Evil as an Argument for God

Consider the following argument by Alvin Plantinga:

“The premise is that there is real and objectively horrifying evil in the world. Examples would be certain sorts of appalling evil characteristic of Nazi concentration camps: guards found pleasure in devising tortures, making mothers decide which of their children would go to the gas chambers and which would be spared; small children were hanged, dying (because of their light weight) a slow and agonizing death; victims were taunted with the claim that no one would ever know their fate and how they were treated…Naturalism does not have the resources to accommodate or explain this fact [the existence of objective evil] about these states of affairs. From a naturalistic point of view, about all one can say is that we do hate them; but this is far short of seeing them as intrinsically horrifying. How can we understand this intrinsically horrifying character?…A good answer (and one for which it is hard to think of an alternative) is that this evil consists in defying God, the source of all that is good and just, and the first being of the universe. What is horrifying here is not merely going against God’s will, but consciously choosing to invert the true scale of values…(The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy , p. 326).”

In short, Plantinga asserts that unless we postulate the existence of God, we cannot have a basis for saying that some things are objectively and intrinsically horrifying. Since we do hold that some things are objectively and intrinsically horrifying, we should postulate the existence of God.

I think that a neo-Aristotelian ethical naturalist could reply as follows: On, the contrary, for us cruelty is intrinsically horrifying for precisely the reason you mention: It is the conscious choice to invert the true scale of values. For the ethical naturalist the true scale of values is a matter of biological fact. There are certain objective states of affairs that constitute eudaimonia, which is the state of greatest value for human beings. Eudaimonia is a state of mental and moral excellence with the enjoyment of a modicum of health and material prosperity. Objective evil consists in the destruction of human life or the imposition of conditions that prevent humans from achieving or enjoying such well-being.

If values are thus based on the facts of human biology and psychology, there is no need for ethicists to refer to God. If God opposes human well-being, then he himself is evil because he opposes what is objectively good and therefore consciously inverts the true scale of value. On the other hand, if God endorses objective goodness, then his endorsement is irrelevant. Even if an act conforms to God’s will, and even if God is essentially good, what makes a good act good is that it is conducive to the achievement of the human telos, not that it conforms to God’s will. So, God’s will can just be left out of the account. Explanations of goodness of good and evilness of evil need make no reference to God, but only the scientific facts. [This, of course, is a version of the old “Euthyphro” dilemma: Are things good because God wills them, or does God will them because they are good?” I am not convinced that theists have yet effectively discharged this dilemma.

Naturally, Plantinga would be unsatisfied with this answer. He would want to know why, given that there is an objective state of human well-being—we ought to value this state. What would a naturalistic ethicist say, for instance, to Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, who simply thumbs his nose at human well-being, choosing spite over happiness? What arguments could the naturalist offer to say why the Underground Man should value happiness? Isn’t the naturalist limited to saying merely that we do value happiness, and so has nothing to say to the Underground Man—who doesn’t value it?

It is true that the ethical naturalist would have nothing much to say to someone who genuinely disdains all happiness, including his own. If human well-being is the summum bonum, then there is no higher good that can be invoked to justify it. But, to offer a tu quoque, could the theist do any better? What could the theist say to the Underground Man that would help? Of course, the theist could threaten him with hell, a sanction the naturalist cannot deploy. But the traditional doctrine of an eternal, punitive hell is one hard to square with any plausible conception of goodness. (As I have argued. See “Heaven and Hell’ in Debating Christian Theism, edited by J.P. Moreland, Chad Meister, and Khaldoun A. Sweis.). Besides, if the Underground Man chooses spite over happiness, why wouldn’t he spitefully defy God’s will? In fact, isn’t this just what sin is traditionally conceived to be?

Plantinga appears to hanker for a categorical imperative, a pure, context-less “thou shalt” with the universal authority of necessary truth. The problem is that grounding a categorical imperative in God’s nature seems no more promising than grounding it in human nature. Even to say that God is essentially good does not help because this is to explicate God’s nature in terms of goodness, not explicate goodness in terms of God’s nature—which is what we need.

The upshot is that the existence of objectively horrifying evil is no basis for postulating God.

About Keith Parsons
  • watcher_b

    Isn’t the objectivity of morality as a proof for theism a circular argument?

    We can know that God exists because morals are objective. And morals are objective because God gave them to us.

    I find it is a great argument for theists to use to question the character of their opponent. “Look, if you want to agree with this guy then you are on the side of the nazi’s!”

    I don’t think that we as atheists should get caught up on providing an alternative moral paradigm as a response to the theist’s claim. Because they will prefer “God said so” over “you have to figure it out”. They are making a subjective argument, and “God said so” sounds a whole lot better. We can spend our time better by showing that it doesn’t prove God at all.

    • Vergent Bill

      I think a stronger argument would result by using the Inquisition as an example of evil. Strongly held beliefs create the certainty that nonbelievers or, worse, contrary theisms, are evil, it is therefore “good” to eliminate them.

      Dogma in all forms is a corruption of the mind. Arguing with the dogmatic is a waste of time. If you succeed in your argument(you will not), you may end up with a cornered rat.

      • watcher_b

        That is an excellent counter point to when theists point to the Nazi’s.

        I would love to try bringing it up what method they used to determine the what the Nazis did (or the Inquisition) is in fact objectively immoral. Again that highlights the circular nature of their argument. The inquisition then also includes how just because one is doing what they believe God wants them to do mean that it is therefore moral.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      A more nuanced argument goes as follows:

      Mankind doesn’t treat acts like ped0philia, the gunning down of innocent children, sadism, genocide, gang rape, racism or serial murder as just socially unacceptable behavior, like, say, picking your nose at the dinner table. Rather, these shock, disgust and horrify. They’re treated as moral abominations – acts of evil.

      On the flip side, love, equality and self-sacrifice are not just treated as socially advantageous acts, like, say, bringing a girl flowers on a first date, but, instead are treated as things that are truly good.

      Now, irrational beasts don’t have **objective** morals. When a lion savagely kills another it doesn’t think it’s committing murder. When a peregrine falcon or a bald eagle snatches prey away from another it doesn’t feel it’s stealing. When primates violently force themselves onto females and their young they’re not tried and convicted of rape or ped0philia. Obviously, then, we certainly didn’t “inherit” our **objective** moral sense from them.

      **Objective** morals do not come from science either because science, by it’s very nature, is morally nihilistic. Where, then, do we get our **universal objective morals** from?

      Consider the following:

      (1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

      (2) Evil exists.

      (3) Therefore, objective moral values and duties do exist.

      (4) Therefore, God exists.

      (5) Therefore, God is the locus of all objective moral values and duties.

      But now, how do we know God isn’t himself an evil being? Suppose we concede for the sake of argument that an evil Creator/Designer exists. Since this being is evil, that implies that he fails to discharge his moral obligations. But where do those come from? How can this evil god have duties to perform which he is violating? Who forbids him to do the wrong things that he does? Immediately, we see that such an evil being cannot be supreme: there must be a being who is even higher than this evil god and is the source of the moral obligations which he chooses to shirk, a being which is absolute goodness Himself. As such, if god is evil then there must necessarily exist a maximally great, supreme God who is all powerful, all good and all loving; One who is the very paradigm of good.

      So we don’t praise Him for doing His duty. Rather He is to be adored for His moral character because He is essentially loving, just, kind, etc. It is because God is that way that these qualities count as virtues in the first place. Essentially, God is good the same way rain is wet, diamond gemstones are hard, photons tear across space at luminous speeds and cerulean suns blaze. So if we think of God’s goodness in terms of His possessing certain virtues rather than fulfilling certain duties, we have a more exalted and more adequate concept of God.

