Intelligent Design

First Principles Cannot Be Demonstrated

Spread the love

There are some things that you can’t not know.  For example, the holocaust is often used as the very quintessence of evil because you can’t not know that the Nazis’ murder of millions was evil.  The holocaust was objectively evil.  Now of course our materialist interlocutors cannot admit that “good” and “evil” are objective categories, and they frequently twist themselves into knots trying to elude the issue.  But occasionally you will get a perfectly candid materialist.  The commenter who goes by “nightlight” is one such.

In the comment thread to an earliest post nightlife and I argued about whether there is an objective basis for ethical standards.  I argued from the “deontological” perspective that good and evil are real ontological categories.  Nightlife argued the standard materialist line that good and evil are not real categories; that they are subjective manifestations of evolutionary adaptations.

Here is a snapshot of our exchange:

Nightlight:

The only difference between the two types of ethics [i.e., deontological ethics and utilitarian/consequentialist ethics] is who evaluates ‘the greatest good’ utility function . . . In either case, the evaluation ends up working itself out in the built in biological pleasure-pain circuits and in both cases doing good feels good, doing evil feels bad.

 

Barry:

You express your nihilism very candidly. . . I evaluate the holocaust as wrong only because contemplating the murder of millions triggers a pain circuit in my brain? No. The holocaust was wrong in the objective sense of word, and if I were the only person in the world who considered the holocaust to be wrong, I would be right and everyone else in the world would be wrong.

 

Nightlight:

The cases of (war) atrocities, whether those from recent history or ancient ones, are result of different evaluations by the opposing sides in the conflict. Since there is no solution manual of the harmonization problem of the universe to tell you what is the ‘correct’ answer, one has to rely on the heuristics of judging them ‘by their fruits’ i.e. re-evaluating the ‘maximum total good’ after the consequences have worked themselves out.

 

Barry

What is the point of that sentence? The Nazis’ efforts to exterminate the Jews certainly resulted from a “different evaluation” than the forces opposing them. So what? Again, the holocaust was objectively evil. What’s more, [you know] it was objectively evil. And if [you say] otherwise [you are] a liar.

 

Nightlight:

Speaking of incoherence, that would be incoherent, to say nothing of concluding that the ‘maximum good’ evaluation algorithm that just happens to be presently running in the tiny speck of the universe that contains ‘you’ already has The Solution. Lucky you. The gold medal must be on its way.

 

Barry:

I will perhaps take you seriously when you admit that one cannot not know that the holocaust was evil. Until then, you are just another lying poseur with inflated views of his own intellectual prowess. And you are evil. You say the holocaust was the result of nothing but a flawed ‘evaluation’ on the part of the Nazis. One who will not stand up and say unequivocally that unspeakable evil is unspeakable evil is himself evil.

 

Nightlight:

I didn’t say ‘flawed’ but ‘different’ from our present evaluation. They certainly didn’t think their perspective and methods were flawed. Eugenics, ethnic cleansing and deliberate mass slaughters of enemy civilians of any age were fine tools of the day in the ethical programs of the era, to them and to all others. The disagreements were merely about what the ‘purity’ meant, thus who needs to be ‘purified’ away to achieve the utopia.

Barry:

[You] are a seriously evil (perhaps I should use a capital E) person. Anyone who can speak about the ruthless murder of millions with such insouciance doesn’t need an argument; he needs simple correction. Here, let me spell it out for you in words adopted to the meanest understanding: The ruthless murder of millions is evil. Spare us any more of your blitherings to the contrary.

Notice in particular my last comment.  Nightlight does not need an argument; he needs simple correction.  One cannot argue “for” first principles; one argues “from” first principles.  This is true whether we are talking about first principles of mathematics (2+2=4) or thought (a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense) or ethics (the Nazis’ murder of millions was evil).  If nightlight will not admit a first principle it is literally senseless to argue with him.

For example, if he denied that 2+2=4, I could make no argument to try to demonstrate to him the truth of the proposition.  If he denied the law of non-contradiction, I could not demonstrate the truth of the law by appealing to more basic principles.  If he denies that the murder of millions is evil, I cannot appeal to even more fundamental ethical principles to try to convince him.  I cannot argue with him.  I can only correct him (and attempt to shame him into admitting the obvious).

 

Please do not misunderstand me.  When I say that first principles cannot be demonstrated this does not mean that I believe they are possibly wrong or subject to being refuted.  I mean they are the bedrock upon which all arguments are based.  As C.S. Lewis explained in The Abolition of Man:

you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

81 Replies to “First Principles Cannot Be Demonstrated

  1. 1

    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.

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    BA: 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. KF

  3. 3
    Barry Arrington says:

    WJM and KF, agreed.

  4. 4
    jerry says:

    Barry,

    I am going to stick my neck out again but I believe we miss the essence of what these discussions are about. I doubt that there is little of consequence that you and I disagree on. But I will ask again as I have asked before several times, “What does the term evil mean?” If we are going to use it, then we should define it.

    I doubt I would ever (or rarely) countenance the killing of any innocent intentionally but when/why does such an act become evil. And are there levels of evil and if evil can be measured somehow, how does one calculate it in order to say an event is more evil than another.

    And by the way, Nightlight’s responses are probably honest but they reveal that materialism is essentially morally vacuous. We have frequent protestation to the contrary but the reality is different.

  5. 5
    Graham2 says:

    Barry: This is Lane Craigs ‘objective morality’. I agree with you (and presumably most people) that genocide is evil, but could you provide some evidence that it is objectively evil. Note the word evidence. ‘Its obvious’ is not evidence.

  6. 6
    nightlight says:

    You are centering what you call “First Principles” (FP2) on humans which doesn’t make much sense from my perspective, since humans were neither first on the scene in the universe, nor it is likely they will persist as the last. My interest is in the more general, pure “First Principles” (FP1) that go beyond any particular transient entity in which some of their aspects may manifest in attenuated, veiled form, such as FP2.

    As result, we could not usefully communicate as long as you were talking about FP2 (which is an uninteresting subject to me), while I was talking about FP1 (which are not restricted to humans or to any lifeforms at all).

  7. 7

    Jerry, and others,

    I think we get hung up on definitions and avoid the more obvious “degrees” of evil. I don’t believe evil is defined by strict definition, but by degree – (at least from a human perspective) on a scale between the ultimate good and its opposite. This might seem to permit the materialist a justification for a belief in relative morality; but it isn’t that easy.

    I would say that evil is that which opposes the ultimate good to one degree or another. Without knowing what the ultimate good is, we cannot conceive of what evil is. The problem of evil is thus more of a problem for non-theists than for theists.

    Christians and other theists conceive of the ultimate good as exhibited only in God. Therefore, goodness and evil are measured by their proximation or lack thereof to God’s character.

    Since non-theists don’t believe in a source for ultimate goodness, it is easy to see why they accept that morality is only relative and cannot be defined objectively.

    Theists on the other hand, can look at the holocaust and see it as objectively evil because it strays by vast exponential degrees from God’s character, that is described as loving, patient, and just (among other characteristics).

