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Heartless Evolution

Marc Cortez shared the above image. I think it actually helps get at a serious point. The role of death in the process is the thing that bothers some people about evolution. And yet, as the person who wrote in their own answer realized, death is not a problem unique to one viewpoint or even to evolution. Death is a reality, and no system of thought can pretend that their view makes everything disappear that seems disturbing on other views.

To the extent that nature is or is not “red in tooth and claw,” that is an issue that arises from what we observe, and not just a particular scientific theory about the evidence.

 

  • stuart32

    In Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on Earth there is an interesting chapter called Towards an Evolutionary Theodicy. The theme of the chapter can be summed up thus: why are trees tall? Answer: they can’t agree to remain short. In other words, growing tall requires a lot of energy for a tree and life would be much easier for trees if they all agreed not to grow so tall. But treaties can never work in evolution because someone will always violate them. If all trees were shorter then all it would take is one mutation that makes a tree grow taller and that mutation will spread because its owner is more likely to survive and reproduce. If there is another mutation that makes a tree grow taller still then that one will spread and so on.

    The same thing applies to cheetahs and gazelles. Life would be easier for both of them if they could agree to stop running so fast. They are involved in an evolutionary arms race which has pushed them to the absolute physical limit. If only gazelles would accept that a certain proportion of them will end up as dinner for the cheetahs and then they could offer to run a bit slower and the cheetahs would do the same. Again, this can’t happen in evolution.

    So there is a kind of madness in the evolutionary process that is constantly pushing life to the extremes. Richard Dawkins sees this as evidence against the existence of God. Mind you, there was one evolutionary extreme that he didn’t consider, and that is human intelligence. Without the tendency of evolution to push life to the limit, human intelligence could never have arisen.

    • guest

      Human intelligence also makes treaties possible, between some humans at least. We can even interfere in evolution for our own benefit.

      • stuart32

        Good point.

      • Matt Brown

        Social Contract Theory fails to explain the moral ‘ought’. If morals are the result of evolution, then they can’t be objective and binding. In fact, morals wouldn’t exist at all. Nothing would be moral or immoral on an atheist worldview. There would be moral change, but not moral progress. As atheist philosopher of Science Michael Ruse puts it “The position of the modern evolutionist . . . is that humans have an awareness of morality . . . because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth . . . . Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love they neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves . . . . Nevertheless, . . . such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.”

        • arcseconds

          What are you talking about?

          It seems like you’re taking issue with something the guest said, but I’m not sure what. They never mentioned ‘social contract theory’, and never said what they thought made contracts binding. All they said was intelligence made contracts possible — at least for some people!

          Are you denying that intelligence makes contracts possible? The only thing that I could think that would count as a disproof of this is examples of contracts with unintelligent things, or at least an argument to the effect that this is possible…

          Or are you just playing a word-association game on the word ‘contract’?

          • Matt Brown

            oh… I thought the guest was talking about morals. No, I don’t deny that intelligence can make contracts. I’m sorry I misunderstood.

        • stuart32

          “If morals are the result of evolution, then they can’t be objective and binding.”

          I’m not sure that that is true. If God chose to create us through the process of evolution then the way in which our moral sense has evolved would also be part of God’s plan. In other words, God knew that evolution would bring creatures like ourselves into existence and that evolution is also able to give such creatures a sense of morality. So our sense of morality is a product of evolution, but it may also reflect some transcendent fact about reality.

          Consider an analogy with mathematics. Our ability to understand mathematics is a product of evolution but that doesn’t mean that numbers are an illusion created by evolution.

          • arcseconds

            Or, for that matter, our eyesight…

            • Matt Brown

              And like our eyesight, morals would change on the atheist worldview. Therefore they can’t be objective.

              • arcseconds

                Well, my analogy is intelligence:morals :: eyesight: objects in the world.

                It’s not an analogy that stands up to much stretching. My main point is that just because we use an evolved faculty to know about something, doesn’t mean that something can’t be as objective as you like. We don’t think eyesight just gives us illusion, yet eyesight evolved, so it can’t be concluded that morality is illusion just because intelligence evolved.

                I quite like stuart32′s statement about mathematics, too, and in many ways it’s a better analogy, but the status of mathematics is a bit more mysterious and disputed than the status of visible objects.

                Anyway, it sounds like you think athiests are in a worse position vis-a-vis morality than theists. Why do you think atheists are committed to morals changing? And why are theists (Christians, maybe?) in a better position? The morality that Christians actually practice has changed just as much as the morality that atheists practice over the years.

                • Matt Brown

                  Because the Theist can ground objective moral values and duties in the nature of God, regardless of what religion they belong to.

                  God by definition is the greatest maximall being possible.. that means he must therefore, be the most high good. God’s own nature is the standard of goodness. His commands would reflect his nature, thus making moral values and duties objective because they are independent of us.

                  On the atheist worldview all moral values and duties are, are just these byproducts of evolution. If that’s the case, then there’s nothing objective about them because they would change over time. They’re just an adaptation in order to help us survive.

                  But when you make statements like “We should love one another” “Murder is wrong” “Everyone has the right to believe whatever he/she wants, so long as they don’t judge others for their beliefs” you are going beyond and above someone as though they had some intrinsic worth.

