Intelligent Design

Why there is no Meaning if Materialism is True

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In my last post I linked to an article in which several atheists discuss how they deal with the lack of meaning in the universe.  In response Seversky asks:

What is meant by “meaning” in this context? To me, it sounds like a purpose conceived in the mind of an intelligent being, in this case God.

So what you are saying is that unless another intelligent being has a purpose in mind for you, your existence is worthless and meaningless?

So, a question, why should you only have value or worth or meaning if it exists in the mind of another intelligence. What is wrong with finding a meaning or purpose for yourself? After all, if God has a purpose, why can’t you?

Seversky, let us assume for the moment that atheistic materialism is correct.  If that is the case, then certain facts follow as a matter of logic, including the following:

  1. The sun is an average star and only one of billions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of the billions of galaxies in the observable universe.
  1. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – in that vast immensity but space, time, particles and energy.
  1. At first only the light elements existed. But eventually clouds of hydrogen and helium collapsed into stars, and the heavier elements were formed in the nuclear furnaces inside those stars.  All of the heavier elements we observe are remnants of burned out stars.
  1. Some of the remnants of those burned out stars eventually coalesced into a planet we call Earth, and eventually a tiny subset of those particles spontaneously turned themselves into simple self-replicators.
  1. Through the process of evolution those simple self-replicators became more and more complex until at last the most complex self-replicators of all, human beings, arose.
  1. Fundamentally, however, humans are nothing but insignificant amalgamations of burned out star stuff on an insignificant rock orbiting an insignificant star in an insignificant galaxy in an incomprehensibly vast universe.
  1. A rock does not owe moral duties to another rock. The very notion is absurd.  A rock is nothing but an amalgamation of burned out star stuff, and it is literally meaningless to say that one amalgamation of burned out star stuff owes a moral duty to another amalgamation of burned out star stuff.
  1. Nothing about that analysis changes if the amalgamation of burned out star stuff is called a human. Thus, the idea that humans owe moral duties to one another is ultimately meaningless.  In a universe in which nothing exists but particles in motion, there is no good.  There is no evil.
  1. It follows that everything we do is ultimately pointless. The amalgamation of burned out star stuff we call “Hitler” did certain things.  The amalgamation of burned out star stuff we call “Mother Teresa” did certain other things.  And what Hitler did and what Mother Teresa did are equal in the sense that they are equally pointless.

That, Seversky, is the universe you, as an atheist materialist, imagine you live in.  So let us answer your questions:

What is meant by “meaning” in this context?

By “meaning” we mean “significance within a broader context.”  There is no meaning in your universe, because nothing we do has any significance within a broader context as my Hitler/Mother Teresa example demonstrates.

So what you are saying is that unless another intelligent being has a purpose in mind for you, your existence is worthless and meaningless?

I am simply asking you to have the courage to acknowledge the logical consequences of your metaphysical assumptions.  I understand that you are terrified of those consequences and want to avert your gaze from them at all costs, including very often the cost of descending into logical absurdity.  But there they are nevertheless.

So, a question, why should you only have value or worth or meaning if it exists in the mind of another intelligence.

For there to be meaning good and evil must exist in an objective sense.  It must really be the case that what Hitler did was “evil” and that what Mother Teresa did was “good” where the words “evil” and “good” mean something beyond “that which I do not prefer” and “that which I do prefer.”

What is wrong with finding a meaning or purpose for yourself?

Because a transcendent moral code cannot be grounded in the being of an amalgamation of burned out star stuff.  Such a code can be grounded only in God’s being.  Go back and look at all of the atheist blitherings in that article I linked in my last post.  Every single one of them amounts to one of two things:  (1) I try not to think about it; or (2) I distract myself with things that amuse me.  That is not finding meaning or purpose and only a fool believes it is.

After all, if God has a purpose, why can’t you?

Because only God can impose meaning – through the objective transcendent moral code grounded in his being – on an otherwise meaningless universe.

116 Replies to “Why there is no Meaning if Materialism is True

  1. 1
    OldArmy94 says:

    “What is wrong with finding a meaning or purpose for yourself?”

    So, I take it that Severesky has no problem with Hitler finding meaning in the slaughter of sub-human races? He thought he was doing a greater good for humanity by eliminating the Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, disabled, elderly, homosexual and others who contaminated the human species.

    And, if materialism is true, then NO ONE can tell him he wasn’t ok seeking that end. It makes no logical sense to impugn Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot or Mao or any other tyrant for their slaughter of “innocent” humans.

    Since we know that Severesky doesn’t feel that way about Hitler, the only conclusion that makes sense is that Barry is 100% right; the One who made up the “game” is the only One who can make up the “rules.”

  2. 2
    computerist says:

    What is hilarious and sad at the same time is that atheists fight tooth and nail against the possibility of God/design, and this apparently gives them “meaning”.

  3. 3
    Pro Hac Vice says:

    He thought he was doing a greater good for humanity

    Yes, Hitler thought that. And that’s true in any case, isn’t it? Materialists and non-materialists agree on that much: Hitler believed he was doing a greater good. (Actually I’m not sure that’s true, it’s possible he was just using that as an opportunistic excuse, but for the sake of argument.)

    And, if materialism is true, then NO ONE can tell him he wasn’t ok seeking that end.

    Why not? To be clear, this isn’t something that I or any materialist I’ve ever met believes. We acknowledge, as you do, that bad actors believe they’re good actors. What compels us to agree? Or to prioritize their beliefs over our own? We judge other people by our standards, not theirs, just like you do.

  4. 4
    DarelRex says:

    I’m starting to think that you can’t really be a scientific ID proponent and believe in a religion too. The temptation is just too great to think, “If we weren’t intentionally created, then life has no meaning, therefore we were created.” It’s the flip-side of “If there’s any such thing as supernatural intervention, then science becomes impossible, therefore there is no such thing as supernatural intervention.”

    Both arguments are anti-scientific avoidance of the real, scientific desire to know: What evidence, if any, indicates that we were intentionally created? And what evidence, if any, indicates that supernatural intervention has occurred?

    (Search “Barry Arrington permitted” to see my prior comments on Mr. Arrington’s UD arguments.)

  5. 5
    Pro Hac Vice says:

    By “meaning” we mean “significance within a broader context.” …. For there to be meaning good and evil must exist in an objective sense.

    Why? I don’t see the logical connection between these assertions. Why can’t a “broader context” exist without an objective metric for good and evil?

  6. 6
    mahuna says:

    I consider it a GROSS conceit to assume that any human being can guess the Purpose of the Deity. It’s like ants trying to guess why that crazy human watered the lawn, times a thousand.

    I get to play with my grandchildren again today. While I play with the babies, all meaning applies to 30 second intervals and has most to do with diapers, who is about to attempt something dangerous, and how fast can I produce FOOD, suitably prepared for very young humans.

    Now, for an adult who is not intimately bound to very young humans, being the best gosh darn Fuller Brush salesman is clearly a Purpose. And who is to say that this is not a good Purpose?

    On the Hitler/Mother Teresa thing, Stalin had already murdered more civilians than Hitler ever did before Hitler even started. And the ONLY person in the world trying to STOP Stalin was… Chancellor Hitler (and the Pope). So, is the reason that Hitler needed to be prevented from fulfilling his Purpose (ending Bolshevism) that stopping Hitler will allow Stalin to kill even more millions of people after the war to stop Hitler?

    I am just finishing “The Imperial Cruise” by James Bradley. It explores the background to Taft’s visit to Japan in 1905 (to encourage the Japanese to seize the independent kingdom of Korea) and describes in some detail the specifics of American (i.e., WASP) pursuit of Aryan supremacy across the Americas and out into the Pacific. How exactly is American “Manifest Destiny” different than German “Lebensraum”? Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos died in American concentration camps after the Philippines had been declared “pacified” after the imperialistic Spanish-American War. But then it was the Purpose of WASP America to exterminate the lesser races, including “the Pacific Negroes”, for the betterment of humanity. Only Anglo-Saxons of pure blood were fit to reproduce…

    Hitler specifically planned to follow the examples of the US and England. Americans lynched Negroes, and no one was punished. So why shouldn’t Germans lynch social undesirables? The English administered provinces of Hindoos for their own good, so why shouldn’t the Germans treat Slavs the same way? And of course the Americans set aside “reservations” for American Indians, so what’s wrong with the Germans creating reservations for the Lesser Races in the Ukraine?

    It’s either ALWAYS wrong, and ALL examples should be equally condemned. Or it’s a matter of personal preference and has no grand significance.

    A final example. Some years back now, I read a review of a book written by a historian who spent some years reading and analyzing the “foundling” records at a number of convents in France. For most of the period when the Catholic Church ran the morals of Europe, women who experienced an unwanted pregnancy and birth left their newborns on the doorstep of the local convent. The good sisters then took the infant in, baptized him or her, and accepted responsibility for raising the orphan. What the historian discovered, however, was that the death rate for the orphans was over 95% within the first year. This pattern continued for CENTURIES. In theory, each player was doing a moral good. In practice, everyone involved (including the officials of the local villages) was operating an Infanticide Machine that killed unwanted babies. So, is it your stated Purpose that matters? Or the practical Effect?

  7. 7
    JDH says:

    Severesky writes

    What is wrong with finding a meaning or purpose for yourself?

    I will try to give this statement respect as a sincere inquiry, but it is difficult to do.

    One of the things that frustrates me about the arguments of materialists is that they use the language of theism in their arguments.

    Do you not understand Severesky, that in the materialist universe there is no such entity as “yourself”?

    Think about it. Why do you draw a boundary around one set of molecules and call it “self”.

    Any attempt to answer that question runs into contradictions.

    Think of possible answers and the ridiculousness of them.

    1. The objects that are constrained to move with me. – Does that mean that when I put on a piece of clothing it is part of self or not part of self. If a violent man physically captures another person, is that part of self? An unborn fetus, is that part of self? The microbes in my gut – is that part of self?

    2. OKl How about at the collection of cells I can innately control with my mind. I wouldn’t even choose to go there. To suggest the word “control” can not belong in a materialistic universe.

    3. How about any part of which injuring it causes pain or feeling to me. Again there are all the problems of legitimate parts of self which can be removed with no pain.

    The truth is that in any purely materialistic worldview there can be no consistent reason for separating the world into “self” and “non-self”

    So to ask the question “What is wrong with finding a meaning or purpose for yourself?” under the assumption of materialism is an incoherent question because it assumes something (self) which really CAN NOT exist (except by illusion) under the given suppositions.

    I hope that was clear and not too disrespectful.

  8. 8
    asauber says:

    Meaning is an immaterial concept.

    Materialism, by definition, takes materialists out of any discussion of meaning.

    They want it that way, per their philosophy.

    If one gets on the internet pretending otherwise, you can conclude they are just on to make noise. Yes, it’s a cry for help.

    Andrew

  9. 9
    sean samis says:

    Barry;

    As frequently happens on this site, your argument goes off the rails when you arrogate to yourself the privilege of speaking for your opponent. That’s a bad habit.

    Your list of points supposedly coming from “atheistic materialism” are not TOO BAD through number 6.

    In 7. you introduce the idea of moral duties without any explanation, and then slide into the ditch. A rock owes no moral duty to anything else because a rock is not capable of performing a moral or immoral act; it is inanimate and insentient. That a rock is “an amalgamation of burned out star stuff” is irrelevant.

    Your points 8 and 9 are invalid because they are based on your invalid point 7.

    More when I have some time for it.

    sean s.

  10. 10
    Barry Arrington says:

    DarelRex:

    I’m starting to think that you can’t really be a scientific ID proponent and believe in a religion too.

    That would be a surprise to leading ID proponent David Berlinski, an agnostic.

    The temptation is just too great to think, “If we weren’t intentionally created, then life has no meaning, therefore we were created.”

    That is not the argument I made in the OP. It does not even resemble the argument I made in the OP.

    It’s the flip-side of “If there’s any such thing as supernatural intervention, then science becomes impossible, therefore there is no such thing as supernatural intervention.”

    That is an absurd argument. I am glad you agree.

    What evidence, if any, indicates that we were intentionally created?

    The issue is beyond the scope of the OP, but oh, how about the existence of a semiotic code in every cell of every living creature – and that’s just for starters.

    And what evidence, if any, indicates that supernatural intervention has occurred?

    The issue is beyond the scope of the OP (I’m beginning to think you don’t really grasp the argument of the OP) Also, I don’t know what you mean by “supernatural intervention.” But if you are asking for evidence that God exists, how about: http://www.uncommondescent.com.....eists-say/

  11. 11
    Barry Arrington says:

    Pro Hac Vice

    Hitler believed he was doing a greater good. (Actually I’m not sure that’s true, it’s possible he was just using that as an opportunistic excuse, but for the sake of argument.)

    The first question that must be answered is whether the concept of “good” means anything other than “what I [or some group of people] happen to prefer at this particular time.” If it does not, then Hitler actually was doing good if he was doing what he preferred.

    Of course, the absurdity of the conclusion means the premise must be flawed.

    And, if materialism is true, then NO ONE can tell him he wasn’t ok seeking that end. Why not?

    See above.

    To be clear, this isn’t something that I or any materialist I’ve ever met believes.

    Yes, you and most other materialists like to have your cake and eat it too. You express moral outrage at what Hitler did and at the same time you cannot ground your outrage in anything other than your (or your group’s) subjective preferences.

    What compels us to agree? Or to prioritize their beliefs over our own? We judge other people by our standards, not theirs

    That is just exactly the point PHV. On materialist premises NOTHING compels you to agree or to prioritize anyone’s beliefs – whether that “anyone” be Hitler or Mother Teresa – over your own for the simple reason that on materialist premises there is no standard other than your own, and there is no standard by which we can judge whether the standard of one amalgamation of burned out star stuff is superior to that standard of another amalgamation of burned out star stuff.

    just like you do

    Assume your conclusion much?

    Barry: By “meaning” we mean “significance within a broader context.” …. For there to be meaning good and evil must exist in an objective sense.

    PHV: Why? I don’t see the logical connection between these assertions. Why can’t a “broader context” exist without an objective metric for good and evil?

    You remind me of my four year-old grandson. If you answer a question he responds with “why?” and if you answer that question he will respond with “why?” until ultimately you just have to say, “that’s just the way it is son.”

    So PHV, I will skip to the end. Meaning exists only in the context of an objective standard of good and evil, because that it what meaning means. If you cannot understand or accept why that is so, there is nothing I can do for you.

  12. 12
    Barry Arrington says:

    sean samis

    A rock owes no moral duty to anything else because a rock is not capable of performing a moral or immoral act; it is inanimate and insentient.

