Intelligent Design

Is There At Least One Self-Evident Moral Truth?

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Many scholars believe Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is the greatest novel ever written.  I don’t know if that is true.  I am not qualified to judge, but I do know the novel moved me as no other ever has.  So I was intrigued when SteveB referred to a passage from the novel in a comment to my earlier post.  In this passage Ivan is exploring man’s capacity for cruelty, and he says to his brother Alyosha (warning, not for the faint of heart):

People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel.  The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do.  He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it.  These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mother’s womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mother’s eyes.  Doing it before the mother’s eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They’ve planned a diversion; they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby’s face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby’s face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn’t it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things, they say.

I have read that Dostoevsky did not make this up.  This actually happened and he adopted the story for his novel.

SteveB asked Jack Krebs whether he believed the soldiers were wrong.  Jack said they were, and then he said something very interesting.  He said, “I choose my moral standards.”

I replied:  “Jack, this is an interesting statement.  Are you suggesting that it is possible for you to choose moral standards in which it is good for the soldier to kill the baby?”

Jack responded:  “And no to Barry’s question – I could not choose moral standards that would make it ‘good’ for the soldier to kill the baby.”

I probed further:  “You say ‘I could not choose . . .’  OK.  But what about our soldier?  Is he free to choose moral standards just like you, including moral standards in which baby killing is good?”

To which Jack responded:  “He is free to choose, and he may think what he does is ‘good,’ but I will . . . strenuously disagree”

This is, of course, nonsense.  There are certain things that, as Dr. J. Budziszewski says, “you can’t not know.”  You can’t not know that ripping babies from their mother’s arms, throwing them in the air and catching them on a bayonet is evil.  Everyone reading this post knows this to be true without the slightest doubt or reservation.  Jack is simply and obviously wrong when he says a soldier is free to choose moral standards in which such an act is good.  There is no such freedom. 

Anyone who says that it is not self-evident that the soldier’s act was evil is lying.  It is quite literally unthinkable to imagine a moral system in which such an act is good.

Just as the statement “two plus two equals eight” is wrong in an absolute sense, the soldier’s act was evil in an absolute sense.  The fact that the soldier’s act was evil transcends time, place, circumstances, opinion, and every other variable one might imagine.  From this I conclude the act violated a transcendent moral standard, and from this I further conclude that a transcendent moral standard exists.

ADDENDUM:

Most of the first 62 comments completely missed the point of this post, so I will try to focus the discussion onto the point of the post by posing the question in a debate format:

A soldier amuses himself by ripping a baby from his mother’s arms and tossing it in the air and catching it on a bayonet.

Resolved, it is self-evident that the soldier’s action is wrong in all places and at all times.

Commenters are free to argue the affirmative or the negative.  They are not free to change the subject by, for example, dragging us into a discusion of the Old Testament or changing the facts and asking “what about this?”  Comments after comment 62 that do not argue either the affirmative or the negative will be deleted.

118 Replies to “Is There At Least One Self-Evident Moral Truth?

  1. 1
    Jason Rennie says:

    I agree whole heartedly. Good post Barry.

  2. 2
    petro says:

    Agreed, however I think you underestimate the level of depravity we can all sink and convince ourselves its good.

    All people of all stripes commit terrible atrocities in war, and feel its justified

    Forget wars and babies on bayonets though, how about legisalating for babies to be scrapped and sucked out of mother’s wombs!

    I think what truly holds people back from admitting that a transcendant moral standard exists is not that it’s self evident (as this example shows) but the next logical step, that we’ll be held accountable for breaking it.

  3. 3
    Vladimir Krondan says:

    Despite his Catholic-bashing, I agree with you about Dostoyevsky and his novels. One interesting thing about Karamazov is that Ivan loves abstract people theoretically, but not real people. This is the key to understanding intellectuals and the damage they can do to society.

    If you haven’t read his stories A Gentle Creature and Dream of a Ridiculous Man, check them out.

    On a slightly different note, there’s an interesting and somewhat out-of-the blue message in Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil. It has to do with abortion and moral relativism of intellectuals.

  4. 4
    Leo Hales says:

    “It is quite literally unthinkable to imagine a moral system in which such an act is good.”

    It is actually quite straightforward to imagine such a system Barry. The Bible reports such a system as history. For in the Old Testament’s history, God ordered the Israelites to kill all the Amalekites, men, women, and *drum roll* even babies.

    There are therefore circumstances in which even killing babies becomes morally right, namely when God commands it.

    This reminds me of another action that we think is morally abhorrent: killing one’s own child seems to be wrong according to the Transcendent Moral Standard, doesn’t it? Snd yet in all three of the major monotheisms, Abraham is praised for being willing to perform just such an action, at the command of God.

    The Transcendent Moral Standard exists, but it is determined by whatever it is that God commands at a given time. It is not always knowable merely through moral intuition.

  5. 5
    Apollos says:

    “Snd yet in all three of the major monotheisms, Abraham is praised for being willing to perform just such an action, at the command of God.”

    Enter (possibly) the number one most misunderstood event in the Bible: the Akedah, or Abraham’s offering of Isaac (not Ishmael).

    First of all, the offering didn’t actually take place — so scratch using it as an example of child sacrifice. This might be the #1 most sited instance of child sacrifice that didn’t actually occur. Every time I’ve seen this brought up, the fact that no child sacrifice actually took place is never mentioned.

    Furthermore, Abraham and Isaac were participating in a prophetic play (Gen 22) that acted out the events of the crucifixion, some 2000 years before the events at Calvary.

    God used this event to spell out for Abraham how faith would result in forgiveness of sin.

    On that very spot, where Abraham would offer Isaac, another father offered his own son, 2000 years later, on a Roman cross.

    Let’s take a look at some of the parallels. 1) Isaac’s offering took place on Mt. Moriah, the very place that Christ was offered. 2) Abraham travelled for 3 days, knowing that Isaac was “dead” to him (Heb 11:17-19) [Christ was in the tomb 3 days] 3) Isaac carried the wood for his own offering up the hill (as Christ carried his own cross).

    The Akedah is not an example of literal child sacrifice, but Calvary is. One was sacrificed for the many. If you’re going to impeach Abraham for child sacrifice, you’d better impeach God Himself instead. Isaac wasn’t offered, Jesus Christ was.

  6. 6
    Leo Hales says:

    Apollos,

    The mere willingness to engage in an act of child sacrifice is all that is needed for my argument to work.

    But this is a secondary, supporting consideration for me: my main point rested on the massacre of the Amalekites. I think that provides a clear answer to the question in the title of this blog post: “Is Murdering Babies Ever Good?”

    My answer, based on the Bible, is: yes, if God commands it. *Leo ducks and waits for flaming to begin*

  7. 7
    freemind says:

    Why can’t you not know these things? Granted, our modern society dictates that they are wrong (and yet most of us simultaneously ‘know’ that abortion is ok.) And sure, many people would find it repellent at a biological level. But some people are different. Some people enjoy stepping on insects, kicking dogs, and causing pain. Now you can attribute alot of this to psychological problems. But I think some people are just naturally that like that. And when such people are bought up in societies where it is not taboo to cause such pain to certain people (ethnic minorities etc), then you can usually find plenty of socially respectable people eager to do so. It’s sad, but that’s human nature.
    Moral standards are based 1) on what we learn from our society & 2) on our personal reactions to different moral dilemas. I see no need to appeal to an outside force.

  8. 8
    DaveScot says:

    Barry

    Lots of instances in history where people in hiding had to suffocate a crying baby lest the entire group, including the baby, be found and killed because the baby’s crying would give them all away.

    Lots of scenarios can be fabricated where killing babies is the right thing to do. Say you have a rescue craft. There are 50 babies and you can only rescue half of them. Any that remain behind will slowly die by dehydration, starvation, exposure, or whatever. Some really nasty fate – make up something as horrible as you require. What do you do? Give those you must leave behind a quick merciful death. That’s the most humane thing to do.

    Or say you’re stranded on a desert island with 50 babies. Help will arrive but not in time. You have water enough for 25 until help arrives. Do you let all 50 die of thirst? Do you let 25 slowly die of thirst? Or do you give a quick, painless end to 25 so that 25 may live? Again, sometimes we are faced with choices where none are good choices, some are just less bad than others.

    This was pretty much given as a moral lesson in a famous Star Trek episode where Spock sacrificed himself to save others and famously explained himself “The needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few.” And that’s why, as the late Gerry Rzeppa just couldn’t fathom, a well trained Marine will throw himself on a grenade to save his fellow Marines and he’ll do it without thinking about it because his trained responses are so strong as to become reflexive. You are indoctrinated with the belief that you must be prepared to give up your own life so that others may live. Your own honor and the honor of the Corps is more important than living or dying. Death before dishonor – it isn’t just words, it’s a way of life. The United States Marine Corps has been extraordinarily successful at producing soldiers who truly believe that and/or rejecting those that don’t before they have a chance to bring dishonor to themselves or the Corps. Gerry pissed me off by asking if my children would throw themselves on a grenade since, ostensibly, I would have trained them properly. The smug santa-claus bearded asshat who hasn’t raised a single child in his own long wasted life thinks I raised my kids like they were Marine recruits? Hardly. You’d get thrown in jail. USMC boot camp makes the so-called “torture” inflicted on terrorist prisoners at Gitmo look like a walk in the park. That’s why so many of us shrug and say “what’s the big deal” about what was authorized for interrogation. We went through much worse and it was just a part of our training.

  9. 9
    Avonwatches says:

    Leo Hales @4 & 6:

    I was going to type a proper reply to the points raised, but since this is not a religious blog, I’ll just link some refutations/excuses for each of the points, which I think if not justifying absolutely, at least give some ground to the other side of the argument.

    ‘Murdering’ Amakelite babies: http://www.carm.org/diff/1Sam15_2-3.htm

    Why God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son: http://www.carm.org/diff/Gen22_1-2.htm
    (And there is also the point that Abraham was praised not for being willing to sacrifice his child, but because of his limitless obedience to God).

    What is more relevant is this (Leo Hales @6, and also linking into Davescot @7):

    “I think that provides a clear answer to the question in the title of this blog post: ‘Is Murdering Babies Ever Good?’
    My answer, based on the Bible, is: yes, if God commands it.”

    I don’t think God ever proclaimed wiping out the Amakelites and their babies as a ‘good’ thing. Similarly, with the instances of choosing to suffocate a baby rather than reveal the entire hiding group, I don’t think anyone would proclaim that as a ‘good’ thing.

    A question this discussion has got me thinking about: for the mother that kills/euthanize their child, will she ever remember that as a happy and good thing? Would anyone remember such an instance and be glad to have made that choice? I am not saying the answer is “no, I would rather all 50 of us perish instead of just 1”. But if there is regret, hesitation, unwillingness or revulsion to make such a decision, doesn’t that hint there is some ‘absolute moral standard’ that runs deeper within us that circumstances and survival rates?

  10. 10
    Jon Jackson says:

    The point of the Dostoevsky passage cited above was the cruelty, not the death. Tigers do kill children but they don’t gleefully torture them to death.

  11. 11

    DaveScot, your strenuous efforts to point out the exceptions just underscores the rule. We can all come up with marginal examples or anecdotes in which the general principle gets applied in a way that seems, at first blush, contradictory.

