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November 20, 2009

Comments

The promised response to Brian:

Remember that my claim is that the atheist can have a moral system which is no less objective than the Christian can have.When the Christian claims that there cannot possibly be an objective system without God, he is taking on the burden of proving a universal negative.I am not only challenging the Christian to support this claim, but I am making the counter claim that the atheist can have an objective moral system. Even if my counter claim fails, the Christians claim is not established. Establishing the universal negative would still be the responsibility of the one making that claim.

My proposed system rests on three premises. There may be more that can be added, but there are at least these three, and others have not occurred to me. Two of these are true by definition; they cannot possibly be rejected. They are:

1. Suffering is bad.
2. Happiness is good.

The third premise is not definitionally true, but ultimately derives from 1 and 2 (I could simply rest on 1 and 2, but then this implication is often missed, so I find it best to explicitly state it as an additional premise. The lack of this as an explicit premise is my major problem with a strict utilitarianism.). The third premise is self-ownership:

3. A person owns himself/herself.

3 follows from 1 and 2 because, in order to maximize one's happiness and minimize one's suffering, one must have ownership of oneself.

From this foundation we can address specific questions that arise. Moral arguments can ultimately be traced backed to some combination of these three premises. 1 and 2 are combined in the familiar utilitarian calculation. The rights of individuals arise from premise 3.

This is an objective system, with no mention of God. In order to show I am mistaken in my claim, one must at least show that Christian morality is more objective.

In an effort to be concise, many details are omitted. I will try to fill in as requested, but I make no claim to omniscience, so I will not be able to answer all moral questions. My position is that they are answerable, in principle, within this framework, with at least as much objectivity as within a Christian framework.

Why is suffering bad and happiness good?

Hitler was happy when he killed Jews. Does that make it moral?

Can suffering ever be good? What about suffering that produces character?

Lots of people are "happy" with more money. Does that make having lots of money good?

I reject as untrue your statement that your rules 1 & 2 cannot possibly be rejected. Prove they are right.

Eric,
Thanks for posting your position. It is quite neat and concise. And I agree with your distinction that even if your arguments should be flawed it does not automatically prove the other side, there may be other systems out there that have not occurred to anyone yet.

I’m not sure I agree with your premises however.

Premise 1: suffering is bad-
this seems to be stated in absolute form, that is: there can never be a case where any suffering was a good thing, or leads to a good thing. But to quote a common phrase: no pain, no gain. I do not mean by this that all suffering brings gain, far from it; but people must often endure hardship to accomplish either survival, a goal that they have set, or to do what they believe to be right.

Premise 2: Happiness is good-
Happiness is an emotional state. I agree that I prefer to be happy, but to list it as a definition of ‘good’ seems inappropriate. Drugs might make me experience a happy emotion state, but they would still be destructive to my health and well being. Furthermore it suggests anything that might make me unhappy is automatically bad.
It is also very subjective, psychopaths might well enjoy harming people, but their happiness would not make their actions good.

Premise 3: Self Ownership-
Since this arose out of 1 & 2, I’m not sure how stable it is. Also it would seem to follow that with complete self ownership should come complete autonomy; this would suggest that no-one should be able to enforce laws against any person. That the only authority they should have to respect is the one they choose to, and only for as long as they choose to. Perhaps I’m getting this wrong, but if I have it right it would lead to anarchy.

As far as this being an objective system- I guess this idea would be objective in that it would universally applicable after the evolutionary emergence of emotion and reason, so I think you get that one.

This is what occurs to me, there are probably other things I am not thinking of but it is a place to start.

Eric, imagine a field with grass, stones, and trees. Are these objects being good or evil? Can you see that the question is meaningless? They're just molecules rolling about, moved about by wind and earthquakes. Nothing more. Morality doesn't apply. This field is the same as the entire universe if the universe is without God--people are not of any different stuff than rocks and trees.

For morality to exist, there must be a person at the beginning of the universe, not just amoral molecules. If there is no God as the basis for the universe, then the universe is unthinking, valueless molecules, and ultimately, we are the same as those rocks and trees--we're just molecules that happen to exist at this moment. There is no real good and evil, there's only what we do--there's only what is at the moment. We did not come from a person who is the basis and standard for goodness, we came from random molecules. There's no objective meaning for our existence, there's no objective standard, there's no person holding us accountable as that standard.

The most you can say is that there are certain things that keep our molecules existing and other things that tend to make survival more difficult--things we prefer and things we don't prefer. But ultimately, whatever we do means nothing in the end--that is, there is not even a moral judgment that says it's "good" for us to avoid suffering and survive. It is not "good" for us to survive or not have pain in an unthinking, unfeeling, amoral universe any more than it's morally "good" for a rock to be in one spot rather than another. There is no difference for us between "good" and "evil" any more than there was a difference for the rocks and trees. Pain, no pain, whatever. We're random molecules, and eventually there will be nothing left of us, or of any human being, or of any world. We use the word "good," but there is no real moral "good" or "evil" in the sense that those words have been used in the past.

You said:
1. Suffering is bad.
2. Happiness is good.

But the problem is that neither of those statements makes sense in a world without God. You could say, "suffering hurts and I don't like it," and "I like happiness," but you cannot make a moral judgment from a position outside yourself that suffering itself is bad and happiness is good. The reason why you can't get outside yourself to make a moral judgment about suffering is because outside yourself there is only an unthinking, unfeeling, amoral universe of molecules from which no judgment comes. So you're left with your own personal preference that is meaningless in the overall scheme of things.

About my first two premises:
1. Suffering is bad.
2. Happiness is good.

These are definitionally true. If something is not bad, it cannot be considered suffering. If something is not good, it cannot be considered happiness. The confusion comes because we consider things in total, rather than isolation.

For example, Kerri's questions:

"Can suffering ever be good? What about suffering that produces character?"

The amount of bad can be outweighed by some greater amount of good. This is what I mean when I mention the utilitarian calculation. We sum up the good and the bad and see where we stand. It is often the case that we voluntarily endure suffering because we expect a greater amount of good to result. But the suffering, in itself is still bad. If it is not bad, then it is not suffering, by definition.

From Brian:

"Drugs might make me experience a happy emotion state, but they would still be destructive to my health and well being."

This is a good example of a utilitarian calculation. The happiness, in itself is good. You then weigh this against the bad parts: the suffering that is likely to result. But the happiness in itself, is still good. If it is not good, the it is not happiness, by definition.


From Brian again:

"Premise 1: suffering is bad-
this seems to be stated in absolute form, that is: there can never be a case where any suffering was a good thing, or leads to a good thing"

I am not saying that suffering cannot lead to a good thing, just that the suffering part is bad. When considered in context, it may be that the suffering was worth it because of the end result.

