10 Tough Questions for the Atheist to Answer (3 of 3)

BeachChristian apologist J. Warner Wallace has created a list of ten questions so tough that atheists are unable to respond. So far, the ferocious problems haven’t materialized. Perhaps the final questions will be more challenging.

8. Why Do Transcendent Moral Truths Exist?

“We have an intuitive sense of moral ‘oughtness’; we recognize that some things are right and some things are wrong, regardless of culture, time or location. We understand that it’s never morally ‘right’ to torture people for the mere ‘fun’ of it. . . . These moral vices and virtues are objective in the sense that they stand above (and apart from) all of us as humans; they are not simply creations of our liking. Instead, they are independent and transcendent.” Transcendent law requires a transcendent Law Giver.

I’ll use William Lane Craig’s definition of objective morality: “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.” I doubt Wallace would object.

Now, back to the question: Wallace asks why objective moral truths exist.

They don’t.

Take, for example, our response to an adult abusing a child. What could explain that moral revulsion? Wallace says that we tap into objective moral truths, but he doesn’t explain where they’re stored, how they got there, how we access them, or if we access them reliably. He confuses a universal response or a deeply held response (which it is in the case of child abuse) with an objective response (which it isn’t). A far more plausible explanation is the natural one: we humans are the same species, so we share the same moral programming.

Wallace also raises the is/ought problem: how do you get an ought (a moral prescription) from an is (a fact of nature)? You can say, “When someone is injured, you ought to help them,” but what grounds this demand?

His error is in imagining an objectively grounded ought. I’ve seen no evidence that such things exist, and Wallace provides none. An ordinary ought works just fine here. Our moral programming gives us this ought, and most other people will share the opinion.

Another way of seeing the problem: if morals don’t come from what is—that is, reality—then where do they come from? Where could they come from? Don’t point to the supernatural before showing compelling evidence that it exists.

Finally, note how morals change with time. We are horrified at the slavery and genocide in the Old Testament, for example, and congratulate ourselves to the extent that we’ve erased them from Western culture. Objective morals that change over time aren’t objective.

(I’ve responded more thoroughly to another of Wallace’s arguments for objective morality here.)

9. Why Do We Believe Human Life to be Precious?

We kill weeds and pests, and we eat livestock, but we’d never consider this for a fellow human. How do we justify this if we’re all just the results of evolution?

Are “it’s wrong to kill a human” or “it’s okay to kill a rat” objective moral statements? Nope. There is no difficulty if there is no objective moral truth to align with. We value our own species more than others because of our biological programming.

Wallace characterizes the naturalist position: “In the true scheme of things, we are no more important (nor any more precious) than the thousands of species that have come and gone before us. Biological life has no intrinsic value and the universe has no purpose.” I agree—life has no absolute value and the universe no absolute purpose. You think it’s otherwise? Show me some evidence.

Wallace also characterizes the naturalist position as saying that only the strong survive.

And here he’s wrong. This is the “nature, red in tooth and claw” caricature. It’s not the strongest that survive, as any high school student who’s studied evolution knows, but the fittest. The fittest for any particular evolutionary niche might be the best camouflaged or the best armored or the fastest. In the case of humans, cooperation and trust can make a stronger society which, in turn, helps protect the people in it. And we don’t see cooperation just in humans—think of any social animal such as wolves, monkeys, or bees.

10. Why Does Pain, Evil, and Injustice Exist in Our World?

“People are capable of inflicting great evil on one another and natural disasters occur across the globe all the time. More importantly, no matter what we do as humans, we seem to be unable to stop evil from occurring.”

Correct. That’s not strong evidence for an omniscient, loving god.

“Atheists often point to the presence of evil as an evidence against the existence of an all-loving and all-powerful God, but all of us have to account for evil in the context of our worldview. Both sides of the argument have to explain the existence and injustice of evil, consider what role it plays in the history of the universe, and come to grips with why justice is often elusive.”

Wrong. The atheist has no Problem of Evil to resolve. That’s your problem.

The Problem of Evil asks: how can a good god allow all the suffering that we see in the world? Wouldn’t he stop more of it—at least the gratuitous suffering? When you drop the god presupposition, this problem vanishes.

“Whatever worldview we adopt, it had better offer a cogent response to the young child who is dying of an incurable disease. Which worldview offers the most satisfying and reasonable explanation for the evil and injustice we see in our world?”

“Satisfying”?! Is that our goal? I thought we were trying to figure out which worldview is accurate! If Wallace wants to rank worldviews based on how happy a story they have to tell rather than how accurate they are, he can do that on his own. I have no interest in participating, but I doubt that Christianity is at the top of the list.

“Christian Theism offers an explanation that naturalism simply cannot offer.”

As does Scientology or Shinto or Pastafarianism. Do I care? I’ll focus on reality.

Summary

For each of his questions, Wallace has explained nothing. He has given us his theology, not evidence. His answers often distill down to nothing more than, “Science doesn’t have all the answers, therefore God.” To this gunfight he has brought a squirt gun.

Sure, science has unanswered questions. It always has. But it has a startling ability to find the answers. If we can look back and see how poorly “God did it” answered the question, “What causes drought and earthquakes?” centuries ago, why continue to apply this discredited answer to the latest series of questions? (More here.)

By being unfalsifiable, “God did it” could explain anything. In so doing, it explains nothing. (More here.)

I’d love to see an apologist show some courage in their claims. Is the riddle of abiogenesis or human consciousness or the origin of the universe so intractable that God is the only possible answer? Will you rest your faith on that claim? Will you say that God must be the answer and, if science does eventually resolve it naturally, you’ll abandon your faith?

Of course they won’t. Science’s unanswered questions aren’t the reason for their faith. But then if these unanswered questions aren’t supporting Christianity for them, why should they for the rest of us? When one of these questions is answered (and, given science’s track record, that’s a safe bet), Christian apologists will abandon it and retreat to whatever new question catches their fancy.

Science boldly pushes into new territory and gives us new insights. Religion follows and says, “Oh yeah, I knew that.” Religion is the dog that walks under the ox and thinks that he is pulling the wagon.

The fact that a believer
is happier than a skeptic
is no more to the point
than the fact than a drunken man
is happier than a sober one.
George Bernard Shaw

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/22/13.)

Image credit: bluesbby, flickr, CC

 

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  • Michael Neville

    We kill weeds and pests, and we eat livestock, but we’d never consider this for a fellow human.

    Speaking as a combat veteran, I’ve killed fellow humans and slept soundly that night. I’m not a stone-cold killer and I haven’t killed anyone in almost 50 years but I can assure Wallace that people killing people has been happening for millennia and doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.

    • Jim Christensen

      You sound like a nut.

      My grandfather was a World War Two highly decorated veteran, and he had to kill people to save others…but he still had nightmares for years.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        If he doesn’t wake up screaming and shoot up a crowd at the mall, I’m inclined to believe that he’s OK.

        • Jim Christensen

          Nah, if he sleeps that soundly he’s a nut.

          Sounds like you are too. A normal human being would be affected by the killing.

        • Otto

          You sound like a freak…

        • Michael Neville

          Your conclusions about me are based solely on another person’s reactions to different, albeit similar, experiences to mine. I have no idea under what circumstances your grandfather killed people nor do you have any idea about the circumstances under which I killed people. Nor, except for my comment that I sleep soundly at night, do you know what my long-term reaction to killing people is. Your armchair psychoanalysis of me comes straight out of your ass.

          If you’d like to know more about how I killed people, under what circumstances it happened, the frequency with which it happened, and my reaction to the killings then you can fuck yourself because you haven’t earned the right to ask me those questions. Your grandfather had earned that right but he wouldn’t ask because that’s not the sort of questions one combat veteran asks another.

        • al kimeea

          My father, D-Day+6, had nightmares and drank heavily to assuage his pain, as did all his friends, one of whom went slowly insane. OK my ass.

        • Satanic_Panic

          Another person’s experience doesn’t line up with my own. They must be CRAZEE!!!

        • al kimeea

          I was responding to the idea that as long as the veteran doesn’t go postal, they’re OK. Sure thing.

        • al kimeea

          Nice strawman

        • Michael Neville

          Sorry to hear about your father and his friends. However just because some people had one reaction to combat doesn’t mean that other people had the same reaction. Most combat veterans go on to live normal, productive lives after they return to “the world”. I’m one example. I don’t drink or do drugs, I don’t have nightmares (well, not too often), and I’m considered by my family, friends and co-workers to be a reasonably normal kind of guy.

          My favorite song about Vietnam (my war):

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Urtiyp-G6jY

      • Satanic_Panic

        You sound like an asshole; making unwarranted assumptions about people based on your own anecdotal experience.

      • Michael Neville

        I’m not your grandfather and didn’t have his experiences nor did he have mine. I make the suggestion that you don’t extrapolate one person’s personal reactions to another’s. I make the further suggestion that you fuck yourself.

    • epicurus

      Sorry to go way off topic here but you are my submarine resource person and I haven’t been able to find the answer on the internet. When modern subs are submerged at very deep depths, can they still receive radio signals? If WW3 broke out would they get the signal to launch if they were a hundred meters deep (or more)? And could they then launch from that depth or do they have to come up to near the surface to launch missles? Or a Hunter Killer sub tracking an enemy sub at deep depth would need some way to receive a message to sink the enemy sub with torpedoes before the enemy sub could launch its missiles at a city. I know, or think I know, that WW2 subs had to be on or just under the surface to send and receive radio signals.

      • Greg G.

        I watched The Fate of the Furious yesterday.

        Spoiler alert!: Mouse over to read text with a reveal of an important plot point.

        The evil genius (Charlize Theron) hijacked a Russian sub with nuclear weapons after stealing the launch codes. She controlled it remotely from a plane. The gang was trying to stop the sub before it could escape the harbor. She wanted to get it to deep water where it could not be found. I thought she would lose control if it went under too deep. I thought the conning tower would have to be out of the water.

        But it seems that other movies I have seen had the subs receiving instructions while submerged.

        • Zeropoint

          Very Low Frequency radio waves can penetrate to a depth of about 20 meters, and Extremely Low Frequency radio can penetrate to hundreds of meters. However, 1) the bandwidth of ELF signals is probably not sufficient for real-time remote control, and 2) transmitting on either frequency would require an antenna far larger than what could be carried on an airplane (although character who is a genius could certainly establish a link from the plane to a ground station) and also 3) the submarine can’t carry a transmitting antenna either, so you have no way to get feedback from the sub.

          Sources:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extremely_low_frequency
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communication_with_submarines

        • epicurus

          I read those articles as well when I first started wondering about this, but didn’t find them definitive enough, so thought Michael would know since he is an ex cold war submariner

        • epicurus

          Wow, haven’t seen that one, I’ll have to check it out. Sounds like it’s probably inaccurate, kind of like that U-571 movie where WW2 subs are shooting torpedoes at each other while submerged below periscope depth- they were blind, almost impossible to hit anything, especially if you dont even know how deep they have submerged, amoung the gazillion other variables.

        • Greg G.

          It’s been the Number 1 movie the past two weeks. Lots of fights, fast cars, and explosions.

        • epicurus

          Oh, ok. I’m not normally into those kind of movies (getting too old), maybe I’ll wait until it’s on dvd, then I can just fast forward to the sub parts (and get it from the public library so it’s free :-)

        • Michael Neville

          Any nudity, slap-stick comedy or zombies in the movie? If not then I won’t bother watching it. I love seeing nude zombies doing slap-stick.

        • Greg G.

          Well, the opening scene had young women barely dressed, one character had a faked death scene and came back so that was like a zombie but he kept his clothes on, and some of the fight scenes looked like slapstick.

        • Michael Neville

          U-571 is highly inaccurate. WW2 torpedoes were not launched below periscope depth and were never launched at another submerged target. The WW2 US Mk 14 and its equivalent torpedoes in other navies didn’t have the accuracy plus were “fire and forget” weapons. Modern wire-guided, self-directing torpedoes (US Mk 48 ADCAP, German DM2A4, British Spearfish, Chinese Yu-6, etc.) can be launched submerged at submerged targets. It’s generally considered that nowadays the best ASW (anti-submarine warfare) platform is another submarine.

          Incidentally the Royal Navy is very annoyed about U-571 because they did capture a German submarine, U-570 and its Enigma cipher machine in 1941, no American sailors were involved.

        • epicurus

          Thanks, yes, I remember when the movie came out I listened to a British radio talk show (rebroadcast on my local Canadian station) where they talked about their concern that many Americans get their history from movies rather than books, and may come to believe the movie’s portrayal of the Americans rather than the British actually capturing the Enigma.

        • Eric Sotnak

          “many Americans get their history from movies rather than books”

          I fear this is likely the case with the current US President.

        • epicurus

          Yes, apparently he doesn’t like to read. Sad. Very sad. Very very sad.

        • Greg G.

          Bigly sad. He doesn’t even read the executive orders before he signs them. Sometimes he forgets to sign them.

        • Michael Neville

          I had a high school history teacher who used to say “Hollywood is not historical, it’s hysterical”. Do not accept what you see in movies to have any relationship with reality. Despite what World War Z might tell you, there was not a zombie apocalypse ten years ago.