    What is the source of moral duty? Sean Samis nominates “sentience.” There are two problems with this. First, on materialist premises “sentience” is an illusion. Do amalgamations of burned out star stuff have subjective self awareness, intentionality and the experience of subject-object duality and qualia? The materialist answer is that all of that is an illusion, mere folk psychology that no sophisticated person believes anymore. You don’t have to believe me. Just ask Dan Dennett and Sam Harris.

    But even more problematic for Sean is a second problem. His “solution” for the grounding of moral duties suffers from the same problem as every other materialist “solution” to that problem – it is completely and totally arbitrary.

    Amalgamation of burned out star stuff = AOBOSF

    AOBOSF 1: Moral duties are grounded in the fact that you and I are sentient.

    AOBOSF 2: [Shoots AOBOSF 1 in the head] Sez who?

  13. 13
    Barry Arrington says:

    Sean again:

    That a rock is “an amalgamation of burned out star stuff” is irrelevant.

    You’re kidding right? On materialist premises a rock is an amalgamation of burned out star stuff. A human is an amalgamation of burned out star stuff. Everything we see that is made of an element heavier than hydrogen or helium is an amalgamation of burned out star stuff. There is nothing but various amalgamations of burned out star stuff.

    But Sean Samis insists that some amalgamations of burned out star stuff owe other amalgamations of burned out star stuff moral duties. And at the same time he insists that an object’s status as amalgamations of burned out star stuff — which makes it essentially the same as everything else — is irrelevant.

    As is frequently the case, beyond the obvious error of the assertion is the fascinating psychological question of why an otherwise intelligent person would say something so wildly and obviously wrong.

  14. 14
    Pro Hac Vice says:

    The first question that must be answered is whether the concept of “good” means anything other than “what I [or some group of people] happen to prefer at this particular time.” If it does not, then Hitler actually was doing good if he was doing what he preferred.

    This is a truism: if Hitler believed what he was doing was good, then he believed what he was doing was good. Truisms aren’t particularly useful or interesting; all you’ve done is observed that Hitler believed what he was doing was good. That doesn’t really help us understand the observable phenomenon of materialists condemning Hitler.

    On materialist premises NOTHING compels you to agree or to prioritize anyone’s beliefs – whether that “anyone” be Hitler or Mother Teresa – over your own for the simple reason that on materialist premises there is no standard other than your own, and there is no standard by which we can judge whether the standard of one amalgamation of burned out star stuff is superior to that standard of another amalgamation of burned out star stuff.

    Which raises the reciprocal point of how non-materialists prioritize one version of Truth over another version of Truth. Because even if Truth (i.e., an objective metric for good and evil) exists, people can’t access it objectively. People argue over good and evil, and many different people claim to have privileged access to many different versions of it.

    So “NOTHING compels [a materialist] to agree or to prioritize anyone’s beliefs,” what compels a non-materialist to prioritize one subjectively-interpreted version of Truth over another? In my experience, beliefs about objective good and evil track personal and cultural history very closely–people believe what their parents and peers believe. That’s not what I’d expect to see if there’s a single Truth that everyone accesses equally.

    You remind me of my four year-old grandson.

    Ever the charmer. I still don’t see any logical connection between your assertions. Perhaps you don’t, either.

  15. 15
    Barry Arrington says:

    PHV

    all you’ve done is observed that Hitler believed what he was doing was good.

    Not even close to what I said. I will give you another chance though. If you want to engage in a true exchange of views instead of just spout your talking points, take another run at it.

    Which raises the reciprocal point of how non-materialists prioritize one version of Truth over another version of Truth. Because even if Truth (i.e., an objective metric for good and evil) exists, people can’t access it objectively. People argue over good and evil, and many different people claim to have privileged access to many different versions of it.

    Whether objective moral truth exists is an ontological issue. Our capacity to understand and apply it is an epistemological issue. Before I go further, do you understand the difference or should I explain it to you?

    I still don’t see any logical connection between your assertions.

    That puts you in a fairly small minority. All of the atheists in the article I linked understood the connection. I’m sorry I can’t help you understand the obvious. That’s the thing about “obviousness.” If someone denies it, there is no helping them by pointing to yet more basic principles.

  16. 16
    eigenstate says:

    Barry,

    Why is a hunk of gold, or a fistful of dollars, “valuable”? This is a question that can help you see the self-serving nature of your choice around “meaning”.

    Gold has no objective financial or economic value, no “cosmic value”in the sense of your “meaning from God”. And yet, we organize our societies around this subjective, ephemeral understanding of “value”. Gold is valuable just because we agree it is, and find some reward in keeping it, trading it, or using it to produce things.

    But there’s just a little, which to say, zero, objective grounding for value outside the minds the humans, in precisely the same way there is no grounding for any “cosmic meaning” for our lives.

    But this is no deficit for us, just a burden carried by the superstitious who cannot grasp how meaning (and by extension, economic value) are fundamentally features of human psychology.

    Assuming you can understand the “value” concept a little more clearly — it’s not as religiously burdened as the Christian view of “meaning” is — we might list similar items to those in the OP on “value of gold”:

    1 Fundamentally, however, gold is nothing but insignificant amalgamations of burned out star stuff on an insignificant rocks orbiting an insignificant star in an insignificant galaxy in an incomprehensibly vast universe.

    2.Gold, therefore doesn’t and can’t have any value. The very notion is absurd. Gold is nothing but an amalgamation of burned out star stuff, and it is literally valueless; to say that one amalgamation of burned out star stuff is more “valuable” than another amalgamation of burned out star stuff is ridiculous on its face.

    3. Nothing about that analysis changes if the amalgamation of burned out star stuff we call “gold”. Thus, the idea that gold has “value” is ultimately meaningless. In a universe in which nothing exists but particles in motion, there is no “value”. It follows that everything we see, touch, and otherwise interact with is utterly without value — it can’t possibly have value, because of what it is!

    If you can understand that the valuation of gold, or a wad of $100 bill is subjective, then you have what you need to clearly see the error in your post. If you use money to buy your house, or demand money from clients as payment for your services, you are literally living out the reality of subjective-as-effectual-and-substantive that quite nicely mirrors how you and everyone else works with “meaning”, as a subjective exercise in personal and collective psychology.

    I mean, how can we organize our society around something that ultimately has no value, is not grounded in anything more than our collective agreement this or that has currency, value??? If your point on “meaning”has any merit at all, this should not happen, and not be possible to get off the ground, let alone serve as the foundation for our social organization. But, currency-as-subjective-concept works, and works fantastically well as a pragmatic matter. So, too, with meaning as a view of our own place in society, our own desires, goals and our relationships with those we interact with.

    It’s perfectly without objective meaning, or any universal mystical properties, but just like the value of money, such is not a lack or a problem for us in the real world.

  17. 17
    Barry Arrington says:

    I will boil eigenstate’s lengthy comment down for a readers:

    There really is no essential difference between what Hitler did and what Mother Teresa did. For our own idiosyncratic reasons we just happen to value one and not the other because for pragmatic reasons we think one “works” and the other does not. And just like the value of gold rises and falls, if we decide to reassess our judgment of value, our reassessed judgment will be just as valid as our prior judgment.

    Yes, eigenstate, that is exactly correct on materialist premises. The fact that your logic leads to horror and despair should at least give you pause (though I doubt it will). It may really be the case that horror and despair is the appropriate response to a meaningless universe. That is certainly the case if God does not exist. I’m betting you are wrong.

  18. 18

    Again, it is simply because materialism provides no room for opinion at all.

    When all is material, then every issue about what is real, is an issue of fact, what the material consists of.

    So either beauty is material, or it simply is not real, and therefore is ignored.

    Goodness, beauty, love, God, the soul etc. are all spiritual, meaning 1. that the existence of them is a matter of opinion, 2. that they choose which way the material turns out.

    This is why materialists always deny the fact freedom is real, because the concept of choosing only functions when the question about what the agency of a decision is, is regarded as a matter of opinion.

    Materialists are always bound to some genetic, environmental, or psychological mechanism FORCING what the human being does. That is why all materialists were also racist eugenicists prior to the holocaust. After the holocaust they figured out that the worth of a human being is not a fact, and what they then did was to declare that every fact is an opinion, postmodernism. Then the law of gravity became an opinion, everything became opinion, and facts became agreed upon opinions.

    But over the years they forgot about the holocaust, and then they noted how bizarre it is to have the law of gravity be an opinion. So now materialists are back to their usual social darwinism again, in one form or another.

  19. 19
    Carpathian says:

    Barry Arrington,

    eigenstate has a good analogy with money.

    Different currencies work for different economies just like different gods work for different religions.

    Gods and religions are just as subjective as currencies and their economies and all seem to work well for the members of their group.

  20. 20
    eigenstate says:

    @Barry,

    I will boil eigenstate’s lengthy comment down for a readers:

    There really is no essential difference between what Hitler did and what Mother Teresa did. For our own idiosyncratic reasons we just happen to value one and not the other because for pragmatic reasons we think one “works” and the other does not. And just like the value of gold rises and falls, if we decide to reassess our judgment of value, our reassessed judgment will be just as valid as our prior judgment.

    This doesn’t reflect my comments at all. The psychology of meaning (and similarly our psychology of value) is not idiosyncratic, or to whatever extent it is irrelevant to the point being made. It’s subjective, which is just to say, “human”.

    The price of gold rises and falls based on the market dynamics for it, the “combined psychology” concerning it. It doesn’t just go up and don’t arbitrarily, but functions as a rough index of the equilibrium of supply and demand.

    Similarly, our understanding of self, others, and the relationship and values between all parties is subjective, but not arbitrary or random. It’s based on evolved human nature (and objective set of facts that forms and informs the basis for our subjective psychology), and our experiences/interactions with other and the world around us. It’s a subjective position, like value of money, grounded in, and inextricably tied to our nature, and the environment we live in.

    Yes, eigenstate, that is exactly correct on materialist premises. The fact that your logic leads to horror and despair should at least give you pause (though I doubt it will). It may really be the case that horror and despair is the appropriate response to a meaningless universe. That is certainly the case if God does not exist. I’m betting you are wrong.

    I was raised a Christian, unfortunately. So I know the burden you are laboring under. I also understand the “horror-based reaction” you are advocating here, because of that.

    The consequences don’t change the truth of the facts, Barry. if there is no “cosmic meaning”for you or me, as I can well understand from the the narcissism that passes for evangelical Christianity (“so humbled to be a Christian — God has a perfect plan for me, and has counted every hair on my head, and has prepared a mansion for me to convalesce in for eternity!”) I grew up in, it definitely require some growing up, and that is difficult indeed.

    There is no “cosmic justice” coming for Hitler, or Mother Teresa (not anywhere near such an execrable figure, but not someone to elevate as an admirable human in my view, btw). Martin Luther King, Jr. doesn’t get to “walk the streets of gold”, either, as some kind of compensation(???) for being murdered in what should have been the middle of his life.

    That’s the real world, Barry. Wake up. It has lots of features that aren’t comfortable or happy or easily reconcilable with our tender psychology. But fantasizing about your cosmic value, you as the “real objective gold” of all the universe doesn’t make it so.

    Even if God does exist, your whole point is wrong: meaning is just as subjective even and especially if God is real. Your “meaning” is then, idiosyncratic in the most thoroughgoing sense of the word. Why does God choosing that your life has meaning give it any objective meaning? It can’t by definition. It’s just meaning imputed to you by another mind, and act of will.

    That’s another subject, but even on your own understanding, your point is confused and incorrect, once again.

  21. 21

    @eigenstate

    You are making the mistake of talking about human behaviour which is “subjective”, and then explaining all the ways in which the behaviour is not subjective. You have to actually describe how the subjectivity itself functions, which is describing how the opinions are chosen of free will.

    Any choice can turn out several ways. In that sense a choice always looks “random” to a scientist.

    And to say behaviour is based on evolved human nature, that is just a variation of nazism again. Free will of people is the human spirit expressing itself, by choosing.

  22. 22
    Carpathian says:

    Barry Arrington:

    Why does God choosing that your life has meaning give it any objective meaning? It can’t by definition. It’s just meaning imputed to you by another mind, and act of will.

    I have never thought of it that way but eigenstate has a good point.

    How would you answer the question that since God has made a decision about our lives, aren’t we all the result of the ultimate subjectivity?

  23. 23
    eigenstate says:

    @mohammadnursyamsu

    You are making the mistake of talking about human behaviour which is “subjective”, and then explaining all the ways in which the behaviour is not subjective. You have to actually describe how the subjectivity itself functions, which is describing how the opinions are chosen of free will.

    By subjective, I mean “of the subject” — pertaining to the thoughts, feelings, preferences and convictions of an individual.

    That in no way precludes subjective behavior from being deterministic, nor are random dynamics precluded, either. These are orthogonal concepts.

    Any choice can turn out several ways. In that sense a choice always looks “random” to a scientist.

    “Random” is the term we use for “without purpose, pattern or plan”. By that standard, many human choices may look random at some level of description — when we don’t have access to underlying factors that influence or form the decision, we may not have any way to identify purpose, plan or pattern in some choice or position.

    That said, though, the fact that other options exist as plausible choices for a given individual has bearing on the randomness or non-randomness of the choice. Again, these are orthogonal concepts you are trying to connect (apparently). Randomness is not identified due to the fact that other choices exist, but rather is identified through our inability to assign a pattern, or purpose to the choice, to fail to locate underlying causes for the choice that was made (which may exist, we just don’t have access to them).

    And to say behaviour is based on evolved human nature, that is just a variation of nazism again. Free will of people is the human spirit expressing itself, by choosing.

    Hmmm. I think you have that reversed, with Nazism being one of many diverse products of human psychology. As for free will, that’s another subject, but for Barry’s OP, it doesn’t matter: his point fails just as completely no matter which view one takes on libertartian free will or determinism. Again, orthogonal concepts at work. Barry has an idiosyncratic and self-serving view of “meaning” he’s advancing, and it’s easily shown as just that with simple and at-hand examples that show it as such. If Barry agrees to write a check in exchange for something, he’s refuting this OP in the act of doing so, engaging in “meaning” for money which has no ultimate “meaning” and cannot have such — it’s a oxymoron “objective meaning” just as “objective value”. Bother are inherently transcendental upon subjective psychology. “Value” and “meaning” is “what subjective minds create”, and are incoherent terms outside of the context of the subject.

  24. 24
    Heartlander says:

    First, nihilism can’t condemn Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or those who fomented the Armenian genocide or the Rwandan one. If there is no such thing as “morally forbidden,” then what Mohamed Atta did on September 11, 2001, was not morally forbidden. Of course, it was not permitted either. But still, don’t we want to have grounds to condemn these monsters? Nihilism seems to cut that ground out from under us.

    Second, if we admit to being nihilists, then people won’t trust us. We won’t be left alone when there is loose change around. We won’t be relied on to be sure small children stay out of trouble.

