Intelligent Design

Because, Graham2, You Can’t Not Know. That’s How You Know.

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After all of these years of debating materialists one might think that I am inured to the silly things they say, but the depths of casuistry they will plumb in defense of the indefensible still has the capacity to amaze.  Consider my last post  in which I used the holocaust as an example of obvious evil.

Graham2 pushes back:

How is objective morality communicated to us ? Writing in the sky ? Voices in the head ? Barry seems to think ‘its obvious’

I responded:

Suppose you were the only person in the world who believed the holocaust was evil. Would you be right and everyone else wrong?

Graham2 writes:

Barry: That is more or less my point. You cant tell.

No, Graham2, yes you can tell.  And if you say you can’t tell you are lying, to me, to yourself, and to everyone else reading your comment.  You cannot not know that the holocaust was evil.  It is self-evident.

I will leave you with two other comments from the thread upon which you would do well to reflect:

You cannot argue others out of their denial of the obvious or the necessary. IMO, the only thing that can help them at that point is a change of heart – a free will choice to believe differently.

William J. Murray

One can show that truly foundational premises or principles are such that to deny them is to end in absurdity; they are self evident. Those who choose to cling to absurdity after correction, we can only expose, ring-fence and seek to protect ourselves from. And, we can look at the systems that lead people into such confusion and ring fence them too as utterly destructive.

kairosfocus

76 Replies to “Because, Graham2, You Can’t Not Know. That’s How You Know.

  1. 1
    Jon Garvey says:

    Interesting … presumably one could convince oneself, throwing oneself enthusiastically into Nazi loyalty, that the Holocaust was a necessary evil, then that it was good. You could participate on those grounds, find it easier as you got used to it etc. But the veneer is thin – the nightmares, the diversion of blame, and the suicides show that.

    One class of people might genuinely not see anything evil in it – the psychopath: a useful man for a fanatic to have at hand. But nobody starts as a psychopath, and it’s certainly not the neutral position: they are made, not born, and made only by damaging what was there originally.

    So perhaps if one really, really threw oneself into the materialist worldview, and really, really disciplined oneself to suppress any thought or feeling that didn’t arise from it, you might end up with at least the appearance of moral indifference. It would be, though, a process only of truncation of ones humanity.

  2. 2
    Mark Frank says:

    Barry – why do you find it so hard to distinguish between “obvious” and “objective”? It is obvious that Chaplin’s The Gold Rush is a funny film. It is obvious that the smell of dog [snip] is disgusting.Almost everyone would agree on both these things, they are self-evidently true, but they are subjective.

    What makes something objective is not whether it is self-evident but how you know it is true. Many objective things are far from self-evident and many self-evident things are not objective. Graham2 is absolutely right to ask you how you know the holocaust is evil. (I don’t suppose he is denying it is evil. So he is not lying.)

    You might also look at Pro Hac Vice’s excellent comment on the previous thread.

  3. 3
    Barry Arrington says:

    Mark, you do not seem to understand what the phrase “self evident” means. It does not mean “something about which most reasonable people would agree” as you imply in your comment. It means “that which may be denied only on pain of descent into absurdity.” Because the definitional premises upon which your argument is built are unsound, the conclusions you reach are also unsound.

    In other words, the funniness of The Gold Rush and the degree of unpleasantness of the odor of dog excrement are not in the same epistemic category as the evil of the holocaust. What’s more, you know this. You know that if anyone denies that The Gold Rush was funny, they may have poor taste, but they have not descended into epistemic absurdity, and you know that if anyone denies that the holocaust was evil they have descended into epistemic absurdity. That the holocaust was evil is not a matter of taste or opinion. It is a matter of objective fact.

    Consider it this way: If everyone in the world suddenly told you that the holocaust was not evil, you would still be justified in believing that it was (and you would be right). If everyone in the world told you that The Gold Rush was boring and not even remotely funny, you might still think it is funny, but you would have good reason to believe your views are based on nothing more than your idiosyncratic tastes.

  4. 4

    If a materialist/atheist believes that morality is subjective, and at best is simply a set of behavioral rules agreed upon by society/culture, then by what right or principle would a moral subjectivist disagree with a cultural moral norms that are religion-based? By what principle can a moral subjectivist work to change moral standards? He/she cannot hold that any particular moral is objectively wrong; all they can be doing is utilizing rhetoric and emotional pleading to get other people to agree with their own personal moral preferences.

    Which boils down to (in some fashion) might (and manipulation)-makes-right.f IOW, if the relativist worldview is correct, the morally outraged relativist has nothing of any more substance to base his or her arguments on than whomever they are arguing against. One wonders, then, why should they be outraged in the first place about religious moral values?

    If there is no assumed objective standard, there is nothing of substance to argue from. There is only personal preference.

  5. 5
    Amplitudo says:

    Before I can take your argument seriously you must define evil.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: back to basics. “Self-evident.”