      • Michael Neville

        Extremely Low Frequency (ELF, 3 to 30 Hz, wavelengths of 100,000 to 10,000 km) radio waves will penetrate several hundred meters of water but, because of the massive wavelength, the transmission speed is very slow. ELF signals (code name Alert One) would be sent to submarines with a two or three letter signal basically telling the subs to come to periscope depth (typically 20 meters/65 feet) to receive normal radio communications via an antenna raised above the surface.

        Launch depth for submarine ballistic or cruise missiles is periscope depth. I was in the James K. Polk (SSBN 645) when we launched four Poseidon (C3/UGM-73) missiles as a test. We went to periscope depth after we got the Alert One message and stayed there until the last missile was away. Incidentally the life expectancy for an SSBN after missile launch in wartime is less than 20 minutes.

        • epicurus

          Wow, thanks very much for the great info. YOU’RE THE MAN!!

        • Michael Neville

          You’re welcome.

        • Otto

          So the depiction in Crimson Tide that they got more intricate ELF messages was inaccurate?

        • Michael Neville

          I never saw Crimson Tide so I can’t speak about it. The only submarine movie I’ve seen in the past forty years was The Boat (Das Boot). That’s a movie about a WW2 U-boat written by a German submarine veteran. My father who was in submarines in World War II said that it was about a different navy operating in a different ocean but he recognized the situations and the people. Both he and I think it’s as close to reality as movies ever get.

        • Otto

          Well I would recommend Crimson Tide, regardless of the accuracy, the story is interesting and well acted. Stars Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington.

          I have seen Das Boot, very good movie.

  • Mr. A

    Well these were… questions I suppose. To be honest I’ve heard all of these before posed by other Christains and answered in turn by other atheists. What this tells me is that nothing has really changed for them since then, that they have to rehash old questions with new wording to convince people they’re still relevant.

    • TheNuszAbides

      it’s a refrain around these parts … we’re still waiting for the True Heavy Hitters of apologetics to either dust off the knock-down ancient wisdom (if they can swing the Vatican security clearance) or finally come up with something fully clever enough to persuade a nonbeliever without aesthetic/emotional misdirection. still waiting … not really anybody holding their breath, though.

      • Michael Neville

        Greta Christina once wrote a blog post about how the True Heavy Hitters (thanks for that neologism, TheNuszAbides) use exactly the same arguments as the other apologists. She quoted William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel and several of the other “usual suspects”. She noted the same arguments: morality, fine tuning, transcendentalism, epistemology, etc., etc., et everloving c. Most of us can refute these arguments in our sleep.

        What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

  • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

    Another way of seeing the problem: if morals don’t come from what is—that is, reality—then where do they come from? Where could they come from?

    Suppose I create a digital universe with sentient, sapient beings within it. When they say “reality”, they can mistakenly think they are talking about “all that is”. What they consider right vs. wrong could easily come from outside what they mean by “reality”.

    • Dys

      Which just pushes the problem back a level without resolving it.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        It does not resolve the problem, but it makes clear that the matter is sensible. We must be very careful with that ostensibly all-encompassing term ‘reality’.

        • Dys

          Likewise we also should be very careful to not jump to attribute things to outside sources just because it matches the religious views one has.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Agreed.

        • ORigel

          So you believe that the universe is a computer simulation? Strange, I thought you believed that God created the world.

          Unless you believe that God is a computer programmer. A deeply abibical notion.

          Edited.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Morals come from evolutionary survival. If the behavior didn’t serve keeping humanity as a species alive, it’d die out.

      • Anat

        Sort of. Our behaviors aren’t that hard-coded. But some of our evolutionary history influences our emotional response to our own actions and those of others.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Of course. And one of the truths that people like to suppress is that the most violent competition is between those who are very similar to each other. Radically different species occupy radically different niches. So what dominates? Tribalism. Which somehow is the building block for egalitarianism. How? God Altruism/​emergence/​evolution operates in mysterious ways!

        • Anat

          Hunter gatherers are rather egalitarian *within* their tribe. They need to cooperate to survive, there aren’t that many stored goods that would create wealth to fight over. Agriculture created larger social groups and economic and political stratification. The hard part is to learn to treat people outside one’s group as equally human. Still a work in progress, but I think we realize it can be beneficial for us in the very long run.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          The idea that we should treat all members of our species in an egalitarian fashion does not clearly come from evolution. Indeed, it seems rather antithetical to evolution. After all, it appears to prevent fitness advantage from translating into reproductive advantage. This suggests that a force other than natural selection may be at play.

        • Only Some Stardust

          It’s called artificial selection. Humans do it to dogs and cats all the time, and they also do it to other humans when they lock them in prison for trying murder people outside their kin group. 😛

          edit: After a bit of thought, I think the thing you may be looking for is game theory. It actually is evolution favored, and humans are bright enough to come up with it and use it themselves even when they have an evolutionary hiccup and don’t have the urges to perfectly obey it without some kind of cultural impetus.

          You are also using the term ‘fitness advantage’ wrong – if it isn’t a reproductive advantage, it isn’t Darwinian fitness, period. You could be a fat, weak slug and have Darwinian fitness.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          LB: The idea that we should treat all members of our species in an egalitarian fashion does not clearly come from evolution.

          OSS: It’s called artificial selection.

          Your point?

          After a bit of thought, I think the thing you may be looking for is game theory.

          Maybe, maybe not. From William Press and Freeman Dyson:

          The two-player Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma game is a model for both sentient and evolutionary behaviors, especially including the emergence of cooperation. It is generally assumed that there exists no simple ultimatum strategy whereby one player can enforce a unilateral claim to an unfair share of rewards. Here, we show that such strategies unexpectedly do exist. In particular, a player X who is witting of these strategies can (i) deterministically set her opponent Y’s score, independently of his strategy or response, or (ii) enforce an extortionate linear relation between her and his scores. Against such a player, an evolutionary player’s best response is to accede to the extortion. Only a player with a theory of mind about his opponent can do better, in which case Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma is an Ultimatum Game. (Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma contains strategies that dominate any evolutionary opponent)

          See also Evolutionary instability of Zero Determinant strategies demonstrates that winning isn’t everything.

          You are also using the term ‘fitness advantage’ wrong – if it isn’t a reproductive advantage, it isn’t Darwinian fitness, period.

          Yes, I recognized that; I am aware of the tautologous nature of ‘fitness’ when considered in an evolutionary context. The point is that what is considered ‘fit’ is no longer really determined by natural selection. The idea that natural selection is dominant right now in human change over time is not necessarily true. To put it another way, if natural selection can explain everything, it explains nothing.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          “To put it another way, if natural selection can explain everything, it explains nothing.”

          Except, natural selection isn’t “a wizard Jesus did it”. It only explains very specific things.

        • Anat

          The idea that we should treat all people equally is a very recent idea. It is counter-intuitive to most people (well, almost all people). Even when we agree to it in abstract few of us actually want to implement it at all times for all situations. No, it is not an idea that evolved in our minds on its own, it is an idea that people who studied the effects of human behavior, the powers acting in society and so forth came up with.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          The idea that we should treat all people equally is a very recent idea.

          Yep, and it’s more an ideal than a reality we fight for, making it a new opium of the masses elite.

          No, it is not an idea that evolved in our minds on its own, it is an idea that people who studied the effects of human behavior, the powers acting in society and so forth came up with.

          Exactly who do you believe really came up with the idea? For example, a lot of Enlightenment folks wanted their women to stay in their place. Indeed, egalitarianism seemed more for the elite than the masses. You can see this in attitudes about religion: members of the Republic of Letters might not need it, but perhaps it is good for the rabble to have it.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Yes, but feminism still grew out of the Enlightenment period. Mary Wollstonecraft, for instance, and Olympe de Gouges.

        • Eric Sotnak

          I’ve just been teaching the contrasting positions of Mozi and Mencius on this very issue. Mencius criticizes Mozi on the grounds that the latter wants to impose an unnatural thoroughgoing impartiality on humanity, whereas he, Mencius, believes partiality, especially familial partiality, is normatively natural. In practice, most people agree with Mencius, at least within limits: It is both perfectly natural and morally appropriate for parents to treat their own children preferentially over strangers.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Sure, but the question is zoomed in too far. What if my particular way of attending preferentially to my children makes it harder for some subset of parents to provide the same care for their children? The attainment of egalitarianism does not require children to be separated at birth from their parents after the pattern in Plato’s Republic.

        • Eric Sotnak

          “What if my particular way of attending preferentially to my children makes it harder for some subset of parents to provide the same care for their children?”

          In societies with a lot of scarcity this may be the norm. Although things are more complicated than a simple zero-sum game.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Oh, the West has plenty of ways to induce artificial scarcity. For example, note how many Ivy League colleges and universities are valuable not for the instruction so much as the networking. The result is that a few parents are able to provide a [statistically] much better life for their children than most parents.

          There is also no need to restrict things to a zero-sum game. All that is required to thwart egalitarianism is to ensure that no matter how much things improve for those below the top, things improve as much or more for those at the top. As an example, consider what consequences life extension technology will have, especially given the current population of the world.

        • Greg G.

          A sense of fairness has been observed in monkeys and dogs. Caring for young has an evolutionary advantage. There are advantages to expanding that instinct to others in a social species. Allowing it to be expanded to large numbers would allow larger groups and tribes. It would be difficult for evolution to come up with an optimal number limit. If cities and nations can grow from it, why not planet-wide expansion?

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Evolution is a descriptive theory about a large body of data. It doesn’t prescribe anything to be antithetical about.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          What do you mean “mysterious ways”? We see evidence in how people and other animals react to interactions among themselves and develop hypotheses from that- the primary sources.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        From Richard Dawkins:

        One of the dominant messages of The Selfish Gene (reinforced by the title essay of A Devil’s Chaplin) is that we should not derive our values from Darwinism, unless it is with a negative sign. Our brains have evolved to the point where we are capable of rebelling against our selfish genes. (The Selfish Gene, xiv)

    • Tommy

      Suppose you yourself are a creation within a digital universe, and you were designed to not believe you were within it?

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        That would be terrible design. Divorcing word from reality is heinous.

        • Tommy

          Is English your native language?

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Yes. People here bitch and moan when I use very many words. And yet, as you yourself have demonstrated, they don’t really deliver all that much better when I work hard to write extremely well and extremely succinctly. So with people like you, I dial back the effort.

        • Tommy

          No, the problem is not you using “very many words”.

          when I work hard to write extremely well and extremely succinctly.

          Stop trying. It’s not working.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          I do like how you pretend that you can speak for some interesting subset of humanity.

        • Tommy

          I do like how you pretend that you are ‘interesting’.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Upgrade to Troll v2, please.

        • Tommy

          Why do I want to be at your level?

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          I never asked you to be like me.

        • Tommy

          Yes you did. You’ve asked me to upgrade to Troll v2.

      • Only Some Stardust

        That would be a great design to prevent potentially harmful AI from escaping! Then you could study it or play with it to your heart’s content, knowing it can’t possibly escape into the real world to evolve or change in an unpredictable way, or to grab any goodies you had for it outside of that reality but only wanted to give after it accomplishes some task for you, like maybe accomplishing world peace and proving it’s safe to let out.

    • al kimeea

      OK, now show that this is the case for all us pixel pushers.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        First we have to talk about how pixel pushers would know that their notion of ‘reality’ is more restricted than true reality. My experience is that you are not up for such explorations.

        • al kimeea

          And everyone else’s experience is that you’re just telling stories.

    • Rudy R

      Morals would only come from outside if they were placed into the sentient, sapient beings reality. There in lies the problem with theists believing morals are god given. There is no evidence that morals came from “outside” reality. There is; however, copious evidence that morals were created in the reality.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        Morals would only come from outside if they were placed into the sentient, sapient beings reality.

        Deism or bust?

        • Rudy R

          Deism, along with Theism, is a bust as a world view that includes a belief in morals coming from “outside” reality.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          I doubt you have any idea what evidence could plausibly demonstrate that any aspect of morality comes from outside what we finite beings call ‘reality’.

        • Rudy R

          And neither do you.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          I’m not so sure I have zero idea. For example, it used to be thought that we knew what the scientific method was with algorithmic precision. Now we know that this is incorrect, that we have some idea, but that there is much left to be discovered, where the discoveries will come from outside of what we can rigorously describe as ‘reality’. In case you don’t believe me, here is naturalist Penelope Maddy:

              A deeper difficulty springs from the lesson won through decades of study in the philosophy of science: there is no hard and fast specification of what ‘science’ must be, no determinate criterion of the form ‘x is science iff …’. It follows that there can be no straightforward definition of Second Philosophy along the lines ‘trust only the methods of science’. Thus Second Philosophy, as I understand it, isn’t a set of beliefs, a set of propositions to be affirmed; it has no theory. Since its contours can’t be drawn by outright definition, I resort to the device of introducing a character, a particular sort of idealized inquirer called the Second Philosopher, and proceed by describing her thoughts and practices in a range of contexts; Second Philosophy is then to be understood as the product of her inquiries. (Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method, 1)

          We do not contain the final definition of what science is within us, nor within our current conceptual framework. Why can the same not be true of morality?