    Christian and Jewish scripture tell us that all humans are evil as evidenced by sin. But in our experience there appear to be degrees of evil, which some mistake as relative evil with no defining standard as well as it’s corresponding good.

    Certainly based on what we know about her, someone like a Mother Theresa is less evil than someone like a Hitle;, and we can recognize this as objectively so by the degree of evil exhibited by each of these individuals. Someone like a Mother Theresa exhibits virtually no evil, while someone like a Hitler becomes the standard by which evil is measured in modern times. Because we can’t ultimately say that Mother Theresa was “good” as Scripture defines it (morally perfect), does not mean that goodness is relative, but that we are able to recognize something as more good than evil, and so forth in the same way we might be able to recognize the size of objects relative the size of others and not by precise measurement. In music, tempos are measured by terms such as adagio(slow) and presto (fast). There’s no precise measurement for adagio or presto, but any knowledgeable musician is able to recognize when a piece of music is played so fast that it cannot be adagio, or so slow that it cannot be presto. This is objective by degree and not be precise definition.

    So evil is measured relative to good. Good is absolute moral perfection; being without fault, without guilt, without a justified penalty. Christian scripture tells us that Jesus exhibited this absoltue moral perfection. He did no evil; only good. Because of this, we can measure goodness and evil by Jesus’ behavior.

    But other non-Christian theists can do this as well, simply by knowing the perfect moral character of God.

    A non-theist might be able to do this by reflecting on what a morally perfect human being would be like. However, such an exercise may have limitations if the non-theist does not believe that such a morally perfect human being does or could exist. But that limitation doesn’t prevent anyone from at least conceiving of moral perfection. That we are able to do so indicates to me that it is a standard that does objectively exist. Otherwise, we could not tell even by relative measure what is evil and what is good. Morality and ethics would not be merely relative, but neutral or non-existent, and the materialists who wax on about how nature is “pitilessly indifferent” would not only be right, but would be onto something quite profound. But I believe they are wrong.

    We had a discussion recently on Richard Dawkin’s recent pronouncements in his autobiography regarding child molestation (fondling). It appears that Dawkins was able to recognize the behavior as (kinda-sorta) evil; but not to a degree that child rape might carry; and he certainly would have been correct in the distinction; however wrong he might have been in accepting the behavior as OK morally.

    But I gather that Dawkins is a moral relativist who believes that some harm to children ought to be ok while other harm ought not to be ok. I don’t know for certain; but if one cares about the welfare of children one can see how the moral relativism dictated by materialism might cause some to excuse harmful behavior as being no big deal, leading to the endangerment of children.

    The materialist might counter that when we accept objective morality in the manner that theists measure it, we face the danger of those who believe they have achieved moral perfection, and want to dictate their standards on others. I personally believe that this is a danger not only from theists, but from non-theists alike. But this notion too is a misconception, because the scriptures that most theists base their standard of morality state clearly that goodness is found only in God, and that all humans are sinners. The best approach towards achieving the moral good, then is through humility; recognizing one’s own moral imperfections and striving to correct them; rather than trying to correct those imperfections perceived in others.

    Scripture seems to cover all bases in these kinds of discussions. I’ll leave it to others to examine them for themselves.

  8. 8
    Pro Hac Vice says:

    Do you propose any mechanism for resolving disputes about first principles? When two people disagree about whether something is a first principle, for example, do you believe there is any way to objectively determine who is right and who is wrong?

  9. 9
    Graham2 says:

    CY: Therefore, goodness and evil are measured by their proximation or lack thereof to God’s character

    What if I am a Hindu (etc) … does this mean an act that is considered evil by a Christian may not appear evil to me ? Am I then permitted to commit this act ?

  10. 10
    SirHamster says:

    What if I am a Hindu (etc) … does this mean an act that is considered evil by a Christian may not appear evil to me ? Am I then permitted to commit this act ?

    Perhaps. A color-blind person may fail to perceive the colors a person with normal vision can. (Though often it’s not complete blindness; red-green blind friend can still tell them apart to some degree)

    As for permission to do the act that may or may not be considered evil – who is doing the permitting? Seems you would want to ask that authority.

  11. 11
    SirHamster says:

    To clarify my earlier point – if good/evil are objective, the failure of certain religions/individuals to perceive it as such is not an argument against it.

    It’d be like arguing the existence of color-blind individuals proves there is no such thing as color; or that color is some relative/arbitrary thing.

  12. 12
    Graham2 says:

    SH: if good/evil are objective … Thats precisely the point. How can we ever know if something is evil if we are using different standards (Christian, Hindu, etc etc etc) ?

  13. 13
    OldArmy94 says:

    Graham2, ah, that is the million dollar question. That’s where the Intelligent Design argument ends, and, in my humble opinion, the evidence for Who is the ultimate source of truth is presented and weighed.

  14. 14

    “What if I am a Hindu (etc) … does this mean an act that is considered evil by a Christian may not appear evil to me ? Am I then permitted to commit this act ?”

    Things can be objectively true despite my acceptance of their truth. I accept that 1+1=2 is objectively true, but what if I don’t know arithmetic, and haven’t yet learned this? Does my ignorance render 1+1=2 as not objectively true? What you describe above is the same concept in different terms. If a particular act is morally good objectively, then it is morally good for the Hindu as much as it is for the Christian, etc.

  15. 15

    “Thats precisely the point. How can we ever know if something is evil if we are using different standards (Christian, Hindu, etc etc etc) ?”

    Christian standards are not the standard for morality and neither are Hindu standards. The standard is the ultimate good, which is God. Good comes from God’s character as a morally perfect being.

    What can we understand as morally perfect? What would a morally perfect person be like? The first thing I would ask is if that person would ever tell a lie. To be morally perfect is not to be Hindu or Christian or anything else, but to be consistent with one’s character. God therefore, does not lie. That’s the beginning. I think most people can go from there and come up with other moral perfections that would be characteristic of a morally perfect being.

  16. 16
    Graham2 says:

    CY: You are artfully avoiding the point. How do we know if something is good ? Apparantly we cant refer to religious teachings because objective morality (according to you) is above these, so how is this higher standard communicated to us ? Writing in the sky ?

  17. 17

    A passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatians states:

    “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. Against these things there is no law.”

    The Spirit is the Holy Spirit, who is God. The characteristics of ultimate good that come from God are precisely these qualities. Humans have no laws that would deny the goodness of these qualities.

    These aren’t particularly religious qualities, they are human qualities that perhaps most of us possess to one degree or another, but the point is that the morally perfect person would exhibit these qualities to an extent such that there is nothing lacking.

    Notice that the morally perfect person does not have to be particularly intelligent. Morality is not based in the intellect then, but the inward being of the person- what scripture calls the heart. There are morally good people in all cultures and morally evil people, and we all recognize these qualities regardless of our or their particular beliefs.

  18. 18
    Graham2 says:

    I give up.