    Third, and worst of all, if nihilism gets any traction, society will be destroyed. We will find ourselves back in Thomas Hobbes’s famous state of nature, where “the life of man is solitary, mean, nasty, brutish and short.” Surely, we don’t want to be nihilists if we can possibly avoid it. (Or at least, we don’t want the other people around us to be nihilists.)
    – A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality

    The neural circuits in our brain manage the beautifully coordinated and smoothly appropriate behavior of our body. They also produce the entrancing introspective illusion that thoughts really are about stuff in the world. This powerful illusion has been with humanity since language kicked in, as we’ll see. It is the source of at least two other profound myths: that we have purposes that give our actions and lives meaning and that there is a person “in there” steering the body, so to speak.
    – A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality

  25. 25
    Barry Arrington says:

    Eigenstate @ 20:

    This [i.e., my summary of his position] doesn’t reflect my comments at all.

    Then he says the same thing that I summarized in different words.

    Conversation over. Eigenstate, you lie and dissemble. I knew that already and I don’t know what possessed me to attempt to engage with you, the triumph of hope over experience I guess.

  26. 26
    Barry Arrington says:

    Eigenstate says Morality is like the value we place on commodities. We value some commodities and not others. And with respect to any given commodity, we might value it today and not tomorrow, depending on whether we subjectively deem it valuable for whatever pragmatic reason we may have.

    Yes, as I said, on materialist premises that is exactly correct. Today most of us do not value killing Jews, homosexuals and disabled people. And because we don’t value those practices we call them “evil.” But just as the price of gold rises and falls depending on our subjective assessment of its value, if tomorrow we decide that killing Jews, homosexuals and disabled people is valuable, then those practices will be considered “good.”

    Eigenstate’s summary of the materialist worldview is spot on. That his nihilism is also itself self-evidently evil should give him pause. It does not. He is proud of it. Believing there was no ultimately difference between Hitler and Mother Teresa makes him feel all grown up and sophisticated. Not like us childish Christians, who naively believe in things like justice. He really is a disgusting little maggot. But he’s our disgusting little maggot, and I am glad we have him to serve as a bad example from time to time. Thanks E.

  27. 27
    sean samis says:

    Barry; a longer look at your OP:

    Looking at your 9 points, I have no comment on numbers 1 and 3, and minor quibbles with 2, 4, and 5 which I’ll leave out.

    All those are minor points compared to what follows.

    6. Fundamentally, however, humans are nothing but insignificant amalgamations of burned out star stuff on an insignificant rock orbiting an insignificant star in an insignificant galaxy in an incomprehensibly vast universe.

    Problems actually start in this one. The phrase “nothing but” comes heavily laden with implications. Certainly we appear to be composed of nothing but matter created in stars, but is there nothing to us but the material we are made of? That’s a larger question that the “nothing but” carries implications for. We are amalgamations of matter with consciousness, memory, and a vast repertoire of mental states and concepts. Even if we are composed entirely of ordinary matter, those activities are themselves considerable things. We are much more than just the stuff of our bodies.

    7. A rock does not owe moral duties to another rock. The very notion is absurd. A rock is nothing but an amalgamation of burned out star stuff, and it is literally meaningless to say that one amalgamation of burned out star stuff owes a moral duty to another amalgamation of burned out star stuff.

    The term “moral duties” is introduced here without any explanation. If it’s absurd to think that rocks have moral duties, what a moral duty is should be explained. I think we agree that rocks owe no moral duties, but for different reasons because we have different ideas about what a “moral duty” is.

    Rocks owe no moral duty to anything else because rocks are incapable of performing moral or immoral acts; they are inanimate and insentient. That a rock is “an amalgamation of burned out star stuff” is irrelevant. What we are composed of is irrelevant to the question of whether we owe moral duties or not. What we are capable of is what matters.

    8. Nothing about that analysis changes if the amalgamation of burned out star stuff is called a human. Thus, the idea that humans owe moral duties to one another is ultimately meaningless. In a universe in which nothing exists but particles in motion, there is no good. There is no evil.

    Here is where the “nothing but” of #6 comes back to bite us. What we are composed of is irrelevant to the question of whether we owe moral duties or not. What we are capable of is what matters.

    We are not rocks, we are conscious, animate, sentient beings. We are categorically different from rocks.

    In a universe composed only of space, time, matter, and energy, the existence of good and evil are not excluded. They mean things different from what a supernatural universe might imply, but they are not excluded.

    Since #6 was flawed and numbers 7 & 8 are broken, #9 is ultimately pointless.

    That, Seversky, is the universe you, as an atheist materialist, imagine you live in.

    No, that’s the universe you imagine he imagines. The universe you describe is nothing but your imagination and fear run wild. It is not any universe a reasonable person (materialist or not) would accept as reasonable under materialism. You’ve propped up a straw man, nothing more. You should really get out of the habit of thinking you understand what materialists believe.

    By “meaning” we mean “significance within a broader context.” There is no meaning in your universe, because nothing we do has any significance within a broader context as my Hitler/Mother Teresa example demonstrates.

    So first you exclude all broader context and then wonder where significance within a broader context went?! If you get rid of all the water, you can declare “swimming” to be imaginary, but only by your purposeful contrivance.

    Materialism does not exclude all “broader context”, much less dismissing all significance within them. It does not exclude meaning, it just makes it different from what you think.

    I am simply asking you to have the courage to acknowledge the logical consequences of your metaphysical assumptions.

    Why should anyone have to acknowledge the false consequences of your contrived metaphysical assumptions about a philosophy you don’t even understand? No reason at all.

    …there to be meaning good and evil must exist in an objective sense. It must really be the case that what Hitler did was “evil” and that what Mother Teresa did was “good” where the words “evil” and “good” mean something beyond “that which I do not prefer” and “that which I do prefer.”

    Since we don’t know that good or evil exist in any objective sense, this requirement is contrived. Good and evil must be reasonable and rational, but objectivity is a red herring.

    UNLESS YOUR DEITY SPEAKS TO YOU FACE-TO-FACE, you cannot know what your Deity thinks is objectively true.

    Materialism can easily provide meaningful definitions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ which are far beyond mere preferences. I’ve done it here on this site before.

    …a transcendent moral code cannot be grounded in the being of an amalgamation of burned out star stuff.

    A moral code can be. We have no need of a transcendent moral code, we need a moral code we can make sense of and use. Let the ivory tower types fuss over minutia; the rest of us can live our lives quite well without all that noise.

    …only God can impose meaning – through the objective transcendent moral code grounded in his being – on an otherwise meaningless universe.

    The goal is to FIND meaning, not have it IMPOSED.

    And God can impose meaning “through the objective transcendent moral code grounded in his being” ONLY IF GOD TELLS YOU SO FACE-TO-FACE. If all you hear comes from some people claiming to speak for their God, then meaning is being imposed on you by other mere humans. Probably in their self-interest and not yours.

    So the summary is obvious; you need us to believe in your God so that you can impose your morality on us in your God’s name. Forgive me if I don’t sign-up for that.

    sean s.

  28. 28
    sean samis says:

    Barry @15;

    To Pro Hac Vice you wrote,

    Whether objective moral truth exists is an ontological issue. Our capacity to understand and apply it is an epistemological issue. Before I go further, do you understand the difference or should I explain it to you?

    This is a difference without a distinction. One cannot understand and apply objective moral truth if it does not exist. Until the ontological issue is settled, the epistemological effort is uncertain, which means it cannot be objective.

    sean s.

  29. 29
    JimFit says:

    If you believe that you are a random cosmic accident that nothingness spewed without free will or purpose it demands proof, every atheist i asked couldn’t bring proof about Randomness,Nothingness and Luck.

    If you are a random cosmic accident then by definition you don’t have any meaning, the meaning that you will create doesn’t come from you but from a collection of random unconscious processes in the brain, there is no “you” to give meaning, meaningless processes can’t create meaning. But enough with all these stupid assumptions, they are all wrong. There was intention for the Universe to be here from the simple fact that there is something instead of nothing, since nothing can’t create something the Universe was intended to be created. That alone destroys any argument from the atheist side since you can’t say that the Universe is purposless from the simple fact that it was created and since the Universe was created we were created as well and that moves the meaning prior to the Universe, to the Creator of the Universe.

    P.S When you are alive you have goals NOT purpose, purpose goes AFTER DEATH, purpose is like a home construction, you have a house after you have built it, you have a purpose after your life has finished.

  30. 30
    eigenstate says:

    @Barry,

    Eigenstate says Morality is like the value we place on commodities. We value some commodities and not others. And with respect to any given commodity, we might value it today and not tomorrow, depending on whether we subjectively deem it valuable for whatever pragmatic reason we may have.

    Which is sufficient to demonstrate the problem with the point you are trying to make in your OP. If that happens — if we ascribe meaning to symbols and concepts and other referents, just as we ascribe economic or currency value to objects, we have falsified your claim. Meaning is meaningful and in a directly demonstrable way, just as value is meaningful in a very practical way, and all the while being wholly grounded in our subjective judgments.

    When you put your Visa card into the machine at the Gas Station, you are discrediting your own post here. For money can’t have any objective value anymore than your life can have objective meaning, and yet your actions prove the practical merits and essential benefits for us in ascribing meaning and value subjectively.

    I’ll even buy you a tank of gas as a token of my appreciation in your understanding this point! 😉

    Yes, as I said, on materialist premises that is exactly correct. Today most of us do not value killing Jews, homosexuals and disabled people. And because we don’t value those practices we call them “evil.” But just as the price of gold rises and falls depending on our subjective assessment of its value, if tomorrow we decide that killing Jews, homosexuals and disabled people is valuable, then those practices will be considered “good.”

    To invoke a software quip, that’s a feature, not a bug. Look, your YHWH character is doomed forever as an anti-homosexual, to give credence to Biblical accounts (and making the huge leap that such an entity exists at all in the first place). Christian theology is as doomed as Islamic theology or any number of other absolutist theologies, trapped by the very thing that gave it credence or claims to power in the first place: claims of immutable, unchanging authority.

    Human morals and ethic are wholly subjective, but that is not to say they are random or arbitrary. That’s a common misconception around here — “subjective” and “arbitrary” not synonyms. Human values reflect the objective facts of the history of human evolution, and human culture along with biological development. Our impulse to value selfish greed and also selfish acts of altruism and charity are both grounded in our evolved nature, and serve(d) useful ends in the process.

    That evolvability makes us morally superior to YHWH, not just on being more decent toward humans, but in adapting to changing environment. Some day your grandchildren will lament your anti-homosexualism, patriarchialism and cruel laissez-fair capitalism the way I lament my late grandfather’s hatred of black people. Or would toward that it will be, at least. YHWH, he’s stuck, dragging his cosmic knuckles through the bronze age dirt, poor chap.

    Eigenstate’s summary of the materialist worldview is spot on. That his nihilism is also itself self-evidently evil should give him pause. It does not. He is proud of it. Believing there was no ultimately difference between Hitler and Mother Teresa makes him feel all grown up and sophisticated. Not like us childish Christians, who naively believe in things like justice. He really is a disgusting little maggot. But he’s our disgusting little maggot, and I am glad we have him to serve as a bad example from time to time. Thanks E.

    Well, we need to create a “Self Evident Bingo” board for this blog. “Self-Evident” doesn’t mean what you think it does, Barry, it’s manifest in dozens of your posts know that you confuse this with “It occurs to Barry that X is true, so it must be true”. Evil is real, but it’s a subjective, human construct, just like the value of money. That doesn’t diminish it, but rather reifies it in a way Christian theology cannot, any more than it can reify its YHWH (and for the same reasons).

    Whining that it’s not “ultimately meaningful” is as persuasive as complaining that its pointless to buy a house, or use your Visa card, or enter into a service contract because our money and our money system are not grounded in any “objective value”, but only grounded in what we humans agree is valuable and in what way.

  31. 31
    StephenB says:

    sean samis

    The phrase “nothing but” comes heavily laden with implications. Certainly we appear to be composed of nothing but matter created in stars, but is there nothing to us but the material we are made of?

    Bad logic. You are trying to have it both ways. You either agree that we are nothing but material stuff or you do not. Which position do you take?

    If it’s absurd to think that rocks have moral duties, what a moral duty is should be explained.

    Nonsense. Everyone knows what “moral duty” means.

    What we are composed of is irrelevant to the question of whether we owe moral duties or not.

    Error, in fact. The stuff of which we are made determines our capacity to recognize moral duties and make moral choices.

    Why should anyone have to acknowledge the false consequences of your contrived metaphysical assumptions about a philosophy you don’t even understand? No reason at all.

    Error, in fact. Barry understands materialism. You do not.

    Barry

    Whether objective moral truth exists is an ontological issue. Our capacity to understand and apply it is an epistemological issue. Before I go further, do you understand the difference or should I explain it to you?

    sean

    This is a difference without a distinction. One cannot understand and apply objective moral truth if it does not exist. Until the ontological issue is settled, the epistemological effort is uncertain, which means it cannot be objective.

    First, you claim the distinction doesn’t matter. Then, you appeal to that same distinction to make your point.

    The sentence that follows is unintelligible. Try to rephrase it.

  32. 32
    Barry Arrington says:

    Sean:

    We are much more than just the stuff of our bodies.

    Not according to materialism, which you don’t seem to understand.

    What we are composed of is irrelevant to the question of whether we owe moral duties or not. What we are capable of is what matters.

    But as SB said, what we are composed of determines what we are capable of. A materialist says nothing exists but space, time, particles and energy. Thus, our bodies are nothing but particles in motion in space through time. Particles in motion lack the capacity to make moral choices for the simple reason that they have no free will. News flash Sean. Materialism excludes libertarian free will. If a particular amalgamation of burned out star stuff could not have done other than what it did, it makes no sense to say it is capable of making a moral choice. In other words, one has to be able to make a choice of any kind before one can make a choice of a particular kind.

    In a universe composed only of space, time, matter, and energy, the existence of good and evil are not excluded.

    Of course they are, for the reasons I gave. Your response is mere assertion. When you have an argument let me know.

    They mean things different from what a supernatural universe might imply, but they are not excluded.

    Mere assertion. When you have an argument let me know.

    It is not any universe a reasonable person (materialist or not) would accept as reasonable under materialism.

    What an odd statement. Whether a person “would accept” the conclusions compelled by materialist premises is quite irrelevant.

    Materialism does not exclude all “broader context”,

    Of course it does, for the reasons I’ve explained. Notably lacking in your response is any argument. Mere contradiction might be funny in a Monty Python skit. But it really is not an argument. When you are ready to give us an argument, let us know.

    Materialism can easily provide meaningful definitions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ which are far beyond mere preferences.

    Yet after centuries of striving no one has gotten past Hume’s Is/Ought problem. If it is so easy why has no one been able to do it?

