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MS-DOS and Objective Truth

Jesus, atheists, Christians, and apologeticsBack in the character-based Stone Age of the personal computer, all IBM-compatible MS-DOS PCs started up with a C-prompt, the “C:>” text with a blinking cursor. At least, all PCs that weren’t broken.

Can we conclude anything from that? That “C:>” is a reflection of some supernatural or transcendental truth? That it is an insight into God’s mind? No—it’s just a useful trait shared by this class of PCs. There’s no objective meaning behind these characters. This text is useful (it shows the directory in which any typed commands will take place), so it was selected. There’s nothing more profound than this behind it.

Human morality is like this. Almost all humans have shared moral instincts, not dissimilar from instincts in other animals. Through instinct, honeybees communicate where the nectar is, newborn sea turtles go toward the ocean, and juvenile birds fly. Training or acculturation can override human instincts, of course, but in general we have a shared moral sense—a shared acceptance of the Golden Rule, for example.

We think our moral instincts are pretty important, and that’s understandable, but there’s no reason to imagine that they are objectively true—that is, based on some supernatural grounding. Said another way, we think that our morality is true because it tells us that it’s true, but we can’t infer from this that it is grounded outside us.

We must not confuse universally shared moral instincts with universal moral truths.

Human moral instincts are what our programming says they are—it’s no more profound than that. There’s as much reason to imagine that they are a window into the transcendent as that the MS-DOS C-prompt is.

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About Bob Seidensticker
  • Rick Townsend

    Bob,

    You trivialize the C Prompt! But as a computer programmer, you know that the C Prompt belies the complexity beneath the surface. Without the programmer’s intelligence, the designers’ competence in producing the machine, the manufacturers’ fidelity to the design and the proper installation (to list only a few of the elements of design in a complex computer, even by 1980s standards) there would be no C Prompt. Even in the C Prompt, the meaning was clear. The CC designated the drive in use, and the other characters told the computer you were changing that drive if you entered A: or some other combination. It had meaning which was designed, and was not a random meaningless character string.

    Similarly, the C Prompt is a silent testimony to the designer’s presence. This is true both for morality and physiology, but also for instinct, which you also trivialize in other posts. If you are inside your house or any building, the best explanation for anything in your reach (unless you have a potted plant) is that it was designed and manufactured. Why should it be any different for the infinitely more complex structure and coding of… the house plant or other organisms?

    You’ve answered this question before and will likely trot out your same old same old answers. But don’t just follow these questions with the same old reused wordsthat don’t really answer the challenge. Think about it … carefully.

    Rick

    • Retro

      If you are inside your house or any building, the best explanation for anything in your reach (unless you have a potted plant) is that it was designed and manufactured.

      Isn’t it your argument that a plant is also designed?

      You compare man-made things to natural things to argue that man-made things must have a designer… but then you compare natural things to man-made things and argue that natural must have a designer…

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Retro:

        Isn’t it your argument that a plant is also designed?

        LOL! This is how Paley’s watch example fails.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Rick:

      Yes, the C-prompt is due to intelligence. I was using a different analogy, as I’m sure you got from the post.

      Why should it be any different for the infinitely more complex structure and coding of… the house plant or other organisms?

      Let’s not conflate “it’s complex” with “it was designed.” I was at a Creationist conference this past weekend, and (as you can imagine) I heard this error many, many times.

      • Rick Townsend

        Yes. You correctly deduced the argument.

        And while complexity does not necessitate design, it is a logical connection we would make pretty much anywhere except where it is more convenient for the evolutionist to deny it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          It’s not like they’re denying it on a whim. If there were no theory of evolution, you’d have a point. What else could explain the complexity we see in living things except Design?

          But we don’t live in that world–we live in the world in which evolution is the scientific consensus, and we laymen are pretty much stuck with it.

        • Retro

          And while complexity does not necessitate design, it is a logical connection we would make pretty much anywhere except where it is more convenient for the evolutionist to deny it.

          I’ll tell you what is also convenient, saying it’s logical for God to have designed everything, but then explaining away all the crappy designs.

          If an automobile randomly malfunctioned and killed the passengers, you’d sue the manufacturer.

          If you get cancer, you don’t blame God… how convenient!

        • Bob Seidensticker

          On the topic of crappy design, I recently heard a lecture on atavisms–very interesting. Unlike vestigial organs (which are present in every creature), atavisms are very rare. Hip bones in some whales are vestigial, but hind limbs are atavisms. Other atavisms: tails in humans, legs in snakes, teeth in chickens

        • Retro

          …legs in snakes, teeth in chickens

          Well, we have a Bible story about why snakes crawl on their bellies… I’ll have to keep looking for the one that explains why chickens have teeth…

    • Nox

      I don’t know about profound, but there was a distinct (and in some sense unavoidable) process that resulted in that particular string of letters. If you wanted to read that much into it, you might even say the form the C:> prompt took was a result of the necessities of its environment.