Note that "happiness" is not the same as "pleasure", and "suffering" is not the same as "pain". It is possible to have pain without suffering and pleasure without happiness.

I hope that clarifies my first two premises. I can try some more if there is still confusion, but I don't want to keep beating on it if everyone is already following me. These are not premises that can either be accepted or rejected. They are true by definition. They cannot be rejected without saying "A can sometimes be Not A".

Brian,

Regarding your response to premise 3 and its implications... Premises 1 and 2 still apply. Our problem is that we want to find the optimal balance of (suffering vs happiness) and minimal violations of self-ownership. We generally lack all of the information necessary to do this reliably, so we end up with heuristics. We call these our Values or Principles. They are often even stated in the form of rules, although when pressed almost everyone will acknowledge that almost every one of these rules has exceptions. The exceptions are there because the rule is only an approximation of the result we would get if we had all information and were capable of actually performing the calculation.

Self-ownership need not lead to anarchy if people voluntarily exchange some of their rights to decrease their chances of suffering and increase their chances of happiness. A group of people may also pool their collective rights of self-defense (this right being a logical extension of self-ownership), which can justify law enforcement actions, even against individuals who are not part of the voluntary group.

Amy,

" You could say, "suffering hurts and I don't like it," and "I like happiness," but you cannot make a moral judgment from a position outside yourself that suffering itself is bad and happiness is good."
When I say "Suffering is bad", I'm not making a moral judgement about suffering; I am using that fact as part of the basis for other moral judgements. "Suffering is bad" is not a conclusion, it is true by definition. It is part of the objective grounding of my moral system.

Can you show that Christianity generates a moral system that is more objective than what I have described?

>>These are definitionally true.

No, they're not, for all the reasons I've already explained. "Bad" is a moral judgment. Suffering is a state. Suffering just is. You don't like it, sure, but that doesn't mean morality exists. In order for you to make a moral judgment, morality must exist. In order for morality to exist, we need to be more than a universe of unthinking, amoral molecules.

>>This is what I mean when I mention the utilitarian calculation. We sum up the good and the bad and see where we stand.

You keep saying "good" and "bad," but you still haven't given me any reason to think that morality exists. There are no "good" rocks and "bad" rocks, "good" groups of molecules and "bad" groups of molecules. If they could think, maybe they would make up words like "good" and "bad," but the words still wouldn't mean anything.

>>These are not premises that can either be accepted or rejected. They are true by definition.

Again, no they're not. You don't like suffering, but that doesn't make it morally bad.

>>When I say "Suffering is bad", I'm not making a moral judgement about suffering; I am using that fact as part of the basis for other moral judgements.

Bingo. You're "not making a moral judgment about suffering." You've finally made it to our point about grounding. There is no grounding for morality in a world without God. Without God, you can't make a moral judgment about suffering from an objective point outside yourself and your preferences. And you can't use something about which no moral judgment can be made (i.e., something amoral in itself) to ground the existence all of morality--and by "grounding," I mean "cite as the basis for real existence." Maybe you've been using the word "grounding" differently than we have been this whole time, but if you believe what I quoted directly above, then we have no argument because you agree that you have no grounding. All you're talking about is finding a way to make rules by which to live, not about grounding. Does that make the difference more clear?

You can't use something amoral to ground--to cite as giving existence to--morality.

Eric,

In talking about suffering and happiness, it appears that you are defining FOR YOU what is “moral.” Eric’s definition of moral = zero/minimal suffering + maximum happiness. You say one is “bad” and the other is “good.”

But this is not the definition of moral. Moral simply means what IS good and not bad. You are going beyond the definition to apply the quality of morality or lack of morality to happiness or suffering and then discussing happiness and suffering as if they themselves are “morality.”

If you define what is moral, why is your definition better than anyone else’s?

The Christian definition of moral is better than yours, Eric, for the following reasons.

What you, Eric, or any random atheist, or the majority of the American public accepts as “moral” may or may not end up truly being moral. It appears to me that ultimately, your morals equal what is generally socially accepted as right or good. (We are not talking about holiness or a similar concept, which is a quality only God possesses, or which He distributes to those whom He chooses). This morality makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Killing others would result in a reduction of the gene pool. If we have no “morals” or laws or commonly accepted standards of right/good behavior, then if I kill someone else, there is no one or nothing to stop someone else from killing me. “Morality” can be self-serving in this way, completely selfish and self-contained. I merely do what I want others to do to me, and I don’t do what I don’t want others to do to me. Leave me alone and let me pursue my own happiness.

But... Let’s say someone doesn’t care about their own life, and they want to kill others... like the suicide bombers who flew the planes into the WTC. Americans say that what they did was wrong. However, the bombers did not believe it was wrong. They believed it was right and good; they believed that the suffering of thousands would prevent later suffering of their own people, or perhaps mete out justice for past perceived wrongs. Flying planes into the WTC made them happy (as well as lots of radical Islamists). Who is right? How can we determine who is right?

Are the Americans right because homicide is wrong? If that is the case, where does that idea come from? To what authority do we appeal to say that this is so? The American public who feels it was wrong, or the Iraqi public who hates Americans and applauded when the towers fell? If you asked the radical Islamists if it was right, they would say that homicide in this instance was moral.

So now we see that “morality” if defined as “what’s generally socially accepted as right or good” or “what makes us happy and minimizes suffering” is not an accurate definition. We need to define what exactly we mean by “moral/morals/morality.” I propose a definition that approximates three dictionaries I looked in:

MORAL: That which is objectively right and good, independent of popular opinion

By this definition, we see that someone or something must tell us what “right” and “good” are, something outside ourselves, otherwise we cannot say that morality is morality (for, by definition, it is fixed, objective, and not “whatever works for you, mine might be different”). If we go back to our “what’s generally accepted” qualifier, then we have a circular reasoning that does not fit our definition... it becomes subjective (whatever the public feels at that time is okay). If the majority cannot be who decides what is moral, nor can judges who act on behalf of the majority, who decides what is moral? This can only be a Being/Force/Mind that sets the standard for us.

Sorry... left this off... as if that post weren't long enough!

What makes the morality of Christianity superior to that of other philosophies is the God to Whom we submit. Is Jehovah real, or is Allah real? The real, true standard set by the real, true God is the one we must follow. Jehovah and Allah aren't the same, but that is another argument all to itself. One may note, though, that as many religions and cults broke off from Christianity, they retain a sense of the morality of the original Christianity. Similarities do not mean they are equal.