    Truths that are self evident have two characteristics: (i) if you understand them you see they are not only true but must be so, (ii) they are also such that we can see that on attempted denial, we are in immediate absurdity. (That’s why 3 + 2 = 5 is self-evident but the equally true 1973 +9142 = 11,115 is not.)

    In the case of the holocaust, we presumably understand that murder is wrong, and mass murder is worse, if we are normally functioning, and recognise that we are morally governed. Our reaction to photographs of the shoah in action and its consequences is visceral, and predictable.

    Especially if we focus it down to a specific case like the 14 year old Anne Frank of Holland, who wrote a now world famous Diary. No-one can justify what was done to her.

    No-one.

    So, what is going on?

    The ever so clever game of insinuating evolutionary materialistic amorality into the situation mutliplied by a sneeringly dismissive selective hyperskepticism. Moral perceptions and felt responses are subjective, so morality is reduced to subjective impulses and this is backed up by the dubious materialist account of origin and nature of mind and conscience etc. So there – at least where YOUR rights are concerned and conflict with what I want or demand or have power to extract from the system.

    Fail.

    ALL of our knowledge that impinges on the external world is in part subjective and passes over senses and uses reasoning processes that are prone to error.

    So, if we inject the possibility of error or disagreement as proof that all is subjective and fuzzy mush: so in the end might and manipulation make ‘right,’ we end in chaos.

    Nihilism, in one word.

    (Though, denial of the physical reality of what happens when one jumps off a high enough roof is a little harder to sustain, the consequences being rather immediate. [It usually takes a fair amount of time for the crash after a civilisation goes off the moral cliff, as ours seems determined to do just now. It took some years for the people of Germany to realise what they had voted into power in 1933, for instance. But it should have been quite plain that something was very wrong right from the outset. However, there is such a thing as the stubborn self-willed march of folly.])

    For those who need a few lessons in morality that start from basics, let us clip what Locke cited in his second essay on civil Gov’t, from Hooker:

    . . . 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, cf. here. Emphasis added.]

    Those who are unwilling to accept that others are as they are, and so have the same legitimate rights that we do, will find any absurd excuse to justify their behaviour. And will make up clever arguments to cloud the issues.

    But the fatal inconsistency and double standard will reveal their absurdity every time.

    KF

  7. 7
    Barry Arrington says:

    Amplitudo @ 5:
    You write as if you believe it is a matter of some consequence to me that you take my arguments seriously. Let me undeceive you. It is not. My arguments stand or fall based on their intrinsic merit, and it is hard for me to exaggerate the supreme indifference with which I view the matter of whether you, personally, take them seriously or not.

    This is especially the case given that from the tenor of your comment (and the countless ones like it that I have received in the past), your purpose is not to understand but to plumb ever greater depths of materialist casuistry. Pass.

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    A; A colleague of mine used to call this particular rhetorical disease, definitionistis. FYI, a precising or genus-difference definition are after the fact of identifying that something is real and sufficiently significant in light of recognisable cases to make the attempt. And, any number of absolutely vital things cannot be succinctly defined to general consensus, starting with things like life. If you will, we are fgiving ostensive definition by key cases in point that illustrate the meaning of the term, with the implication, this is the yardstick at the extreme end of the spectrum, look for things that are materially like that on a family resemblance basis. That is good enough for government work. And if you are also going the further step of the error of the verification principle that implies that he only meaningful things are either analytically true or are explicitly subject to in effect operational definition and/or test, the very principle fails its own test and has been known to do that for was it fifty years or more now. Your refusal to deal with a yardstick in a context of supreme importance that we all have to deal with for good or ill, therefore tells us much, and none of it to your credit. Please, think again. KF

  9. 9
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Barry, I think it is proper to say that, on the face of it, the Holocaust was “obviously evil.” In other word, barring any mitigating information, it was “obviously evil.” It is proper to feel repugnance.

    Now, let’s play hypothetical here for a minute and let’s say God revealed to you with metaphysical certitude that all of the humans who were killed in the Holocaust were incarnated demons, who themselves were guilty of horrible atrocities against other entities in a past existence, and that God was justly punishing them for that by having them incarnate as humans and suffer atrocities themselves. Would you still feel the same way about the Holocaust? Would it still be “obviously evil?”

    (For the record, I do not think the Holocaust victims were incarnated demons. Only using this to illustrate the point that our feelings may not reflect reality when there is unknown mitigating information.)

  10. 10
    Barry Arrington says:

    CS@9: Pass

  11. 11
    Amplitudo says:

    Any community college professor of logic is going to require you to define your terms. You are blatantly “begging the question” and then proclaiming that anyone that does not agree is illogical.