                  You have no way to condone/condemn Hitler for example because what Hitler did was consistent with the ethical theory that he established and wanted for the German people to thrive.

                  That can only happen if you have a moral law giver. If there’s no moral law giver, then there’s no moral law. If there’s no moral law, then there’s no such thing as good and evil.

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    This seems to get a number of points precisely backwards. First, rooting morality in a divine subject does not make morality “objective.” Second, in the Bible divine commands supposedly make genocide or infanticide moral, and so it isn’t clear that this approach does anything to ameliorate those difficulties, and worse, it suggests that those problems are the problems of others and not woven into the Biblical literature. Third, this ignores the teaching of Jesus, which makes morality inherently subjective, as one empathetically puts oneself in another’s shoes and does to them what one would wish for oneself.

                    • Matt Brown

                      The DCT doesn’t depend on the Bible or any religious text. (Even though the Judeo-Christian is the real God), the DCT is arguing that morals must be rooted in God, who by definition is the greatest conceivable being possible. A being that is greater than we, must mean his attributes are perfect.

                      All-knowing, all-powerful, morally sufficient, etc..

                    • R Vogel

                      A unicorn, by definition, is a magical horse with a single horn growing out of its head. Just because I can make up a definition of something doesn’t make it real or correct.

                    • Matt Brown

                      *Facepalm* You seem to have a misunderstanding of the Ontological arguement. The arguement does not assume that existence is a property.

                      A unicorn is not a necessary being that can exist in all possible worlds. Therefore, your arguement is a non-sequitir.

                  • arcseconds

                    What ‘atheist worldview’? All atheists have in common is that they don’t think there’s a God (or gods). That’s not actually all that determining a factor of one’s worldview.

                    These are all ‘just’ byproducts of evolution on one very specific worldview, which happens to be atheistic, but might be better termed something like ‘naturalistic deflationary materialism’ or something like that.

                    There are plenty of other views on morals that don’t ground morality in the whims of a particular being, the existence of whom is disputed, and therefore are open to atheists and theists alike. Utilitarianism is a well-known position, and is objective as you could possibly want. The right course of action is to maximise the good, and the good is usually on such views pretty well defined. Pleasure is the simplest definition, although there are others.

                    Or, we could consider the other main family of views in philosophical ethics, which owes its inspiration to Kant, where you are to do just that which fits in a society of agents who follow similar principles in their own decision making (a principle of action which is not dissimilar from the golden rule).

                    Now, I’m sure you’ll object that you don’t like these views, or you think their status dubious as it’s not God that’s saying them, or that you don’t see why you should maximise the good, or there’s a range of views so which one to pick? or something.

                    But they’re at least as objective as grounding morality in God, and they have other advantages such that you can find out what to do in situations that aren’t covered by scripture or divine revelation.

                    (Plus, how do you know that God’s not utilitarian? Certainly the commonly-asserted reward-structure suggests something of that about him.)

                    And all of those disadvantages are also disadvantages of saying ethics is grounded in God. How do we know from the range of views that are said to be what God wants which one God actually wants? And even if we know that, why should we pay any attention?

                    At any rate, it’s just plain false to say that atheists are commited to saying ‘morals just rise out of evolution’.

                    • Matt Brown

                      A worldview is how you see the world. If you and other people share the same views about life and the Universe, then that counts as a worldview. A worldview must explain reality objectively. If your worldview can’t explain reality then it’s not true. Atheism fails to explain meaning, purpose, morals, and destiny.

                      The atheist worldview says that nature is all that there is. Morals have nothing to do with Science. Morals are not physicall properties of human beings.

                      You can’t use the scientific method to show how something is evil apart from something being good. That’s why I said that morals can’t be the result of science. Morals aren’t material, but they are immaterial like the Soul. On the athiest worldview, there is no such thing as “immaterial” things. Atheists agree that nature is all that there is and will be. Immaterial doesn’t come from material. That’s why I think this is one of the most powerful arguements for the existence of God.

                      Morals are a philosophical issues and not a scientific.

                      Yes, there are many philosophicall ideas concerning ethics, which they all are disputed. The only one that is most sound logically and true is the DCT.

                      In fact, I don’t see why your not a nihilist. For nihilists are acting consistent with the atheist worldview. They say there are no moral truths, no purpose, no meaning, and no desitny. These would all be true if atheism were true.

                      If morals are the result of evolution, then that means they change over time. If morals change over time then they’re not objective or absolute. You would have to agree with me on this because evolution is change over time. On the atheist worldview, there is no absolute unchanging standard that sits over and above societies and cultures when they change. Therefore, it would be absurd to think that anything is moral/immoral. Everything would be morally neutral on the animal kindgom. Animals don’t have a set standard of right and wrong.

                      Moreover, On the atheist worldview where do moral obligations or prohibitions come from? There are no prohibitions on the animal kingdom. It would be absurd to think we have some sort-of arbitrary obligation to one another in this natural universe without God.

                      Moral duties come from an authority figure.

                      Now to answer your other objections from your previous comment above that you assert about God being the standard of right and wrong.

                      You seem to think that God has to conform to some moral norm or standard so he can’t be the standard. This is demonstrably false.

                      God is like the old metre bar in Paris, which defined what a metre was. Not by conforming to some abstract length, but by being the model or paradigm of what a mere is. And it’s silly to ask “Why is the metre bar a metre long?”

