to speak on moral topics without attaching the God equation out front.

    On the abortion question — the issue that society faces is that we have decided that a certain portion of our society has the arbitrary right to kill another portion of our society. That is fine enough, I guess, when the killer is the parent of the killed (the most heinous killer relationship I can imagine.) But what other “I have the arbitrary right to decide if you live or die” relationships are we going to come up with. We are already clearly talking about killing off the oldsters. When will we decide that a person’s medical needs are too great, so we must kill them off. When are we going to decide that a person should not have asked for a handout — oops, dead.

    I think that God does not need to be brought into the picture to show that killing babies is, well, heinous.

  79. 79
    Barry Arrington says:

    RDFish fails utterly at 76.

    Philosophers have discussed moral theories that are both “materialist” and “objectivist” for centuries, and there is no problem characterizing the meaning of these terms in ways that permit debate over the relative merits and justifications of those moral systems.

    That’s it? That’s your argument? Pathetic. Some unnamed philosophers for unknown reasons have said you are right and I am wrong? I am stunned that you believe that assertion somehow refutes my argument.

    Our moral sense bears no relation to whim or preference, and a moment of honest introspection should reveal to you that you are no more capable of altering your moral sense than you are able to alter the color you perceive when you see the sky.

    It is true that I cannot alter my moral sense. I choose what I choose. Go back to the OP and read it again. One of the hints I gave you was that responding to an argument that I did not make does not refute the one that I did make.

    You say the moral sense is not based on a preference. OK. What is it based on? That is the question posed by the OP. If you don’t think it is based on a preference, you need to tell me what you think it is based on. Here’s another hint: Mere assertion is not an argument. It is so strange that you appear to believe that it is.

    I have no idea why you think “electro-chemical processes in the brain” have anything to do with this topic,

    Well, let me try to help you with that. From Wikipedia:

    Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.

    It follows that under materialism mental phenomena are result of the material interactions in the brain. This is ABC philosophy. It surprises me that you, who claim to be an expert on philosophical matters and especially matters dealing with consciousness, need to be educated on this topic.

    It should be obvious that I have used the phrase “electro-chemical processes in the brain” as a synonym for the material interactions that give rise to mental phenomena (on materialist terms).

    Now, if all phenomena, including mental phenomena such as our perception of what we call “good” and “evil” result, as the materialist says, from material interactions, it follows that material interactions have everything to do with the topic, your glib and uninformed dismissal to the contrary notwithstanding.

    So let me summarize your post (I will not dignify it with the term “argument”) and grade you on whether you have engaged in rational argument:

    Here are my three premises:

    1. On materialism there can be no such thing as “good” and “evil.”

    Your response: Substance free literature bluff/appeal to unnamed and unquoted authority. Fail

    2. There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences.

    Your response: Mere assertion that the statement is false without any support at all. Fail.

    3. On materialist premises all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

    Your response: I don’t know what you mean. Fail.

    Overall grade: F

    I invite you to try again.

  80. 80
    ebenezer says:

    RDFish @ 76:

    Here, you cleave to your own (unstated) definitions of “good” and “evil”, and then declare that these definitions are incompatible with your (unstated) defintion of “materialism”. This is not an argument, it is a tantrum. You simply decide that the way you understand the meaning of these words is the only accceptable conceptualization, and nobody else is allowed to understand them in other ways.

    No “(unstated) definitions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’” are needed here. The point is that materialism has no meaningful “good” and “evil”.

    This is like saying “He asked me to say what I meant by ‘the car’, using his own (unstated) definition of ‘the’.”

    Philosophers have discussed moral theories that are both “materialist” and “objectivist” for centuries, and there is no problem characterizing the meaning of these terms in ways that permit debate over the relative merits and justifications of those moral systems. The fact that you don’t like the way these words are defined in these other theories does not mean that your moral theory is superior, or that has any merit at all; it simply means that you are unwilling to even discuss the topic.

    What happens to the philosophers when they run ashore on the Andaman Islands and debate the relative merits and justifications of being eaten by cannibals? Maybe they wouldn’t like the way words were defined in the cannibals’ language, but that would not mean that their own moral theories were superior, or that they had any merit at all; it would simply mean that [oops! Looks like we lost another set of philosophers!].

    As many times as you’ve been corrected on your cartoonish characterization of subjectivism, you can’t help yourself. If I characterized theism as a belief in a “big white-haired man living in the clouds” you would rightly object that I wasn’t capturing what sophisticated theists actually believe. Yet you blithely use these silly phrases to try and make subjectivism seem stupid. It is your parody of subjectivism that is stupid, not the philosophy itself. Our moral sense bears no relation to whim or preference, and a moment of honest introspection should reveal to you that you are no more capable of altering your moral sense than you are able to alter the color you perceive when you see the sky.

    In my view, however, this is not of central importance in a discussion of subjectivism; rather, the central point is that there is no such thing as an objective morality, a point that you are loathe and unwilling to engage.

    Let’s hear the characterization of subjectivism that’s not cartoonish. Or, let’s just acknowledge that if it sounds silly, that’s because it is. Whether “preference” or anything else is said to be behind our idea of morality has brilliantly little (i.e. nothing) to do with the point of the argument. Materialism has no logical basis for any actual “right” or “wrong”, and if we have to come up with a “cartoonish” concept (e.g. subjectivism) to explain how one person can say that the sky is purple with lime green stripes and another can say that it’s checkered red and black, and they can Both Be Right!, that will only highlight the deep nature of the problem.

