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Kreeft’s Argument from Absolute Conscience Fails Absolutely

Philosopher Peter Kreeft says that his Argument from Conscience (PDF) is one of only two arguments for the existence of God in the Bible. Its biblical pedigree doesn’t do it any favors, however, and it fares no better than the rest.

Kreeft summarizes the argument:

The simple, intuitive point of the argument from conscience is that everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good, and this absolute obligation could come only from God. Thus everyone knows God, however obscurely, by this moral intuition, which we usually call conscience. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul.

Kreeft defines conscience as “the knowledge of my absolute obligation to goodness.”

Absolute obligation? Where did this come from? That’s not how I define the word, nor is it how the dictionary defines it. This qualifier exists only in Kreeft’s definition.

What does Kreeft do with people like me who aren’t on board? He puts us into two bins: (1) those who have no conscience or a defective conscience and (2) those who know the truth of Kreeft’s words but repress this knowledge.

And what about the third bin, those who see obligation but not absolute obligation? There is no third bin. We know that these people actually understand God’s will because the Bible says so. You know the kind—those people “who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (Rom. 1:18–19).

(Is it just me or does it seem circular to assume the existence of God in an argument about the existence of God? And is it just me or have I been insulted?)

He continues with the assumption of absoluteness and says that one’s conscience has absolute moral authority. I appreciate that I’m compelled to listen to my conscience, but (again) where does the absoluteness come in?

Maybe we’re defining things differently. To me, an absolute obligation isn’t simply an important or strongly felt obligation. The key is its grounding. It’s more than grounded within me (such as, “it’s just wrong to chew with your mouth open”). It’s more than grounded within society (such as, “it’s illegal to pass a stop sign without coming to a complete stop”). It’s grounded in an absolute way that transcends both me and society.

I see no evidence that one’s conscience is an absolute moral authority. Kreeft provides none and simply asserts the claim.

Back to Kreeft’s argument, quoted in summary above. He imagines that he’s firmly established that the conscience is an absolute moral authority and moves on to the second premise: “the only possible source of absolute authority is an absolutely perfect will, a divine being.” That sounds plausible, but since he’s given no reason to imagine that the absolute authority he refers to exists, he has no argument.

Given the imagined absolute conscience, is its absolute truth reliably accessible by ordinary people? Kreeft admits that it isn’t but says that God has “revealed to us clear moral maps (Scripture and Church).” If our conscience tells us to reject these maps, that’s the indication of a faulty conscience.

Hold on—scripture and church are “clear moral maps”?

Nonsense. The Christian church is dividing faster than amoebas. There are now 42,000 denominations of Christianity and counting. Which one(s) are correct? Christians can’t even decide among themselves.

And let’s check the hypothesis that scripture is a clear moral map. Are Christians of a unified voice on the topic of abortion? Same-sex marriage? Euthanasia? Stem-cell research? Capital punishment? The use of torture? Any divisive social issue? Scripture is a sock puppet that you can make say just about anything you want, and Christians on all sides of these issues do just that.

I see two possibilities: (1) absolute morality exists though we can’t reliably access it or (2) there is no absolute morality but we have a shared (and imperfect) moral instinct. Kreeft’s argument has done nothing to justify the supernatural explanation, so I’ll go with the natural one.

Secular schools can never be tolerated
because such schools have no religious instruction,
and a general moral instruction
without a religious foundation is built on air;
consequently, all character training and religion
must be derived from faith.
— Adolf Hitler

Photo credit: zen

About Bob Seidensticker
  • ZenDruid

    People who are successful at anything know when and how to put Kreef’s little fantasy on the back burner.

  • smrnda

    I look at morals a bit like engineering. If you set two groups of engineers on a task, it’s likely that the two groups will, independently, come up with similar solutions, the way that people will often give similar value judgments. It doesn’t mean that somewhere, there’s this ‘ideal bridge’ in some world of Platonic forms, just that in similar situations, with similar objectives, people will come up with similar solutions.

    I think the problem with absolute objective morality is that the real claim is that in all situations, there is an actual ‘right way’ whereas in reality, we know that we have to evaluate trade-offs, and that in some situations it seems like every choice is bad, just some worse than others, or that every choice seems ‘okay’ but no clear winners.

    On conscience, I try to listen to mine, but I also realize that I’ve been subjected to lots of social programming. When I feel something to be strongly wrong, I still try to see how strong the case is.

  • Baal

    Just for arguments sake, let’s assume evolution. Consider two highly intellegent species who are more than capable at killing off large numbers of their fellows (tanks, bombs, landmines, what have you). One of the species evolved with some conscience or a default interest in not killing without a good reason (let’s call this morality) and the other didn’t. Fast forward 100 years, which society is still around? We need god (or religion or absolute morality) to explain this how?

  • DrewL

    Kreeft is probably one of the higher grade apologists you’ve engaged. But here he’s still far too confident in naive realism and the neutral, immanent rationality of his particular moral views, so your critique is dead-on. Of course atheists at times make the same mistake as him: Sam Harris would be someone who comes to mind here, who is essentially grounding an accessible Natural Law of ethics in science/nature.

    I’d be interested in hearing you develop an aspect of your beliefs. You admit your own conscience can be fallible and limited to Leah, and you say here that your conscience is not your “absolute” moral authority. But then you seem to argue it would be logically impossible to NOT follow your conscience: you grant your conscience a functional or provisional absolutism because of a logical necessity you perceive. As you told Leah, it’s all you have. You also defend this move by telling your interlocutors they too cannot NOT follow their moral beliefs or conscience.

    I’m wondering how you critique people drawing from Aristotelian-based systems or even Kolhberg moral development theory who say: we are in full agreement with you that our consciences/brains/moral instincts are all we have, and we are in full agreement that these can be fallible. But, unlike you, we don’t afford ourselves provisional absolutism because being ethical or moral is about bringing ourselves in conformity with “virtue or excellence” or about achieving a higher level of moral development; we have no reason to believe morality is simply “making do” with what we have.

