A Twofer!

Believer in sociobiology and morality as by-product of evolution blathers something about morality, opens himself to a delightful tag team takedown by Leah Libresco *and* Mike Flynn.  All appeals to evolution as the basis of morality depend on the unspoken moral premise that existence is good and preferable to extinction.  Saying we “should” obey our genetic programming when it comes to conscience seems to me to be as sensible as saying we “should” never dye our hair or trim our nails.  If it’s just chromosomes talking, why should I care what they think? On the other hand, if it’s God speaking through creation, I’m prepared to say that Infinite Wisdom has more on the ball than dumb luck and the random shuffle of molecules.

Update: Sorry I wasn’t clear.  I didn’t mean Leah and Mike showed up in his comboxes to take him down.  I just meant he was ripe for a takedown by them, since they have both written and thought rather extensively about the stuff this guy was chattering about.

  • Timbot2000

    Mark,

    Thanks, but none of your links lead to any takedowns :(
    Could you please re-check for us?

    • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

      I was also expecting takesdowns on the links, but re-reading Mark, methinks he is inviting them to post rather than saying they already have posted: “opens himself to…” is ambiguous.

      On this point, Mark opens himself to critique by his commenters! ;-)

  • Mike in KC, MO

    I think perhaps the atheist guy deleted the comments?

    • Timbot2000

      How I yearn for the old Google Cache! Those were the days!

  • The Deuce

    That Randall Parker guy must have deleted their comments. What a schmuck. Can’t have anyone thinking thoughts that might cause them to question what he’s saying. But, hey, I guess if “we are moral rationalizers who deceive ourselves that we are reasonable” as this guy says, there is no point in engaging in rational debate, since in that case there is no such thing as rationality, and hence there’s no such thing as objective truth that we can find by using reason and logic. In that case, you might as well just construct your “narrative” by hiding opposing viewpoints instead of trying to counter them logically, since it’s easier and neither route actually leads to objective truth anyway.

    This Randall Parker guy has once again demonstrated that atheists are not only irrational, they are anti-rational.

    • The Deuce

      *usual disclaimer that I don’t mean *all* atheists, just the atheists who attempt to reduce our rational faculties to byproducts of unintended and/or mechanistic forces, which is the vast majority of them in Western atheism.

  • Gary Keith Chesterton

    What a disappointment.

  • RFlaum

    “All appeals to evolution as the basis of morality depend on the unspoken moral premise that existence is good and preferable to extinction.”

    You’re confusing causes with reasons. Avoidance of extinction is the cause for us developing these moral urges, but it is not the reason we should follow them.

    • The Deuce

      No, Mark isn’t making that error. He’s pointing it out in the proponents of evolutionary “morality.”

      • RFlaum

        No, see, now you’re just misunderstanding your opponents’ claims. Believing that the welfare of the tribe is the reason evolution gave us moral urges does not mean that one must believe that moral urges should be followed only for the good of the tribe.

    • Bob_the_other

      But do go on. What is the reason why we should be moral?

      • RFlaum

        Morality requires no reason beyond itself; it is inherently desirable, for its own sake.

        • Andy, Bad Person

          Gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.

          • RFlaum

            My point is that you have to assume a moral axiom, no matter what your world model is. If you derive goodness from God, you still have to start with the axiom that one should accord oneself with God. Why should one do so? Well, either you can say that according oneself with God is inherently desirable — which is basically of the same form as my argument — or you can appeal to some encompassing moral framework (e.g., gratitude to God), in which case you’re making exactly the same argument as I am (e.g., arguing that gratitude is good for its own sake).

            As Mark is fond of saying, you can’t derive Ought from Is — and that’s true whether your Is is “God exists” or “God does not exist”.

            • Bob_the_other

              Well, you can indeed derive “oughts” from “is” under a certain description. Ought is in this sense, no difference from “owe.” If Tom has sold John something which is worth $5, or lent him the same amount, Tom owes John $5. So, “God exists” by itself does not yield an “ought,” but “God exists and loves me into existence” does. “God does not exist” by itself doesn’t work this way.

              That said, I am not that far from you. If all you want to say is that somehow, morality is built into human beings in an evolutionary way, that is fine by me. But then, living in accord with this morality still has to be chosen. The question is whether this choice could be adequately motivated or not.

              • RFlaum

                Even with the “owe” argument, you’re presupposing that there’s a moral obligation to repay debts. You still need the Ought of “One ought to repay what one owes.”

                Let me distinguish here between two forms of motivation. There’s logical motivation, which I argue is unnecessary in this case. There’s also emotional motivation — that urge that gives you the strength to follow the dictates of morality. Gratitude can certainly be that motivation, but so can self-respect. To behave immorally is to degrade yourself, to make yourself less than what you are.