      For the first computers running the earliest versions of the Disk Operating System, hard drives were not a standard feature. DOS was not installed on the computer. The computer was booted with the DOS floppy disk and the core files were loaded into temporary memory. Before C:>, there was its ancestor A:>. The “A” represented its root drive, the floppy disk drive (and it was the only letter you got in DOS 1).

      The next logical adaptation was a second floppy drive, and B:> filled that niche. But as processors became capable of running more complex code, and better recording technologies were developed, a new niche was created. And this niche would be filled by C:>, which would become the dominant DOS prompt. C:> is still the standard root drive under a standard Windows installation. Not surprising with the earliest species of Windows being directly descended from DOS (and more recent versions of Windows being descended from those). At this stage it is no longer clearly visible that one was built from the parts of the other, but if you know the underlying file structure, this process can be observed.

      C was not decided on by drawing a letter randomly from a hat. C is what it was going to be. It was the logical result of a cumulative process, and followed necessarily from what came before. This is of course intended as an analogy for natural selection, but with only slight stretching, this could also be read as an analogy for moral truth (which is related to natural selection). It is something we have to formulate (or design) ourselves. But the requirements are determined beforehand. It must be a certain thing and fulfill certain purposes. We can put whatever letters we want on it (even the form of those will inevitably be affected by earlier letters on the subject). But there are predetermined environmental requirements which it must fulfill.

      It’s not just that our instincts provide a shared moral sense. It’s that the necessities of surviving in our environment require instincts which provide a shared moral sense. They couldn’t not. Morality is an evolutionary imperative. Ten people can bring down bigger game than one. Societies that can cooperate and make compromises for the sake of tribal cohesion and unite the efforts of their citizens to a common goal have a better chance of thriving. Where we are now is a product of where we have been. What we are now is a product of what we were. And what we do here determines where we go. Nothing is predestined. Yet nearly everything goes the way it was almost certainly going to. We don’t need to understand objective truth to be objectively stuck with it.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Nicely stated, thanks.

  • TheRealRandomFunction

    We think our moral instincts are pretty important, and that’s understandable, but there’s no reason to imagine that they are objectively true—that is, based on some supernatural grounding.

    Actually, Bob is correct. It would be wrong to assume that a mere instinct is objectively true.

    Morality is not however, a collection of instincts.

    We must not confuse universally shared moral instincts with universal moral truths.

    Indeed we should not. That is precisely however what you do. You mention again, and again, the fact that we have shared “instincts” as though this ends the matter. As you have just said however, the existence of an instinct, does not the exist of a moral truth make. We should not confuse the two. So you can harp on and on about how we all have shared instincts, but I’ll just keep again and again bringing up the fact that instincts aren’t morality.

    Just because you feel warm and fuzzy about certain things, and icky about others, doesn’t mean that these instincts, these feelings are “morality”.

    • Rick Townsend

      RRF, Good points. While existence of instincts does not make them morally and objectively true, it does indicate a universality of shared design which we would infer in any other environment. All cars have four wheels and drive faster forward than backwards, for instance, is a shared trait that is not accidental. This strengthens the evidence for design, which Bob rejects.

      • Orbital Teapot

        To Rick Townsend,

        Evolutionary biology and game theory can explain the origin of our “moral” instincts pretty well. You may like to read Frans de Waal.

        Here is a simple experiment: suppose as an ape-man you got two pieces of meat after hunting. You may eat them both or share one with another ape-man who got nothing.

        But according to the law of diminishing returns, your second piece of meat, if you ate it, would bring you a lesser benefit than the first one.

        So, suppose you decide to share it. The other ape-man would get such a benefit that overall the sum of utility for your group would be greater than if you ate both pieces of meat. So altruism is good for the group.

        And besides, after you shared your second piece of meat with another ape-man, he would feel indebted to you. So the next time if he gets meat and you don’t, he will reciprocate.

        Again, according to the law of diminishing returns, if you get two pieces of meat at two separate times, it will be more beneficial to you than if you got both at the same time. So your altruism is good for YOU in the long run.

        • Rick Townsend

          This is a great string of made up events. Do we have any evidence that this ever happened?

          We do have evidence of where the morality of the Old Testament came from. Why not go with that since the textual evidence is thousands of years old, instead of making up something that has been here since you made it up, minutes ago?

          I’m not disputing that what you said COULD have happened. I’m saying there is a better explanation, complete with actual evidence. I’ll go with the evidence.

        • Orbital Teapot

          To RT,

          Still, we have indirect evidence: we can observe nonhuman primates showing altruism, especially chimpanzees and bonobos. Those two species have even some understanding that the needs of the others may be different from their own (theory of mind), so that they select the right thing to do to be helpful.

          And perhaps you have heard of Koko and her kittens?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          Why not go with [the Old Testament] since the textual evidence is thousands of years old, instead of making up something that has been here since you made it up, minutes ago?