                      God is the paradigm or model of moral goodness. Asking why is God good is redudant because it fails to understand ontologically what God is. So it’s not contentless since God’s attributes are love, justice, mercy, forgiveness,etc..

                    • arcseconds

                      OK. It seems that this is going to take a little while. So I’m going to address just one point.

                      There are people who do not beleive in God, but believe minds are a seperate kind of thing to brains (i.e. they are dualists), that morality is a seperate, objective field that exists independently to human opinion (they are moral realists) and who believe mathematical objects exist independently of the physical world (they are Platonists about mathematics).

                      I would call these people athiests, because, you know, they don’t believe in God.

                      What would you call these people? And how would you describe their worldview? It’s not the ‘atheist worldview’ that you describe, in fact, it’s almost the opposite.

                      (Also, I’m sure you don’t think it makes sense to be a moral realist without beleiving in God. But just because something doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean that people don’t believe it. Your view doesn’t make any sense to me, and it doesn’t make sense to many theists, either, but no-one will deny it isn’t a reasonably common view amongst monotheists.)

                    • Matt Brown

                      I would still call them atheists since they disbelieve in God. An atheist is someone who says “There is no God”. An atheist is also naturalist(someone who believes that nature is all that there is and ever will be. There are no supernatural realities).

                      I’m not sure many theists would disagree with me on the moral arguement, I think they would do quite the opposite:-)

                      *I hope I haven’t been rude or insulted you. I just get really into debating haha*

                    • arcseconds

                      An atheist is also naturalist(someone who believes that nature is all
                      that there is and ever will be. There are no supernatural realities).

                      OK. Let’s get this straight. I have already just described someone who believes that nature is not all that there is and ever will be. They believe that minds, morals, and mathematics are outside of nature, so they are not naturalists. You have accepted that they are atheists, and then you assert this again.

                      So do you think they both are and aren’t atheists? You’ve heard of the law of excluded middle, right?

                      What about someone who doesn’t believe in God, but does believe in ghosts and spirits? They very much beleive in supernatural realities. Again, I would call such a person an atheist, but not a naturalist. What would you call them?

                      I’m not insulted, I’ve got a pretty thick skin :-)

                    • Matt Brown

                      I think that someone who calls themself an atheist, but believes that things like the mind, the soul, morals, demons, angels,etc… is really not an atheist. I think they’re some sort of agnostic.

                      These sorts of things can’t be explained naturally, so the only other option is that they come from the supernatural.

                      If someone says that they’re an atheist, but believes in the possiblity of the supernatural, then they should not deny the existence of God. They sound like an agnostic to me…They don’t know and they don’t believe, nor do they disbelieve.

                      I think the main problem today is that many atheists re-define(no offense to you if you’re an atheist) the word “atheism” to mean a sort-of non-theism or non-theist. But taken in the greek, a is a negation. Theos means God. So the atheist is really saying “There is no God”.

                    • arcseconds

                      The thing is, Matt, as I mentioned in my last post, people don’t always believe what they ‘should’. So we need terms not just to describe the beliefs where the combination makes sense, but also when the combination doesn’t make sense.

                      An atheist, by definition, says ‘there is no God’, we do apparently agree on that. I don’t think there are really many people who call themselves atheists who mean they are agnostics.

                      But ‘there is no God’ does not mean ‘there is only matter’. As we’ve just discussed, many atheists believe that matter doesn’t at all exhaust what exists.

                      Also, regardless of whether you think it makes sense or not, some atheists do believe in the supernatural. Someone who believes in ghosts but not in God might not call themselves an atheist, but they probably should, shouldn’t they?

                      As for why someone would believe this, well, what would happen if a firm atheist were to find (what they take to be) incontrovertible evidence for ghosts, why would they suddenly start believeing in God?

                      Now, maybe it’s true that they should increase the chances they give for God existing a little. And maybe you think that any positive probability for God’s existence means they’re agnostic. But just because they should do this, doesn’t mean they will do this. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but if people are given evidence against a strongly-held belief, they’ll generally move their beliefs around the least amount possible! For our athiest, that means believing in ghosts, but not reconsidering the existence of God.

                      I think, actually, there were many spiritualist atheists around the turn of the 19th century. It’s perhaps less common, and it’s certainly much less prominent and trendy these days. What’s probably more common is atheists who believe in psychic phenomena, although I suppose arguably that’s ‘paranormal’ rather than ‘supernatural’.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Whether they shift their beliefs around is one thing. I’m simply going by the textbook definition. To me, personally, it would seem silly to posit the possibility of the supernatural and not posit the possibility of the existence of God. If the supernatural exists, then God could exist.

                    • arcseconds

                      Does the textbook definition mention sillyness?

                      Does it say something like “atheist (n), someone who doesn’t believe in God or gods, excluding people who are not believing in God because they’re silly.” ?

                      No, it doesn’t. So regardless of whether you think it’s silly or not, people who don’t believe in God but do believe in the supernatural are atheists.

                      More generally, none of our terms for positions and beliefs and so forth are used differently depending on whether we think the beliefs or combinations of beliefs are silly or not. I mean, I think it’s very silly to believe that scientists generally do a good job and yet believe that in the specific instance of evolution they are stupid, blinkered ideologues, yet young Earth creationists nevertheless exist.