      • watcher_b

        You are making my point for me. If Evil only exists in the context of an all Good God, then it is a circular argument.

        If people “feel” that some particular act is Evil in the world and if it is truly objective then there has to be an
        objective “not a feelings” way to determine what is evil. You (and many
        Christians) make the case that the objective way is what God says. Enter the circular argument:

        1) If God exists then evil exists
        2) We know Evil exists and we know what it is because of God
        3) We know God exists because evil exists
        ……. continue in a circle

        In your second premise you say that “Evil exists”. Evil such as “pedophilia, the gunning down of innocent children, sadism, genocide, gang rape, racism or serial murder”.

        The irony of your list there is that practically all of them are condoned, ignored, or even encouraged by God at some point in time in the bible.

        pedophilia – I am unaware of a single verse in the bible that ever condemns it
        gunning down of innocent children – see 1 Sam 15:3 when God tells the Israelites to kill the infants
        sadism – I personally find a religion who’s main deity character tortures people for eternity for temporal crimes to be a little sadistic, but I understand not everyone is going to agree with me.
        genocide – Josh 10:40
        gang rape – again, the bible has specific rules about rape, none of which necessarily “condemn” rape beyond it is just having sex with someone else who is wed or unwed.
        racism – the whole Old Testament is about how God has chosen one race and if people will not join them they will be destroyed or enslaved!
        serial murder – again, this may be subjective, but the systematic destruction of the people who were “occupying” the land of the Israelites is kind of serial and it is kind of murder. “Thou shalt not kill” is kind of meaningless in the bible in light of the numerous direct kill orders from God.
        The question arises is HOW do you know that these things are immoral?

        But I agree with you, science is indifferent towards morality. Just as math is. Just as physics is. Just as the act of reading is. Theism co-opts the term “morality” and claims it as its own and says it can only be known in the context of God. It takes a feeling we all have and provides an explanation for it, which is fine, but then fails to provide any evidence for the explanation. Theism says, “look, you feel that there is Evil in the world. You have that feeling because God. You can know this is true because you have the feeling that there is evil in the world.” Which is similar to saying “blue fairies cause it to rain. I know it is true because it is raining.”

        • Joseph O Polanco

          How do we know? The same way we know rain is wet, cerulean stars blaze, diamond gemstones are hard and that we’re alive and not dead. Our moral intuition, our conscience, is but another faculty that informs us of the realities of our world. This is why since time immemorial, even the most primitive cultures, irrespective of their metaphysical beliefs, enforced laws against murder and other acts of evil.

          However, much like our language skills, our conscience needs to be refined, calibrated, made more robust. If not, it becomes stunted, or worst, perverted such that evil actions are perceived to be good and good ones viewed as evil.

          This is why the eternal well-being and happiness of mankind is inextricably bound to the objective moral values and duties lovingly furnished to us by our Creator. Without them there is nothing to protect our conscience from being disoriented or corrupted.

          Tragically, Atheism corrodes and destroys this protection leaving its adherents stranded in moral ambivalence. This naturally explains why the overwhelming majority of serial murderers, rapists, totalitarians and other sadists have been atheists.

          • watcher_b

            “overwhelming majority of serial murderers, rapists, totalitarians and other sadists have been atheists”

            Could I get a source on that? I have heard this said many many times and I have never heard a source. It doesn’t make much sense to me since atheism as a movement is relatively new. Theism has been around much much longer and had Way more opportunity to commit atrocities. Just looking at the odds seems to make it difficult for Atheists to commit an “overwhelming majority” of these acts. But again, even if it was true, this does nothing to PROVE that God exists. It only proves that you do not like the alternative, or that theism is better for our society. There may be an argument there for those thing, depending on the source, but not for the existence of God.

            By what process did you follow to determine that slavery is right or wrong?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Correct me if I’m wrong but weren’t Danton, Lenin, Sanger, Than Shwe, Stalin, Mengele, Mao, Kim Il Sung, Ceausescu, Honecker, Castro, Pol Pot, Broz Tito, Milosevic, Bonaparte and Mussolini oppressive, sadistic, democidal atheists who, collectively, butchered ***hundreds of millions*** of innocent men, women and children?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            I learned long ago that, in ancient Israel, kidnapping a man and then selling him was punishable by death. (Exodus 21:16) This led me to conclude that our Creator disapproved of the kind of slavery, for instance, Africans were subjected in colonial America.

          • watcher_b

            also
            “rain is wet, cerulean stars blaze, diamond gemstones are hard” are all subjective descriptions.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            I don’t follow. Does that make these observations false?

        • Joseph O Polanco

          Jesus taught, “For from inside, out of the heart of men, come injurious reasonings, sexual immorality (πορνεῖαι) [.] All these wicked things come from within and defile a man.”-Mark 7:21,23 (Bracket mine.)

          Further along we find: “Φεύγετε τὴν πορνείαν. πᾶν ἁμάρτημα ὁ ἐὰν ποιήσῃ ἄνθρωπος ἐκτὸς τοῦ σώματος ἐστιν· ὁ δὲ πορνεύων εἰς τὸ ἴδιον σῶμα ἁμαρτάνει.” -1 Corinthians 6:18

          “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin that a man may commit is outside his body, but whoever practices sexual immorality is sinning against his own body.”

          Note that these passages use conjugations of the term πορνεία. What is πορνεία?

          The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon
          πορνεία
          Strong’s Number: 4202

          Transliterated Word – Porneia – Phonetic Spelling – por-ni’-ah
          Definition:
          Illicit sexual intercourse -
          1.1 adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.
          1.2 sexual intercourse with close relatives; Lev. 18
          1.3 sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman; Mk. 10:11,

          As you can see, with a basic understanding of the Koine term πορνεία, it’s easy to see what is and is not permitted sexual behavior in our Creator’s eyes.

          • watcher_b

            We have reached that point in the argument where the temptation to shotgun a crap ton of information at each other has grown too strong. I felt it too the last couple posts, where I just wanted to throw as much information as possible out there even if it didn’t relate directly to the original argument. I am not even sure what this post about sexual immorality is about in relation to our discussion. You are involved in A LOT of discussions here, so I am sure you have plenty to say.

            The final thing I want to say is just to restate that the argument from morality does not prove that there is a God. Period. That does not mean Therefore there is no god, or that that morality should only be derived from him or the bible or whatever your favorite religion is. Only that the argument from morality is a poor argument for the existence of God. I once heard a Muslim scholar argue that Islam is true because the Koran is so well written that it must have come from Allah. That argument does not prove that Islam is true, irregardless if Islam is true or not. The same goes with the moral argument, it proves nothing irregardless of what it is trying to prove is true or not.

            Feel free to have the final word, if you so choose.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            i. My apologies, I should have been more explicit. You claimed earlier that the Bible did not condemn pedophilia or rape. The perlustrations I shared demonstrated otherwise.

            ii. To what, then, do you ascribe our objective moral sense if it has no ontological grounding in nature or science?