          Because the OT is based on the supernatural.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      the fact that we have shared “instincts” as though this ends the matter.

      It kind of does end the matter. When we have a plausible natural explanation such as this one, that beats the supernatural explanation.

      bringing up the fact that instincts aren’t morality.

      What’s left unexplained by asserting that morality is a combination of instincts and cultural programming?

      • Rick Townsend

        An allegedly plausible argument does not mean it is the best or even an adequate explanation. And it certainly does not constitute proof simply because you happen to find it plausible.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          An allegedly plausible argument does not mean it is the best or even an adequate explanation.

          I agree, but that’s now what I’m talking about. I’m talking about just two options: the plausible natural explanation that I gave and the supernatural “God did it.” The plausible natural explanation always trumps the supernatural explanation (at least in my mind).

          And it certainly does not constitute proof

          Right. I never argue that I have proof.

      • TheRealRandomFunction

        It kind of does end the matter. When we have a plausible natural explanation such as this one, that beats the supernatural explanation.

        Again you demonstrate no capability of understanding the basics of what I’m saying.

        I am not, nor have I ever argued, that the instincts we have are supernaturally derived. I have, consistently and frequently pointed out that morality is not the mere existence of instinct.

        You consistently are blind to this fact.

        What’s left unexplained by asserting that morality is a combination of instincts and cultural programming?

        Morality is not instinct. I have demonstrated this. Morality is the choice between instincts. If how to choose between instincts is simply the product of random subjective societal choices, we cannot use morality in the fashion that humanity has used morality throughout all of human history. Morality is then nothing different then one’s preferences in clothes. Society gives us rules as to what sort of clothes are “in fashion” or “ought to be worn”, and it gives us rules about what instincts are “good” and “ought to be heeded.”

        Yet of course nobody seriously thinks that morality is merely a fashion trend. You certainly do not think that way when someone does something that you find “immoral”. You do not treat that as though someone is walking in front of you with an outfit you really don’t like.

        Your own actions betray the fact that morality is not simply the product of societal development.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Morality is not instinct. I have demonstrated this. Morality is the choice between instincts.

          We have competing instincts and our brain decides what to do. Sure, makes sense. I don’t see what this point undercuts.

          Morality is then nothing different then one’s preferences in clothes.

          We have preferences in clothes, and we have strong feelings about good and bad. These can be easily put into different mental bins and, sure enough, people do so. “Morality” is the term for the latter bin, and “fashion” for the former.

          These are the same in that the brain holds them both. And they’re the same in that there’s no reason to imagine any cosmic significance to either. And yet it’s easy to see the differences from a human perspective, so we have different bins.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          We have preferences in clothes, and we have strong feelings about good and bad. These can be easily put into different mental bins and, sure enough, people do so.

          How is this done? I agree it is, but your definition of what “morality” is, give us no ability to do so. Instincts cannot rule between instincts, and if it is simply society that tells us which instincts to choose as part of morality, then there is no difference between clothes and morals. They both are just the product of societal choices.

          Your idea of morality is lacking, due to a point that you absolutely fear to answer.

          These are the same in that the brain holds them both. And they’re the same in that there’s no reason to imagine any cosmic significance to either. And yet it’s easy to see the differences from a human perspective, so we have different bins.

          So, to you there’s no difference between morality and clothes in the brain, there’s no objective difference, but we all think there’s a difference.

          I think there’s a word for something that doesn’t exist in reality, yet something an individual or a society thinks exists.

          Oh yeah. Its a delusion. Or hallucination if you prefer.

          So, to you, morality is nothing more than delusion. There really is no difference between a moral choice and an other feeling or preference, we just all pretend there is. Its just a game.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Instincts cannot rule between instincts

          ?? We have an intellect. That helps rule between instincts. We’ve already been over this.

          if it is simply society that tells us which instincts to choose as part of morality, then there is no difference between clothes and morals.

          Been over this. And over this. The mind has many categories. You and I know that fashion and morality are different categories. I can’t imagine what your question could be.

          there’s no objective difference, but we all think there’s a difference.

          Sure. Is there a better explanation?

          I think there’s a word for something that doesn’t exist in reality, yet something an individual or a society thinks exists.

          You mean like courage? Or love? Oh, wait–those are abstract notions but are still real.

          Like morality.

  • Rick Townsend

    Reference

    But we don’t live in that world–we live in the world in which evolution is the scientific consensus, and we laymen are pretty much stuck with it.

    Maybe you’re stuck with it. Those of us open to logic are not. It starts with being interested in evidence instead of consensus. Still looking for evidence. Not convinced of consensus, which I pointed out in a recent article is very overrated. See also this one concerning the fact that “Lab Studies Show Evolutionary ‘Evidence’ Is Merely Assumed.”

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Those of us open to logic are not.

      Is this open-mindedness? Or is it hubris? I can’t imagine the process by which I’d declare myself better able to resolve the evidence within a discipline of science of which I’m not a part than the thousands of people who actually have doctorates in the field.