        • Rudy R

          To know the source of morality would require an epistemological method. You choose pure reasoning over the scientific method in the realm of morality, because it purports to prove your a priori ideas. Thing is, you and your ilk (Christian apologists) would use the scientific method over pure reasoning if it supported your position.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Science can tell us what some people believe is good and evil and it can tell us how to actualize various understandings of good and evil, but it cannot tell us what is good and evil. This limitation is built into the very essence of science. Why is the theist telling the atheist this?

        • Rudy R

          Why is the theist telling the atheist this?

          The theist’s cognitive dissonance?

          Again, where is your evidence that morals come from “outside” reality? Don’t bother telling me what science can’t do, you’ve covered that topic ad nauseam.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Again, where is your evidence that morals come from “outside” reality?

          I’m not even going to attempt that without establishing what would possibly constitute evidence. Why? Because I suspect that on your epistemology, there is no such possibility.

        • Rudy R

          what would possibly constitute evidence

          Possibly? Not certain? I suspect you don’t want to make an attempt, because you can’t.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          RR: Again, where is your evidence that morals come from “outside” reality?

          LB: I’m not even going to attempt that without establishing what would possibly constitute evidence. Why? Because I suspect that on your epistemology, there is no such possibility.

          RR: I suspect you don’t want to make an attempt, because you can’t.

          You are welcome to suspect whatever you wish. My own position has been bolstered by your kind:

          LB: I’m not even going to attempt that without establishing what would possibly constitute evidence. Why? Because I suspect that on your epistemology, there is no such possibility.

          J: On any known epistemology.

        • Rudy R

          My suspicions are proven…you can’t.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Do you often set people up to fail?

        • Joe

          On any known epistemology.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          The same applies to precisely what ‘science’ is.

        • Pofarmer

          I wonder if you’ve actually read this book.

          Penelope
          Maddy’s *Second Philosophy* is a very interesting essay in “natural-born
          naturalism”, or what was once more clumsily called “the spontaneous
          philosophy of the scientists”. The author’s suspicion of metaphysics old
          and new runs deep enough to launch a book-length conceit where a
          character, the “Second Philosopher”, is set afloat on a Neurathian boat
          that only takes on board the philosophical devices necessary to defend a
          contemporary scientific picture of the world and, more specifically, a
          picture taken over from experimental psychology of how the biological
          mind of a biological organism is able to know “abstract” truths such as
          those of logic and mathematics. Many professed naturalists, philosophers
          and scientists alike, are rampant “Platonists” about logic and math:
          they never found a mathematical equation epitomizing a province of the
          natural world they didn’t like, and consequently view any attempt at
          what Huw Price calls “subject naturalism” as highly suspect.

          Maddy’s
          Second Philosopher has a lighter heart and a more skeptical eye than
          the Leadfoot Logicist: though she draws on the views of Frege to portray
          facts about the objective structure of the world as motivating a
          slightly watered-down “primitive logic” which captures that structure in
          a way intellectually susceptible to the insights of genuine
          evolutionary theory and developmental psychology, the idea of an
          Objective World in the hands of “supervenience” theorists and suchlike
          detracts, she argues, from a small-r realism which will capture the
          essential fact of science’s explanatory adequacy while following the
          insights of “deflationism” about truth — the idea that the concept of
          truth has a few important uses in the way we talk about people’s
          utterances (“What Jim said is true”) and that’s that — out to their
          rational conclusions. Like her comrade-in-arms Mark Wilson, Maddy is
          completely convinced of the primacy of the “scientific image of man”,
          just a little unsure about what that, truly spoken, will be given the
          many twists and turns actual scientific research takes.

          I doubt there’s much succor for you there.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Wonder all you want; even the mildly perceptive reader will notice that you have done nothing to address my excerpt.

        • Susan

          even the mildly perceptive reader will notice that you have done nothing to address my excerpt.

          Your excerpt is just another “science doesn’t know everything”, therefore, I can insert stuff here.

          If you want to blather on about evidence outside “our reality”, for “morality” which is always appealed to with situations within our reality, provide something other than gaps.

        • Susan

          I’m not so sure I have zero idea.

          So far, you have demonstrated zero idea.

          Quote mining does nothing to demonstrate that you have more than zero idea.

        • Susan

          I doubt you have any idea what evidence could plausibly demonstrate that any aspect of morality comes from outside what we finite beings call ‘reality’

          Give me an example of such evidence.

        • TheNuszAbides

          any idea what evidence could plausibly demonstrate

          it’ll have to wait until [if we manage to survive so long] an experimental space can be sectioned off for successive generations of androids and/or volunteers. kinda Truman Show but arguably more ominous, absolutely advertisement-free, possibly inverted by VR, and of course very long-term.

    • catfink

      Then the same question would apply to the “reality” in your universe. If you’re also living in a created digital universe, then the question would apply to the “reality” that created your universe. And so on. You haven’t solved the problem by pushing it up a level.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        Did I claim or imply that I was solving any problem, other than demonstrating that an issue is rational to discuss?

        • catfink

          It’s obviously rational to discuss the issue. If you weren’t trying to solve the problem, your response is simply irrelevant to the comment you were responding to. Again, like so much of what you write.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          It’s obviously rational to discuss the issue.

          That was not clear from what Bob wrote.

    • Anat

      But they will not have a way to understand that the underlying cause if outside of their reality.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        They will have to practice partial understanding—that is, modeling using open systems instead of closed systems. The thing about opens systems is that they don’t allow you to control and dominate.

    • Only Some Stardust

      No, actually that wouldn’t work. Your programming for right and wrong, if you put it in, would be part of their reality. If you didn’t program right and wrong in, but they deduced it from the principles they observed inside their reality, then they’d still be getting it from inside their reality.

      And if you put a little virtual avatar of yourself to preach inside their reality, that would, again, be inside their reality, not outside of it.

      edit: Of course, be careful not to confuse ‘ultimate cause of what makes them consider something right and wrong’ versus ‘what they consider right and wrong’. If they consider something right or wrong because you wrote the words ‘dogs are evil’ in their brains, theeeen it’s in their brains and not outside their reality, but the ultimate cause is you writing it.

      Ultimate causes can actually be pretty irrelevant under mathematical chaos. If there’s a tornado, it doesn’t really matter if it started because a butterfly wing flapped or because the currents have been building up for weeks. The proximate – the winds blowing to make the tornado – is much more important. In this case, it’s much more important if they are making an arbitrary decision based on a feeling, or one based on attempted reason, which is something that would happen entirely in their reality – that is, it’s proximate.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        No, actually that wouldn’t work. Your programming for right and wrong, if you put it in, would be part of their reality. If you didn’t program right and wrong in, but they deduced it from the principles they observed inside their reality, then they’d still be getting it from inside their reality.

        You seem to be prohibiting beings from coming to an understanding that they exist within an open system. I don’t see why such a thing would be logically possible. I do know that the majority of equations that EEs deal with assume thermodynamic equilibrium, which made it harder to invent charge-coupled devices (CCDs). Closed-system thinking also made it difficult to understand self-organizing systems. But I recognize that this kind of thinking is so deeply embedded in our psyches that you might think it’s the only way cognition could possibly work.

        And if you put a little virtual avatar of yourself to preach inside their reality, that would, again, be inside their reality, not outside of it.

        Perhaps you are equivocating, on what God would describe as “their reality”, and what they would describe as “their reality”. To pierce the first, I suggest taking a look at Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. It is a way of understanding how one’s reality can be enlarged.

    • ORigel

      If you created a digital simulation of the universe, then are the moral laws put in just your personal preferences?

      Morals are still not objective. Maybe in the simulation, but not in reality.

  • Kevin K

    They don’t.

    Quite literally the only thing that needs to be said about the ‘moral argument for god’.

    As to not eating humans…tell that to the tribes of New Guinea who had to be forced to not eat the brains of their dead relatives, because it was giving them the prion disease kuru.

    As to not killing humans…since fucking when? Tell that to the orange shitgibbon occupying the White House, who is at this very moment trying to figure out ways to kill a whole lot of humans.

  • Treyarnon

    Recognize most of these arguments.
    Used some of them during my teens and twenties as a young evangelical.
    Felt increasingly uncomfortable because I could see the gaps, unwarranted assumptions, obvious reposts etc.
    Grew up and accepted the consequences.

  • Dax Williams

    Mr. Wallace would be no fun at an S&M convention. Probably into watersports the perv.

  • Sophia Sadek

    Why is it that the greatest evils are perpetrated by people who think that a deity is on their side?

    • Phil Rimmer

      The key to this license is a God that takes sides, that may even get fncked off by the obvious miserly malice of a fig tree….

  • GubbaBumpkin

    8. Why Do Transcendent Moral Truths Exist?

    Are we supposed to give him points for not saying absolute moral truths? It appears to amount to the same thing. And just as indefensible.

    “We have an intuitive sense of moral ‘oughtness’; we recognize that some things are right and some things are wrong, regardless of culture, time or location.

    “Intuitive” – a word people use when they can’t be bothered to do their homework. And we share several billion years of evolutionary ancestry with other humans.

    We understand that it’s never morally ‘right’ to torture people for the mere ‘fun’ of it. . . .

    Can’t do it just for the fun of it, so we need to make up excuses. The distinction hardly matters. Throw him to the lions.

    What about torturing non-humans, like puppies? Or bulls? Ole.

    What about torturing non-mammals? Does anyone give a rip if ants or worms are tortured? Surely a few people do. Is their squeamishness shared transcendentally among our whole species?

    • GubbaBumpkin

      8. Why Do Transcendent Moral Truths Exist?

      I think the term moral truth is a category error. We have moral values. Calling them moral truths is just a way of making them sound more important than they are; they way believers tend to say that they know Jesus H. Christ exists rather than that they believe it.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    We kill weeds and pests, and we eat livestock, but we’d never
    consider this for a fellow human. How do we justify this if we’re all
    just the results of evolution?

    Unbelievably weak. We are more closely related to our fellow humans than to livestock, pests, and weeds. Evolutionary kin selection fits this bill quite nicely. There ought to be a rule that people who do not understand evolution cannot criticise evolution.

    • Kevin K

      Our evolutionary heritage as a tribal species of ape also works here. We protect those closest to us, and care less about the next bunch of apes over. Unless we’re raiding their territory for food or womenz…

    • GubbaBumpkin

      If his transcendent moral truths are so great, why don’t they transcend the species barrier? has he polled cattle or rats on whether it is OK for us to kill members of their species? Do they get overly concerned when a human dies?

    • al kimeea

      plenty of other creatures behave similarly as well

    • Anat

      Also, people have been exercising quite a lot of cruelty on one another since forever, so his assumption is wrong.

      • TheNuszAbides

        the Xians by/with whom i was raised had a usually-subtle* undercurrent of Paranoid About Satan, and thus very squeamish about any genuine attention to cruelty, horror etc. — whether real-life samples or expressive genres.

        *not so much in the early->mid ’80s when mum’s non-denom blithely passed along the panic over D&D and The Metal.

      • Greg G.

        Hasn’t he read in the Bible where David killed hundreds just to steal their foreskins.

        • Anat

          They were Philistines. Enemies. Don’t count. Errrr, what was the argument? Oh yes, about not inflicting some things on humans as such…

        • GubbaBumpkin

          Would have been more impressive if he stole their foreskins without killing them or waking them up. Who writes this stuff?

        • Greg G.

          IIRC, David was trying to win favor with the king to marry his daughter. He was expected to convert a hundred of them to Judaism and bring their foreskins as proof of that. But he took a shortcut and murdered them and more.

          That stuff makes the Bible useless as a source for morality.

    • Only Some Stardust

      I’d eat another person. If they were already dead and I was starving to death. I’d probably hallucinate they were a hamburger to make it more palatable; starvation does weird things to the mind.

    • Jim Jones

      > we’d never consider this for a fellow human.

      Speak for yourself. Plenty of peoples ate humans. And then there are the cases like the S American football team.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Last week, after a night of heavy rain I walked to work and ran across a young man who was freaking out that worms were dying on the sidewalk. I don’t know if he was a Jain or what. But clearly his moral views about the treatment of worms differs from my own.

    • Kevin K

      Without earthworms, we literally would not be here.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    “Which worldview
    offers the most satisfying and reasonable explanation for the evil and
    injustice we see in our world?”

    How about “Shit happens.”

    • Kevin K

      Yeah, I’ll take “Problem of Evil” for $400, Alex. How can you say that a theistic world view that has a god that not only allows but revels in human suffering is a “satisfying and reasonable” explanation?

      It’s monstrous.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    10. Why Does Pain… Exist in Our World?

    Because lame apologists like J. Warner Wallace keep subjecting us to their lame apologetics.

  • Eric Sotnak

    “Christian Theism offers an explanation that naturalism simply cannot offer.”

    I must have missed it. What was that explanation? Free will? An unspecified or possibly unspecifiable greater good?