    What I’d like to hear is what proof you have or how you justify YOUR belief: that we must “make do” with the infallible brains we have rather than trying to develop our moral instinct. To think of a scientific parallel, you recognize your culturally and evolutionary-given moral instinct may be the equivalent of a very poorly calibrated microscope that is giving you bad readings of morality, and you recognize that poorly calibrated moral instruments in the past endorsed segregation and banning interracial mixed marriages (as your op-ed points out), yet this doesn’t stop you from pontificating your moral views in op-eds and blog articles. Some of your opponents, however, are far more cautious and decide it might be worth the time to see about calibrating their moral instrument first before pontificating, less they end up pontificating the modern equivalent of segregation and racial purity. I’d like to hear more about your decision that calibration isn’t worthwhile or possible: is this a verifiable belief or a faith belief? And can you rationally justify it? How do we know “provisional absolutism” is simply the best we can do?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Drew:

      Kreeft is probably one of the higher grade apologists you’ve engaged.

      Who else do you think is top flight? And what do you think of the prominent apologists like William Lane Craig?

      so your critique is dead-on

      Thank you.

      As for the remainder of this comment, you’re asking for an analysis that I don’t have the time or expertise to give, but just a few reactions. The direction you’re going in sounds great–society 200 years ago said that X was good, but now we say that X was bad. Can we figure out how to stop changing our moral minds and resolve things once and for all? I have no idea how we’d go about this beyond Sam Harris’s approach of finding objective (that is: shared among all of us) values that could be maximized with X or not-X. This doesn’t fully address your questions, I realize.

      • DrewL

        Ah, thanks for the tentative thoughts, feel free to build on them later.

        Regarding apologists, most of the ones who throw themselves into the spotlight and pick fights with atheists are operating from a non-Christian (that is, not in accordance with historical Christianity) view of rationality and epistemology. From what I’ve seen, Craig commits this error frequently. Most of them operate from the assumptions of the Enlightenment: morality is universal, reasoning can be neutral, reality is accessible and observable from a neutral/objective perspective, moral truths are simply self-evident, scientific methods are not only neutral but the sole conduit for truths about anything, etc. What’s funny is how much effort apologists put into reviving all these dead corpses of outdated philosophy and how little reward it gets them–you observed once how most are really just arguing for a generic deism. Who wants to believe in a generic deism?

        I am hesitant to share the names of “top flight” apologists since you have resisted reading suggestions in the past. But I will say that Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution might be the best book written on faith in the past ten years, and it’s written by a Marxist atheist. Not an apologist, just a guy who knows history and philosophy and recognizes poor reasoning when he sees it.

      • avalon

        Bob,
        You said:
        “Can we figure out how to stop changing our moral minds and resolve things once and for all? I have no idea how we’d go about this…”
        avalon:
        You seem to be suggesting that there’s no real moral improvement, just ‘mind-changing’. I think an understanding of history disproves that. Take slavery, for instance. It was believed that slavery was permissible because blacks were thought to be less human than whites. Thomas Jefferson wanted proof of this claim since he was a slave-owner. He performed scientific experiments with an orangutan, a black woman, and a white woman; seeing which woman the orangutan preferred. He refers to that experiment in his “Notes on Virginia”.
        I assume Mr. Jefferson was a moral man who lacked the knowledge of humans we have today. That is, had he the level of knowledge we have today, he would have fought against slavery. So, the answer to improving morals seems to be raising the level of knowledge. The truth of that can be seen today. Uganda tried to pass a death penalty law for gays based on some very out-dated concepts of homosexuals. A thorough knowledge of the facts would go a long way to changing their attitudes.
        The better we understand ourselves and the world we live in, the better our moral systems will be.

        avalon

        • DrewL

          Avalon, what you’re professing is a belief in the Myth of Progress. It has a long heritage back to the early Enlightenment thinkers. Unfortunately it only exists in very small pockets of people today who–quite ironically–have defied the theory itself by not accepting the “new knowledge” that would enlighten and free them this thoroughly debunked myth.

          You need to roughly consider: Modern racism was a product of 18th century scientists who were applying the absolute latest knowledge and their “thorough knowledge of the facts” (as you say) to the human race. Eugenics existed in this country because the most enlightened, modern, knowledgable intellectuals provided the legitimation to get it into the legal code. Hitler read the books of scientists at places like Stanford and Harvard to inspire his racial purification efforts. The truth is that “knowledge” and the intellectuals who profess it are not the enlightened, neutral saviors that the Enlightenment made them out to be.

          I could recommend books from authors all over the board who make this point, from Foucault to neo-Marxists to atheist philosophers who people actually take seriously. But trust me: getting a “thorough knowledge of facts” has never served as a guarantee against acts of atrocity in the past, and a better reading of history would tell you rarely is an act of atrocity committed without a team of intellectuals and scientists cheerleading from the sidelines.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          But trust me: getting a “thorough knowledge of facts” has never served as a guarantee against acts of atrocity in the past, and a better reading of history would tell you rarely is an act of atrocity committed without a team of intellectuals and scientists cheerleading from the sidelines.

          I don’t think avalon said it was a guarantee, just that facts are better than absence of facts in making a moral society.

          And what is your point? That facts actually make things worse?

        • DrewL

          I was responding to this:
          The better we understand ourselves and the world we live in, the better our moral systems will be.

          This is not historically supported. It’s a fun dogmatic belief of Enlightenment thinkers. But unfortunately it’s not true.

          And what is your point? That facts actually make things worse?
          Please.

