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May 05, 2014

Comments

1) You say objective morality means something is good or bad in itself, but then you say there needs to be a scoring system. How's that not contradictory? Rape isn't wrong apart from God's scoring system, right?

2) I think you're begging the question by insisting that the scoring system must be "transcendent." The word transcendent already assumes God. But why must the scoring system be transcendent?

3) Why can't evolution be the scoring system instead of God - that's my main question. You say that all evolution can do is make you believe something is good or bad - it can't really make rape wrong. It can't make kindness virtuous. But that's not true - evolution makes you die out when you have wrong beliefs. That's the objectivity of evolutionary morality, because it doesn't matter what you believe, but you survive by doing good behaviors and you die from doing bad behaviors.

I'm not being snarky here - I'm really hoping to understand this issue, so I hope you'll respond to my questions and not just brush them off.

John, I'll take a stab at answering your questions, but I don't know if this is what Greg would say or not.

1. When Greg was talking about something being good in itself, he was trying to make a distinction between an objective claim and a subjective claim. To say that something is "good in itself" isn't to say anything about what MAKES it good. Rather, it's to say that its goodness doesn't depend on our subjective beliefs or preferences. Statements like, "ice cream tastes good" are subjective because whether they are true or false depends on the subject making the claim rather than on ice cream itself. But statements like "the earth is round" are objective because whether they are true or false doesn't depend on the beliefs or preferences of the subject making the claim, but rather on the shape of the earth itself. Now, it might be that gravity is what caused the earth to be round, but that doesn't mean the earth isn't round in itself the way Greg was using the phrase "in itself."

Take a legal statement, for example. The statement, "It's illegal to smoke marijuana in Texas," is an objective claim because whether it's true or false doesn't depend on whether I like it or not. Illegality is something that is true about the smoking of marijuana itself rather than my thoughts or feelings about the smoking of marijuana. The fact that smoking marijuana is illegal because of some external source of authority (the government) doesn't contradict the claim that the smoking of marijuana is illegal in itself the way Greg is using the phrase "in itself."

2. By "transcendent," I think Greg means "obove and beyond" humanity. The civil law is not transcendent because what's legal in Texas may not be legal in Canada, and what's legal in Canada may not be legal in The Netherlands. For morals to be transcendent means that morals are over and above all human systems of laws, mores, customs, etc. That entails that rape is wrong for any human anywhere. Even if we went to a different planet, rape would still be wrong. That's the sense in which morality is transcendent.

Greg is saying the scoring system must also be transcendent because if the scoring system depended on some human institution, then the rules would only apply to people who lived under that system. That's why the laws of the United States don't apply to people in Mexico, and vice versa. But if there were some authority above and beyond all human systems, then the scoring system would be transcendent and universally applicable.

3. The reason evolution can't give us genuine morality in the sense that Greg is talking about is because it doesn't follow that because things are some way that they there fore ought to be that way. Evolution can only make things be some way. Evolution can't make it to where things ought to be some way.

Now, it's true that if we don't behave in certain ways, that will be detrimental to us and our species. But evolution doesn't care about whether our species survives or not. In fact, natural selection is one of the twin pillars of evolution, and that entails that many things die off so that those that are suitably adapted to their environment can survive and reproduce. So the fact that we die if we don't behave in a certain way doesn't mean that it's right or moral for us to behave in that way, and evolution can't make it morally right for us to behave in such a way as to ensure our survival.

That's really helpful to me, Sam - thanks!

You're right that evolution doesn't care about us, but we care, and that's the whole point. Whenever we talk about what ought to be, we're talking about what someone cares about. Naturalists are saying the universe as a whole (or God) doesn't care about anything, and it's only us who care about our own well being. So morality can't be out there in the universe, but it must come from us.

Now I expect you'll play the relativism card and say people all want different things, but that's not true at all. Every person has the same common goal of species survival. The different sub-goals we pursue are just different paths toward that one root goal of survival. We have no choice about this, but we all inevitably pursue our own survival to the best of our ability.