    That we are “no more capable of altering [our] moral sense than [we] are able to alter the color [we] perceive when [we] see the sky” means nothing to this argument. Materialists or not, we could even agree on that and yet be no closer than before to any refutation of the OP’s argument.

    I have no idea why you think “electro-chemical processes in the brain” have anything to do with this topic, and obviously neither do you. If our brains worked according to some other processes, would that somehow give meaning to the words “good” and “evil” that aligned with your conceptions of these words?

    According to materialistic premises, how do they not have everything to do with this topic? Where else are we (says materialism) getting our Sense of Morality? This is a “screamingly” obvious evasion of the question: if we can get all hung up on the precise process by which our brains work, then maybe we can forget that we don’t owe obedience to any given feeling or belief or moral value or anything else with which our brains present us—because of course there’s nothing beyond our brains to inform any of that!

  81. 81
    Box says:

    RDFish: Philosophers have discussed moral theories that are both “materialist” and “objectivist” for centuries, and there is no problem characterizing the meaning of these terms in ways that permit debate over the relative merits and justifications of those moral systems.

    Here’s a more credible account of what took place – since it contains an admission against self interest by an atheist philosopher.

    Scientism can’t avoid nihilism. We need to make the best of it. For our own self-respect, we need to show that nihilism doesn’t have the three problems just mentioned—no grounds to condemn Hitler, lots of reasons for other people to distrust us, and even reasons why no one should trust anyone else. We need to be convinced that these unacceptable outcomes are not ones that atheism and scientism are committed to. Such outcomes would be more than merely a public relations nightmare for scientism. They might prevent us from swallowing nihilism ourselves, and that would start unraveling scientism.
    To avoid these outcomes, people have been searching for scientifically respectable justification of morality for least a century and a half. The trouble is that over the same 150 years or so, the reasons for nihilism have continued to mount. Both the failure to find an ethics that everyone can agree on and the scientific explanation of the origin and persistence of moral norms have made nihilism more and more plausible while remaining just as unappetizing.

    [A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide To Reality, Ch.5]

  82. 82
    WALTO says:

    Reciprocating Bill was right. Sure, the conclusions of one argument can be premises in another. But you have challenged people to show either that your argument is invalid (Incidentally, unsoundness includes invalidity–to be sound an argument must have true premises AND be valid–so your post is incorrect about that as well) or has a false premise.

    The point is, if you want people either to show that your argument is invalid or that one of the premises is false, you should tell us what the argument actually is. You don’t do that. You SAY that there is some argument based on materialism that produces (ineluctably!) the conclusion that there is no good or evil. But you don’t give any such argument. Then you tell us that it being the case that materialism leads to the view that there is no good or evil is a premise–to some argument or other, presumably–which you also do not give. Then you challenge readers to either find a fault with your premises or your inference. But….what is the argument, exactly?

    As I’ve already said the OP is a mess. But your response to RB certainly doesn’t help.

  83. 83
    StephenB says:

    bfast

    Wow! You didn’t get that from me! In my opinion society was wrong the second time on the abortion question.

    Of course, which means that society gets it wrong on a regular basis. Naturally, that wipes out your entire thesis that society should be trusted to provide a moral standard. Where then do we get morality?

    How do you know when society gets it right and when society gets it wrong? What standard do you use to decide if it is making progress?

    I am determined not to be so disenfranchised. I therefore find ways to speak on moral topics without attaching the God equation out front.

    You don’t have to talk about God to point out that the objective natural moral law is accessible to everyone. You simply have to argue that the human conscience can apprehend the difference between right and wrong, as it most surely can. Tyrants don’t promote bad public policy out of ignorance. They know what is right and choose not to do it for selfish reasons. It is our job to hold them accountable.

    On the abortion question — the issue that society faces is that we have decided that a certain portion of our society has the arbitrary right to kill another portion of our society. That is fine enough, I guess, when the killer is the parent of the killed (the most heinous killer relationship I can imagine.) But what other “I have the arbitrary right to decide if you live or die” relationships are we going to come up with. We are already clearly talking about killing off the oldsters. When will we decide that a person’s medical needs are too great, so we must kill them off. When are we going to decide that a person should not have asked for a handout — oops, dead.

    So what is your argument against these immoral developments? Or, do you even recognize that they are immoral? Or, are you waiting for “society” to come with the answer? Remember, it is society (untutored by the natural moral law) that brought us to this point. What is your standard for saying to society, “You are going the right direction for slavery, but the wrong direction on life and death issues.”

    Incidentally, the reason our society is beginning to kill helpless and unproductive old people is because we let them get away will killing helpless and unproductive young people. Don’t you get the connection?

  84. 84
    Barry Arrington says:

    Walto and RB say they can’t follow the argument in the OP and have no idea what the issues at stake are. I don’t know what is more pitiful, that they can’t grasp something that is so obvious or that they would admit that on the Internet.

  85. 85
    WALTO says:

    What is pitiful is responding to legitimate questions with insults, but I guess, you know, people do what they can.

    UDEditors: We were not responding to your question with an insult. We were giving you the benefit of the doubt. Everyone understands what is at stake in this debate. You say you do not. Either that is is true, in which case you are just kind of dense; or it is false, in which case you are a liar. Charity demanded that we assume the former.

  86. 86
    StephenB says:

    RDFish to Barry

    Here, you cleave to your own (unstated) definitions of “good” and “evil”,and then declare that these definitions are incompatible with your (unstated) defintion of “materialism”. This is not an argument, it is a tantrum. You simply decide that the way you understand the meaning of these words is the only accceptable conceptualization, and nobody else is allowed to understand them in other ways.