    Maybe this would help you understand: Put a qualifier on it. Something like: “Except in the most unusual and extreme circumstances, it is wrong to kill babies.” Do you have an issue with that as an objective truth?

    The observation that one moral truth occasionally gives way to another moral truth in a particular circumstance does not mean that the moral truths don’t exist. Indeed, it may be that one of the very challenges (and purposes?) of our existence is to learn to weigh and balance objective truths.

    The marginal exceptions to the rule you cite just serve to underscore the near-universality of the rule.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    BarryA:

    First, we see very directly the point that the previous thread underscores:

    ++++++++

    . . . the price one pays for rejecting self-evident truth is that one descends into a morass of absurdity and confusion, to the point where one cannot accept the obvious.

    One may indeed choose to be absurd, but that absurdity itself is the strongest evidence that the Tao is as advertised; self-evidently true.

    +++++++++

    On the second point, the distraction again raised in this thread, we are of course seeing the now almost routine claim that “B^iblical morality and/or the God of the B^ible is monstrous.”

    That tactic is not an accident, it is a stratagem of the New Atheists [following the good old fashioned “Village Atheist” of yore] to try to mock and discredit what they cannot directly address on the merits of the main point. Namely, that the core moral teachings of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are an apt expression of what C S Lewis called the Tao, the way of virtue based on key self evident moral truths. A way that has massively and sacrificially contributed to the rise of modern liberty and democracy, and a way that is also commited to the proper difference between liberty and libertinism or license or amorality.

    A way that, therefore, all too many in our day would subvert and discard, the better to forward their own agendas — never mind the resulting moral incoherence and chaos. And, never mind the underlying moral principle in evolutionary materialist thought: “might makes ‘right’ . . .” — a moral absurdity if ever there was one.

    So, let us first set the record straight by setting forth the core of Biblical morality in the community, using the words of Paul in an epistle recently dismissed by a certain US presidential candidate as “obscure” when it cut across his agenda [the same bbook and passage, BTW, that grounds the principle that government and citizenship are based on justice and good community order — thus was the theological foundation of the Dutch [1581], Scottish [C16 – 17], Glorioius English [1688] and American [1764 – 88] Revolutions, cf. vv 1 – 7]:

    8 . . . he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,”[a] and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

    a] –> The core principle of good citizenship is plain: love does no harm to its neighbour, so love fulfills the Tao.

    b] Hooker, in the justly classic Ecclesiastical Polity, set forth just how this principle is self-evidently true, in a passage cited and used by Locke in Ch 2 sect 5 of his 2nd essay on govt, to ground his own discussion of principles of law, liberty and citizenship:

    . . . 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.

    c –> So, self-evidently, we share a common human nature: we are of one blood, as the same Paul observed in Ac 17, in speaking to the guardians of the West’s classical intellectual tradition up on Mars Hill in Athens, in 50 AD. Consequently, just as we wish for others to treat us with dignity, respect, etc, we have a duty to do the same to our equals in nature. Anything not consistent with that is morally incoherent and absurd.

    d –> Thence also – on the underlying issues tracing to the arguments in and debates over Expelled — the follies of Nazi racialism and associated agendas. Notice, the concept of the Aryan man was that he was superior to the untermensch so had no obligation to treat them with respect, and certainly was not to let such racial inferiors breed up and overwhelm the master race! We all know where this led, and how it was rationalised.

    e –> Now also, the passage cited above speaks not just to the duties of the citizen, but the ruler[s]. Accor to vv 1 – 4: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities . . . [the civil authority] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

    f –> So, there is a sword of justice that is a duty of the ruler, in a world in which there are evildoers who can only be held in check by force. So, rulers hold a further commission as God’s agents of judgement against determined wrongdoers who have to be so restrained.

    g –> Unfortunately, the class of determined wrongdoers can also include the ruler himself. Rulers can turn tyrant.

    h –> So, based on a multitude of biblical examples and statements that the New Atheists — tellingly — never cite, the reformers worked out the principle of interposition to restrain or remove an unjust ruler, thence of godly revolution and establishment of a new government with justice under God. This was foundational to the rise of modern liberty as the linked note on that history and associated key documents will bring out.

    i –> So we see a due balance: citizenship is to be based on neighbour love, and government is established as God’s agency to do us justice and good, holding the forces of evil and resulting chaos in check. That means as well that rulers hold special duties and must have access tot he means of those duties, financial [v 7 — just power of taxation] and forceful [v 4 — just power of the sword].

    j –> But note, the ruler acts as God’s agent, God being the supreme authority and judge, and the one who holds the original power of the sword as creator and governor of the cosmos and as the supremely Just.

    k –> So, we must immediately recognise that God acting in just government against evil doers holds special duties and just powers. It is in that context that cultures that become a sufficiently destructive contagion and plague of evil in the world are destroyed by him: first by the self-destrucive implicatiosn of such a way of life and society; second by their stubborn disobedience to the Tao and to those who stand up to warn them, thus proving that they must be held in check by force; and, thirdly by destructive force — the just power of the sword. (I tremble for our civilisation, as Jefferson once trembled for the United States . . .)

    l –> Usually, that targets ruling elites and their key institutions. [Indeed, if one reads here, one will see, say, that the degree of destruction of Canaanite cultures was different than one might infer from a superficial, out of context reading of isolated texts. More generally, the Moral Monster thesis needs to also be re-assessed in light of considerations here.]

    m –> But also, in the end, biblically, it is appointed to us sinful men once to die and thereafter to face just eternal judgement.

    n –> That judgement of course — per Rm 2 vv 6 – 9 and 12 – 16 etc — respects the degree of light one may have had [and innocent babies are not in the position of willful men who refuse to live by the truth they know or should know], and respects penitent persistence in the path of the good and the truth that one knows, even where there is much error. But, it is the judgement of our Creator, and Lord — our ultimate ruler, not a fellow citizen on the same level.

    o –> From that balanced biblical perspective, a lot of otherwise inexplicably troubling things take on a more balanced proportion.

    p –> This includes the case with Abraham and Isaac. For, A doubtless was quite familiar with child sacrifice from his Canaanite cultural matrix. So, to him, the demand for such sacrifice would have fit into that context.

    q –> But through a prophetic drama, Jehovah led him to see that the sacrifice of innocent children was needless, with a ram standing in as acceptable. And, as Hebrews reminds us, the rams [which BTW usually ended up as food for the priestly class, who in that culture carried out much of the processes of governance now carried out by secular governments] looked forward to the day when God himself would willingly offer himself up as the true sacrifice for all our sins, doing away with blood sacrifice in toto.

    r –> Thus, too, we see the principle of long term moral and spiritual progress in light of what is understandable and acceptable to men at given times and places: accommodation to the situation we face and the hardness of our hearts, but with the principle and pointer to progress in it, opening the way for later upliftment.

    s –> So, the real issue in our time is to go back to the principles of the Tao, and then look into our own sinful and self-deceptive hearts, asking ourselves hard questions on what is now simply allowed for the hardness of our own hearts today.

    t –> While we are at it, we will need to ask: is this light or darkness, liberty or libertinism? And, for that the two halves of the core Tao are a sure guide: Love God our loving and good Creator, love our fellow human beings, made in God’s image.

    I trust this helps put things in balance.

    GEM of TKI

  13. 13
    Vladimir Krondan says:

    [Leo Hales] There are therefore circumstances in which even killing babies becomes morally right.

    Of course you can just say that the Turks probably thought it was ok – and presto – there’s no moral standard.

    But, from what perspective would you say that the acts descibed by Dostoyevsky are not immoral? I’m not talking about other people, but you. If you cannot find any way to say that the specific acts described by Dostoyevsky morally right, then you have discovered an absolute moral standard. For if anyone comes along and tells you that bayonetting babies for fun is quite moral in their culture, you will tell them to go pound sand, no? It’s not likely that they will ever convince you that their morality is just as valid as yours, no?

  14. 14
    greyman says:

    Perhaps we can simplify this. Barry said “Anyone who says that it is not self-evident that the soldier’s act was evil is lying.” Well not so fast.

    Is it always wrong for soldiers to kill babies? Colonel Paul Tibbets incinerated roughly 2,300 babies on August 6, 1945 (give or take a couple of hundred). Was this self-evidently evil? If not, why not? Both soldiers knew they were killing babies in a pretty horrible way. Both, I’m sure we can agree, were convinced they were acting in the interest and according to the wishes of their sovereigns (the people of the USA in Tibbets’ case and the ruler of the Ottoman Empire in the case of the Turkish soldier). If you believe the acts are equally evil, then I applaud your very liberal pacifist sentiments and will believe that you mean what you say about self-evidence.

    If not, then please tell me what makes one act self-evidently evil from your point of view? The fact that one soldier did it up close and one from a distance with a button? Or is your ‘self-evident evil’ just an aesthetic judgment on your part based on the pleasure the Turk took in the act – an act which disgusts – while the other act seems reasonable to you? Either way Barry, you’ve got dead babies and precious little self-evidence from where I’m sitting.

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    GM:

    Did Tibbets TARGET the babies who may have perished in the bombing as his intended and principal targets?

    And, that is independent of the issue on whether the bombing was a lesser of evils.

    A lesser of evils is still an evil [so you have not broken out of the self-evidence claim]; but may be a relative good, i.e. a “better than the most credible alternative” outcome in a bad situation.

    So, back over to you: to just what was the incident of shooting the head off a baby in arms “a better alternative” to? [Or was it not obviously a case of cruelty without even the relative warrant of being better than the alternative.]

    In short, we should not fall into the fallacy of [im-]moral equivalence between unmitigated evils and the lesser of two evils in a bad situation.

    GEM of TKI

  16. 16
    tribune7 says:

    Leo –This reminds me of another action that we think is morally abhorrent: killing one’s own child seems to be wrong according to the Transcendent Moral Standard, doesn’t it?

    Actually, that sort of thing was rather common in Abraham’s day.

    You can make the argument that the incident involving Abraham and Isaac was God’s way of driving it home that one should not do it.

  17. 17
    tribune7 says:

    Leo –This reminds me of another action that we think is morally abhorrent: killing one’s own child seems to be wrong according to the Transcendent Moral Standard, doesn’t it?

    Actually, that sort of thing is rather common today.

  18. 18
    BarryA says:

    All of the responses so far have been examples of the debate tactic of “if you have nothing to say, change the subject.”

    The issue posed in this post is very narrow. Can the soldier’s act of ripping a baby from his mother’s arms, throwing him in the air, and catching him on a bayonet ever be good?

    The answer, of course, remains self evident.

    I am gaveling discusions of the Old Testament. They are a distraction.

  19. 19
    specs says:

    All of the responses so far have been examples of the debate tactic of “if you have nothing to say, change the subject.”

    The issue posed in this post is very narrow.

    So, if I acknowledge that the example you describe is self-evident, can we move on to other examples and see how self-evident they are? After all, a transcendent moral code that is only self-evident in very narrowly drawn scenarios isn’t of much value. So, lets push the boundaries and see how much self-evidency there really is.
    I think this makes sense as, otherwise, you stand to be accused of narrowing the discussion to a hyper-technical point in order to avoid broader questions that you are not prepared to answer.

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    Specs

    Kindly look at 15 above.