  19. 19

    Graham,

    I don'[t believe I’m avoiding the point at all. objectivity does not require everyone accepting a particular truth claim, but that a particular truth claim is evident from our ability to differentiate two polar opposites – good and evil, for example. One pole is the standard of moral perfection; which most theists perceive as God; but belief in God is not required. You can simply contemplate the morally perfect being and the characteristics that would be true to such a being. I stated first off that the morally perfect being would always be truthful and never tell lies; and we can go from there to define what would be morally perfect. What guidelines do we use to be morally good? Ultimately these guidelines come from the morally perfect being whether we believe in Him or not. Also, I believe our consciences work towards leading us towards the good.

  20. 20
    Graham2 says:

    CY: Alright, I will try one more time. How is objective morality communicated to us ? Writing in the sky ? Voices in the head ?

    Barry seems to think ‘its obvious’, and apparantly that is that. What do you think ?

  21. 21

    Graham,

    Incidentally, the qualities mentioned in Galatians that I quoted are also found in social science, particularly psychology as qualities that help a person cope with life. The joyful person tends to handle situations better than the person with a negative attitude. The peaceful person gets along with people better than the contentious person. The person who loves much has many friends, while the selfish person tends to lose friendships. These are not set in stone situations, but statistically they are shown to be true.

    Ever read the Proverbs of Solomon? They are full of analysis on the qualities that help a person to live more abundantly. Other religions and non-religious systems alike share these human qualities to various degrees.

    The assumption that because a truth claim comes from religious writing, that it cannot be objective, is simply not so. Not all “religious” claims are true only within a particular belief system, but tend to be universal. I believe that the fruit of the Spirit that Paul mentions is a universal. This is why he states “Against these things there is no law.”

  22. 22

    I believe that it is apparent because we have a little moral mechanism called the conscience. Our conscience tells us when we’ve definitely been immoral, and we correct our behavior based on feelings of guilt. We further learn through moral experience. When you tell a lie and try to get away with it, you’r conscience won’t allow you to be unaware of it. You can deny your conscience and continue to lie; or you can recognize your error and take steps to correct it, but everyone faces the moral dilemma through the conscience first; even materialists who might deny that there is a conscience.

  23. 23

    But it also works the other way around. I believe we call it conviction; when we know that what we’ve done, or what we believe about a particular situation is right and good, because it aligns with what we perceive as a standard of good. We all tend to do this, regardless of our beliefs.

    This is why I believe the Christian scriptures state that we are without excuse in our unrighteousness, because the morally good IS apparent to us; no matter our situation.

  24. 24
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note is this short video that was just uploaded by Prager University

    Is Evil Rational? – video (Prager University)
    http://www.prageruniversity.co.....m8dLRD4Lmt

  25. 25
    Graham2 says:

    So, The great morality-in-the-sky communicates with us through our conscience. Oh lovely. Then why do we all look into our conscience and come up with a different answer ?

    The Catholic Church seems to be remarkably flexible in this respect. Objective morality seems to be rather pointless invention if we cant be sure who has got it right.

  26. 26

    Morality is a system of oughts. Oughts only exist in relationship to a goal, or a purpose. If there are objectively true moral statements, then they must refer to an objective purpose. If such moral statements are transcendent – apply to all humans in all cases – this necessarily means that humans are meant to contribute to or serve an objective purpose that transcends locations, culture, time, etc.

    Humans thus have an objectively real purpose. That could only be true if humans were created to serve a purpose. Our conscience is that which senses an objectively existent (even if in mind) moral landscape. Our conscience can easily recognize objective, obvious moral truths, because that is what it is designed to do.

    However, as with our other senses, what the conscience perceives is not in all cases obviously or necessarily true; we have reason by which to navigate the less-than-obvious areas of morality.

    Without an objective purpose, and the capacity to sense a real moral landscape, and necessary consequences to moral/immoral behavior, talking about morality is nothing but rhetoric and manipulation.

  27. 27

    Alright, I will try one more time. How is objective morality communicated to us? Writing in the sky ? Voices in the head?

    Via conscience. We sense and navigate the moral landscape better through a well developed and rationally examined conscience.

  28. 28
    Pro Hac Vice says:

    Via conscience. We sense and navigate the moral landscape better through a well developed and rationally examined conscience.

    If two people disagree in good faith about objective morality, is it possible as a third party to tell which person is right and which is wrong without resorting to subjective standards?

  29. 29
    Pro Hac Vice says:

    Via conscience. We sense and navigate the moral landscape better through a well developed and rationally examined conscience.

    If two people disagree in good faith about objective morality, is it possible as a third party to tell which person is right and which is wrong without resorting to subjective standards?

    Sorry for replying to myself, but I realize that I phrased this very inartfully. Since you consider your conscience to be a guide to objective morality, if I understand you correctly, the answer is obviously “yes.”

    Let me ask instead some more careful questions:

    Is any way to tell whether a question is one of objective morality, on which all men of good conscience must agree, or one in which people are free to differ without being evil?

    Is it possible for your conscience to mislead you, or for you to misinterpret your conscience?

    Is your conscience at all a product of your upbringing or social context?

  30. 30
    Graham2 says:

    Someone is finally getting it. Lane Craig et al blather on about objective morality without ever bothering to ask how it is communicated to us mortals. A rule book is not much use if no-one can read it. CY seems to think it is via our conscience, but this is obviously not true. If it was, we would all arrive at the same moral decisions.

  31. 31
    Barry Arrington says:

    Graham2, I will answer your questions if you answer this one. I assume you believe the holocaust was evil. Suppose you were the only person in the world who believed the holocaust was evil. Would you be right and everyone else wrong?

  32. 32
    Graham2 says:

    Barry: That is more or less my point. You cant tell. It used to be widely believed that women should wear hats when in public, it was the ‘right’ thing to do. Now we dont care. So were we right then ? Are we right now ? How can you tell ? Its a silly question.

    Genocide is an extreme example where the general view would be fairly consistent, but even then, its not so obvious. The attitude of the church to slavery was pretty odious in the past. Imagine that, a whole organization of people all schooled in the bible (and presumably with some sort of hot-line to objective morality) and they were all wrong (in our current view).

  33. 33
    SirHamster says:

    #12, Graham2

    SH: if good/evil are objective … Thats precisely the point. How can we ever know if something is evil if we are using different standards (Christian, Hindu, etc etc etc) ?

    What do the standards have in common? What is different?

    If there is an objective standard; all human societies have attempted to describe it.

    Let’s say every human societal standard is an erroneous copy of true objective morality – there’s still a chance they got something right.

    Even if every single human standard contains error, they’re different, so they’re wrong in different ways, which means some of those errors can be weeded out by comparative analysis. Then objective morality, or at least part of it, can be found.

    It’s not enough to point out the existence of differences – sometimes it is the differences that communicate the most clearly.

    We also aren’t limited to only looking at the different standards – we are also able to see the effects of those standards – which again tells us something about the nature of our universe, and is a clue as to whether or not humanity is subject to a universal objective morality.

  34. 34
    Pro Hac Vice says:

    Graham2, I will answer your questions if you answer this one. I assume you believe the holocaust was evil. Suppose you were the only person in the world who believed the holocaust was evil. Would you be right and everyone else wrong?