    We have no need of a transcendent moral code

    You do if you ever want to get past the “sez who” problem.

    The goal is to FIND meaning, not have it IMPOSED.

    The goal is to find truth. There is meaning in the universe because God exists and the transcendent moral code is grounded in his being – or there is not. Your personal aversion to authority has no bearing on the issue; though you seem to think that if you stamp your foot hard enough it will make a difference. Here’s a clue. It does not.

    God can impose meaning “through the objective transcendent moral code grounded in his being” ONLY IF GOD TELLS YOU SO FACE-TO-FACE.

    Mere assertion. When you have an argument let me know.

  33. 33
    Daniel King says:

    People derive meaning in life in a variety of ways.

    Some think that life has no meaning if obedience to a transcendant being and promises of eternal bliss do not apply.

    Some focus on love for parents, siblings, spouses and children.

    Some follow social and political aspirations, such as respect for others in daily interactions and in working to achieve justice.

    Life is a buffet. You can’t avoid a choice. Choose what suits you, but bear in mind that you will be judged by somebody, certainly here, but possibly in the hereafter.

    The idea that “It’s my [Barry’s] way or the highway,” is easily ignored.

    Peace,

    Daniel

  34. 34
    bornagain77 says:

    There is a fairly simple way to see “Why there is no Meaning if Materialism is True”.
    That ‘simple way’ is to go to the foundational claim of Intelligent Design against neo-Darwinism and against materialism in general.
    Specifically, the claim of Intelligent Design against neo-Darwinism, and against materialism in general, is that undirected material processes cannot generate any non-trivial functional information and that information only originates from a mind or personal agent:

    “Our experience-based knowledge of information-flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified complexity (especially codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source — from a mind or personal agent.”
    (Stephen C. Meyer, “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2):213-239 (2004).)

    The Origin of Information: How to Solve It – Perry Marshall (Shannon Channel Capacity)
    Where did the information in DNA come from? This is one of the most important and valuable questions in the history of science. Cosmic Fingerprints has issued a challenge to the scientific community:
    “Show an example of Information that doesn’t come from a mind. All you need is one.”
    “Information” is defined as digital communication between an encoder and a decoder, using agreed upon symbols. To date, no one has shown an example of a naturally occurring encoding / decoding system, i.e. one that has demonstrably come into existence without a designer.
    A private equity investment group is offering a technology prize for this discovery. We will financially reward and publicize the first person who can solve this;,,, To solve this problem is far more than an object of abstract religious or philosophical discussion. It would demonstrate a mechanism for producing coding systems, thus opening up new channels of scientific discovery. Such a find would have sweeping implications for Artificial Intelligence research.
    http://cosmicfingerprints.com/solve/
    On the preceding site, Perry Marshall directly compares Claude Shannon’s communication model and Hubert Yockey’s DNA communication channel model. Notice that Yockey’s model contains the exact same components as Shannon’s – the two systems are isomorphic.

    “A code system is always the result of a mental process (it requires an intelligent origin or inventor). It should be emphasized that matter as such is unable to generate any code. All experiences indicate that a thinking being voluntarily exercising his own free will, cognition, and creativity, is required. ,,,there is no known law of nature and no known sequence of events which can cause information to originate by itself in matter.
    Werner Gitt 1997 In The Beginning Was Information pp. 64-67, 79, 107.”
    (The retired Dr Gitt was a director and professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Braunschweig), the Head of the Department of Information Technology.)

    In other words, the only known source for information is when a mind intentionally assigns ‘meaning’ in order to create it.

    “A code is a unique mapping of something in space ‘a’ to something is space ‘b’. ,, Where the word coffee does not mean goat. It means coffee. A beverage that you drink. ,,, The word stop means stop. The word stop does not mean go. The word go means go. The word go does not mean stop.,,”
    – Perry Marshall

    In other words, the ability to assign meaning MUST exist before information can be brought into existence.

    Thus, since life is now found to be ‘information theoretic’ in its foundational basis, and since the ability to assign ‘meaning’ must exist prior to information being created in life, then it follows that life must have some meaning of some sort.

    Moreover, since it is impossible for unguided material processes to create information, since unguided material processes obviously lack the ability to assign meaning in the first place, then it follows that there can not possibly be any real meaning for our lives if materialism is true.

    Moreover, this line of argumentation can be extended to argue for the Christian belief that humans are made ‘in the image of God’ to have a intimate, loving, relationship with God.

    The argument goes like this:

    Among all creatures on earth, humans uniquely the possess to ability to understand and create information:

    Evolution of the Genus Homo – Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences – Ian Tattersall, Jeffrey H. Schwartz, May 2009
    Excerpt: “Unusual though Homo sapiens may be morphologically, it is undoubtedly our remarkable cognitive qualities that most strikingly demarcate us from all other extant species. They are certainly what give us our strong subjective sense of being qualitatively different. And they are all ultimately traceable to our symbolic capacity. Human beings alone, it seems, mentally dissect the world into a multitude of discrete symbols, and combine and recombine those symbols in their minds to produce hypotheses of alternative possibilities. When exactly Homo sapiens acquired this unusual ability is the subject of debate.”
    http://www.annualreviews.org/d.....208.100202

    Leading Evolutionary Scientists Admit We Have No Evolutionary Explanation of Human Language – December 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved.,,,
    (Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution,” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5:401 (May 7, 2014).)
    It’s difficult to imagine much stronger words from a more prestigious collection of experts.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....92141.html

    Moreover, the three Rs, reading, writing, and arithmetic, i.e. the unique ability to process information inherent to man, are the very first things to be taught to children when they enter elementary school.

    And yet, as mentioned previously, it is this information processing, i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic that is found to be foundational to life:

    Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer – video clip
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVkdQhNdzHU

    John Lennox – Semiotic Information – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6rd4HEdffw

    As well, as if that was not ‘spooky enough’, information, not material, is now found to be foundational to physical reality:

    “it from bit” Every “it”— every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. “It from bit” symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has a bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances, an immaterial source and explanation, that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment—evoked responses, in short all matter and all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.”
    – Princeton University physicist John Wheeler (1911–2008) (Wheeler, John A. (1990), “Information, physics, quantum: The search for links”, in W. Zurek, Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information (Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley))

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.”
    Anton Zeilinger – a leading expert in quantum teleportation:
    per metanexus.net

    Quantum physics just got less complicated – Dec. 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Patrick Coles, Jedrzej Kaniewski, and Stephanie Wehner,,, found that ‘wave-particle duality’ is simply the quantum ‘uncertainty principle’ in disguise, reducing two mysteries to one.,,,
    “The connection between uncertainty and wave-particle duality comes out very naturally when you consider them as questions about what information you can gain about a system. Our result highlights the power of thinking about physics from the perspective of information,”,,,
    http://phys.org/news/2014-12-q.....cated.html

    Of note: Since our prayers are basically just information going up to God, then I would hold that our prayers are far more effectual than many people may believe.

    Moreover, it is hard to imagine a more convincing proof that we are made ‘in the image of God’ than finding that both the universe and life itself are both ‘information theoretic’ in their basis, and that we, of all the creatures on earth, uniquely possess an ability to understand and create information.

    I guess a more convincing proof could be if God Himself became a man, defeated death on a cross, and then rose from the dead to prove that He alone was God.

    But who has ever heard of such a convincing proof as that?

    Turin Shroud Quantum Hologram Reveals The Words ‘The Lamb’ on a solid oval object – video
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=J21MECNU

    Solid Oval Object Under The Beard
    http://shroud3d.com/findings/s.....-the-beard

    Verses and Music:

    Genesis 1:26
    And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men.

    Casting Crowns – The Word Is Alive
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9itgOBAxSc

  35. 35
    Barry Arrington says:

    Daniel King @ 33 gets the award for “Most Inane Blithering of the Night.”

    Find ultimate meaning in the universe in fluffy white clouds and cuddly kittens. It’s fun!

  36. 36
    StephenB says:

    sean

    materialism can easily provide meaningful definitions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ which are far beyond mere preferences.

    That is an interesting claim. Show me how you can get meaningful definitions of good and evil from matter and energy.

  37. 37
    bornagain77 says:

    podcast – “Freeloading” from Religion: Nancy Pearcey on Materialism and Human Rights
    http://www.discovery.org/multi.....an-rights/

  38. 38
    StephenB says:

    eigenstate

    Meaning is meaningful and in a directly demonstrable way, just as value is meaningful in a very practical way, and all the while being wholly grounded in our subjective judgments.

    That isn’t the way “meaning” is being used in the OP. Barry defines it as “significance in a broader context.”

    That kind of meaning must be conferred or endowed by an outside agent.

    You are talking about the kind of meaning that is assigned or attributed to things or people.

    That is an entirely different thing.

    You can assign meaning to anything you like, but you cannot have meaning unless God confers it on you, that is, unless God creates you for something.

  39. 39
    eigenstate says:

    That isn’t the way “meaning” is being used in the OP. Barry defines it as “significance in a broader context.”

    That kind of meaning must be conferred or endowed by an outside agent.

    You are talking about the kind of meaning that is assigned or attributed to things or people.

    That is an entirely different thing.

    The points to make are:

    1. Barry’s usage is self-serving and contrived.

    2. My meaning (ascribed) is, contra Barry’s usage, real and practical meaning, describing the relationship between subjects and objects, as ascribed by subjects. Barry proves the practical use and reality of subjective ascription every time he uses Visa card, or enters into any financial dealings with others.

    3. Barry’s own parochial understanding of objective meaning is just another example of his subjective assignment of meaning. It must be so, as ” objective meaning” is a non-starter, meaning is a concept, a feature of a mind, there for, by definition, subjective. It can’t be otherwise.

  40. 40
    Barry Arrington says:

    eigenstate @ 39:

    “meaning is a concept, a feature of a mind . . .”

    In one post eigenstate tells us he is an eliminative materialist who does not believe in the existence of a “mind.” In the next post he’s going on about the features of a mind.

    He can’t keep the crap he shovels sorted out. It is kind of amusing really.

  41. 41
    eigenstate says:

    Barry,

    The mind is the activity of the brain. There’s nothing problematic about this at all from a materialist standpoint. We can use our minds-as-active-physical-brains to imagine disembodied, non-physical minds, just as we can imagine what a unicorn or centaur might look like.

    So, our minds-as-active-physical-brains can “meta-represent” fictions, like YHWH, and self-contradictory concepts like ” objective meaning”.

  42. 42
    cornucopian says:

    If materialism is true, we are nothing more than glorified monkeys. There is no meaning behind anything you do. You are simply a product of an accident that began billions of years ago.

    I think they live in denial about it because they understand it. Why do anything good if there is no such thing as good in the first place? These folks are the freeloaders of religion.

    Why discover new drugs to cure cancer and malaria? Why help the poor and needy? Why was the holocaust wrong?

    Is there any difference between a stripper dancing in vegas and a doctor serving in west Africa? If materialism is true, there is no difference at all.

  43. 43
    cornucopian says:

    eigenstate,

    Try again. You are in denial about what your worldview leads to so you spew psychobabble and think you are some kind of a genius.

    Here is a simple question: Why is child molestation wrong? If it is not wrong, explain clearly why it is not wrong.

    Evil in a materialistic brain is simply an illusion.

  44. 44
    Barry Arrington says:

    eigenstate @ 39:

    “meaning is a feature of a mind”

    eigenstate @ 41:

    “The mind is the activity of the brain.”

    Combining we get:

    “meaning is a feature of the activity of the brain”

    Which is absolutely correct given materialist premises. And that, of course, is what I said in the OP. There is no significance within a wider context to a feature of the activity of a brain. Thanks for making my point in spite of yourself E.

  45. 45
    eigenstate says:

    If materialism is true, we are nothing more than glorified monkeys. There is no meaning behind anything you do. You are simply a product of an accident that began billions of years ago.
    We’re not even glorified. We’re just apes with relatlively little hair. Some even less than others.

    I think they live in denial about it because they understand it. Why do anything good if there is no such thing as good in the first place? These folks are the freeloaders of religion.

    It seems you’ve not read the comments up thread. Do you believe money has value? If so, why? If not, do you use money to transact?

    Careful that’s a trick question.

    Why discover new drugs to cure cancer and malaria? Why help the poor and needy? Why was the holocaust wrong?

    Why because we have a natural desire to survive and thrive, and living has subjective value and meaning for us, just like money has subjective value for us. It’s meaningful and valuable because we say so, which is the only way anything gets valued or loaded with meaning in the first place.

    Is there any difference between a stripper dancing in vegas and a doctor serving in west Africa? If materialism is true, there is no difference at all.

    That can only be true if you believe money cannot have any value, since there is nothing “objectively valuable”about it.

    If you use money to transact and understand the ascription of subjective value, you have falsified your own claim here in so doing.

  46. 46
    Barry Arrington says:

    eigenstate @ 45 keeps going on about how morality is like value. What we value is good simply because we value it. And what we don’t value is evil simply because we don’t value it.

    A Zimbabwean dollar once had value; now it has no value.

    Killing Jews, homosexuals and the disabled is evil now because we don’t value those practices. If we did value those practices, according to eigenstate that would make them good.

    You are an evil little fascist turd eigenstate. Thank you for continuing to show us the road where materialism leads — might makes right; the heel of a boot in our face forever. You disgust me.

  47. 47
    Upright BiPed says:

    Despite the false bravado, the problem for materialists is that they can’t construct a physical system to provide meaning without having meaning required in its structure. Its a real problem, just give it a try.

  48. 48
    StephenB says:

    eigenstate

    We can use our minds-as-active-physical-brains to imagine disembodied, non-physical minds, just as we can imagine what a unicorn or centaur might look like.

    We? Where did you get the “We?” It can’t be the mind or the brain because you just said that they are the things being used by the we.

  49. 49
    StephenB says:

    eigenstate

    It seems you’ve not read the comments up thread. Do you believe money has value? If so, why? If not, do you use money to transact?

    Do you think that air has value? Do you think that water has value?

  50. 50
    Pro Hac Vice says:

    Not even close to what I said. I will give you another chance though. If you want to engage in a true exchange of views instead of just spout your talking points, take another run at it.

    I think perhaps you misunderstood my statement, although it’s certainly possible I misunderstood yours. You said that if “good” doesn’t have an objective meaning, then Hitler was doing good by his own lights. As I said, all that’s doing is stating a truism: [if good has no objective value,] and Hitler believed what he was doing was good, then Hitler believed what he was doing was good. Which is obviously true, as truisms are.

    Your broader point seems to be that this is unacceptable, because of course Hitler was objectively wrong. Please remember that everyone you’re talking to believes that what Hitler did was wrong. No one on this thread thinks that the fact that he disagreed makes his actions acceptable or right by any relevant standard. Materialism and/or subjectivism, insofar as they’re linked, only means that there’s no objective standard by which to judge, not that we can’t agree on a standard with which to judge.