      As for your article, show me that it conveys the scientific consensus and I’m on board. Show me something from the Institute for Creation Research and I’m not convinced.

      • Rick Townsend

        Open mindedness. Thanks for asking.

        The article demonstrates that those who believe they have consensus are arguing poorly, which would be a bad foundation on which to build a consensus, even if it can be demonstrated (which you haven’t). And remember, consensus doesn’t make evidence. I’m interested in evidence as to how DNA reprograms itself to adapt instead of simply causing an organism to die when faced with environmental or other pressures. Evidence, not consensus.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          even if it can be demonstrated (which you haven’t).

          I have the quotes from authorities, including those from Institute for Creation Research and Creation Ministries International, that evolution is the consensus. With links.

          If you want this “demonstration” again, just say the word.

          Evidence, not consensus.

          Educating yourself about the intricacies of biology is terrific. But it is bizarre to imagine yourself rejecting the consensus of a field of science of which you’re not a part.

  • Rick Townsend

    Bob,

    I agree, but that’s now what I’m talking about. I’m talking about just two options: the plausible natural explanation that I gave and the supernatural “God did it.”

    I just reread my post. I didn’t even allege that “God did it.” I said it looks like something we’d call design if it wasn’t inconvenient for the evolutionist to do so. Scientific proof can’t identify a specific designer, but it can indeed demonstrate that the existence of an intelligent designer is the best explanation among all those possibilities, including random undirected chance. Your post about instinct and the C Prompt was a good argument to be used for making this point, though you tried to use it instead to demonstrate what seems like a much more tangential point about morality.

    But in any case, thanks for confirming my point.

    Right. I never argue that I have proof.

    Perhaps not. But your vehemence in arguments suggests you think you have proven your allegations. Thanks for confirming you have not.

    Sounds like some agreement here!!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I didn’t even allege that “God did it.”

      Right.

      it can indeed demonstrate that the existence of an intelligent designer is the best explanation among all those possibilities

      And when it has done so through the scientific consensus, I’m on board (as I’ve repeatedly said).

      I see bold claims in Creationist literature that evolution is “a theory in crisis.” Great! When it has been overturned, we’ll be on the same page. I guess it can’t be long now.

      (Oops–my bad. A check on Amazon shows that Michael Denton’s book with this subtitle was printed over 25 years ago. Perhaps like Jesus’s promised second coming within the lifetimes of his disciples, this new evolution-free world is also delayed.)

  • Rick Townsend

    Since you aren’t addressing my questions, you can have the last word. No point in restating what I already stated as clearly as I know how.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The post was on the topic of morality, objective vs. not objective. You changed the subject to how well (or not) the universe looks designed. Which is fine; I’m just making the change of topic overt.

      If the question is evolution, I’m not sure why you bother bringing it up. You know that I have little interest in debating the latest agenda-driven smokescreen cobbled together by the ICR or AiG. My response is very simple: you change the consensus and I’ll change along with it. That cuts down on unhelpful and timewasting arguments, I think.

      If you’re using “you aren’t addressing my questions” to mean “you rely on the consensus view and have little interest in debating the latest from the ICR or AiG,” then we’re on the same page.

      • Rick Townsend

        1) You attacked my source but ignored the evidence. I gave you a source from an organization you don’t like, but as usual you ignored the evidence presented and attacked the source. Why are you afraid to deal with what they said, which attacks your righteous concept of consensus?

        2) You also brought up another source you don’t like (that I didn’t mention.) Way to use this as an opportunity to sling mud rather than actually deal with the points they made, which were actually germane to the point I was making. This is not clear thinking about Christianity or anything else. It is ad hominem attack.

        3) Your evidence doesn’t support your contention that you can derive objective versus non objective value from the mere existence of instincts. It better supports the concept that a common source which programmed instincts which seem to be present across many species. I was redirecting you to what the evidence points to rather than where you attempted to take it. Your conclusion is a stretch.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Why are you afraid to deal with what they said, which attacks your righteous concept of consensus?

          (1) Not fear. Lack of time and interest.

          (2) Show me the justification for a layman rejecting the scientific consensus.

          Way to use this as an opportunity to sling mud rather than actually deal with the points they made, which were actually germane to the point I was making.

          You were talking about the design hypothesis, I thought. I was showing how the idea that evolution will be overturned (even by the biologists) any day now is flawed.

          Your evidence doesn’t support your contention that you can derive objective versus non objective value from the mere existence of instincts.

          This post was just a sketch. Yes, it doesn’t present a full argument.

          I don’t claim that you can derive objective anything. In fact, I have many times challenged people to provide evidence that objective moral truths exist (and that we can tap into them). So far, nothing.

          It better supports the concept that a common source which programmed instincts which seem to be present across many species.