    The problem is not that nobody else is allowed to understand good and evil in other ways. The problem is that no one will step up and tell us what those other ways are. You are the biggest offender of them all. Indeed, I have asked you five times to provide your own definition of “moral,” “good,” and “evil.” Each time you slink away. If good and evil could mean something different from Barry’s “unstated” definition, why don’t you take the lead and illuminate the subject for us.

    So far, you have provided us with nothing of substance. You just throw words around for rhetorical effect without defining key terms. Barry is right. You have failed miserably to critique his argument or provide one of your own. We don’t need another lecture on the difference between metaphysics, epistemology, or morality. We only wish that you knew the difference. Your task is to explain what you mean. How many times must we make the challenge? How many times are you going to avoid it?

    It is time that you summoned up the intellectual courage to put something out there that we can evaluate? Tell us how you get from [a] electro-chemical processes in the brain to [b] the existence of good and evil–and define your terms–if you dare. Show us some sign of intellectual exertion.

  87. 87
    Mung says:

    I’m confused. I thought RDFish is the epitome of rational discourse.

    RDFish

    Hi Barry,

    It is of course screamingly funny for you to lecture me on rational discourse.

    I guess I had it wrong!

  88. 88
    WALTO says:

    Sorry, but both “dense” and “liar” are obvious insults.

    Look, it’s your site, and if you want to play by tossing crap around, fine. And if you think doing that is a cool way of making a point, I can’t do anything about that except point out that it’s just a fallacy. Because if RB’s point was correct, it can’t be made false by calling someone dense or a liar.

    If his point was not not correct, you either can’t or don’t want to say why that is. Perhaps it’s too much trouble. Again, that’s your right: it’s your bat and ball. But it would be better to simply say that than call two people names.

    Anyhow, I see that you prefer an infantile site to a civil one. Got it.

  89. 89
    Barry Arrington says:

    Walto, in all seriousness I prefer a site where people come on and post in good faith and don’t pretend they can’t follow the argument. You don’t want to post comments in good faith; nothing I can do about that. Got it.

  90. 90
    goodusername says:

    Eugen #168,

    Materialists secretly borrow ideas on morality from religions. There should be setup like this for materialist proponents:

    1. You have only atoms and their energy interactions to start
    2. Build a case for your morality from that

    As I’m pretty sure we can both agree that we are sentient, empathetic, feeling beings, I think it should be ok to start there.

    We don’t want to be murdered, robbed, raped, lied to, etc – we also find murder, stealing, rape, lying, etc as immoral. Notice a pattern?
    There are certain ways we don’t want to be treated, and, because we have empathy, it similarly pains us to see others treated it certain ways as well. There’s more to morality than just that, but I’d say that’s a good start.

    So there’s no borrowing from religion. IMO with a group of social, empathetic beings with certain shared desires, a system of morality will always develop.

    Box #175,

    And behold the kindness on our part! Although our opponents insist that only particles in motion exist we don’t ask of them to ground consciousness, free will, reason and responsibility-BECAUSE we know that they cannot. We kindly allow them to use these concepts because we know that if we don’t discussion is impossible-since our opponents would not be able to utter a single word.

    I would ask you to ground consciousness, etc, except I know that you cannot as well. Except perhaps to say that God did it – but if you think that that’s a “grounding” than we have a very different idea of what grounding entails.
    Also, one doesn’t need to know how something originated in order to recognize its existence. It’s perfectly reasonable for me to recognize the existence of rock in my backyard even if I don’t know how it got there.

  91. 91
    Cross says:

    goodusername @ 90

    “We don’t want to be murdered, robbed, raped, lied to, etc – we also find murder, stealing, rape, lying, etc as immoral. Notice a pattern? … So there’s no borrowing from religion.”

    Really?

    “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” matthew 7:12

    Cheers

  92. 92
    goodusername says:

    Cross,

    Really?

    Yes, really.
    What part of my statement do you disagree with?

    Do you want to be robbed or murdered? Would it not pain you to see someone else being robbed or murdered? Is the only reason it would bother you to see someone being robbed or murdered because of something you read in a book?

    Given (hopefully) that the answers to those three questions are all “no”, than you would already be living by the Golden Rule. And if the Golden Rule “sums up the Law of the Prophets” than, indeed, no borrowing from religion for morality is needed.

  93. 93
    Seversky says:

    @

    Materialist premises lead ineluctably to the following conclusions. There is no such thing as “good.” There is no such thing as “evil.” There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences, and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

    My challenge to materialists was to show how any of the conclusions I’ve reached based on materialist premises are not in fact compelled by those premises.

    I agree. There are no such things as ‘good’ or ‘evil’. There is nothing like The Force in >Star Wars with a Light and a Dark Side. There is no Satan or demons or any of the other supernatural horrors that human beings have been scaring each other with since we first began telling stories. Not that we need them. Human beings are quite capable of behaving appallingly on their own. That doesn’t mean I can’t describe acts – mostly done by humans – as being good or evil, meaning I approve or disapprove of them. The words can be used as both nouns and adjectives.

    As for personal preferences being “reduced” to to electro-chemical impulses in the brain, yes, they can. So what? The powerful calculations carried out by a computer can be “reduced” to electrons being shunted around inside a plastic box full of parts made of silicon, copper, gold etc. Does that make the computations worthless?

    The point of the OP is to get reductive materialists to admit that they don’t get to use words like “morally wrong,” “evil,” “bad,” “immoral,” or “wicked,” in any sense other than “that which I personally do not prefer, which personal preference can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of my brain.” Until the reductive materialist understands this, he has not understood the first thing and nothing he says will make the least bit of sense.