    Which leads into your next angry rejoinder:

    Whether objective moral truth exists is an ontological issue. Our capacity to understand and apply it is an epistemological issue. Before I go further, do you understand the difference or should I explain it to you?

    I think I understand the difference, but maybe I don’t. I’ll rephrase what I think is your point so that we can tell. You seem to be saying that whether OMT exists is a distinct question from whether it’s accessible to us; to go a bit further out on a limb, the former is a question of whether the fundamental truth is real, the latter is a question of whether we’re entitled to assume that it is.

    I think Sean S. has a good objection to that point, that the ontological question has to precede the epistemological question. My objection is different. I think the accessibility of OMT precludes any resolution of the ontological question. That is, it’s not relevant whether OMT exists if we can never reliably access it. And it appears to me that we cannot reliably access anything like it. Well-meaning people disagree about abortion, capital punishment, even slavery. Short of assuming that anyone who disagrees with me is just lying or insane, I don’t know how to reconcile those evident disagreements with some universally accessible OMT. (Also, I think it’s hard to square universally-accessible OMT with the fact that people almost without exception come to believe that the OMT happens to be just what they were taught as kids and/or what their peers believe. That seems much more consistent with subjectivism than an OMT.)

    Would I be wasting my time if I asked you respond civilly? You seem to enjoy pouring contempt on other people; I don’t particularly enjoy receiving it. I’d appreciate it you’d assume good faith for the purposes of this conversation. I promise you I’m not mentally retarded or evil. I just disagree.

  51. 51
    Learned Hand says:

    Didn’t realize this laptop was logged in as PHV–same person as Learned Hand / Colin, obviously.

  52. 52
    computerist says:

    I do not think the question of objective meaning can be analyzed/assessed individually, but collectively.

    There has not been a single word mentioned in this discussion about collective meaning, it’s IMHO the Achilles heal of subjectivists.

    I think people such as eigenstate (materialists) have a routine tendency to miss the bigger picture, or at least fail to acknowledge that possibility.

  53. 53
    Box says:

    StephenB, Eigenstate,

    StephenB:

    Eigenstate: We can use our minds-as-active-physical-brains to imagine disembodied, non-physical minds, just as we can imagine what a unicorn or centaur might look like.

    We? Where did you get the “We?” It can’t be the mind or the brain because you just said that they are the things being used by the we.

    I also would like to know how Eigenstate gets to “We”.

    The (self-contradictory) dual role of “We” can also be observed in the writings of atheist philosopher A.Rosenberg:

    FOR SOLID EVOLUTIONARY REASONS, WE’VE BEEN tricked into looking at life from the inside. Without scientism, we look at life from the inside, from the first-person POV (OMG, you don’t know what a POV is?—a “point of view”). The first person is the subject, the audience, the viewer of subjective experience, the self in the mind.
    Scientism shows that the first-person POV is an illusion. Even after scientism convinces us, we’ll continue to stick with the first person.

    [A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide To Reality, Ch. 9]

    “We” have been tricked in having the illusion of “We”… “We” are convinced by science that there is no “We”, but “We” continue to stick with “We”.

    THE ILLUSION THAT THERE IS SOMEONE INSIDE that has thoughts about stuff is certainly as old as the illusion that there are thoughts about stuff.

    [A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide To Reality, Ch. 10]

    A non-existent “I” is having the illusion of its own existence and the illusion that its thoughts are about stuff …

  54. 54
    StephenB says:

    eigenstate

    1. Barry’s usage is self-serving and contrived.

    Incorrect. Meaning and value can be either objective or subjective. Objective meaning and value are conferred or endowed; subjective meaning and value are assigned or attributed. Barry is describing objective meaning or value. You are mistakenly trying to deny its existence. Air and water have objective value.

    2. My meaning (ascribed) is, contra Barry’s usage, real and practical meaning, describing the relationship between subjects and objects, as ascribed by subjects. Barry proves the practical use and reality of subjective ascription every time he uses Visa card, or enters into any financial dealings with others.

    Irrelevant. No one here denies the subjective aspect of value and meaning. The problem is that you deny the objective aspect of meaning and value.

    3. Barry’s own parochial understanding of objective meaning is just another example of his subjective assignment of meaning. It must be so, as ” objective meaning” is a non-starter, meaning is a concept, a feature of a mind, there for, by definition, subjective. It can’t be otherwise.

    Incorrect. Objective value is more than a mere “feature of mind.” Air and water are objectively valuable, period–even if that value is not recognized. Air and water also have objective meaning. Air is meant for breathing; water is meant for drinking. Humans do not simply assign value to them. They are, in fact, meaningful and valuable.

    Let’s review:

    Subjective meaning and value can simply be assigned to things by humans.

    Objective meaning and value must be conferred by an outside agent.

    Thus, materialism, which rules out an outside agent, cannot confer objective meaning.

  55. 55
    StephenB says:

    PVT

    I think Sean S. has a good objection to that point, that the ontological question has to precede the epistemological question.

    Not quite. The ontological question precedes the epistemological question in the order of being; the epistemological question precedes the ontological question in the order of knowing.

  56. 56
    asauber says:

    Materialists banging their little cymbals together on the internet like it means something.

    Must be an illusion of the mind.

    Andrew

  57. 57
    Box says:

    Barry Arrington:
    A materialist says nothing exists but space, time, particles and energy. Thus, our bodies are nothing but particles in motion in space through time. Particles in motion lack the capacity to make moral choices for the simple reason that they have no free will. News flash Sean. Materialism excludes libertarian free will. If a particular amalgamation of burned out star stuff could not have done other than what it did, it makes no sense to say it is capable of making a moral choice. In other words, one has to be able to make a choice of any kind before one can make a choice of a particular kind.

    I would probably prefer to slightly alter the second sentence, like this:

    Thus, our bodies we are nothing but particles in motion in space through time.

    Other than that I fully agree with this analysis. And I hold that it suffices to stop all materialistic attempts to ground morality.

  58. 58
    Learned Hand says:

    Not quite. The ontological question precedes the epistemological question in the order of being; the epistemological question precedes the ontological question in the order of knowing.

    I don’t think that rescues OMT, since the epistemological question is the problematic one. I’m happy to admit that I don’t know whether OMT actually exists; I suspect not, but can’t prove it. At the same time, it’s trivially easy to show that we can’t access it if it does exist: there’s no objective, temporal arbiter or standard upon which people can agree.

  59. 59
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Pro Hac Vice

    Short of assuming that anyone who disagrees with me is just lying or insane, I don’t know how to reconcile those evident disagreements with some universally accessible OMT.

    We discuss this topic often on UD and it almost always comes to a standstill — which is ok as far as it goes. But in any case …

    Taking the materialist/atheist side for a moment, the way I view it works like this:

    We see various evils and also good deeds in the world. Some examples are extreme (Hitler) of one or the other.

    The materialist defense of morals could be something like this:

    1. People generally agree about what is right and wrong on the larger scale. This is due to evolution or chemistry and social dynamics.
    2. People often disagree on many other aspects of morality. This proves that there is no accessible objective moral standard.

    I don’t know what is gained by #2. Materialism could live with an objective standard, claiming it comes from nature.

    On the development of morals, what this means is that ethical decisions are basically whatever most people think. This is why we actually can vote (in the US) on any conceivable moral issue. Ethics emerges out of a democratic process.

    When the counterpoint is raised that Hitler was objectively wrong – the materialist view could agree with this in the sense that “since most people thought he was wrong, then he was”.

    This sort of thinking avoids several problems. It starts with what exists today, and does not go back to origins (all that exists is space, time and matter).

    When it is said that molecules do not know what is right and wrong, it is answered that when molecules combine and form living organisms, moral values are an emergent property.

    I can see huge problems with all of that, but it still might be worth exploring a different approach. Rather than starting from matter, space and time – perhaps look at the objective morals themselves and their origin and development within human society.

    Just a thought.

  60. 60
    StephenB says:

    Learned Hand

    I don’t think that rescues OMT, since the epistemological question is the problematic one.

    The epistemological question does not discount the argument for objective value, unless you would care to deny the existence of water and air on the grounds that we can’t be sure they exist.

  61. 61
    Learned Hand says:

    SA,

    Thanks, I genuinely appreciate people who make a sincere effort to understand the other side. Your formulation isn’t quite right in my mind, but it’s pretty close. You say:

    The materialist defense of morals could be something like this:
    1. People generally agree about what is right and wrong on the larger scale. This is due to evolution or chemistry and social dynamics.
    2. People often disagree on many other aspects of morality. This proves that there is no accessible objective moral standard.

    This helps me refine my point. I wouldn’t say that disagreement disproves OMT. I’d say rather that it proves that there are subjective standards (which I think no one disputes). The critical point is that there’s no proof that the OMT exists, or what it is.

    Your first point is right, in that I agree both that there’s general agreement (with quibbling around the edges of even the biggest, most basic principles) and that I think it’s due to biological or social factors.

    Could that agreement be the proof of OMT? Lots of people probably think so. I don’t, and I think my skepticism comes from the fact that it’s more easily explained by those social and biological factors than by an invented objective standard. So to use a somewhat silly example, why do we feel good when we see someone we love? Well, probably it’s a combination of social and biological causes. Or possibly it’s Cupid tickling our pleasure centers with his arrow. But why believe in Cupid when the social and biological causes are sufficient?

    On the development of morals, what this means is that ethical decisions are basically whatever most people think. This is why we actually can vote (in the US) on any conceivable moral issue. Ethics emerges out of a democratic process.

    Hmmmm. I’m not enough of a philosopher to parse “ethics” very finely. Can we agree that law and social standards arise out of a democratic process, but that individuals still retain their own beliefs about what’s good and bad? I think that’s true whether or not OMT exists and is accessible.

    When the counterpoint is raised that Hitler was objectively wrong – the materialist view could agree with this in the sense that “since most people thought he was wrong, then he was”.

    They could, but I don’t think that’s the usual response. I think most materialists would say instead, “Hitler was wrong.” Their standard is subjective, but they still are deciding based on their standard, not the majority’s standard. (Of course, the majority’s standard is likely to be inherited to some extent by the next generation. Which explains why things like slavery and human sacrifice become seen as unacceptable over time, in a way the OMT doesn’t.)

    I can see huge problems with all of that, but it still might be worth exploring a different approach. Rather than starting from matter, space and time – perhaps look at the objective morals themselves and their origin and development within human society.

    It would be an interesting project. I don’t know how you’d begin, though.

  62. 62
    Learned Hand says:

    The epistemological question does not discount the argument for objective value, unless you would care to deny the existence of water and air on the grounds that we can’t be sure they exist.

    Maybe I’m just approaching the question from a smaller scope. I’m comfortable assuming that air and water exist because they are repeatably, reliably, (operationally) objectively demonstrable. I can go to any culture in the world and the properties of air and water don’t change. I can put a blind person’s hand in water and its properties don’t change. I can predict how its properties will change under various temperatures and pressures. Essentially all people will agree that water exists, and what its specific properties are, and if we disagree we can test those properties. (And the existence and specific properties of the tests and results will, again, enjoy virtually unanimous consent.)

    Maybe life is an illusion and air and water don’t ultimately exist. I don’t care very much; it’s enough for me that they exist reliably in what I perceive as the real world.

  63. 63
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Learned Hand

    Thanks for your reply. I’m glad I was able to get the materalist view mostly right, and I appreciate the clarifications added. I’m only going to look at one aspect, to keep things in focus:

    I agree both that there’s general agreement (with quibbling around the edges of even the biggest, most basic principles) and that I think it’s due to biological or social factors.

    The disagreement we have here is that I propose that the objective moral law is universal and necessary, and not merely a general agreement.

    I start with the most basic principles – the biggest. At that level, there’s no quibbling.

    Their standard is subjective, but they still are deciding based on their standard, not the majority’s standard.

    As above, I disagree that the standard is subjective. It’s something instead that is given, as part of human nature. Nobody can reject it or disagree with it.

    From your following post …

    I can go to any culture in the world and the properties of air and water don’t change. I can put a blind person’s hand in water and its properties don’t change. I can predict how its properties will change under various temperatures and pressures.

    I believe you’re saying that none of the above is true of the objective moral law, but again I disagree.

    The objective moral law is as real and identifiable as water. Its properties do not change — it’s impossible for them to change.

  64. 64
    eigenstate says:

    eigenstate @ 45 keeps going on about how morality is like value. What we value is good simply because we value it. And what we don’t value is evil simply because we don’t value it.

    And even more fundamentally, “good” and “meaningful” and “valuable” are products of our mental processes, inherently subjective. If the referent you are thinking about is objective, it can’t be a “good” or a “value” these are intrinsically subjective concepts.

    A Zimbabwean dollar once had value; now it has no value.

    Right. Value, like meaning is a subjective function of the mind. There’s nothing inherently valuable as currency about the piece of paper we may call a “Zimbabwean dollar”. It can only accrue that value as the product of minds subjectively ascribing it value.

    Killing Jews, homosexuals and the disabled is evil now because we don’t value those practices. If we did value those practices, according to eigenstate that would make them good.

    By definition. What we value is what we value, tautologously.

    You are an evil little fascist turd eigenstate. Thank you for continuing to show us the road where materialism leads — might makes right; the heel of a boot in our face forever. You disgust me.

    There’s nothing the least bit ‘fascist’ about any of that, any more than there is about gravity. You can’t make an inherently subjective function — value and meaning assignment — objective through pure religious fervor or snarling resentment. Doesn’t work that way.

  65. 65
    Popperian says:

    Barry,

    The problem is, meaning, as you’ve outlined it here is unusable in practice if we try to take it seriously as an explanation for moral behavior.

    Before you could actually know the meaning of anything you would need infallibly identify an infallible source for this supposed objective morality and interpret it infallibly. How does that work, exactly, in practice?

    At best, you could say everything has some unknown, abstract “meaning”, but it’s unclear how abstract meaning actually helps you solve moral problems. As such, you still have no other recourse but to conjecture solutions to moral problems and criticize them.

    For example, Calvinists say that God elects who he saves, which means God specifically created some people for the purpose of going to hell. And they will present a laundry list of reasons why it’s is Biblical and why it’s “fair” given that God dishes out meaning, etc.

    Unless you can somehow identify an infallible source and interpret it infallibly, you, Barry Arrington, must use human reason to either accept or reject predestination. You do the very same thing when you were exposed to Islam, or any other religion, and any other moral problem. Reason and criticism comes first. Even if you say moral knowledge is some how written in to human beings, you have the same problem. Is that knowledge infallible? How can we interpret it infallibly? Again, reason and criticism always comes first.