          “God did it” can explain everything. Unfortunately, it’s not falsifiable. And there’s paltry evidence that God exists (and plenty of natural explanations for much of what we see). Simply saying that “God did it” could explain anything is true, but we’ve left evidence behind.

          Your conclusion is a stretch.

  • Rick Townsend

    Reference OT’s comment, “Still, we have indirect evidence: …”

    Yes, we do. We have lots of other things. But perhaps we should first consider the direct evidence, then perhaps the indirect might be would be worth considering.

    I’m more interested in direct evidence than supposition, innuendo, inference, and Koko’s kittens, which are better explained by instinct shown by a herbivore than by some prehistoric notion of morality. The direct evidence is backed by archaeology, history, thousands of years of research and corroboration, fulfilled prophecy, etc. Let’s go with that before Koko and inference.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The direct evidence is backed by archaeology, history, thousands of years of research and corroboration, fulfilled prophecy, etc.

      Direct evidence for what? That the Bible is accurate?

      • Rick Townsend

        Yes

    • Orbital Teapot

      To RT,

      I don’t claim that evolution can give us morality. Evolution can give us the biological prerequisites for moral agency (good dispositions, free will), but that’s all. It won’t give us what makes morality special: an insight into the realm of values.

      As a sidenote, it’s possible that some apes and other large-brained species have a dim perception of moral duties and some share of freedom (though much less than in humans) and are not completely led by blind instincts. But it would just mean that they are sophisticated enough to have some insight into the realm of values.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        OT:

        an insight into the realm of values.

        What is this insight? What is this realm of values? And why imagine that they exist?

  • Rick Townsend

    Reference Bob’s comment, “Because the OT is based on the supernatural.”

    See my comment to Orbital Teapot. Even if you take the OT and consider only the historic aspect backed by history, archaeology, tradition, and thousands of years of textual evidence, it has more basis than anything you have offered in your just so stories.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The OT has good backing for rather trivial and unimportant things like place names or the names of rulers. The supernatural stuff (which I think is central to your argument–if not, let me know) is no more reliable than the supernatural claims of the next guy’s religion IMO.

      OT’s sketch of how altruism evolved and now works is imperfect (example: we have precisely zero seconds of video footage of Stone Age man choosing to be altruistic). Nevertheless, we can see the moral calculus in primitive tribes today and in other primates. Contrast this with the claim “God exists, and he put morality in your heart.”

      If you’re asking for evidence, that’s fine; just be sure to demand it consistently.

  • Bob Calvan

    “.is no more reliable than the supernatural claims of the next guy’s religion IMO.

    And lets all keep in mind that Bob being a “relativist” that his opinion is just one of 7 billion. Has no more weight or less weight than any one else’s opinion. It is all subjective, what is true for you may not be true for me. No standard. That is why Bob is so inconsistent..Bob’s atheistic worlview leads to a world of absurdity.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Sorry, Bob C., I’m missing the absurdity. And I’m still missing the evidence for your position–objective morality, that God exists and he created the universe, and all that.

      It is all subjective, what is true for you may not be true for me. No standard.

      No standard … except the standard that everyone uses–his own personal moral instinct. You can certainly decide what you think is true or not, but your opinion won’t do for me. From my standpoint, only my opinion matters. (Obviously, right? I’m sure that’s how we all do it.)

      • Orbital Teapot

        To Bob S,

        Bob, when will you understand that an instinct belongs to the realm of facts (what is) and not to the realm of values (what ought to be) and that only the latter is the province of ethics?

        Scientists may describe pro-social and anti-social behavior/feelings in people and primates, they may even objectively study their consequences on the lives of the others, but they are not then dealing with ethics.

        What is true is that not every brain is capable of moral agency. What we need is a brain with good dispositions and free will. But the ultimate source of moral agency (the realm of values) is not in itself a product of the brain.

        What is true, as well, is that another species of apes, if it were intelligent and free, would probably be bound by slightly different values. Because its nature is different. But it does not mean that values are rooted in biological evolution.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          OT:

          I don’t see the difficulty. My view is that it is the case that I have moral instincts (programming) that tell me that I ought to do this and ought not do that.

          You give your is/ought distinction as if it’s dogma, but it doesn’t hold from my perspective.

          And I don’t think you’ve given me any reason to imagine that morality is grounded outside the human mind (or minds).

          Scientists may describe pro-social and anti-social behavior/feelings in people and primates, they may even objectively study their consequences on the lives of the others, but they are not then dealing with ethics.

          So how do you define “ethics” then? And how does this definition compare with what the dictionary says?

          I still think that ethics/morality is simply a useful category that humans have noticed within their lives. They’ve labeled the category and have studied how to best make it work. Morality is a label we put on things; morality isn’t something outside of humans with which to judge human behavior. Morality isn’t an objective, outside-of-humanity target that we try (with varying amounts of success) to hit.

          the ultimate source of moral agency (the realm of values) is not in itself a product of the brain.

          This is a very large claim. I need evidence.