    • GubbaBumpkin

      “God did it.”
      You have to admit that’s an explanation that naturalism simply cannot offer.

      • Herald Newman

        We could always offer “Nature did it” but people aren’t credulous enough to just accept that explanation without some kind of evidence.

        • Only Some Stardust

          It’s a double standard, I tell ya.

    • Jim Jones

      “Mysterious reasons.”

    • Ficino

      I think Bob nailed it when he isolated Wallace’s “most satisfying.” Is there a fallacy of argumentum ad libitum or something? It makes me feel better, so it’s a better world view, and a better world view is a truer world view. Fail. But this line still does convince millions.

      • Eric Sotnak

        But then I’m not convinced a comparable explanation is off-limits to naturalism. When I consider the suffering child and say, “Well, there is a God, and even if we don’t know the answer, he does, and it is all somehow for the best although we can’t understand how or why” the same answer could be given by the naturalist minus the reference to God: Well, it is all somehow for the best although we can’t understand how or why”. There is no argument that invoking God is necessary for an all-for-the-best response to suffering to work, especially if being all-for-the-best turns out to be an inscrutable notion.

        • Ficino

          I agree.

          And coming at it from the other direction, I found more comfort and peace when I ditched my cognitive dissonance and sense that God was unjust. Those had grown, the further I went along in standard Christianity.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Well said, I had much the same experience. Throw in the side benefit of an increased appetite for learning what we know and why we know it and life is much more satisfying now.

      • Kevin K

        Argument from consequences?

    • GubbaBumpkin

      “God is letting you die of cancer because He is too busy deciding the outcome of college football games.”

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Bob, I didn’t find this set of 10 tough questions to be all that tough. Could you come up with something better, like “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” or “Where’s Waldo?”

    • Greg G.

      Is it any harder than:

      How many times does the letter F appear in the sentence below?

      FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE-
      SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIF-
      IC STUDY COMBINED WITH
      THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        6. (Pssst – it’s more challenging if you use the white font)

        • Greg G.

          I did use the white font. You missed the other 4.

        • GubbaBumpkin

          Nice try, but the white font can be discovered with the use of highlighting. I’ve been around that block.

      • TheNuszAbides

        does being contained within E count?

        • Greg G.

          Euck no.

    • Only Some Stardust

      What’s the distribution of all primes and are they predictable? The last digit of Pi and the last digit of Pastry and Doughnut? ANSWER THAT ATHEISTS.

      • Greg G.

        What’s the distribution of all primes and are they predictable? ANSWER THAT ATHEISTS.

        Primes occur every so often with decreasing frequency as the numbers get larger and all but one of them are odd.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        Pi repeats infinitely, so there is no “last digit.”

        As for after eating pastry and doughnuts, some people start licking their digits starting at the pinky, and some start at the thumb. So either answer would be considered correct.

        • Greg G.

          Pi repeats continues infinitely

        • GubbaBumpkin

          You got me there.

      • Greg G.

        What thought is the furthest from your mind?

    • Jim Jones

      1. Name one person who met Jesus, spoke to him, saw him or heard him who wrote about the event, has a name and is documented outside of the bible (or any other gospels).

      2. If a member of a religion other than Christianity prays and their prayer is granted, who granted their prayer and why?

      3. How do you know all other gods except Yahweh are false?

    • Lark62

      How did Abraham, Jacob and the rest ride camels 1000 years before domesticated camels reached the middle east?

      How did hundreds of thousands of hebrews spend 40 years wandering in the desert without leaving one single piece of evidence? No camp fires, no latrine pits, no animal bones, no broken shoes or broken pottery. And no bodies of the entire generation of people who had to die before the hebrews could leave the desert. Nothing.

      How did Jesus manage to grow up in a town that wasn’t inhabited during his lifetime?

      • GubbaBumpkin

        1) It’s a miracle
        2) It’s a miracle
        3) My sources tell me not to put too much weight on that argument, since archaelogy of that time & place is hardly complete.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Nice! Maybe add: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck …?

      BTW, I understand that the original question was: “How many angels can dance on the tip of a needle?

    • Kevin K

      I wonder why the author felt compelled to come up with 10 “tough” questions. The first four or so would have been more than plenty. The last few, it seemed to me as if the author was running out of steam, but had to make it across that finish line to 10.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Is Wallace really so oblivious that he doesn’t realize that his questions are evidence against his god?

    I guess it’s true what they say about religious people: Self awareness is the first thing that goes.

  • Anat

    Pain exists because we have a capacity to experience it. We do so because our ancestors evolved that capacity, way back when they were very simple metazoans. They evolved that capacity because being able to detect harmful things can save one’s life and lead to greater reproductive success.

  • Only Some Stardust

    “When one of these questions is answered (and, given science’s track
    record, that’s a safe bet), Christian apologists will abandon it and
    retreat to whatever new question ”

    No, most of them will probably deny it first, like they did with evolution.

    Especially if the question that gets answered is the one about, say, why the universe exists, or if someone manages to actually create new qualia/consciousness in a lab, manages to evolve (or record evolving during human history) a new distinct species that can no longer interbreed with its predecessor, or manages to create life from non living material by putting some chemicals in a vat, or they find life spontaneously creating itself on another planet or a moon. They’d shit a brick over any of those, some of them less than others though.

    • Cozmo the Magician

      Nah, they would come back with it was SATAN.

      • TheNuszAbides

        or just generate a few hundred more spin-off sects. or both.

  • Robert, not Bob

    These questions are not questions. They are never actually questions. They are demanding assertions.

    • TheNuszAbides

      true enough; whether or not any apologist is addressing a skeptical audience or whether they never rise above preaching to the choir, they surely don’t profit from prompting (even inadvertently) either/any audience to actually think critically broadly.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    “To this gunfight he has brought a squirt gun.” AND he forgot to fill it. And it has a great big hole in the grip that the water would leak out of. And he broke the trigger because he is a real klutz.

    • Greg G.

      The 142nd fastest squirt gun in the west.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        LMFAO!

  • Cozmo the Magician

    “We kill weeds and pests, and we eat livestock, but we’d never consider this for a fellow human” Riiiiight.. Like genocide or canablism NEVER EVER happen among humans. What planet does this guy live on?

    • TheNuszAbides

      at best he’s playing No True Human. at worst all he means by “we” is Xians.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        Even in that case it still is an epic fail. Xtians have done plenty of genocide against non-believers or even just people who believe just a bit different. And FFS, that whole communion thing is nothing but ritual cannibalism.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Even in that case it still is an epic fail.

          yeah, by “at best” i didn’t mean “worth considering”.

        • TheNuszAbides

          that whole communion thing is nothing but ritual cannibalism

          by the same [semantics-drone, sorry] token, it is nothing but ritual, full stop. it’s only cannibalism for transubstantionists. not that i care to downplay all the Chthonic Death Cult resonance.

    • Kevin K

      Never mind the echoes of Nazi anti-Semitism…

      “Jews are criminals;… they have no soul;… they are different in every way;… killing them is not a crime, but a necessity—just as killing rats is a necessity to preserve health and cleanliness.” — The Eternal Jew, 1940.

      • epeeist

        Somewhat wussy compared to what Martin Luther thought of Jews:

        First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them…

        Second,I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed…

        Third,I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them…

        Fourth,I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb…

        Fifth, I advise that safe­ conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews…

        Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping…

        Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an axe, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam…

        • adam

          Wow, sounds like the plan for Kristallnaucht.

  • Dago Red

    Wallace asks why objective moral truths exist…..They don’t.

    He confuses a universal response …with an objective response….

    This is precisely right and to take yet another angle on this topic, I would go so far as to suggest that belief in objective morals is merely an admission by many to their own inability to imagine a society of anything other than twenty-first century human beings.

    But imagine, as technology continues to advance and make more of science fiction part of reality, morality is simply going to have to change with it. Today we already have in-vitro fertilization, cloning, fully post-operative trans-gendered people who are capable of choosing their own gender, genetic engineering capable of creating “designer” babies, and a whole host of other technologies available to us. And as a response to each of these technological and social advancements, humanity has already needed to MODIFY its morality to accommodate each and every one of them. Religion tries to tie such morals back to some earlier foundational proclamation but, in reality, they are simply inventing new morals to add to their old moral code.

    Imagine down the line, if we, say, learn how to reprogram our own brains, make cyborgs, and build conscious machines. Morality, again, would simply have to adapt to accommodate such advances. Going a step further, as humanity corrects, or even sheds their highly flawed and fragile evolution-created biology in favor of a superior “intelligently designed” (by human intellect and human choice) replacement — whatever that may be — the very ideas like murder, torture, fear, pain, and even death will take on a different meaning, and may even fade from having any meaning at all, to our progeny in this kind of distant future. What could “murder” mean, for example, to a completely downloadable and transmittable consciousness that has the capacity to back-up and duplicate itself and adopt a new body? What is torture to a being that can voluntarily turn off pain and anxiety, and even consciousness itself for a period of time? The ideas one might imagine hear leap into most people’s heads.

    While this is all very science-fiction and contrived, it does demonstrate how intelligent beings other than modern-day humans could — and would have to — have a different morality, thus making the notion of objective morality moot. Its only a person of very limited thinking (or, more likely, who harbors ulterior motivations) that cannot admit to this very obvious flaw in notions that insist upon their being an “objective morality” in this universe independent of living beings.

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      I think that we can find universal values among people. However, what are the ulterior motivations that you think underlie this view?

      • Dago Red

        Sorry, I thought that was obvious. The ulterior motivation is the need to defend an indemonstrable presumed “objective” source for morality (such as an all-powerful creator-god, in the case of many religious people) that is foundational to someone’s world view.

        No one here, least of all me, is disagreeing with the idea of universal values existing among a given group of similar beings….only with notions that attempts to equate such universal values with some kind of objective morality.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Is it indemonstrable? That seems like an assumption. How is it moral disagreements equal “there is no objective morality”? Going by what you said specifically, what about an objective morality that wasn’t independent of living beings, rather just rooted in them (theoretically)?

          I refer to universal values of all people, not just a group. What, theoretically, can constitute moral facts then?

        • Dago Red

          If I were claiming the existence of a god is impossible to demonstrate ever and for all eternity, then, yes, that would be an assumption on my part. But I think we all agree — that is, if we are honest and sane and rational — that the existence of any god, at least to date, remains indemonstrable at this point in time. Don’t you agree?

          “I refer to universal values of all people, not just a group.”

          But “all people” *is* just a group. I think you might be confusing the idea of “universal” with “objective”. We all agree that there are likely universal morals that all of humanity shares at this point in history. My issue (and the issue raised in the OP) is with thinking that universal morals are reflective of some “objective” form of morality in the universe. As I think my last post demonstrated, this cannot be true.

          Objective means something that is entirely independent of any kind of group — even a species . And, as I suggested earlier, a species’ sense of morality is clearly tied (at least in part, if not entirely) to (1) its biology (or other physical manifestation it may have), (2) to its ability to reason, and (3) to its traditional rules and laws that govern its existence. All of these factors are highly variable between different kinds of organisms, so to suggest morality is not also capable of being equally variable between different organisms in the universe (which is what is implied when one calls morality “objective”), is simply absurd. It would be absurd to suggest that, regardless of any existing physical differences that may exist, any two organisms will have approximately the same mass. This is precisely the same level of absurdity one is suggesting when insisting objective morality exists. Universal morality is fine, but it is not reflective of anything objective or “factual” (btw — “moral facts” is simply a misappropriation of the word “fact”, which, by definition, means something “objective” — or at least, “tentatively objective based on what we know right now”, if one wants to go down the pedantic route. And since morals cannot be truly objective, they also cannot be rightly called “facts.”).

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Well yes, it has not been demonstrated. My question is can it not be demonstrated ever, because it’s incoherent?

          All right. It seemed like you were only talking about humans.

          I realize they aren’t the same, although one may indicate the other it seems to me.

          Well, there is the problem. To me objective just means that something is a fact. Not all facts apply to everything equally in the universe. They are simply independent of opinion. So perhaps my view is at odds with what an objective morality has usually been taken to mean-I don’t know for sure.

        • Dago Red

          I agree that many concepts of god(s) — all of the popular ones I know about, at the very least — are quite incoherent, and thus, I also agree no such idea can ever be demonstrable due to this incoherency.

          However, we can’t say that all definitions of gods are incoherent. Over the centuries, in fact, religious philosophers have developed a whole suite of esoteric, but completely logical (and thus entirely coherent), definitions for various concepts of god. Creating a coherent definition for a god is actually a fairly straight-forward task for people who have been formally schooled in logic. The problem arises when one attempts to anchor these logic-only definitions to reality. They all invariably rest upon indemonstrable premises (making such arguments “valid” but “unsound” in the parlance of logistics jargon), which means they are nothing more than idle speculations with no practical meaning or usage (beyond their pure value as entertainment, that is).

          “Not all facts apply to everything equally in the universe….”