        • Joseph O Polanco

          ii. Correct me if I’m wrong but weren’t Elizabeth Bathory, Talat Pasha, Margaret Sanger, Josef Mengele, Reinhard Heydrich, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Eichmann, Kim Il Sung, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Emperor Hirohito, Nero, Caligula, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Leopold II of Belgium, Tomas de Torquemada, Mao Zedong, Ivan the Terrible, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Vlad Dracula once children too?

          iii. The antichrist doctrine of Hellfire is a perverse mendacity of the highest order: http://bit.ly/17fVMYm

          iv. RE: Joshua 10:40 – In order for your verdict to obtain you must show that dikaiocide is immoral. Otherwise it’s just argumentum assertio.

          v. In ancient Israelites rapists weren’t jailed, they were executed:

          ““If, however, it is in the field that the man found the girl who was engaged, and the man grabbed hold of her and lay down with her, the man who lay down with her must also die by himself, and to the girl *** you must do nothing . The girl has no sin deserving of death ***, because just as when a man rises up against his fellowman and indeed murders him, even a soul, so it is with this case. For it was in the field that he found her. The girl who was engaged screamed, but there was no one to rescue her.” – Deuteronomy 22:25-27 (Emphasis mine.)

        • Joseph O Polanco

          You lost me. If Jehovah God was such a racist, why were immigrants well received in ancient Israels and why did God make provisions for these to become naturalized?

          “You must not mistreat a foreign resident or oppress him.” -Exodus 22:21

          “The foreigner who resides with you should become to you like a native among you; and you must love him as yourself, for you were foreign residents in the land of Egypt. I am Jehovah your God.” -Leviticus 19:34

          ““You must not hate an E′dom·ite, for he is your brother.
          “You must not hate an Egyptian, for you became a foreign resident in his country.” -Deuteronomy 23:7

          “At that time I instructed your judges, ‘When you hear a case between your brothers, you are to judge with righteousness+ between a man and his brother or a foreign resident.” -Deuteronomy 1:16

        • Joseph O Polanco

          RE: Exodus 20:13

          New International Version
          “You shall not murder.”

          New Living Translation
          “You must not murder.”

          English Standard Version
          “You shall not murder.”

          New American Standard Bible
          “You shall not murder.”

          Holman Christian Standard Bible
          “Do not murder.”

          International Standard Version
          “You are not to commit murder.”

          NET Bible
          “You shall not murder.”

          GOD’S WORD® Translation
          “Never murder.”

          English Revised Version
          “Thou shalt do no murder.”

          World English Bible
          “You shall not murder.”

          Young’s Literal Translation
          “Thou dost not murder.”

          New World Translation
          ““You must not murder.”

          NOTE:

          תִּֿרְצָֽ֖ח׃לֹ֥֖א
          loʼ tir·tsach′ -“not murder”

          Observe that the Heb. verb ta·harogh′, “should kill,” is not employed here.

          Compare with Exodus 2:14 –
          “Are you intending to kill me?”

          hal·hor·ghe′ni ʼat·tah′ ʼo·mer′?
          Literally: “Are you talking so as to kill me?

  • staircaseghost

    “The problem is that grounding a categorical imperative in God’s nature seems no more promising than grounding it in human nature.”

    Couldn’t agree more.

    Which is why it’s so perplexing to watch so many movement atheists continue to spill ink arguing for a moral realism that by its own lights is no more philosophically satisfying than Christianity, when the antirealist solution — which blows Plantinga’s argument out of the water — is just staring us all in the face.

    Like Dennett’s “belief in belief” phenomenon, neo-aristotelian ethical naturalism looks like a sort of bourgeois liberal nostalgia for a vanished world. A world where the awful burden of deciding what to do with our lives is really not so awful, because it’s just a matter of gathering more data (data about what was going on in the EEA, data about what the Torah really enjoins).

    Why settle for a stalemate when there’s a checkmate in one move?

    • Keith Parsons

      Staircaseghost,

      The short answer to your thoughtful comment is this: With ethical antirealism, the “cure” is worse than the disease. There is an unfortunate tendency (epitomized by Alex Rosenberg’s “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality) among atheist philosophers to deal with challenges to explain troubling data by denying the data. How can a physicalist theory of mind explain intentionality? There is no intentionality! We never think about things! Problem solved! (I am not making this up. This is what Rosenberg says). Such a “solution” has many advantages–the same advantages that theft has over honest toil.

      In my view, ethical antirealism pulls the same kind of trick. Truly horrifying evils of the sort Plantina mentions cannot be easily dismissed or diminished. Clearly, what is wrong with Nazi atrocities is MUCH more than that they offend our feelings or tender sensibilities (Now THERE’s a bourgeois liberal notion for you!). As I tell my introductory ethics classes, the ultimate test of a moral theory is whether we can live with it, and I do not think we can live with trivializing evil. It would be a concession to Plantinga, not a checkmate, to admit that all we can say about hideous evil is that we don’t like it (or even that we really, really, REALLY don’t like it). Similarly, saying that “evil” is imprudent, inconvenient, or even unreasonable is to trivialize it. Theists, to their credit, look evil in the eye. We have to do so as well.

      Neo-Aristotelian ethical theory, by the way, far from being a disused relic, is vibrant, active, and loaded with eloquent defenders. My favorite is Larry Arnhart, whose “Darwinian Natural Right” shows that a neo-Aristotelian ethic can flourish in a Darwinian context.

      • John

        Keith,

        There are numerous important differences between anti-realism about moral properties and anti-realism about intentionality:

        1) Consider the degree to which the contrary positions are regarded as obviously true by laypeople and professional philosophers. The most recent PhilPapers survey showed that only about 50% of professional philosophers accept or lean towards moral realism. I expect the figure for intentionality would be very different.

        2) Evolutionary psychology explains why we view the world in moral terms (doing so is useful to survival) but NOWHERE presupposes that moral properties actually exist. So we have excellent evidence that we would likely view the world in moral terms regardless whether moral properties actually exist. This does not show that moral properties do not exist, but undermines any defence of moral realism based on the idea that moral realism is just intuitively obvious, since we have independent evidence that our intuitions on this matter are likely to be unreliable.

        3) Moral imperatives are most plausibly regarded as categorical imperatives. But we normally suppose that what a person has a reason to do depends upon his fully thought-through desires. Moral realists (whether they are theists are atheists) seem to be unable to account for how people could be under an obligation to do something regardless of their fully reflective desires. If Smith is a (fully reflective) selfish person and has no desire to help Jones, and is unlikely to benefit from helping Jones in any way in future, how is it that Smith OUGHT to help Jones? In the absence of a decent answer, we have reason to question whether moral discourse makes sense.

        Keith wrote:
        “Clearly, what is wrong with Nazi atrocities is MUCH more than that they offend our feelings or tender sensibilities”

        Moral error theorists question whether anything is morally right or wrong. Now, it is jarring and shocking for someone to say “Exterminating six million people is not morally wrong” but that is largely because in everyday discourse that statement would be taken to indicate that the speaker is in favour of exterminating people. It must be remembered that the error theorist would also say “Exterminating six million people is not morally permissible, either…it’s not morally anything.” Of course, an error theorist could be utterly appalled by the Nazis and act against them as much as the next person. He might even sacrifice his life to stop the Nazis. He just wouldn’t necessarily use moral language to express his views.

        Keith wrote:
        “As I tell my introductory ethics classes, the ultimate test of a moral theory is whether we can live with it, and I do not think we can live with trivializing evil.”

        An error theorist need not trivialise acts that are viewed by most as evil. He might even be more motivated to act against them than many people. I don’t typically view the world in moral terms, but I suggest my contributions to charity are well above the average of people on a similar income, many of whom are no doubt moral realists. Suffering appals me and is something I oppose and want others to oppose. Most people are like that. I don’t think it adds anything useful to call such suffering “evil” and say that everyone (including serial killers) is under some mysterious obligation to oppose suffering.