    There is a world of difference between

    [a] an unmitigated evil: calculated deliberate killing of innocent humans as a principal goal of an action [in the case in view multiplied by intent to thereby torture the mothers of the victims],

    and

    [b]which of ACKNOWLEDGED evils is lesser in a bad situation.

    One may dispute the pros and cons of a situation of lesser of evils and sit in comfortable armchair judgement on those who had to make decisions we had better thank God we do not have to face, but that has NOTHING to do with whether or not murder is self-evidently evil.

    (And the case in point is simply a case of that general rule: thou shalt do no murder.]

    Let us therefore call attention again to Hooker as cited by Locke to set up the principles of liberty and justice in civil society:

    . . . 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.

    If you cannot accept that murder is self-evidently evil, then you have told us all we need to know.

    GEM of TKI

  21. 21
    kairosfocus says:

    Mike

    Kindly cf 12 above, and show us that you have interacted seriously and soberly with the issues therein ands in the onward linked discussions.

    Otherwise you are simply resorting to points scoring, agenda serving rhetoric.

    GEM of TKI

  22. 22
    specs says:

    KF:

    One may dispute the pros and cons of a situation of lesser of evils and sit in comfortable armchair judgement on those who had to make decisions we had better thank God we do not have to face, but that has NOTHING to do with whether or not murder is self-evidently evil.

    Ah, so murder is self-evidently evil until it isn’t? And only you (and Barry) are allowed to decide which is which in this discussion? I can’t decide whether you are a closet post-modernist or just trying to avoid questions you don’t want to answer.

  23. 23
    tribune7 says:

    if one comes at this thing from a Biblical worldview (which I assume Barry is coming from), where subjective feelings take a clear backseat to Yahweh’s stated will.

    The stated will of God is “thou shalt not murder” and “love your enemy.” What’s so hard to understand about that?

  24. 24
    DaveScot says:

    Barry,

    What if the baby was Adolf Hitler and you knew what he would grow up and do. Would you strangle him in his crib?

    Good idea about gaveling the Old Testament. If I could gavel it and every memory of it out of existence I’d surely do so. I’m sure the original authors of the Christian religion would have preferred to do that too. Getting a religion based on love, charity, and forgiveness started and having to put the brutal God of the Old Testament at the head of it really took some mental gymnastics. In any objective reading you just know the connection between the old and new testaments is contrived for the sake of expediency. The new testament fixed glaring moral mistakes in the old testament. It was a badly needed fix. The difference in message is like night and day. The difference in godheads is like night and day. Personally I think you have to toss rationality out the window to believe the God of the OT is the same as the NT.

  25. 25
    tribune7 says:

    The point is, if there are exceptions from Yahweh’s own mouth, then the idea of a “transcendent rule” is false, despite the general rule, and despite our feelings.

    The point is what does God want you to do. Does he want you to love your enemy or slaughter your neighbor?

  26. 26
    Charles says:

    mike1962 @ 24:

    But to use a subjective feeling as a basis of what is “transcendently moral” is wrongheaded, if one comes at this thing from a Biblical worldview (which I assume Barry is coming from),

    The basis is not purely a subjective feeling. It is also an intellectual awareness of knowing the act is evil and what alternative act or outcome is preferred.

    where subjective feelings take a clear backseat to Yahweh’s stated will.

    You conflate obedience to God’s decree of judgement with a human determination of guilt under a transcendant moral standard.

    Further had God said all babies must be murdered all the time you’d have a point, but God decree’d only those particular children. And the fact that we all find even that objectionable (and comply only out of obedience and trust in God’s omniscience, and not out of ‘knowing it is per se good or righteous’) underscores the transcendant moral standard that murdering babies is not ever good.

    And since we all find even that OT act of obedience morally objectionable, there is no genuine reason to delve further into that ‘gavelled’ discussion, as it is not an exemplar of the point you wish to illustrate. If it did support your argument, we’d all agree whenever God commands babies to be murdered is a good thing, but no one (who also reveres God and scripture) so agrees.

  27. 27
    Charles says:

    DaveScot @ 28:

    What if the baby was Adolf Hitler and you knew what he would grow up and do. Would you strangle him in his crib?

    No, I’d just kidnap and quarantine him from access to Darwin’s theories.

    But now we’re talking ‘lesser of two evils’ arguments. Even if I’d opt to kill the infant Hitler, I’d could not deny my acknowledgement of the evil of that choice.

    Being free to act in opposition to a transcendent moral standard does not negate the standard. The fact you know murdering an infant Hitler to be objectionable proves the standard exists and transcends even the preferable of two evil outcomes.

  28. 28
    Ekstasis says:

    There is another reason for gaveling the Old Testament discussion. We are each individually responsible for our actions in light of the transcendent code. What matters is the transcendent code and our adherence to it in our lives today.

    Now, every Israelite and Amalekite (no doubt they were not all killed) that is reading this and was alive three thousand years ago, please respond immediately. What, silence? Why are we arguing about a directive that has nothing to do with us?

    The directive (transcendent moral guidance) to Christians is contained within the New Testament, as provided by Jesus and the Apostles. Newsflash, Jesus clearly condemned murder and violence, even when presumably justified, when he rebuked Peter for slicing the slave’s ear. Along with his directives to love your enemies, etc.

    52″Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Matthew 26

    Now, Materialists, for you Jesus was a mere mortal, was he not? Good, now please provide one or more names of fellow Materialists that can compete with Jesus in terms of moral guidance and a moral life.

    We will convene a panel to judge between Jesus and their champion Materialist. This should be more fun than American Idol!!

  29. 29
    Vladimir Krondan says:

    ‘Bayonetting babies for amusement is morally right.’

    Let’s call that proposition A. If any of us met someone who holds A, we would say he is simply wrong or crazy. We would not conclude that morality is relative, we’d conclude that he is just plain wrong.

    All of us would conclude so, and furthermore we would conclude, about anyone who holds proposition B, “we cannot conclude that an A-holder is wrong or crazy” that he is also wrong or crazy.

    There is no circumstance where any of us would entertain an A-holder as being anything but wrong or crazy.

  30. 30
    Frost122585 says:

    I agree with Aquinas who said the mind of man is “inclined but not compelled.”

    This begs the question of duty and challenge to do what is right – but it also stipulates that we have the power and the natural inclination to distinguish between the two. We know when we are doing evil for the most part just like we know when we are in pain. The programming is, for the healthy individual, all ready there, but “the choice” to do good still remains.

    Whatever forces bring about cruel behavior I think for the most part are working against man’s natural inclinations. As in the case of killing babies, people I think don’t naturally want to act that way.

    Since I think that there are forces that incline man to do evil, I am therefore a believer in freedom as the key to liberating the human spirit. Free market societies and democracies, I beleive promote freedom. Like Regan I think that the soul of man is mostly good if you allow it to act on it’s own merits and accord. Man becomes perverted for the most part when he is being influenced and controlled by other agents. As Reagan said “people don’t start wars, governments do.”

    Obviously my view is a general one that does have exceptions but the bottom line is that on the norm the heart of man is pure. I figure no one said it better than Shakespeare

    “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, howinfinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how likem a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? .”

    Though taking nothing away from the great Russian novelist- I have read Notes From Underground but The Brothers Karamazov is still stilling on the shelf waiting to be read.

    There is also a scientific reason and place for religion in any culture. Kurt godel said “that for the most part eligions are bad but, religion is good.” As Regan also put it,

    “Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”

    When people are behaving like vicious animals there usually is a reason for it that exists either in the culture or the circumstances that the people have found themselves in. Let us not forget about the relatively good people we are surrounded by day to day in this modern life, especially in comparison to darker times.

    People have a free will I think because I have experienced the dialectics of life so many times for my self. To steal or not to steal, to fight or not to fight, to work or not to work ,to eat or not to eat, to help or not to help, to be or not to be etc..

    This high power to choose is what actually separates us from the animals. Choice by itself is just a mechanism and is neither good nor bad. It is the choices that we make that warrant the final judgment.

    Man’s capacity to do evil is no doubt greater than the animals because he has a greater capacity than the animals. His power to do good is in the same position. The question that is being asked is “is man mostly good or mostly evil or is he just “man” somewhere in the middle?” I have come to the conclusion that man has purpose – things to live and to die for- and for the most part he takes up his predestined duties with a degree of altruistic vigor; duties that are for the most part noble. Man (at the level of the individual) has the power to choose and is naturally inclined (if ever so slightly) to chose what is right.

    Murdering babies is NEVER good and I can’t imagine ever right. There is however a supreme difference between “killing” and “murdering.” There are however, unfortunately, sometimes what we call “necessary evils” – but keep in mind that they still remain “evils” nonetheless. Our job as beings with a soul is to prevent evil from becoming necessary in the first place. Let us hope we have the grace and guidance in our capacity to distinguish between right and wrong and the courage to choose wisely.

  31. 31
    merlin says:

    At the risk of being accused of changing the subject;

    Isn’t there something morally incoherent about a members of a political party that hyperventilate over the “murder” of a few murderous thugs on death row and yet insist on the right to abort?

  32. 32
    JunkyardTornado says:

    I realize you were trying to pick a scenario that you think would be an example of obvious evil according to any standard. But it was not in fact a very good example at all, as the spectre of war always completely clouds the moral picture. Its instructive that the Brother Karamazov didn’t pick an example of Russian atrocities as I am sure there were many inflicted on the Turks. But its always the other guy that started it, and the atrocities you commit are always justified retaliation. Every student of World War II should be aware of what Soviet soldiers did to German civilians at the end of World War II, rape, intanticide by the hundreds of thousands. Of course, they had in their memories the equally horrific siege of Leningrad and Stalingrad and the untold atrocities inflicted on their own country by the Germans. As well, they had the always used excuse of following orders from their commanders.

    It is always the commander that issue orders from a safe distance, and carefully calculate a rationale for such atrocities while sittng comfortably in their studies with their cigars and brandy and in front of a roaring fire. Then they reach down and pat their faithful dog on the head and say to themselves, “Well it has to be done.” Then after the war they are honored as statesmen and heros.

    I just got finished reading about the bombing of Dresden at the very end of World War II. Dresden had no military value at all, and in fact the Germans had withdrew all defenses for it. The bombing was designed solely to kill civilians, and hundreds of thousands were burned alive at the order of Winston Churchill. The rationale had something to do with Churchill making a statement to Stalin that would expedite negotiations at the upcoming Yalta conference (Don’t really understand what was going on there – the decisions of Great Men are inscrutable.)

    The observations above are somewhat hackneyed – but it just illustrates that you should have certainly been aware of them yourself. Its also instructive that you did not pick an example of American wartime atrocities.

    (Psa 137:8-9) O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.

    (Luke 23:33-34) When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing…

  33. 33
    DaveScot says:

    ekstasis

    please provide one or more names of fellow Materialists that can compete with Jesus in terms of moral guidance and a moral life

    Ghandi.

  34. 34
    Charles says:

    mike1962 @ 33:

    The point I wish to make, which is simply true given the statements of the text itself, is that Yahweh makes general rules, and Yahweh makes specific exceptions. You can’t get any more foundational that that.

    Actually, you can if you didn’t conveniently ignore (twice now) your conflating God’s specific judgement with a transcendent and general ‘murder is evil’ moral code.

    If the transcendental morality you speak of is written clearly into everyone, then we’d all agree, it would be a tautology to all, and this thread wouldn’t exist.