                Let me mention here one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read, from a speech by Émile Zola. Zola is, if you’ll pardon the term, the patron saint of nontheistic moralism. At the time he delivered this speech, he was about to be sent into exile for defending the good name of a man he’d never met — he knew that this would be the result of his action before he made it, but he did so nevertheless, because… well, I’ll let you read it:

                Dreyfus is innocent. I swear by my life, and I swear by my honor. At this solemn moment, in the presence of this tribunal which is the representative of human justice, before you, gentlemen of the jury, who are the very incarnation of the country, before the whole of France, before the whole world, I swear that Dreyfus is innocent. By my forty years of work, by the authority that this toil may have given me, I swear that Dreyfus is innocent. By all I have now, by the name I have made for myself, by my works which have helped for the expansion of French literature, I swear that Dreyfus is innocent. May all that melt away, may my works perish if Dreyfus be not innocent! He is innocent.

                All seems against me — the two Chambers, the civil authority, the military authority, the most widely-circulated journals, the public opinion which they have poisoned. And I have for me only the idea — an ideal of truth and justice. But I am quite calm; I shall conquer. I was determined that my country should not remain the victim of lies and injustice. I may be condemned here. The day will come when France will thank me for having helped to save her honor.

                An ideal of truth and justice. Such an ideal needs no further justification.

                • Bob_the_other

                  I think the ought of “one ought to repay one’s debts” is not quite germane here. My point is that it is part of the activity in which you are engaged, that there is a fairly accurate analogy with life.

                  Admitting that gratitude and not degrading oneself can both be adequate motivations, there still remains the question of who or what I am that I can be grateful for or true to, which in turn is intimately connected with the question of what justice and morality are in the first place, and what counts as truth as distinct from mere “facts”, i.e. something which is meaningful as distinct from something which happens to be the case.* In this way, I don’t think you can divorce logical and emotional motivation from each other.

                  I like Cicero’s On the Laws myself, and the ideal of the moral law as flowing from a “cosmic citizenship,” a conception which I daresay Zola would not perhaps have found too far from his own ideal.

                  *I don’t mean “facts” should be ignored, but one might abstractly admire someone who would die for the proposition that “Cows are ruminant animals,” in real life, this is admirable or motivated inasmuch as it is part of a larger story, perhaps at the very least, on the grounds that “Even the most trivial of truths is worthy of respect and defence.”

                  • RFlaum

                    “I don’t think you can divorce logical and emotional motivation from each other.”

                    Yeah, I didn’t really express myself clearly there. What I meant was that a hypothetical morally perfect person wouldn’t need these extra emotional motivations — such a person would do right because it is right. In the real world, people aren’t perfect and must co-opt less noble motivations to help them muster up the necessary force of will. For instance, a wealthy philanthropist who’s genuinely concerned about the fate of the less fortunate, but who also enjoys being seen as someone who’s concerned about the less fortunate. In that case, he’s co-opting his vanity to spur him to greater philanthropic acts than he might otherwise perform.

                    It may or may not be the case that, in practice, religious feeling helps people to keep to the straight and narrow; this is an issue on which I have no opinion. However, it is not logically a necessary or sufficient precondition of morality. A person with no moral urges will not be persuaded to be moral by proof of God’s existence. A belief in God can persuade someone as to what actions are moral (though it shouldn’t; there’s no inherent reason to privilege God’s opinions on morality over yours or mine, even should He exist[1]), but it can’t persuade someone of the desirability of morality itself.

                    Even in the more limited sense of deciding which actions are moral, religion doesn’t necessarily provide any benefits (in terms of logical soundness, I mean) over any number of secular philosophies. Any moral philosophy must be built upon moral axioms. You can build it on “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God”; you can build it on “The greatest good for the greatest number”; you can build it on “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”; you can build it on “An thou harm none, do what thou wilt”; you can build it on “Good is that which all desire”; you can even build it on “All glory to the Emperor”. I’d like some of these philosophies more than others, but they’re all logically sound.

                    [1]With two exceptions: an action may have consequences I can’t foresee, and my moral premises may have implications I’m not smart enough to deduce. But when it comes to what consequences are desirable, and what my moral premises should be, His opinion would be worth exactly as much as anybody else’s.

                    • Bob_the_other

                      Well, logical soundness (or internal coherence) is one thing, but the logical soundness of a system of ethics cannot be a primary criterion for choosing it. There must be something else which makes a particular system of ethics good or bad, unless you hold that what is “right” is entirely self-evident or inbuilt,* so that reasoning is always post-factum. For a theist like myself, it is not that God makes me feel good about doing something good. In fact, in some situations, you feel nothing or even bad about doing something which is right, and having God in your life might give you the strength to choose that which is good, but have no effect on how you feel. But either way, that isn’t my point. Rather, it is that, if this world is created# by God, this fact about the world isn’t ethically neutral. It is something about the world which has to enter into your system of ethics: If the world is created, then human living and valuing of other created beings has to take God into account. Also God, qua God, isn’t, for most theists, an item in the world. So, He doesn’t have opinions, and doesn’t dictate moral premises in that sense, but rather in that he designs the world.