                      Anyway, even if you think supernaturalists should be at least agnostic, how do you tell it’s the atheism that’s the silly bit? Maybe they don’t really have enough evidence to believe in the supernatural, so they should keep their atheism and believe in the supernatural instead.

                    • Matt Brown

                      I don’t believe your silly..I’m simply saying that if the supernatural exists, then you should not automatically deny the existence of God unless you have some positive reason for thinking he doesn’t exist. It’s like you want to go 90% of the way into saying there is something beyond nature, but there is no God. That is a knowledge claim and requires justification.

                    • arcseconds

                      All I’m trying to establish here is that atheism isn’t a worldview, any more than ‘I don’t believe in ghosts’ is a worldview.

                      There are lots of worldviews that people have that include, amongst their beliefs, that there is no such thing as God. The one that you call ‘atheism’ is only one such worldview amongst many, and it would be more accurately be called ‘thorough-going materialism’, or something like that.

                      Whether or not you think it’s silly or you think the outlook is inconsistent is beside the point. The point is that ‘athiest’ merely means ‘someone who believes there is no God’, no matter what else they believe.

                      Anyway, you have accepted (without quibbling that it’s silly) that someone can be an atheist, and yet a dualist, a moral realist, and a mathematical platonist. And unlike athiests who believe in ghosts, there are many people like this who self-identify as athiests. Dualism perhaps isn’t so common (although there definitely are atheist dualists), but moral realism is very common, and mathematical platonism of some sort is also not uncommon.

                      So it’d be great if you could refrain from saying things like ‘atheists believe in nothing but physical things’ from now on. Agreed?

                    • arcseconds

                      Just as an aside, I don’t think the prefix ‘α-’ quite means negation. It means privation, or without. so ‘atheist’ in terms of the greek meaning means ‘without God’, which could apply to an agnostic or even someone who believes in God but doesn’t want to live a religious life or cares what God thinks about anything.

                      Think of terms like ‘apolitical’ (which doesn’t mean ‘critical of politics’ or ‘doesn’t believe in politics’ or ‘against politics’ or suggests that they’re an anarchist or something) or ‘apathy’ (which means ‘without feeling’).

                      And some people have in the past used it to mean what is more normally intended by ‘agnostic’, someone who is ‘without belief in God’ but not necessarily someone who assents to the proposition ‘there’s no such thing as God’.

                      But this usage is rare these days, and ‘atheist’ almost always means someone who believes there is no such thing as God.

                      However, there are some people who actually know Greek here, and actually study religion, so they should feel free to correct me.

                    • Matt Brown

                      That’s the re-definition of the word atheist to mean a “non-theist”. So when atheists say that…what they really mean is “I’m not a theist.” Under this umbrella of a-theism(non-theism) lies three camps: Agnosticism, Athe-ism(God does not exist) or Verificationism(The question is meaningless or impossible).

              • stuart32

                I should point out that evil might also have an evolutionary explanation. Selective pressures may be able to create a moral sense in the majority of people but not everyone. It could be that psychopaths are the inevitable result of frequency-dependent selection. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency-dependent_selection

                This is speculation I admit but it’s a rather chilling thought.

                • Matt Brown

                  I think the problem with that, with respect to your arguement, is that it would basically show that people like: Pyschopaths, rapists, murderers, etc. are not evil, but they are just “weird”.

                  On the athiest worldview, people like these have the weak gene or unusual gene that perpetuates them to do these kinds of actions.

                  This would actually help prove my point. You see, “evil” has a much deeper meaning than harming someone. Evil implies that someone has moral value and moral worth. The pyschopath, murderer, or rapist on the atheist worldview is not really “evil”, but instead he would be “unusual” .

                  From a socio-biological standpoint, he would just be acting out of fashion with the herd morality that has been in-grained into homo-sapiens by evolution. Or in other words “going against the norm”.

                  A good analogy would be like someone who burps at the dinner table. It’s not really right or wrong to burp at the dinner table. It’s just not proper or part of the social-ettitqutte that has been enstilled by human beings to not ruin a meal.

                  • Sven2547

                    I just love when a non-atheist draws broad conclusions about “the atheist worldview” without bothering to ask an actual atheist.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Why would I need to ask an atheist in order to know about their own worldview? I’ve read and studided the atheist wolrdview, and quite frankly, it’s false and philosophically bankrupt.

                    • Sven2547

                      On what grounds? The “Argument from Morality”? Please. What’s philosophically bankrupt is taking your own subjective morality and pretending that it is the absolute objective morality imposed by the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth.

                      Consider the following:

                      Most Americans who support the death penalty are Christians. Most Americans who oppose the death penalty are also Christians.

                      Most Americans who support reproductive choice are Christians. Most Americans who oppose these choices are also Christians.

                      Most Americans who support marriage equality are Christians. Most who oppose it are also Christians.

                      Most Americans who support firearm restrictions are Christians. Most Americans opposed to such restrictions are also Christians.

                      Most Americans who supported slavery, segregation, and anti-miscegenation laws were Christians. Most Americans who opposed these things were also Christians.