Amy and Kerri,

In order to argue against me you have placed yourselves in the position of claiming that A is not A. You are saying that a word does not mean what it means. You are failing to deal with my argument on its merits, but are retreating into assertions that it cannot possibly be true.

I have presented an objective moral system. At no point did I appeal to my preferences or opinions, or the preferences or opinions of anyone else. I have grounded this system in objective premises. Suffering is not bad because I don't like it; it is bad because that is part of what "suffering" means. The fact that you claim to deny these premises does not stop them from being true. (Do you really believe that suffering is not bad and happiness is not good?)

You can disagree with my system, but I do not see how you can maintain that it is not objective. It is not legitimate to protest that it doesn't do everything your moral system does, because that is not the claim. The claim is that it is at least as objective as your moral system. We should expect it to be different somehow.

Can you show that Christianity generates a moral system that is more objective than what I have described?

>>Suffering is not bad because I don't like it; it is bad because that is part of what "suffering" means.

Eric, go back and read my last couple comments again because you're missing it. Your definition of suffering depends on morality being a real thing. You can't use the concept of suffering to ground morality because if morality doesn't exist then suffering isn't "bad," it just is. In a world where morality doesn't exist, suffering is only pain, it's not "bad" because there is no real "bad." Pain is pain, and that's it. There's no real judgment about it, as you said.

You are talking about finding a way to develop a system, but that is not the same thing as determining whether or not your moral system is grounded in a morality that really exists. You are basing your system on suffering--i.e., that is how you plan to determine what you think people should do or not do, but that's not the same as grounding the very existence of morality.

>>The fact that you claim to deny these premises does not stop them from being true.

This is a real problem for the atheist. You're having a hard time understanding what we're saying because you know that morality really does exist. You know that there are things that are truly morally bad. It's hard to even explain a hypothetical where there is no good and bad because the ideas of good and bad are so deeply ingrained in your thinking.

But that doesn't change anything. The fact is that if there is no person behind the universe, we're in a world made up of randomly grouped together molecules that came from unthinking, unfeeling, unjudging matter, from a universe that is amoral to its core, and so there is no moral judgment on suffering any more than one can morally judge a rock or a tree.

You can certainly make up clear-cut rules (if this, then this, etc.), but that does nothing to make the morality objective. It's merely a way you would like to organize things based on your preference. You still haven't given any reason to explain why morality is real and objectively meaningful. However, since we all know that it is, this is a problem for the atheist. It's something he can't explain.

Hi Eric, you've been dealt with. Seriously, you say:

"In order to argue against me you have placed yourselves in the position of claiming that A is not A."

All you have done is asserted with no--absolutely no justification.

Amy said it, Kerri said it and I'll say it... this is the world according to Eric, nothing more.
We reject your premises since they are not self attesting as you claim. Since you use your definitions, and they are included in what's being challenged, it seems that you are question begging.

I thnk it might be good to restate something Eric said in an earlier post concerning his use of the word "objective". His preferred use is # 5 from dictionary.com, and here pasted is his quote:

"not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased"


This definition is simply not usable, there is no neutrality in human judgement.

>>"not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased"

This makes me even more sure that we're talking about two different things. Eric, you're trying to come up with a system--a way to decide what we will consider good and bad, and you're calling your system "grounding," but that's not grounding. Having a system doesn't mean it's either grounded or that it exists outside of your preferences. We're talking about determining whether or not there's even a reason to believe that "good" and "bad" exist in any real sense. And we're claiming that without God, they don't (for all the reasons I explained).

We could both develop systems of rules--I don't think anyone argues about that. That's not what grounding is about.

I thought to past a url to an article on a site that I've found useful in recent months. It is a presuppositional apologetic article regarding logic, morality, and the futility atheistic theories of knowledge. It might be a bit technical, but go back to it a few times and you'll gain better understanding about why only Christians have justification to claim true knowledge without borrowing from another system.

try this: http://www.rightremedy.org/booklets/47

you'll like it [if you're a Christian.]

Eric,

Wow, there has been a lot of stuff written while I have been away. I don’t know if you want any more at this point, but if you do, here is my perspective:

“About my first two premises:
1. Suffering is bad.
2. Happiness is good.
These are definitionally true. If something is not bad, it cannot be considered suffering. If something is not good, it cannot be considered happiness.”

I must be missing something, I looked the words up in the dictionary and they are not defined the way you are saying. If suffering and happiness are words that YOU are defining to mean good and bad respectively, then they cease to have any other meaning. You might as well say bad is bad, good is good, it does not tell me anything more about them. It is only if the words describe good and bad that they can be of use to me. What does suffering (bad) consist of? What does happiness (good) consist of?

“I am not saying that suffering cannot lead to a good thing, just that the suffering part is bad. When considered in context, it may be that the suffering was worth it because of the end result.”

The suffering part of suffering??? How can suffering be part of itself?

“Note that "happiness" is not the same as "pleasure", and "suffering" is not the same as "pain". It is possible to have pain without suffering and pleasure without happiness.”

Again I don’t understand; if suffering by definition is bad then how can bad lead to good? Suffering is a negative, by your definition, without any redeeming properties. If it has redeeming properties how can it be bad? Sorry, I’m not following this. I don’t think your first two points are premises at all.

Amy,

Does the term "morality" mean something particular to you, that is different from the usual meaning? Maybe we are talking past each other because we are using the same word to talk about different things. It seems to me that your complaint is that I presented a moral system without including God in any of my premises- which is the very thing I set out to demonstrate.

"You can't use the concept of suffering to ground morality because if morality doesn't exist then suffering isn't "bad," it just is."
I am not using "bad" as in "morally bad" when I say "suffering is bad". Are you denying that suffering is bad? Do you think that the truth of this depends on there being a God?
"You are talking about finding a way to develop a system, but that is not the same thing as determining whether or not your moral system is grounded in a morality that really exists"
How can a system for establishing something be grounded in the very thing it is attempting establishing? You are faulting me for not employing a circular argument. If I take the existence of "a morality that really exists" as a premise, then I cannot establish an objective moral system. The conclusion is already in the premise.

And you are correct that I am taking about developing a system. That is precisely what I am claiming to do. Refer to my earlier post where I first presented this. Right at the top of that post I said, "Remember that my claim is that the atheist can have a moral system which is no less objective than the Christian can have." If your complaint is that I have only done that, then you must have been expecting me to do something more than I claimed.

"that's not the same as grounding the very existence of morality."

I am claiming it is possible to establish an objective system of morality. Such a system will allow us, in principle, to determine what actions are right and what actions are wrong, from first principles. I have given my first principles, and a rough idea of how they would be applied. I am doing this to counter the claim of Christians that atheists cannot possibly have objective justification for moral behavior or moral positions. Are you saying I have not done this, or are you saying that doing this does not meet your requirements?