    If I can answer for him, I would believe I was right and everyone else was wrong. This is implicit in the question, which approaches a tautology: if I believe that the Holocaust was wrong (of course I do), then naturally I think I’m right to hold that belief. If I didn’t, I would presumably take another position.

    I do not believe in a transcendent objective morality, but I hold my own beliefs and am comfortable applying them to others. I think this is universal; I have never actually met (or heard of) a person who would say, “It’s morally right that those people commit genocide or own slaves, because they believe it’s right.” Subjective morality doesn’t mean that I can’t prefer my morals to someone else’s. It simply means that there is no objective way to compare our morals. If I want to persuade a slaver to give up slavery, I can’t petition the Appellate Court of God for an emergency injunction. I have to rely on the usual tools of persuasion and compulsion: soap box, ballot box, ammo box, etc.

    To bring it back to your question, if everyone else in the world believed the Holocaust was a moral good, how would I objectively show that they were wrong? To put it in a real-world context, if I were an abolitionist in antebellum Louisiana how would I apply objective morality to convince my neighbors to give up the institution of slavery? I think the answer is that I would do the exact same things I would have to do if there were no objective morality to appeal to.

    This matters because there is no reliable way for an outsider to distinguish my subjective moral beliefs from any “objective” moral beliefs I have. If an outsider can’t distinguish my subjective positions from any objective positions, then my beliefs probably aren’t truly objective.

    The only response seems to be the assumption that in fact everyone has the same moral beliefs, but some people (due to their evil nature or because they are misguided) ignore their conscience to commit evil acts. I don’t see any evidence for that, though; it seems like a difficult thing to prove, that no one who commits evil acts in the name of good actually believes they’re doing good.

    There is another problem with that position. If there is some moral core we all have in common, what is it? Where do we draw the line between objective and subjective beliefs? As I asked earlier, “Is [there] any way to tell whether a question is one of objective morality, on which all men of good conscience must agree, or one in which people are free to differ without being evil?” I don’t believe that there is, even if we were to grant the existence of some set of core objective morals. So we run up against another wall: even if we grant that there may be objective moral truths, but we can’t objectively identify them, then we don’t have objective moral truths in practice.

  35. 35
    Graham2 says:

    PHV: even if we grant that there may be objective moral truths, but we can’t objectively identify them, then we don’t have objective moral truths in practice.

    Exactly.

  36. 36
    Pro Hac Vice says:

    Even if every single human standard contains error, they’re different, so they’re wrong in different ways, which means some of those errors can be weeded out by comparative analysis. Then objective morality, or at least part of it, can be found.

    I like the practicality of your suggestion. Are you aware of any attempt to actually do this? I do not think it would resolve the debate–we subjectivists would expect to find common core beliefs. I do, at least, as a consequence of the simple economics of living with and relying upon neighbors. But I still think this would be a very interesting addition to the discussion.

    We also aren’t limited to only looking at the different standards – we are also able to see the effects of those standards – which again tells us something about the nature of our universe, and is a clue as to whether or not humanity is subject to a universal objective morality.

    I don’t understand the logic here. Are you suggesting that objectively good moral beliefs will lead to better results for their believers? Again, I like the practicality of that suggestion. It sounds a bit like utilitarianism to me, but I’m emphatically not a philosopher. What would your metric for those results be? Well-being, happiness, longevity, contentment? I think we’d have trouble agreeing on a practical and objective standard to measure the results, but again I think it’s an interesting idea.

  37. 37
    bornagain77 says:

    Do Babies have an innate moral sense or are they amoral as would be a-priori expected in the atheistic/materialistic worldview? This study, by a humanist, found that, contrary to materialistic expectations, basic morality is innate in babies.

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

    Of course the researcher, a humanist who believes in evolution, believes that evolution somehow has an explanation for this innate moral sense that is found babies. But I hold, as a Christian Theist who believes that Christ fulfilled the perfect ‘objective’ moral law of God and was raised from the dead on account of fulfilling that perfect moral law (so as to reunite sinful man with the God),,, I, as a Christian theist hold that morality is to be found at a far deeper level of reality than any post hoc materialistic explanation could ever hope to give a coherent answer for. Dr. Martin Luther King succinctly puts the Christian basic belief in ‘objective’ morality this way:

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

    But do we have actual empirical evidence for ‘moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws’ as Dr. King held and as Christian Theists should rightly presuppose? Yes! I think we now have very good evidence that moral laws are just as abiding as the physical laws of the universe. In this following study it is found that moral reactions are ‘split second’,,,

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

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

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

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

    As well, the following experiment is very interesting in that it was found that ‘perturbed randomness’ precedes a worldwide ‘moral’ crisis:

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

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

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

    Verse and music:

    Mark 10:18
    “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.

    Kari Jobe – Revelation Song – Passion 2013
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dZMBrGGmeE

    supplemental note:

    Children are born believers in God, academic claims – Telegraph – November 2008
    Excerpt: “The preponderance of scientific evidence for the past 10 years or so has shown that a lot more seems to be built into the natural development of children’s minds than we once thought, including a predisposition to see the natural world as designed and purposeful and that some kind of intelligent being is behind that purpose,”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new.....laims.html

  38. 38
    Steve says:

    Barry,

    I have seen to many affirm the Holocaust as evil but deny the evil of Hiroshima.

    If we are to evaluate human action on an objective basis, then we must affirm Hiroshima and Nagasaki as evil events.

    How do you plead, counselor?

  39. 39
    Mark Frank says:

    Barry

    For example, if he denied that 2+2=4, I could make no argument to try to demonstrate to him the truth of the proposition.  If he denied the law of non-contradiction, I could not demonstrate the truth of the law by appealing to more basic principles.  If he denies that the murder of millions is evil, I cannot appeal to even more fundamental ethical principles to try to convince him.  I cannot argue with him.  I can only correct him (and attempt to shame him into admitting the obvious).

      The 9/11 bombers thought  the murder of thousands was a good thing to do (possibly some Nazi’s even thought the murder of millions was right). If they denied a mathematical or logical truth then they would have come across physical problems in their life every day – getting change, counting bombs, etc. Their moral beliefs provided no such problems. So how does their moral belief, which you say you cannot argue against, differ from a strongly held opinion which just happens to differ from most of humanity’s strongly held moral opinion? What would the word “objective” add to this?

  40. 40
    Mark Frank says:

    Just read Pro Hac Vice #34. You have pretty much nailed it. I look forward to seeing Barry’s response.

  41. 41
    bornagain77 says:

    as to this protest:

    I have seen to(o) many affirm the Holocaust as evil but deny the evil of Hiroshima.
    If we are to evaluate human action on an objective basis, then we must affirm Hiroshima and Nagasaki as evil events.

    and to this protest

    The 9/11 bombers thought the murder of thousands was a good thing to do (possibly(HUH?) some Nazi’s even thought the murder of millions was right).

    And although each of those situations certainly could, and have, by themselves, warranted books long analysis, let me answer by asking just a simple question and giving simple response.