    IOW, adding God to the equation doesn’t actually add to the explanation of human moral behavior. It’s conjecture and criticism with some unexplained facet that doesn’t actually help us solve moral problems in practice.

    If you think it somehow does add to the explanation in practice, it would seem that implicit to your argument are a number of philosophical views about knowledge, in that it comes from authoritative sources, infallibility, etc., which you haven’t argued for. However, since you’re preaching to the choir, so to speak. you don’t need to explicitly make that argument or expose it to criticism.

  66. 66
    Learned Hand says:

    I start with the most basic principles – the biggest. At that level, there’s no quibbling.

    No? Is it wrong to kill? What about convicted murderers, or babies that are probably not viable and jeopardize the mother’s life? (I don’t mean that you have to answer such questions, only that there is quibbling about the answers.) I guess we could agree that just about everyone agrees that killing is wrong but for certain exceptions, and that the exceptions aren’t at the level of the “most basic principles”?

    Again, we run into the problem of whether this is easier to explain by virtue of the fact that we’re social animals living in communities. We wouldn’t be very good communities if we didn’t teach kids that hurting other people is wrong but for certain exceptions. So I don’t see it as very good evidence of an OMT.

    Also, there’s a separate problem: if the OMT is only discernable at those biggest levels, well, what good is it? Say we all agree that it’s objectively wrong to kill but for certain exceptions, and that we can’t access an OMT to determine what those exceptions are. Functionally, we’re back in subjectivism. An OMT that is only accessible so far as everyone agrees is indistinguishable from the consensus of subjectivists, isn’t it?

    I believe you’re saying that none of the above is true of the objective moral law, but again I disagree.

    Well, not quite, since I don’t think there is an OML. I was merely pointing out that I’m much more focused on the question of accessibility than ontological existence. If it’s not accessible, it doesn’t matter much to me whether it exists or not.

    The objective moral law is as real and identifiable as water. Its properties do not change — it’s impossible for them to change.

    How do you know that?

  67. 67
    Learned Hand says:

    Unless you can somehow identify an infallible source and interpret it infallibly, you, Barry Arrington, must use human reason to either accept or reject predestination.

    I could be wrong, but based on his statement in the other thread and my memory of past diatribes, he feels that his feelings are that privileged access to objective truth. In other words, he feels strongly that his intuitions are objectively true. Of course, I’m inclined to think that there’s nothing as subjective as one’s own feelings, even if they feel objectively true. But then, maybe that’s just how disgusting maggots like us think.

  68. 68
    eigenstate says:

    @StephenB

    We? Where did you get the “We?” It can’t be the mind or the brain because you just said that they are the things being used by the we.

    “we” is just a collective pronoun for a group of individuals, of course. For each individual, the mind as the activity of the brain *is* the self, the “I”. Unless you are committed to the Homunculus Fallacy, the *I* in ‘we’ is the mind.

  69. 69
    eigenstate says:

    @StephenB,

    Do you think that air has value? Do you think that water has value?

    These things, like all things, have whatever value people assign to it. Both as natural resources get some value assigned, as they are required for daily living. They aren’t in short supply (yet), but to the extent they become so, they would get increasing more value assigned, a simply function of supply and demand.

    There’s nothing “objectively valuable” about either, though. Not because of anything to do with either, but because “objectively valuable” is a contradiction in terms, like “objective meaning” or “objective morality”.

  70. 70
    Barry Arrington says:

    eigenstate @ 68:

    Unless you are committed to the Homunculus Fallacy, the *I* in ‘we’ is the mind.

    eigenstate prefers to be committed to the “false dichotomy” fallacy. The particular false dichotomy to which he appears to be committed is: There are two and only two mutually exclusive alternatives: (1) eliminative materialism is true; or (2) there is a tiny little guy in each of our heads (called a homunculus) who controls our actions. Idiot.

  71. 71
    eigenstate says:

    “We” have been tricked in having the illusion of “We”… “We” are convinced by science that there is no “We”, but “We” continue to stick with “We”.

    Right. It’s similar to free will. With the aid of scientific knowledge, we understand that our “sense of autonomy” is real enough in that we are separate organisms with cognitive process that drive many of our actions, but that we are no more of what we think and by extension how we will act than a rock is in control of how it falls down a hill. But the perception of our own free will is strong and pervasive, so much so that it’s beside the point in practical terms if it’s an illusory sense we have or not: it’s a fact of living as a human.

    Same problem with the self. There is no dualist “self”, or something apart from the activity of our brains (our minds). Yet we have a pervasive sense of an “inner homunculus” that persists despite our access to knowledge that this sense is illusory. Again, in practical terms, we are “wired for the illusion” and for good evolutionary reasons. So we can make good use of “self”as we always have. It’s just that now, those of us who are aware of what knowledge there is on this subject understand that while “I” and “self” perfectly meaningful and useful in a practical sense, fundamentally it’s a cognitive construct without a real, discrete referent we point to with “I”.

    THE ILLUSION THAT THERE IS SOMEONE INSIDE that has thoughts about stuff is certainly as old as the illusion that there are thoughts about stuff.

    [A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide To Reality, Ch. 10]

    A non-existent “I” is having the illusion of its own existence and the illusion that its thoughts are about stuff …

    No, I think you’re widely misunderstood Rosenberg’s point. It is not the case there is “nothing” in place of the folk-psychological “I”, the intuitive tendency toward the Homunculus Fallacy. Rather, humans are the “I”, but it’s just the activity of physical brain. Rosenberg and others would be wise, if not fatigued, to consistent clarify this point: when we say “there is no I”, it should be clarified “there is no I in the sense people traditionally and overwhelming conceive of it”. That’s important, because there is a human with cognitive processes in view, that has these misconceptions, useful they may be. The “I” in general has not been eliminated. The folk-psychological “I” has been falsified and superseded with a natural model.

  72. 72
    eigenstate says:

    @Barry,

    The Homunculus Fallacy doesn’t require (or even suppose, so far as I’m aware) of an *actual* “little guy”. It’s metonymy for our self of an “inner self” apart from the mind. So, if you suppose you “think outside your mind”, somehow, or “choose with your free will as an immortal soul”, or some such, you’re committing the error here.

    The core of the error is the “separate me”, and that comes in many immaterialist flavors as well. Far an away, the “immaterial self” apart from the natural mind is the most common example of this error, and it does not contemplate any actual (physical) “little guy” inside the mind.

  73. 73
    Barry Arrington says:

    eigenstate @ 72:

    The Homunculus Fallacy doesn’t require (or even suppose, so far as I’m aware) of an *actual* “little guy”.

    The homunculus fallacy does not require a homunculus. Then it has a deceitful name. I suppose deceit is “good” for eigenstate, because he values it.

  74. 74
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Learned Hand

    Is it wrong to kill?

    That’s not one of the biggest, most basic principles from which no dissent is possible. Instead, it’s a lower level precept that requires the application of the first level principles. Thus possible disagreements.

    How do you know that?

    I can’t know anything without it. It’s impossible to change because its moral principles are inherent in what we mean by possibility.

  75. 75
    Learned Hand says:

    The homunculus fallacy does not require a homunculus. Then it has a deceitful name. I suppose deceit is “good” for eigenstate, because he values it.

    Does the golden rule require any gold?

  76. 76
    Learned Hand says:

    That’s not one of the biggest, most basic principles from which no dissent is possible. Instead, it’s a lower level precept that requires the application of the first level principles. Thus possible disagreements.

    Ugh, a browser glitch killed the response I was writing. Maybe a good thing, it’ll encourage me to be more succinct.

    Can we identify any or all of those first-level principles?

    I can’t know anything without it. It’s impossible to change because its moral principles are inherent in what we mean by possibility.

    I’m not following either assertion. You can’t know anything without objective moral truth, or objective truth generally? If the former, why not?

    And what does “its moral principles are inherent in what we mean by possibility” mean? Can you rephrase that?

  77. 77
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Learned Hand

    Before I go ahead, I wonder if I could validate something with the others who support the Objective Moral Law (Barry, Stephen B, kariosfocus, Box and anyone else who wants … (and thanks for your patience LH).

    Do you agree with these statements?

    It’s something instead that is given, as part of human nature. Nobody can reject it or disagree with it.

    The fundamental principles of the objective moral law are as real and identifiable as water. Its properties do not change — it’s impossible for them to change.

    The reason I ask is because in my view, those things are required for the moral law to be considered objective.

    If one or more disagree with my views stated here, then I’m not sure if I can continue the discussion with Learned Hand and I may have to concede his points, or at least retract what I said and withdraw.

    Thoughts please?

  78. 78
    Learned Hand says:

    I may have to concede his points

    You never have to do that! I’m not trying to argue or force anyone into agreeing with me. It’s enough if you understand my position, and I think you’re doing a pretty good job of that. And of course I want to understand yours, so I’m interested in hearing whatever you think, regardless of whether or not people agree with you.

  79. 79
    Silver Asiatic says:

    LH

    Thank you. I’m going to disregard my own request and just go ahead.

    I’m not following either assertion. You can’t know anything without objective moral truth, or objective truth generally? If the former, why not?

    Objective morals are the distinctions between good and evil. The source of these is traced to ontology, so the nature of being itself.

    From being we get the distinction between being and non-being, with non-being having no potential. So, goodness is an aspect of being.

    From that follows truth – which is an affirmation of reality and thus being and thus goodness.

    Truth, in itself, is an objective moral value. It is unchanging and necessary. Without truth, we couldn’t have any knowledge. So, truth is a necessary, objective moral value that can be applied to various situations.

    An example of the impossibility to deny this is that no one can make a commitment to always tell a lie.

    We are required, by our nature as existent beings, capable of truth and falsehood, to accept truth, in itself, as a necessary, objective, unchanging moral value.

    We cannot know anything without this.

  80. 80
    Box says:

    Eigenstate #71,

    Eigenstate:

    Box (summarizing A. Rosenberg): “We” have been tricked in having the illusion of “We”… “We” are convinced by science that there is no “We”, but “We” continue to stick with “We”.

    Right. It’s similar to free will. With the aid of scientific knowledge, we understand that our “sense of autonomy” is real enough in that we are separate organisms with cognitive process that drive many of our actions, but that we are no more of what we think and by extension how we will act than a rock is in control of how it falls down a hill.

    IOW ‘we’ are not in control of our thoughts. Let’s reflect on that for a moment…
    If we are not in control of our thoughts, then something else is. Under materialism that ‘something else’ is uncomprehending non-rational physical forces. Given that, how can we trust ‘our’ thoughts?

    Eigenstate: Same problem with the self. There is no dualist “self”, or something apart from the activity of our brains (our minds).

    Oh yes, there certainly is.

    Eigenstate: Yet we have a pervasive sense of an “inner homunculus” that persists despite our access to knowledge that this sense is illusory.

    Anyway, who is having the illusion?

    THE ILLUSION THAT THERE IS SOMEONE INSIDE that has thoughts about stuff is certainly as old as the illusion that there are thoughts about stuff.
    [A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide To Reality, Ch. 10]

    Box: A non-existent “I” is having the illusion of its own existence and the illusion that its thoughts are about stuff …

    Eigenstate: No, I think you’re widely misunderstood Rosenberg’s point. It is not the case there is “nothing” in place of the folk-psychological “I” (…) The “I” in general has not been eliminated. The folk-psychological “I” has been falsified and superseded with a natural model.

    So there is a non-folk-psychological-“I” who is having the illusion that there is someone inside AND who is having the illusion that thoughts, produced by non-rational physical forces, are about stuff?

  81. 81
    Barry Arrington says:

    SA @ 77 asks if I agree with the following regarding transcendent moral law (“TML”):

    1. It’s something instead that is given, as part of human nature. Nobody can reject it or disagree with it.

    The TML is grounded in God’s being. It is accessible to everyone as part of their nature.

    I am not sure what you mean by the second sentence, so I’ll do my best to respond. Can someone reject the TML? If by “reject” you mean “disagree that it exists,” the answer is yes, and people like LH do so all the time. But LH and everyone else who says they reject it is a liar. They know that self evident moral truths (a subset of the TML) exist as well as anyone else.

    2. The fundamental principles of the objective moral law are as real and identifiable as water. Its properties do not change — it’s impossible for them to change.

    The TML is grounded in God’s being and is therefore part of the warp and woof of the universe. It is real. It’s properties do not change, because it is grounded in God’s being and it is impossible for God to change.

    The issue of whether the properties are identifiable is more problematic. As I wrote earlier today:

    As in many other areas, the ability to perceive and apply the truth is not evenly distributed. Consider mathematics. A small child can understand that 2+2=4. A teenager in high school can understand basic Algebra. A college student can understand calculus. A post-doc can understand advanced theoretical mathematics.
    Does the fact that the child’s understanding of the objective truths of mathematics is less than the post-docs understanding of objective truths of mathematics mean there is no such thing as objective mathematical truth? Of course not.
    Knowledge of OMT also falls on a continuum. Some propositions of mathematics are self-evident. Others are not. Some propositions of objective moral truth are self-evident. Others are not. For example, 2+2=4 is self evident. It really is the case that anyone who disagrees with me is just lying or insane. Killing millions of Jews, homosexuals and disabled people is evil. It really is the case that anyone who disagrees with me is just lying or insane.
    The further we move from the basic self evident propositions of mathematics, the more room there is for error (and thus disagreement). The same is true for the propositions of the TML.

  82. 82
    Box says:

    // follow-up #80 //

    Eigenstate: The “I” in general has not been eliminated. The folk-psychological “I” has been falsified and superseded with a natural model.

    Rosenberg keeps battering introspection:

    There is no self, soul, person. Scientism must firmly deny its existence. The self, as conveyed to us by introspection, is a fiction. It doesn’t exist.
    Before psychological experiments began to make us realize how unreliable introspection is, few were prepared to challenge its insistence that there is a single enduring self that exists continuously throughout each life.
    [A.Rosenberg, ch.10]

  83. 83
    Zachriel says:

    Silver Asiatic: I disagree that the standard is subjective. It’s something instead that is given, as part of human nature.

    This is a bit different than claiming there is an objective morality independent of human sensibilities, which is the most frequent claim. Humans almost universally have a moral sense, but there are significant differences in how people treat those considered part of the in-group as opposed to how they treat those in the out-group.

  84. 84
    Upright BiPed says:

    Are there no materialist/reductionist on this thread who can take up my challernge on #47 ?

    Obviously, I do not blame you for the reluctance – given that such a construction is not possible. Merely making assertions is likely a more comfortable position to take.

  85. 85
    eigenstate says:

    @UprightBiped,

    Despite the false bravado, the problem for materialists is that they can’t construct a physical system to provide meaning without having meaning required in its structure. Its a real problem, just give it a try.