    From what I can make out, we subjectivists are not using the words in any other sense when it comes right down to it.

    The thing is, Rosenberg notwithstanding, subjectivism does not entail nihilism and materialism is not the same as determinism.

    The third way between objective morality and subjective morality is what I called collective morality and others have called “inter-subjective agreement”. If we can all have a subjective opinion about a particular moral issue what is to stop us from having the same opinion? Since we all have pretty much the same basic needs and interests then it shouldn’t be too hard to agree on rules of behavior that are intended to protect them. Granted that doesn’t give you the certainty of an objective standard but it’s a lot better than the alternative.

    As a materialist, I don’t have any answer to the hard problem of consciousness. I don’t know how the world of ideas is created by the electrochemical activity in the brain. I could call it an emergent property or an epiphenomenon but those are really placeholders for an explanation we don’t have yet so it’s simpler to say that I don’t know.

    What I do know, and so does everybody else if they’re honest, is that we don’t have any instances of a conscious mind existing apart from some sort of physical matrix or substrate like the brain. We also know that if the brain suffers damage through injury or disease, depending on the areas affected, there can be observable changes in the behavior and capacities and abilities of that mind. We also know that if the brain dies or is destroyed the conscious mind associated with that brain disappears, never to return. Whatever we might wish it to be, at the level we normally experience it, this is very much a material world and treating it as such has proven very fruitful for science

  94. 94
    Cross says:

    goodusername @ 92

    That “Golden Rule” is written into you (the image of God) and you think you invented it all by yourself.

    You are borrowing from “religion” and as the Op suggests using terms like “moral” without anything to ground it in.

    Fortunately, most materialists act as if this standard is built in even though they continue to deny it and especially where it comes from.

    Cheers

  95. 95
    ebenezer says:

    goodusername @ 90:

    There are certain ways we don’t want to be treated, and, because we have empathy, it similarly pains us to see others treated it certain ways as well. There’s more to morality than just that, but I’d say that’s a good start.

    This doesn’t define “right” or “wrong”. It defines “nice”, in the “goodnatured” or “kind” sense of the word. Certainly it’s not nice to hit or kick or kill someone. Why is it wrong?

    So there’s no borrowing from religion. IMO with a group of social, empathetic beings with certain shared desires, a system of morality will always develop.

    There’s borrowing from religion at the point where a materialist wants a fixed standard. If “right” is to mean the same thing for you and me and humans worldwide, materialism has to borrow from religion. (The “Golden Rule” happens to be a popular bit for borrowing purposes.) A religion says “These are the rules, because God set them.” Materialism, when it wants to define any meaningful morality, can only say “Come on, guys! These are the rules! Don’t bother why—they just are!

    Also, one doesn’t need to know how something originated in order to recognize its existence. It’s perfectly reasonable for me to recognize the existence of rock in my backyard even if I don’t know how it got there.

    Absolutely. Now, if you want to formulate moral standards based on the rock, then yes, you’ll need to know how it got there. More specifically you’ll need to know on what basis it claims authority over your life or over the lives of others. Mindless and goalless undirected natural processes do not possess any such authority.

    The difference is not that the non-materialist recognizes a Sense of Morality (or “conscience”, even, as it’s been called here) and the materialist doesn’t. The difference is that where a non-materialist can say “I was given a conscience by God,” the materialist must say “I was given a conscience—not quite sure where that came from, but we’ll figure it out. And it really doesn’t matter, anyway, so long as we acknowledge that it’s there, all right.”

  96. 96
    Seversky says:

    Cross @ 91

    goodusername @ 910

    “We don’t want to be murdered, robbed, raped, lied to, etc – we also find murder, stealing, rape, lying, etc as immoral. Notice a pattern? … So there’s no borrowing from religion.”

    Really?

    “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” matthew 7:12

    Cheers

    Really. From the Wikipedia entry on the Golden Rule:

    Rushworth Kidder notes that the Golden Rule can be found in the early contributions of Confucianism. Kidder notes that this concept’s framework appears prominently in many religions, including “Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and the rest of the world’s major religions”.[7] According to Greg M. Epstein, “?’do unto others’ … is a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely.”[8] Simon Blackburn also states that the Golden Rule can be “found in some form in almost every ethical tradition”.[9] All versions and forms of the proverbial Golden Rule have one aspect in common: they all demand that people treat others in a manner in which they themselves would like to be treated.

    It looks like people all over the planet of different faiths and at different times have managed to come up with the Golden Rule with out the benefit of Christianity. In fact, since some of these faiths pre-date Christianity, you have to ask yourself who borrowed from whom?

  97. 97
    ebenezer says:

    goodusername @ 92:

    Do you want to be robbed or murdered? Would it not pain you to see someone else being robbed or murdered?

    This leaves it up to the reader’s feelings. Sure, nobody wants to be robbed or murdered. So? That’s not a law that anyone has to not rob or murder anyone else.

    This is still not a refutation of the OP’s argument: it says “there’s certain things that we all don’t like, and if we just don’t do them to anyone else, we can all get along!” Why, given materialist premises, are you bothered to see someone else robbed or murdered? Is it the result of chemistry? How is that a standard, if your very brain is the result of matter and chance given enough time?

    If materialism must have an actual standard of morality more solid than “I feel like this right now”, it seems it needs to replace the Religious fear of God with a Scientific (?) fear of… chemicals.

    Is the only reason it would bother you to see someone being robbed or murdered because of something you read in a book?