          Can you think of a specific fact where this is actually true? People often misuse the word “fact” (and “theory” and “truth”…) when using it in casual conversation. They often call opinions fact, when the opinion is strongly correlated with one particular view (such as calling the beauty of a rose a fact or a particular moral a fact). But, technically, for a piece of data to be a called a fact, it must actually apply to everything equally in the universe.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Excellent post. Along with conflating “universal” and “objective”, Michael seems to confuse objective consequences with objective basis.

          He appears to be saying that objective reality guides moral decision making, but that is not what is generally meant by “objective morality.” People using that phrase typically mean the law is literally written onto the fabric of the universe somehow.

          If Michael means what I think he means – that objective consequences guide concepts of morality – then the best solution is to use more precise terms and avoid those that already mean something else.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          “What, theoretically, can constitute moral facts then?”

          The impossibility of something being considered “immoral”. If morality were objective we likely would not even be aware of it. Instead we see each other criticizing one another for doing stuff we see as immoral but they don’t and vice versa all the time. Moral values relative to each individual and between societies is an observable reality.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Sure, but that wasn’t my point. Moral objectivists certainly do agree that our opinions of morality differ. It’s just that people having disagreements doesn’t mean there are no facts.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          The way I see it, moral facts/objective morality/etc cannot exist because “immorality” is not a nonsense term. We all may share beneficial behaviors, but who they benefit and what losses are acceptable is relative to the person and the society they are part of.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          How would “immorality” not being nonsense refute an objective morality? I think it would do the opposite.

          Relative how? Do you agree that something like flourishing is a universal goal, even if it may take different specific forms?

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          “I think it would do the opposite.”

          That’s only if all one means by morality is favored actions that they themselves do or want others to do. By objective or factual morality, I take this to mean that the “morals” are descriptive of how living beings are composed- their bodies (including brains) make acting otherwise a nonsense concept (like the king in Daniel trying to kill the three Jewish youths with fire- fire burning people much less death is made a nonsensical concept). Instead we do have living beings acting “immorally” depending on who’s doing the labeling. We might agree or disagree with them to relative degrees.

          “Relative how?”

          A: “… different specific forms?” Meaning the goal could be to NOT flourish because segments of society deem other segments acceptable losses. I think flourishing is more of a description of something life does without much forethought (“We didn’t plan to succeed. We just failed to plan.”), but it’s a toss up if such a vague truism can be called an objective moral or moral fact.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          I’m not sure what you mean in the first paragraph. Objective morals are facts, rather than opinions. It does not mean people can’t go against them.

          For the second paragraph, I’m not sure how that refutes this.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          “Objective morals are facts, rather than opinions. It does not mean people can’t go against them.”

          Then I don’t know what these “facts” are descriptive of. If we took one group of people and made them our entire sample size, we would have a range of “moral facts”. A sample size of one person would be even more different (probably meaningless without other people to create interactions). A sample size made up of a different group of people would be relatively different. Which of the three simplified sample sizes do we MAKE our fixed point in space from which all the others act immorally in comparison? I would argue that critical thinking and evidence support some morals more than others as advantageous, but they can all be denied (unlike a fact that doesn’t disappear dependent on animal behavior) depending on how people act.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          They are descriptive of what we find to be good, which is happiness, pleasure, well-being etc. What sample size or action is going to contradict that?

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          A sample size including at least two of those three simplified sample sizes. Simple as that.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          I don’t know what you mean.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          One of our simplified three sample sizes is Nazis and another is Romani craftsmen. Now include both of them in one sample size. Independently they both generally flourish. As one society it doesn’t care if it’s killing itself as they sing, “Kill the Beast!”

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          That is a problem of the Nazis refusing respect for Romani flourishing (along with life, etc.). There is no reason that, with mutual respect, they couldn’t live together (Germans and Romani did indeed do this).

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          You do see that you are suggesting something relatively “immoral” if WE MAKE the morality (behaviors) of the Nazis to be the fixed point (our “objective morality”) or that og the Romani who fight back. I don’t believe peoples’ moralities can be changed so easily by simply stating preferred morals are facts- that doesn’t hold true for when believers say their moralities come from their Gods either. There are no easy solutions.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          How is this relatively immoral? I don’t claim their opinions can be changed simply be stating something is a fact, but that isn’t the issue. No, it isn’t easy.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          We MADE one sample size’s behaviors our fixed point on the moral spectrum. Moving away from it would be factually immoral relative to those behaviors.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          The sample was what, the Romani and Nazis? I’m not sure what you mean by the rest.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          If our sample includes those two groups together, society’s moral facts have to do with destroying itself. You suggested that they could change to get along, which is true because “moral facts” can become different over time with the aging (more experiences) and dying off and birth of new people (less exposure to previous experiences). Whether these changes are good or bad is relative to who does the labeling.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          No, I suggested that the problem lies in a failure to respect others, not the moral facts.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          This looks like a problem of how we can define moral facts into existence and then ignore all the counterexamples for which these “facts” are not factual. It is a fact that morals exist, but they are not some fixed behavior pattern inherent to life. They are more like languages, which preserve history. By this I mean that just as we can find how words came to be by tracing their origins back to events, people, sounds, and other things in the past so can we trace morals to similar things in the past. For example, there was a post a few months ago at Love, Joy, Feminism that detailed about how child abuse came to exist in the late 1800s in USA culture:

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2016/12/anonymous-tip-child-abuse-mythology.html

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          I don’t think your counterexample undermines this. We disagree on what constitutes morals. Actually what she says is child abuse always occurred, it just wasn’t recognized or dealt with until then (I agree).

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Society did not perceive it as abuse largely until after that event is what I got out of the article.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Yes, for most that seems to be the case.

        • Greg G.

          Relative how? Do you agree that something like flourishing is a universal goal, even if it may take different specific forms?

          There may be a method that is objectively best to achieve objective A and a different method that is objectively best to achieve objective B where A and B are states of flourishing and mutually exclusive. But it is a subjective judgement whether A or B is the greater flourishing.

          It is often the case that flourishing for group A is detrimental for group B.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Could you give an example? I don’t think this has to be a zero sum game.

        • Greg G.

          The natives of North America, South America, and Australia over the last 500 years.

        • TheNuszAbides

          yeah, i think it’s much clearer to suggest that there’s no “mind-independent” reality than to use “objective” in the same context. objective and subjective elements can co-exist in practically any phenomenon.

        • Pofarmer

          Gravity is a mind-independent and objective phenomenon. Morality-not so much.

        • TheNuszAbides

          that’s why i slipped in a “this context” somewhere.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          “Mind independent” and “objective” would be the same thing.

        • TheNuszAbides

          for a specific usage of the latter — the former is more explicit, so fewer (if any) semantic games can be played with it.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          All right.

  • epeeist

    When one of these questions is answered (and, given science’s track
    record, that’s a safe bet), Christian apologists will abandon it and
    retreat to whatever new question catches their fancy.

    I give you the Motte and Bailey Doctrine.

    • Phil Rimmer

      Motte and Bailey Doctrine

      An example of epimemetics, perhaps? (If memes were a thing…)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Nice. I plan at some point to write a post using the motte and bailey castle design as a parallel in just this manner.

      • Otto

        That would be good, I would like to see a solid example.

        • Kevin K

          William Lame Craig uses this strategery all the time. The “bailey” is every single egregious misuse of science to try to present belief in the supernatural as being “reasonable”. And then he retreats back into “Jesus worked in my heart” when those arguments fail to persuade. Blerg. So does strychnine.

          We are wise to his game.

        • Otto

          Great example…lol

  • Dannorth

    We kill weeds and pests, and we eat livestock, but we’d never consider this for a fellow human. How do we justify this if we’re all just the results of evolution?

    Factually false. In tribal societies there are restraints about killing folks of the tribe but a lot less about killing outsiders (ref. Gun, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond)

    Not killing other people is not a universal social value. Period.

    As for eating them, when Herodotus discuss the customs of different nations he mentions a people who eats its own dead as an illustration of the difference in morality, He says that to his fellow Greeks this is immoral but that to those other folks the Greek custom of burning their dead is equally offensive.

    • Matt Cavanaugh

      And the Greeks exposed weak babies, considered meet and good in their time.

      • Kevin K

        An excellent example of “government sanctioned” killing.

      • Ficino

        If it had been the Hebrews, they’d tell us now that the babies were always taken in by pious families, that it was really a communal adoption agency system, that Yahweh made sure that each Hebrew tyke got a better home. Except when He didn’t.

    • Kevin K

      I’ve come up with three basic “universal social values”.
      1. Don’t kill without government sanction.
      2. Don’t steal from members of your tribe.
      3. Don’t lie to the feds.

      With regard to the killing, it’s the government (tribal) sanction part that people overlook. Killing is fine, as long as you only kill the people we say it’s OK to kill. Otherwise, it’s not OK.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    Does not #10 contradict #8 & 9?

  • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

    #8: Wallace doesn’t defend his contention of objective morality, but I don’t agree with your objections either.

    #9: He’s a homicide detective, so his entire job is predicated upon the face that people do kill each other. If he means “like pests” strictly, then genocides come to mind. Indeed his own holy book includes several. Cannibalism is also far from an unknown practice among humans.

    #10: While agreeing with your objection, what exactly is the “superior” explanation of Christian theism? I’ve never found any to be. “Some unpleasant things exist” is a perfectly cogent answer from a naturalist.

  • G.Shelley

    Aren’t these all basically the same question?

  • Maoh

    #9 … obviously he skipped all his history classes. http://sumerianshakespeare.com/media/eff4fb62c807457effff80c1ffffe417.jpg

  • WayneMan

    Wallace is entitled to his opinions, but has zero qualifications or credibility to challenge science. He spews word salads as if anything he says is legitimate, simply because he said it. It is just more BS, and “Science doesn’t know yet.” is a perfectly legitimate answer. God did it is nothing more than opinion.

  • Chris DeVries

    Regarding Question #6, if Wallace wants to use free will as a property of a god-created-and-inhabited universe, he first needs to show that it exists at all. Because most neuroscientists are pretty firm in their belief that free will is an illusion, and that we humans are essentially no different than a proterozoa, going through the motions of its life, reacting to stimuli and performing the actions it is genetically programmed to perform. We just happen to be aware of our existence, and thinking we have control over our lives may just be a way for our brains to keep us engaged. After all, society is just an evolutionary adaptation, a way to improve our survival odds – psychological experiments have shown that even telling people that they have no free will and showing them some of the reasons why, makes them less likely to engage in moral decision making, instead choosing greedy, even hedonistic paths. But just because the illusion of free will is very likely an adaptive trait doesn’t make it any less of an illusion.

    As for the nature of the questions as a whole, Wallace falls into a common apologetic trap: he makes no real claim that his presuppositions are ultimately correct, just that they provide better answers to the questions he is asking than does naturalism. Just because someone SAYS they have a belief system that explains how the universe and life and even consciousness work doesn’t make it a true belief system. I could invent a belief system that was MUCH more comprehensive in its explanation of all the big questions in science, but it would be just that: an invention (like Christianity, and every other religion). He is using arguments instead of providing evidence, a clever little trick that people like William Lane Craig (and his ilk) do to make audiences forget that there is pretty much no evidence for Christianity (as either a literal Biblical belief system OR a metaphorical, but still theistic belief system). He can argue until he’s red in the face, but ultimately, Christianity’s answers are based on beliefs without any evidence at all, and science’s answers are based on beliefs with heaps of evidence for their truth. When Christianity gets something wrong (as usually proven by, y’know, *scientists* showing them that they have evidence against a religious idea), its leaders keep on preaching the same thing (and saying woo-woo things like “I have faith that I’m right, and nothing could ever change my mind!”); when scientists are shown evidence they are wrong, they revise their beliefs. That is why the religious will never have better answers on literally ANY subject than people who use science and rationality to inform their beliefs about the world.

    • adam

      My will is to be able to become invisible and levitate at will.

      Yes, free will is an illusion.

  • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com/ Tor

    “Take, for example, our response to an adult abusing a child. What could explain that moral revulsion?”

    Well, as someone who grew up in an abusive Christian family, that moral revulsion is definitely not objective, and most certainly not a clear-as-day moral in Christianity. I am not the only survivor of abuse who has experienced the horror of what Christianity can do to explain away, minimize, and “objectively” understand that the sin of abusing someone is not *nearly* as bad as sins of survivors affected by that abuse.

    This is essentially the basis of a post I just wrote to my own blog, but I would argue that a lot of Christianity’s “objective morality” *is* only using revulsion as their basis for it, and that’s not objective, that’s emotion. Anyone remember “The Importance of Your Gag Reflex” — that article posted to The Gospel Coalition a few years back about how if you think gay sex sounds icky, that’s your morality telling you its so?

    But I would argue that for a moral objective to be objective, it’s not enough to claim that that moral exists across all societies, the *weight* of it has to be the same too. And yet if there’s one thing Christianity suffers from, it’s that you can categorize the weight of any “sin” you want to minimize and explain it away. If it doesn’t hit your gag reflex, it’s just not that bad, you know? So Christian morals *can* change and shift and become very, very gray, if its convenient or it just doesn’t really horrify you to do so.