        For sure, on occasion I feel pangs of moral indignation and retributive anger. These are part of my nature as much as a fear of heights and spiders. Just as I can keep in check my fear of heights and spiders by rational consideration of the evidence and a recognition that these things are unreliable and have evolutionary explanations, much is the same for any retributive anger and my occasionally viewing of the world in moral terms.

        Anyone who thinks morality is indispensable should try living for a day without using moral terms. It is not at all difficult. In every case, simple substitutes for moral language are available which communicate just as much true information. Morality turns out not to be as indispensable as people imagine, although evolution and upbringing make this hard for many to see. I recommend you suggest my experiment to your students.

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

          John,

          The most recent PhilPapers survey showed that only about 50% of professional philosophers accept or lean towards moral realism.

          By a large margin (57% versus 28%) there are more professional philosophers who believe in moral realism than in moral anti-realism. Which is even more impressive given that with an even larger margin (73% versus 15%) more professional philosophers subscribe to atheism rather than to theism. Which means that at least 40% of atheist philosophers are moral realists.

          since we have independent evidence that our intuitions on this matter are likely to be unreliable.

          True. Since both on theism and moral realism, and on naturalism and moral antirealism, our intuition would be for moral realism – it follows that our intuitions are likely to be unreliable in this matter. Moreover it is difficult to give a plausible account of moral realism in an atheistic reality. Yet 40% of atheists are moral realists. Why? I guess because they find it unreasonable to be otherwise, and they trust their reason.

          If Smith is a (fully reflective) selfish person and has no desire to help Jones, and is unlikely to benefit from helping Jones in any way in future, how is it that Smith OUGHT to help Jones? In the absence of a decent answer, we have reason to question whether moral discourse makes sense.

          On naturalism there isn’t a decent answer to this question.

          And I am afraid the question does not apply only to selfish persons. Suppose Smith is not selfish. Even so, why ought Smith to help Jones?

          • John

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “there are more professional philosophers who believe in moral realism than in moral anti-realism”

            No doubt that is true. My point was that the proportion who does not accept there is such a thing as intentionality is surely lower than the proportion that does not accept moral realism.

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “it is difficult to give a plausible account of moral realism in an atheistic reality.”

            I agree. It’s also at least as difficult to give an account of moral realism on the assumption that theism is true. As I explained in an earlier post, theists (such as Robert Adams) have to believe that there exists a supernatural deity plus some ungrounded, brute moral facts. Naturalist moral realists can at least dispense with the supernatural deity idea.

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “Yet 40% of atheists are moral realists. Why?”

            I reject your 40% figure. Likely far more than 40% of atheists worldwide are moral realists. The reason for that figure the same reason why most people are religious: childhood indoctrination and genetics. They are indoctrinated with it from early childhood and they are genetically disposed to view the world in moral terms, anyway. I think the genetic tendency to be a realist about morality is much stronger than the genetic tendency to be a realist about the supernatural.

            You say that “reason” shows that moral realism is true, yet you present no reasons. How come?

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “On naturalism there isn’t a decent answer to this question.”

            I agree. Nor is there a decent answer on theism.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            John,

            As I explained in an earlier post, theists (such as Robert Adams) have to believe that there exists a supernatural deity plus some ungrounded, brute moral facts. Naturalist moral realists can at least dispense with the supernatural deity idea.

            I disagree with your “plus” above. God’s existence as the metaphysical ultimate entails moral brute facts, namely God’s moral character. Thus on theism these brute moral facts are natural, whereas on naturalism they are queer – to use Mackie’s expression.

            I reject your 40% figure. Likely far more than 40% of atheists worldwide are moral realists.

            I was not talking of atheists in general. I was pointing out that at least 40% of the professional philosophers in the PhilPapers survey who declare themselves atheists are nevertheless moral realists.

            The reason for that figure the same reason why most people are religious: childhood indoctrination and genetics.

            Professional atheist philosophers know all that, and still many if not most of them prefer to embrace moral realism.

            You say that “reason” shows that moral realism is true, yet you present no reasons. How come?

            They are well known. I think many of the numbered points you previously presented against non-cognitivism about moral discourse also work against moral antirealism. In any case the basic reason is probably this: As a matter of fact it seems to us that there are moral values out there, and there are no defeaters an agnostic would judge to be convincing. Which makes it expensive even for a naturalist to reject moral realism.

            If you disagree, can you explain what you think is the reason that moves so many atheist professional philosophers to embrace moral realism?

          • John

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “God’s existence as the metaphysical ultimate entails moral brute facts”

            Brute facts are facts which are inexplicable in principle. Facts which are entailed by the existence of something else are not inexplicable. So what you wrote here is SELF-CONTRADICTORY.

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “I think many of the numbered points you previously presented against non-cognitivism about moral discourse also work against moral antirealism.”

            This is confused. The numbered points I mentioned were evidence that moral discourse is TRUTH-APT, not that it is generally true. Most of the points would apply equally well to show that “witch discourse” or “fairy discourse” are truth-apt (which indeed they both are). For example, witch discourse often uses the the indicative mood (“It is the case that Midred is a witch”) and can be transformed into interrogative sentences (“Is Midred a witch?”), and so forth. So witch discourse is truth-apt but is largely false nonetheless, since it presupposes there are witches but there are no such things. No sensible person takes evidence that witch discourse is truth-apt as evidence for realism about witches. Evidence that moral discourse is truth apt is, similarly, no evidence for moral realism.

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “As a matter of fact it seems to us that there are moral values out there, and there are no defeaters an agnostic would judge to be convincing. ”

            I think there are defeaters and I have mentioned several of them. Here is an undercutting defeater: we have reason to think that natural selection causes people to view the world as containing moral properties regardless of whether the world really does, and we are all vigorously indoctrinated from the cradle to think of the world as containing moral properties. So the fact some would say it “seems” as if there are moral properties is not evidence there are such things.

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “can you explain what you think is the reason that moves so many atheist professional philosophers to embrace moral realism?”

            See above – genetics and upbringing. Philosophers of all stripes are susceptible to conditioning too! Or do you think it is a total coincidence that (surely) a far higher proportion of Evangelical Christian professional philosophers happen to have had a staunchly Christian Evangelical upbringing, rather than, say, a staunchly Muslim upbringing, a staunchly Catholic upbringing or a staunchly humanist upbringing?

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            John,

            Brute facts are facts which are inexplicable in principle. Facts which are entailed by the existence of something else are not inexplicable. So what you wrote here is SELF-CONTRADICTORY.

            You mean, if A entails B then B is not a brute fact, since it can be explained by pointing out that A entails it? I am not sure I completely agree. But that’s secondary, so let’s not go there.

            I will try to justify my claim that “God’s existence as the metaphysical ultimate entails moral brute facts”: Theism entails that the metaphysical ultimate is God, who is a personal being. Being a person entails having a moral character. Thus theism entails that the metaphysical ultimate has a moral character – which grounds moral values and makes moral realism viable.

            Now thus far nothing about the shape of God’s moral character has been said. For example nothing has been said about God being loving, forgiving, valuing beauty, etc. These features are what I meant when I spoke of moral brute facts. Now, strictly speaking, it may be the case that these brute facts can be “explained” in the sense that they are perhaps contingent on God’s will. If so God’s will is what is the moral brute fact. One way or the other I’d say theism has no trouble whatsoever accounting for moral brute facts.