          What is true, as well, is that another species of apes, if it were intelligent and free, would probably be bound by slightly different values. Because its nature is different. But it does not mean that values are rooted in biological evolution.

          I was cheering for you through the first sentence. But then I got that record-scratch sound effect when I read the second.

          Yes, another primate species as intelligent as humans would have some differences in their morality (though not too much, as you suggest, since all primates are social animals and would have been evolutionarily driven in similar ways).

          On a similar topic, I recently listened to a podcast talking about human sexuality, and they noted that bonobos use sex to reduce the need for violence while chimpanzees use violence to get sex (that’s a rough approximation).

          Klingons would have a different set of morality. We are free to disagree with it (and take action to prevent their applying their morality when we think the harm outweighs the good) since we have our own sense of morality.

        • Orbital Teapot

          To Bob S,

          Well, in some cases, for instance child care, morality and instincts support each other and seem to merge. It does not mean that they are identical. It’s not because what we like doing is (in that case) the same as what we ought to do that the distinction is redundant. We just cannot bridge the gap between is and ought by scientific theory. That would be the naturalistic fallacy. Yet those ought’s we live with have to be accounted for.

          As for other intelligent species having different values: I’m not sure the values would be very different, but the rules of conduct that one infers from those values would differ, because the circumstances themselves differ. And rules of conducts are basically how values are to apply to specific circumstances. And science is relevant to specifying what those circumstances are. But it cannot take us from there to the realm of values.

          You are repeatedly asking for evidence for objective morality, yet the evidence as it exists is not what you want. I tell you that our moral intuitions (some things are wrong in themselves and it’s not just because we don’t like them), our moral language and our moral practices (for instance arguing over morality or struggling for a cause) show an implicit commitment to objective values.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          OT:

          We just cannot bridge the gap between is and ought by scientific theory.

          Meaning what? What is your conclusion from this claim? Is it that objective (that is: grounded outside of the human mind) morality exists and that we can access it?

          Anyway, I don’t know why I didn’t bridge the gap in my last comment: “My view is that it is the case that I have moral instincts (programming) that tell me that I ought to do this and ought not do that.”

          Yet those ought’s we live with have to be accounted for.

          Right. And what isn’t accounted for with my thinking?

          yet the evidence as [objective morality] exists is not what you want.

          Yes! So why should I think that objective morality exists? Especially when we don’t need to point to it to explain anything?

          I tell you that our moral intuitions (some things are wrong in themselves and it’s not just because we don’t like them), our moral language and our moral practices (for instance arguing over morality or struggling for a cause) show an implicit commitment to objective values.

          If the reality that we all accept could be explained only with objective moral values, then your argument would have merit. But it seems to me that we needn’t lean on this vague, unsubstantiated hypothesis–there’s simply no need to.

          Reject the concept of universal moral values. Replace it with the (easily accepted) idea that there are universally accepted moral instincts.

          What’s left unexplained?

  • Orbital Teapot

    To Bob S,

    The problem is that if, as you claim, “morality” is a complete product of evolution, then we have no reason to take it seriously. After all, an instinct is not true nor false, not good nor bad, it just IS. You say your instincts tell you what you ought to do, but instincts are not meant to be divinely inspired guides. Nature is not good in itself. Instincts exist for no other reason than that they enhanced our inclusive fitness. Hardly a reliable guide for how we ought to live today. If you follow your instincts, you will end up being like a successful caveman by darwinian standards (I say “caveman” because our instincts are a legacy of our ape-man past and are tailored for life in the pleistocene). But will you end up being a “good” person in the sense normal people give to that word? It’s not sure.

    It seems that you endow your instincts with some kind of wisdom and benevolent will. Which is odd for an atheist.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The problem is that if, as you claim, “morality” is a complete product of evolution, then we have no reason to take it seriously.

      My instinct says, “You moron!! Go back and help that person, you heartless SOB!” and I have no reason to take it seriously?

      Guess again.

      You say your instincts tell you what you ought to do, but instincts are not meant to be divinely inspired guides.

      True but irrelevant. Instincts aren’t put there by God, but it doesn’t much matter what put them there. They’re there, and they’re insistent, and they’re how I get through life. Sucks to be me, perhaps? But then again I imagine it’s true for everyone.

      Hardly a reliable guide for how we ought to live today.

      Again, you’re off the track. I agree that there’s no objective anything here. Nevertheless, the instincts are inside, like a homunculus, controlling (to a large extent) this thing called me. I guess I’m just along for the ride!

      But will you end up being a “good” person in the sense normal people give to that word? It’s not sure.

      Most likely! Because they’re controlled by the same kinds of instincts!

      That’s what I’ve been saying: universally accepted moral instincts. We all have ‘em. We’re all the same species, so we share (roughly) the same instinct.