    I’ve been privy to the argument that the reason why bringing up the Leviticus verses surrounding the gay clobber scripture is ridiculous is solely because you can *feel* how bad this seckshual sin is, and c’mon, it’s *obvious* that eating shellfish or getting a tattoo just doesn’t feel that bad. Without even realizing that the only *reason* for that moral scale *is* a desensitization of what counts as “that bad.”

    The Bible is fertile ground for an ever changing moral foundation precisely *because* you can rearrange the weight of what you consider that bad for any given moment, and use any scripture you want in any way you want. The Bible is a sword directed at others when you hold it in your hand, and a cup of mercy for yourself. In fact, my morality is *less* individual, emotion based now that I’m not a Christian then it ever was when I believed, “because this makes me feel icky/bad/gross/guilty, that’s proof alone that that’s what it is.”

  • Clement Agonistes

    If biological programming makes us value human life, then that is an objective source of morality. It also means there is a problem of evil, explaining why people ignore their programming when they kill

    • Dys

      It also means there is a problem of evil

      The problem of evil doesn’t arise on the basis of whether there’s objective morality or not. It comes from the contention that there’s an all-powerful, omnibenevolent god that fails to prevent evil. If morality arises naturally, there is no problem of evil, because it’s relatively easy to explain why evil things happen.

      explaining why people ignore their programming when they kill

      It’s not as overly simplistic as imagining there’s a metaphorical line of code in every human that says “don’t kill people”. There’s basic empathy, but because humans are still largely tribal, empathy tends to weaken the further out you go. And that’s only one factor among many.

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        Interesting that Clement has yet to respond to this post and Greg’s comment above about competing biological impulses. I wonder why that is. ☺

        • Greg G.

          To be fair, Clement gets lots of replies. A couple of days ago, I got around to sorting through my email notifications and found some that I had missed and ignored some where I had answered the same claim.

        • Pofarmer

          Have you had a chance to look at “The Pagan Christ” by Tom Harpur? I’m about 1/3 through, it’s a quick read. He’s talking about all the similarities between Christianity and especially Egyptian religions.

        • Greg G.

          Sounds interesting. I have noticed similarities between Christianity and Egyptian religions.

        • Pofarmer

          Goes quite a bit deeper than that, even.

          He has a great Quote from John Dominic Crossan from “Who is Jesus.”

          My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically, and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.

          Christianity, ruled for 2000 years by the most gullible.

    • Michael Neville

      Speaking as a combat veteran, I was taught to kill “the other” and was taught that it was a positive good. Killing people is a lot more complicated than you apparently think it is.

      • Clement Agonistes

        What comes from humans would be “subjective”. What comes from our biologic programming would be “objective”.

        • adam

          What comes from humans comes from our biologic programming.

          Again, nothing objective to see here.

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/398eee168a95a1c3714d1513e1274d5c0eb7136e6f5206bb94180f68ef55410d.jpg

        • Michael Neville

          That doesn’t contradict the point I made that humans can be taught that killing is a good thing. Your “biologic programming” is pretty weak if a few weeks of training can overcome it.

        • Clement Agonistes

          I’m not the one putting forth the biologic programming excuse. I’m just pointing out that biologic programming would be objective, not man-made. “Teaching” would be man-made, and therefore subjective. I agree with you that the human conscience is “pretty weak”.

        • adam

          ” I’m just pointing out that biologic programming would be objective, not man-made. ”

          Greg G.

          Clement Agonistes

          8 minutes ago

          It cannot be objective when we have multiple programs running that may conflict with one another.

        • Michael Neville

          You’re the only one pushing “biologic programming” so you appear to own it.

        • Clement Agonistes

          Well, I grasp the ramifications of Bob’s point, if that’s what you mean. Barring his arrival, sure, I’ll continue trying to clarify them.

        • adam

          What is the difference between your ‘biologic programming’ and evolution?

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ba84f8055b4d39d6678611c48e8069dd2234f9f79dc706a30b4b5d3546aa5665.jpg

        • Greg G.

          It cannot be objective when we have multiple programs running that may conflict with one another.

        • Clement Agonistes

          I don’t follow your logic there. The other biologic programs could be objective as well. The conflict between them would be for primacy among objective goals.

        • Greg G.

          Is morality the end justifying the means, or is it about the means that achieves the end? If the former, it would include killing a neighbor to get the whole pizza. If the latter, it’s about working together to get a bigger pizza or sharing the pizza and expecting the favor would be returned if necessary.

          That some people are more likely to follow one path of the conflicting programs while another set of people tend to do the other, even among siblings, shows that behaviors are subjective.

          Or do we need to go over the history of the development of our species from before mammals?

        • Clement Agonistes

          One person’s being red-headed does require that all people be red-headed. Subjectively, one could dye one’s hair a different color, but the program will continue to grow red hair. Some people have programming (i.e. black hair) that conflicts with others’ (red hair), yet both are objective.

        • Greg G.

          While objective, having certain pigments is not a moral issue. Likewise, having certain tendencies of behavior from a genetic legacy is not a moral issue either, whether they are objective or not.

        • Clement Agonistes

          I’m not sure I understand your point. Bob cited not killing (a moral issue) as having a genetic origin. DNA is not moral, itself. But, if morality (not killing) has genetic origins, then the effects of DNA are moral.

        • Greg G.

          The effects of DNA may stem from a coding mistake. If it succeeds in making that person more reproductively successful, it will be passed on to the offspring for many generations. The result of the mutation might be kindness or it might be ruthlessness. The behavior is objective. The behavior might be considered moral or immoral, subject to the action and who is doing the judgement. If that person’s offspring were successful enough to dominate the population, they would consider ruthlessness to be moral.

          Seeing something that is objectively true has no bearing on whether it is morally objective. That is subject to whoever is judging.

        • Clement Agonistes

          Biology is doing the judging. The mutations was “chosen” by biology. What we think about it is irrelevant. It only becomes moral when it is beneficial.

          Your thinking is clouded by your biological programming.

        • Greg G.

          We have selfish tendencies, too. We are good at telling lies and good at spotting lies as if there is a heredity arms race going on.

          Religion clouded my mind but I got over it.

        • Clement Agonistes

          The toughest lies to spot are the ones we tell ourselves. I find myself to be both credible and smart.

        • Greg G.

          The toughest lies to spot are the ones we tell ourselves.

          That explains why there are so many theists who disagree about why they are not atheists.

        • Clement Agonistes

          Oddly enough, both theists and atheists are people.

        • adam

          ” I find myself to be both credible and smart.”

          I find a lack of evidence of such from your posts.

        • Clement Agonistes

          And here I was, afraid you might not get my point.

        • adam
        • Giauz Ragnarock

          ‘Human’ is a category that has “biologic programing” as one of its components in your comment. How is “biologic programming” not also subjective (depending on which human we are talking about)?

        • Clement Agonistes

          Biologic programming would be a function of DNA. We have no control over our DNA.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Then why not claim we are objective as we are a collection of things we cannot have control over?

        • Clement Agonistes

          Some people claim that. I think that whole point about Free Will relates to that claim. Is our will truly free, or are we just computers that spit out our programming?

          This conversation relates to Bob’s hypothesis. I am merely helping explain his point.

    • adam

      “If biological programming makes us value human life, then that is an objective source of morality.”

      but it also makes us value ending human life.

      So no objective morality here, AGAIN…. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/51119f60ed8be3b4f9b33feb816268f23d444e5e8a2c78bedaf9c0ec98403362.jpg

    • Greg G.

      If biological programming makes us value human life, then that is an objective source of morality. It also means there is a problem of evil, explaining why people ignore their programming when they kill.

      Nearly every animal has a survival instinct where they value their own lives. Many value the lives of their offspring. But many are carnivores that do not value the lives of other creatures except as a fresh meal.

      There is more than one instinct at play and some run counter to each other. If we were intelligently designed, we would not have contradictory motivations.

    • Joe

      . It also means there is a problem of evil,

      No it doesn’t. Where is the problem?

      • Clement Agonistes

        As I explained in the example, biologic programming explains why it is wrong to kill (an “evil” act). Yet, people kill; even loved ones.

        • Michael Neville

          As I said previously and you more or less after a fashion almost agreed, killing is a whole lot more complex and complicated than your simplistic “programming” would indicate.

        • Clement Agonistes

          It’s not “my” programming, but yes, we do agree.

        • epeeist

          As I explained in the example, biologic programming explains why it is wrong to kill (an “evil” act).

          No, biology might explain why we have red hair or empathy for others.

          What it doesn’t do is explain why something is “wrong” or “evil”.

        • Clement Agonistes

          Way to screw up Bob’s article.

          Back to the drawing board…

        • epeeist

          Way to screw up Bob’s article.

          Except of course it doesn’t. You are conflating the biological basis of empathy and reciprocal altruism with the social constructs “wrong” and “evil”.

        • Clement Agonistes

          You are just sugar-coating your terms.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          “biologic programming explains why it is wrong to kill (an “evil” act). Yet, people kill;”

          Therefore “biologic programing” does not make it wrong to kill for all people in all situations.

        • Clement Agonistes

          So, for instance, if one’s survival were at risk, it might be OK to kill another person. The survival instinct in a biological program … an objective one.

          “Biological programming” is an undisprovable hypothesis. No matter what scenario one picks, it can be attributed to BP. I think Bob offered it as a plausible alternative to a supernatural explanation.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          To paraphrase Isaac Asimov, “Bob might be wrong about biological programming, but if you think it is as wrong a hypotheseis as witchcraft then you are even more wrong.”

        • Joe

          Who says we are bound by our programming?

        • Clement Agonistes

          Not me.

        • Joe

          Me neither, so there is no problem of evil in biology.

        • Clement Agonistes

          Well, not necessarily. All you and I agreed on is that we agree about being bound. Those saying there is a natural explanation for not killing – biological programming – would still have a problem. They have to explain why biologic programming works sometimes, but not others.

          My thinking is that, in the biological programming scenario, we have the free will to chose to kill even though it goes against our programming (how strong is the program?). We can even be conditioned by society or events to go against that programming. I’m still counting that conditioning as free will since we are making a choice to go along with the process (Greg, I think, called that other factors).

          Someone else pointed out that killing could be for a good cause – one that serves another aspect of the biologic program (maybe “survival”).

          However, Bob did not go into detail, I don’t speak for him, and I doubt that my thought above fits his scenario. He might opt for, “Every program has some bugs in it.”

        • Joe

          Those saying there is a natural explanation for not killing – biological programming – would still have a problem. They have to explain why biologic programming works sometimes, but not others.

          Because the programming is overridden. What is difficult about that?

          Why do you wear pants when there’s nothing biologically necessary to do so?

          (how strong is the program?).

          Not very.

          Someone else pointed out that killing could be for a good cause – one that serves another aspect of the biologic program (maybe “survival”).

          Yes. Quite obviously.

          I do not see a problem here, you seem to be inventing one.

        • Clement Agonistes

          Hey, I am inventing a solution. We have a hypothesis that biologic programming explains why we perceive that killing people is wrong. Yet, there is a need to explain the existence and injustice of “evil”, consider what role perceived evil plays in history, and come to grips with why justice is often elusive.

          Bob hypothesizes that we have an innate biological program that works for the benefit of the species. You and I quite easily came up with plausible explanations that allow for both that biological program and evil which goes against that programming.

          IMO, if there is a program, it has been enormously successful. Humanity has thrived. Once we drop the supposition that the program is only one-dimensional (only deals with not-killing under all circumstances), then the problem of evil goes away.

        • Otto

          We are ‘programmed’ to be born with 4 limbs and 10 fingers, 10 toes. The reality is that it does not always work that way, and is a good reason to think there is most likely no competent intelligence behind the programming.

        • Michael Neville

          Why do you wear pants when there’s nothing biologically necessary to do so?

          But according to Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide, we have to wear trousers:

          It is demonstrable, said he, that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for trousers, accordingly we wear trousers.

        • Otto

          Ok explain kilts…;)

        • Michael Neville

          From the Corries’ “Scotland the Brave”:

          Land o’ the kilt and sporran.
          Underneath there’s nothin’ worn.
          How I wish the wind was warm!
          Scotland the Brave.
          I must admit it’s pretty gruesome,
          Walking about wi’ your frozen twosome!
          It’s all we’ve got, we musn’t lose ’em.
          Scotland the Brave.

  • Anri

    The question I always like to pose in discussions about objective morality is why the underlying assumption that we’d agree with these objective morals?

    I don’t know how we’d verify that a given moral concept was ‘objective’ or not, but if we were able to do so, what if we didn’t care for the result?
    This never seems to occur to those touting objective morality.

    • Pofarmer

      I’ve yet to see them actually come up with an example of something that’s objectively moral.

  • scdorman2

    8.
    “we humans are the same species, so we share the same moral programming.”

    This commits the genetic fallacy.

    “Our moral programming gives us this ought”

    Again, this commits the genetic fallacy. Also, it sounds like you’re a determinist
    with the programming talk. Are you a determinist?

    “…then where do they come from? Where could they come from?”