    You again conflate. A tautology can be both true, and yet useless in proving anything. Even so, self-evident does not equate to a tautology. The sky is blue is self-evident. The sky is blue because blue is the color of the sky is a tautology.

    This thread can also exist for a variety of other reasons. One can for example acknowledge that murdering babies is always evil, and yet lie about it. We have free will: we can murder, knowing it is evil and we can lie about knowing it was evil, to further our own self-defense when caught, knowing that lying is also evil.

    I revere Yahweh and scripture, yet I disagree with you. Now what?

    You’ve demonstrated only that you disagree.

  35. 35
    Charles says:

    DaveScot @ 37:

    Ghandi advocated civil disobedience whereas Jesus advocated civil obedience both in word (render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s) and deed (He allowed the religious and civil authorities to murder Him under their jurisprudence). Jesus physically whipped the money changers out of the Temple, whereas Ghandi advocated passive resistence.

    There is no comparison.

  36. 36
    Frost122585 says:

    Dave at 28 wrote,

    “What if the baby was Adolf Hitler and you knew what he would grow up and do. Would you strangle him in his crib?”

    That would not be murder, that would be a justified act of preemption. You are however not allowing in your hypothetical, for the baby Hitler to be brought up right and changed or saved. Since I think people can be chanced and chose right vs. wrong I think your hypothetical is unrealistic. But if we knew that millions of deaths were going to come because of one kid we would obviously be in the right to prevent that child from existing. Just like when one has sex with their spouse it isn’t considered prostitution even if one is benefiting financially from the relationship.

    So it is with killing and murdering. This is about self defense in the most extreme of cases. Justice and reasoning separates the naturally indistinguishable into legitimate categories. Even though a lot of times reasoning can be poor or flat out wrong, it is still all that we‘ve got.

    What would be more interesting would be to ask the question “what if you somehow knew that the baby had a 50% chance of leading to the holocaust? Would you kill it then? How out a 40% or a 10% or 3% chance?”

    This would lead to a moral dilemma. Luckily we don’t have to deal with such probabilities very often in the real world. When we do the decisions are always difficult and almost always costly.

    In my view Iraq is a moral dilemma of sorts. It’s costs are great but I also think leaving the middle east to the dictatorial and religious fanaticism that permeats thoughout it is equally or more of a gamble of life and death. The costs are great but success would be priceless.

  37. 37
    leo says:

    Bayonetting babies for amusement is morally right.’

    Let’s call that proposition A. If any of us met someone who holds A, we would say he is simply wrong or crazy. We would not conclude that morality is relative, we’d conclude that he is just plain wrong.

    But the point is that the person who held A does not believe he is wrong or crazy, he believe he is right. And if he believe he is right, he obviously has a different moral standard than you or I, self-evidently.

  38. 38
    leo says:

    Jesus physically whipped the money changers out of the Temple, whereas Ghandi advocated passive resistence.

    So Ghandi goals were gained without resorting to physical abuse of ones enemies, something Jesus could not do?

  39. 39
    Charles says:

    mike1962 @ 42:

    By tautology, I mean something clearly obvious to all without further discussion.

    Then you would be mistaken in your use of the term.

    Are you making accusations?

    Again you seem mistaken, this time in your understanding of what it means to revere God and scripture. Like your use of the word “tautology” you may think your meaning is correct when in fact it isn’t.

  40. 40
    tribune7 says:

    What if the baby was Adolf Hitler and you knew what he would grow up and do.

    If you killed a baby because of what you thought he might do you would be criminally insane.

  41. 41
    Charles says:

    mike1962 @ 47:

    C.S. Lewis used in the sense I did:

    No, he didn’t.

    Looks like we’ve come to the end of rational discourse.

    That is self-evident.

  42. 42
    vjtorley says:

    May I make an ecumenical suggestion? Notwithstanding the difficulties that have been raised with regard to killing babies in extreme circumstances, there is a universal formulation which I think we can all agree to:

    The intentional killing of a baby is wrong, unless one KNOWS that by doing so, one is saving the baby from a fate worse than death itself.

    The key word above is “knows.” On a very narrow reading, “knows” might be construed to mean “knows with absolute certitude”; on a broader reading, it might mean “is certain beyond reasonable doubt.” I shall return to these readings below. However, my point here is that on EITHER reading, what the soldiers did in Dostoevsky’s novel was an unmitigated evil. Far from attempting to save the babies from a fate worse than death, the soldiers strove to make the babies’ deaths as hideous and hellish as possible, and they delighted in the suffering they caused.

    As to how we know that the universal formulation I proposed above is true, I would AGREE with those who say that this knowledge is properly basic (to use an expression that Alvin Plantinga likes to invoke), but DISAGREE with anyone who suggested that this knowledge is a purely subjective feeling. I would AGREE with those who say it can be known RATIONALLY, either as an instance of the Golden Rule (which again may be regarded as a properly basic moral truth, psychopaths notwithstanding), or as part of the natural moral law, starting from a consideration of ends (such as the good of life), whose goodness is self-evident, and which it makes no sense to question. I would also AGREE with those who regarded such a truth as a basic moral intuition. I would DISAGREE with those who said that because its truth is intuitively obvious, it is therefore not rationally defensible. I would AGREE with those who described such the universal formulation proposed above as OBJECTIVELY TRUE. I would also agree that the existence of objective moral truths ultimately makes no sense unless we posit a TRANSCENDENT source of moral value, who is BY NATURE good (and hence unable to do or command anything wrong). Unless such a being exists, there would be no reason for us to trust our faculty of moral reasoning. For if our moral faculty arose through some purely natural process, there would be no particular reason to assume that it functions reliably, or that it is capable of addressing moral questions on any and every subject. (One might still trust one’s moral reasoning, simply because one had nothing better to go on, but one would have no warrant for doing so.) However, I would DISAGREE with those who maintain that we have to explicitly posit God’s existence BEFORE we can debate any moral issue. That would make moral debate impossible, outside the circle of people who happened to believe in the same God. And yet, theists and atheists can often have fruitful moral discussions.

    By the way, for anyone who is hung up on the Euthyphro question, I would recommend the following article: “C.S. Lewis and the Euthyphro Dilemma” by Steve Lovell, at http://www.theism.net/article/29 .

    Let me return to the two readings of the universal formulation I proposed above, namely that the intentional killing of a baby is wrong, unless one KNOWS that by doing so, one is saving the baby from a fate worse than death itself. On the broad reading, where “knows” means “is certain beyond reasonable doubt,” one could justify the hard cases raised by Dave Scot, such as killing babies to prevent them from suffering a slow, painful death. The deaths of babies as a result of aerial bombing would be another matter: if the destruction of human life were part of the bomber’s intention (e.g. if the bomber intended to wreak destruction in order to demoralize the enemy, and thereby force the enemy to capitulate) then it would be EVIL on the formulation proposed; if, however, the deaths were an unintended side-effect, then the act MIGHT NOT be evil. (I am no military historian, but I would say that in the case of the Hiroshima bombing, the destruction of human life through aerial bombing seems to have been intentional; in most of the wars fought by America since then, I would say that it was not, with the possible exception of Vietnam.)

    Now let’s consider the narrow reading, where “knows” means “is certain beyond reasonable doubt.” In that case, it would follow that since God alone can know future events with absolute certitude, God alone could command the killing of innocent babies. ADDITIONALLY, the person obeying God’s command would have to know with a certitude that left no room for doubt that it was indeed God (and not some malevolent being) commanding such an act. To warrant such trust, the Being issuing such a command would have to demonstrate both its transcendence and its goodness through a series of PUBLIC signs (i.e. miracles), at least. “Inner voices,” no matter how insistent, could never warrant such unconditional trust.

    I have written more on the subject of the slaughter of the Canaanites and Amalekites. Those who wish to do so may like to look at my Web page at http://www.angelfire.com/linux.....ieve6.html and scroll down to section 6.7 (Biblical atrocities). I should also like to add that we do not know the limits of God’s providence. If we grant the possibility of miracles – as anyone who believes in a Creator God is logically compelled to do – then it is quite possible that God in His mercy miraculously intervened in such a way as to ensure that the innocent victims of these massacres experienced neither pain nor dread while they were being put to the sword by the Israelites. They may have been miraculously stunned by God, before being put to the sword by the Israelites. Indeed, I would argue that the goodness of God requires that He did indeed do such a thing: if He is God, then it is His duty to kill quickly and painlessly, if and when He ever has to kill an innocent human being.

  43. 43
    BarryA says:

    Mike1962, I have deleted all of your commetns. If you insist in trying to continue the Old Testament distraction, do not be surprised if your posting privilege is revoked.

  44. 44
    BarryA says:

    DaveScott: “What if the baby was Adolf Hitler and you knew what he would grow up and do. Would you strangle him in his crib?”

    Interesting question,which was actually explored in the movie “The Boys from Brazil.” The answer is Latin is: “Fiat justitia, ruat coelum.” Though the heavens fall, let justice prevail. Murdering a baby is never good, no matter what “greater good” one would try to accomplish.

    I’ve answered your question. Answer mine. Is the evil of the Turk’s act self-evident?

  45. 45
    kairosfocus says:

    Spec, re 24:

    Show me where I have said or entailed that murder, per the principles expounded by Hooker etc, is not self evidently evil.

    Have you paused to even observe the careful distinction of circumstances I made above? Do you appreciate that while killing another human being is an evil, not all such killing is murder? [What part of “the lesser of evils is still an evil” do you fail to understand? What part of murder as “the shedding of innocent blood, with malice aforethought” do you not understand?]

    Much less, do you actually address the issue on the merits?

    Finally: what is that telling us? [Hint, sadly, it is not to your credit.]

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Mike, re 25: please re-read the point Hooker made, as I have cited. it is not a matter of subjective distaste but that once we see that we are objectively equals in nature, and are intrinsically valuable, we have a mutual duty of benevolence. Or in Paul’s language, neighbour-love does no harm. (Contrast the shocking and destructive implications of evolutionary materialism for ethics, here. Of course, as the just linked begins by showing, such evo mat thinking is itself inherently self-referentially absurd.)

  46. 46
    kairosfocus says:

    PPS: 24 is now 22, and M’s at 25 has vanished.

  47. 47
    JPCollado says:

    Remember, murder and killing are two different things. I see people here blurring the distinctions.

  48. 48
    Ekstasis says:

    DaveScot,

    Gandhi was certainly not a Materialist. In fact I can think of practically no one who was more spiritually focused and motivated. He was the very polar opposite of a Materialist, for that matter.

    For starters, he was commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi — meaning “Great Soul”. He was a devout Hindu, he fasted and prayed for purification,and he devoted himself to Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian literature. His final words after being shot were reputed to be “Oh God”.

    Here is but one of his quotes:

    “The fleeting glimpses that I have been able to have of Truth can hardly convey an idea of the indescribable luster of Truth, a million times more intense than that of the Sun, we daily see with our eyes. In fact, what I have caught is only the faintest glimmer of that mighty effulgence. I feel the warmth and sun-shine of His presence.” Mahatma Gahdhi

    Having said this, let us remember that Gandhi was primarily a political figure, while Jesus was focused on personal transformation. Over a billion people on the planet are experiencing, or so claim, transformation by the power of Jesus. The same cannot be claimed by anyone else (the Prophet Mohammed claimed to only be a messenger, I believe).