            Incidentally and sticking to this point, is God’s will unexplainable? I’d say that yes, since it is sovereign and intrinsically creative. It’s really where the buck stops.

            A final point in this context. In the business of philosophizing, St Anselm’s definition is an epistemic and not an ontological one. In the context of the praxis of philosophy the definition does not really say what God is but only says what the right way is to think about what God is. In particular it says that one should not think about God as a being less than the greatest one can conceive. Of course one is fallible and thus one’s sense of personal greatness is fallible too. But even in one’s fallibility, however great or small it may be, one can’t do better thinking about God than to consider the greatest being one can conceive. Further the evidence shows that there is general agreement in our sense of personal greatness. It is for this reason that theists and atheists manage to have intelligible discourse about God. Actually it is quite impressive what sophisticated theistic reasoning some atheist philosophers are capable of.

            So witch discourse is truth-apt but is largely false nonetheless, since it presupposes there are witches but there are no such things.

            Right, but the issue at hand is not whether our moral discourse is generally true or not, or is truth-tracking or not. Rather the issue at hand is whether reality is such that moral discourse *can* be true – whether moral propositions have truth values. For if on a metaphysical view X moral discourse cannot be true then on X moral realism does not hold. And I claim that on theism 1) moral discourse is meaningful and means what we take it to mean, 2) moral discourse can be true, 3) moral realism holds, 4) the great moral principles which are remarkably similar in all the great religions are true, 5) their truth is grounded in the moral character of God.

            As for the case of witch-talk you suggest I’d say that on theism (1) and (2) and (3) hold and thus “witches realism” holds, but nothing like (4) does, in the sense that all propositions which entail the existence of witches in the actual world are false. (In general I think that (1) and (2) mean the same, but that’s another story.)

            So what about naturalism? In my view (1) doesn’t hold, so I agree with naturalism’s non-cognitivism. In order not to sound foolish, I suppose the best way out is for the naturalist to redefine moral terms away from their folk meaning, and thus render moral talk meaningful. In other world to construct moral meaning in a way that fits with naturalism’s view of reality.

            Here is an undercutting defeater: we have reason to think that natural selection causes people to view the world as containing moral properties regardless of whether the world really does [snip]

            Natural selection cannot even account for consciousness, and much less still for the moral dimension of our experience of life. But I will give you this: There is a naturalistic world in which people just like us are having exactly the same experiences we are having – including a John and a Dianelos having there exactly the same discussion we are having. Thus it is possible that our sense of moral realism is misleading. But mere logical possibility does not make an undercutting defeater. We must have very good reason to believe that this naturalistic world is the actual world. And in the judgment of so many atheistic professional philosophers we don’t.

            [cont] and we are all vigorously indoctrinated from the cradle to think of the world as containing moral properties.

            The sociological dimension of sociobiological evolution is certainly relevant. On the other hand I don’t think the existence of our moral sense is a matter of indoctrination. Try to indoctrinate somebody into having the sense that torturing a child for fun is good – I bet you won’t succeed. Probably we are naturally born moral seers. Thus, on naturalism, the relevance of the sociological dimension must go sufficiently back to have affected the respective structure of our brain – which I assume is further back than the evolution of humankind and of human society.

            So the fact some would say it “seems” as if there are moral properties is not evidence there are such things.

            Unless you can produce a viable defeater – I certainly think it is. And I think you should think so too.

            Philosophers of all stripes are susceptible to conditioning too!

            Sure, but one assumes that professional atheist philosophers are knowledgeable, smart, and incisive people about such matters. Do you think there is any significant proportion of professional atheist philosophers who ignore the arguments you are using here? Yet at least 40% of them are moral realists. This by itself is evidence that that there are no sufficiently strong defeaters of what seems to be the case, namely moral realism.

            My sense is that the opposite is the case, namely that fashion has the power to move many atheist professional philosophers to ignore the evidence of their senses and reject moral realism.

          • staircaseghost

            “Thus theism entails that the metaphysical ultimate has a moral character – which grounds moral values and makes moral realism viable.”

            I’m sorry, but John is right and you have got the definition of the basic concept of “brute fact” wrong here. If a fact is grounded in or explained by another fact, it is not “brute”. Otherwise, we would just call it a “fact”, without the need for additional adjectives.

            ” In my view (1) doesn’t hold, so I agree with naturalism’s non-cognitivism.”

            No, you’ve not grasped the distinction between truth and truth-aptness, so my disagreement with error theorists like John is invisible to you.

            On naturalism (BTW I am not a naturalist) there are no such things as ghosts. But that does not mean the sentence “this house is haunted” is meaningless. It means it’s false.

            On naturalism, there are no such things as objective moral facts (sorry to burst your bubble, Dr. Parsons) (p.s. again, I am not a naturalist). But this does not (by itself) mean that the sentence “envy is intrinsically evil” is meaningless. It means (on error theory) it’s false.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            staircaseghost,

            If a fact is grounded in or explained by another fact, it is not “brute”.

            Well, as I hinted before I have some trouble with this definition. Consider for example a single physical event such as the decay of a particle. Some properties of this event can be explained (e.g. what the decay produced) but some other properties can’t (e.g. the point in time of the decay). So is that event a brute fact or not?

            Instead of getting boggled down with discussions about what “brute fact” means or should mean, let’s focus on the main issues: On theism the metaphysical ultimate has of moral character, and therefore moral realism fits easily and naturally with theism. (For theists the shape of the grounding relation is a profound matter, but for discussion’s purposes it suffices to say that X is valuable to the degree it comports with God’s character.) In contrast, given that on naturalism the metaphysical ultimate is of a mechanical nature, it is unnatural if not impossible to fit moral realism. And indeed, despite the fact that a significant proportion of atheist professional philosophers believe in moral realism, there is huge disagreement and no dominant view of how moral realism obtains in a naturalistic reality. The closest to intelligibility in my judgment is the claim that within naturalistic reality there is a platonic realm of values.

            No, you’ve not grasped the distinction between truth and truth-aptness, so my disagreement with error theorists like John is invisible to you.

            Perhaps. I took “truth-aptness” to mean “having a truth value”. I.e. I assumed that if a proposition has a truth value then it is truth-apt, and vice versa. Isn’t that right? If so can you give a counterexample?

            On naturalism (BTW I am not a naturalist) [snip]

            I find it interesting that sophisticated atheists often find it expedient to deny naturalism. But then continue discussing naturalism, instead of discussing their own metaphysical worldview. Or perhaps you are an agnostic?

            On naturalism (BTW I am not a naturalist) there are no such things as ghosts. But that does not mean the sentence “this house is haunted” is meaningless.

            I, on the contrary, tend to think that on naturalism “this house is haunted” is a meaningless proposition. It seems you disagree. Can you then please describe what that proposition means? We agree that no house is actually haunted, but can you explain on naturalistic terms what a haunted house would be? Or what in a naturalistic reality a ghost would be, if ghosts existed?

            My guess is you can’t. When you say that “the house is haunted” is a meaningful sentence, you are probably referring that how it would be like to experience a haunted house. But that’s not what the sentence claims. It speaks of a house which *is* haunted, whether anybody knows it or not, whether anybody is there to experience the ghost in the house or not.

            Naturalism suffers from an analogous problem with metaethics. It cannot describe what moral value means, for, as Mackie observed, there are no properties in a naturalistic reality which would ground it. The only solution it seems is to ad-hoc add such properties to a naturalistic reality, producing some kind of pasticcio metaphysics.