Yes, this is a different view of things from the traditional Christian morality based on rules, but it looks like a perfectly adequate explanation of good and bad. I hope you guys don't brush this aside with superficial answers that don't take into account the actual argument.

John, I hope you don't accuse me of brushing your argument aside in case I just misunderstand it.

But what you're describing doesn't sound like absolute or objective morals at all. It sounds like you're describing moral relativism. If morality is grounded in our own subjective preferences, concerns, values, desires, etc., that's the very definition of moral relativism. Greg's video is about how moral absolutes prove that God exists, not about how relativistic morals prove God exists.

Whether people all want the same things or not has nothing to do with whether morals are objective or relative, so I'm not making the claim that you anticipated. Morals could be relative even if everybody agreed on them, and morals could be objective even if everybody disagreed about them. If you're basing morality on consensus, then that is the very definition of moral relativism.

I fully grant that if there is no God (and no moral absolutes) that people could still care about each other, and people could still adopt a moral point of view, and people could all get behind the goal of survival. I also fully grant that evolution can produce people who care about survival, have survival instincts, care about each other, etc. The point I meant to make in my earlier comment is that evolution cannot produce objective morals, i.e. moral imperatives that are objectively true, independent of whether we agree with them or not. While evolution can cause us to desire survival, it can't make it right to pursue survival. While evolution can cause mothers to care about their young, it can't make it morally right to care about their young. As I said before, evolution can only give us an 'is.' It cannot give us an 'ought.'

The obvious problem with this sort of "scoring system" of morality is that it can not itself answer the most fundamental question: so what? Let's assume that out of largest possible morality score of 250 where scoring 250 means I'm equivalent to God and scoring -250 means i'm the farthest thing away from God. But the obvious problem is: so? Even if I were to be "the farthest thing from God" as possible, how does that in itself make me evil?

The obvious answer to this question is of course that God is the ultimate standard of good. But this is just avoiding the actual philosophical question: what does it mean to be "standard of good"? If raping someone would take me closer to God, would that make raping someone, good? Obviously no, so we need further clarification: since God loves everyone, that means God has interest in your physical and mental well-being and happiness (as that is what the requirement of love entails), and raping someone is obviously detrimental to that goal, so raping someone can not bring anyone closer to God.

Any ethical system that tries to make morality anything else then consideration of the physical and mental well-being of humans will always fail as being simply incoherent. So now the question is: since we can obviously see that questions of ethics are ultimately questions of human happiness, well-being, and physical and mental flourishing, do we need God as further justification of ethics? Obviously it does not hurt: if someone thinks they should not kill or hurt me because it would offend God, this is all in my best interest (the opposite, God who commands to kill and plunder of course isn't). But do we need actual, living and (metaphorically) breathing God to justify the existence of objective morality, rather then the idea? Why not simply take the more obvious solution that since no coherent ethical framework can not be achieved by declaring that human suffering is absolute good, and morality deals with the question of what sort of values bring the conditions that allow humans to achieve their greatest possible satisfaction in life, and start from there? Why make things more complicated by bringing unprovable metaphysical dilemmas in the question?

In reply to Erkki S, I would just say that it's not mere "satisfaction in life" that forms the basis of morality, but it's actual long-term survival as a species. After all, satisfaction is a matter of our perceiving things, so it's subjective. I might feel satisfaction one moment but later discover I was doing everything wrong! But survival is an objective fact.

In reply to Sam Harper:

The definition of moral relativism isn't that morals come from our desire. Moral relativism means our morals can change depending on circumstances, or who we are, or our whims. Maybe you're assuming that our desires can change, and I'm saying that's not really true. We all share a root desire that can never change no matter what.

It's true we all pursue different sub-goals that we might choose at whim, but all our sub-goals come together in a hierarchy pointing toward the one root goal of species survival.

Evolutionary morality is true no matter what people might think about it or what people might agree on. It's not a philosophical matter but it's a physical fact of life.

OK, you say, "While evolution can cause us to desire survival, it can't make it right to pursue survival." Thus, you are assuming that right and wrong must exist out there in the universe, whereas I'm saying right and wrong can only come from our desire for survival.