    Leave aside the separate issue of whether it “bothers” you. The question, if the OP’s argument is ever to be refuted, is about why it is wrong. If you’re willing to forsake materialism, you can believe a book which tells you about your Creator, and how He says not to murder or rob. Contrariwise, if you are not willing, you can… appeal to feelings—the result of matter being thrown together for long enough in just the right random ways to create a conscious being, which you can only hope will have the right feelings…

    Given (hopefully) that the answers to those three questions are all “no”, than you would already be living by the Golden Rule. And if the Golden Rule “sums up the Law of the Prophets” than, indeed, no borrowing from religion for morality is needed.

    Actually… the “Golden Rule” comes from the Bible. So do the “Law [and] Prophets”. That’s an awful lot to take for granted if you want to deny the Bible and its Author any authority.

  98. 98
    Cross says:

    Seversky @ 96

    “It looks like people all over the planet of different faiths and at different times have managed to come up with the Golden Rule with out the benefit of Christianity. In fact, since some of these faiths pre-date Christianity, you have to ask yourself who borrowed from whom?”

    Proves my point.

    “That “Golden Rule” is written into you (the image of God) and you think you invented it all by yourself.”

    It’s written into everyone Seversky, believer or not. Materialists try to steal the idea but avoid the consequences of where it comes from and who built it in.

    Cheers

  99. 99
    goodusername says:

    Cross,

    That “Golden Rule” is written into you (the image of God) and you think you invented it all by yourself.

    Not sure where you got the idea that I believed I invented the Golden Rule – if anything, I was arguing that it wasn’t invented at all (let alone invented by me), but rather that is the result of innate qualities that we share.
    So there is a point of agreement there – that the Golden Rule is built in to us.

    You are borrowing from “religion” and as the Op suggests using terms like “moral” without anything to ground it in.

    Shared qualities and desires seems like a good grounding for morality IMO.
    I’m actually unsure what else could ground morality.

    Fortunately, most materialists act as if this standard is built in even though they continue to deny it and especially where it comes from.

    I think the vast majority of materialists in fact do argue that the source of morality is from built in qualities.

  100. 100
    Timaeus says:

    SEVERSKY*** (JUST TO GET YOUR ATTENTION!):

    The last three times I have responded to you on this site, you have ignored my responses. If this is deliberate — if when you see my name above a response to you, you have a policy to ignore whatever I say — please say so outright, so that I will not waste any further time constructing answers to your comments. Thank you.

  101. 101
    Mung says:

    Seversky:

    I agree. There are no such things as ‘good’ or ‘evil’.

    Or good and bad. Or right and wrong. Or true and false.

    So who should care what you agree with or disagree with, and why? (That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is truly obvious.)

  102. 102
    Tim says:

    Here is my take on Barry’s argument:

    Premise #1: Definition: Materialism. (That which “is” in its universality. i.e. “All is material”)
    Premise #2: Definiton: Good and Evil. (That which “should(/not) be”. )
    Premise #3: On materialism, that which “is” cannot explain, produce, entail, create (pick your favorite) that which “should be.”
    Premise #4: (excluded middle) From 1, 2, and 3 Both materialism and good and evil cannot exist.
    Premise #5: (unstated) Many of us have no problem with #1-4, but the materialist does, they (at least some) want BOTH (of the definitions in #1 and #2)

    —–
    Conclusion: If our materialist critics want both, for now (Barry) will stipulate materialism (see Dawkins, Russell, and for that matter, Provine and other logically consistent evo-mats), but that leaves them with the job of undoing the premises.

    Ok, so no materialist (nor Barry, for this argument) can mess with #1. There is a lot of bluster about #2, but everybody knows that “should” lies outside personal (or collective) preferences, so that definition sticks. So #3 is left open. It is the linchpin that the materialist needs to “undo”. Simply put, they need to get from that which is to that which should be.

    Barry (as well as everybody who has read Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason) knows that it can’t be done. Nice job, Barry. Game over.

  103. 103
    Cross says:

    goodusername @ 99

    “Not sure where you got the idea that I believed I invented the Golden Rule – if anything, I was arguing that it wasn’t invented at all (let alone invented by me), but rather that is the result of innate qualities that we share.”

    The inference is that “materialists” think they came up with “the Golden Rule”.

    If by “innate” you mean built in then this is something we agree on.

    Now, I have told you where I think it comes from, you tell me how “the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.” all manage to come up with it? Are you saying there is a “gene” for the golden rule?

    Cheers

  104. 104
    Barry Arrington says:

    Tim @ 102:

    Nice job yourself drawing out some of the unstated (but obvious nevertheless) premises.

  105. 105

    Barry:

    Walto and RB say they can’t follow the argument in the OP.

    Of course, I said no such thing. I asked a question about your confused use of “conclusion” and “premise” in the context of your argument.

    Your argument is, “the premises of materialism lead ineluctably to conclusions X, Y and Z.” You challenge materialists to show otherwise.

    The premises upon which you found your argument are, “materialism compels X,” “materialism compels Y” and “materialism compels Z.” You argue from authorities (Dawkins and Russell).

    Stated succinctly, with premises stated before conclusions:

    – Materialism compels X, Y, and Z.

    – Therefore materialism ineluctably leads to conclusions X, Y and Z.

    Not exactly a high point in the art of syllogism.

    Finally, if you cannot defeat any of the premises, you must show how my argument does not hang together logically. You must show how the premises do not lead to the conclusion.

    Your premises do not lead to your conclusions; rather, your premises ARE your conclusions. So there is no logical argument here at all.

  106. 106
    Barry Arrington says:

    RB @ 105: If pretending you don’t know what is obvious to everyone else (see, e.g., Tim’s comment at 102) makes you feel better, that’s OK. But don’t expect to be taken seriously. At this late date after years and years of going over these issues, do you really need for me to point out every last detail of a well known argument? The answer, of course, is obvious. You don’t. You are simply engaging in Darwinian Debating Device #4: Desperate Distractions.

