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« Do Muslims Love Jesus? | Main | CrossExamined Instructor Academy 2014 »

April 07, 2014


Great post. This is what Ravi Zacharias specializes in and yet is continually bombarded with when confronted by Evolutionists.

I don't think that Brett quite got this one.

His definition of "Objective" is "true no matter what anyone thinks". And I agree with that.

He then goes on to say that the fact morality might change is a reason to think it is not objective.

But it might be true no matter what anyone thinks that it used to be OK to do X, but isn't now OK to do X.

What he's given is an argument for why evolutionary theory cannot yield a morality that is unchanging. He's not given an argument for why evolutionary theory cannot yield a morality that is objective.

There are a lot of things that are objective even though they change over time. Statements about my age, for example. It was once true, no matter what anyone thought about it, that I was 25. But that's not true anymore. Another example, yesterday the sun had a certain mass. Today that mass is less than it was (by a little bit). Tomorrow it will be less still. The claim "The sun is XYZ kilograms in mass" might be true today no matter what anyone thinks about it, but false yesterday and false tomorrow.

With that said, there are statements that cannot be objectively true and also changing. For example, mathematical truths, logical truths, that sort of thing. If evolutionary theory had the implication, for example, that 7+5 might someday equal 13 rather than 12, or that someday there might be a married bachelor, then evolutionary theory would be finished.

What Brett needs is an argument that moral truths are like logical or mathematical truths, not like claims about my age, or the mass of the sun or what not. Then the fact that evolutionary theory yields a morality that changes over time would be extremely problematic for evolutionary theory.

WisomdomLover makes some good points. I suspect Brett would agree with the points. A lot of people get tripped up over the whole objective/subjective distinction when talking about morality, and I think we just have to be more careful in how we explain ourselves.

I think it's odd to say things like, "Theism offers a more plausible framework from which to affirm objective morality," or "God is a better explanation than evolution for explaining morality," as if you were weighing the case for different supposed grounds of morality, and theism just happens to outweigh the others. I don't think God is simply more likely or more plausible. I think God is necessary for objective morality. I don't think it's even possible for morality to be objective unless there is a God. Evolution isn't simply "less likely," it's utterly impossible to ground objective morality in evolution alone.

Objective: 'true whether anyone believes it or not'.

That's from the video.

Subjective or relativistic: 'a matter of taste', 'true for me', etc. Dependent on 'the subject'.

Health is objective, right?

Believing smoking is healthy will not save me.

In the same way then morality, as we normally think of it and as explained by evolution, is objective - not in the sense that evolution posits 'moral laws that exist out there' but in the sense that some actions promote the moral analog of the health of the group and others pose a threat to it.

So, believing, say that stealing is moral will not allow stealing to support a healthy village.

What is healthy for an individual human stems from biology. Our distant ancestors could live underwater. That's not healthy for us.*

Similarly, the objective nature of morality - in the sense that it has such a nature - stems from the kind of animal we are. We are a particular kind of social animal.

*(So, WL I agree with you. objective does not imply unchanging.)


I am fascinated by the ideas expressed in your post, but I have mulled over one point that has nagged at a lack of resolution.

>> But it might be true no matter what anyone thinks that it used to be OK to do X, but isn't now OK to do X.

I would propose that a fuller treatment of this idea could allow a degree of vacillation/oscillation (I'm not quite sure which term is more appropriate). I think along the line of "that it used to be OK to do X, later it wasn't OK to do X, then later it was OK to do X in this manner ... I think of the concept of slavery. In the Dark Ages, the status of serf granted to man a certain level of farm machinery to be used by the lord in exchange for safety in times of invasion. In the late Middle Ages, the workers-guilds allowed a sense of the freeman in the acquisition of a trade via apprentice-journeyman-master training. Thus one could advance out of slavery. However, the forces of colonization in the 18th century needed large staffs of field workers to staff plantations. This was reversed in the 19th century in the movement towards emancipation. This effort did not end slavery today, as the problems of trafficking still occurs in portions of the world.