Erkki asked the question - "So What".
And I'm going to ask the same - but in regards to humanism.

Isn't our planet just the tiniest speck of dust compared to that of the universe - a game of asteroids at a colossal scale?
Aren't there statistically likely to be hundreds of billions of other habitable plants similar to our own?
Aren't we just one of ~5 million extant species on our planet?
Hasn't our species just been here less than a blink of the eye compared to that others, and indeed our planet?
Hasn't the flourishing and well-being of our species come at the expense of many other species?
And if we were not here, is it not true that other species will simply take our place?

Aren't our history books soaked in the blood of millions slaughtered, with great violence of one man against another?
And can spilled blood truly be called evil with over-population quickly diminishing the resources needed for the survival of man-kind?
And is it not true that unless we de-populate, it will result in the starvation and suffering of millions in the future?

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference." Richard Darkins, Scientific American (November, 1995), p. 85

So if suffering is the norm, and "good and evil" and "right and wrong" do not exist, is not Humanism just another myth; another fable to believe in?

So when you ask "So What"... a Creator and law-giver is the only way for there to be the morality and justice that a humanist yearns for. In love beyond that of selfish gain.

    Isn't our planet just the tiniest speck of dust compared to that of the universe - a game of asteroids at a colossal scale? Aren't there statistically likely to be hundreds of billions of other habitable plants similar to our own?

The relative size does not have any effect on importance. My brain is about the same mass as my laptop: that does not mean my brain is not structurally ridiculously more complex and functionally more important then my laptop. And because of the vast interstellar distances, these "hundreds of billions" of similar planets are only theoretical. We do not know if they actually support life, and we cannot access them, so functionally they are irrelevant.

    Aren't we just one of ~5 million extant species on our planet? Hasn't our species just been here less than a blink of the eye compared to that others, and indeed our planet?

So? No one has ever suggested that we simply eradicate all other species. And what does timeframe matter? Is newborn less important because it has hat existed only less then a year? Where exactly do you draw the line? If a species exists less then one million years, it is unimportant but when it suddenly reaches one minute beyond one million years, now it is important?

    And if we were not here, is it not true that other species will simply take our place?

Depends on what you mean "taking the place". The ecosystems humans inhabit will of course be overtaken by something, but were humanity to go extinct, there will never, in the history of universe be someone functionally similar to humans, as evolution is too unlikely to create the same species twice. If we are to be gone, we are going to be gone permanently, and assuming there is not enough evidence of multiverse, from all known universes.

    Aren't our history books soaked in the blood of millions slaughtered, with great violence of one man against another?

Against every guy killed in war and crime there is dozen more that is saved by medicine and society.

    And is it not true that unless we de-populate, it will result in the starvation and suffering of millions in the future?

Malthusian disaster scenarios have pretty much consistently failed in the past, so very likely no.

    So if suffering is the norm, and "good and evil" and "right and wrong" do not exist, is not Humanism just another myth; another fable to believe in?

"Cars" are a "fable" of machine with four wheels and engine that only exists in human minds, there is not a single "car atom" in the universe: they are also undeniably real. "Airplanes" are a "fable" of machine that has the capability to fly above ground utilizing air pressure, also undeniably real and man-made. Just because something is abstract does not mean it's anyway unreal. That this continues to perplex even so many atheists (who proclaim nonsense like "love is not real", or "conciousness is an illusion") never ceases to confound me.

    In reply to Erkki S, I would just say that it's not mere "satisfaction in life" that forms the basis of morality, but it's actual long-term survival as a species. After all, satisfaction is a matter of our perceiving things, so it's subjective.