    Jesus went to a horrible death intentionally, as a sacrifice for humanity. Gandhi gave his life, but did not go looking for it.

    Also, regarding Jesus clearing the temple, I do not see any statements that he actually whipped humans.

    “14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” John 2

    The cross stands alone, with no peers.

  49. 49
    JunkyardTornado says:

    Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is, according to many scholars, the greatest novel ever written. I don’t know if that is true. I am not qualified to judge, but I do know the novel moved me as no other ever has.

    I personally got only 130 pages into it before deciding “This is going nowhere.” I don’t know, to me, people sitting around talking for 1000 pages isn’t a novel – its self-indulgence. Its show the writer thinks his thoughts are so profound that people should devote weeks to them.

    I personally always admired the ethos of Hemingway, trying to say something in as few words as possible and how he could write an epic in 85 pages about and old guy in a boat. (Although the fact I have to go back 70 years to find a novelist worth mentioning shows I’m not much of a fiction reader.)

    However, that quote you gave is only in Chapter 4, so I must have read it and forgot about it. You did not include the continuing remarks of Ivan regarding the Turks which are instructive:

    You see, I am fond of collecting certain facts, and, would you believe, I even copy anecdotes of a certain sort from newspapers and books, and I’ve already got a fine collection. The Turks, of course, have gone into it, but they are foreigners. I have specimens from home that are even better than the Turks. You know we prefer beating- rods and scourges- that’s our national institution. Nailing ears is unthinkable for us, for we are, after all, Europeans. But the rod and the scourge we have always with us and they cannot be taken from us.
    Abroad now they scarcely do any beating. Manners are more humane, or laws have been passed, so that they don’t dare to flog men now. But they make up for it in another way just as national as ours.

  50. 50
    Borne says:

    Well DaveScot, it appears you’re going off to Dawkins land here. I guess we all saw it coming over these last few days.

    “If I could gavel it and every memory of it out of existence I’d surely do so.”
    Your hatred of the bible (which you obviously do not understand in the least) is getting more and more obvious.

    “I’m sure the original authors of the Christian religion would have preferred to do that too. ”
    Certainly you’ve never read either the words of Christ or the apostles!
    Virtually everything they said is based on the OT.
    Sheesh Dave!

    “…In any objective reading you just know the connection between the old and new testaments is contrived for the sake of expediency. The new testament fixed glaring moral mistakes in the old testament.”
    See above.

    “The difference in message is like night and day.”
    Same again. I suggest you actually read the book with some decent study guides. Everything Christ taught was based on OT law and principle.
    You truly and greatly confuse Jewish civil law with the natural moral law in the book.

    “The difference in godheads is like night and day.”
    Amazingly wrong. In both OT and NT Christ is God and claims to be the same God of Abraham.
    He came specifically to show what the God is like. That is written all over the NT and OT prophecies as well!

    “Personally I think you have to toss rationality out the window …”
    I’m sorry to say it but I think you just did.

    Get an education in biblical doctrine, history and a course on exegesis and the difference between civil law, ceremonial law and moral law in the OT. Also suggest you learn something about the OT cultures and their practices which might help you understand the “why” of so many things in the OT.

    You’re talking more and more like Dick Dawkins, maybe you ought to consult him to get to the real truth? Jeepers Dave I’m very disappointed.

  51. 51
    specs says:

    Show me where I have said or entailed that murder, per the principles expounded by Hooker etc, is not self evidently evil.

    When you excused the dropping of the atom bomb when you suggested that the babies killed were not the target, but rather just collateral damage.

    Have you paused to even observe the careful distinction of circumstances I made above? Do you appreciate that while killing another human being is an evil, not all such killing is murder?

    Yers, I have. And what I see is you, in true post-modern fashion, equivocating on what is murder and what isn’t. As near as I can tell the definition of what constitutes murder is what you say it is. How very not Scottish.

  52. 52
    BarryA says:

    Vladimir Krondan at 29. Excellent.

  53. 53
    Charles says:

    mike1962 @ 47:

    or those who believe in the transcendent morality think the deniers are liars.

    I gave a generic example of how this thread could exist as a result of lying, I did not accuse you personally of lying. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t put it on.

    I did accuse you of being mistaken. I accused you of not understanding the meaning of revering God and scripture. I did not accuse you of lying about God and scripture. By analogy, if you posit that 2+2=5, does the evidence support an accusation of lying, being mistaken, or fat-fingered?

    IMO, the facts in evidence demontrated only our disagreement. In further rebutal I specifically said your responses indicated that you were mistaken, again a conclusion supported by the facts in evidence in your posts.

    One can be honestly mistaken without lying.

  54. 54
    allanius says:

    The new and old testaments are perfectly harmonized in their reverence for the law, which, we are told, is summed up in the command to love one another, and which includes the injunction “thou shalt not kill.” It appears to have been necessary for this injunction to be revealed, however, which suggests that it was not self-evident, as the post indicates. Jeremiah’s famous description of the human heart may be relevant here; it is certainly reflected in Dostoyevsky. The passage quoted reflects his belief that the heart is desperately wicked, and that grace is therefore the only possible means of obtaining happiness or breaking out of the desperation caused by the collapse of philosophy and the pursuit of the good at the end of the dark century. Speaking for ourselves, we tend to agree with him.

  55. 55
    BarryA says:

    DaveScott, Ghandi was not a materialist.

  56. 56
    Ekstasis says:

    Sorry to bounce around, but check this out on Gandhi:

    “Early that very morning, foreseeing the manner of his death, Gandhi had said to Manu, “If someone fires bullets at me and I die without a groan and with God’s name on my lips, then you should tell the world that here was a real Mahatma [Great Soul]…” …..He had journeyed “from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.

    Gandhi, the soldier of Truth, lay on the soft, moist earth, his body sacrificed. But Gandhi had never fought with the body but with the spirit, and that remained untouched.”

    Yep, far from the fog of Materialist thinking, was the great man!!!

  57. 57
    JunkyardTornado says:

    edit:
    The Old Man and the Sea is a novella (just over 100 pages in length) by Ernest Hemingway written in Cuba in 1951 and published in 1952

  58. 58
    BarryA says:

    Junkyard writes: “to me, people sitting around talking for 1000 pages isn’t a novel – its self-indulgence. Its show the writer thinks his thoughts are so profound that people should devote weeks to them.”

    For many, maybe most, writers, you would be right. Dostoevsky is an exception. In his case, his thoughts are worth however much time you care to devote to them. They are hard, baffling, frustrating, even infuriating at times. But they are profound and cannot be dismissed.

  59. 59
    BarryA says:

    OK People. Focus. The purpose of this post is not to argue theology. It is to determine if we can all agree that there is at least one self-evident truth:

    Let me see if I can get us back on track by formulating it as a debate resolution:

    Resolved, amusing oneself by ripping a baby from his mothers arms, tossing it in the air and catching it on a bayonet is absolutely wrong and this is self-evident.

    Does anyone care to argue for the negative?

  60. 60
    kairosfocus says:

    Barry:

    One may choose to deny a self-evident truth.

    But the resulting absurdity will speak, more eloquently than a direct proof can.

    GEM of TKI

  61. 61
    BarryA says:

    All future Old Testament comments will be deleted.

  62. 62
    vjtorley says:

    In response to BarryA’s resolution in 59 above: I don’t think there any any naysayers. However, I understand that one contributor argued earlier that BarryA’s formulation was too specific, and that it therefore proved too little: a moral faculty which can apprehend self-evident moral truths only in specific situations isn’t much use in practice, when we have so many moral problems on our plate.

    My post at 42 above (which took a couple of hours to get through) attempts to refute this skeptical argument, and offers a more universal formulation in keeping with the spirit of BarryA’s resolution in 59.

  63. 63

    Regarding 8, 11, and 24:

    Even after I explicitly point out that DaveScot’s attempts to challenge an objective moral standard by citing extreme or unusual examples is invalid as it relates to the point in question, he turns around and cites yet another such example (this time purely hypothetical). I take it then, that there is no more substantive position available to him.

    Re-read my post 11.

    Does anyone have anything else to offer against an objective moral standard other than coming up with fringe examples where (i) either it is difficult to apply the standard, or (ii) someone wilfully chooses not to follow the standard?

  64. 64
    specs says:

    Comments after comment 62 that do not argue either the affirmative or the negative will be deleted.

    Just to clarify the rules, will the commenter also be expelled?

  65. 65
    StephenB says:

    —–Barry A: “Resolved, amusing oneself by ripping a baby from his mothers arms, tossing it in the air and catching it on a bayonet is absolutely wrong and this is self-evident.”

    I am glad that you reduced it to this level, though it should not have been necessary.

    There are only three possible answers.

    [A] Its OK

    [B} I’m personally opposed, but—–

    [C] It’s wrong.

    All the skeptics are taking position [B}

    Thus, they reveal that they are moral relativists at heart, and that they do no believe in the principle of justice at any level. You can’t justify freedom, protect human rights, or establish a well-ordered society around the principle “I’m personally opposed but—–

    Either slavery is wrong, or it isn’t. Either killing babies for fun (or for that matter convenience) is wrong or it isn’t. When relativists deny the natural moral law, they always end up arguing for arbitrarily based laws that reflect their personal “feelings.” Since their feelings violate the natural moral law and all standards of good sense, they must establish dictatorships to keep civilized people from reminding them about how irrational they are.

    Can you imagine Thomas Jefferson saying, “I’m personally opposed to tyranny, but………

    Can you imagine Martin Luther King saying, “I’m personally opposed to institutionalized slavery, but……

    How about this one: “We hold these truths to be personally preferable, that all men are created equal”…….

    Without the natural moral law, we have nothing. The enemies of the natural moral law are the enemies of freedom.

  66. 66
    BarryA says:

    Specs asks: “Just to clarify the rules, will the commenter also be expelled?”

    Maybe.

  67. 67
    DaveScot says:

    BarryA

    Of course bayoneting babies in front of their mothers is wrong. Death and destruction is all wrong in any form. In a perfect world there’d be none of it.

  68. 68
    SteveB says:

    Reposted (and edited) here from previous thread at Barry’s request…

    Jack Krebs,

    Thanks for the great discussion Jack, and yes, it was Dostoyevsky, which I remembered soon after I pressed “submit.” Story of my life…

    He [the soldier] is free to choose, and he may think what he does is “good,” but I will not only strenuously disagree, I will also do what I can to get society as a whole to agree with me – agree with me enough to do something about it in terms of punishment and prevention.

    Imagine attempting to reason with such a soldier: as you strenuously disagree, upon what basis would you build your argument?

    Seems to be that any such dissenter has two basic options:
    (1) Appeal to a standard that is shared by both of you, that is known to the soldier as well as to you, but that for whatever reason, he is choosing not to follow. This standard, which you yourself seem to at least recognize (in selecting Option 1)* is independent of time, culture and circumstance—ie, a transcendent standard.
    (2) Appeal to something non-transcendent—something rooted in time, culture and circumstance like majority rule, personal pursuasiveness or idiosyncratic opinion.

    If you make a #1-style appeal, you broadly agree with me. If you make a #2-style appeal, what’s to keep the soldier from asking (legitimately, IMO), “Why should I give a damn about your opinion? I make moral choices based on a conglomeration of things that make up my nature, but ultimately I choose, period, without recourse to transcendent standards.”**

    I choose, period.