      • Orbital Teapot

        Bob S, according to your very principles, someone who has “blunted” instincts would have fewer duties? For instance we know by experience that many a man is selfish and callous, yet is perfectly fine with it. In your view, their moral instincts may be weak, but so what? An instinct we label moral has (in your view) no intrinsic value and has no claim to take precedence over other instincts which are equally part of our nature and products of biological evolution… So we may call selfish and callous men “immoral”, but it’s merely a descriptive term, not a call for action. It’s no more meaningful than calling someone white, black, short or tall.

        You say your moral instincts tell you what you “ought to” do, but you have emptied the modal “ought to” of its real meaning. An instinct may push you to do things. Pro-social instincts will push you to help, and anti-social instincts will push you to crush the others. But both are at the same level, so to speak. In your view, “ought to” is just what we label the push of some set of instincts. It’s no more significant than that.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          OT:

          Bob S, according to your very principles, someone who has “blunted” instincts would have fewer duties?

          Duties? If you’re saying that someone with stunted instincts would act differently than I might, sure. We’re not clones.

          I might still hold that person to the same standard. Or maybe not–that’s the idea behind mitigating circumstances and character witnesses in a criminal trial.

          An instinct we label moral has (in your view) no intrinsic value and has no claim to take precedence over other instincts which are equally part of our nature and products of biological evolution…

          It feels like I’ve been over this a thousand times, but perhaps you’ve missed that.

          I have my morality and someone else has his morality. By what standard do I judge his actions? By my standard, of course! Who does it any other way?

          Again, as I’ve said above, it can be complicated by mitigating factors. If this other person has a mental illness or had some sort of terrible upbringing, then perhaps we focus on treatment or containment rather than punishment.

          So we may call selfish and callous men “immoral”, but it’s merely a descriptive term, not a call for action.

          If there’s some harm done to society, you bet it’s a call to action!

          You say your moral instincts tell you what you “ought to” do, but you have emptied the modal “ought to” of its real meaning.

          Am I using “ought” as it’s commonly defined in the dictionary? I’m pretty sure I am. That’s my only concern.

          If your definition includes some sort of supernatural or absolute or outside-the-mind grounding, then at the very least we’re not using the same word.

        • Orbital Teapot

          To Bob S,

          Sure, you may dislike how other people act, how they don’t hold to your favorite standard, but objectively you have no claim for them to mend their ways. That’s the problem. You are making impossible moral arguments.

        • Orbital Teapot

          … I meant “you are making moral arguments impossible”.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          objectively you have no claim for them to mend their ways.

          We’ve long since left the concept of objective moral truth in the past. I don’t accept it, you haven’t provided evidence that it exists, and I’ve provided a plausible natural alternative to the strong sense that we may have that it exists.

          You are making impossible moral arguments.

          Because “morality” is grounded in objective moral truth? Not only have you provided no evidence that “objective moral truth” exists, but this simply isn’t how morality is defined in the dictionary. Look it up.

        • Orbital Teapot

          Fine, Bob S. Maybe you will regain confidence in objective moral truth the next time you fall victim to a gross injustice.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          We’re making zero progress here, which surprises me. We keep rehashing tired old points that have been put to bed many comments ago.

          Please make clear what possible change in my attitude you imagine. When a gross injustice happens, it happens. Sure, it would suck–so what?

          How would this point to objective morality?

  • Bob Calvan

    Orbital teapot
    Fun dealing with a relativist. Like nailing jello to a wall.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Fun dealing with a presuppositionalist. Like talking to one of those dolls with the string that you pull to make her say prerecorded things.

      Not much of an intellectual or convincing conversation, as you can imagine!

  • Bob Calvan

    “Sorry, Bob C., I’m missing the absurdity. And I’m still missing the evidence for your position–objective morality, that God exists and he created the universe, and all that.”

    The evidence that God exist’s is everywhere. You just reject it in unrighteousness. And you are with out excuse..

    Bob S says :
    “No standard … except the standard that everyone uses–his own personal moral instinct.”

    The statement you made ….except the standard that everyone uses…..” Is an absolute statement. If everyone uses it that means no one does not use it. That is an absolute.. The relativist can not go 5 min without contradicting himself . As Alvin Plantinga says about the relativist and the tar baby.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      That’s your evidence? That’s it’s everywhere? That it’s so obvious that it’s a waste of your time to explain it to me (except pointing out that it’s obvious and that I’m without excuse)?

      For your extra-credit project in Unwarranted Hubris, you get an A+.

      Is an absolute statement.

      ‘fraid not.

      “Aha! I just caught you making a statement! I mean … an absolute statement! Yeah, so that proves that you and everyone else believes in objective morality! Or something!”

      Sorry–I’m unconvinced. I’m still missing the evidence for objective morality. Got any?

  • Orbital Teapot

    To all,

    As far as I can tell, Bob conceives the human mind as a battlefield of instincts (some of them labeled moral, some of them not), and our behavioral output as the temporary outcome of the permanent struggle of instincts taking place within our heads. There is hardly any room for free agency here… So we are not masters in our own castles.