    How could the murder of one perfectly innocent life on a cross possibly result in the infinite good for man that it has produced?

    Objective Justice! Justice is just as real, transcendent, and abiding as objective morality is. Indeed, without such true ‘objective’, universal, justice, as was demonstrated on the cross and the resurrection, then real morality becomes just as meaningless and illusory as unrepentant atheists would prefer to pretend for morality to be! i.e. Without true justice why would morality really matter anyway?

    Verse

    Isaiah 53 4-6
    Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
    yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
    We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
    and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

    Notes;

    Analysis of The Mysterious Prophecy in Isaiah 53 – video
    https://vimeo.com/37517468

    The (Unjust) Trial of Jesus Christ – Drive Thru History, Holy Land Ep.12 – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuoeMrJa9-o

    Forensic evidence of the Shroud of Turin – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYG6wETAxjI

    Detailed Forensic Evidence of The Shroud – video
    http://www.shroud-enigma.com/w.....ology.html

    Historians and critics who are hostile to Christianity provide some of the best testimony in support of the facts surrounding Jesus’ trial and resurrection!

    “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.”
    Skeptic, Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted (2008) pg. 162

    “The historian… cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb”, because using standard historical criteria, “the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.”
    Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992), p. 176.

    “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
    (Gerd Lüdemann – Skeptical historian (and atheist), What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 8.)

    Verse and Music:

    Revelation 6:10
    They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

    Citizen Way – Should’ve Been Me – Live Acoustic Performance – Music Videos
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=0JB90FNU

    Citizen Way – “Should’ve Been Me” Official Lyric Video – Music Videos
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=0BCC0CNU

  42. 42
    Axel says:

    ‘I didn’t say ‘flawed’ but ‘different’ from our present evaluation.’ (…of the evil of the Holocaust)

    To say, ‘different’, Nightlight, is even worse than to say, merely ‘flawed’, being totally neutral and anodyne.

    There are people on UD I don’t argue with, good or bad – I don’t read far enough into their posts to appreciate – their character, because I recognise at a very early juncture, that they are not quite ‘the round shilling’, in their thinking. Nightlight is one such poster, with his computer-algorithm cosmology or whatever it is.

    mapou is another. Although he realises the futility and his attitude seems similar to mine: we must agree to disagree. His highly idiosyncratic discursions all seem to stem from his evident rejection of the body of theology of Christian tradition, particularly in the early centuries, built up by the Apostles, Fathers, and the likes of Augustine, Basil, Athanasius.

    The problem with that is that they were more than intellectuals; they were saints, and as a result were able to glean the kind of understanding of the mysteries with which scripture is replete, and which the book-learning alone of the averagely sensual man cannot provide.

    Scientists are wont to declare that they are pygmies standing on giants’ shoulders, but this also applies to the Christian faith we have inherited. So, to say that he is a ‘Christian’ can only mean that mapou has his own lexicon, which cuts the ground from under his conventionally Christian interlocutors, by presenting a whole different set of assumptions, to which only he is privy.

  43. 43

    Is any way to tell whether a question is one of objective morality, on which all men of good conscience must agree, or one in which people are free to differ without being evil?

    Answer a simple question: Is torturing infants for personal pleasure always evil, no matter what any individual or society thinks?

    There are some mental statements that are simply known by all people of sound mind to be true on pain of self-refutation or descent into absurdity. Is there any way to tell if 1+1=2 is objectively true, in all cases of people with a sound, rational mind? Is there any way to tell if the principle of non-contradiction is objectively true for all people of sound mind? How about the statement “I exist”? Any way to show these things to be true?

    There are certain properties of the mind that are as absolute and objective, if not more so, than anything we experience in the physical world. To deny them destroys reason and the soundness of one’s perspective. Some things are self-evidently true, meaning they are known to be true without evidence or argument by all people with a reasonably sound mind.

    Not all mental properties or truth-value statements are self-evident or necessary; some require reasoning. Some may be very vague and gray so as to elude certainty entirely. Some, however, are easily recognized as absolute.

    Is it possible for your conscience to mislead you, or for you to misinterpret your conscience?

    Absolutely. One must examine their views both for sufficient/valid grounds and for coherency, beginning with self-evidently true statements, and from those a rationally developed structure of necessarily true statements, conditionally true statements, and generally true statements. Your physical senses can also mislead you, which is why one must begin with self-evidently true statements and go from there whether one is talking about physical senses or conscience.

    I don’t think “conscience” is our only mental sense – I think mathematics & logic are also mental senses that interact with an actual, objectively-existent mental landscape.

    Is your conscience at all a product of your upbringing or social context?

    In the same sense that any of your other senses are a product of of your upbringing; how you interpret and to some degree what your mind will allow you to see with your physical eyes can be affected by upbringing. There are videos they show you in psych class with a man in a gorilla suit walking through a stage dance number, and most of the people in the audience didn’t see him because he was well outside of their expectations. Sight, and how sight is interpreted, can be affected by expectations, culture, society, etc.

    However, just because this is true doesn’t mean that the sensory information sight is picking up doesn’t refer to an actual, objective world, and just because consciences vary doesn’t man that the moral landscape our conscience interacts with is not objectively real.

    We are faced with two options; either morality refers to an objectively existent purpose that results in necessary consequences, or it is subjective and without necessary consequences. If the former, we have an obligation to act morally and have sound moral justification for stepping in when someone is torturing a child for their own amusement. If the latter, we are under no such obligation and have no reason to intervene in such a situation, other than simply enforcing our personal, preferred views on others.

  44. 44

    If two people disagree in good faith about objective morality, is it possible as a third party to tell which person is right and which is wrong without resorting to subjective standards?

    Your assumption is that conscience is a subjective standard in some way other than, say, sight. All of the information we gather from the world we experience is acquired via a sensory system that subjectively gathers, interprets and models sensory data.

    Your application of the term “subjective” above assumes your a priori assumption – that the sensory data conscience acquires has no “objective” standard (or actual, existent landscape it is interacting with). But, what are the “objective” standards of the data we collect with our sight? How are those standards determined to be “objective”, when all we have to work with, even in reference to third party agreements, are our own subjective senses and interpretations thereof?

    You say you are comfortable intervening in the moral affairs of others, but what principle justifies you in so doing if, under your view, morality is subjective? The only principle, ultimately, at the root of intervening on the personal, subjective affairs of others is might makes right. Do you consider might makes right a sound moral principle?

    Also, if there are no necessary consequences to moral/immoral behavior, and it is all subjective, why should I bother with morality at all? Why not simply dispense with my conscience altogether and simply embark on a path of self-interested behavior without any moral considerations whatsoever?

  45. 45
    SirHamster says:

    @Pro Hac Vice, #36

    PHV: I like the practicality of your suggestion. Are you aware of any attempt to actually do this?

    “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” ? Bruce Lee

    I’d say it’s incredibly common, but not done very systematically, nor necessarily getting the right answer. But still, we all learn from observation, whether we adopt completely or in part. And the fact we can do this hints at there being a “right” answer. (ex: Seeing the contrast between Hitler and a George Washington)

    I believe what I do regarding God and universal morality because I can find nothing better. It’s as beautifully complete and simple as Euler’s identity.