    • avalon

      Hi Drew,
      Drew says:
      “I’d be interested in hearing you develop an aspect of your beliefs. You admit your own conscience can be fallible and limited to Leah, and you say here that your conscience is not your “absolute” moral authority. But then you seem to argue it would be logically impossible to NOT follow your conscience: you grant your conscience a functional or provisional absolutism because of a logical necessity you perceive. As you told Leah, it’s all you have. You also defend this move by telling your interlocutors they too cannot NOT follow their moral beliefs or conscience.”
      avalon:
      You make a good point here; one that Bob seems to have missed. I’d say that it’s true that the conscience is the ground for our moral choices. The difference between theists and atheists is how they view the conscience. For me (and I assume for Bob), our conscience makes a basic set of moral values from our own mind. These values are concepts and these concepts are real (and important) things just like our thoughts are real things. But atheists don’t think these concepts would exist without human minds that think.
      Apologists claim this makes those moral concepts subjective. I disagree because 1) we have no choice in what subconscious concepts form and 2) we have no choice in what values we place on these concepts.
      Our choices about morality have far more value than our choice of ice cream. I may disagree with you about the best flavor of ice cream and I may disagree with a sociopath about killing innocent people. But the values attached to those two topics are miles apart. Your choice of ice cream won’t compel me to act, but the sociopaths choice to kill innocent people will. Atheists believe these values have a natural source, the human brain.
      Can there be right and wrong answers about things that are only concepts of the mind? Of course there can. Consider Superman: Superman exists as a concept of a man’s mind. This concept has been shared with millions of people. If I asked you, “Can Superman fly?”; there would be a right and wrong answer. Yet, Superman wouldn’t exist without human minds to create the concept.
      The correct answers concerning the concept of Superman have a relatively low value to most humans, but the answers to the concepts of fairness, altruism, justice, etc. have a very high value.
      When it comes to moral concepts I know that pain is bad. But I also know that it really matters; far more than my preference for ice cream. Seeing you cause someone pain is far worse than seeing you choose a flavor of ice cream that I don’t care for. And I don’t believe God is necessary to form that concept. As far as I can tell, the fact that pain is bad has nothing to do with God’s virtues or commands. Millions of atheists accept that causing pain is bad without believing in God’s existence. No one has claimed to have learned their morals by actually observing God. And even if we could, if God’s virtue included causing pain we’d still think that pain is bad. No observation or command from God will change that.

      avalon

  • Jason

    There is NO SUCH THING AS A CONSCIENCE! Yes, for lack of a better word, I do refer to my ‘conscience’ as a casual way of referring to certain instincts and emotions I experience as a part of my inner dialogue. But our conscience is not like our eyes, hearts or brains. To whatever extent the conscience is real, it is neither consistent nor isolated from the influence of the world around it. For my conscience to be some kind of source for objective morality, it would need to always tell me the same thing and not be subject to the influence of my life experiences. On the contrary, my conscience has given me a wide variety of impulses over my lifetime and there is no doubt that much of what my conscience tells me is the product of childhood hangups and emotional associations. If I was driving down the road and was about to hit either a dog or a cat, I would probably hit the cat and save the dog since I have had dogs all my life. My conscience wouldn’t let me live with choosing to hit the dog, but that doesn’t make my conscience right.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I think I see where you’re going with this, though you both acknowledge your conscience and deny that it exists–a little confusing.

      • Kodie

        I’m not going to try to speak for Jason, but my take on it is it’s an illusion, the conscience as it’s been mythologized is as if referencing a library book about objective morality. In case you yourself cannot decide, refer to this source. But the illustration Jason uses is based on memory and personal affinity, maybe those terms aren’t right, but you can still use your conscience and not really do the right thing. It is like the “soul” – even though I don’t believe in one, it’s a term like conscience where everyone thinks they are talking about the same thing. If I listen to a musical piece and say that it touches my soul, you think I might agree with someone else who is talking about the inherent souls of embryos, but that’s not what I meant and I don’t know how to describe it another way so you would know how I felt, or why I should even have to come up with a different word or describe the pleasure neurons firing in a specific part of my brain, for example.

        For another real example, I had a friend who is going through some really bad stuff. I am also going through some very bad stuff. When he asks me for help, there’s a part of his conscience that over-rides helping me in favor of leaning on me for support. There is a part of my conscience that for so long tried to help him because my conscience tells me that’s the “right thing to do” and obscures the sensibility to protect myself and get what I need out of the relationship or just get out of the relationship – which feels like the “wrong thing to do” for him. Otherwise known as being co-dependent. I have to see him as a really bad guy who doesn’t deserve my help in order to stop feeling guilty.

        In another situation, one person may be…. I’ll use “full” and the other is near “empty” of some value whether money or emotions or something he needs to feel well, and the well off person in my example just gets to the same conclusion I do faster. His conscience may tell him, well, the right thing to do is be helpful, but recognizes the other person’s deficiency as indication that he’s bad and can separate without feeling guilty and without depleting himself helping that person. The way I’m looking at this is just already in terms of my friend and me, and having sort of an attitude toward “toxic” people and manipulators and such, however these toxic people harm one’s life, they also obviously need intervention from someone who does care, and not to be left alone to feel sorry for themselves because that just leaves them at large, damaged unto themselves and anyone they meet. I’m not a psychologist, but there are people in need who are too proud to ask for help just because they don’t like feeling needy or depending on others and other people who are happy to help them because some people who need help aren’t the same mind of people who would abuse the relationship. Being in need seems to be understood as a weakness even to those in need, where their conscience is telling them by asking for it is not the “right thing to do” and don’t want to be a bad friend and strain the relationship by appearing to manipulate the other person. They neither welcome the guilt of taking help, nor welcome the prospect of being denied help by what’s assumed to be a good friend, or worse, deciding that friend is just not close enough to ask or avoiding that friend until the friend is no longer that close. I am generalizing general situations.

        So the conscience is just a judge of the situation dependent on personality type. I feel like my friend thought he could risk messing up my life to save his instead of asking his other friends, of whom he is too proud to ask and/or he predicts would say no. This sets off warnings to me that he is not as good a friend as I thought, but my conscience still says I let him down because I am not in a good position to help him the way he needs. Other people’s conscience would have cut him off a long time ago with very little problem. The conscience, to me, says the “right thing to do” is help someone and I think all of us know this but some people are more adept at avoiding traps, I hate still to call anyone “toxic” just because their conscience makes it ok to exploit people to get what they think they need – a person can lend another person $20 without thinking it’s the wrong thing to do for that person. But one person’s needs may be met with $20 while the other person needs another $20 a few weeks later and knows exactly who to ask. The second person probably needs something else and doesn’t want it or won’t admit it, while the first person may be too proud to even ask. The 2nd may be seen quickly as “no good” (if not immediately, then eventually), and the 1st person is sensitive to being put in that category or put it the other way around, would know exactly how they feel about example #2, and neither one really gets what they need.