    If you cannot, or will not, define evil; I must conclude that your argument has no foundation beyond your own desire for self evident morality and penchant for pontification.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    CS: Pardon, but there is no reason to believe that European Jews, circa 1942 were materially different from the rest of the population. They were singled out for the crime of belonging to a race, in a context where race hate had been made into policy, and sufficient numbers had been rendered sociopathic to make the holocaust possible. The same exrended to Russians and the like — 20 million of Russia’s war dead were civilians. Discounting 3 million Polish Jews as already counted in the holocaust, the other two million dead Poles were in many cases murdered for racial reasons. To be specific, Anne Frank showed every sign of being a lovely, talented 14 year old girl who one day may have become a writer. And the issue is not so much obviousness as truths that once we understand what is going on are seen as true as necessarily so on pain of absurdity on attempted denial. Indeed — with all due respects — your fairly strained scenario provides an example of just how absurd the attempted denial or blunting of a self-evident truth will turn out to be. KF

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    A, FYI, by giving a key case, yardstick example sufficient definition has been given, cf ostensive definition. KF

  14. 14
    Barry Arrington says:

    Amplitudo @ 11. I am also supremely indifferent as to what your hypothetical average community college professor might think about my arguments. I am not going to rise to your bait, which would accomplish nothing other than enabling your tedious casuistry. Also, see KF’s response to you at 8. If you have an argument to make, make it. Otherwise, go away.

  15. 15
    Barry Arrington says:

    Amplitudo, I will do this. I will ask you a question similar to the ones that I have asked our other interlocutors. Suppose you were in a large room with 10,000 other people and a ballot was issued to all 10,000. The ballot looks like this:

    The holocaust was evil. Yes No.

    Suppose further that you voted “yes,” as I assume you would.

    Finally, suppose that the final tally was 9,999 votes for “no” and 1 vote (obviously yours) for “yes.”

    Would you then think you had reason to believe your view was wrong?

    BTW, there is no place on the ballot to vote “Abstain cuz I just don’t know that that word ‘evil’ means.”

  16. 16
    Amplitudo says:

    What I present is not bait, nor casuistry. Logic takes no prisoners, no matter how strenuously we attempt to insulate ourselves from it by blowing hot air.

    But I leave you to it, I have to get back to work.

  17. 17

    Mr. Arrington, thanks for “casuistry”!

    Amplitudo,

    Is the merriam-webster definition of “evil” not good enough for you?

    morally reprehensible

    Evil already has a definition that is in all the dictionaries. What makes you think that Mr. Arrington is using some idiosyncratic definition?

    The salient question isn’t “what is the definition of evil”, but rather “is morality (which the term “evil” refers to) based upon an objective commodity?”

    Either morality is rooted in an objective commodity, and thus the holocaust is objectively evil, or morality is subjective, and thus the holocaust is only “evil” to those that believe it to be evil, and is “good” to those that believe it to be a good thing.

    Which camp do you stand in?

  18. 18
    Amplitudo says:

    Barry @ 15:

    You assume I would vote without asking for a definition of evil, I would not. But assuming I did and it played out with my only vote being the “yes.” Intellectual honesty and critical analysis would demand that I then ask for a definition of evil such that I understood why everyone else thought the holocaust was not evil. If I ever approach the world from the perspective that truth is subjective and I should stick to my guns no matter what, I immediately cripple myself from ever really grasping truth in any form.

  19. 19

    When they ask you for definitions of even the most basic terms, you can bet they are looking for a semantic diversion.

  20. 20
    Amplitudo says:

    William @ 19, If I do not understand the words and terms you use, how can I ever understand the message you are attempting to convey?

  21. 21
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Apparently there are those here (including Barry) that don’t think unknown facts can mitigate an “obvious evil.” I find that interesting, to say the least.

  22. 22
    Amplitudo says:

    William @ 17, The definition becomes circular when we quote the dictionary, because the next question is to define morality. The end result is that, short of appealing to a higher authority, we can’t define morality, good, or evil.

    An argument that morality is “self-evident” is subjective, which is what I am ultimately attempting to convey.

    Morality can only be objective if its source is God, which I most adamantly proclaim it is.

  23. 23
    Barry Arrington says:

    Amplitudo @ 18 writes: “You assume I would vote without asking for a definition of evil, I would not.”

    And that, dear readers, is just the sort of absurdity one descends into when one attempts to deny the self-evident. I am not going to argue with Amplitudo, because Amplitudo does not need an argument. Again, one cannot argue for first principles. One can only argue from them. Let me help you Amplitudo. Not only was the holocaust evil, but also you know it was evil even if you continue to deny that you know what that word means.

    Amplitudo’s casuistry is of the “I just dunno what words mean” variety, which, as KF points out in comment 8, is common enough. Arguing with such people is pointless, because, inevitably, your argument will be expressed in language, which they will pretend not to understand.

  24. 24
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    KF: Pardon, but there is no reason to believe that European Jews, circa 1942 were materially different from the rest of the population.

    I agree.

    your fairly strained scenario provides an example of just how absurd the attempted denial or blunting of a self-evident truth will turn out to be.

    Strained? How so? Pretty simple actually.

    As for absurd, whatever. It’s merely a (rather easy to grasp) hypothetical example that unknown mitigating factors can overthrow an prior assessment of “evil.”