          • staircaseghost

            “(For theists the shape of the grounding relation is a profound matter, but for discussionís purposes it suffices to say that X is valuable to the degree it comports with Godís character.)”

            “Comports with” is no synonym for “grounding”.

            The only sensible notion of grounding is of a reducing base vocabulary from which statements in the target vocabulary can be derived. But expressive vocabulary is characterized by its non-reducibility to descriptive terms.

            “Perhaps. I took ìtruth-aptnessî to mean ìhaving a truth valueî. I.e. I assumed that if a proposition has a truth value then it is truth-apt, and vice versa. Isnít that right? If so can you give a counterexample?”

            There’s a chance I crossed wires and misread what you meant by “1) doesn’t hold” — were you adding a silent “on naturalism” to the end of this? If you weren’t, then you are not a moral realist. But if you were, then again, naturalistic error theory says moral claims are systematically truth-apt, but systematically false.

            I find it interesting that sophisticated atheists often find it expedient to deny naturalism. But then continue discussing naturalism, instead of discussing their own metaphysical worldview. Or perhaps you are an agnostic?

            I wish more atheists were sophisticated…

            It’s no expedient. There is 1) the piecemeal problem and 2) the optional vocabulary problem. In reverse order: I flatly deny the existence of a final vocabulary for broadly Quinean reasons. For the former, it makes perfect practical sense to take a naturalistic approach to lots of things without committing yourself to the dogma that everything you will ever be puzzled by is best solved by a naturalistic approach. Am I really being slippery and opportunistic to say that dogs descended from wolves without any miraculous creation events required, if I can’t “prove how abiogenesis happened naturalistically and recreate the Big Bang in a test tube and explain how something can come from nothing and solve the mind-body problem”?

            We agree that no house is actually haunted, but can you explain on naturalistic terms what a haunted house would be?

            Wait, what? If I say there are no female U.S. presidents, why would this commit me to the view that I should be able to explain in non-female terms what a female U.S. president would be?

            Naturalism suffers from an analogous problem with metaethics. It cannot describe what moral value means…

            1) Haven’t I just done that?

            2) Theism (unless it is expressivist) cannot describe what moral value means. Any attempt to substitute purely descriptive vocabulary for expressive vocabulary is doomed ab initio.

          • John

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “Theism entails that the metaphysical ultimate is God,”

            We have seen elsewhere that you take theism to be inseparable from talk of “the greatest conceivable being.” But you have provided no reason to think that is any more objective than (what appears to be similar) talk of “the greatest conceivable piece of music,” the greatest conceivable painting” or “the greatest conceivable ice cream flavour.” Such talk is expressive of attitudes and is cognitively meaningless (i.e. not true or false). I see no reason to suppose your very similar God-talk is any different in that regard, so I deny that your God-talk is capable of grounding (i.e. explaining) ANYTHING WHATSOEVER. It’s all meaningless attitude-expression. I don’t think theism simpliciter is committed to your ideas though.

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “Of course one is fallible and thus one’s sense of personal greatness is fallible too. But even in one’s fallibility, however great or small it may be, one can’t do better thinking about God than to consider the greatest being one can conceive.”

            The problem is not that humans are fallible, dumb or ignorant, but that unspecified greatness is a subjective concept, so unspecified “greatness” has no place in any sort of definition. No matter how much we learn and how infallible and smart we become, we will never learn whether strawberry flavour ice cream is greater than raspberry flavour because there is no fact of the matter.

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “Further the evidence shows that there is general agreement in our sense of personal greatness.”

            I disagree that there is much agreement, but it is irrelevant. There can be widespread agreement of attitudes. There is probably UNIVERSAL agreement that engine oil tastes vile, but “Engine oil taste vile” is still an expression of an attitude and not an objective fact about the world. Likewise for “Strawberry flavour ice cream is greater than raspberry,” “Obama is a greater man than G W Bush,” and “A timeless deity is greater than a temporal one.”

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “their truth is grounded in the moral character of God.”

            I gather that “grounded in” means “explained by.” So I take it that you think the truth of moral claims can be explained by the moral character of God. Please tell us what that explanation is – we are all eager to hear. If you have nothing enlightening to say, then you will surely have failed to supply the explanation you claimed exists.

            Suppose moral realism is true and some atheists and naturalists think that certain moral facts are brute facts (i.e. ones which have no explanation). You might say they would be “ungrounded” moral facts. So what? Is that supposed to be some evidence against their point of view? If so, why? Why would all moral facts have to have to have an explanation (i.e. a “grounding”)? The theist, Richard Swinburne, among others, believes that certain moral facts are ultimate and are not explicable by the commands of God or any other being. God’s, say, commands, cannot create a moral obligation unless we assume there is a pre-existing moral obligation to do what God commands. So I think Swinburne has a point and I think that any attempt to suppose God can explain ALL moral facts is hopeless. Moral realists all end up stuck with the idea that certain moral facts are inexplicable, brute or “ungrounded.” I don’t see why that in itself is a problem, though. The idea that everything can be explained (or “grounded”) seems untenable, regardless of whether theism is true.

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “I’d say theism has no trouble whatsoever accounting for moral brute facts.”

            The idea of “accounting for brute facts” is a contradiction in terms. Brute facts are ones for which, by definition, no account can exist! If you want to say that theism *avoids the need* for brute facts you would at least be saying something indefensible, rather than something which is analytically false (as you are at present).

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “Rather the issue at hand is whether reality is such that moral discourse *can* be true – whether moral propositions have truth values.”

            That is what I provided evidence for. None of that evidence suggests that moral realism is true, as you erroneously claimed. Your writing on this issue still seems confused. Just because moral talk is truth-apt it does not refute the view that moral talk is almost entirely false (because it falsely assumes there are such things as moral properties). Talk among people who believe in witches is similar in that regard (i.e. truth apt, but largely false on account of having a false presupposition).

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “Natural selection cannot even account for consciousness”

            Science can’t explain consciousness now. Maybe it never will, but that would be difficult and controversial to establish. Theism, in contrast, will never explain consciousness, since supernaturalism in general, and theism in particular, take consciousness (including the divine mind) to be inexplicable. So it is certainly true that theism cannot ever “ground consciousness,” whether or not naturalism one day will.

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “Thus it is possible that our sense of moral realism is misleading. But mere logical possibility does not make an undercutting defeater.”

            I never claimed that the mere possibility we are mistaken is evidence of anything. I said that natural selection provides an account of our alleged moral sense which nowhere presupposes that any moral properties exist. According to science, we value our close kin and our offspring above others and assume we have a moral obligation to reciprocate kindness and stop injustice, etc, for evolutionary reasons. Valuing in this way aids survival and reproduction. So far as science is concerned, we would view the world as containing value whether there is any objective value in the world OR NOT. That doesn’t show there is no objective value in the world, it just undercuts the idea that we know there is such value merely because it seems intuitive to people that there is value.

            If one can put forward an empirically supported theory of why it seems to us that X is the case without ever assuming X is the case, then any belief that X is the case “because it seems to be” is thereby undermined. For example, if know I am wearing glasses that make everything seem red then I cannot trust my belief that the apple I see is before me red merely because it seems to be red. It might be red, but I can’t conclude that based on how it seems to me (in light of what I know about the glasses).

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “On the other hand I don’t think the existence of our moral sense is a matter of indoctrination. Try to indoctrinate somebody into having the sense that torturing a child for fun is good”

            I never said that our alleged moral sense is JUST a matter of indoctrination. I said it is down to evolution plus indoctrination. Our minds are indoctrinated from the cradle with a message that science says they have evolutionarily been tuned to be highly receptive to (i.e a message that value and moral categories exist in the world).