Thus the two-fold expression of understanding that slavery is abominable practice, measured with a reticence to banish it completely. Still seems to be where "evolutionary morality" stalls, if not fails completely. The concept of fair treatment of people is constantly present. We just stink in practicing it. Rationalizing it all away seems to be the best we can do, but then, what of this morality which we speak of?


Please note that I am not speaking in favor of evolutionary morality or even changing morality. Instead, I'm saying that Brett only succeeded in showing that evolutionary theory requires that morality is changing. He did not succeed in showing that evolutionary theory requires that it be unobjective.

I think morality is both unchanging in its fundamental principles* and objective. And I think morality cannot be objective if its fundamental principles can change. What is more, I think evolutionary theory implies that the fundamental principles of morality can change.


* - That weaselly-sounding qualification "in its fundamental principles" is there because I think some specific practices might change their moral character based on the unchanging fundamental principles plus a change in the circumstances of application. Is it OK for me to wiggle my index finger? Right now? Sure. Later on, when I'm holding a gun and it is pointed at an innocent person? No, it's not OK for me to wiggle my finger then.

WL, we haven't agreed on anything in a while. It's nice to be on the same page with you for a change. :-)


Why would you ask (and implicitly assert?) that "health is objective?"

Is it healthier to live as long as possible, or to maximize quality of life?


What if Ron said. "You got is ambiguous as you describe. There's longevity-health and quality-health. Each of these concepts, though, are objective. Evolution tends to strike a balance between them where they conflict (though often they don't...things that make our lives better usually also make them longer). And each of them are analogous to competing moral notions where moral agents must, likewise strike a balance."


It's nice to be on the same page
I agree with your agreement.

Tibvo Hsboojt,

People say they enjoy smoking - not that it makes them healthy.

Even if smoking helps someone - with symptoms of anxiety, for example - that's a trade off between two objective aspects of health.

Supposing you did come up with an example of a 'health' matter that is not objective, that would hardly change the fact that most health matters are objective.

So if you want a qualification you have it: I'm making an analogy between certain aspects of morality and certain aspects of health.


How does God provide a sound foundation for objective morality? What part of the Old Testament gives examples of objective morality?

God orders, condones or participates in over 150 incidents of murder, slaughter, genocide, infanticide and all manner of crimes against humanity.

What lessons about morality am I supposed to draw from these stories? Even the 10th commandment condones slavery and treating women as chattel.

And then, there is the 4th commandment of the real 10 commandments "All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem." Exodus 34:20. He wants you to sacrifice your firstborn son.

Where is the morality in any of this?

You have a mistaken understanding of Exodus 34:20. Here's how it reads:

The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep. You shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem all the firstborn of your sons.

To "redeem" doesn't mean to sacrifice, it means to...well, redeem. That means payment owed to God for that thing is paid by something else--in this case, a sacrificial lamb could redeem the firstborn donkey. The firstborn child was to be similarly redeemed like the donkey, not sacrificed like the lamb.

Note that they're given the option of redeeming the donkey if they like, but they don't have the option of not redeeming a son: "You shall redeem all the firstborn of your sons." There is no "if not" in that case.

In the Exodus, God passed over all the firstborn of the Israelites--they were redeemed by the sacrifice of the lambs whose blood was placed over the doorway. This practice of redeeming the firstborn was to continue as a reminder of this.


The Judgment that Led to Salvation
Not Genocide, but Capital Punishment
Israel's Failure Led to Evil and Suffering
The Canaanites: Genocide or Judgment?
The New Atheists and the Old Testament

Real morality does exist in a purely naturalistic paradigm. Unquestionably.

As in this reply to a naturalist's assertion that real evolved constructs of emoting are really embedded in our real brains, and real feelings are, well, real.

Moral Judgment:

You seem to be both confused and too willing to rush to judgment on what is or is not “morally better” as you imply some unjustified nuances. Also, you are lacking in data in a few of your implied conclusions.