        They are all using their “conscience” to decide what the right thing to do is. To most people willing to help someone in need, there is also the level of “deserve to be helped by me” whether that is time or money or something else, the ability of the needing person to articulate and be fair, the ability of the asked person to suggest alternatives or guidance to some agency. It’s tough because we’re social and say “I don’t want to help you, go ask this agency where nobody knows you, that’s what they’re there for” or rather “I am trying to help you get what you need, not what you say you want, not least of all in order to protect myself from arriving at the same misfortune, but so that you do actually get better, by directing you to this agency where nobody knows you, but that’s what they’re there for”. Both parties are inclined to do what friends usually do, which is help each other, until the asked person has no one to ask to help them help their friend because the problem is not just a matter of lending a small amount of money, but a destructive life pattern. The conscience says the person deserves help and changes to doesn’t deserve my help eventually or immediately. While some are healthy enough to avoid enabling others, popular opinion on public agencies designed to help exactly these people is in very low esteem – you either don’t want to think your friend is really that bad off (denial), or has moved to the other group receiving the brunt of social scorn, exploiting the agencies. Where is the conscience that says this person needs help and obviously a lot of it, and the agencies are under-funded and bureaucratic. The conscience judges people in the worst light sometimes, and then why shouldn’t they turn to crime? So then you will know you were right – they are officially a “bad” person.

        So I am inclined to understand the conscience as a socially malleable “thing” that allows people to sleep at night in one way or another. It may also give one ideas what the “right thing to do” is either get more involved in helping people without judgment, or reserving themselves only for those who deserve it and only an amount that conserves their resources, beyond which, they feel no guilt. Both sides get into arguments, but I still don’t know what the right thing to do is at the right time – “helping people” is still what I value and I think most people value. There is a middle ground, but talking about it obviously complicates everything, but also illustrates that “helping people” could be a common value, i.e. the conscience, but guilt, judgment, reasonability, even social networking (anything from church to facebook), provides the cues people use to decide what to do and how to feel about it.

      • Jason

        I’m not sure why it should be confusing. I’m would think that many Atheists and other non-religious folks use terms like “soul” or “spirit” in an everyday way that is not meant to suggest that they actually believe in these things as real entities in their bodies worthy of serious philosophical exploration. I did appreciate your original post, but I wanted to point out that I think you gave into an underlying assumption of Kreeft–that is, that there is definitely something called a conscience that we all have. If Kreeft made an argument for God based on the existence of our soul, would you respond by matter of factly talking about your soul like it exists? My wife the psychologist tells me science has no way of talking about what people call a conscience other than pointing to areas in the brain that seem to be active when people think they are using their conscience. So maybe one day we can explain it better, but for now, it seems like a pretty tenuous basis for any argument. So yeah, I agree that there is something in my everyday experience that I can vaguely call my conscience, but if we are going to take a scientific approach, there’s not much to base that on.

  • machintelligence

    Of course I think I’m right — if I thought I was wrong I would change my mind.
    BUT
    What does it feel like to be wrong? — It feels just like being right, until you realize you are wrong.

    So we need to be asking ourselves: What if I am wrong? And we must be ready to deal with that contingency.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I see a middle ground where you realize that you’re not as right as you thought. You’re now actively evaluating the terrain on this issue but haven’t finished your evaluation. At its completion, you have once again committed to one or another position.

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    Hold on—scripture and church are “clear moral maps”?
    Nonsense. The Christian church is dividing faster than amoebas. There are now 42,000 denominations of Christianity and counting. Which one(s) are correct? Christians can’t even decide among themselves.

    Kreeft is Roman Catholic, so he has a ready made answer to this objection of yours.

    Even for a non-Roman Catholic, from the early creeds the church has been described as “catholic” referring to it encompassing all the diversity of Christian believers, with the implication that it is not limited to any particular denomination. That is why, although you can find 42,000 denominations, the vast majority of Christians would be happy to endorse people of a different denomination as being Christians who share a common faith with them.

    Kreeft defines conscience as “the knowledge of my absolute obligation to goodness.”

    In the sense that we sense an obligation to follow our conscience at all times, and in all situations (proved by the fact that our conscience is troubled regardless of when or under what circumstances we act in opposition to it) and also is experienced by all people in all cultures, seems to support Kreeft’s use of absolute.

    In fact, to counter this premise in Kreeft’s argument, you would need to provide a counter, where we are in fact justified in doing wrong. If there is any situation for any person, wehre they are justified in doing wrong, then Kreeft’s premise that we have “an absolute obligation to goodness” does not hold. If there is no counter, then the premise stands.

    He imagines that he’s firmly established that the conscience is an absolute moral authority and moves on to the second premise: “the only possible source of absolute authority is an absolutely perfect will, a divine being.” That sounds plausible, but since he’s given no reason to imagine that the absolute authority he refers to exists, he has no argument.

    Um … the conscience? Isn’t that why it is an argument for the existence of God?

    • Kodie

      We justify doing “wrong” all the time by calling it “right”.

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        Kodie,
        Yes, we do. But that is very different from “being justified in doing wrong”.

        • Kodie

          I’m not sure you know what I mean or just assume I mean something else which you thought was what I obviously meant, but that wasn’t it.

    • avalon

      Karl Udy says:
      “Um … the conscience? Isn’t that why it is an argument for the existence of God?”
      avalon:
      Why do you assume the conscience has a supernatural origin?

      avalon

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        Avalon,

        Why do you assume the conscience has a supernatural origin?

        I suggest you read the PDF that Bob linked to at the beginning of his post. The answer to your question is actually half of the argument.

        • avalon

          Karl Udy says:
          “I suggest you read the PDF that Bob linked to at the beginning of his post. The answer to your question is actually half of the argument.”
          avalon:
          Good suggestion. Here’s my critique of it:
          1) Like many other apologetic writers, Kreeft seems to address his arguments to those who already believe in the bible. For example, the phrases “alluded to in Scripture”, “what we know God to be by divine revelation”, “Divine revelation tells us”, and “this God has revealed to us clear moral maps (Scripture and Church)” have no traction with skeptics. They’re clearly addressed to believers.
          2) Kreeft backs up his claims with this statement: “Among all the ancient peoples, the Jews were the only ones who identified their God with the source of moral obligation.”
          He’s either uninformed or deceptive. Negative Confession of the Papyrus of Ani and the Papyrus of Nu predate the ten commandments. They contain the ten commandments with statements like, ” I have not stolen” “I have not uttered lies” ” “I have not committed adultery” and “I have not committed murder”. In addition, they present a more comprehensive moral obligation with statements like “I have not attacked any man” “I am not a man of deceit” ” I am not a man of violence” and “I have not inflicted pain”. From reading the Old Testament it would seem the Israelites didn’t always see those later proscriptions as immoral.