    The answer to this is either trivial or impossible depending one what you mean by “meaning”. If you embrace Barry’s “square circle” version of meaning — “objective meaning” — then I readily grant as a materialist I cannot square a circle for you, or do anything meaningful with a contradiction in terms — “objective meaning”.

    If, on the other hand, you mean “meaning” in the common and practical sense — the relationship between symbols and referents, etc. — then your post just elicits a mild shrug. Look out the window, there’s your natural system. So far as we can tell, there’s no basis for thinking “meaning”, or even the humans/animals or minds that reify “meaning”, were required at all.

  86. 86
    computerist says:

    We question meaning because meaning objectively exists.

    It’s an intrinsic property of nature.

  87. 87
    eigenstate says:

    There is no self, soul, person. Scientism must firmly deny its existence. The self, as conveyed to us by introspection, is a fiction. It doesn’t exist.

    Before psychological experiments began to make us realize how unreliable introspection is, few were prepared to challenge its insistence that there is a single enduring self that exists continuously throughout each life.

    As the eminent philosopher W. Axl Rose famously commanded: Use Your Illusions.

    The point there being that if we accept everything Rosenberg is saying (I think you need to read more of his thoughts on this — the quotes are accurate, but this sounds like learning Rosenberg through an Ed Feser blog post or some such), we still have to deal with the fiction. The “sense of self” is not something we can dispense with, even if we wanted. With the aid of science, I may gain insight into the actual workings of my brain and my mind, insights that overthrow a great many intuitions and very strong ones, but I don’t have cognitive processes that “unselfify”.

    That doesn’t negate Rosenberg’s point, or the science behind it. It does make it a moot point in many practical ways, though. We are hard-wired to “think of the self as a self”, so even if what we “feel” the self is like in terms of being autonomous (or possibly immaterial, etc.), we aren’t able to transcend it, save for being able to indirectly contemplate it via a scientific lens.

    Again, I think you are interpreting the “doesn’t exist” arguments incorrectly. What you (and I) may intuitively understand about introspection and self-reflection may be quite incorrect, particularly as it relates there being a discrete “self”. When Rosenberg, or anyone else on materialism points this out, though, it is NOT to suggest there is no animal with a brain with meta-representational cognitive abilities. There is, manifestly. What’s really going on when you “introspecting” is not what you suppose, is all, and the process is far different from what you intuition suggests.

  88. 88
    Upright BiPed says:

    your post just elicits a mild shrug.

    Great! Then you should have no problem. Tell us how you would construct a physical system that demonstrates meaning – “symbols and referents” as you put it – that doesn’t require meaning in the structure of the system.

  89. 89
    Box says:

    For me Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” is a crystal clear argument for what we can be certain about: “I exist”, the very thing that is under attack by guys like Rosenberg and Eigenstate.

    Rosenberg writes about Descartes’ argument and it may be interesting to see where he goes wrong:

    Rosenberg:
    Descartes’s argument went like this: Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. Even if everything I think is completely wrong, there still needs to be an “I” having the wrong thoughts, having all those false beliefs. So, there is at least one belief that can’t be wrong, the belief that I exist. How does this make trouble for the notion that the mind is the brain? Easy. The existence of my brain can be doubted. In fact, many people (especially theists) have done so. I can easily imagine what it would be like to find out I didn’t have one—say, by looking at an ultrasound of my skull and discovering that it’s empty. That’s all Descartes needed. Look, I can doubt my brain’s existence. I can’t doubt my mind’s existence. Therefore, there is something true about my mind that is not true about my brain: My mind has the property that its existence can’t (logically can’t) be doubted by me. My brain lacks that feature. So, my brain can’t be my mind!

    Rosenberg misses the essence of what’s being said. What Descartes is saying that he is absolutely certain of the fact that he exists. — Even when I doubt my existence, I still have to exist —. Therefor “I exist” is a higher form of knowledge. Surely the existence of the brain isn’t denied, nor is the concept that the brain is the mind. However such concepts are simply denied to have the same status of certainty as “I exist”.

    Rosenberg:
    Think Descartes has pulled a fast one here? You are not alone. Scientism may be excused from not taking this line of thought too seriously. But it gets more serious. I also can’t doubt that I am having experiences. Introspection may be all wrong about whether my experiences tell me anything about reality, about the physical chunks of matter outside my mind that cause my experiences. But I can’t deny that there are experiences “in my mind.”

    Scientism admits their existence when it insists that these experiences should not be taken too seriously as a guide to how the mind works. So a serious argument that experience can’t be physical would make things very sticky for scientism.

    No, ‘experience can’t be physical’ is not the point. What’s being said is that experiences in the mind are undeniable. This constitutes again a higher form of knowledge. “I have experiences in my mind” is a higher form of knowledge, because it is undeniable.
    What does this mean?
    What this means is that if “I” and “inner experiences” are at odds with physical facts wrt the brain, as Rosenberg and Eigenstate suggest that they are, and we are forced to take sides, then reason compels us to choose for what we are most certain about. Thanks to Descartes we know how to balance the scales.

    Therefor it is irrational to suggest, as Rosenberg does, that “There is no self, soul, person. Scientism must firmly deny its existence. The self, as conveyed to us by introspection, is a fiction. It doesn’t exist.”

  90. 90
    sean samis says:

    StephenB @31

    You either agree that we are nothing but material stuff or you do not. Which position do you take?

    The flesh and blood out of which we are made is only material stuff. But we are more than just our flesh and blood.

    Everyone knows what “moral duty” means.

    Then everyone knows why the moral duty of rocks says nothing about the moral duties of humans.

    The stuff of which we are made determines our capacity to recognize moral duties and make moral choices.

    Error in fact. Everyone agrees that the stuff rocks are made of is insignificantly different from the stuff we are made of. And yet we are able to recognize moral duties even though rocks cannot.

    Our ability to recognize moral duties comes from how our “stuff” is ORGANIZED which is significantly different from how the stuff in rocks is organized.

    Barry understands materialism. You do not.

    An opinion to which you are entitled, and the rest of us are entitled to disagree.

    First, you claim the distinction doesn’t matter. Then, you appeal to that same distinction to make your point. The sentence that follows is unintelligible. Try to rephrase it.

    I don’t know how to improve it. If you cannot follow it as it is, you cannot follow it at all. If you have questions, do ask.

    @36

    Show me how you can get meaningful definitions of good and evil from matter and energy.

    Looking in the wrong places won’t help either of us.

    @38

    You can assign meaning to anything you like, but you cannot have meaning unless God confers it on you, that is, unless God creates you for something.

    Since your deity (and any other that might exist) has never spoken to me, I have to find meaning for myself. Many others (if not all of us) are in that same predicament. Fortunately for all of us, it turns out to be fairly easy to find meaning for ourselves.

    @54

    Objective meaning and value must be conferred by an outside agent. Thus, materialism, which rules out an outside agent, cannot confer objective meaning.

    Unless the “outside agent” tells each of us what meaning they have conferred, “subjective” and “objective” meaning cannot be distinguished. We all have to treat all meaning as subjective until the “outside agent” talks to us face-to-face.

    Thus, even theism, which insists on an outside agent, CANNOT CONFER OBJECTIVE MEANING.

    @55

    The ontological question precedes the epistemological question in the order of being; the epistemological question precedes the ontological question in the order of knowing.

    The only “order” that matters is the order of TIME. We cannot understand and apply “objective morality” until AFTER confirming its existence.

    @60

    The epistemological question does not discount the argument for objective value, unless you would care to deny the existence of water and air on the grounds that we can’t be sure they exist.

    As Learned Hand wrote @62; Our confidence in the existence of air and water is very high, we can directly observe them. We have no experience of an objective value, only wishful thinking about them.

    sean s.

  91. 91
    sean samis says:

    Learned Hand @58

    …it’s trivially easy to show that we can’t access it [an OMT] if it does exist: there’s no objective, temporal arbiter or standard upon which people can agree.

    Yes. Exactly. Only if the deity tells you what is objectively true FACE-TO-FACE can you actually know. Until then, it’s just people yapping.

    @67

    … But then, maybe that’s just how disgusting maggots like us think.

    I actually chuckled. Well said.

    sean s.

  92. 92
    sean samis says:

    Silver Asiatic @59

    The materialist defense of morals could be something like this:

    1. …
    2. People often disagree on many other aspects of morality. This proves that there is no accessible objective moral standard.

    I don’t know what is gained by #2. Materialism could live with an objective standard, claiming it comes from nature.

    What is gained by #2 is that it’s true. What is gained by saying something not true? Materialists could claim that there is an objective morality in nature, but they’d need to be honest and say all we can do is hunt for it in good faith. We’ll never know for sure if we’ve found it or just overlooked something.

    On the development of morals, what this means is that ethical decisions are basically whatever most people think. This is why we actually can vote (in the US) on any conceivable moral issue. Ethics emerges out of a democratic process.

    This is also why any reasonable morality focuses on preventing harms, so that we can engage in this moral development.

    When the counterpoint is raised that Hitler was objectively wrong – the materialist view could agree with this in the sense that “since most people thought he was wrong, then he was”.

    That his activities harmed many without any semblance of a good reason is why we all know he was wrong beyond reasonable doubt.

    This sort of thinking avoids several problems. It starts with what exists today, and does not go back to origins (all that exists is space, time and matter).

    Exactly; because “going back to origins” gets us nothing and leads to confusion.

    When it is said that molecules do not know what is right and wrong, it is answered that when molecules combine and form living organisms, moral values are an emergent property.

    Exactly.

    @63

    The objective moral law is as real and identifiable as water.

    An “objective moral lawmight be real, but it’s not been identified.

    Its properties do not change — it’s impossible for them to change.

    If that’s true, that supports the notion it has never been identified because way too many supposed forms of it have been “found”.

    @79

    We are required, by our nature as existent beings, capable of truth and falsehood, to accept truth, in itself, as a necessary, objective, unchanging moral value.

    Since acceptance of truth does not require acceptance of any particular ontology, this does not add up. Truth is just a term we use to refer to those things that exist or occur. That these things are does not tell us what is good and what is evil. Evil exists, it occurs. Evil may not be “true” but it is True that Evil exists and occurs.

    That truth exists is objectively certain; we know this because the contrary claim that “truth does not exists” asserts a truth.

    But whether some specific proposition X is true is uncertain unless the evidence is complete, which is quite rare. The existence of a deity, or an objective moral truth is exceedingly uncertain.

    sean s.

  93. 93
    sean samis says:

    Upright BiPed @47

    Despite the false bravado, the problem for materialists is that they can’t construct a physical system to provide meaning without having meaning required in its structure. Its a real problem, just give it a try.

    Physical systems do not provide meaning, meaning comes from activity and potential outcomes of activities within physical systems. That’s enough.

    sean s.

  94. 94
    sean samis says:

    Popperian @65

    Before you could actually know the meaning of anything you would need infallibly identify an infallible source for this supposed objective morality and interpret it infallibly. How does that work, exactly, in practice?

    That is the problem, for which there is no solution.

    Unless you can somehow identify an infallible source and interpret it infallibly, you, Barry Arrington, must use human reason to either accept or reject …

    Yup.

    …adding God to the equation doesn’t actually add to the explanation of human moral behavior. It’s conjecture and criticism with some unexplained facet that doesn’t actually help us solve moral problems in practice.

    Yup.

    If you think it somehow does add to the explanation in practice, it would seem that implicit to your argument are a number of philosophical views about knowledge, in that it comes from authoritative sources, infallibility, etc., which you haven’t argued for. However, since you’re preaching to the choir, so to speak. you don’t need to explicitly make that argument or expose it to criticism.

    As long as the necessary arguments are not “exposed to criticism” they remain dubious and unacceptable.

    sean s.

  95. 95
    Upright BiPed says:

    Sean,

    Physical systems do not provide meaning

    I am not the one suggesting that material systems can provide meaning.

    meaning comes from activity and potential outcomes of activities within physical systems.

    This says nothing. Fortunately we know much more than this.

    That’s enough.

    I’m sure it is.

  96. 96
    Learned Hand says:

    Silver,

    I don’t understand everything that you’ve written. Correct me where I’m wrong:

    I see that you’re saying objective morals are a distinction between good and evil, and that this a fundamental facet of reality. And I think you’re further saying that the first-level OMTs are more like “existence is good” and “truth is good” than “unwarranted killing is bad.” Yes?

    I don’t agree at all with this:

    An example of the impossibility to deny this is that no one can make a commitment to always tell a lie.

    I think that’s practically impossible, given how necessary communication is to day-to-day living. Are you saying that in addition, it’s just inherently impossible? No one can do it or want to do it?

    We are required, by our nature as existent beings, capable of truth and falsehood, to accept truth, in itself, as a necessary, objective, unchanging moral value.

    Does that mean that it’s never moral to lie? The traditional counter-example is when the Nazis come to the door and ask if there are any Jews hiding in the basement; I’ve never met anyone who thinks it would be moral to say, truthfully, “yes.” What’s the rule for making exceptions like that to unalterable principles?

  97. 97
    juwilker says:

    Barry,

    I do not think it is appropriate (@26) for you to call someone a “disgusting little maggot”. You have chastised others on this site for using similar language or tone. You are doing great work and should keep the high ground.

  98. 98
    Popperian says:

    BA wrote:

    But as SB said, what we are composed of determines what we are capable of. A materialist says nothing exists but space, time, particles and energy.

    Surely, you can do better than this. Right?

    On one hand, you’ve spent an inordinate about of time arguing against emergent levels of explanation presented by “materialists”. Yet, when you supposedly speak for them, you completely ignore it.

    Apparently, “materialism” is what ever Barry Arrington happens to accept, or whatever he happens to agree with, when it suits his purpose.

  99. 99
    Barry Arrington says:

    Popperian @ 98.

    “It emerged” and “It was magic” are equivalent in their explanatory power. I don’t see how invoking magic helps your case.

  100. 100
    Upright BiPed says:

    Popper stands outside the theater telling people how to properly watch a movie. They pause to hear what he has to say, but soon they just want him to get out of the doorway.

    – – – – – – – –

    Popper, instead of flogging every conversation with bs, why not try understanding what has to emerge?

  101. 101
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Learned

    nd I think you’re further saying that the first-level OMTs are more like “existence is good” and “truth is good” than “unwarranted killing is bad.” Yes?

    Yes, right. Those are objective moral values that inform more particular decisions like “is this killing warranted”? The truth as a moral value is required – it’s not optional. We cannot evaluate morality and we can’t enter into a rational argument without a commitment to truth as being good. This is embedded in human nature and it is impossible to deny it. As below.

    I think that’s practically impossible, given how necessary communication is to day-to-day living. Are you saying that in addition, it’s just inherently impossible? No one can do it or want to do it?