    Kind of sounds to me like the conversation comes to a screeching halt right there. How do you answer the soldier? Can you answer the soldier?

    -SteveB

    *Yes, this was my choice too. See, we do have common ground ;-), and thus, while I agree with much of Barry’s line of reasoning, we part company on this point. Our shared humanity guarantees at least some amount of common ground upon which to have these discussions. Thanks again, -sb.

    **http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/barrya-responds-to-davescott/#comment-287891)

  69. 69
    BarryA says:

    OK DaveScot, let’s take it one step further.

    Let’s say for the sake of the argument everyone in the world except you and I believed the following proposition: “Under circumstance X bayoneting babies for fun in front of their mother is a good thing.”

    Is it always wrong nevertheless?

  70. 70
    Borne says:

    Dave please stop!
    “In a perfect world there’d be none of it.” How do you know this? Here once again you are assuming a transcendent law.

    “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” ”
    Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself. – The Problem of Pain” – Lewis

  71. 71
    Rude says:

    Interesting discussion above—including the off topic stuff.

    Anyway Barry A,

    The materialist who believes variation and Natural Selection explain it all (with no need for transcendant logic, esthetics, ethics) must of course challenge you—that’s precisely what today’s mindless college students do all the time: “Well, I feel it’s wrong, but I cannot speak for others …” You know, don’t you? that if it’s part of one’s culture that settles it. And so when you do the reductio ad Hitlerum they’re not even nonplussed—hordes of them now no longer agree that Hitler was wrong: They just disagree.

    But I agree with Budziszewski. Nevertheless the problem is education which so easily subverts what we cannot not know—it justifies desires that are not always in accord with Lewis’ Tao. Darwinian indoctrination disposes one to reject it on logical grounds, the teaching of terrorists convinces others that the Deity favors strapping the suicide belt on the little ones.

    You may not get too many here to dispute your “Resolved, it is self-evident that the soldier’s action is wrong in all places and at all times.” But you won’t convince the convinced Darwinist or multiculturalist or postmodernist or other relativist. If you’re wanting one of them to debate you all he has to do is say, “I don’t agree—it’s not self-evident to me.” And we will say, “Yes it is!” And he’ll say, “No it isn’t!”

    How can you win with our schools in the shape they are?

  72. 72
    BarryA says:

    Rude: “And so when you do the reductio ad Hitlerum they’re not even nonplussed—hordes of them now no longer agree that Hitler was wrong: They just disagree.”

    This reflects my experience too. I don’t know about you, but I am genuinely frightened about the future.

  73. 73
    bornagain77 says:

    Dave stated:

    In a perfect world there’d be none of it.

    And what would this perfect world be called that you are judging this imperfect world by?

    Enchanted Journey Poem – Sarah Brightman Background

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzQuM7DG5aM

  74. 74
    congregate says:

    Assuming the soldier did it solely for his amusement, it would be wrong to do what you describe. It is wrong to impose such harsh costs on another person for such a small benefit to oneself.

    What is the point of the post?

  75. 75
    DaveScot says:

    Born

    I’d tell you one name for a perfect world with no death and no destruction but I’d get my comment deleted if I did according to the rules here.

  76. 76
    StephenB says:

    —–Congregate: “Assuming the soldier did it solely for his amusement, it would be wrong to do what you describe. It is wrong to impose such harsh costs on another person for such a small benefit to oneself.

    —–What is the point of the post?”

    The point of the post was to propose an objective, self-evident standard for morality and to refute, among other things, the kind of utilitarianism implied in your cost/benefit analysis.

  77. 77
    Cue says:

    BarryA,

    It is not necessary to assume that the the action is either good or bad. There is also a neutral position to consider. For instance, the actions of the soldier are comparable in form to the actions of an orca repeatedly smashing a seal around with with its tail with no intent to eat the seal. This similar action, being of a wild beast, may need to be called neutral – or, being that the beast has some intelligence, it may truly be evil.

    Here’s an example of an orca abusing a seal: http://youtube.com/watch?v=FfycZ5OeRLo

    One option is to consider the orca’s actions to be neutral – neither good nor bad. And as the soldier’s actions are comparable, we likewise might consider his actions to be neutral. I’m suggesting that to be reasonable, because I’m suggesting that the attribute of cruel or evil or wrong lies elsewhere in the event.

    Specifically, I’m suggesting that the difference in the orca’s behavior and the soldier’s behavior is their intent. I’m suggesting that the attribute of “evil” or “cruel” or “morally wrong” lies in the mind of the actor, and not simply in his results. Instead, the result of the intent is simply an action – a baby can be impaled intentionally by tossing it and catching it, it can be impaled by accident by falling into a sharp object, or it can be “brutalized” by an orca. I don’t think we would argue that all of those action are evil, or cruel, or morally wrong. However, by arguing intent, we may tend to agree more.

    To address your question of self-evident truth, I’m suggesting that it is possible that such a soldier could be mentally deficient so that his actions are more automatic than intentional. If so, he may nothave the intent to form “cruel” or “evil” thoughts, so wouldn’t the event simply be “sad”?

    In terms of your proposition, isn’t cruelty or evil a measure of the motivation behind the actions, and not simply a description of the actions?

  78. 78
    Rude says:

    Barry A 72,

    “I don’t know about you, but I am genuinely frightened about the future.”

    Same here—though I prefer optimism. This is why Ben Stein’s Expelled is so important—it really clarifies the direction our society has been going for the past 40 years or so and where this will take us. There’s been a dumbing down—philosophically and morally. The good news, however, is that there is so much more wonderful resources coming out these days. ID and Ben Stein’s documentary were as needed then as now but there was really nothing like that back then.

    Let’s hope it’s not too late!

  79. 79
    BarryA says:

    In 77 Cue asks, “What if the soldier is mentally deficient?”

    He’s not.

    Now what Cue? Will you come up with yet another “change the subject” distraction?

    What is the matter with the materialists? Surely you are not running from the challenge. Come in here and argue the negative. Jack, where are you? Bob O’H, what about you?

  80. 80
    Cue says:

    Barry, I’m not changing the subject. You asked a question about self-evidence (in the title), and “always wrong” (in 69, regarding morality)

    I’m asking whether the self-evidence lies in the action, or in the intentions behind the action.

    It is important, because similar actions can result from wholly different intentions. A mentaly deficient soldier could do the same actions and his actions would not necessarily be evil. The self-evidence of identical results is lost.

    However, if the self-evidence lies in the intentions of the soldier, then a different answer may result.

    So, when you ask about self-evident morality of the soldier tossing babies and catching them, are asking about his actions, or of his intentions?

    BTW – this is not a materialist question. It is philosophical, and essential to the crux of the argument.

  81. 81
    StephenB says:

    —–“In terms of your proposition, isn’t cruelty or evil a measure of the motivation behind the actions, and not simply a description of the actions?”

    Barry A already covered that ground when he explained that the killing for done for fun.

    In any case, we have words for acts that are intrinsically evil (murder) and words for acts that are conditionally evil (killing). Thus, killing a baby for purposes of entertainment is necessarily immoral. Killing a solider in the line of duty or defending oneself from an agressor may or may not be immoral, depending on the intent behind the act.

  82. 82
    Jack Krebs says:

    Barry asks, “Jack, where are you? Bob O’H, what about you?”

    I’m back in the thread from which this started, about the existence of self-evident truths. I made it clear that I welcomed further discussion back there.

  83. 83
    Jack Krebs says:

    P.S. Barry’s quote starts with, “What is the matter with the materialists?”

    I am not a materialist. There seems to be a strong tendency to jump to conclusions about people based on prejudice rather than actually trying to find out, and perhaps even trying to understand, what they believe.

  84. 84
    specs says:

    There seems to be a strong tendency to jump to conclusions about people based on prejudice rather than actually trying to find out, and perhaps even trying to understand, what they believe.

    You appear to be a little slow on the uptake, Jack. If you don’t agree with the commenters here, you are (self-evidently) a materialist.

    And probably a Nazi, too.

  85. 85
    StephenB says:

    —–Jack Krebs: “I am not a materialist. There seems to be a strong tendency to jump to conclusions about people based on prejudice rather than actually trying to find out, and perhaps even trying to understand, what they believe.”

    Yes, there does seem to be a lot of that going around. On the last post, for example, someone suggested that you were pro-choice on abortion, but you hastened to remind him that he had no way of knowing. So tell me. What is your metaphysical position and how do you feel about abortion? Inasmuch as there are only two options (metaphysical dualism, metaphysical materialism) (pro-choice, pro-life), the answer is bound to be instructive.

  86. 86
    greyman says:

    Barry, I’m not surprised to see the discussion is still active. I’m also not surprised to see you still missing the point, so I’ll try again. In your eyes (and mine) bayoneting babies for fun is always wrong. In your Turkish soldier’s eyes it is not, as his enemy is less than human and killing the enemy (at whatever age) for sport is no more evil for him than Dick Cheney shooting a pen-raised quail for sport is evil for the Dark Lord. In your eyes the nuclear incineration babies “may be a relative good” and thus somehow acceptable, but in the eyes of another reasonable person it is self evident that is always an evil act given the innocence of the victim.

    The whole problem with the question of evil for theists is that there are manifestly no absolutes. An act that we ‘all’ find obviously abhorrent today (slavery) was a social norm for some of the men we still honor with holidays and pictures on our money. That’s why the Ten Commandments are never treated as absolute values even by those who profess to believe in them. They cannot be read rationally without a set of post facto qualifiers: thou shalt not kill (except when the state tells you to do so); For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work (unless you are, say, a surgeon who must perform life saving surgery on an accident victim). Pretty quickly any notion of self-evident absolutes are drowning in a sea of socially constructed relativism.

  87. 87
    Jack Krebs says:

    But I’ll tell you why I’m not participating in this thread – it’s because I refuse to participate in discussing something as repugnant as killing babies. I have a daughter who is six months pregnant with her first child, and my first grandchild, and she is tickled pink to be a mother and to be growing a baby. I am not about to have the image of the scene from the Brothers Karamazov in my head hour after hour.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I read the Brothers Karamozov as a senior in high school, many years ago, and was deeply influenced by the experience. In fact, I wrote the essay for my AP English exam on the book. The scene with the baby was horrifically powerful then, and it and a number of other experiences were part of my becoming firmly opposed to war.

    So if people want to come back to the BarryA Responds to DaveScot thread and take up the conversation we were engaged in there, I’m willing. But I’m not participating in this thread.

  88. 88
    Jack Krebs says:

    StephenB – I’d be glad to respond on the other thread if you’d like to post over there.

  89. 89
    StephenB says:

    Amendment on @84. It is conceivable that someone might be a metaphysical idealist, but that doesn’t seem very likely for a Darwinst.

  90. 90
    tribune7 says:

    In your eyes (and mine) bayoneting babies for fun is always wrong. In your Turkish soldier’s eyes it is not,

    Imagine there is no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us, only sky.

  91. 91
    Dick says:

    There are two (realistic) possibilities: Either a Designer has inscribed on our hearts the conviction that the soldier’s behavior is absolutely wrong, or the conviction is the product of our evolutionary history.

    If it is the latter then the conviction of absolute wrongness is a mere illusion, like our conviction that our lives are meaningful. If we are solely the products of materialistic evolutionary forces then it’s not wrong to impale babies because might makes right and nothing the strong do is “wrong.”