                      …and on and on and on. The claim that Christianity (or any particular religion, for that matter) can provide the foundation of an objective moral framework falls flat when confronted with the reality that their adherents are all over the place on moral questions.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Even though the Judeo-Christian God is the one true God, the moral arguement doesn’t depund upon any religion. It simply says that God himself is the standard. Your objection is a non-sequitir

                    • Sven2547

                      If your objection to atheism is moral relativism, then pointing out the moral relativism inherent to your own religion is not a non-sequitur.

                      Is genocide okay? Virtually anyone you ask (regardless of religion) will say no. Yet when confronted with the genocide of the people occupying the Holy Lands by David and his armies, suddenly it turns into excuses. Seems pretty relativistic to me.

                      I’m not here to say Christianity is wrong, or that you should convert to atheism. I’m saying if you’re going to criticize atheism, intellectual honesty and moral integrity demand that you do so in a way that doesn’t rely on distortion and kicking straw-men.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Hello Sven2547:),

                      The moral arguement doesn’t depend upon any religion. The moral arguement supports the Theistic framework.

                      The theist is sound in making a moral judgement because he/she has a moral standard to ground objective moral valeus and duties in, and that is God.

                      The atheist can’t raise the objection that something is moral/immoral until they posit an absolute unchanging standard.

                      Quite frankly, there would be no absolute unchaning standard on the atheist worldview.

                      Moral nihilists(Atheists who believe there are no moral truths) are quite right in thinking that in the absence of God, there is no objective right or wrong.

                      We are merely just these advanced primates, and what we call right and wrong is just an illusion.

                      That’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying that Atheists can’t know right and wrong, nor am I saying that atheists can’t uphold moral values and duties.

                      I’m simply saying that atheists don’t have a standard for morality on their worldview. There’s no point of reference for the Atheist to ground these objective moral values and duties. As a result, they have to borrow from Theism when it comes to things like Meaning, purpose, morality, destiny, truth,etc.. That’s why I said, with respect to you Sven, that atheism is philosophically bankrupt because it can’t support itself.

                    • Sven2547

                      The theist is sound in making a moral judgement because he/she has a moral standard to ground objective moral valeus and duties in, and that is God.

                      I believe I have already thoroughly addressed this. If the theist has an objective standard to ground their moral values, then why are the moral standards of theists all over the place?

                      The atheist can’t raise the objection that something is moral/immoral until they posit an absolute unchanging standard.

                      I disagree. An atheist can object to things on compassionate, logical, or philosophical grounds. No need for a supernatural agent to be involved. Thus, the claim that we need to “borrow” morality from theism is unjustified.

                    • Matt Brown

                      “I believe I have already thoroughly addressed this. If the theist has an objective standard to ground their moral values, then why are the moral standards of theists all over the place?”

                      I’m not sure what you mean here. All I’m saying is that the Theist can ground moral right and wrong in the being God. Regardless of what religion they belong to.

                      “I disagree. An atheist can object to things on compassionate, logical, or philosophical grounds. No need for a supernatural agent to be involved. Thus, the claim that we need to “borrow” morality from theism is unjustified.”

                      So then on the atheist worldview, what is the absolute unchanging standard by which you can ground objective right and wrong?

                    • Sven2547

                      I’m not sure what you mean here. All I’m saying is that the Theist can ground moral right and wrong in the being God. Regardless of what religion they belong to.

                      Then theistic claims of objectivity become kinda meaningless here.

                      So then on the atheist worldview, what is the absolute unchanging standard by which you can ground objective right and wrong?

                      You don’t need an immovable objective standard to form a semblance of morality. And no, the absence of an objective standard does NOT mean carte blanche “anything goes”.

                    • Matt Brown

                      “Then theistic claims of objectivity become kinda meaningless here.”

                      Based on what? Just because people have moral disagreements does not mean there isn’t a solution or answer. Atheists have disagreements over whether morals exist or not. That doesn’t mean that one person isn’t ultimately right. The moral nihilists are right on the atheist worldveiw because they’re acting consistent with their worldview.

                      “You don’t need an immovable objective standard to form a semblance of morality. And no, the absence of an objective standard does NOT mean carte blanche “anything goes”.

                      So then how can you judge something as moral/immoral if there’s no standard?

                    • Sven2547

                      So then how can you judge something as moral/immoral if there’s no standard?

                      I already answered that. Compassion, logic, and philosophy. No superstition required. There’s nothing inherently superior about projecting your personal morality onto an external agent.

                    • Matt Brown

                      “I already answered that. Compassion, logic, and philosophy. No superstition required. There’s nothing inherently superior about projecting your personal morality onto an external agent.”

                      But you just said “You don’t need an immovable objective standard to form a semblance of morality. And no, the absence of an objective standard does NOT mean carte blanche “anything goes”.

                      So either there is a standard of right and wrong or there isn’t..which one is it’?

                    • Sven2547

                      My compassion, logic, and philosophy ARE my standard of right and wrong, but I’m not arrogant enough to think that my compassion or my philosophy represents some sort of objective universal truth. Nothing I’ve said here is self-contradictory.

                      You concede that theists, who supposedly ground their morals against an objective foundation, have a wide variety of moral positions. How is that any different than moral relativity? It’s just relativity while maintaining the delusion of objectivity! In contrast, at least I’m being honest with myself.