          My bottom line is this, “Do you actually think humans wouldn’t have a sense of morality without God telling us what to do?”.

          avalon

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          My bottom line is this, “Do you actually think humans wouldn’t have a sense of morality without God telling us what to do?”.

          The question is, where else could a sense of morality (ie a knowledge that there is right/wrong) come from?

          A large part of Kreeft’s article is arguing that apart from God there is no other option.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Kreeft backs up his claims with this statement: “Among all the ancient peoples, the Jews were the only ones who identified their God with the source of moral obligation.”
          He’s either uninformed or deceptive.

          By the way, I think you’re right on this point. And I think there are probably other examples of other cultures finding a source of morality in God. One interesting thing is that the Egyptian Maat who is referred to in the writings you mentioned is in many senses above all the other gods. And I suspect any other culture that sources morality in a God, will likewise source their morality in a God that is supreme, even above any other gods that may exist in their pantheon. Which would actually reinforce the point Kreeft is making.

          In any case, I don’t think this point is crucial to Kreeft’s argument.

          As to your objections to Kreeft’s use of language, I agree that the audience of this article seems to be believers. However, I don’t think Kreeft can be faulted for that, unless you can show that the intended audience was not believers. And honestly, are any of his points compromised by this language? I don’t think so.

        • Erik Petersen

          Karl,
          To address your question, “where else could a sense of morality (ie a knowledge that there is right/wrong) come from?” I give you the following:

          Humans are social creatures, no denying it. We have an inherent craving for affection, attention, companionship, etc. and we experience pleasure from giving these same “social goods” (my terminology, simply to be able to group these positive social interactions under one classification) to others. You imply in your question that without a god, there is no sense of morality. I disagree. Morality is a result of these social goods coming into play. Back at the very beginning of the human species, as our ability to survive the elements became easier via adaptation, family unit size increased. As it did, social status became more and more important, as a person’s family unit was, increasingly more and more often, not the majority of the clan (or tribe, family, whatever word you would prefer to use. I simply mean the group as a whole), thus that person was not guaranteed protection in case of a physical disagreement. Because of this, humans began to inter-rely on other family groups and individuals to increase their social status and thus their ability to survive. It’s also important to note, from an evolutionary and sustainability standpoint, that humans would (obviously) benefit from these interactions in ways other than pure social status. Gaining rudimentary trading abilities (say person X is excellent at scouring for berries, and has a general idea of which ones are okay to eat, while person Y has a much higher proficiency at hunting, but is clueless on which berries to eat, nor is he able to effectively scour for them on his own. Person X and person Y trade, whether it be for diversity, necessity (being that these tribes were nomadic, it would stand to reason that even with hunting/scavenging prowess, varying environments would not always provide the same food source(s)), or some other reason. Since this is a more sustainable lifestyle than everyone fending for themselves, these parties produce more offspring, who are taught the necessity of this relationship for their survival, and thus continue the tradition, live longer than their brethren, and thus, again, have more sustainable lifestyles that are more likely to produce offspring. Fast forward a few generations, maybe even several, and, through genetic mutation (the ability to trade is more fit than fending for one’s self) the concept of trading/building relationships is no longer taught, but is instinctual. Now, with this innate need for trade and social acceptance, if one party of an established trade relationship is threatened, it is in the best interest of that party’s trade partner to protect him, and vice versa, because their subconscious understands the implications of losing that trade ability. Again, this increases sustainability, and thus the parties who partake in this quid pro quo protection produce more offspring. Fast forward several more generations. Now, trade and social interaction have stemmed from a strictly A to B trade relationship to represent something more similar to free trade as we know it (people trade with people, who trade with other people, who trade with other people, no one is obligated to one single relationship) simply because those more willing to trade are more likely to survive, and thus trading is a more fit trait. Similarly, this would naturally increase the amount of quid pro quo protection, eventually reaching the point where all members of a tribe protect one another, not out of a sense of morality, but simply because by protecting one another, they protect their own interests. Over more time, tribes more willing to universally protect one another outlive those that won’t, and again, because of the fitness of that trait, it eventually, like trade itself, becomes instinctual. Here we see that, over time, we have gone from a tribe that was largely disassociated with one another to a tribe that now has the instinctual urge to protect one another. Here we can see that the “golden rule” (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) has not only manifested itself, but it is complete with a subconscious need to adhere to it. If a person in this tribe is in imminent danger, and is protected/rescued by another member, was it out of an obligation to an absolute moral truth that this person acted? No, it is simply an evolved form of a basic survival instinct. Yet, because it is an instinct, and is thus inherently present in almost every human (some would not have this instinct due to genetic mutation and the imperfection of DNA replication), some nowadays attribute that to a finite moral code bestowed upon us by a creator. I am not at all claiming this is how things actually happened, but it’s a much more plausible explanation than an absolute moral code that is held by a deity and thus imposed by him on his creation, not to mention it fits perfectly with the accepted biological explanations of our origins, and is purely naturalistic, adhering to all the physical and biological parameters without the necessity of a supernatural source outside the quantifiable natural world. In short, to directly answer your question, there is no knowledge of absolute right and wrong, because absolute right and wrong do not exist. What does exist is situational right and wrong as it pertains to the person perceiving a given situation, and what decision will result in the highest level of comfort and sustainability for that person. When we say “murder is wrong,” what we are saying is that 99% of the time, it isn’t a viable choice to end the life of another person because of the repercussions, and our subconscious knows that, and over time has developed a means to tell our conscious that information. That medium is what we refer to today as our “moral instinct.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          avalon: Thanks for the tips about those papyri. I’d never heard of them.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          And honestly, are any of his points compromised by this language? I don’t think so.

          If his goal is simply to pat Christians on the head and assure them that they’re right, then I agree with you. But if he’s trying to make a valid argument independent of an assumption that the Bible is correct then, as avalon noted, his references to the Bible undercut this.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Erik,
          A long explanation, but let me see if I have understood you…
          You are basically saying that our morality is an instinct that has developed by adaptation/ evolution, or something along those lines, right?

          Did you read Kreeft’s argument as to why instinct is not a good explanation?