  25. 25
    kairosfocus says:

    A: “intellectual honesty” — as you used above — is specifically freighted with an understanding of morality and of good/evil. You have answered your own question, recognising that you are bound by OUGHT. Now all you need is to look at worldview foundations to see if you can adequately ground that in a core IS of your worldview. Then, if not — and a worldview tracing to matter and energy in space and time and nothing more patently cannot, you need to look at what views can. KF

  26. 26
    Jon Garvey says:

    CS@9

    The Holocaust is evil in being perpetrated by humans out of malice. A meteorite strike that killed the same number would not be evil, but tragic.

    Now if (as per your hypothesis) the victims were being justly punished for prior demonic activity, it would not alter one jot the evil of the human perpetrators, who were willing agents and totally unaware of such guilt.

    A terrorist is no less culpable if his bomb happens to take out an extortionist.

  27. 27
    Barry Arrington says:

    CS: “unknown mitigating factors can overthrow a prior assessment of ‘evil.’”

    Obviously true.

    Here’s another obviously true point: “sophistry is a distraction.”

  28. 28
    kairosfocus says:

    CS: Nope, you had to construct a strained example that does not fit obvious facts easily seen. if what you meant to say is, we can err in particular cases in our moral judgements, even grossly, that is obvious. But that moral judgements count and count heavily, is not in question, nor is that the holocaust is a supreme, yardstick example of unbridled evil let loose in our world within living memory. KF

  29. 29
    Amplitudo says:

    Barry @ 24, Barry, I have a definition for evil. My definition for evil is any action, performed by the volition of will, that dishonors or displeases God.

    If I start with this first principle, I don’t need self-evident morality.

    In fact, self-evident morality presents all sorts of problems. Is it self evident that abortion is evil? Is it self-evident that adultery is immoral? I could go on, but perhaps you see my difficulty.

    A self-evident morality does no one any good.

  30. 30

    1. Is it evil for any human at any time in any society regardless of their beliefs or culture to torture a child for personal pleasure?

    2. Is every human of sound mind morally obligated to stop such a thing from occurring if they can?

    If you answered yes to those questions, then rationally speaking you must necessarily believe that morality refers to an objective purpose for human beings that is transcendent to culture, society and individual or group beliefs.

    If you answered no to those questions, then you are necessarily a moral relativist and the only rational reason to use the term “morality”, “good” and “evil” is as rhetoric to emotionally manipulate people.

  31. 31
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    KF: Nope, you had to construct a strained example that does not fit obvious facts easily seen.

    But that’s precisely my point: The Holocaust is “obviously” evil because there is no mitigating (strained or otherwise) evidence to the contrary.

    However, if some came up, it might change your assessment.

  32. 32

    From Merriam Webster: (from root “moral”)

    concerning or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior

    Evil would be the “wrong” side of that coin.

    These definitions are simple. The salient question is whether or not one believes that morality refers to an objective or a subjective commodity. The former leads to a sound moral system that justifies the ideas of moral obligation and necessary consequences; the latter turns “morality” into nothing more than rhetorical manipulation and emotional pleading towards personal preference.

  33. 33
    Amplitudo says:

    William @ 32, But if you fall short of identifying the framework that supplies the objective criteria for morality, you have not made it any less subjective.

  34. 34
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Barry: “CS: unknown mitigating factors can overthrow a prior assessment of ‘evil.’” Obviously true.

    Thank you. Honestly, up until now you have given no indication that you agreed with that “obviously true” statement.

    Here’s another obviously true point: “sophistry is a distraction.”

    Well, Barry, if you think what I’ve written is mere sophistry, what can I say? Either ideas and arguments have real merit or they don’t, and I’ll willing to be corrected.

    And it makes me wonder what’s the point of your OP then, if that is obviously true? Because either people already agree with you or they don’t… because of it’s “obviousness.” What good is this thread?

  35. 35
    kairosfocus says:

    CS: Pardon, but the point is that the facts are undeniably evident. The truth that they describe is a case of evil beyond any mitigation — millions (Jews, Poles, Russians especially) murdered in various ways for simply being in the way of their imagined betters [that is the “obvious fact”] — and denial. That you have to manufacture an account that does not fit the easily obtained and undeniable facts, to try to make evil seem less evil, shows the issue of self evidence in the case of a yardstick example of evil. Namely, the attempted denial immediately descends into absurdity. KF

  36. 36
    Barry Arrington says:

    Amplitudo @ 29:

    The circumlocutions in which you engaged as you worked your way up your point were not helpful.

    “Barry, I have a definition for evil. My definition for evil is any action, performed by the volition of will, that dishonors or displeases God.”

    OK. Your argument with me is based on a simple category error. You have placed “any action, performed by the volition of will, that dishonors or displeases God” in one category (call it category 1) and “acts that are self-evidently evil” in another category (call it category 2). They are not. Category 2 is a sub-category of Category 1.

    Is it self evident that abortion is evil? It is self-evident that murder is evil. Not all abortions are murder (most are).