    I don’t understand the logic here. Are you suggesting that objectively good moral beliefs will lead to better results for their believers? Again, I like the practicality of that suggestion. It sounds a bit like utilitarianism to me, but I’m emphatically not a philosopher. What would your metric for those results be? Well-being, happiness, longevity, contentment? I think we’d have trouble agreeing on a practical and objective standard to measure the results, but again I think it’s an interesting idea.

    First, morality and reality are not independent of each other. The fact that a person believes in being honest and compassionate affects how he interacts with others – and it even may involve him getting taken advantage of by the unscrupolous.

    So yes, it should be obvious that moral beliefs have different effects – there’s a reason why there are millions of mass graves all over Europe and Asia and S. America from Democide – and at its root is moral beliefs.

    But let me attempt an example. Read up on the Battle off Samar.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_off_Samar

    In WWII, a tiny US navy force holds off and defeats a vastly superior Japanese force. Specifically, read up on the actions of the US destroyers (Tin Cans), going into sure destruction. Men fulfilled their duty with courage at the costs of their own lives. The example isn’t about the morality of the overall war or even the battle, but about the individual virtue demonstrated in service to a higher cause.

    There is no individual benefit to be measured here – but if you cannot find anything admirable about their self-sacrifice and courage, you’re not trying at all. Why ought men to be courageous? To value something else higher than themselves? That’s a hint at man needing purpose – so where does that need for purpose come from?

  46. 46
    jerry says:

    Answer a simple question: Is torturing infants for personal pleasure always evil, no matter what any individual or society thinks?

    This illustrates the problem when the concept of evil is discussed. Why is torturing an infant more evil than torturing any other human? At what age does the act become more or less evil. Does the frequency or length or intensity of the torture make the act more or less evil? Is the act more evil when it is done for pleasure. That would seem to indicate a deranged person and not an evil one. We seem to define evil is what is repugnant to us personally.

    In no way am I countenancing torturing babies or anyone else or the Holocaust. All I am doing is illustrating that we tend to use the term “evil” in a casual way without any clear understanding of just what the term means. In that sense it is like how some will use the term “evolution” and “species” without specifying just what they means.

    As far as the Holocaust vs. Hiroshima. Hiroshima was justified on the basis of ending WWII in the Pacific. It was thought a million Allied lives would be lost in such a battle and the tradeoff of the lives lost to the atomic bomb was thought well worth the use this indiscriminate bombing. The extended war would probably had also killed several million Japanese. Also Truman was under intense pressure to end the war as the casualties from Iwo Jima and Okinawa were causing a lot of unrest in the country.

    I doubt that a similar logic went into Nazi heads who had a different objective in mind by the systematic killing. As an aside the two bombs did not end the war. What ended the war was the carpet bombing of Tokyo a week later when LeMay sent a 1000 planes over Tokyo and set the city on fire. The emperor could see that but didn’t witness the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  47. 47

    “CY seems to think it is via our conscience, but this is obviously not true. If it was, we would all arrive at the same moral decisions.”

    This is a non-sequitor. That peole should arrive at the same moral decisions does not follow from people having consciences the same way that having laws does not prevent people from breaking them.

  48. 48
    R0bb says:

    Barry:

    For example, if he denied that 2+2=4, I could make no argument to try to demonstrate to him the truth of the proposition.

    Actually, 2+2=4 can be formally derived from ZFC set theory, which is typically taken as foundational to mathematics.

    Kairosfocus:

    One can show that truly foundational premises or principles are such that to deny them is to end in absurdity; they are self evident.

    Barry:

    WJM and KF, agreed.

    Are both of the following statements true?

    1) First principles cannot be demonstrated.
    2) First principles can be demonstrated via reductio ad absurdum.

  49. 49

    This illustrates the problem when the concept of evil is discussed. Why is torturing an infant more evil than torturing any other human?

    It doesn’t illustrate “the problem with the concept of evil”; it illustrates that some things are simply evil. Your problem is that you are trying to semantically dodge and weave away from a self-evidently true statement that, once accepted, shatters the materialist/atheist perspective.

    We seem to define evil is what is repugnant to us personally.

    No, “we” do not, if by “we” you mean anyone with more than a superficial comprehension of morality. There are many things that may be repugnant to us personally that our sense of morality requires us to do because we know it is necessary to put an end to evil.

    The problem with moral relativism is that it necessarily leads down to a might-makes-right moral principle, which justifies anything and offers no necessary consequences to any behavior.

  50. 50
    Graham2 says:

    CY @47: My point was that if objective morality was communicated to us via our conscience, then we should all arrive at the same choice in the same situation because we are all receiving the same signal from objective morality, sort of like we are all listening to the news on the same station.

  51. 51

    My point was that if objective morality was communicated to us via our conscience, then we should all arrive at the same choice in the same situation because we are all receiving the same signal from objective morality, sort of like we are all listening to the news on the same station.

    The problem with your analysis is that it ignores how subjective interpretation, conditioning and expectation can similarly affect any of our senses. When people observe the same events at a crime scene, they will report entirely and irreconcilable descriptions of the event and of any particular suspect.

    People can listen to the same newscast and come away with entirely different and irreconcilable descriptions of the newscast. This doesn’t mean there was no objectively-existent newscast; it only means that subjective interpretations can widely vary.

  52. 52
    jerry says:

    Your problem is that you are trying to semantically dodge and weave away from a self-evidently true statement that, once accepted, shatters the materialist/atheist perspective.

    Boy, have you got this wrong. I am asking you or anyone to define evil. I ask this because until such is done a rational discussion can not take place.

    I have asked this question several times over the years on this site and so far no one has been able to answer it. The word has been used nearly 100 times so far but yet no one will offer up a definition. I would think that would indicate a problem with the use of the term.

    you mean anyone with more than a superficial comprehension of morality.

    I doubt that you have a better comprehension of morality than I do. So stop the antagonism and a fruitful discussion might ensue.

    There are many things that may be repugnant to us personally that our sense of morality requires us to do because we know it is necessary to put an end to evil.

    Also how do you put a stop to something that no one has been able to define.

  53. 53

    Jerry,

    What is wrong with the definitions found in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary?

  54. 54
    Graham2 says:

    CY: it ignores how subjective interpretation …

    I was waiting for that. Yes, we can ‘interpret’ the radio signals coming from ‘objective morality’, so what do we end up with … we end up with our own judgement! So what on earth is the point of having this great morality-in-the-sky ?

    This is clearly demonstrated (as if such was needed) by wholescale shifts in attitude in the community towards, well just about anything you can think of: gay sex, capital punishment, hairstyles, whatever.

  55. 55
    Graham2 says:

    Sorry, that was directed to WJM, not CY.

  56. 56
    Barry Arrington says:

    jerry @ 52: “I have asked this question several times over the years on this site and so far no one has been able to answer it. The word has been used nearly 100 times so far but yet no one will offer up a definition.”