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “One assumes that professional atheist philosophers are knowledgeable, smart, and incisive people about such matters”

            Knowledgeable, smart and incisive people of all stripes are highly susceptible to indoctrination and the implications of genetics. Or do you think it is a total coincidence that (surely) a far higher proportion of smart, Evangelical Christian professional philosophers happen to have had a staunchly Christian Evangelical upbringing, rather than, say, a staunchly Muslim upbringing, a staunchly Catholic upbringing or a staunchly humanist upbringing? All the other permutations here work just as well.

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “This by itself is evidence that that there are no sufficiently strong defeaters of what seems to be the case, namely moral realism.”

            The rule of inference you are employing here seems to be “If 40% of smart people believe something they were all indoctrinated with from the cradle and have a strong evolutionary tendency to believe, then probably their belief is undefeated (regardless of what the other 60% believe).” I totally reject your form of reasoning here and can see nothing to recommend it.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            John,

            We have seen elsewhere that you take theism to be inseparable from talk of “the greatest conceivable being.” But you have provided no reason to think that is any more objective than (what appears to be similar) talk of “the greatest conceivable piece of music,”

            Well, what are the facts? When comparing two views of personal greatness it seems we mostly and clearly see which is greater. (The observed disagreements among theists are I think mainly based on conflicts with assumed dogma – for example I doubt a God who sends people to everlasting suffering in hell would strike anybody as greater than a God who finds a way to redeem all.) So our perception of God appears to be objective (I am sure naturalists can produce a clever explanation on natural evolution of why that is so, but it is so).

            So far so good. So what about the greatness of music? Here, at least prima facie, it looks like no such seemingly objective perception obtains. For example, both my wife and I like music, but I hate jazz whereas my wife loves it. Perhaps there is a truth of the matter, but if so the fact remains that our cognitive faculties are much dimmer for perceiving that truth.

            I deny that your God-talk is capable of grounding (i.e. explaining) ANYTHING WHATSOEVER

            Well, on theism, things are clear enough: God has made us in God’s image, and thus with some truth tracking cognitive capacity to know about God. That cognitive process is driven by God-perception, is expressed by God-talk, and the meaning and truth value of such talk is grounded on the actual presence of God.

            On the other hand, if naturalism is true then of course God-talk cannot explain anything whatsoever. The strange thing though is that God-talk at least *appears* to be able to explain a lot. For example it seems to explain our sense of morality, our sense of responsibility, our sense of freedom, our sense of purpose, our sense of beauty, our sense of rationality. Naturalism, on the contrary, apparently can’t. So it seems to me naturalism must either move towards the ad-hoc adding queer stuff or else move towards eliminating anything that doesn’t fit.

            It’s all meaningless attitude-expression.

            If naturalism is true then that’s probably all that God-talk amounts to. What else would it be? Some physical means by which the physical state of intelligent brains coordinate in a way that helps (or used to help) survival. Or something like that.

            “Engine oil taste vile” is still an expression of an attitude and not an objective fact about the world.

            An attitude is an objective fact about the world. In this sense all facts are objective facts.

            But I understand what you mean. You mean a fact about the world independent of oneself. Well, on theism the nature of God and thus also moral values are independent of oneself. (Actually the last bit is not quite right, but no matter.)

            I find there is some confusion with ice-cream flavors. It is an objective fact about the world (if you like, an objective fact about a relationship that exists between the chemical composition of chocolate and the structure of my brain) that chocolate ice cream tastes for me better than vanilla ice-cream. Of course if I didn’t exist then to speak of what tastes better for me would become meaningless. And if no tasters whatsoever existed then to speak of tastes would become meaningless too. So, the distinction that matters is between meaningfulness and meaninglessness, not between objectivity and subjectivity. It is possible to do philosophy without using the concepts of “objective” and “subjective”, and I find it is better to avoid using those concepts.

            I gather that “grounded in” means “explained by.”

            Not exactly. The grounding relation is a metaphysical one, it’s a fact about reality no matter whether we know it or not. An explanation is an epistemic fact, a fact about our cognition. The former makes the latter possible, and the latter requires the former. In other words, without a grounding relation no explanation is possible.

            “A timeless deity is greater than a temporal one.”

            Or the similar claim that goes back to the ancients: God is changeless.

            My sense of greatness gives a clear answer. I wonder what your sense of greatness tells you.

            So I take it that you think the truth of moral claims can be explained by the moral character of God. Please tell us what that explanation is – we are all eager to hear.

            Let me use an example: God’s moral character is characterized by selfless love. Therefore the claim “selfless love is good” is true. As is the claim “it is good when we humans selfless love”. Both the goodness or value of selfless love, and the goodness or value of us selflessly loving, are grounded on God’s character.

            Now an explanation can be right or wrong (in that it is not correctly based on some grounding relation), and even when right it can be warranted or unwarranted. For example one might ask the theist “How do you know that God’s character is characterized by selfless love?” The theist has a myriad ways to answer this question (including the basic “any person whose character is not characterized by selfless love is not the greatest being one can conceive – surely you agree?”). But even if these answers are unwarranted, even if in fact they are wrong, it still remains clear that on theism there is the grounding relation and there is a right explanation based on it.

            Suppose moral realism is true and some atheists and naturalists think that certain moral facts are brute facts (i.e. ones which have no explanation). You might say they would be “ungrounded” moral facts. So what? Is that supposed to be some evidence against their point of view? If so, why?

            Well, by the same measure, what evidence is there against solipsism?

            I think the real question here is reasonableness, and reason is something people mostly agree about.

            And truth has certain general characteristics. Here is what I mean. Let’s raise ourselves above all the debates and the noise and some nonsense that is produced on both sides, and let’s have a look at the historical development of the best in metaphysical philosophy. I think I am being factual when I observe that the development of theism looks much better than non-theism’s. Theistic metaphysics, through thick and thin, has remained tight and is continuously if slowly resolving its problems. It does look like converging. In comparison naturalism looks like quickly spinning out of control, with philosophers disagreeing ever more among themselves about an increasing and deepening set of problems. An ever greater number of ever more fantastic naturalistic worldviews are suggested. In response to matters pertaining to consciousness, to ethics, to freedom, even to quantum mechanics – the only solution appears to be to constantly invent new concepts and add new to ad-hoc stuff (some in excessive numbers) to naturalism’s worldview. Of course naturalism is not the only non-theistic metaphysics, but outside of naturalism we encounter a growing sense of vagueness. I claim that from this bird’s eye view theism looks like tracking truth, and non-theism doesn’t.

            Another huge characteristic of truth is practical usefulness. And here too theism looks like the more reasonable choice. Pragmatically speaking theism helps us live a better life and moves us to be better persons. Non-theists counter that this does not mean that theism is true, but I say it does. Truth succeeds.

            The theist, Richard Swinburne, among others, believes that certain moral facts are ultimate and are not explicable by the commands of God or any other being.

            I am not familiar with Swinburne’s ideas on this issue, so I can’t comment. I will only say that in my judgment the command theory of ethics is wrong, as is the idea that we have obligations towards God. Use your own sense of greatness and decide for yourself how reality would be if theism is true. If nothing else it’s an interesting exercise. And when you’re done check to see if your condition (the whole of your experience of life) fits with the view of reality your sense of greatness led you to construct.