I maintain that the system I have outlined is at least as objective as a Christian moral system. We can't fully evaluate my claim until someone presents the objective Christian moral system. What are your first principles? How do we apply them to determine what actions are right and what actions are wrong?

Brian,

I'm surprised by the push back I'm getting on this one. I truly thought my premises 1 and 2 would be entirely uncontroversial. My naivete strikes again.

Suffering and happiness are experiential. Experiences run a wide range from very negative, through neutral, to the very positive. The negative end of this range is referred to as suffering and the positive range is referred to as happiness. Part of what leads us to classify an experience as suffering or happiness is the amount of negativity or positivity of the experience.

"I looked the words up in the dictionary and they are not defined the way you are saying"
If we must, then let's do it: From dictionary.com:
Suffering ... Synonyms: 1. agony, torment, torture; pain, distress ...

–verb (used without object)
1. to undergo or feel pain or distress: The patient is still suffering.
2. to sustain injury, disadvantage, or loss: One's health suffers from overwork. The business suffers from lack of capital.
3. to undergo a penalty, as of death: The traitor was made to suffer on the gallows.
4. to endure pain, disability, death, etc., patiently or willingly.
–verb (used with object)
5. to undergo, be subjected to, or endure (pain, distress, injury, loss, or anything unpleasant): to suffer the pangs of conscience.
6. to undergo or experience (any action, process, or condition): to suffer change.
7. to tolerate or allow: I do not suffer fools gladly.


Now, looking at the synonyms and the definitions (mostly 1-5) am I really mischaracterizing the term to say it is something "bad"?

See also the entry for "happiness". I won't take up the space here, but I think you will see that it is valid to say happiness is "good", and that I am not taking undue liberties with the term in doing so.

"If suffering and happiness are words that YOU are defining to mean good and bad respectively, then they cease to have any other meaning."
I am not defining them to mean bad and good, respectively. I was careful to say that bad is part of what suffering means. I didn't imply that you could simply replace one word with the other.
“The suffering part of suffering??? How can suffering be part of itself?"
I am not saying "the suffering part of suffering". Imagine a situation in which we voluntarily suffer, let's say surgery to remove a tumor. The surgery causes suffering. We have post-operative pain, etc. We want the surgery to ultimately produce some benefit - we will have better health and less suffering later. We determine that the good outweighs the bad, but that doesn't mean the bad part is nonexistent. We will suffer from the surgery. The suffering itself is undesirable, even if it is necessary to produce an ultimately desirable outcome.
"Again I don’t understand; if suffering by definition is bad then how can bad lead to good?"
I think you are confusing the full suffering--happiness equation with the individual components of the equation. If we have,
-3 + 7
the sum is 4: a positive number. But -3 is still a negative number. Asking how suffering can lead to something good is like asking how can a negative number can lead to a positive sum.
"I don’t think your first two points are premises at all."
So you are indifferent to whether you experience suffering or happiness? It's all the same to you? If you are suffering, you would just as soon have it continue as have it stop?

Hi Eric, did you miss this:

"But... Let’s say someone doesn’t care about their own life, and they want to kill others... like the suicide bombers who flew the planes into the WTC. Americans say that what they did was wrong. However, the bombers did not believe it was wrong. They believed it was right and good; they believed that the suffering of thousands would prevent later suffering of their own people, or perhaps mete out justice for past perceived wrongs. Flying planes into the WTC made them happy (as well as lots of radical Islamists). Who is right? How can we determine who is right?"

from Kerri at 2:41 p.m. today?

Your last question to Brian makes me think you might've missed this point.

If you take Kerri's scenario and were an Arab jihadist, how would your "suffering/happiness equation" total look. Would it look like the American total?

Who gets to assign the values, is it Eric?

Eric,

So we are using dictionary.com? I have no problem with that. However I am having some difficulty working with your definitions. You see, you are defining suffering as bad, and happiness as good, but those are not definitions dictionary.com is giving. You say that all the stuff that makes up suffering is bad so we should say that suffering is bad, that is, that suffering is characterized by the term bad.

“am I really mischaracterizing the term to say it is something "bad"?”

But your generalization completely excludes number 4 on the list.
“4. to endure pain, disability, death, etc., patiently or willingly.”

To endue pain (etc) patiently or willingly, is not a definition of a bad thing.

From what you have said in other places, you are really only concerned with the subjective experience that a person undergoes. Subjective because it is not influenced by the event that has caused it: a ‘good’ event or a ‘bad’ event, it makes no difference; the sensation experienced by the individual is what matters. The sensation is the fundamental building block you are using for all your ethical judgments.

“Note that "happiness" is not the same as "pleasure", and "suffering" is not the same as "pain". It is possible to have pain without suffering and pleasure without happiness.”

Now here I think you are contradicting yourself. Pain is always a negative experience, it might be lesser or greater, but always a negative. It is listed 4 times in the definitions of suffering that you posted from dictionary.com. Pain must always be ‘bad’-‘suffering’. There could never be a case of ‘good’ pain, where pain, in and of itself, was a positive experience.

However, leaving all this a side, I think there is a bigger problem for you: How do you quantitatively measure suffering? While it might be possible to physically measure the nerve signals that cause the sensation of pain, suffering is not limited to physical pain so how are we to measure it?

“I think you are confusing the full suffering--happiness equation with the individual components of the equation. If we have, -3 + 7 the sum is 4: a positive number.”

This works fine for numbers, but how can it be applied to something as subjective as suffering? Is having your leg amputated a -3 or a -4, suffering wise? If your wife dies, is that a -7 or an -8? Keep in mind that suffering entails the possibility that the sensations continue over a long period of time. So would a toothache experienced for years equal a traumatic death that happened in seconds?
In normal language we talk about suffering in very general terms, but you must have it in very precise, absolute, universal, values(quantities) or your morality equation will go utterly haywire.

Brian,

We can go around in circles, with you continuing to deny the meaning of words, but we won't make any progress. I have presented my case, and in order to avoid the conclusion that I have shown that an objective moral system can be grounded on principles that are not dependent on the existence of a God, people here are forced to resort to claiming that suffering is not bad; that A is not always A, it can sometimes be Not A. Considering the common accepted meanings of the word "suffering", in the sense in which I am clearly using it, it is absurd to maintain that saying "suffering is bad" is a mischaracterization.

Your challenges to my use of "suffering" are like me saying:
1. An apple is a fruit.
2. I ate an apple
therefore,
3. I ate a fruit

and you protesting, "But a pear is also a fruit. Are you saying that when you ate an apple you really ate a pear?", or, "But "Apple is also the name of a computer. Are you saying that a computer is a fruit?". You are working to confuse my meaning rather than to understand it.