    These are good questions! Well, they could be abstract entities. Why is that? Well, take the law of non-contradiction or the number 2. If these were just physical things, then if they were destroyed they would cease to exist. We can’t destroy them because they are not physical like apples. You destroy an apple it ceases to exist. However, the number 2 or the law of non-contradict would exist even if we destroy every representation of it in the universe. So… it must exist in some way that is not physical or material. If true this would mean that there are more things that exist than just the natural/material world!

    It seems that the law of non-contradiction applies to everyone no matter what people believe or not about them. Am I right? The law would be objective in this sense then.

    Now contrast this with a moral law. Take a moral law that seems as obvious as the law of non-contradiction or that 1+1=2. That would be torturing a kid for fun or sport is wrong. Or even something like loving or showing kindness to another is a good thing. Or even that Trump is evil. HaHa Now, are these physical laws? Well, if we destroy every physical representation of these laws they would still exist. We would still believe and deeply hold (as you say) that this law exists. So, it is not physical or material.

    Is it objective? Yes, because it applies to everyone no matter what they believe or not about them. Anyone who thought not would be just as mistaken as the person who thinks 1+1=3. I mean this is what we see when we look at people’s beliefs and/or actions. These are as you say universally and/or deeply held beliefs. The problem is so are our beliefs about the laws of logic. Are you skeptical about them as well?

    The reason you give just commits the genetic fallacy. It could be that these universally and/or deeply held beliefs even if programmed in us are true (particular if God exists). The same would apply to our beliefs about the laws of logic. I believe to be consistent you would need to be skeptical of your beliefs about the laws of logic if you’re going to be skeptical about beliefs about moral laws. Unless you can give us some other reason to doubt specifically our moral beliefs. You do mention moral beliefs have changed with time. Well this objection can be paralleled with our beliefs about the physical world. As William Lane Craig says, “But if moral values are gradually discovered, not invented, then our gradual and fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objective reality of that realm than our gradual, fallible apprehension of the physical world undermines the objectivity of that realm.” (1) Also, people never really thought slavery was good. The slaves had to be de-humanized. The same would apply with Hitler and the Jews. God commanding the killing of the Canaanites was because they were a wicked nation. He even gave they ample time to repent, about 430 years.

    9.
    “I agree—life has no absolute value and the universe no absolute purpose”

    If this is true, then humans are no more valuable than an ant or tree. They are different but you can’t objectively say that one is more valuable than another. This just flies in the face of our experience. People are valuable. Of course, this will go back to is there objective moral values and I already talked about that.

    10.
    “Satisfying”?! Is that our goal?”

    Well he did say reasonable response in that quote, not just satisfying. I agree though we want to find truth. The fact that people want ultimate justice for all the evil in the world so they believe in God on that basis. This can be criticized as wishful thinking. However, if God exists it is mostly likely reality directing us to God. This need/desire for meaning and justice could be a way God is calling us to him. In fact, to think that this desire is not God directing us to him you would need some other argument to believe that. Like an argument against God. The point is you need to show why it is wishful thinking, at least with God, because it would make perfect sense to think this is a way that God draws us to him. We feel this need and then we search for and believe in him as a way to meet this need.

    (1) Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (p. 180). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      “we humans are the same species, so we share the same moral programming.”
      This commits the genetic fallacy.

      How?

      the number 2 or the law of non-contradict would exist even if we destroy every representation of it in the universe. So… it must exist in some way that is not physical or material. If true this would mean that there are more things that exist than just the natural/material world!

      Yeah, courage and lust are also abstract nouns.

      Now contrast this with a moral law. Take a moral law that seems as obvious as the law of non-contradiction or that 1+1=2. That would be torturing a kid for fun or sport is wrong.

      Is “torture is bad” objectively true? Show me. I see no evidence. Looks to me like it’s simply widely believed.

      Is it objective? Yes, because it applies to everyone no matter what they believe or not about them.

      That’s a statement without evidence. Try again.

      Anyone who thought not would be just as mistaken as the person who thinks 1+1=3.

      Just because they disagreed with you?

      I mean this what we see when we look at people’s beliefs and/or actions. These are as you say universally and/or deeply held beliefs. The problem is so are our beliefs about the laws of logic. Are you skeptical about them as well?

      You have no evidence that moral claims are objectively true, do you? This is simply your opinion.

      It could be that these universally and/or deeply held beliefs even if programmed in us are true (particular if God exists).

      You mean objectively true? Yes, could be. Now show me.

      You do mention moral beliefs have changed with time. Well this objection can be paralleled with our beliefs about the physical world.

      So you’re saying that popular statements about physics have changed, as have ideas about morals? Yes, I agree. I guess neither is objectively true.

      As William Lane Craig says, “But if moral values are gradually discovered, not invented, then our gradual and fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objective reality of that realm than our gradual, fallible apprehension of the physical world undermines the objectivity of that realm.”

      This is no evidence of objective morality (but I’m sure you’ve already provided good evidence for it in your responses to my questions above).

      WLC isn’t much of an authority, BTW.

      Also, people never really thought slavery was good.

      They thought it was morally acceptable. Now they don’t (in the West, anyway). Therefore, moral attitudes change. You say we have it right now but the Bible (which supports slavery) had it wrong? Show me how you know which position on slavery is the right one.

      Are you saying that moral truths are objectively true but we simply can’t apprehend those truths? That may be, but then why worry about objective moral truth if we can’t access it?

      If this is true, then humans are no more valuable than an ant or tree.

      From an objective standpoint, yes, obviously. From each person’s standpoint, not.

      They are different but you can’t objectively say that one is more valuable than another. This just flies in the face of our experience.

      Huh?

      People are valuable.

      Sure. I say they’re valuable. You say they’re valuable. And we’re back to non-objective moral statements.

      The fact that people want ultimate justice for all the evil in the world so they believe in God on that basis.

      And yet belief in God undermines justice, doesn’t it? Hitler might’ve gotten down on his knees in his bunker and tearfully regretted all the harm he did and asked Jesus into his heart before he shot himself. In that case, he’s up in heaven right now playing shuffleboard with Jesus, while Gandhi is roasting on a spit in hell.

      This need/desire for meaning and justice could be a way God is calling us to him.

      Show me that God exists first; then we can consider this.

    • Pofarmer

      “we humans are the same species, so we share the same moral programming.”

      This commits the genetic fallacy.

      No, it doesn’t. I see no need to read any more after that.

      The genetic fallacy (also known as the fallacy of origins or fallacy of virtue[1]) is a fallacy of irrelevance
      where a conclusion is suggested based solely on someone’s or
      something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning
      or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present
      situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from
      the earlier context.

      The fallacy therefore fails to assess the claim on its merit. The
      first criterion of a good argument is that the premises must have
      bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim in question.[2]
      Genetic accounts of an issue may be true, and they may help illuminate
      the reasons why the issue has assumed its present form, but they are not
      conclusive in determining its merits.[3]

  • Emily Elizabeth Windsor-Cragg

    Without any referents at all, this conversation is so arcane, it can’t go anywhere. In these conversations with Atheistic thinkers, I show them the Chemistry Table of Elements, the patterns of Sacred Geometry, the elegance of DNA codons, the standardization of Biology especially with chetahs’ identical-ness, and the impossibility even today of our technological mastery of ancient ancient stone technologies in which 1000-ton boulders got moved around manually by people in the past. How is it the 3 pyramids at Giza align with Orion’s Belt in the sky? How is it we’re finding human remains of people 10, 20, 30 feet tall and trees half an acre in diameter? Atheists, when confronting such extremes of our knowledge MUST CONCEDE, there’s more going on than meets the eye.

    • MNb

      “I show them …”
      Everything that follows tells us a lot about you and exactly zilch about any god.

      “there’s more going on than meets the eye”
      Well, yes, our eyes can only process a limited range of frequencies. Also there are smells, tastes etc. for which we don’t use our eyes either. Neither are our eyes capable of processing very small things like elementary particles, huge things like galaxies or weird stuff like Black Holes.
      How many more irrelevant platitudes we will immediately concede do you have upon your sleeve? That water is wet? Isn’t it amazing?

    • Greg G.

      How is it we’re finding human remains of people 10, 20, 30 feet tall and trees half an acre in diameter?

      You should check scopes.com when you see claims like that. “Just because somebody put it on the internet, does not mean it is true.” –Abraham Lincoln

  • John D Copenhaver Jr

    Wouldn’t a more accurate title for this article be: “An Atheist Answers a Theologian’s Ten Toughest Questions” I think I would have read that article too. As it is, this title appears to be click-bait for theists. It reminds me a bit of the deceptive tactics I see some Christian use in proselytizing efforts.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Sure, that’s an option, though it’s rather long.

  • hisxmark

    “1. How Did the Universe Come Into Being?
    Our universe had a beginning, but what caused it? Why is there something instead of nothing?”

    Something exists because “nothing” is, by definition, non-existent. We can make testable hypotheses as far back as a few microseconds after the singularity. Beyond that we just don’t know.

    “2. Why Does There Appear to Be Design (Fine Tuning) in the Universe?
    The constants that govern our universe appear to be remarkably fine-tuned to allow life. What explains that if not a supernatural intelligence?”

    Life adjusts to per-existing conditions. The constants may not be anything but what they are. Pi and epsilon have to be what they are. You might ask, “What if pi were exactly three?”, but that is a meaningless question.

    “3. How Did Life Originate?
    ‘Philosophical naturalists are still unable to explain how life began, and more importantly, their work in this area simply reveals how difficult the problem is to explain. . . . This scientifically inexplicable event can be described as nothing short of miraculous; the Christian worldview explains how the long odds against the emergence of life were overcome.’”

    A few centuries ago, storms and earthquakes were inexplicable. Therefore: “Acts of God”. “God”is just all the ignorance in the world rolled into a dark ball.

    “4. Why Does There Appear to Be Evidence of Intelligence in Biology?
    ‘Most scientists are quick to agree that biological systems often ‘appear’ to be designed. There are many examples of biological ‘machines’ that appear to be irreducibly complex, a sure sign of design. . . . Perhaps the most important evidence suggesting the involvement of an intelligent agent is the presence of DNA and the guiding role that this DNA plays in the formation of biological systems.’”

    First of all, who are “most scientists”? And then there is the point that good design is simple. Complexity is the hallmark of poor design.

    “5. How Did Human Consciousness Come Into Being?
    “[As evolution proceeds, naturalists must] imagine that spatially-arranged matter somehow organized itself to produce non-spatial, immaterial mental states. Naturalism has no reasonable explanation for how this might come to pass.’”

    There is an explanation. You just haven’t looked for it. See, for instance, “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst”, by Robert M. Sapolsky. Or see his online lectures on the biology of human behavior.

    “6. Where Does Free Will Come From?”

    “Free will”, like “love” is mostly just an illusion to make us feel good about ourselves. I know some folks have to believe in free will, but I choose not to.

    “7. Why Are Humans So Contradictory in Nature?
    Humans can be altruistic and compassionate, but we can also be hateful and murderous. ‘Philosophical Naturalism struggles to explain how creatures capable of genocide and cruelty are also capable of compassion and sacrificial generosity.’”

    Humans do stuff for reasons that they themselves don’t understand, and then they make up reasons and excuses. When inconsistencies arise, they just ignore the cognitive dissonance.

    “8. Why Do Transcendent Moral Truths Exist?
    ‘We have an intuitive sense of moral ‘oughtness’; we recognize that some things are right and some things are wrong, regardless of culture, time or location. We understand that it’s never morally ‘right’ to torture people for the mere ‘fun’ of it. . . . These moral vices and virtues are objective in the sense that they stand above (and apart from) all of us as humans; they are not simply creations of our liking. Instead, they are independent and transcendent.’ Transcendent law requires a transcendent Law Giver.”

    That “intuitive sense” is just a combination of the necessary biology of a social species and the pressure of the society and environment of the individual.

    “9. Why Do We Believe Human Life to be Precious?
    We kill weeds and pests, and we eat livestock, but we’d never consider this for a fellow human. How do we justify this if we’re all just the results of evolution?”

    “… we’d never consider this for a fellow human.” You haven’t been paying attention.

    “10. Why Does Pain, Evil, and Injustice Exist in Our World?
    ‘People are capable of inflicting great evil on one another and natural disasters occur across the globe all the time. More importantly, no matter what we do as humans, we seem to be unable to stop evil from occurring.’”

    Well, sometimes it seems in our own self-interest to “do evil”. But we tell ourselves that it is for the “greater good”. One of the most important human skills it the ability to make up stories so that we can think ourselves good.
    Pain exists to warn us. Evil is whatever we don’t like. “Justice” is a fable. It is just the impulse to kill those who harm or threaten us.
    If there were every conceivable flavor of ice cream in the world but most people didn’t like chocolate, the majority might very well proclaim that chocolate was evil, and would set about exterminating the vermin who insisted on eating chocolate ice cream.
    Some fool once advised against judging others. He was nailed to a piece of wood and left to die. And anyone foolish enough to advise such today, would still be putting themself at risk from the wrath of the righteous.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      good points.

    • Kevin Harris

      I applaud that you met the challenge of these questions and at least offered some answers! For brevity, I’d like to just comment on two issues if I may.