    OK, why don’t you offer up a definition? Your choices now are: 1. Dodge the question (which is what I predict you will do); 2. Offer up a definition; 3. Say the word has no meaning.

    Which will it be old bean?

  57. 57
    jerry says:

    What is wrong with the definitions found in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary?

    Then why doesn’t anyone try to use these definitions to see if they really can lead to a fruitful discussion. I asked some questions and there was no answer. For example, why is the Holocaust a clear example of evil? Why point it out when there were other greater mass killings in history and even in the 20th century. Why wouldn’t the killing of one individual also be evil? Are we talking sheer numbers here. Why is killing someone an evil act? Is it how they are killed or the attitude of the one doing the killing that affects the magnitude of evilness of an act?

    Why is torture an evil act? Why is torturing babies anymore evil than torturing anyone? Somehow some think this example is clearly evil. What makes it more evil than something else.

    Is God capable of evil. After all millions of people since creation have perished in horrible ways or lived with extreme pain that have nothing to do with other human beings. I know a family whose 7 year old little girl died in agony from cancer. Was that evil?

    If we can somehow rank unpleasant events on a scale of evil, is there a maximum to this scale?

  58. 58
    Graham2 says:

    Barry,
    I would pick 3. It has a meaning of course, and we are all more or less agreed on that, but it is such a vague thing its impossible to pin down to the extent needed to conduct the discussion you like to have. Sort of like ‘beauty’. Could you define beauty for us ?

  59. 59
    jerry says:

    Which will it be old bean?

    I believe there is only one truly evil outcome. That is the lack of salvation. Everything else is trivial and a distraction.

    Now that I have said that, how do we understand the rest of what one calls evil? What purpose does it have? I would start with trying to understand the theodicy issue.

  60. 60
    jerry says:

    I am off for the evening so if anyone has issue with my comments or has a question, it will have to be later tonight or tomorrow before I can respond.

  61. 61

    I was waiting for that. Yes, we can ‘interpret’ the radio signals coming from ‘objective morality’, so what do we end up with … we end up with our own judgement! So what on earth is the point of having this great morality-in-the-sky ?

    As it is with physical senses and the physical world, the point about the belief that we are subjectively interpreting objectively real phenomena (as opposed to the belief that we delusional or in a solipsistic world) is that the assumption that there is an objective reality “out there” gives us reason to work towards understanding that objective reality better and to develop means and methods for finding and weeding out mistaken interpretations thereof.

    It is only **if** we assume the objective reality exists that there is any presumed standard by which any interpretation could be “mistaken” or “wrong”. Thus we can work on both our ability to perceive and our ability to correctly, rationally interpret what we perceive in relationship to the objective moral landscape.

    This would mean that over time, as we become better at using our conscience in tandem with reason, we develop a more refined understanding of the actual moral landscape, and thus moral models change over time – just as models of the physical world change over time as we learn and understand more about it.

    If there is no such objective reality, there is no “mistake” in morality. Anything goes. There is no basis by which we can be “wrong” about anything we consider to be moral or immoral. Right and wrong become like chocolate and vanilla – personal preferences, nothing more.

    How do we really live life? Do we live it as if it is nothing more than a subjective delusion? No, we cannot live that way – nor can we live as if morality is nothing more than a subjective delusion, as if “right and wrong” is no more than a preference for vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

    You, I, and every non-sociopathic, reasonable person in the world live and operate on a daily basis as if morality refers to an objective commodity, and that we are attempting to interpret it as best we can – that it is our obligation to do so, and to act where it is morally justified. If morality is really nothing more than a subjective, personal preference, then we have no reason to care about morality at all. We are not obligated to make sure someone else doesn’t eat the vanilla ice cream. Anything goes.

  62. 62
    Graham2 says:

    If there is no such objective reality, there is no “mistake” in morality

    Exactly.

    The church used to be remarkably willing to sanction (even encourage) the most ghastly forms of execution, methods that would be universally condemned today. So how did so many people get it so wrong ? Whats the purpose of the morality-in-the-sky if it can be this wrong ? And whats to stop us veering away from it in the future ? I see absolutely no reason why this cannot happen.

    Objective reality is really just a laughable concept.

  63. 63
    SirHamster says:

    Objective reality is really just a laughable concept.

    Hrm. Huh.

  64. 64

    The church used to be remarkably willing to sanction (even encourage) the most ghastly forms of execution, methods that would be universally condemned today. So how did so many people get it so wrong ?

    By appealing to command morality, or morality by decree, which doesn’t rely on self-evidently true moral statements as foundation, or logic as a means of evaluation. Under command (or decree) morality, anything goes.

    IOW, the view that “whatever god decrees” is “moral by definition” is impervious to any rational analysis because it neither relies on self-evident truths nor any logical inferences thereof.

    Whats the purpose of the morality-in-the-sky if it can be this wrong ? And whats to stop us veering away from it in the future ? I see absolutely no reason why this cannot happen.

    The problem is that command-authority morality and subjective morality land us in the same place; people doing whatever they want simply by decreeing it to be “what is moral”. The foundation by which those abuses can even attempt to be avoided is by using logic from self-evidently true moral statements (natural-law type of moral statements).

    Because people can en masse be completely mistaken about something doesn’t mean that (1) the thing in question is not objectively real, or (2) that people cannot gain a better understanding of what that thing is by utilizing perception and reason and developing better models.

    However, without the assumption that morality is an objectively real commodity, all we are left with is moral relativism which, like command morality, boils down to might-makes-right and gives us no reason to even care about being moral in the first place.

    As I said, unless you are a sociopath, that just isn’t an option. So, you are left with (1) morality is an objectively existent phenomena, even if we can only perceive and interpret it subjectively (like anything else real), or (2) might makes right (command and subjective morality).

    You can argue all day long that morality is subjective, but you cannot act and live that way.

  65. 65

    Objective reality is really just a laughable concept.

    Do you understand the self-refuting nature of this statement?

  66. 66
    StephenB says:

    Jerry

    I have asked this question several times over the years on this site and so far no one has been able to answer it. The word has been used nearly 100 times so far but yet no one will offer up a definition. I would think that would indicate a problem with the use of the term.

    Jerry, I don’t quite remember it that way. It seems to me that I provided a definition (perversion of the will that causes us to turn away from the good) and you rejected it. That isn’t quite the same thing as not getting an answer.

    Of course, you could say that no one has offered a definition that satisfies you, but then, again, you seem to have decided and locked in on your own definition (damnation and nothing else). I don’t think that position can be defended.

  67. 67
    StephenB says:

    Amplitudo:

    The church used to be remarkably willing to sanction (even encourage) the most ghastly forms of execution, methods that would be universally condemned today. So how did so many people get it so wrong ?

    Are you saying that what the Catholic Church did was objectively wrong and violates the natural moral law? If so, I would agree with you (and I am a member of that Church). Of course, that would seem to create some tension against your previous position to the effect that there is no knowable, objective moral law.

  68. 68
    Graham2 says:

    WJM: Other species (besides humans) show signs of morality/ethics. Do they also listen in to the great morality-in-the-sky ?