    Is it self-evident that adultery is immoral? Yes

  37. 37
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: It is not “obviousness” or not, but truth known to those who understand what is described, that can only be denied on pain of patent absurdity that makes something self evident. KF

  38. 38
    Amplitudo says:

    KS @ 35, So if we apply the same yardstick to abortion, which has exponentially more deaths involved than the holocaust, why is it no longer self-evident as evil?

  39. 39
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    William J Murray: The salient question is whether or not one believes that morality refers to an objective or a subjective commodity.

    Even if one believes that mortality refers to an objective commodity, how do you decide what it is?

    I have no absolute answer, and I don’t think anyone does. As for me, the foundation of morality revolves around the issue of conscious suffering. I think consciousness suffering is “evil”, the very definition. I am against it. Always. Even for bad people. Even the the Hitlers and Stalins of the world should not be tortured and made to suffer, but merely executed.

    Isn’t this obviously correct?

    It is to me.

    What say, Barry? Do you agree?

  40. 40

    William @ 32, But if you fall short of identifying the framework that supplies the objective criteria for morality, you have not made it any less subjective.

    I have identified that framework; an objectively existent moral landscape that is perceived by the conscience, in much the same manner that we hold that any of our senses are intermediary perceptive tools capable of successfully mapping (to some degree) an objectively existent landscape. That we can only do so subjectively is the nature of our subjective experience.

    You are conflating what is true of all experience – that it is subjective – with the belief/assumption that what we are experiencing is itself subjective in nature.

    All experience is subjective; conscience no more or less so than any other sensory experience. The question is if we hold what we are experiencing via conscience is itself a subjective phenomena.

  41. 41
    Amplitudo says:

    Barry @ 36, Here is the problem Barry. If the Bible did not tell me that adultery was immoral, I would not be able to conclude that it was. So how are you concluding it is self-evident? As long as you refuse to define “evil” or “morality,” saying that they are self-evident gives me no way to look at any given choice in life and decide how to choose to do good.

  42. 42
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    KF: CS: Pardon, but the point is that the facts are undeniably evident. The truth that they describe is a case of evil beyond any mitigation

    False. You have no idea who the “supernatural” identities are of those people, or even of yourself. There may be all sorts of mitigating information that only God and the angels know regarding the identities of every single human, that you are ignorant of, that if knew, might cause you do change your mind. Apparently you have trouble thinking hypothetically. Fair enough. I’ll keep that in mind when addressing you.

  43. 43
    Amplitudo says:

    William @ 40, Objective subjectivity, right. I’ve been there, it’s not a fun place to be. I need a framework with more meat on it.

  44. 44
    kairosfocus says:

    A; I think you have misdirected, but I will comment. There are some rare cases where an abortion may be the lesser of evils (e.g. a choice between one death or two). Most — by far and away most — do not fit that category. KF

  45. 45
    kairosfocus says:

    CS: I have other things I need to focus on, but draw to your attention again to where the evil specifically lay — millions killed simply because they were int eh way of their imagined betters. Murder, in aggregate by the dozens of millions of times over — I am counting 20 million Russians who did not die on the battlefield, 2 million Poles other than the other 3 millions double counted in the 6 million Jews, and more, horrifically more. KF

  46. 46
    Amplitudo says:

    KS @ 44, You dodged the main thrust of the question. We assume that almost everyone who knows the facts would agree that the holocaust was evil. This may or may not be true, but we make the assumption here.

    Based on experience, I would hope we could agree on the assumption that the opinions on the morality of abortion are sufficiently divergent that we could not say, “It is obvious, based on its self-evident nature, that abortion is evil.” So then, how do we apply the rubric we set in assessing the holocaust as evil to any other situation, say abortion? Or is the yardstick itself subjective, unique to each scenario, and useless in comparison to any other situation?

  47. 47
    StephenB says:

    Amplitudo

    An argument that morality is “self-evident” is subjective, which is what I am ultimately attempting to convey.

    All self-evident truths, including self-evident moral truths, are objective, not subjective. They come from outside the individual and are unchanging, not from the individual person. Subjective “truths” are always changing precisely because they come from the individual.

    Morality can only be objective if its source is God, which I most adamantly proclaim it is.

    An objective truth whose source is God will be self-evident.

    Definitions:

    Evil = A perversion of the will that causes one to turn away from the good.

    Good = That which is appropriate for one’s nature.

  48. 48
    Amplitudo says:

    Stephen @ 47, God commands that His name is not to be taken in vain.

    I’m sorry, but there is no way an argument can be made that not taking God’s name in vain is a self-evident truth independent of the revelation of Scripture.

    We don’t even know God’s name without holy writ.

  49. 49

    Even if one believes that mortality refers to an objective commodity, how do you decide what it is?

    You don’t “decide” what it is any more than you “decide” what you are seeing or hearing. Your conscience is your sensory tool, and reason your means of analysis. You find out what the moral landscape is the same way you find out what the physical landscape is – by perceiving it and using reason to form models based on what you experience.