    I need evidence before I embrace such a reductionist view. If it’s not what Bob actually thinks, please let him explain how he views the mind and agency.

  • Orbital Teapot

    To all,

    The cat is out of the bag. Bob has shown that he cannot make room for objective morality within his naturalistic worldview. Of course he may remain a naturalist, that’s his choice. But his worldview will remain fatally flawed to most people and (I think) to most thinkers as long as he rejects objective morality.

    Maybe Retro has a better theory in store for us?

    Bob, you would be more convincing if you tried to construct a moral system after the fashion of Rawls and social contract theory.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The cat is out of the bag. Bob has shown that he cannot make room for objective morality within his naturalistic worldview.

      I’ve been shouting from the rooftops that I see no evidence for objective morality. Surely you’re only just now realizing this.

      his worldview will remain fatally flawed to most people and (I think) to most thinkers as long as he rejects objective morality.

      The only thing clear here is that you reject something in my position. But I have absolutely no idea what. Please make clear how you think morality works and, if objective moral truth is a part of it, provide clear evidence that it exists.

      While you’re at it, do more than simply rejecting my position. Tell me where/how it’s flawed. All I’ve seen so far is: “Well, there you go–no objective morality. I think we’re done here–this worldview is fatally flawed.” That does nothing more than make an assertion.

      I got it–you think I’m wrong. Tell me why.

      • TheRealRandomFunction

        The only think clear here is that you reject something in my position. But I have absolutely no idea what.

        We’ve been doing that. Repeatedly. You apparently miss that part. Must be too busy congratulating yourself on how much of a hammer you are.

        Please make clear how you think morality works and, if objective moral truth is a part of it, provide clear evidence that it exists.

        So no one can critique what you say. Got it.

        While you’re at it, do more than simply rejecting my position. Tell me where/how it’s flawed. All I’ve seen so far is: “Well, there you go–no objective morality. I think we’re done here–this worldview is fatally flawed.”

        This is just sad.

        Let me throw this out to everyone else on this board. Is that all I’ve said to Bob? Is that all orbital has said? “Well, there you go–no objective morality. I think we’re done here–this worldview is fatally flawed.”

        That’s it?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          You apparently miss that part.

          Apparently.

          So no one can critique what you say.

          Was this non sequitur deliberate or inadvertent?

  • Orbital Teapot

    To Bob S,

    Let’s put an end to that whole debate. I have said what I needed to say. From there, let the readers judge who is closer to the truth.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      If you’re saying that it’s easy to spend hours debating with very little to show for it, I certainly understand. Perhaps we’re at a stopping point.

      I will note, however, that, while I always appreciate your input, I have actually proposed an explanation for morality. You haven’t. You’ve simply made clear that you don’t like my approach, but I don’t know what’s wrong with it, and I haven’t heard a well-argued case for anything else.

      • TheRealRandomFunction

        I think both orbital teapot and I have been saying time and time again what is wrong with it, and trying to make you understand what is wrong with it.

        As far as I can see you don’t seem to understand what we are actually saying.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          As far as I can see you don’t seem to understand what we are actually saying.

          I think it’s been fairly clear. You think that objective moral truth exists and I don’t.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          Why do we think that objective morality exists? What arguments have we used? What critiques have we gave of your position?

          Any idea? Or did your brain switch off when it came to all that?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Why do we think that objective morality exists? What arguments have we used?

          That’s precisely what I’ve been trying to find out.

          If I’ve forgotten, please repeat them.

  • Orbital Teapot

    Although Bob failed to move even an inch forward toward understanding my stance (and that of RRF), I benefited from the discussion insofar as I deepened my understanding of the relationship between evolution and morality.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I’m glad that it was profitable for you, but you do see my point, right? I asked repeatedly for evidence for your remarkable claim that objective moral truth exists and got nothing. Did I miss it? Am I mischaracterizing your position?

      And I honestly got nothing against my position except that you don’t accept it. I don’t see why. I think I’ve responded to the challenges you’ve raised.

      Help me out here!

      • Orbital Teapot

        To Bob S,

        You’re asking the wrong kind of question and you’re searching in the wrong place. No wonder you don’t find what you’re asking for.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I feel like I’m at the Shaolin Temple! I’m getting an ambiguous Zen-like answer to what seems to me to be a straightforward and reasonable question.

          “Grasshopper, you stand before the locked door, but your own silence is the key. Be still and the answer will come.” Or something.

          You claim objective moral truth and I ask for evidence of this remarkable claim. Can’t a Grasshopper get a straightforward answer around here?

          If I’m indeed asking the wrong question, why don’t you just tell me the right question (and its answer)? Is it a secret?

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          If I’m indeed asking the wrong question, why don’t you just tell me the right question (and its answer)? Is it a secret?

          Yes. Its a secret. I’ve actually written it in a very special code throughout my responses in this post.

          You’re smart however, so I have every confidence you’ll be able to decode it.

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