    It suggests that we have some built-in behaviour that helps us survive: being nice to our fellows helps here. If ‘anything goes’ we would be eating our babies, and quickly die off.

  69. 69
    Graham2 says:

    SB: What the church did then seems wrong to us now. Either the church was right then or we are right now, but you cant have both. My point is that objective morality seems to a fairly useless concept if it allows so many to get so much so wrong.

  70. 70
    StephenB says:

    Sorry, I attributed Graham 2’s comment to Amplitudo. I hope it doesn’t create any confusion.

  71. 71
    StephenB says:

    Graqham2

    What the church did then seems wrong to us now. Either the church was right then or we are right now, but you cant have both.

    Right.

    My point is that objective morality seems to a fairly useless concept if it allows so many to get so much so wrong.

    You are assuming that bad behavior is a sign that people simply make mistakes about morality. In fact, plenty of people do what they know to be objectively wrong because they simply prefer to do it. There does come a time, though, that the accumulated disposition that comes from habitually bad behavior clouds moral judgment. If a man doesn’t live according to the moral code, he will eventually find a code that reflects the way he lives.

  72. 72
    Graham2 says:

    SB: No, what the church did then was assumed to be right, at the time. No one was deliberately doing wrong. It is only now that we view it as wrong.

    There seems to be a persistent refusal to face this contradiction: What is the use of objective morality if it so obviously fails to produce good behaviour ?

  73. 73

    WJM: Other species (besides humans) show signs of morality/ethics. Do they also listen in to the great morality-in-the-sky ?

    I don’t know. I’m not capable of talking to other species to find out.

    It suggests that we have some built-in behaviour that helps us survive: being nice to our fellows helps here. If ‘anything goes’ we would be eating our babies, and quickly die off.

    Under your worldview, what behavior is not “built in”? Aren’t there a lot of people alive that are not “nice” to their fellows? Why would you point one evolutionary behavior out and ignore the other as “helping us survive”?

    If one points to behavioral traits that survive in humans as their foundation for “what is moral”, then all currently existing evolutionary traits must be “moral”, or else they wouldn’t have survived the evolutionary process. Right?

    Since there are so many humans who are “not nice” to their fellows, by what principle or criteria can you distinguish which is moral – being nice, or not being nice? Both have obviously survived the evolutionary process.

    I really don’t think you’re considering the logical consequences of your statements here.

  74. 74
    StephenB says:

    Graham2:

    No, what the church did then was assumed to be right, at the time. No one was deliberately doing wrong. It is only now that we view it as wrong.

    You will have to be more specific about the behavior so I can consider the historical circumstances.

    I notice, though, that you characterized the behavior, whatever it was, as “ghastly.” Givem your moral relativism, are you sure that it was ghastly? Or does it just seem ghastly to you now. Perhaps if you wait around a while, it will seem less ghastly over time. Maybe there is nothing at all wrong with the behavior that you think is so ghastly. Why even bring it up?

    There seems to be a persistent refusal to face this contradiction: What is the use of objective morality if it so obviously fails to produce good behaviour ?

    You appear not to have considered my answer. The natural moral law cannot produce good behavior in those who choose to flout it.

  75. 75

    My point is that objective morality seems to a fairly useless concept if it allows so many to get so much so wrong.

    Science is littered with a history of failed and replaced theories. Entire paradigms of scientific fields have utterly changed over the course of a few hundred years. Things once thought to be scientifically valid are now considered to be ridiculous notions.

    Is the idea of an objectively existent external world that is amenable to human perception and an increasingly sophisticated, rational understanding also a “fairly useless concept”, since so much science has been so wrong throughout its history?

  76. 76
    Graham2 says:

    SB: I read Geoffrey Robertsons THE TYRANNICIDE BRIEF where he described the method of execution of people accused of treason (poor people anyway) and it wasnt quick, I will skip the details, but it was horrendous. And all without a murmur from the church (who encouraged it anyway). Surely this would pass Barrys test of ‘its obvious’, so the objective-morality-in-the-sky didnt do much good, did it ?

  77. 77
    StephenB says:

    Graham2

    I read Geoffrey Robertsons THE TYRANNICIDE BRIEF where he described the method of execution of people accused of treason (poor people anyway) and it wasnt quick, I will skip the details, but it was horrendous. And all without a murmur from the church (who encouraged it anyway).

    I don’t think that you are following my question. Why do you, a moral relativist, have a problem with this? How can you say it was “horrendous” when, by your standard, it may not have been wrong at all. If you are not sure that something wrong was done here, why do you bring it up as if we should be scandalized by it? Down deep, you must believe, in spite of yourself, that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and that this behavior was wrong.

    Surely this would pass Barrys test of ‘its obvious’, so the objective-morality-in-the-sky didnt do much good, did it ?

    Since I have already answered this objection twice, and since you ignored the answer both times, I will pass this time.

  78. 78
    Graham2 says:

    I feel it was wrong. Just as I feel a sunset is beautiful. I cant explain it any better than that.

    Are you asking me to explain the neurological mechanism in my brain ?

  79. 79
    StephenB says:

    Grahsm2

    I feel it was wrong. Just as I feel a sunset is beautiful. I cant explain it any better than that.

    I understand.

    Are you asking me to explain the neurological mechanism in my brain ?

    No, you have answered my question. Your morality is based on your feelings. I do have one question, though. Would it acceptable with you if every man decided to lie, steal, rape, or murder if it felt right to him.

  80. 80
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Robb, kindly look at the actual definition of self evidence shown. There are things that the denial of leads to incoherence but they are most certainly not self evident. Self evident things are not just “obvious” either, one has to genuinely understand, then on so understanding, one will see them true, that they must be true and that on denial of truth one is immediately in patent absurdity. Your attempted contradiction fails, fails by not noticing all that is involved. Remember, 2 + 3 = 5 is self evident but a much more complex sum is not. KF

  81. 81

    Graham:
    “My point was that if objective morality was communicated to us via our conscience, then we should all arrive at the same choice in the same situation because we are all receiving the same signal from objective morality, sort of like we are all listening to the news on the same station.”

    Yes, I agree; we should. But that not all of us follows our conscience in the same way in the same situations is not indicative that our consciences aren’t communicating the same moral “oughtness.” It’s indicative that some of us prefer to ignore our conscience in those situations and do what “feels right.” Some people believe that conscience is a matter of intuition. It’s not. Conscience works when there is law; not simply out of the feeling of guilt, or personal preference. We have to know that something is wrong in order for our conscience to affect us. We know this from our experience, and that experience begins when we are infants and lasts throughout life; so it’s not something we can really deny rationally.

    The problem we face in this discussion is that materialists have made all the wrong assumptions with morality. They think that the “immoral person” is simply a person who is inconsistent with his/her chosen set of moral principles. If that is the way it actually is, and those kinds of situations certainly are abundant; the conscience seems to work in the same way. Our conscience seems to convict us when we act hypocritically. But why should it? What in materialism tells us that we ought to be consistent? That’s really at the heart of the issue.

Leave a Reply