          And in your explanation you seem to imply that you think that when I am talking about right/wrong, you think I am thinking of a list of things I think are right/wrong. I am actually more concerned with the concept of right/wrong. I agree that different people think different things are right/wrong, but everyone everywhere has an innate understanding that some things are right and some things are wrong, and moreover, our conscience will accuse us every time we do something we think is wrong. What explanation can you give for this understanding that right and wrong exist? I don’t think there are any good explanations apart form God.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Bob,

          But if he’s trying to make a valid argument independent of an assumption that the Bible is correct then, as avalon noted, his references to the Bible undercut this.

          Really?
          Let’s examine the examples avalon noted to see what impact they have on Kreeft’s arguments …

          The argument from conscience is one of the only two arguments for the existence of God alluded to in Scripture

          avalon only quoted the bold part, but when seen in full we can see that Kreeft is simply saying that this argument is one found in the Bible. If he had stopped there, and said, “There. That proves it’s correct.” then you might have a point. But this is not the end of his argument, it is actually the first sentence in the article. It is his jumping off point, not his conclusion.

          Like all arguments for the existence of God, this one proves only a small part of what we know God to be by divine revelation.

          This one perhaps betrays that this article was originally intended for a Christian audience. But what is he really saying? He is saying that this argument doesn’t prove everything Christians believe about God, but only a small part. In other words, the God that Christians believe in is not limited to what can be proven from this argument. Again, Kreeft is still framing the context for his argument at this point, so a reference to “divine revelation” at this stage can hardly be held to influence the validity, or truth of his argument.

          Divine revelation tells us that he is repressing the knowledge (Rom 1:18b; 2:15).

          Here Kreeft is telling us what the Bible says about the person who says that they do not have a conscience. Kreeft is saying that the Bible says a person who says they have no conscience is repressing the truth (and he agrees). If you are such a person who believes that you have no conscience (or if avalon is) then there may be a point here. However, Kreeft just two sentences earlier says:

          If anyone claims he simply does not have that knowledge, if anyone says he simply doesn’t see it, then the argument will not work for him.

          So, in summary he is saying that someone can claim they don’t have a conscience, and if so, then the argument is defeated. But that he thinks that such a person is in all likelihood being deceptive (or maybe self-deceived). Again, if you think you don’t have a conscience, then use that as a counter-argument. I will agree with Kreeft, that I believe you do have a conscience, and if you are honest with yourself, you know that you do, but I can’t prove it to you.

          That is why the first obligation we have, in conscience, is to form our conscience by seeking the truth, especially the truth about whether this God has revealed to us clear moral maps (Scripture and Church).

          Here, Kreeft is saying after his argument, that one of the implications of his argument, and knowing that our conscience is not always right (ie can sometimes consider things right that are in fact wrong, and vice versa) must be to find out the what God has revealed through other means regarding how we should live. This is an implication of the argument, and does not affect the truth or falsity of the argument itself.

          So we have only one of the four instances that avalon has raised having anything to do with the actual argument. And even that instance is merely commentary by Kreeft regarding an acknowledgement he makes of what he thinks is a dubious objection.

          So, I fail to see how any of these references to the Bible impact on the truth of any point in his argument.

        • Jason

          Avalon,
          As I have said in other posts, I am suspicious of the whole concept of a conscience. Here I want to build on what you said above to make a related point. You explain that Kreeft often uses arguments that either assume biblical authority or that the audience is already a believer. My take is that this is because the whole concept of conscience is closely related to theology from the very beginning of western thought. Believing that there must be a conscience that governs the individual is no different from believing that the universe must have a god to govern it. The earliest reference I can find to the concept of conscience is in Plato when Socrates refers to his daimon/spirit (i.e. guardian angel in modern parlance), which is his way of talking about a little voice that gives him divine guidance in decision making. This idea was taken over by Christians as a way of talking about God guiding us. My point is that the only reason we are talking about conscience in this forum is because ancient people interpreted a psychological phenomenon in terms of a theological perspective. If you can muster the strength to cast off all that cultural baggage, I think you will find that conscience is mostly a theological/supernatural concept.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Karl:

      In the sense that we sense an obligation to follow our conscience at all times, and in all situations (proved by the fact that our conscience is troubled regardless of when or under what circumstances we act in opposition to it) and also is experienced by all people in all cultures, seems to support Kreeft’s use of absolute.

      Or perhaps that evolution has given us a common sense of morality. I think that the natural explanation is sufficient here.

      Um … the conscience? Isn’t that why it is an argument for the existence of God?

      And just as well an argument for evolution. The natural explanation wins.

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        Bob,

        Or perhaps that evolution has given us a common sense of morality. I think that the natural explanation is sufficient here.

        How about interacting with what Kreeft says about this explanation of the conscience, then. It’s his second possibility.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Tell me more. Are you saying that Kreeft dismisses evolution as an explanation? Explain, if you please.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          He identifies the second possibility with the explanation that conscience is a biological instinct.

          He explains that we don’t treat conscience like an instinct in that we don’t think conscience should ever be disobeyed, but we do think instincts should be, and that the conflict between conscience and our instincts is very different to that between two conflicting instincts.

          But it would be much more worth your while for you to engage with what he says about this than my blunt summary.

        • avalon

          Hi Karl,
          You’ve got me completely confused about what you believe concerning conscience.

          You say:
          “He explains that we don’t treat conscience like an instinct in that we don’t think conscience should ever be disobeyed,…”
          but you also say:
          “and knowing that our conscience is not always right (ie can sometimes consider things right that are in fact wrong, and vice versa)… ”

          So, which is it? Do we think our conscience should always be obeyed or do we know our conscience can sometimes be wrong?

          avalon

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          avalon,
          If you re-read Kreeft’s article you will find he discusses this issue, and even references Aquinas’ opinion that if someone cannot with good conscience affirm the doctrines of the church, it is a lesser sin to leave the church than to remain in the church against their conscience. Now, of course Aquinas believes the church’s doctrines are correct, but he regards disobeying our conscience as causing us greater harm.

  • Greg G.

    “He puts us into two bins: (1) those who have no conscience or a defective conscience” seems to falsify his premise “everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good”. He can’t get to a true conclusion with a false premise.

    • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

      “He puts us into two bins: (1) those who have no conscience or a defective conscience” seems to falsify his premise “everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good”. He can’t get to a true conclusion with a false premise.

      Again, a reading of the PDF would help here. Where Kreeft mentions people having “no conscience or a defective conscience”, he is actually being skeptical of people who claim to be such. I think Bob misinterpreted this statement when he included it in his post.