    If you have anything substantive to say, we will be happy to hear it. Otherwise, why don’t you skulk back over to The “Skeptical” Zone and listen to the echos. If you decide to put your big boy pants on, come on back.

    On the other hand, you could perhaps get some pointers from your fellow material Seversky. He grasped the thrust of the OP without the slightest difficulty and at comment 93 admitted the obvious entailments of materialism. Of course, that would require you to be honest and to act in good faith.

  107. 107
    goodusername says:

    cross,

    Now, I have told you where I think it comes from, you tell me how “the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.” all manage to come up with it? Are you saying there is a “gene” for the golden rule?

    I’m not sure if I can explain it better than I did in #92.
    I don’t want to be murdered. And because I have empathy, it’s also painful to me to see others be murdered – i.e., we want others to be treated the way we want to be treated.

  108. 108
    goodusername says:

    ebenezer,

    This doesn’t define “right” or “wrong”. It defines “nice”, in the “goodnatured” or “kind” sense of the word. Certainly it’s not nice to hit or kick or kill someone. Why is it wrong?

    I would say it’s more than merely not nice to kill someone. Most people feel quite strongly about not wanting to be murdered – and would be horrified to see others get murdered, and thus as a society most are willing to give up the right to murder to help prevent murders (i.e., a “social contract”).

    The difference is not that the non-materialist recognizes a Sense of Morality (or “conscience”, even, as it’s been called here) and the materialist doesn’t.

    Materialists deny the existence of the conscience? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that before.

    This leaves it up to the reader’s feelings. Sure, nobody wants to be robbed or murdered. So? That’s not a law that anyone has to not rob or murder anyone else.

    I believe the basis for morality is, essentially, feelings (many seem to think that that marginalizes morality, but I don’t think so. Love, after all, is a feeling.)
    Strong feelings on morality can lead to laws. I feel very strongly about not being murdered and robbed, and many others do as well, and thus, by the process of a social contract, those things are against the law.
    In a world where no one cares if they are killed or not, they probably don’t view murder as wrong, and probably don’t have laws against it.

  109. 109
    Cross says:

    goodusername @ 107

    You are telling me you “feel” murder is wrong. I am saying murder IS wrong because what you call “the Golden Rule” is built into each of us by our creator. I have something to ground what is “moral” or “right” or “good” and what is the opposite.

    As a materialist you need to explain why what you “feel” is wrong is immoral. What grounds your belief other than a vague call to shared “empathy”. Many people in History “felt” it was Ok to murder, why are they wrong?

    Cheers

  110. 110
    goodusername says:

    Cross,

    You are telling me you “feel” murder is wrong. I am saying murder IS wrong because what you call “the Golden Rule” is built into each of us by our creator. I have something to ground what is “moral” or “right” or “good” and what is the opposite.

    As a materialist you need to explain why what you “feel” is wrong is immoral. What grounds your belief other than a vague call to shared “empathy”. Many people in History “felt” it was Ok to murder, why are they wrong?

    In what sense is murder wrong other than it feels wrong? Even if God exists, and feels the same way about murder, and thus designed that feeling into us about murder – it still comes down to feelings.

  111. 111
    Cross says:

    goodusername @ 110

    “In what sense is murder wrong other than it feels wrong? Even if God exists, and feels the same way about murder, and thus designed that feeling into us about murder – it still comes down to feelings.”

    No, it is not down to feelings. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” matthew 7:12

    It’s law, set down by the Creator and lawgiver. If someone would harm my Daughter, I would “feel” like harming them, but I am called to seek justice not revenge. There is a big difference. I am held to a standard, materialists don’t have a set standard, it varies according to current consensus of “feelings” and is enforced by might of majority.

    Cheers

  112. 112
    goodusername says:

    Cross,

    As mentioned, we often formalize morality into law. But morals and laws aren’t the same thing.
    Even the Bible contains many laws that hardly anyone would say are morals, even among those who believe the laws were given by God.
    Most of the laws in the Bible, if someone broke them, would merely earn someone being described as a lawbreaker – but for other laws it would also earn someone being described as immoral. Why the difference? IMO, it’s the feelings that arise in us in seeing certain laws being broken.

  113. 113
    Mark Frank says:

    #65 JDH

    I don’t think any theist has a problem with admitting that a personal preference does not have to be personally serving or about the speaker at all. The point is that as soon as you try to label something moral as anything except competing personal preferences, you are appealing to some objective standard outside of what is available to the materialist.
    I don’t see why this is not clear to you.

    I don’t know what it is that is supposed not to be clear to me!  As a subjectivist I accept that moral beliefs are expressions of certain types of personal preferences (rather deep ones based on reasons).  Luckily they are widely shared so they are often not “competing” preferences.  (I have not been responding to the OP).

    I am more interested in how you evaluate different “objective” moral systems without using a moral system and thus getting into an infinite regress.

  114. 114

    Barry:

    If pretending you don’t know what is obvious to everyone else (see, e.g., Tim’s comment at 102) makes you feel better, that’s OK.

    You invited your readers to identify a logical problem with your post, and the relationship between “premise” and “conclusions.”

    Your guest has arrived. Gracious host? Not so much.

  115. 115
    RDFish says:

    Hi Barry,

    That’s it? That’s your argument? Pathetic.

    Calling an argument “pathetic” does not consitute a counter-argument.

    Some unnamed philosophers for unknown reasons have said you are right and I am wrong?

    Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Thomas Hobbes, Ayn Rand, and so on and so on… all of these people wrote ethics that are objectivist and materialist. If you’d like to know their reasons, I can suggest books for you to read, or you could look them up yourself.

    I am stunned that you believe that assertion somehow refutes my argument.

    I point out that materialist philosophy is not incompatible with the concepts of good and evil, and yes, this refutes your “argument” (I use scare quotes because you don’t actually provide an argument, but rather only questions). The fact that you remain unconvinced by these moral systems, or are unaware of their existence, does not support your assertion that materialism implies subjectivism. It doesn’t.

    You say the moral sense is not based on a preference. OK. What is it based on? That is the question posed by the OP.

    You didn’t exactly ask what our moral sense was based upon. Rather, you’ve asked if materialism entails that:
    1) morals are mere personal preferences
    2) all personal preferences are reducible to electro-chemical processes
    3) there is no such thing as “good” and there is no such thing as “evil.”

    The answer is: None of these statements is unequivocally true. Briefly:

    1) “Mere personal preferences” mischaracterizes subjectivism, just as “big man in the sky” might mischaracterize theism. But as I’ve indicated, I don’t consider this to be an issue of central importance.
    2) This statement is false for two reasons. First, materialism does not entail reductionism. Second, what is “material” is not limited to electro-chemical reactions.
    3) This statement is neither true nor false, but is merely a statement about how one chooses to define these two terms. This is where your fundamental confusion occurs.

    Saying that there is no such thing as “good” under materialism is like someone saying “there is no such thing as a sculpture made out of clay”. When presented with a sculpture made of clay, they say “That is not a sculpture! Sculptures must be carved from stone!”. Materialists present definitions of “good” that are compatible with materialism; the fact that you don’t like those definitions don’t mean they don’t exist.

    Now I’ll respond to the rest of what you’ve said to help you understand my position:

    Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.

    This is a simplified account, but true enough for our purposes.

    It follows that under materialism mental phenomena are result of the material interactions in the brain.

    Yes, that is correct.

    This is ABC philosophy. It surprises me that you, who claim to be an expert on philosophical matters and especially matters dealing with consciousness, need to be educated on this topic.

    I’ve never claimed to be an expert on philosophical matters, and don’t consider myself to be. I just appear to be knowledgable in this context because so many other people here seem to have never studied it at all.

    It should be obvious that I have used the phrase “electro-chemical processes in the brain” as a synonym for the material interactions that give rise to mental phenomena (on materialist terms).

    Here is one place you go wrong. Nobody knows how brains support thought and consciousness. This includes materialists: They do not claim to know how brains work, they only claim that there is nothing besides material interaction going on. Where you are mistaken is to imagine that “electro-chemical processes” are synonymous with “material interaction”.

    Many people believe that there may be other sorts of interactions going on. One well-known example is Sir Roger Penrose, who believes that quantum gravity is implicated. In other words, materialism is not a theory of consciousness or mental function, and if we ever do manage to come up with a scientific theory of consciousness, it may well require physics that we have no conception of today (just as atomic phenomena required new and unimagined physical entities to explain them).

    If you’re tempted to accuse me of “promissory materialism”, understand that I’m doing no such thing. In point of fact, I am not a materialist at all, and my arguments here never rest on the claim that materialism is true. I simply point out the obvious: Nobody has any idea how the brain is associated with consciousness, nor do we understand how the brain supports mental function. But this doesn’t interfere with our ability to do moral philosophy.

    Now, if all phenomena, including mental phenomena such as our perception of what we call “good” and “evil” result, as the materialist says, from material interactions, it follows that material interactions have everything to do with the topic, your glib and uninformed dismissal to the contrary notwithstanding.

    No, you’re still completely wrong. In order to make your point, you must show why the particular interactions that occur inside of brains are relevant to moral theory. What if brains operated according to hydraulic principles instead of electro-chemical ones? How would that affect what is to be considered good or evil? What if brains operated according to quantum phenomena such as quantum gravity? And finally, how would dualism somehow give meaning to “good” and “evil”?

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  116. 116
    Box says:

    Goodusername #90,

    Goodusername: I would ask you to ground consciousness, etc, except I know that you cannot as well.

    Well, I can and you cannot.

    Goodusername: Except perhaps to say that God did it – but if you think that that’s a “grounding” than we have a very different idea of what grounding entails.

    In my book “grounding” is providing a sufficient cause. Few have argued that an All-Powerful-Being is not a sufficient cause for anything. I suppose that one can ask the follow-up question “what grounds this sufficient cause” (in this context: what causes God?). However a poet “grounds” the existence of a poem (is a sufficient cause). The follow-up question “what grounds a poet?” is a distinct question.
    Just show me that ‘electrical impulses in the brain’ are a sufficient cause for morality and I promise that I won’t ask the follow-up question “what grounds the brain?” – at least not in this thread.

    Goodusername: Also, one doesn’t need to know how something originated in order to recognize its existence. It’s perfectly reasonable for me to recognize the existence of rock in my backyard even if I don’t know how it got there.

    I’m not sure I get your point. That rock in your backyard should pose a problem if your worldview doesn’t allow for the existence of rocks. Similarly the existence of ‘consciousness’, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ poses a problem for the materialist, if there is no way to ground them given materialism.