Will someone respond to my repeated requests to present the alternative view? Please present the objective moral system that depends on Christianity being true. Then demonstrate that this system is more objective than what I have presented. You may assume for your arguments that A is A, and I shall not challenge you on that.

Eric, you began by saying that you didn't understand the Christian claim that morality can only be grounded in a good Creator. This is what I'm trying to explain. You can make up a system based on anything you want in a world without God, but that doesn't make good and bad actually exist in an amoral, unfeeling, unthinking universe that came to exist by chance and will eventually die. There is nothing in such a universe that makes one situation "better" than another. Suffering and non-suffering are merely equally existing options. There is no purpose and no goal to anything. There is only what exists.

Please read through my comments again, because you still aren't understanding the claim about grounding--the claim that you came here to challenge. All I'm hoping for here is that you will understand the grounding claim. The question of whether or not you can create a system you like is a different question.

People are arguing with you about how you will create the system, but that's not even the deepest question here. The core question is about whether or not good and bad even exist or whether we create the categories using our own criteria. In a godless universe, one must do the latter because the former is impossible--the categories of morality are merely made up by men, regardless of what they base their system on. However, this is very hard for you to see because since we are in a universe that does have God, moral goodness and moral badness (not just physical states like happiness and pain) exist, and everybody knows it.

>>It seems to me that your complaint is that I presented a moral system without including God in any of my premises- which is the very thing I set out to demonstrate.

No, my complaint is that you've failed to show us why it's "good" to reduce suffering in a meaningless, amoral universe. You may like to not have suffering, but that's merely a preference if there's nothing outside of you by which to judge the situation. If outside of you there is only an amoral universe and colliding molecules, there is no moral basis outside of you by which to judge. The universe is meaningless, and morality is not even a real category. It's just something we made up in order to survive better.

>>How can a system for establishing something be grounded in the very thing it is attempting establishing?

A system can only be grounded by something if it's based on something that exists outside itself. A grounded system does not establish something, it recognizes it. Since you, on the other hand, are seeing the system as the thing that establishes morality (hence your confusion in the quote immediately above), you are conceding that your morality is not grounded in something outside itself. Can you see that this is the case?

>>You are faulting me for not employing a circular argument.

No, we're saying that your system of morality is not grounded in anything outside of itself--a real, meaningful standard out there. This is the whole idea of grounding that you're missing. We're using the word differently, and this is why you've never understood Greg's argument.

>>"Remember that my claim is that the atheist can have a moral system which is no less objective than the Christian can have."

I think we're really getting to the root of the misunderstanding. You are creating a system that is not based on an objective moral standard out there. Your system is not an objective system that exists outside of you with definite right and wrong answers, it's one that you have decided on--it's subjective (i.e., it's based on the criteria you decide upon based on your not liking suffering). This is what a created system is by definition. You may have objective criteria--you may be able to give very specific rules about how to decide what is right and what is wrong, but ultimately, the categories of good and bad are made up by you.

>>Such a system will allow us, in principle, to determine what actions are right and what actions are wrong, from first principles.

You still have not given me any reason to think that right and wrong exist. Is a tree right or wrong? Is a rock right or wrong? These are meaningless categories in a world that began with amoral molecules and is at its root amoral.

>>Such a system will allow us, in principle, to determine what actions are right and what actions are wrong, from first principles.

Actually, your system only determines what actions you will call right and what you will call wrong. Then you will impose your ideas for this system on others. And again, pain and happiness are not moral categories--they're merely physical states that you will seek or avoid. I agree that this is all you have to base any system on in an amoral, impersonal universe that does not have a person at the center of it, but they don't explain the existence of real morality--the existence of a moral law, of justice, goodness, honesty, a standard that we feel we ought to follow and one about which we feel guilty and deserving of punishment when we violate it. These things can only be grounded in a person--a standard and a judge, not in molecules or physical states.

Eric,

“We can go around in circles, with you continuing to deny the meaning of words”

I’m sorry if that’s what it looks like I am doing, it was not my intention. I was attempting to better understand the terms by working with them. Terms like: suffering, happiness, good and bad, all have more than one meaning. You idea is sort of new to me, and I am trying to grapple with the implications of it.

We seem to be at an impasse. Ironically, after looking at it some more I find it may well be over the definition of the word ‘good’.
I looked it up and it has a lot of possible meanings: Morally excellent, Satisfactory in quality, high quality, right, well-behaved, kind, honorable, educated,… Free of distress or pain… ect, ect.
Now if you are using that, and only that, definition (#18) “free of distress or pain”, then I have to agree that Happiness is good by that definition. And that similarly suffering is bad.
But that definition is limited in its scope. It tells us nothing about the other qualities of goodness that a thing might have. Is it even good (in the moral or ethical sense) to feel happiness in a given situation? So a person would be justified in asking the question; how is happiness good? Or; is it good in the sense that we require of it in this case?

I admit I was a bit mixed up over this, hope this will help clear things up, if not…

And, you did not speak to my question of how happiness and suffering could be measured accurately. This concept still seems vital to your theory, but I do not understand how it could work. We would need to know the amounts (quantities) of suffering and happiness before we could work the suffering—happiness equation. i.e. how would I know that my happiness outweighed my suffering in any particular case?

As to your request about Christian ethics, I hesitate to go into that until this matter is at least cleared up a bit.

Hi Eric, the Christian moral system is rooted in God, and logically justified by His revealed Word. It is a coherent, logically valid system. You may wish to reject this ultimate proposition, and all following propositions, but if you do, it is only a symptom of a darkened mind, [of the type of mind that all natural men possess from birth].

I had higher expectations from you when you were calling for valid arguments from others, but now I wonder if you'd even recognize a valid argument at all after seeing what you've written in attempting to prove that morality is not grounded in [a] God.

I would be interested in defending the Christian worldview logically to prove the systematic coherence, but first you'll have to prove that you can you can prove knowledge based on your godless worldview. I think you'll find that your work is cut out for you, and it might be a good idea to get back on the porch and watch the big dogs play for a while[I dont consider myself a big dog ;) , so usually stay on the porch myself].

I recommend you go to www.vincentcheung.com and read his article "Professional Morons" or his "Presuppositional Confrontations" or just go to the site I recommended earlier. Here is the url again for your convenience: http://www.rightremedy.org/booklets/47

I say this in honest concern for you that you get a dose or reality when dealing with logic and true knowledge. I have no reason to doubt your sincerity to do good work, but I'd be no good to you to not speak up.