    As for me, the foundation of morality revolves around the issue of conscious suffering. I think consciousness suffering is “evil”, the very definition.

    I am against it. Always. Even for bad people. Even the the Hitlers and Stalins of the world should not be tortured and made to suffer, but merely executed.

    Isn’t this obviously correct?

    No, I don’t think that suffering is always a bad thing, but I do think that intentionally inflicting unnecessary suffering on others is a always a bad thing. While my child might suffer if I refuse them something they wish, sometimes it is in their own best interest.

    I think that “preventing and/or reducing suffering” is a good general moral guideline, though.

  50. 50
    Amplitudo says:

    William @ 49, You have made morality subjective, if the conscience must perceive it from its environment. In this line of reasoning, the only reason Germany lost WWII and their actions considered evil is because we took our environmentally formed perception of morality and went and imposed it on their differing perception based on their own unique environment.

  51. 51

    I’m sorry, but there is no way an argument can be made that not taking God’s name in vain is a self-evident truth independent of the revelation of Scripture.

    You are apparently still not understanding what the term “self-evident” means. If one must refer to something else (like the Bible) to make a case for a thing being true, then the thing in question is by definition not self-evident. It might be necessarily true given the premise, but it is not self-evidently true.

  52. 52
    Amplitudo says:

    William @ 51, No, I understand exactly what it means.

    My point is, if God is the source of morality (assumption), pick any deity and you are going to find commands that are not self-evident. The command to not take God’s name in vain is an example of one of them.

    So the statement, “An objective truth whose source is God will always be self-evident” is false. Thus, using “self-evident” as a rubric for morality based on God falls apart.

  53. 53

    William @ 49, You have made morality subjective, if the conscience must perceive it from its environment.

    If “morality” is taken as the objectively existent landscape that our conscience perceives, then I have no more made morality non-objective by admitting we subjectively experience it than I have rendered the physical world non-objective by admitting we subjectively experience it.

    I have only admitted that all of my experience is subjective in nature. Do you deny that all of your experience is subjective in nature?

    In this line of reasoning, the only reason Germany lost WWII and their actions considered evil is because we took our environmentally formed perception of morality and went and imposed it on their differing perception based on their own unique environment.

    Uh, no. I have no idea how you got that from what I said. Like sight and sound, our perceptions are designed by god to be fully capable of sound and effective mapping of the landscape. While environmental factors can influence us, we have the free will capacity to override all such environmental influences. We are not bound to them.

  54. 54
    StephenB says:

    Stephen @ 47, God commands that His name is not to be taken in vain.

    And your point is what?

    I’m sorry, but there is no way an argument can be made that not taking God’s name in vain is a self-evident truth independent of the revelation of Scripture.

    If we know who God is, it should be evident that we should not take His name in vain. If we don’t know who God is, then we would not be morally culpable in the same way.

    Both God and objective morality are reasonable. What He reveals explicitly in revelation, which is accessible to faith, he also reveals implicitly in nature and in the human conscience, which is accessible to reason.

  55. 55
    Amplitudo says:

    Stephen @ 54, So let me understand what you are saying; are you arguing that it is self-evident from nature, independent of revelation, that God’s name is not to be taken in vain?

    This seems to me to be what you are saying, I just want to be sure.

  56. 56
    Amplitudo says:

    William @ 53, Free will is a fallacy of logic, a security blanket against existential crisis; but that’s a discussion for another time.

  57. 57

    My point is, if God is the source of morality (assumption), pick any deity and you are going to find commands that are not self-evident. The command to not take God’s name in vain is an example of one of them.

    I agree that all or most such decrees (I’m not familiar with all of them) are not self evident and are certainly not “self-evident” simply because this god or that decrees a thing.

    That is why I do not begin with “god” or any religion or book in my reasoning process about morality. I deduce that a god (as purposeful creator of humanity & the universe) must exist from several good arguments (among other reasons), one of which is the argument from morality.

    There is no sound, rational foundation for any meaningful morality other than one rooted in theism. That’s not a case for any particular religion or god, just theism in general.

    So the statement, “An objective truth whose source is God will always be self-evident” is false. Thus, using “self-evident” as a rubric for morality based on God falls apart.

    I never made that statement, or anything like it. I never said or implied that all objective truths that come from god would be self-evident. I made the much more narrow and conservative claim that some moral truths are self-evident. That doesn’t mean they all are. Some are necessarily true by virtue of sound reasoning from those which are self-evident. Some are conditionally true. Some are generally true. Some moral quandaries are probably too difficult for most people to figure out even using sound reasoning from a self-evidently true statement.

  58. 58

    William @ 53, Free will is a fallacy of logic, a security blanket against existential crisis; but that’s a discussion for another time.

    If we do not have free will, what’s the point of having a debate about anything? Will we not just believe whatever we are caused to believe, whether that belief is true or false?