      • avalon

        Karl Udy says:
        By the way, I think you’re right on this point. And I think there are probably other examples of other cultures finding a source of morality in God. One interesting thing is that the Egyptian Maat who is referred to in the writings you mentioned is in many senses above all the other gods. And I suspect any other culture that sources morality in a God, will likewise source their morality in a God that is supreme, even above any other gods that may exist in their pantheon. Which would actually reinforce the point Kreeft is making.
        avalon:
        What Kreeft (and I) did was reference an ancient people’s BELIEF. Just because they believed something doesn’t make it a fact. The Jews also believed you could change a lambs color by placing spackled sticks in the pregnant momma’s water trough. They believed in the power of blood oaths, where you make an oath while walking between the cut-up carcasses of dead animals; breaking the oath leads to your death. They believed God killed many people because they held a census. There’s lots of superstitious non-sense in the bible and I think Kreeft would agree it’s non-sense. So why say this belief about morals is fact rather than superstition or a lack of scientific knowledge?

        avalon

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          avalon,

          What Kreeft (and I) did was reference an ancient people’s BELIEF. Just because they believed something doesn’t make it a fact.

          I’m sorry. I don’t get your point here. I am also referring to their belief. And the fact that it seems that when ancient people give a supernatural source for morality, that supernatural source must have supreme authority; which is congruent with Kreeft’s argument, even if he is in error in saying that there are no examples outside of Israel.

        • avalon

          Karl Udy says:
          “I’m sorry. I don’t get your point here. I am also referring to their belief. ”
          avalon:
          My point is religious folks have believed all sorts of silly things (see Bob’s blog on lightning rods, for example).
          Can you (or Kreeft) provide reasons beyond mere faith that our conscience comes from a supernatural being? If not, then I’m correct to assume he’s ‘preaching to the choir’.

          Kreeft says we all have a conscience. Sociopaths don’t. And science explains why they don’t. You say we can’t always trust our conscience, so even if God gave us all one it’s not reliable. Kreefts whole point seems to be to ignore all the science we know about and believe our conscience is from god. Why? Because the bible says so. That’s not much of an argument for skeptics to consider.

          avalon

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com Kacy

    Peter Kreeft is Catholic, so when he says “Church and Scripture,” what he really means is the Catholic Church and the way the Catholic Church interprets Scripture. In this way Catholics can claim unity while ignoring all the other Christians who disagree with them. Kreeft would claim that the divine Being who give humans a conscience is the same divine Being who gives the Catholic Church its authority. This reasoning is also circular, of course.

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      So how is this circular?

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    Arguments from the nature of the human person are always going to require people have a certain amount of self-awareness. It is like the argument from beauty. Some things don’t seem explainable in a purely material way. But there is always the option to say, “So what?”

    Your Hitler quote is interesting. The fact that even he did not want to do evil. He wanted to do good. He just thought killing all the Jews was good. So he had a malformed conscience but he didn’t go against his conscience. It is interesting that even the most evil people think in terms of doing good.

  • TheresaL

    I think you might be defining “absolute” differently than Peter Kreeft in this document. When I read it, I didn’t get the impression he was referring to the “grounding” of moral obligation. When he uses the term, “absolutely obligated to be and do good” I think he means that regardless of any other factors or considerations, a person must strive for goodness, or in other words, always try to avoid evil.
    When he later refers to conscience as an “absolute moral authority” I think he means that when you’re choosing what to do, at the end of the day, no matter what other considerations you have, you need to follow your conscience, you should never go against it.
    I would summarize his argument: We believe we must always follow our consciences. Why do we give our consciences such authority over us? We don’t grant that authority to any vague concepts, instincts, material things or people. Therefore, our consciences must have another source, something so perfect that we agree we should never disobey it. Kreeft calls this source God.

    Or I might be misunderstanding you. Is it your view that there are some reasons that justify doing what you think is evil, or some considerations that justify acting against your conscience?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Theresa: I don’t get that sense myself. “Absolute” means absolute, I would’ve thought.

      As for what explains the conscience, I think evolution does a good job. I see no reason to bring in a supernatural explanation. The natural one does a sufficient job.

      Why do we grant our consciences authority over us sounds like why do we grant our hunger authority to tell us when to get food. Our moral instinct (“conscience”) is simply that part of our hard wiring that tells us right from wrong.

      • Jason

        Bob:

        As you know, I’m troubled by the use of this term “conscience.” I think “instinct” is a reasonable way to describe the experience of conscience. But when you refer to conscience, are you referring simply to emotional instincts and gut feelings that seem to push us in particular directions? Or, by conscience do you mean our gut instincts and irrational feelings of guilt, etc combined with our rational analysis of those experiences? People keep saying things like “we are unable to disobey our conscience,” and I just don’t know what that means. If you mean gut feelings, then yes, sometimes I disobey them. If you mean my rational analysis of myself, then yes I also sometimes disobey that. But if you mean the whole process of decision making, then it ceases to mean anything to say that we can’t disobey our conscience. It’s a tautology which just says “we can’t ever do what we don’t want to do.” Well, of course, right? This is why I am suspicious of referring to conscience as an independent agent that “tells us” anything. It really seems like a vague term people are using in different ways. Could I convince you and others who are engaging in discussion here to briefly post a specific definition of what everyone means by “conscience?” Anyone?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Good question. I’m probably inconsistent and use both definitions as needed.

          As for obeying your conscience, my way of looking at it is to imagine a moral black box. We give it questions, and it gives us answers. We have no separate, independent analysis tool. When our instinct says, “That’s disgusting!” it’s disgusting. Period.

          But that just applies to morality at the lowest level. We also have social morality, which we take from the society we’re in.

        • Jason

          Why create a concept like “moral black box” when it’s not needed? You might as well call it the holy spirit or a magic 8 ball. I often ponder decisions and then eventually take action, but I don’t have the experience of asking some part of me and then having an answer pop out. This is how Christians think of their inner personal dialogue. They ask questions and eventually God leads them to the answer. Often I make decisions and feel totally uncertain about my actions. If by conscience you simply mean feelings of disgust or pleasure, then we’re really having a discussion about emotional responses to sensation and perception. Where is the black box or little voice? I often find that neo-Atheists agree more often with Christians than I do about fundamental issues. This is why I mentioned before that I have a hard time identifying with the Atheist movement. It seems like they compromise their use of empirical observation and evidence just so they can combat the opposition more easily. In other words, it’s probably more fun to admit conscience and then debate Kreeft on those terms. After all, you just admitted that you don’t mind changing your definitions to suit your point at a given time.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          I don’t have the experience of asking some part of me and then having an answer pop out.