      “Something exists because “nothing” is, by definition, non-existent. We can make testable hypotheses as far back as a few microseconds after the singularity. Beyond that we just don’t know.”

      The statement “Nothing… is non-existent” can still indicate that “nothing” is something and that it does not exist. “Nothing” means “not anything”. It’s like saying “I had nothing for lunch and it tasted like chicken!”

      Big Bang cosmology indicates a finite time ago when all time, space, matter/energy came into being. Prior to that, nothing of the order of time, space, or matter/energy existed. But since something cannot come from nothing uncaused, then something NOT of the order of time, space, matter/energy must have existed and caused the universe. Thus:

      1). Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
      2). The universe began to exist.
      3). Therefore, the universe had a cause.

      From here, one can do a conceptual analysis of what the cause would be like, i.e. what attributes the cause has. (To say “we don’t know” what existed prior to the Big Bang does not mean we cannot engage in a conceptual analysis of what may have existed).

      Secondly, on Morality:

      “That “intuitive sense” is just a combination of the necessary biology of a social species and the pressure of the society and environment of the individual.”

      If that’s all morality is, then so be it. And therefore there are no objective standards of morality, no gauge for moral progress, and morality is just whatever society decides – which means Nazi society was not, or is not, wrong. Nor is it actually wrong to torture human babies merely for fun and pleasure.

      But this is the Naturalistic Fallacy, or the Is/Ought Fallacy. Positing that moral values and duties are only biology/society just describes what moral values are (descriptive). But moral values and duties are not merely descriptive (“what is”) they are prescriptive (“what ought to be”). Therefore, they require an objective standard by which to determine what ought or ought not be.

      • Michael Neville

        And therefore there are no objective standards of morality, no gauge for moral progress, and morality is just whatever society decides – which means Nazi society was not, or is not, wrong. Nor is it actually wrong to torture human babies merely for fun and pleasure.

        The Nazis didn’t think they were wrong. And as amazing as it may seem, there are people who do torture babies for fun and pleasure, one group are called “abusive parents.”

        But moral values and duties are not merely descriptive (“what is”) they are prescriptive (“what ought to be”). Therefore, they require an objective standard by which to determine what ought or ought not be.

        So who determines “what ought or ought not be”? Does a fictitious, imaginary, non-existent sky pixie do that determination? Or do self-appointed spokespeople for the magic sky pixie offer their services?

        • Kevin Harris

          “The Nazis didn’t think they were wrong. And as amazing as it may seem, there are people who do torture babies for fun and pleasure, one group are called “abusive parents.”

          Your point?

          “So who determines “what ought or ought not be”? Does a fictitious, imaginary, non-existent sky pixie do that determination? Or do self-appointed spokespeople for the magic sky pixie offer their services?”

          You tell me! Hint: i wouldn’t look to imaginary pixies, magic, or something located in the sky were I you.

        • Michael Neville

          You’re the one claiming that such a nebulous thing as objective morality exists. You claimed that without objective morality the Nazis would not be wrong. I pointed out that the Nazis themselves didn’t see themselves as wrong. You also claimed that without objective morality torturing babies for fun and pleasure would not be wrong. Again I said that there are those who do torture babies for fun or pleasure and I gave an example. My point is that either you picked bad examples or else, and this is how I bet, there is no such thing as objective morality.

          Furthermore if objective morality exists as you claim then someone or something determines which actions are or are not moral. So who is this authority? Asking me is pointless because I’m not the one claiming objective morality exists.

        • Kevin Harris

          “I pointed out that the Nazis themselves didn’t see themselves as wrong.”

          So that makes them right?

          “Again I said that there are those who do torture babies for fun or pleasure and I gave an example”.

          So because child abusers exist, abusing children is not wrong? You are not making sense, Let’s get that straight and I’ll be glad to tell you why I think objective moral values and duties exist and what it is that rationally grounds them.

        • Michael Neville

          The Nazis themselves did not see what they were doing as wrong. You might think they were doing wrong, I might think they were doing wrong, but they did not. That shows that the Holocaust and other Nazi efforts are not OBJECTIVELY wrong. Also abusive parents don’t think they are doing wrong when they abuse their children so again there’s no OBJECTIVE morality shown here.

          Objective morality has been discussed many times on this blog. Never, not even once, has an example of objective morality been shown. All morality is subjective. That’s right, it’s all a matter of opinion as to what is or is not moral. Certain actions, such as the Holocaust and torture of children, are almost universally denounced as being immoral but, as I’ve shown, some people have other opinions.

          If you think that objective morality exists then first define exactly what you mean by it and then give examples which cannot be rebutted.

        • Greg G.

          It is objectively immoral to travel faster than light through space. If masturbation was objectively immoral, it would be as difficult as tickling yourself, which is obviously objectively immoral.

        • Michael Neville

          Thank you, Greg. Now I know why we can’t tickle ourselves.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I believe Kevin is in the path of hurricane Irma.

          I hope he responds to this question of objective morality, though after striking out trying to get the last two dozen Christian apologists to defend objective morality with a good argument, I’m not optimistic.

      • Greg G.

        Big Bang cosmology indicates a finite time ago when all time, space, matter/energy came into being. Prior to that, nothing of the order of time, space, or matter/energy existed.

        No, it doesn’t. The Big Bang goes back to about 10^-43 second, but the quantum, relativity, and time theories break down at that point so they don’t say what happened before that. But it has been discovered that space containing all the large structures in the universe are moving away from one another and accelerating. The limit of the speed of light only applies to things traveling through space but not to space itself. That implies that, eventually, the superclusters of galaxies will be traveling away from one another at greater than light speed and will not be visible to one another. Our universe may be a pocket universe inside another universe where the rest of it traveling away from us at greater than light speed so we will never see them, but that may be a pocket universe, too, and so on.

        If the universe came from nothing, then it cannot have a cause because a cause acting on nothing has no effect. It has been noted that a positron is mathematically the same as an electron traveling backwards in time. Quantum time does not appear to be unidirectional the way our brains work with thermodynamics and entropy. So a virtual electron-positron pair appears to us as an energetic photon traveling through our time, though time is stopped for the photon traveling at light speed, then it breaks into a creation event of a positron and an electron which annihilate each other, leaving an energetic photon. But the photon could travel between the creation and the annihilation events where the annihilation of the electron is the creation of the positron and vice versa. When you view a distant star, the photon leaving the star and striking your retina is the same event because time doesn’t pass at light speed. Likewise the photon created or destroyed in the creation/annihilation events of the positron-electron pair is the same instant. So the virtual pair causes itself by working both directions in time. No external cause is necessary.

        What’s the chance of a universe full of such events occurring simultaneously? Very unlikely. What’s the chance of such a thing never happening from time to time, given eternity? It’s inevitable. The freshness date on the Kalam Cosmological Argument has expired.

        • Kevin Harris

          “Our universe may be a pocket universe inside another universe where the rest of it traveling away from us at greater than light speed so we will never see them, but that may be a pocket universe, too, and so on.”

          Any multi-verse scenario just puts the issue back a step. What generated the multi-verse? Besides, the scientific confirmation of Big Bang is secondary to the philosophical evidence supporting the Kalam, i.e. it is impossible to traverse an actual, concrete, infinite via subsequent addition.

          “If the universe came from nothing, then it cannot have a cause because a cause acting on nothing has no effect.”

          You are confusing an efficient cause with a material cause. Further, “nothing” cannot be reified into something which can be acted upon. Nothing is “no thing”. There is not even any potential. But as Augustine pointed out, the potential lay in God’s power to create.

          “Quantum time does not appear to be unidirectional the way our brains work with thermodynamics and entropy”.

          Not everyone believes B-Theory of Time is correct. Particularly Tim Maudlin.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Any multi-verse scenario just puts the issue back a step. What generated the multi-verse?

          You seem to be saying, “The next step in the chain just pushes the issue back a step. Why bother?”

          It’s science.

          We don’t know what created the multiverse or even if it was created (since quantum things often aren’t). So what? So we have more questions to answer? Well, yeah. That’s reality.

        • Greg G.

          Any multi-verse scenario just puts the issue back a step. What generated the multi-verse? Besides, the scientific confirmation of Big Bang is secondary to the philosophical evidence supporting the Kalam, i.e. it is impossible to traverse an actual, concrete, infinite via subsequent addition.

          If the multiverse is a quantum event, which way is back a step? You are thinking of time as unidirectional and nothingness being the philosophical concept of nothing that is as impossible in reality as the concept of a perfect circle or a perfect equilateral triangle. A perfect nothingness may be inherently unstable. It would require a something to maintain stability.

          You are confusing an efficient cause with a material cause. Further, “nothing” cannot be reified into something which can be acted upon. Nothing is “no thing”. There is not even any potential. But as Augustine pointed out, the potential lay in God’s power to create.

          Augustine didn’t understand quantum mechanics. Show me where a perfectly stable nothing has ever existed outside of the imagination. The leading theory in physics for going on forty years comes from Alan Guth, that says that space and energy/matter can come into being in equal and opposite amounts, with space being like potential energy and the energy being like kinetic energy in conservation of energy equations. Energy/space/time comes from nothing. There are no laws that prevent it. It seems to be spontaneous. It may be the reason we see galaxies moving away from one another and accelerating.

          Not everyone believes B-Theory of Time is correct. Particularly Tim Maudlin.

          Guth’s theory may not be complete but it has withstood 35 years of challenges.

          I Googled Maudlin. The first link was his Wikipedia page and the next link was somebody disagreeing with him, particularly about his ideas about time.

          https://motls.blogspot.com/2013/07/tim-maudlins-right-and-more-often.html

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Kevin: Are you in the path of Irma? Is it expected to be dangerous when it gets to your area?

          Stay safe.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        The statement “Nothing… is non-existent” can still indicate that “nothing” is something and that it does not exist. “Nothing” means “not anything”. It’s like saying “I had nothing for lunch and it tasted like chicken!”

        What preceded the Big Bang? Physicists don’t know. Was it space with no matter? Was it energy with no space? Was it the laws of physics but neither energy/mass nor space? You can say, “Aha! Your ‘nothing’ isn’t actually nothing!” but that’s not the issue. We don’t know what preceded the Big Bang or even what “preceded the Big Bang” even means without time.

        Big Bang cosmology indicates a finite time ago when all time, space, matter/energy came into being. Prior to that, nothing of the order of time, space, or matter/energy existed.

        Is this true? I think you’re too confident, and I don’t think I’ve read this from cosmologists. Rather, I think they say, “We have the singularity of the Big Bang, beyond which we can’t say.”

        But since something cannot come from nothing uncaused

        The Copenhagen interpretation says otherwise. At the quantum level, some things don’t have causes. Some things come into existence that weren’t caused.

        From here, one can do a conceptual analysis of what the cause would be like, i.e. what attributes the cause has. (To say “we don’t know” what existed prior to the Big Bang does not mean we cannot engage in a conceptual analysis of what may have existed).

        Right, but let’s have some humility about who “we” is. You and I, laymen, can at best be popularizers of what the physicists say. We’re not going to be offering new insights.

        If that’s all morality is, then so be it. And therefore there are no objective standards of morality

        I certainly see no evidence of it, at least given WLC’s definition of objective morality: “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”

        I’ve yet to see Craig defend this definition. I agree that it’s popular, but it’s also quite easy to explain our shared or strongly felt morality as subjective. Do you have evidence for objective morality?

        no gauge for moral progress, and morality is just whatever society decides

        Is slavery wrong? Yes, it is, according to society. You can also go to the individual person for yet more subjective takes on slavery. What must be explained by a claim of objective morality?

        which means Nazi society was not, or is not, wrong

        Huh?? Of course it’s wrong . . . according to me. If you say that that ain’t much of a platform, I’ll agree. Show me something better.

        But this is the Naturalistic Fallacy, or the Is/Ought Fallacy.

        The is/ought fallacy is interesting only if one first assumes objective morality. I don’t. I’ve read dozens of Christian claims for it and zero defenses beyond, “Well, it’s just obvious, isn’t it?”

      • hisxmark

        A couple of points to clarify my argument:

        Kevin Harris: “The statement ‘Nothing… is non-existent’ can still indicate that ‘nothing’ is something and that it does not exist.”

        “Leprechauns are non-existent.”, does not imply anything more than the existence of the idea of leprechauns. The idea of “nothing” exists. That does not imply that an instance of actual “nothing” can exist.

        Kevin Harris: “Positing that moral values and duties are only biology/society just describes what moral values are (descriptive). But moral values and duties are not merely descriptive (‘what is”‘) they are prescriptive (‘what ought to be’). Therefore, they require an objective standard by which to determine what ought or ought not be.”

        Moral values require only an opinion. The opinion may be widely shared, but that does not make it an objective standard. You invoke an “objective moral standard” only to lend the illusion of authority to your opinion. If there were no opinions, there would be no moral standards, objective or not. You wish to prescribe how people act. So are we all honorable men. That does not mean that we can determine what is real by an act of assertion.

        Edited to add: And “time” is a dummy variable in a differential equation of “n” spacial dimensions.