  117. 117
    kairosfocus says:

    Tim, 102: What is needed is a world foundational IS that is simultaneously the proper ground of OUGHT, which means essentially and absolutely good, just etc. Matter, energy, space-time or the like cannot get you there regardless of how you fold, spindle or mutilate. There is but one serious candidate, after centuries: the inherently good creator God, a necessary and maximally great being who is worthy of service by doing the good. Where also, if you instead boil our moral sense as a whole down to being an illusion of being under government of ought, you imply that our minds are in grand delusion, leading straight to undermining credibility of mind as the price for rejecting the objectivity of moral government. But then, evo-mat scientism and the like already do that in any number of ways. Conclusion, it is rational to accept the reality of ought and its grounding in God, then dismiss that which — already incoherent on other grounds — cannot properly ground oughtness. KF

  118. 118
    Box says:

    RDFish #115,

    If Bentham, Kant and so forth indeed ground morality on particles in motion – if they are indeed describing a morality that is based on matter – than provide a broad outline of their method. Hint: they do no such thing.

    RDFish: I point out that materialist philosophy is not incompatible with the concepts of good and evil,

    You have to be a little more specific.

    StephenB #86: Tell us how you get from [a] electro-chemical processes in the brain to [b] the existence of good and evil–and define your terms–if you dare. Show us some sign of intellectual exertion.

    RDFish: “Mere personal preferences” mischaracterizes subjectivism

    No, it does not.

    RDFish: materialism does not entail reductionism.

    Yes, it does.

    RDFish: what is “material” is not limited to electro-chemical reactions.

    Great. What is your point?

    RDFish: Materialists present definitions of “good” that are compatible with materialism.

    Provide some examples already.

    RDFish: Where you are mistaken is to imagine that “electro-chemical processes” are synonymous with “material interaction”.
    Many people believe that there may be other sorts of interactions going on. One well-known example is Sir Roger Penrose, who believes that quantum gravity is implicated.
    What if brains operated according to quantum phenomena such as quantum gravity?

    Utterly irrelevant to the argument presented in the OP. A small adjustment will show you why:

    Materialist premises lead ineluctably to the following conclusions. There is no such thing as “good.” There is no such thing as “evil.” There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences, and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by [quantum] and electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.

    Obviously, the meaning of the statement remains unchanged.

  119. 119
    kairosfocus says:

    Sev et al: That we are capable of recognising and acknowledging that inter alia the golden rule applies as an aspect of being under moral government is by no means the same as grounding being under government of ought. KF

    PS: Here is how John Locke grounded what would become modern liberty and democracy by citing — big clue as to source — “the judicious [Anglican Canon Richard] Hooker [in his 1594+ Ecclesiastical Polity]”:

    . . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [[Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [[Eccl. Polity,preface, Bk I, “ch.” 8, p.80]

    This of course implies grounding in equality, mutual obligation, and intrinsic moral worth that commands respect just by being there.

  120. 120

    Seversky said:

    Since we all have pretty much the same basic needs and interests then it shouldn’t be too hard to agree on rules of behavior that are intended to protect them.

    As if an abstract rule will somehow change how collections of molecules operating under physical law behave? Does seversky think that there is some ghost in the machine that can suspend the normal course of physical events as described by physical law and mechanical probability and impose an abstract rule on the behavior of molecules in motion?

    Stuff just happens in a materialist world; as Yoda would say, “there is no should, padawan, only “is” you have.”. There are no rules other than physical regularities and mechanical probabilities.

    Everything else – everything you say, think, believe, argue, etc., is nothing more than sensation manufactured along with the behavior of the physical body by happenstance interacting molecules. Those manufactured sensations are not in control of the molecules or the electro-chemical processes; they are the illusory product of them. They are a mirage with no substance of their own.

    The concept of morality is a self-deceiving lie under materialism. Why “should” humans work together or get along? Why “should” we not cause harm? Any “reason” a materialist can give is utterly irrelevant to the physical law and mechanical probability that drives everything we do. Under materialism, referring to some “ghost in the machine” operator that can impose top-down “shoulds” where only “is” can exist is the same as referring to a supernatural god.

    There is no “should”, padawan. Only “is” you have. Morality is a materialist delusion. You cannot be a materialist and rationally consider morality anything more than an experiential delusion that cannot possibly engender any top-down control over physical processes operating under physical law and probability. In fact, rationality is itself beyond your reach; logic is also a materialist delusion.

    But then, materialists are not – by and large – self critical; IMO, they do not ask “how can I possibly experience what I experience if materialism is true?”; no, they begin with “materialism must be true”, and so conclude that what they experience must be explicable under materialsm regardess of how much better it would fit under a dualistic perspective.

    Tim @102: well done!!

  121. 121
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Tim @ 102

    Very good. Just extending it a bit.

    Premise #1: Definition: Materialism. (That which “is” in its universality. i.e. “All is material”)
    Premise #2: Definiton: Good and Evil. (That which “should(/not) be”. )
    Premise #3: On materialism, that which “is” cannot explain, produce, entail, create (pick your favorite) that which “should be.”
    Premise #4: (excluded middle) From 1, 2, and 3 Both materialism and good and evil cannot exist.
    Premise #5: (unstated) Many of us have no problem with #1-4, but the materialist does, they (at least some) want BOTH (of the definitions in #1 and #2)

    1. Everything is material. Material is everything.
    2. Materialism is that which is.
    2. Everything is only that which is.
    4. Morality, future goals, moral standards, purposes, what “should be”, targets – are all “that which is not”. They don’t exist yet. They’re in the future. They’re not present in what “is”.
    5. If everything is only “that which is”, then morality, future goals (that which is not) does not exist.

  122. 122
    Barry Arrington says:

    Comments on this thread are closed. Further comments on this topic may be placed on the “I Call on Materialists Everywhere to Stop Equivocating” thread.

Comments are closed.