  59. 59
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    William J Murray:You don’t “decide” what it is any more than you “decide” what you are seeing or hearing. Your conscience is your sensory tool, and reason your means of analysis. You find out what the moral landscape is the same way you find out what the physical landscape is – by perceiving it and using reason to form models based on what you experience.

    Well, “decide”, I think, is a reasonable term to throw on your description there since it’s not an immediate sense as is apprehending the color blue. For example, I used to be absolutely against abortion. But over the years I thought about it and (call it what you will, “decided”, “came to the conclusion”, “perceiving and using reason”) now have the opinion that abortion prior to brain-waves being activated (about 40 days into the pregnancy) is morally acceptable. My original conclusion was “obvious” to me and so is my current one. What is “obvious” can change.

    No, I don’t think that suffering is always a bad thing, but I do think that intentionally inflicting unnecessary suffering on others is a always a bad thing. While my child might suffer if I refuse them something they wish, sometimes it is in their own best interest.

    I would agree with that. I was rather vague. By “suffering” I don’t mean the emotional discomfort that little Johnny might experience when mommy says “no” to this or that toy or candy request. I mean the stuff that causes anguish and terror. I think the only “person” who rightly should wield that sort of suffering on individuals is God or the gods. Humans have no business dishing it out under any conditions except for the quick and painless execution of obviously Very Bad individuals.

  60. 60
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    WJM …Humans have no business dishing it out under any conditions except for the quick and painless execution of obviously Very Bad individuals. <– actually, strike everything after the "except", since it is non-sequitur to what comes before.

  61. 61
    Amplitudo says:

    William @ 57, No, you made no such statement; but Stephen did.

    Anyway, say no more. Your faith is in your own reason and ability rather than God.

  62. 62
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Barry @ OP: You cannot not know that the holocaust was evil. It is self-evident.

    What about sociopaths? They don’t seem to be able the “see” the evil that the rest of us “see.” That is to say, they do no experience feelings of disgust and repugnance and empathy like non-sociopaths do. (Sociopaths make up about 4% of the population. They are not all wanton axe murderers.)

    Given that, shouldn’t you amend your declaration to, “it is self-evident, except for the sociopaths” ?

  63. 63
    Amplitudo says:

    William @ 58, Those who have not been exposed to, or do not grasp, what the Bible teaches about the sovereignty of God in relation to man think there are only two possible extremes; an absolute autonomy of free will that not even God possess, or that God controls everyone like robots and there is no point to anything. But neither of these is accurate, nor what the Bible teaches.

    But, again, this is a discussion for elsewhere. If you truly wish to continue it, I would be delighted. But we need another medium.

  64. 64

    Central Scrutinizer,

    I think deliberately causing anguish and terror is most likely in all cases an immoral act. I agree, a Hitler or a Dahmer should simply be executed. Causing them the same anguish and terror they inflicted on others only makes us more like them.

    For example, I used to be absolutely against abortion. But over the years I thought about it and (call it what you will, “decided”, “came to the conclusion”, “perceiving and using reason”) now have the opinion that abortion prior to brain-waves being activated (about 40 days into the pregnancy) is morally acceptable. My original conclusion was “obvious” to me and so is my current one. What is “obvious” can change.

    I would rather state it this way: we are capable of making mistakes about everything – even about what is obvious. However, “obvious” and “self-evidently true” are overlapping domains; what is obvious is not always self-evidently true, and what is self-evidently true is not always obvious.

    If you and I agree that there are some moral statements that are obviously and self-evidently true, such as “it is always evil to torture children for personal pleasure”, then you and I have committed to a worldview where objectively, obviously, self-evidently true moral statements exist. That, by itself, has necessary logical ramifications that are irreconcilable with non-theistic worldviews, regardless of what any particular religion says about abortion.

  65. 65

    Anyway, say no more. Your faith is in your own reason and ability rather than God.

    No, my faith is in god. Without god, there is no such thing as reason or ability to comprehend anything. I count on them (perception & reason) as the tools by which a basic level of understanding can be achieved. They do not provide me with anything more than that. I can use them to deceive myself as easily as I can use them to understand truth.

  66. 66
    StephenB says:

    Amplitude:

    So let me understand what you are saying; are you arguing that it is self-evident from nature, independent of revelation, that God’s name is not to be taken in vain?

    If we know who God is, then yes, it is obvious we should not take His name in vain. If we don’t know who he is, or that he is, then its a different story.

    Since we cannot know who God is without revelation, our conscience can take us only so far in that regard. We need revelation to fill out the picture.

    Nevertheless, the objective natural moral law, which is accessible to everyone, can, if we follow it to the best of our ability, help us to acquire a disposition such that we will be more receptive to God’s revealed truth when it is presented to us.

  67. 67
    Amplitudo says:

    Stephen @ 66, I don’t believe any such “objective natural moral law” exists; I cannot deduce one logically, nor can it be found in Scripture. If you wish to discuss Romans 2 elsewhere, I’m game.