          Probably because I haven’t described what I’m talking about clearly enough. Imagine seeing a chained-up dog being beaten mercilessly by its owner. Do you stop to mull over the moral value of this action? Or does the sense “That’s wrong!!” pop to mind immediately?

        • Jason

          I don’t need to posit a decision making faculty to describe my instinct to defend a dog. Neither does science. Some of my feelings about animals seems like irrational emotions. Others are the product of rational reflection. An atheist talking about a conscience is kind of like a non-religious person talking about some scientific form of creationism. It’s a supernatural/religious concept wrapped in secular clothing.

      • TheresaL

        You’re defining absolute in the sense of The Absolute, transcending humanity, whereas I assumed he meant absolute the way my Webster’s dictionary defines it: unconditional, not depending on comparison with other things. I suppose only Kreeft knows what he actually meant, but if you define it your way his argument boils down to “God gives us a conscience. Therefore God exists.” Absolutely lame.

        Hunger is a pretty strong motivator. Since food is necessary for survival, you would expect natural selection to lead to an extremely strong response to hunger, which seems to be the case for most humans. But you probably give your conscience greater authority. For instance, would you murder a man to eat him if you were starving?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          if you define it your way his argument boils down to “God gives us a conscience. Therefore God exists.” Absolutely lame.

          Agreed. But you think that’s not what he meant?

          would you murder a man to eat him if you were starving?

          Of course not. But I’d likely steal from him if I were starving.

  • Kodie

    I don’t know why this is so complicated. Our “conscience” reframes situations so that you always make the right choice or feel guilty when the framing suggests it is the wrong choice. Guilt is a tool that’s supposed to help us choose how to get rid of it, but when we can’t or don’t choose to do the right thing, it can be removed by calling the wrong thing right. This also appeals to an objective “right” or “wrong” thing, but it is really motivated by society’s customs and consulting your immediate circle of friends.

    If you ask a Nazi what was he thinking, he says he was just following orders, right? Or that these people did something to deserve being gassed, or the ends justify the means. They are a “good” person in their framework using their conscience just like everybody does, in an extreme example.

    I would love to help poor people, there’s another example. I would love to help them but money’s tight for me, so I hope someone else helps them. I support the idea that they receive help so I can live with the reality that they are getting no help. When I say “money is tight” for me, I mean I spent it on something I want and deserve. I can’t part with a dollar as easily as someone else, and they aren’t doing it, so why should I? I’m a self-made entrepreneur, so if I can do it, so can they. Nobody is helping me out, and they should. I think rich people are lazy whiners who don’t help the poor and leave it up to me. I think poor people are lazy and that’s why they’re poor. I’m a hard worker and to imagine the prospect that I could be both a hard worker and someday poor frightens me, so they must be different/lazier/not willing to do for themselves. I gave once and it didn’t seem to help poor people so it has no effect whether I do or not. My church is involved in charity so they could get what they need if they came to church; if they are not willing to come to church to get what they need then they are too proud/unworthy/need to learn about Jesus!

    If you actually get out of guilt by doing the right thing, it’s sort of amazing. I do try to see the good in people, and individuals left to their own devices will perhaps choose where they choose to help – like:

    My sister died of breast cancer so I care more about breast cancer that I appeal to people who did not lose someone close to donate to this cause. It’s my mission in life to raise money for one charity that I am especially close to. I also feel really bad about heart disease but I care about breast cancer more. I also feel really bad about hungry children; I also feel really bad about birth defects; I also feel really bad about veterans; I also feel really bad about elder abuse; domestic abuse; child abuse; animal abuse; diabetes; childhood obesity; the war; Occupy Wall Street; homeless people; displaced by hurricane people; ETC. but I don’t have time for that because I also have a job; a family; bills to pay; soccer practice; making lunch; trying to get the hang of knitting; the Kardashians are up to this week; what my ass looks like in jeans; wine; what other moms advise I do about bedtime; whether some other mom stays home with her kids and criticizes me; the latest technology; bake sale to raise money for the theater club; getting the roof fixed; getting the oil changed; whether my kids are being preyed online; trying to start my own business; whether I find a condom in my child’s bedroom; chasing my roots; and in-laws popping in unannounced; ETC.

    Some people feel really guilty when there are so many problems they can’t fix by themselves, when so many other mundane things are urgent to them as well and they would probably be burnt out or resentful and martyr-like if they tried. The only way to solve the things you can do is to feel good about yourself, your conscience alleviates the guilt of not doing everything for everyone by assuming that someone else is handling it, even when you use guilt as a tool to get money for your charity. Do you grade their excuses? I volunteer at a domestic shelter or I donated to the art museum instead or I can come up with a chintzy $10 for everyone who asks instead of a robust but fair $200 each to only a few. Do we need arts as much as diseases need cures? When they come for a donation to their Hunger Walk, do you give if they gave and withhold if they withheld on your Breast Cancer donation drive? Do you try to match your co-workers or allot a set percentage based on your own income? Do you try to match your co-workers but you wish you didn’t have to because it’s a cause you really don’t deem to be worth your donation, or do you decide where your money goes?

    Are any of those valid reasons to feel guilty or not guilty?

    • Jason

      Kodie,

      You use many words but I think you have one main point: whatever we call this experience of inner dialogue and decision making, it is arbitrary and more than anything a coping mechanism for how we relate to the world. The human brain tries to make sense of its emotional affiliations and hangups, and thus finds ways to promote feelings of satisfaction or frustration about our own actions or decisions. Is that right? I agree completely. But I would also add that this coping mechanism is not some independent agent inside our mind or our body that makes decisions the way our heart beats. Its a psychological activity that is the product of our brains, our emotions, our bloodpressure, etc, and the decisions we make are the product of experiencing that psychological activity and combining it with logical reasoning and other beliefs (religious or otherwise). This is why Christians want to use it as evidence for God. They interpret this experience of inner dialogue in terms of their supernatural beliefs about the world and thus it is impossible for them to imagine this inner dialogue without the supernatural framework.

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