Eric-

It seems to me that a lot of people have rejected your idea that happiness is good and suffering bad. Generally, the criticisms have been the standard Kantian one: Happiness is only good if it is deserved. The happiness of a villain is not good.

It seems to me that this objection is decisive.

But for the sake of argument, I'll grant your points and argue that Christianity is objective in a way that your system is not. thus defeating both sides of your claim.

The problem with your view is that no human being can see all ends. As such, the very idea of pursuing happiness is illusory. You have no way of knowing what is most likely to maximize your own happiness, let alone the combined happiness of any group of individuals.

'Wait a second!' you cry. 'I can know for sure that jumping into the meat grinder won't maximize my happiness! I can see that much'

No, you can't. For all you know, a moment later you might be abducted by a psychopath that will make the meat grinder feel like a pleasant massage. The meat grinder might have been your last chance of escape.

There is only only kind of individual who can make correct judgments about what does and does not maximize happiness: an omniscient individual. Only such a being sees all ends. Otherwise, your guess is as good as mine.

In the Christian world-view, there is such an individual who communicates a moral law to us. If your principles are correct, that moral law is based on happiness and suffering. Because the individual communicating the moral law is omniscient, that law is objectively true.

In an atheistic world-view, there is no such individual, and, thus, any moral law we devise, even assuming the truth of your premises, is guesswork.

Newcomer (and latecomer) to the thread, but it is one of the most interesting I've seen in a while.

Eric, you repeatedly ask:

"Can you show that Christianity generates a moral system that is more objective than what I have described?"

I think I can.

The Christian system is pretty clear, most of the time. Something is right or it is wrong, based on the guidelines provided. That seems quite objective.

Your system will not provide that utility or objectivity, for the reason that (as others have noted) we can't accurately judge suffering or happiness at the time. That makes it impossible to use in real time for moral choices.

Your system COULD only work in retrospect - looking back, months, years, or a lifetime later, we could (in theory) decide whether a decision had created more suffering or more happiness.

However, none of us will ever be able to do that, for two reasons I can see:

1. We can't know the suffering or happiness that resulted from our moral choice, even in retrospect. We might know a tiny piece of it, but that's all. Return to the example of the person who saves the toddler who turns out to be Hitler. That person, if he dies before Hitler comes to power, will never know it was a wrong choice. And if he dies not knowing the toddler turned out to be Hitler, likewise he will never know. In both cases, he will die thinking he made the right choice. Possibly no other human being will ever know, either. If no one can EVER know whether the moral choice was the right one, is the system used to decide really objective?

2. Perhaps even worse, we can't properly evaluate it, even in retrospect. Is it a simple equation where 51 "happiness units" outweigh 49 "suffering units"? And how do we measure suffering? By duration or intensity? And by whose measure - the sufferer's, or some (supposedly) impartial judge's?

And who would (who COULD) be such a judge?

You are right to say that the fact that I can't imagine how (any form of) utilitarianism can work in the real world is not a measure of whether or not it, in fact, CAN work. I suppose that, for the purposes of this argument, all I can say is that you have not yet convinced me.

But I would like you to keep trying.

I thought of something else. Eric, you claimed that two of your premises

"are true by definition; they cannot possibly be rejected. They are:

1. Suffering is bad.
2. Happiness is good."

You later said that

"These are not premises that can either be accepted or rejected. They are true by definition. They cannot be rejected without saying "A can sometimes be Not A"."

I disagree with you. I don't think your premises are in the same class as saying A = A.

Nor are they the same as saying that an apple is a fruit, I ate an apple, therefore I ate a fruit.

The latter is a factual formula that can be either empirically or logically proven. However, your two premises are neither.

THEY ARE MORAL CLAIMS, with no basis other than your tastes.

I know we got caught up with grounding, and you did not claim that your system was grounded, but that it was objective. But it's not objective - it is yours and yours alone, and there is no reason for anyone else to adopt it.

Please correct me if I've missed something.

I used to come to this blog for some insight. It seems to be 'Philosophy 101.'

No one comes to Christ by argument/discussion/ or philosophical debate. I read this blog, and I think, "What?"
Y'all are missing something! HIM. Shouldn't our discussion be about a relationship? About HIM! More than anything else, I think Christianity is about relationship with Him. Something the 'world' just can't be argued/philosophied into (is that a word?) Twas Grace that Saved a Wretch Like Me, and it will be Grace that will save everyone! Of course, we can answer for our faith, but this blog has become a philosophy class!

But Jesus said, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

We have made it too complicated.

Hello Remy,

I can’t speak to what the blog was once like, I only recently started participating. But the topic we have been discussing/arguing is one about ethics, which seems to fit under the ‘Stand to Reason’ umbrella. I do not see what having a ‘philosophy 102’ class is doing to hinder the things you mention.
“Shouldn't our discussion be about a relationship? About HIM!”
Well, are all your conversations about relationship? All of them? I believe Greg Koukle has said that not every conversation has to get to the foot of the Cross to be productive. Sometimes people have intellectual road blocks that need to be addressed, both before and after being saved.
Does the path to salvation have to be complicated? Of course not. It is simple, simple enough for a child. But Jesus also tells us to consider the cost of the thing we are going to do, something few children are able to do: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’” Luke 14:28-30 NIV.

If you think I/we have missed something important you are certainly welcome to offer your perspective on it.

Hi Remy, you said:
"No one comes to Christ by argument/discussion/ or philosophical debate".

If that were true, the apostle Paul wasted a lot of time, and his comment to the Bereans seems pointless. Also, flat out if what you said were true, the Bible is not the word of God since your statement contradicts the salvation accounts where God used the apostle Paul's "arguing" to save Dionysius and Damaris[as well as others]. Here in Acts 17, the Apostle is described in action:

Acts 17:16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.

Acts 17:17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing {Gentiles,} and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present

Acts 17:18"And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,"--because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

Acts 17:19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming?

Acts 17:20 "For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean."

I've been away for several days, and I'm glad to see all the responses that have been written here. I fear that if I do a point-by-point reply to everyone, it will become excessively long and tedious to read. I will instead try to respond to the major issues that have been raised, and hope that I touch upon all the significant points. If you think I have failed to cover something important in one of your posts, please prompt me again for the specific issue, and I will try to reply. I'm not trying to avoid any of the points, I'm just trying to respond to everything as concisely as I can. On to the points.

I think Amy and I are using "morality" in different ways. I am using it to mean either a code of conduct or a system of determining what actions are right and what actions are wrong. In this view, morality, as a thing, cannot be assumed as a premise, or the position becomes circular. I think Amy additionally means morality to be a thing that exists in and of itself. So there are two uses of the same word, one of which we agree upon, and another one which Amy is sometimes intending. Amy is saying that morality, the code of conduct or system for determining right actions and wrong actions, is based in morality, the thing. Amy, does that sound accurate to you? I am saying that morality, the code of conduct or system for determining right actions and wrong action, is based in something else.