                    • Matt Brown

                      But at first you said there was no standard, which means you don’t believe morals exist. Then you said “Compassion, logic, and philosophy. No superstition required. “There’s nothing inherently superior about projecting your personal morality onto an external agent.”

                      If your saying philosophy and compassion are the standard, then you need to give an arguement from one or both, and not just merely assume it.

                    • Sven2547

                      I don’t understand what you are saying. Are you saying I need to provide an argument for morality from a standard of philosophy or compassion? Because that’s really friggin’ easy. So easy you should be capable of doing it yourself. Just stop and think for five minutes.

                      You also seem to have utterly disregarded the second-half of my previous post, which I will now quote for you:

                      You concede that theists, who supposedly ground their morals against an objective foundation, have a wide variety of moral positions. How is that any different than moral relativity? It’s just relativity while maintaining the delusion of objectivity! In contrast, at least I’m being honest with myself.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      I wonder if you are confusing objectivity with eternality. It is theoretically possible for there to be an eternally-existing being who is evil by any meaningful use of the term. That an eternal God has a moral view does not make the view objective, unless that same morality can be discerned by other beings irrespective of their subjective standpoint. Otherwise what you mean by “objective morality” is in fact “eternal divine subjective morality.”

                      And for a theist to adopt the stance you do, they obviously have to reject the Biblical depiction of God as ordaining the sacrifice of children and genocide, since those are (ironically) two favorite examples of things that are supposedly not always wrong unless God is the ground of “objective morality.”

                      Personally, as a Christian, I think that this whole point about “objective morality” is a distraction from Jesus’ teaching, which has morality defined in subjective terms, as empathizing with others and doing to them what we would want done to ourselves.

                    • Matt Brown

                      I was just saying that God is objective because he’s independent of us and so since he is the moral standard, then it would be objective because it’s independent of anyone’s thoughts, opinions or feelings.

                      But I do agree with Christ’s teachings since I believe Jesus to be God.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      An eternal evil being could proclaim itself the moral standard, but presumably simply by thus existing that would not make its standard good.

                      It also sounds as though you deny that God is personal, without thoughts or feelings, from your statement here. If not, then once again, are you not simply positing that God has a moral viewpoint, rooted in the divine subject, rather than talking about something objective in the normal sense of that term?

                    • Matt Brown

                      I’m not saying because God exists, he is therefore Good.

                      God is by definition the greatest possible being. If he’s the greatest possible being, then he must be perfect in every way.

                      Evil is an imperfection, so something that is evil like Satan would not be a great being, nor perfect since it’s an imperfection.

                      I don’t believe that God is impersonal. I believe he is personal since he’s perfect. His personality is one of his attributes.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      You cannot root morality in a subject, even a divine subject, and call it “objective” unless you are ignoring the meaning of words.

                      And unless words like “good” and “perfect” actually have an objective meaning, i.e. it is possible for human beings to meaningfully use those words without having access to the divine nature and perspective, then there is no way for you to know that evil is an imperfection, or to say that God is good or perfect.

                    • Andrew Dowling

                      “If he’s the greatest possible being, then he must be perfect in every way.”

                      That doesn’t logically follow. That’s the same logic used in divine-right of king logic ie the most powerful must be ordained by God .. because they’re the most powerful!

          • Matt Brown

            I don’t think that evolution is false, I agree with you on evolution. But I’m simply saying that science has nothing to do with objective moral values and duties. Your right, that comes from the imago dei.

            You couldn’t use science to show whether the Nazi scientists in the Camps did anything wrong as opposed to the scientists in North America

            If atheism is true, then there would be no such thing as right or wrong.

            Morals can only be the result of God and not evolution. Did God use evolution to bring about the creation of the world? Yes. Are morals the result of evolution? No..they are from God.

            That’s what makes us different from other creatures because morals are a reflection of God who is the standard of right and wrong. So this is not an argument against Science, but an argument against atheism.

            If morals are the result of evolution, then they can’t be objective and binding because they would change over time. Therefore, there is no absolute standard on the atheist worldview of right and wrong. It’s wrong according to one person, but right according to another.

            Math doesn’t come from Science either. Science pre-supposes that math and logic exists, so to argue that math exists using science would be arguing in a circle.

            The things that don’t come from Science like math, morals, metaphysics, etc. come from God.

            • Andrew Dowling

              “Morals can only be the result of God and not evolution. Did God use
              evolution to bring about the creation of the world? Yes. Are morals the
              result of evolution? No..they are from God.”

              You need to read some Frans De Waal. This is just off the mark and not backed up by recent research. I’m not even an atheist, but humans create moral frameworks because, in most cases, they ensure the best chance of our survival. No mammal “likes” to get hurt. Since we don’t want to get hurt, it’s a clear benefit to create societies in which we don’t hurt each other (and thus minimize reciprocity). We as mammals also like to receive and give love and affection, and create community relationships which foster that . . contrary to years of bad philosophy and theology, our innate nature doesn’t predispose us being little Charles Mansons.