I don't think this is quite so clear-cut. In extremely strict sense, every experience is subjective so in a simple way this is true. But there are also undeniable objective conclusions to be made: we know that every human being tries to avoid permanent or extreme physical suffering (no, X-games and endurance sports don't count since people are in it for the adrenaline rush, not suffering), we also know that every culture values art and creative aspirations. We can also pretty clearly identify that the common shared values of freedom from fear and freedom from want, which drives us to have economic independence, and the human desire for recognition and having a value to community. We can pretty much objectively devise from these shared aspects what objective human flourishing means. Obviously there are subjective preferences, but that's true in everything. That we can not know whether a person would prefer ice cream or cream pastry does not mean that we can not tell whether he would enjoy eating mud.

John,

The definition of moral relativism isn't that morals come from our desire. Moral relativism means our morals can change depending on circumstances, or who we are, or our whims.

Here are the definitions of descriptive and prescriptive relativism from the Stanford Encylclopedia of Philosophy:

Descriptive Moral Relativism (DMR). As a matter of empirical fact, there are deep and widespread moral disagreements across different societies, and these disagreements are much more significant than whatever agreements there may be.
Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR). The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-relativism/

OK, so it looks like moral relativism, by both those definitions, means that morality can change or can be different from person to person. So I say again that evolutionary morality is not relativism, because it is common to all people (regardless of whether they know it) and it is unchanging.

Thank you for the video. It was very informative and entertaining, but I would have to disagree on a couple accounts.

First of all, I felt that the majority of your argument was completely contradictory of your premise (as many have stated before me). I do not see how your claim of a transcendent entity (God) creating a set of universal morals is any more objective than morals being created by humans. Both require a conscious being to formulate right and wrong based on their individual subjective understandings.

This is why I believe the idea of OBJECTIVE MORALITY IS NONSENSE! Things are not morally bad and good in it of themselves, but because of how they affect people. Morality is completely subjective because it is determinant based on emotions, interactions, motives, and countless other elements that better people's well-being. True morality arises from conscious people acting selflessly to maximize well-being for the greatest number of people.

I think the crux of this debate over objective morality arises at the idea of CONSCIOUSNESS. Consciousness is the essential element to this debate, because consciousness is necessary for morality to exist. If the Earth were filled with only rocks, plants, dirt, and water, there would be no moral goodness or moral evil. There would just be. It isn't until human consciousness and self-awareness emerges that true morality can arise.

MORALITY HAS ALWAYS BEEN AND WILL ALWAYS BE SUBJECTIVE

One last thing.

If there is any objective morality in this world, it would arise solely from maximizing well-being for the greatest number of people (and conscious creatures). The problem that arises here is that well-being is subject to interpretation and this is where intelligent and informed debate is essential.

This is actually what societies have been doing for generations whether they know it or not. They have been basing morality on maximizing well-being for people. This is why women are gaining rights around the world, slavery is being eradicated, and hundreds and hundreds of laws are passed by governments that are meant to increase everyone's well-being. Naturally, debate over this well-being would be prevalent which is why there are different political parties and so much discussion about what the best (moral) thing to do for the country is.

http://theincompatibletruth.blogspot.com/

Perhaps not as philosophical as some of the comments provided, my take on this is slightly different. Moral absolutes, in my opinion, exist because the Lawgiver (God) is the ultimate beneficiary of them--not man. Yes, man benefits because adhering to those things which are right and eschewing those things which are wrong makes life better for all of us, but there is more to be gained. GOD stipulates what is right and wrong; GOD allows good for us to flow from adhering to it: GOD is glorified and honored through obedience to the law of moral absolutes. Without Him, all talk of maximizing the well-being of people, assuring the survival of the species, etc. is man-centered. The Believer understands that the well-being of people and their survival serve to honor the Creator; the non-believer sees right and wrong as fluid and changing depending upon situations in order for man to keep surviving. The Believer's view is eternal; the game is up for the non-believer who no longer survives this life.

(Meant to add this to the above comment): The rightness or wrongness of something emanates from the perfection and wholeness of God, thus they are unchanging absolutes. They cannot be bent or modified to accommodate man because they are rooted in His perfection. God does not change and His nature does not change, despite all of our attempts to rationalize. Furthermore, they are grounded in His love for us that we might live the kind of lives which are best for us and which bring eternal glory to God, and eternal life to us.

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