Several of you (at least Brian, WisdomLover, and Gravis) have pointed out that with my system you cannot make completely reliable decisions with the information we have access to. That is, without omniscience, it is not possible to know for certain what action will produce the best outcome, even if we know how to measure that outcome. I agree with this, but I am pretty sure this is a problem with the Christian alternative as well. An omniscient being might know what actions will be best, but humans are not omniscient, and they are the ones making the day-to-day decisions. Remember that I am not claiming to present either a perfect system, or a system that can easily be applied in all cases. I am claiming to present a system at least as good as one based on Christianity being true.

The fact that we lack sufficient information to accurately perform the necessary calculation in all cases does not mean that the formula does not exist and is not objective. Consider a stick of dynamite just after ignition. The fact that you cannot predict with complete accuracy where each particle of the dynamite will come to rest does not mean that classical mechanics is not an objective system that tells us something true about reality. The ability to apply the system with complete accuracy in all cases is different from the existence of the system.

There have been multiple comments claiming to present the Christian moral system. Unfortunately, when I read these I don't see a response along the lines of what I am asking for. This makes me think there's a miscommunication. So, rather than asking the same questions again, I will take a different approach. Greg Koukl has used a few different examples in his articles and on his radio show. Let's select just one of these for now: rape. Greg says that an atheist has no justification for saying rape is wrong, while the Christian does have justification for this. So, the question for the Christians: Why should you not commit rape?

As I re-read the several comments that have been left since my last visit, I may add additional comments responding to particular points. (There are already a couple things I think I will be dealing with in subsequent comments.) Please, if you think I have failed to respond to something important, prompt me again. It is not my intention to avoid covering any issue. I just don't want to try packing too much into this one response.

Gravis,

"I know we got caught up with grounding, and you did not claim that your system was grounded, but that it was objective. But it's not objective - it is yours and yours alone, and there is no reason for anyone else to adopt it."

When I say the system I have presented is objective, I mean it can be derived independently by any rational being, and can be seen to apply to any experiential being. It is not a matter of personal preference or taste. Not only is it not true that "there is no reason for anyone else to adopt it", there is no valid reason I am aware of for anyone to rationally reject it. It represents truths about reality that are not dependent on opinion or preference - at least not any more than is a Christian system. This is the key thing that is still missing from the picture, at least from my perspective. The Christian alternative hasn't been presented along the lines that will enable a fair comparisons of the two systems. My claim is that Christianity fares no better then a non-theistic alternative. We must have both systems on the table to make the comparison.If you want to show that A is greater than B, we must know the values of both A and B. It is not enough to show that B is very small.

I asked the rape question above, and I hope someone will take me up on this. I want to see this issue traced all the way to first principles and see where we stand. My path is very straightforward, and I would like to see how the Christian path is superior.

Hi Eric, it looks an awful lot like you are expecting Christians to do the work of meeting your request for a system that grounds morality *without* presupposing that God Is. This is quite impossible--the same as it would be for any non-theist. You want the Christian system to stand alone without God so you can compare it to another Godless system. What in essense you asking for Christians to do is to prove that which is necessarily true to be false.

Or am I still not understanding you at all?

Eric,

I have no wish to keep harping on one point, but I really do not believe you have given an actual answer for how you would measure happiness/suffering. You have somewhat misrepresented my point:
“Several of you (at least Brian, WisdomLover, and Gravis) have pointed out that with my system you cannot make completely reliable decisions with the information we have access to. That is, without omniscience, it is not possible to know for certain what action will produce the best outcome, even if we know how to measure that outcome.”

I have never asked for omniscience from you. Your concept of morality is based upon the idea that you can measure happiness/suffering, if not perfectly, then at least with enough objective accuracy to base your life choices upon it. To use your words: “If you want to show that A is greater than B, we must know the values of both A and B. It is not enough to show that B is very small.”
So how do you propose to measure them?

Brian,

"I have no wish to keep harping on one point, but I really do not believe you have given an actual answer for how you would measure happiness/suffering."
I think you're right that I haven't answered this. I'm not sure how well I can answer it in general. That is, I can't give you a formula for determining how much happiness one thing will cause, or how much suffering another thing will cause. It's not that such values don't exist, it's that we may find it very difficult to figure out what they are. I tried to be clear earlier that I make no claim to be able to resolve all moral questions. I only claim to know of a framework within which they may, in principle, be resolved (in cases where they are resolvable). Most importantly, my inability to quantify suffering or happiness, or to predict every outcome of every decision is only relevant to this discussion if Christians can do these things better using their system. We are still unable to evaluate this, because the Christian alternative has not been presented here.
"I have never asked for omniscience from you."
It was WisdomLover and Gravis who faulted me for lack of omniscience in being able to perform the moral calculations. You have faulted me for not being able to determine the values to assign, but there seems to be a subtle difference here. You may have been questioning whether such values exist, more than you were questioning my ability personally to determine them. So, I apologize for falsely implying that you were insisting on omniscience from me.
" Your concept of morality is based upon the idea that you can measure happiness/suffering, if not perfectly, then at least with enough objective accuracy to base your life choices upon it."
The concept is based on the idea that it is measurable in principle, but does not depend on it being precisely measurable in practice. In practice we can only attempt to approximate it as closely as we can and arrive at the decision that is most likely to produce the best outcome. We can't be certain...with any system.

Can you explain a system in which you will never have to resolve competing interests? There will be situations in which a good outcome for someone will be a bad outcome for someone else. How can these issues be resolved without somehow quantifying the competing concerns? We are told that even God must allow some amount of evil in order to obtain some greater amount of good. So God must have some means of quantifying the various evils and goods to ensure that he comes out positive in the end.

But now I am entering into the realm of presenting the Christian moral system, and I would rather have someone better qualified (i.e. Christian) handle that.

Eric,
Thank you for answering, though please understand that your answer leaves me as unclear as before. How do we approximate the values of happiness-suffering?

The reason I keep returning to this is not to give you a hard time, but rather because of a fundamental difference the two moral systems have.

In the Christian system, right and wrong exist objectively, if God says something is wrong then it stays wrong even if it would cause a person to suffer. While we do not like suffering we realize that it will be necessary at times in order to do what is right. A person can know what the right thing to do is without having a clue as to how much suffering/happiness they will experience or cause as result.

In your system though, right and wrong are not objective, that is, a person can only determine something is bad By First measuring the amount of suffering and happiness the event will cause them. So you can’t know what to do until you have first measured these things. So, I come back to the how?