              • Matt Brown

                “You need to read some Frans De Waal. This is just off the mark and not backed up by recent research. I’m not even an atheist, but humans create moral frameworks because, in most cases, they ensure the best chance of our survival. No mammal “likes” to get hurt. Since we don’t want to get hurt, it’s a clear benefit to create societies in which we don’t hurt each other (and thus minimize reciprocity). We as mammals also like to receive and give love and affection, and create community relationships which foster that . . contrary to years of bad philosophy and theology, our innate nature doesn’t predispose us being little Charles Mansons.”

                You seem to be confusing well being with moral value. Well being is not the same thing as moral value. There is no connection between your well being and your moral value.

                Second, If we as human beings can create morals, then they still change because they depend upon others thoughts or opinions or feelings, thus making them relative and or subjective.

                • Andrew Dowling

                  You can’t disassociate well being and moral value. We yearn to not be raped, murdered, stolen from etc. and our laws, which reflect our shared moral concepts, demonstrate that.

                  They also aren’t as relative as you make out because those common concerns don’t change. Humans don’t “create” them like people create art . . they are intrinsic as turning away when someone tries to hit you.

                  This doesn’t “disprove” God at all, but morality comes from the bottom-up, not top-down (Tillich did say God was the “Ground” of all Being, not the Ceiling :) )

                  • Matt Brown

                    Actually I can seperate well being and moral value becuase they’re not the same.

                    What your doing is re-defining good and evil and using them in non-moral terms. You define Good as that which supports the flourishing or well-being of conscious creatures.

                    Your just talking about what’s conducive to the flourishing of sentient life on this planet. Seen in this light, the claim that science can tell us a great deal about what contributes to human flourishing is hardly controversial. Of course, it can — just as it can tell us what is conducive to the flourishing of corn or mosquitoes or bacteria.

                    Re-defining good and evil to mean the flourishing of conscious creatures is a non-sequitir. It still fails to solve the “value” problem.:)

                    • Andrew Dowling

                      But our “values” are intertwined with what produces human flourishing. Lives of cooperation, peacemaking, justice etc. enable flourishing. Thus they make up our shared values as human beings. Loving produces flourishing (this is borne out by countless research). Again, you can’t separate these from one another.

            • stuart32

              What I said was that if our moral sense is the product of evolution then this may be compatible with God’s intentions. Our sense of right and wrong may reflect some objective fact about reality but still be due to evolution. If you deny that morality is something that can evolve you seem to have a problem, because then you must assume that God has interfered with evolution to bring about something that couldn’t have evolved. This is to open a can of worms.

              • Matt Brown

                I agree with Theistic Evolution, but as I said before, Science can not explain objective moral values and duties. Science can only explain the ‘is’.. not what ‘ought’ to be.

                Science can only show how societies benefit from morality pragmatically, but other than that, it can’t tell you or I why we ought to love one another.. or why we ought not murder each other.

                Morals are a philosophical issue and that’s why Science can’t explain them.

                • stuart32

                  My claim is not that science can provide an objective basis for morality, but that it can explain how we acquired our moral sense. These are two different questions. I won’t dispute theistic evolution because it’s always a relief to find that someone accepts evolution on any level. You should be aware, however, that this is not an unproblematic philosophy.

                  • Matt Brown

                    Right, that’s why there are so many philosophical theroies concerning the basis for objective moral values and duties.

                    The question we want the atheist to answer is not an epistemological question concerning morality, but an ontological question.. the reality of objective moral values and duties.

                    What is the nature or better yet: What is the being of objective moral values and duties?

                    I think we as theists can hold firmly to answer God. God is a being that is beyond us. And only a being who can be beyond us must mean his attributes are perfect in everyway. Love, Justice, Mercy, Compassion, Forgivness, Kindness,etc… These are what God is.

                    • arcseconds

                      OK, we can define ‘God’ as ‘Love, Justice, Mercy Compassion, Forgiveness, Kindness etc.’

                      Fine.

                      Does this actually even pick out a single concept? Related concepts, yes, but loving someone doesn’t necessarily mean always being kind to someone, and justice on the face of it seems downright opposed to forgiveness.

                      Anyway, even granted that there is one thing that’s being picked out here, how do we know that this thing has any of the other properties traditionally ascribed to God?

                      Based on the above definition of God, there are no atheists, because everyone believes in the existence of Love, etc, so everyone actually believes in God.

                      However, it doesn’t follow from this that God is an agent.

                      In fact, I suspect this nonsensical: Love etc. are properties (or is a property) an agent can have, just as efficiency is a property an engine can have. There is no engine that can be identified with efficiency. You can of course prove that the Carnot engine is the most efficient possible engine, but the reason that this is possible and meaningful is that efficiency has an independent definition from the quality of a particular engine!

                      So, I rather suspect that by making this definition, you’ve turned God into a property, not an entity, and therefore made it into a rather different sort of thing than what most theists think of it.

                      Also, there are a lot of further questions. I’ll just mention three:

                      1) does Love exist fully? Efficiency doesn’t (the Carnot engine can’t be built). It’s not clear that just because a property exists that any real object can fully instantiate it.

                      2) is there an omnipotent being? it doesn’t follow that just because Love exists that omnipotence also exists. and is this being identical with Love or the Love being?

                      isn’t it possible that the omnipotent being could actually instantiate hatred, instead of love?

                      (more generally, how do we know that any of the things normally attributed to God are true of Love? Was it Love that spoke out of the burning bush to Moses? How do we know?)