    Only if the conviction that it is wrong is a result of the work of an omniscient, perfectly good Being can it have any moral reality at all.

    Thus, whether it is absolutely wrong, or wrong at all, to do what the soldier did depends upon where our sense of right and wrong come from in the first place.

  92. 92
    StephenB says:

    —–greyman: “In your Turkish soldier’s eyes it is not, as his enemy is less than human and killing the enemy (at whatever age) for sport is no more evil for him than Dick Cheney shooting a pen-raised quail for sport is evil for the Dark Lord. In your eyes the nuclear incineration babies “may be a relative good” and thus somehow acceptable, but in the eyes of another reasonable person it is self evident that is always an evil act given the innocence of the victim.
    An absolute evil does not cease to be evil simply because a misguided Turkish soldier’s perception of evil is malformed. Also, taking an innocent human life as a matter of convenience is always wrong. The morality of war is different than personal morality, and its standards are not always self evident. Barry A didn’t say that all moral absolutes are self-evident. The standards for a “just war” are far from self-evident. He did say that the most basic moral norms are indeed self evident, and he is correct in saying that. Why do you take up three themes in one paragraph?

    —–“The whole problem with the question of evil for theists is that there are manifestly no absolutes. An act that we ‘all’ find obviously abhorrent today (slavery) was a social norm for some of the men we still honor with holidays and pictures on our money. That’s why the Ten Commandments are never treated as absolute values even by those who profess to believe in them. They cannot be read rationally without a set of post facto qualifiers: thou shalt not kill (except when the state tells you to do so); For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work (unless you are, say, a surgeon who must perform life saving surgery on an accident victim). Pretty quickly any notion of self-evident absolutes are drowning in a sea of socially constructed relativism.”

    I continue to marvel at this kind of thinking. Slavery is and always has been an absolute evil because it violates the inherent dignity of the human person. The fifth commandment forbids murder, not killing. The Ten Commandments constitute absolute morality in every sense of the word. The only social constructivism going on here is in your mind.

  93. 93
    StephenB says:

    @91 is too confusing because I failed to separate the original comments from my responses. Here is the revision.

    —–greyman: “In your Turkish soldier’s eyes it is not, as his enemy is less than human and killing the enemy (at whatever age) for sport is no more evil for him than Dick Cheney shooting a pen-raised quail for sport is evil for the Dark Lord. In your eyes the nuclear incineration babies “may be a relative good” and thus somehow acceptable, but in the eyes of another reasonable person it is self evident that is always an evil act given the innocence of the victim.”

    An absolute evil does not cease to be evil simply because a misguided Turkish soldier’s perception of evil is malformed. Also, taking an innocent human life as a matter of convenience is always wrong. The morality of war is different than personal morality, and its standards are not always self evident. Barry A didn’t say that all moral absolutes are self-evident. The standards for a “just war” are far from self-evident. He did say that the most basic moral norms are indeed self evident, and he is correct in saying that. Why do you take up three themes in one paragraph?

    —–”The whole problem with the question of evil for theists is that there are manifestly no absolutes. An act that we ‘all’ find obviously abhorrent today (slavery) was a social norm for some of the men we still honor with holidays and pictures on our money. That’s why the Ten Commandments are never treated as absolute values even by those who profess to believe in them. They cannot be read rationally without a set of post facto qualifiers: thou shalt not kill (except when the state tells you to do so); For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work (unless you are, say, a surgeon who must perform life saving surgery on an accident victim). Pretty quickly any notion of self-evident absolutes are drowning in a sea of socially constructed relativism.”

    I continue to marvel at this kind of thinking. Slavery is and always has been an absolute evil because it violates the inherent dignity of the human person. The fifth commandment forbids murder, not killing. The Ten Commandments constitute absolute morality in every sense of the word. The only social constructivism going on here is in your mind.

  94. 94
    Vladimir Krondan says:

    [leo] But the point is that the person who held A does not believe he is wrong or crazy, he believe he is right. And if he believe he is right, he obviously has a different moral standard than you or I, self-evidently.

    Despite that, all of us conclude that his moral standard is wrong.

    Which brings us to the following principle:

    Proposition A: ‘Bayonetting babies for amusement is morally right.’

    Proposition B: , ‘we cannot conclude that an A-holder is wrong or crazy.’

    Anyone who hesitates, or is unwilling to deny A and B, or is argumentative about it, or posits hypothetical distractions about it, either has a broken moral compass, or is plain crazy.

  95. 95
    greyman says:

    “Slavery is and always has been an absolute evil because it violates the inherent dignity of the human person.”

    Right Stephen. Yet the Bible never condemns slavery as an evil and in fact provides useful rules on the correct handling of slaves (see Leviticus 25:44-46; Exodus 21:7-11). And let’s not forget the sixth chapter of Ephesians: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear”. So in your view the Bible condones an absolute evil?

    “The fifth commandment forbids murder, not killing. The Ten Commandments constitute absolute morality in every sense of the word.”

    I’ll accept your questionable point on the fifth commandment (and you surely know that not all Hebrew scholars agree with you), but I note with amusement that you carefully avoided commenting the very real issue of sabbath work!

  96. 96
    greyman says:

    Oh and just to belabor the fifth commandment a little more: if I shoot an unarmed trespasser in the head in Louisiana, I have not committed murder. If I do it in Canada or the UK, I have. Which of these acts is murder absolutely prohibited under the fifth? Are the Ten Commandments jurisdictional in nature? Do we need a little write-in that says ‘thou shalt not murder according to the definition of murder by your local tribe, village, state or nation’?

  97. 97
    greyman says:

    Should read “If I do it in Canada or the UK, I have not.” Sorry!

  98. 98
    vividblue says:

    The reason is that the subject of this thread is not whether a particular action is good or not, but rather the claim that one can only know what is good if one believes in transcendent moral standards. That is the proposition that I am arguing against.

    I don’t think that is the main thrust of this thread but that’s just me. I see three main themes. 1) Objective moral standards do exist. 2) We know this because it is self evident. 3) That those who deny the existence of objective moral standards act as if they do indeed exist.

    Krebs: “I’m not claiming that I have some special insight into the Truth, or that I have some special right to claim what “ought” to be the case.”

    Ok Jack lets examine this statement in light of the current Iraqi war. In a previous thread you said the only war you would have supported was WW2. For arguments sake I will assume you are against the Iraqi war. Now if you do not have any special insight into the truth that we should not be engaging in this war what possible argument could you put forth against it? Furthermore if you do not have any special right to claim that we “ought” not be there how can you argue that we “ought” not be there?

    Krebs: “ You can’t know whether transcendent moral standards exist. The argument that they are self-evident and are just “known in the heart” doesn’t work.”

    How do you know one cant know whether transcendent moral standards exist? Furthermore what differentiates the knowable from the unknowable?

    Krebs: “The argument that they are self-evident and are just “known in the heart” doesn’t work.”

    Why is the argument that they are self evident not work?

    Krebs: “I suggest you stick with discussion of the issues and leave your personal prejudices about me out of it.”

    Excellent advise, I was out of line and I apologize.

    Vivid

  99. 99
    vividblue says:

    I posted post #96 here and at the other thread because Barry A wanted that thread to continue here. I apologize for any confusion.

    Evidently any future correspondence with Jack will have to take place on the other thread.

    Vivid

  100. 100
    Vladimir Krondan says:

    [BarryA] All future Old Testament comments will be deleted.

    There is one point that can be gleaned from those comments, a highly ironic one. The Bible-believers in this thread seem to have no trouble denying propositions A and B, while the atheists (or whatever they are) agonize over A and B in various creatively distracting ways, even invoking the Bible to do so.

  101. 101
    StephenB says:

    —–“Right Stephen. Yet the Bible never condemns slavery as an evil and in fact provides useful rules on the correct handling of slaves (see Leviticus 25:44-46; Exodus 21:7-11). And let’s not forget the sixth chapter of Ephesians: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear”. So in your view the Bible condones an absolute evil?”

    I see that you have decided to violate Barry A’s injunction that the Old Testament not be used. I am surprised that your comment survived. There is a very simple explanation for the Old Testament passages on this matter, but I am not going to invest my time explaining it to you. Once again, you have evaded the point about the natural moral law.

    “The fifth commandment forbids murder, not killing. The Ten Commandments constitute absolute morality in every sense of the word.”

    —–“I’ll accept your questionable point on the fifth commandment (and you surely know that not all Hebrew scholars agree with you), but I note with amusement that you carefully avoided commenting the very real issue of sabbath work!”

    It doesn’t matter whether Hebrew scholars disagree with the point of not, because it is not my only way of making the distinction between justified and unjustified killing.

  102. 102
    StephenB says:

    —–greyman: ” but I note with amusement that you carefully avoided commenting the very real issue of sabbath work!”

    I am beginning to understand why Barry A has forbidden Old Testament theology, and I am beginning to understand why you cling to it. What is the problem with recognizing that the Sabbath is to be set aside as a special day of worship except when there is an opportunity for performing acts of mercy. Don’t you remember the conflict with Jesus Christ and the pharisees. Please, lets get back to the subject about self-evident morality.

  103. 103
    DaveScot says:

    BarryA

    I’m getting a little weary of the easy questions. Here’s a harder question for you.

    Let’s say the soldiers were spearing puppies instead of babies.

    Is that any more or less morally acceptable than killing babies?

    Why or why not?

    No falling back on arbitrary scriptural revelations either. Those are a dime a dozen and carry no water.

  104. 104
    StephenB says:

    —–“Oh and just to belabor the fifth commandment a little more: if I shoot an unarmed trespasser in the head in Louisiana, I have not committed murder. If I do it in Canada or the UK, I have. Which of these acts is murder absolutely prohibited under the fifth? Are the Ten Commandments jurisdictional in nature? Do we need a little write-in that says ‘thou shalt not murder according to the definition of murder by your local tribe, village, state or nation’?”

    You are confusing civil law with the natural moral law on which it is supposed to be based. The state, which establishes civil law, must speculate about the intentions of the murderer and any possible extenuating circumstances. That means that civil laws will vary and will always reflect the natural moral law in an imperfect way. The natural moral law, on the other hand, has an objective component, absolute moral truth, and a subjective component, the individual conscience. Thus, the individual can violate the natural moral law and not violate the civil law or vice versa.

  105. 105
    kairosfocus says:

    BarryA:

    The problem is not so much whether there are self-evident moral truths, as we reveal that we expect other human beings to understand and accept such truths so soon as we quarrel or wish to retaliate for real or imagined injury.

    But, instead, the real problem is whether we are willing to accept them when they cut against our agendas.

    I again cite as an example in point, Locke’s foundational citation of Hooker from his Ecclesiastical Polity, in making his argument to ground liberty in Ch 2 section 5 of his 2nd essay on civil gov’t:

    . . . 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.