  68. 68
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    WJM @ 64,

    I agree, and thank you

  69. 69
    StephenB says:

    Amplitude

    Stephen @ 66, I don’t believe any such “objective natural moral law” exists; I cannot deduce one logically, nor can it be found in Scripture. If you wish to discuss Romans 2 elsewhere, I’m game.

    As William J. Murray said, if you think it is something that can or should be deduced, you do not yet grasp the principle. Self evident truths are those things by which and from which we reason. We don’t or can’t reason our way to them.

    All of logic, for example, is based on the self evident truth that a thing cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same way. If that wasn’t the case, you could not deduce anytbing.

    On the other hand, the natural moral law is, indeed, found in Scripture. It is called the Ten Commandments. However, the whole of morality is not found there or in the natural moral law. That is why we have the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes in the New Testament—to complete the picture that was only started with the Natural moral law and the Ten Commandments.

  70. 70
    Mark Frank says:

    Barry

    Mark, you do not seem to understand what the phrase “self evident” means. It does not mean “something about which most reasonable people would agree” as you imply in your comment. It means “that which may be denied only on pain of descent into absurdity.”

    And what absurdity would follow from denying the holocaust was evil?

  71. 71
    Alan Fox says:

    After all of these years of debating materialists one might think that I am inured to the silly things they say…

    I’m a bit puzzled, Barry. Where did these debates take place? Not at the Uncommon Descent website, obviously. Then where have you actually engaged in discussion with a materialist? And where did you find a materialist?

  72. 72
    Amplitudo says:

    Stephen @ 69, High five! You identified one of the truly self-evident truths known to man, the law of non-contradiction. On this we agree completely.

    However, if you are going to contend that the ten commandments are the natural moral law that can be inferred from nature without reading the Bible, well, then we are back to my original statement. The command to not take the name of God in vain cannot be inferred from any “natural law” without knowing of God and knowing of the command.

    For me to be able to identify something as self-evident, I must be able to deduce that it is self evident. I employed the law of non-contradiction long before I ever knew what it was, and then knowing what it was, before I knew it to be self-evident. As someone else in this thread said, not all that is self-evident is obvious, and vise versa.

    I understand the compelling need to formulate an argument for morality independent of revelation so that one can combat materialists, atheists, whatever “ist” that grinds your gears, without resorting to Scripture; but it is truly both futile and impossible. That argument will never convince them because, even if you don’t want to see them, it has holes in it.

    What such people need is Christ anyway, not a well structured argument to convince them morality is objective. While perhaps intellectually stimulating, it will not convict one of sin nor salve the troubled soul.

  73. 73

    For me to be able to identify something as self-evident, I must be able to deduce that it is self evident.

    You still do not understand the nature of the term “self-evident”. If you can deduce that a thing is self-evident, it is by definition not self-evident.

  74. 74
    Amplitudo says:

    William @ 73, And you still do not understand that a thing being self-evident requires my subjective perception to recognize that it is in fact self-evident.

    The problem with using self-evident, is that it must be evident.

    This framework does not equip me to make moral decisions.

  75. 75
    StephenB says:

    Amplitudo:

    What such people need is Christ anyway, not a well structured argument to convince them morality is objective. While perhaps intellectually stimulating, it will not convict one of sin nor salve the troubled soul.

    Well, I certainly agree that everyone, without exception, needs Christ. In the absence of His saving power, and yes, His moral leadership, we are certainly lost. At the same time, God gave us our intelligence for a reasons, and we are obliged to put it to use on all moral matters. especially those on which the Bible is silent.

    The natural moral law is Christian-friendly principle that guides individual behavior on complex moral issues. Granted, it is not equipped to handle every hard problem, but it does provide a standard to which we can apply our reason and resolve most moral issues. Christianity, reason, and the natural moral law are inseparable.

    We should not, for example, murder our neighbor, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot defend ourselves in the face of a mortal threat. Sometimes, it is difficult to discern if a mortal threat is really present, so the person in that situation must, in keeping with that law, exercise prudence and good moral judgment. Without the guidance of objective morality, however, there is no standard by which to apply prudence and good moral judgment.

    While the objective moral law that tells us we have a right to self-defense, it also requires us to exercise due caution and refrain from deadly force unless there are no other options. Without the natural moral law, we are like a ship without a rudder. We simply don’t know what we ought to do or how we can use our reason to figure it out.

    Again, God’s revealed word tells us that we should not kill babies. But it goes deeper than that. The natural moral law, in keeping with God’s word, also tells us that there are times in which a doctor may, on those rare occasions where both the woman and the baby are in mortal danger, perform emergency surgery to save the mother’s life, even if the baby is accidentally killed in the process. As long as the objective was not to kill the baby, it is a moral act. Direct abortion, on the other hand, is always wrong because the intent is always to kill the child.

    Notice, though, that there is a relationship between the natural moral law and reason’s interpretive role. The Bible doesn’t always make these find distinctions. While Christian morality is clearly the standard that we should honor, there is no way to make sense of it apart from reason and the natural moral law.

  76. 76
    StephenB says:

    [find] distinctions should be fine distinctions.

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