                      I rarely post, but I’ve enjoyed this discussion. Just in case you or I decide that clicking pg. 2 (and 3 and 4 ad inf.) to continue an old discussion on which everyone else has given up is less and less self-motivating. ;-)

                      *Catholic natural law theorists would hold that it is inbuilt to the extent that one can reason to it, but not inbuilt or natural in the sense that the right thing to do is also the natural thing to do. Unsurprisingly, an astonishing number of good people believe that “natural law” = “doin’ what comes nat’r'lly.”

                      #Needless to say, creation isn’t used here to mean 6-days or ID, or direct intervention, only as referring to the fact that the world isn’t conclusively explained on a natural level.

                    • RFlaum

                      I think we’ve been talking past each other here, misunderstanding each others’ points. I’m not trying to argue that theistic morality is logically incoherent; I’m just pointing out that it’s possible to construct a logically coherent morality without theism. I was rebutting the charge that morality requires God.

                      “There must be something else which makes a particular system of ethics good or bad, unless you hold that what is ‘right’ is entirely self-evident or inbuilt”
                      See, I don’t even think this is a meaningful statement. The word “good” means “in accordance with the speaker’s system of ethics”. To put it another way, deciding whether a given system is good or bad is a moral judgment, and you can’t make moral judgments without a system of ethics already in place.

                      “Rather, it is that, if this world is created# by God, this fact about the world isn’t ethically neutral. It is something about the world which has to enter into your system of ethics: If the world is created, then human living and valuing of other created beings has to take God into account.”
                      Well, yes and no. If we start from your axioms, then whether or not God exists/created the world is a question of enormous moral import. But if we start from mine then it’s a purely factual question, albeit one with very large practical consequences (life after death, the efficacy of prayer, etc.) Again, I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t attach importance to it, just that one doesn’t have to attach importance to it.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    YOS glanced at the indicated post and discovered a cruel hodge-podge of teleology, parousia, and wishful thinking. It was marvelous, and a little sad, how “self-righteousness” was discovered in those who disagreed. And the endearing faith that “evolution” or “genetic engineering” would one day deliver pie in the sky was adorable. The trap of consequentialism was especially tragic: the only reason the poster or his claque could imagine for something being “moral” was its consequences. But this implies that there must be some standard of morality lying beyond the consequences, for the consequences themselves must be judged “good” or “bad.”

    Scattered about the text, like nuggets of gold in the dross, were some actual true statements, albeit unrecognized as such. And the commentators were so precious. For example, one such, yclept ASPIRANT, wrote:
    the moral code that holds stem-cell research as immoral is delusional. It posits the existence of a “soul” that enters the body at conception, which is impossible given that the sense of self is created by neural circuitry that stem cells simply don’t have. This may be a Christian’s subjective reality, but it ignores objective truth, and is therefore invalid.
    As Pauli once said of a physics theory: “It is not even wrong.” Once we realize that “soul” is simply an English translation of the original Latin “anima” (of the original Greek) and simply means “alive,” one may easily see that whether a body has soul is eminently objective and in most cases empirically verifiable. “Is X alive?” If yes, the it has soul. But the expression “enters the body” indicates a false Cartesian notion of soul. At what time does sphericity “enter” a ball? When does the number and arrangement of protons, neutrons, and electrons “enter” a sodium atom? Rather, the atom is coextensive with its form, the ball with its sphericity, and hence the human being with its soul. Without a substantive form, petunias, puppies, and people would not contain within themselves the principle of their own kinesis: that is, they would not be self-organizing systems and would remain inert unless acted upon by an outside force.
    The outbreathing ASPIRANT then makes a comment about “sense of self” and “neural circuitry” that is unrelated to soul, but whose punctuation suggests he believes it germane. We need only note that many living [i.e., ensouled] beings lack a sense of self. Petunias, for example; but also unconscious humans. And that further, per general relativity, bodies have extension in four dimensions: three spatial and one temporal. That earlier “slices” of the space-time “worm” lack some property or power which later “slices” possess is no more remarkable than that one’s little toe lack a sense of self.
    ASPIRANT also seems to believe that the objection is to the stem cells themselves, that they are somehow human; but the objection is to the fact that human beings must be killed to obtain embryonic stem cells. There is no objection to adult stem cells or regressed stem cells, since no one must be killed to obtain them.

  • Pluto Animus

    “On the other hand, if it’s God speaking through creation, I’m prepared to say that Infinite Wisdom has more on the ball than dumb luck and the random shuffle of molecules.”

    Oh please, please let it be the magical, invisible friend and not crummy old reality!


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