To start, as a naturalist you are correct to ascribe every last nuance to selective pressures / mutation. Development of what we call delusions which foster longevity such as feeling the weight of an ought is, though not knowledge of an actual duty which actually exists extrinsic to the Self, potentially more successful in so far as it successfully survives selection. You are perfectly correct in implying that the “I ought to do X” when X is some form of sadistic activity is just as real and just as actual as is it is when X is something less catastrophic. As you imply, each are undeniably real emotive constructs embedded in man’s irrationally conditioned reflexes. Obviously this is why our interior constructs which value, favor, select for, nurture, and robustly maintain over eons various neuronal reflex summations such as what we call random rape and sex slavery are as alive as they are, as they, simply by their proximity to the genomic pool, are highly likely to succeed. Of course the very same delusions which work to perpetuate the expressions of the Self within sexual slavery are just as real and just as actual as those other real, actual feelings which move us into random rape.

Teleological import here is – unquestionably – blind to what the Christian / Theists means by “morality”, but that such compositions are real and actual manifestations of real and actual irrationally conditioned and entirely determined neuronal reflexes is a physical fact given that you presuppose naturalism.

But you seem to rush to an implied moral judgment without any data.

I believe that you are unjustified in one part of your thesis, though, in that you seem to be ascribing by implication a teleological hint of sight, of vision in those selective processes which, inexplicably, you seem to hint, “prefers”, say, sexual slavery over random rape simply because the former houses an intrinsic advantage in capacity to populate the genomic pool due to sheer volume of occurrence. Here you seem to imply that sexual slavery is “morally better” than random rape but you don’t give data on actual penetrance and expression across populations in order to decipher where the moral good is real and where it is just assumed. Some folks perhaps could get on board with your implied assumption that sexual slavery is “really” morally “more good” than random rape if you had such data. But I see no justification offered by you to defend any such “prefer” or “sight” as clearly both emotional constructs are morally successful. That is to say, without any data as to which is more successful we have to assume – given that both are robustly present inside of man’s constructs – that the sexual slavery “sets of irrationally conditioned emotings” are just as real and just as good (successful) as are the random rape “sets of irrationally conditioned emotings”.

You have to be more disciplined in your argument as neither is “rationally conditioned” and I think that is where your teleological hint of sight is unjustified. There is no sight. No vision. No reason. What “succeeds” is “good” in the sense you are describing and so your implied fact that sexual slavery is “morally better” than random rape is completely unjustified as both have been robustly morally successful. In fact, while sexual slavery may be “morally better” in that it populates the genomic pool more successfully, we could equally posit that there are other selective pressures which make random rape “just as likely” in that most homosapiens lack the means to afford an array of sex slaves whereas any male of sufficient physical strength and inclination can be more teleologically successful in random sexual assault and so the sheer penetrance / expression of random rapes may actually surpass that of sexual slavery across population densities.

Again, you need to give us such data before you rush to such an implied moral judgment. Perhaps more sociological study is needed to see if in fact your implied fact that sexual slavery is morally better than random rape is actually justified. It just may be the case, given financial means being limited to the few, that the reverse is actually true, that random rape is morally better than sexual slavery. Moral success shouldn’t be assumed too hastily here.

Until you can offer such justification, to continue implying such is a mark of two faults, the first being bias, and the second being a rush to moral judgment without sufficient penetrance data across populations.

Finally, your theft of the Theist’s moral paradigm and epistemology is troubling. By this we only mean that your employment of phrases such as “better” or “more good” are forever nuanced in such a way that it is embarrassingly and disturbingly obvious that these are based on your own cultural / theistically contaminated opinions rather than on sound teleological data. You are forever ascribing a language to your paradigm of indifference which logically cannot, and does not, ontologically exist, and thus is not, and never will be, ontologically real.

What part of the Old Testament gives examples of objective morality?

God orders, condones or participates in over 150 incidents of murder, slaughter, genocide, infanticide and all manner of crimes against humanity.

For starters, the Bible may contain all sorts of examples of objective morality, even if your second statement (whatever it is) were true. So the two statements are logically unrelated.

But as for that second statement, I'm not even sure what you mean. 150 of each, or 150 altogether?

Either way, no one can argue against a number. What are we supposed to do, sit here and argue in the abstract that the number should actually be 149? Or 10? Or 0?

You want to provide a list, or the worst examples, or are we just supposed to take your word for it and give up?

Or is the worst example the one that Amy crushed without breaking a sweat?

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