    No one can do it at all. It’s impossible.
    To evaluate morality or even engage in a rational argument, a person accepts that the truth is good. This is necessary and impossible to overturn. There is nothing subjective about that decision.

    As I said, it’s impossible to make a commitment to always tell a lie. It’s internally contradictory because to make the commitment, it requires a truth statement.

    We can make a commitment to always tell the truth, and it’s even possible to fulfill that commitment. But we cannot make a commitment to always tell a lie. By making the commitment, we’re affirming the truth about something.

    This is why Being is good – because Being is an affirmation. Truth is that which aligns with reality or with Being itself. Falsehood is a negation of reality.

    Mathematical formulae, for example, are true when they reflect reality. Adding one apple to another one comes up with what we call “two”. We observe this in reality, thus the math reflects what is real – as truth does. The same is with logic.

    We are morally committed to affirm the truth in order to have any knowledge at all.

    Does that mean that it’s never moral to lie?

    No, telling a lie in any particular instance is an application of the objective moral norm that the truth has moral good value. A higher truth can judge various statements and therefore permit one to tell a lie, for the benefit of a higher truth. This has to be measured by Justice as well — not giving to one what is not due (or giving what is due).

    The traditional counter-example is when the Nazis come to the door and ask if there are any Jews hiding in the basement; I’ve never met anyone who thinks it would be moral to say, truthfully, “yes.” What’s the rule for making exceptions like that to unalterable principles?

    Here, it’s actually using the Truth as an objective moral value that enables us to see that a lie in that situation preserves a greater truth. The greater truth is that “the innocent human person has greater goodness than would be to obey the Nazi law requiring one to divulge information that would lead to the death of others”.

    So, the action is judged by something objective: the Truth.

    But what moral norm says that protecting innocent persons is more important than obeying Nazis?

    In that case, it’s related to the general objective norm of Justice. That’s how we judge if a killing is warranted, or if punishment is warranted, or if it is wrong to tell a lie to protect the innocence of someone. Justice is an objective norm. We can relate it to Truth.

    It is unjust to try to have a rational argument (even with oneself) where Truth and Falsehood are assigned equal moral value. So, objectively, Truth has greater good. Otherwise a rational analysis is impossible.

    It is also Unjust to assign Falsehood the same moral value as Truth.

    Even in the case of Nazis asking for information. The Nazis operated under a false premise: “we can kill innocent people merely because we hate them”. So, it would be unjust to assign Truth value to the Nazi rule: “Obeying Nazi laws is a higher truth than protecting the innocent”. As it happens, that’s a lie, and therefore Unjust.

    It’s the same if the Nazi said: “If you tell me the correct answer to ‘what is 2+2’, I will kill your family”. When we say “2+2=5” we are telling a lie. But we’re actually, more correctly, affirming the Truth that our family has greater moral value than obeying an unjust Nazi does.

    Other objective moral norms are similar. For example, “that which has highest quality of beauty must be reverenced”.

    This seems like a truism because in order to call something beautiful, that requires the spirit of reverence to be present in the person. But this is just an objective moral norm built into the human being.

    We recognize a special beauty in human persons and when we encounter love. Thus, the objective moral norm causes us to treat others with respect and to assign a sacred quality to love.

    Even atheists recognize this as I have never met one that did not show respect to the death of loved ones, or even in memorial services for others that they didn’t know. They recognize the tragic loss — which is a sign of respect for others, thus a reflection of the objective moral norm that we should show respect towards those things which have the highest levels of beauty.

    But all of these stem from Truth, a value which is absolutely required in order to have any knowledge, any rational analysis or any understanding of morality at all.

    Again, it’s not possible for a human being to be committed to telling a lie. We are built, because of the nature of being itself, with Affirmation at the core of our ability to understand. That Affirmation is a foundation of the objective moral norms that all humans possess.

  102. 102
    Silver Asiatic says:

    sean s

    But whether some specific proposition X is true is uncertain unless the evidence is complete, which is quite rare. The existence of a deity, or an objective moral truth is exceedingly uncertain.

    sean s.

    You undercut the value of what you have to say.

    Either, you are not certain that anything you say is true. Or, you assign the same moral value to Truth as to Falsehood.

    In either case, there’s no reason for anyone to engage in a rational discussion with you.

    You can certainly offer opinions, but if you feel the Truth has the same moral value as Lies do, then whatever you say is pointless. Why should anyone care about it?

    You claim that the existence of a deity is uncertain, in your opinion, but since that simply could be a Lie, then nobody knows what you’re talking about.

  103. 103
    sean samis says:

    A question for Barry Arrington, StephenB, kairosfocus, or any of their supporters:

    Do rocks owe moral duties to anything else?

    Since the claim is that “the TML [transcendent moral law] is grounded in God’s being” (BA); that “…OUGHT is grounded in root reality” (KF) this should mean that morality is foundational even to the mere matter of our universe.

    So rocks should owe moral duties because they are as bound by the TML, by the OUGHT as anything else.

    So: do rocks owe moral duties to anything/anybody else? If not, why not?

    sean s.

  104. 104
  105. 105
    Barry Arrington says:

    Sean @ 103. A lot of people say there is no such thing as a stupid question. They are wrong.

  106. 106
    bornagain77 says:

    sean samis, since I answered your question I now have a question for you.
    Since the Nazi’s legally took away the status of person-hood from the Jews in order to make it legal to kill them, and since unborn babies were denied the legal status of person-hood in order to make it legal to kill unborn babies, and yet atheistic materialists deny that they are really persons in the first place, does that then make it legal, or perhaps even moral, to kill atheistic materialists? If not why not?

    8 Horrific Times People Groups Were Denied Their Humanity – July 02, 2014
    Excerpt: According to Ernst Fraenkel, a German legal scholar, the Reichsgericht, the highest court in Germany, was instrumental in depriving Jewish people of their legal rights. In a 1936 Supreme Court decision, “the Reichsgericht refused to recognize Jews living in Germany as persons in the legal sense.”
    Nazis described Jews as Untermenschen, or subhumans to justify exterminating them.
    http://www.personhood.com/8_ho.....r_humanity

    Unborn children as constitutional persons. – 2010
    Excerpt: In Roe v. Wade, the state of Texas argued that “the fetus is a ‘person’ within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.” To which Justice Harry Blackmun responded, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.” However, Justice Blackmun then came to the conclusion “that the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.” In this article, it is argued that unborn children are indeed “persons” within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20443281

    “The neural circuits in our brain manage the beautifully coordinated and smoothly appropriate behavior of our body. They also produce the entrancing introspective illusion that thoughts really are about stuff in the world. This powerful illusion has been with humanity since language kicked in, as we’ll see. It is the source of at least two other profound myths: that we have purposes that give our actions and lives meaning and that there is a person “in there” steering the body, so to speak.”
    [A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide To Reality, Ch.9]

    “that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.”
    Francis Crick – “The Astonishing Hypothesis” 1994

    “What you’re doing is simply instantiating a self: the program run by your neurons which you feel is “you.””
    Jerry Coyne
    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/eagleton-on-baggini-on-free-will/

    The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – Ross Douthat – January 6, 2014
    Excerpt: then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant:,,) Read more here:
    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.c.....oyne/?_r=0

    Darwin’s Robots: When Evolutionary Materialists Admit that Their Own Worldview Fails – Nancy Pearcey – April 23, 2015
    Excerpt:,, Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT. Brooks writes that a human being is nothing but a machine — a “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry. In ordinary life, of course, it is difficult to actually see people that way. But, he says, “When I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, … see that they are machines.”
    Is that how he treats them, though? Of course not: “That is not how I treat them…. I interact with them on an entirely different level. They have my unconditional love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.” Certainly if what counts as “rational” is a materialist worldview in which humans are machines, then loving your children is irrational.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....95451.html

    The Heretic -Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him? Andrew Ferguson – March 25, 2013 Excerpt: A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.
    http://www.weeklystandard.com/.....tml?page=3

    Who wrote Richard Dawkins’s new book? – October 28, 2006
    Excerpt:
    Dawkins: What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don’t feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do. We feel like admiring people for what they do.,,,
    Manzari: But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?
    Dawkins: I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....02783.html

    at 37:51 minute mark of following video, according to the law of identity, Richard Dawkins does not really exist as a real person: (the unity of Aristotelian Form is also discussed)

    Atheistic Materialism – Does Richard Dawkins Exist? – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVCnzq2yTCg&t=37m51s

    “We have so much confidence in our materialist assumptions (which are assumptions, not facts) that something like free will is denied in principle. Maybe it doesn’t exist, but I don’t really know that. Either way, it doesn’t matter because if free will and consciousness are just an illusion, they are the most seamless illusions ever created. Film maker James Cameron wishes he had special effects that good.”
    Matthew D. Lieberman – neuroscientist – materialist – UCLA professor

    Philosophical Zombies – cartoon
    http://existentialcomics.com/comic/11

  107. 107
    Popperian says:

    @BA#99

    “It emerged” and “It was magic” are equivalent in their explanatory power. I don’t see how invoking magic helps your case.

    Really?

    First, I’ve already explained that emergence is not an explanation per-se, but a class or level of explanation. So, apparently, that’s something you’ve decided to ignore as well.

    Second, I’ve previously pointed out that adding a designer doesn’t actually help your case, as it doesn’t explain the knowledge found in organisms.

    Specifically, an ultimate designer that, “just was”, complete with the knowledge of what genes would result in just the right proteins that would result in just the right features, already present, does not serve an explanatory purpose. This is because one could more efficiently state that organisms, “just appeared” complete with the knowledge of which genes would result in just the right proteins that would result in just the right features, already present.

    Using your logic, does that mean that I can completely omit the designer when speaking for design proponents?

  108. 108
    Popperian says:

    @UB#100

    Oh, I see. Pointing out the supposed documentary film you’re watching is inaccurate is BS. Leave us alone so we can enjoy the pretty pictures?

    why not try understanding what has to emerge?

    We’re getting ahead of ourselves, as no one seems to understand what it means for something to emerge in the first place.

  109. 109
    Upright BiPed says:

    yawn

  110. 110
    Mung says:

    For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotical revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.

    – Aldous Huxley. Ends and Means. (p.273)

  111. 111
    Mung says:

    Popperian @ 107: First, I’ve already explained that emergence is not an explanation per-se, but a class or level of explanation.

    So nothing really emerges. Emergence does not refer to any physical event and really all that changes is our class or level of explanation.

    I don’t see at all how this counters what Barry wrote. “It’s magic” is just another class or level of explanation, synonymous with emergence.

  112. 112
    Mung says:

    Popperian: We’re getting ahead of ourselves, as no one seems to understand what it means for something to emerge in the first place.

    No doubt the difficulty stems from your claim that emergence is a class or level of explanation.

  113. 113
    sean samis says:

    Barry Arrington @105

    Sean @ 103. A lot of people say there is no such thing as a stupid question. They are wrong.

    Perhaps, but that is neither a ‘yes’ nor a ‘no’. I suppose calling it ‘stupid’ is one way to avoid the question.

    It’s interesting you dodge this so, since YOU brought up the idea in your OP. You do recall your OP, do you not?

    sean s.

  114. 114
    sean samis says:

    bornagain77 @106

    sean samis, since I answered your question I now have a question for you.

    You didn’t answer my question. An answer would look like “yes, because…” or “no, because…” or maybe “it depends because…” A link to a long-winded comment on many other topics is not an answer. Like Barry, you dodge the question. The idea that morality must be more fundamental than everything else is an empty idea.

    …and yet atheistic materialists deny that they are really persons in the first place,…

    Since “atheistic materialists” do not make that claim, the question is nonsense. Your cites from Rosenberg, et al. avail you not. One of the nice things about having no religion is that we nonbelievers have no popes, prophets, or priests who’re telling us what we’re supposed to believe or disbelieve. We get to reason it out ourselves. And when some “famous atheist” says something stupid, we get to do a facepalm like anyone else.

    It is not moral to kill others just because of their beliefs or lack thereof.

    sean s.

  115. 115
    bornagain77 says:

    ss:

    Well actually I showed, empirically, that morality is objective and real not subjective and illusory as you hold.

    So that would be you, once again, refusing to be honest towards the empirical evidence that directly countered your position.

    That you reject the empirical evidence makes you unscientific and a dogmatist.

    That’s your choice. I personally don’t care if you refuse to be honest towards the empirical evidence.
    It is you that will have to give account for your own actions to God someday. I’ve done my part as best as I, in my very limited ability, know how to do for you by giving you the proper evidence.

    as to:

    “We (atheists) get to reason it out ourselves.”

    Actually no ‘you’, since there is no ‘you’, nor free will, given atheistic materialism, do not to get to reason it out for yourselves. You forfeit any right to ‘reason for yourself’ you once had once you sign up to naturalistic metaphysics.

    Don’t argue with me, argue with your own chosen philosophy of atheistic naturalism (as if ‘you’ had a ‘choice’ in choosing atheistic naturalism) 🙂

    The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – January 6, 2014
    Excerpt: But then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant: But more on that below.) Prometheus cannot be at once unbound and unreal; the human will cannot be simultaneously triumphant and imaginary.
    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.c.....oyne/?_r=0

    Sam Harris’s Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It – Martin Cothran – November 9, 2012
    Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state — including their position on this issue — is the effect of a physical, not logical cause.
    By their own logic, it isn’t logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....66221.html

    (1) rationality implies a thinker in control of thoughts.
    (2) under materialism a thinker is an effect caused by processes in the brain.
    (3) in order for materialism to ground rationality a thinker (an effect) must control processes in the brain (a cause). (1)&(2)
    (4) no effect can control its cause.
    Therefore materialism cannot ground rationality.
    per Box UD

  116. 116
    sean samis says:

    bornagain77 @115

    I know that this is going to be a strange thought, but people can disagree with you without being dishonest. Disagreement with you is morally acceptable.

    You’ve done your part as best you know how in your very limited ability (as you describe yourself) and you have failed. That’s not my fault.

    Actually no ‘you’, since there is no ‘you’,…

    This is one of the reasons you have failed: you have no standing to tell me what I am allowed to think. Trying to just discredits everything you write.

    There is a ‘me’, I can make choices, and I can reason for myself just like anyone else. By being a nonbeliever, I forfeit nothing but obedience to you and your ideas.

    I do not fear having to account for my actions to any God. If the God in question is good, I’ll be fine. If they are not, we are all doomed anyway.

    As I’ve already said, folks like Coyne and Harris are not popes, prophets, or priests. They don’t “own” materialism, reason, science, or any philosophy.
    They have no authority to speak for materialISTS or materialISM. They speak only for themselves; as I do and you too. Their words do not bind me; no more than yours.

    It would be fair to ask me my opinion of their claims, but when you mistake their words for mine, I know you are not paying attention to what I write.

    sean s.

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