                      3) how do we know what actions are Love actions? How does this not just come down to human judgement, and thus just a human construction?

                      4) Why, at the end of all of this, should we do loving things? Why is that the morally correct thing to do?

                      It seems to me that you’ve not dismissed Euthyphro, you’ve just redefined the terms so that the question then has to be rephrased.

                    • stuart32

                      Let’s agree on the transcendent reality of moral facts. The question now is how our nature is brought into line with this transcendent reality. Since we are evolved creatures our moral faculties must be compatible with evolution. I think there are two ways of looking at this: either evolution can give us our moral sense naturally, or it can’t and God has to intervene to make it happen.

                      You said that you favour theistic evolution, so, presumably, you would choose the latter option. There seem to me to be a couple of problems with this. The first problem is the idea that God uses evolution to achieve most of His aims but occasionally it doesn’t work, so He has to step in and do the job Himself. This doesn’t seem satisfactory.

                      The second problem is that if God is completely in control of giving us our moral sense you might wonder why it doesn’t work perfectly. If God has used evolution to create our bodies then it isn’t surprising if there are flaws in our physical makeup, such as the appendix. This is what you would expect of evolution but not of design. But if God is completely responsible for creating our moral sense, then imperfection is inexplicable.

                    • Matt Brown

                      I don’t see how this would be a problem. God intervened at some point into the first human beings: Adam and Eve. He made them seperate and distinct from all the other primates by giving them his attributes. Ex: Moral Conscience, A soul, A spirit, Authority over other creatures,etc. If God has made man in his image, then that means there must be something we possess that nature couldn’t have brought about alone or independent of God.

                      Those things I mentioned above could not have been brought about by natural processes. Material things don’t produce immaterial things.

                      In fact, if these are all the result of evolution alone, then we are not unique or anymore different than our primate brothers and sisters.

                    • stuart32

                      I was willing to follow the argument you were making but I think you have just stepped off a cliff. It’s one thing to say that science can’t establish a basis for morality, but it’s quite another thing to say that our sense of morality is due to a single act of divine intervention. This seems to me to be deeply problematic. It suggests that there is an absolute dividing line between creatures with a sense of morality and those without.

                      I think this is refuted by the example we were discussing earlier, which is the existence of psychopaths. There appears to be something fundamentally different about the brains of psychopaths, which makes them unable to understand that their actions are wrong. This is what we would expect if our sense of morality has evolved and is dependent on certain features of our brains. According to your view, it would have to be due to the fact that pyschopaths don’t have souls.

                    • Matt Brown

                      No, I’m simply saying on the atheist worldview pyschopaths have the unsual gene that perpetuates them to act differently. So their actions aren’t really right or wrong, but just socially inconvient or weird.

                      From a socio-logical standpoint, the pyschopath or the rapist or murder is not beneficial to the flourishing of conscious creatures within this herd morality.

                      But it doesn’t follow that because the pyschopath or murder or rapist doens’t benefit to the well being and flourishing of conscious creatures that he/she is therefore “Evil”.

                      All it would show is that these kinds of people have some sort of deficiency in their genes that would limit the survival of the herd morality they are in.

                      I would respectfully disagree and say that these kinds of people do know right and wrong because God has instilled within in us a moral conscience, but because of their disorder, they do these kinds of actions because it makes them feel good.

            • arcseconds

              How does God make something morally right?

              Have you read Plato’s Euthyphro?

              • Matt Brown

                Euthyphro’s dilemma is a false dilemma. God doesn’t will some external goodness, nor is something good because God wills it. God wills something because he’s the good. It’s God’s own moral nature is what good is.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  I don’t find that proposed solution to the dilemma at all helpful or satisfactory. Simply saying that “good means God’s moral nature” is not actually offering a definition. If God’s nature were completely different from what it is, one could still say the same thing.

                  • Matt Brown

                    I think there’s a misunderstanding of what ‘nature’ is. Nature isn’t a personal being seperate from God. By nature, I mean God’s own attributes: Love, Justice, Kindness, Peace, Compassion,etc…So it’s not a claim without definition.

                    The atheist who ends up re-wording the Euthyphro dilemma by asking “Is God’s nature good because it wills something? Or is something good therefore, God wills it?” is redudant. It would be like asking “Is the good(God) good because it wills good? Or is something good, therefore good wills it?”

                    • R Vogel

                      Actually that is exactly the issue at the heart of Euthyphro. Making G*d into a useless tautology or collection of platonic ideals makes G*d completely irrelevant as a way of determining the morality of any given action.

                    • Matt Brown

                      And that’s why Euthyphro Dilemma is false. It fails to understand what God is ontologocially. It simply creates a false dilemma by arguing semantics and doesn’t attempt to solve the reality of objective moral values and duties.

  • http://markkoop.net Mark Koop

    “Death is a reality, and no system of thought can pretend that their view makes everything disappear that seems disturbing on other views.”

    Yes, but Creationists can console themselves with the idea that it has only been happening for a few years—since Adam. There is something more disturbing to them about the idea of evolution—that this evil caused by sin has been happening for millions of years before the first sin ever took place.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      And some of us find it more disturbing that God made a world without death, and then inflicted it (and lots of horrible ways for it to happen) onto that perfect world and all its living things out of spite.


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