“You have faulted me for not being able to determine the values to assign...”
I did not fault you, I fault your system, because I don’t think I could measure these things adequately either. Not adequately enough to form a moral system off of it.

Also, I have a question about how you resolve the issue of competing claims of happiness/suffering. Is it the Vulcan method? ‘The good of the many outweigh the good of the few or the one?’


Since you brought up the example of rape, would you mind showing how your system solves this problem?

I am willing to attempt to answer for Christianity. But I would really like to address the issues I mentioned before moving on from them.

Brian,

"In the Christian system, right and wrong exist objectively, if God says something is wrong then it stays wrong even if it would cause a person to suffer. "
A thing is right or wrong based solely on the dictate of God, regardless of the consequences? Why should you obey such a dictate?
"I did not fault you, I fault your system, because I don’t think I could measure these things adequately either."
Fair enough. You have been on topic, and not ad hominem. I apologize again if I have implied otherwise.
"Since you brought up the example of rape, would you mind showing how your system solves this problem?"
Rape violates premise 3: self-ownership.
"I am willing to attempt to answer for Christianity. But I would really like to address the issues I mentioned before moving on from them."
I think I have allowed you to punt enough. You are not answering my fundamental questions that are at the very heart of this issue. You have asked me for clarifications, which I attempt to provide, but there is nothing that should prevent you from also presenting your position. Is there more to it than what you said above ("God says")?

Eric,

Once again you have not answered my chief question: how do we measure happiness and suffering? You seem determined to avoid answering this question. Yet without an answer it seems you have no system.

As to your question, I will attempt to give you an answer:

“A thing is right or wrong based solely on the dictate of God,…”

It is not just because God says a thing, but rather because God is good and says a thing. We believe that God is the creator- He started with nothing and made everything. He is omniscient- He knows everything there is to know, beginning, middle, and end. He is also good- objective moral goodness is a part of His character, His nature. He also cannot violate His own nature, so He cannot be good today and bad tomorrow.
Thus He is the best one to command what is good for His creation.

“…regardless of the consequences?” I believe you were the one to point out that it is impossible to know all the consequences from any given action anyway. Is the point of ethics to predict all ends, or to determine what the correct thing to do is?

Christain Ethics would, in my opinion, be rooted in Mathew 22: 37-40.
“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all of your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

"my inability to quantify suffering or happiness, or to predict every outcome of every decision is only relevant to this discussion if Christians can do these things better using their system."

Just to be clear, Eric, I think that, because no one can see all ends, right action in your system is irreparably inscrutable. This is a very bad problem. If your system is the one that atheists must adopt, it means that from an atheist perspective, no moral guidance is available.

You are quite correct that this is a problem uniquely for atheism only if Christians can do better. Maybe it turns out that there is simply no moral guidance to be had from any perspective.

But Christians can do better.

Because God is omniscient, He can see all ends. And because He is not silent, He offers us guidance based upon His knowledge. The book of virtue is, thus, transformed from a dark volume to an enlightening revelation.

Hi WisdomLover, you are correct in most of what you say, but I'd also like to add something that you'll not likely impugn me for, namely that "omniscience" doesn't necessarily include perfect "goodness". Even if there were a gifted man that possessed perfect knowledge of all events[now and future], he couldn't be trusted to quantify moral standards unless he also possessed perfect goodness. [Thanks be to God that there is one Man like this.] ;-)

Brad-

I certainly won't impugn you for the view you express above. However, it's worth noting that a lot of theologians have held that a being can't have omniscience without also having perfect goodness (and vice versa). This is one part of the very subtle thesis of Divine Simplicity. I don't want to go too far off topic on this. But there is a lot more to say on it. I'm sure there will be ample opportunity.

Hi WisdomLover, I'm not familiar with the thesis of Divine Simplicity. I have a vague sense that I've heard the term before, but wasn't aware of any necessary connection between divine attributes. It seems reasonable that divine nature=perfection could be the basis though. In the case of this discussion, I'm pretty sure that Eric wouldn't have made the connection either but I'm glad you made your clarifying statement.

>>I think Amy and I are using "morality" in different ways. I am using it to mean either a code of conduct or a system of determining what actions are right and what actions are wrong. In this view, morality, as a thing, cannot be assumed as a premise, or the position becomes circular.

And by saying this, Eric, you are conceding that your system is not grounded, which was the question at the very beginning of the whole conversation.

>>I am saying that morality, the code of conduct or system for determining right actions and wrong action, is based in something else [other than a real standard of morality existing outside of us].

You're actually not saying it's based in something else, but that you use your own specific criteria to make up the categories of good and bad. So though you have specific criteria, the whole system is not objective but subjective--that is, it's not something that exists outside of you, but something you created. "Good" and "bad" don't exist in themselves, they're merely categories into which you place things. This is not an objective system in the sense that it refers to something that exists regardless of what you think of it or decide upon. I don't expect to convince you that morality is grounded, but I'm hoping you'll understand the grounding objection, since you first came on here to say you didn't understand it.

The question of how hard it would be to create your own system is beside the point when it comes to the grounding question.

>>The fact that you cannot predict with complete accuracy where each particle of the dynamite will come to rest does not mean that classical mechanics is not an objective system that tells us something true about reality.

But since you've already said that your system is not based on a system that actually exists in reality, you're not telling us something that is true about reality, you're telling us a system that you personally think will work well.

>>When I say the system I have presented is objective, I mean it can be derived independently by any rational being, and can be seen to apply to any experiential being.

Since morality is actually grounded in the character of God who created the universe to reflect this, rational beings can determine right and wrong. The problem is that there's no reason in an unthinking, unfeeling universe why right and wrong would even exist, and you haven't yet given us a reason to think they do, you've only asserted that they do. This is the grounding question again. Why should you think that good and bad exist? Don't say, because you know that people suffer--because, so what? What does that matter? What does it matter if people feel bad? By what standard outside of people would you judge such a thing? The universe cares not a whit, means nothing, and we are nothing but molecules, and someday we'll all be gone and the universe will die. You still have not given us a reason why we should think suffering or anything else is morally bad. Yet, we know that some things are actually morally bad. The difference is, we have an explanation for this but the atheist does not. This is the grounding question, and we've moved very far from it.

>>Rape violates premise 3: self-ownership.

Again, so what? Why is self-ownership "good"? Give me a reason to think so that doesn't simply appeal to my intuition. Give me an objective reason.

My whole goal in all of this is to lay out the grounding problem so you can understand what it is, since that is what you originally asked. You may decide you don't care if morality is grounded and that you'll just make rules people will like for now, but I really want you to understand the objection itself.

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