    Locke, in introducing his essay on human understanding, section 5, also speaks very well to the underlying problem of selective, often self-serving hyper-skepticism and associated objectionism:

    Men have reason to be well satisfied with what God hath thought fit for them, since he hath given them (as St. Peter says [NB: i.e. 2 Pet 1:2 – 4]) pana pros zoen kaieusebeian, whatsoever is necessary for the conveniences of life and information of virtue; and has put within the reach of their discovery, the comfortable provision for this life, and the way that leads to a better. How short soever their knowledge may come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secures their great concernments [Prov 1: 1 – 7], that they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties [cf Rom 1 – 2, Ac 17, etc, etc]. Men may find matter sufficient to busy their heads, and employ their hands with variety, delight, and satisfaction, if they will not boldly quarrel with their own constitution, and throw away the blessings their hands are filled with, because they are not big enough to grasp everything . . . It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant [Matt 24:42 – 51], who would not attend his business by candle light, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The Candle that is set up in us [Prov 20:27] shines bright enough for all our purposes . . . If we will disbelieve everything, because we cannot certainly know all things, we shall do muchwhat as wisely as he who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: On the slavery issue, we should first note that it was Evangelical, Bible-believing Christians such as Wilberforce, Knibb and Buxton who led the world in the reformation movement that shifted the moral consensus on slavery — indeed, this was the world’s first democratic civil rights movement. [That should tell us something!]

    Further to this, quite recently in discussions in the blog, I highlighted the biblical principle that the OT civil law sometimes regulates what is reflective of hardness of hearts [in a context of lesser of evils in a situation], with provision for onward reformation.

    Absence of serious grappling with this principle while trotting out instances out of proper context, sadly, tends to suggest rhetorical points scoring games based on red herrings leading out to convenient strawmen burned to cloud and poison the atmosphere, rather than serious dealing with issues.

    But since such tactics are all too often rhetorically effective, we need to expose the tactic, and deal with the main issue. [The underlying tendentious attack on Judaeo-Christian morality — to often by those whose worldview and agendas would overturn all public morality by turning it into in effect “might makes ‘right’ . . . ” in light of demonstrably morally absurd evolutionary materialist and similarly incoherent radical positivist and/or relativist thinking — also needs to be answered.Cf here for a general 101-level discussion on the “the God of the Bible is a moral monster” thesis beloved of the New Atheists; one that specifically addresses the slavery question.]

  106. 106
    tribune7 says:

    Barry is asking if there is intrinsic evil that we instinctively know not to do and, yes of course there is.

    Now there is a certain holy book — indulge me Barry — that have divine commands directed at specific people at specific times that require refraining from acts that are not intrinsically evil such as working on a particular day or having certain parts of your body removed at a certain time after your birth.

    Now, these commands are, sometimes counter-intuitively even, of benefit to those to whom they are given — who wants to work seven days a week? who wants to grant stone images as having supernatural powers? — but they certainly don’t address the intrinsic evil that Barry describes.

    One of those commands is a requirement not to take innocent life with premeditation.

    Those who dismiss the concept of intrinsic evil point to circumstances in which we justify this taking — bombing a city in war, strangling a crying child to save a group — to make their case.

    What i think they miss is that the intrinsic evil is not in the taking of a life but in the dismissal of God.

    If you bomb that city and kill the children out of love– namely love for your children and your neighbors, in other words to keep the enemy rulers from killing your children or turning them into slaves, or working the old lady down the street to death — you are not dismissing God.

    If you bomb that city and kill their children to steal their gold, you are.

    Cruelty — inflicting suffering for your pleasure — is always dismissing God.

    Intrinsic evil is the attempt to destroy faith, hope and love.

  107. 107
    BarryA says:

    DaveScot, you answer mine in 69 and I’ll answer yours in 103.

  108. 108
    BarryA says:

    BTW, both answers are easy.

  109. 109
    DaveScot says:

    Barry

    re; 69

    Let’s say for the sake of the argument everyone in the world except you and I believed the following proposition: “Under circumstance X bayoneting babies for fun in front of their mother is a good thing.”

    Is it always wrong nevertheless?

    I would always consider it to be wrong.

    But then again I’d always consider pulling the wings off of flys for entertainment to be wrong too.

    Your turn.

  110. 110
    BarryA says:

    DaveScot,

    If the soldier was tossing a puppy in the air and catching it on its bayonet for amusement, that would be gravely immoral too. It would not be as immoral as killing the baby this way. That’s why our law would rightly punish the former as “cruelty to animals” and the latter as “murder.” Both acts are wrong. Both acts are even criminal. The punishment for the former is properly less than the punishment for the latter.

  111. 111
    BarryA says:

    Now we are getting somewhere.

    DaveScot says that even if everyone in the world believed, “under circumstance X bayoneting babies for fun in front of their mother is a good thing,” it would still be wrong.

    DaveScot is, of course, correct, and one of two things must therefore be true:

    1. DaveScot’s subjective opinion should be preferred even if it is contrary to the opinion of every other person on the planet.

    OR

    2. DaveScot has appealed to a standard that transcends both his opinion and the opinion of every other person on the planet.

    Since we can know with certainty that DaveScot’s opinion is not more valuable than the collective opinion of 6 billion other people, we must conclude that DaveScot has appealed to a transcendent moral order, the Tao. And quite properly I might add.

    What does this mean? It means that when it comes to self-evident moral truth, opinion does not matter. Everyone knows the Tao exists (even if they deny it to others or even themselves).

  112. 112
    DaveScot says:

    Barry

    You miss a third option which in this case happens to be the correct option:

    DaveScot is, of course, correct, and one of two things must therefore be true:

    1. DaveScot’s subjective opinion should be preferred even if it is contrary to the opinion of every other person on the planet.

    OR

    2. DaveScot has appealed to a standard that transcends both his opinion and the opinion of every other person on the planet.

    OR

    3. DaveScot trusts his own opinion in this matter above all others, including any God or gods or any number of others in disagreement.

    You see, Barry, I am in possession of the absolute truth in this. If you agree then you also know the absolute truth. If you disagree then you are wrong. It’s really just that simple.

    Am I arrogant? You bet. It’s well deserved arrogance too and if you disagree well then that’s just another instance where you’re wrong. 🙂

  113. 113
    sbk says:

    Uh, DaveScot, your trust or opinion on your opinion doesn’t make the opinion true. It only verifies that you truly trust your opinion. Any hypothetical scenarios you come up with are derivatives of the two BarryA mentioned. You have chosen the second: “I am in possession of the absolute truth”. That’s great DaveScot. Your opinion is in alignment with the absolute truth… not the other way around.

    But, I don’t expect you to agree (or show understanding) – since I think you just want to be argumentative.

    BarryA, at this point is it worth your time/effort to keep arguing with DaveScot?

  114. 114
    Borne says:

    Once again (ad infinitum ad nauseum) Dave assumes a transcendent law in his answer – which denies an absolute moral Law – to Barry.

    Either Dave is actually “pulling our leg” to have some fun or he answers this way to have save his pride in not having to admit he is wrong.

    Or maybe he’s playing the devil’s advocate.

    It is impossible to sanely argue any point w/o the existence of logical absolutes. Same for moral arguments. There has to be a transcendent rule of Right.

  115. 115
    Borne says:

    greyman : StephenB answers you quite correctly.

    I think that, like Dave, your own ignorance of scripture is your downfall in this.

    I know OT Hebrew well enough to be able to make my own translations (with a lot of work!) and the correct interpretation of the 5th rule is “do no murder”.

    You completely miss the whole point of the 10 commandments.

    In fact I would challenge you or Dave or any other living being to invent a better moral code than the 10.

    You miss the aspect of the spirit of the law or it’s raison d’être.

    There is a deep misunderstanding of law itself all through this thread on the part of relativists and other deniers of moral absolutes.

    The purpose or spirit of the law is the most important thing, not the letter.

    Take your view of the Sabbath; missing the spirit of that rule is where you go astray. All law must be founded in the purpose of serving and protecting the ultimate good – for it’s own sake.

    As Christ said (of which you are quite obviously unaware) “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”

    The spirit of that law is that men ought rest at least one day in seven. But this is not an absolute rule as Christ again stated,

    But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”
    He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? … For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath. Mat 12

    And again,

    He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?
    Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Mat 12:12

    Quite obviously your surgeon example is exactly what Christ spoke of!

    As for slavery you err again not being aware of the cultural contexts in which the verses on slaves and masters (usually better translated as employees and employers or surfs and lords) were given. For one thing in OT times it was even common for people in need to “sell themselves” as “slaves” or servants to a land owner to receive “room and board”. That’s only the beginning of the subject!

    But your worst mistake is in claiming “there are manifestly no absolutes”. Really? Are you absolutely sure?

    Anyone claiming there are no absolutes has not thought the issues through clearly. Worse, in my experience, they are always absolutely sure!

    Relativism is inherently self-contradicting. Nothing is more obvious.
    And as I keep stating, if there were no absolutes no sane discussion could ever exist. Math could not exist. 1+1 = 2 would not be reliable and no equations, either moral, logical or mathematical could carry any level of confidence.

    The existence of logical absolutes is inexplicable under materialism (atheism). As there are logical absolutes, so there are moral absolutes – that is a given and intrinsically implied with logical absolutes.

    You also make the mistake of pointing out differences in moral practice in different cultures as though differences annulled the whole root system!

    As all who do so, you miss the demonstrable fact that throughout history all men have held to same basic principles. Do unto others, do not lie, do no murder, do not steal etc.

    The differences were almost always in form not in substance. You will not find a single civilization in history wherein cowardice or child rape is considered good.
    The exceptions to this were always materialist or devil worship cultures

  116. 116
    Rude says:

    Before this thread is wrapped up I’ve a thought that hopefully pertains. You have to think about this, but I believe what Barry A is saying is that it is legitimate to separate morality from the Deity. The two really are separate. It is possible, for example, to imagine that God is evil (perish the thought!!! but we can imagine it). We can imagine—maybe this is how some negative folks actually do imagine things—that God delights in our pain, that he wants us to fail, that he will rejoice in our extinction (or worse yet eternal writhing in hell).

    God is supreme Agent—unless, of course, “god” is another name for the Platonic realm of eternal verities (a view I suspect that some atheist physicists might hold). An agent chooses between good and evil. Seven times in Genesis God sees that what he has created is “good”—as it says (Gen 1:31), “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

    Interesting too that it does not say that what happened on the Seventh Day was “good”. The work God did was good, the day he ceased he blessed and sanctified. God’s activity is what is judged.

    So when it says that God sees that what he has done is good, this suggests that he is evaluating his work over against some objective standard. So even if God had not done good, that standard would still have existed. Even if God ordered 2 plus 2 to be 5 it would not be so. At the end of the day all theodicies are based herein: God is constrained by a transcendent standard of logic and ethics. God cannot have his cake and eat it too.

    God comes to us and says (Isaiah 1:18), “Come now, and let us reason together …” How is that? Is it that we have access to the same transcendent laws of reason (limited though we are) as God has?

    Faith, let us say, is conviction of two things—that God exists and that he is good—as it says (Heb 11:6), “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

    As much as has been written on the transcendency of ethics (and logic and esthetics) one suspects we have only scratched the surface of this subject.

  117. 117
    kairosfocus says:

    SBK, Borne and Rude:

    Well said.

    BarryA is right.

    Dave, please take a pause and re-examine.

    Ah gone . . .

    GEM of TKI

  118. 118
    Borne says:

    Rude: Good points.

    But there is one thing in the creation account that has always amused me. One thing God said was “not good” – i.e. “for man to be alone” So he took the DNA closest to Adams heart and made the most beautiful creature in the world – woman!!

    And she with her charms has been causing man trouble ever since. Ha! 😉

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