            Incidentally, I previously wondered whether the shape of God’s character can be explained by (or is grounded on) God’s will. I now think that this is probably a non-question, since on omnipotence there is no grounding relation between the will’s effect and the will.

            Brute facts are ones for which, by definition, no account can exist!

            “Account” was not the best choice of word on my part, since it means both “explanation” and “description”. I used it in the latter sense. I meant it is easy to described how moral brute facts fit in a theistic reality.

            Science can’t explain consciousness now.

            The hard problem here is that the hypothesis that consciousness exists is not needed by the physical sciences. And it is difficult to even imagine a state of affairs where the physical sciences would need to hypothesize the existence of consciousness.

            And in any case this is not a problem for the physical sciences. Physical sciences study physical phenomena, and do this admiringly well. The problem is that naturalism has trouble describing how consciousness fits in its understanding of reality. On naturalism consciousness appears to be as queer as moral values. But whereas on the latter issue naturalists may suggest that moral values are not real or do not exist, it’s kind of ridiculous to claim that consciousness is not real or does not exist.

            Theism, in contrast, will never explain consciousness

            It need not explain it, since on theism consciousness is an aspect of the foundation of reality.

            I said that natural selection provides an account of our alleged moral sense which nowhere presupposes that any moral properties exist.

            I’d say that the science of natural selection explains all of our behavior, including the behavior we call moral, without presupposing that any moral properties exist. But since the physical sciences do not explain consciousness, neither do they explain our moral sense.

            But I will agree with you that the naturalistic interpretation of natural selection does explain our moral sense without presupposing the existence of moral values. (By “naturalistic interpretation of natural selection” I mean the idea that natural selection is an entirely mechanical, and thus unguided and purposeless process.)

            Incidentally, naturalism does explain our moral sense, but also renders it stupid. There is a deep psychological conflict lurking here. I suspect the reason that so many atheist professional philosophers believe in moral realism is because they prefer to live with a metaphysical problem than with an existential one.

            For example, if know I am wearing glasses that make everything seem red then I cannot trust my belief that the apple I see is before me red merely because it seems to be red.

            Agreed. If I know I am wearing red glasses then I have a defeater for my belief that the apple I see in front of me is red. But, coming back to our case, I don’t know that the naturalistic interpretation of natural selection is true, and therefore I don’t have a defeater for moral realism.

            I never said that our alleged moral sense is JUST a matter of indoctrination.

            Right, and I argued that our moral sense about basic stuff (e.g. it is wrong to torture animals for fun) has next to nothing to do with indoctrination.

            Knowledgeable, smart and incisive people of all stripes are highly susceptible to indoctrination and the implications of genetics.

            Let’s stick to the question at hand. Consider 100 atheist professional philosophers living in the New York today. About half of them will be moral realists, and thus have a radically different understanding of reality than the other half. What explains that difference? It can’t be genetics, since they all share the same genetic make-up. Nor can it be childhood indoctrination, since as trained philosophers they have outgrown that. Nor can it be the broad metaphysical outlook since they are all atheists. Nor can it be cultural factors, or matters of general education or of intelligence. Nor can it be fashion – atheistm may have been fashionable in academic circles recently, but this I take it is not the case for moral realism. So what do you think explains the difference?

            The rule of inference you are employing here seems to be [snip]

            No, let me unpack the thought:

            1. Atheist professional philosophers know all there is to know about defeaters of moral realism.
            2. At least 90% of atheist professional philosophers will abandon a belief when they know of a sufficiently strong defeater of it.
            3. At most only 60% of atheist professional philosophers have in fact abandoned belief in moral realism.
            4. Therefore there is no sufficiently strong defeater of moral realism.

            But perhaps premise (2) is false. Perhaps many atheist professional philosophers fail to abandon a belief when they know of a sufficiently strong defeater – if the existential cost of abandoning it is too high.

          • John

            “When comparing two views of personal greatness it seems we mostly and clearly see which is greater.”

            Clearly not. Nobody knows or could know whether plumbers are greater than electricians, whether hairy men are greater than bald ones, whether a timeless entity is greater than a temporal one or whether a deity of three persons is greater than a deity of four persons. The issues are irreducibly vague and subjective. Your whole philosophy is based on the utterly erroneous idea that there is some objective answer out there to all these issues of taste, when none exists. As such, all your talk of “God” (which is supposed to be “the greatest conceivable being”) is meaningless.

            “Well, on theism, things are clear enough: God has made us in God’s image”

            This is not “clear.” Nobody can begin to try to assess what any of this might mean because you are yet to supply an intelligible definition of the word “God.”

            “Let me use an example: God’s moral character is characterized by selfless love. Therefore the claim “selfless love is good” is true.”

            Again, I see you are using the word “God” which I do not accept you have provided any intelligible meaning for. But even if some intelligible meaning were provided for the word “God” (there are sensible definitions), I see no reason to accept this alleged entailment you mention. There is no explaining or “grounding” going on here, just bare asserting. Just because some powerful deity has a certain character, it does not follow that anyone else is under any obligation to do anything. Even under theism, morality remains utterly mysterious, unexplained and “ungrounded.”

            “[Theism need not explain consciousness], since on theism consciousness is an aspect of the foundation of reality.”

            On naturalism, certain moral facts could well be a foundation of reality (and so could the fact that certain arrangements of matter produce certain mental states). So your claim that naturalism cannot “ground” moral facts is no better supported than my claim that theism cannot “ground” consciousness.

            “Pragmatically speaking theism helps us live a better life and moves us to be better persons. Non-theists counter that this does not mean that theism is true, but I say it does. Truth succeeds.”

            I disagree that a belief being such that it makes people happier is evidence that the belief is true. There are countless incompatible beliefs that make people happier, and they can’t possibly all be true, so lots of beliefs that make people happy are false. I also disagree that it is clear that belief in what people call “God” has led to more happiness than unhappiness in the world. I see no reason to believe that at all.

            “I argued that our moral sense about basic stuff (e.g. it is wrong to torture animals for fun) has next to nothing to do with indoctrination.”

            I never claimed your example did.

            “It can’t be genetics, since they all share the same genetic make-up.”

            That’s not what biology tells us.

            “Nor can it be childhood indoctrination, since as trained philosophers they have outgrown that.”

            Sure, just as all philosophers of religion outgrow their childhood religious beliefs and we find no correlations whatsoever between what a religious philosopher was brought up to believe as a child and what he ends up believing as an adult. Right? No, wrong. For every one professional Evangelical Christian philosopher you can name who was brought up as a Muslim, I will name you five who were brought up as an Evangelical Christian. There is nothing special with this specific example, I could do examples with all manner of religious ideologies. Your idea that bright philosophers are not in any way influenced by the ideas they are brought up with as children is obviously contrary to the facts.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            John,

            Nobody knows or could know whether plumbers are greater than electricians

            Since neither plumbers nor electricians are anywhere near the greatest being we can conceive, the question is entirely irrelevant. Surely you can see that.

            whether a timeless entity is greater than a temporal one

            As I have stated my sense of greatness gives a clear answer to this one, and I asked what your sense of greatness tells you. I see you chose not to answer.

            Here’s my position: We agree that we have a sense of moral values, and we agree that we would have a sense of moral values in a naturalistic world in which no moral values actually exist.

            So I claim that, similarly, we have a sense of personal greatness, and thus ultimately of God. But it seems to me that you try to deny this fact about our condition. It is of course possible that some people do lack this sense – one should not project from one’s own experience of life.

            On the other hand, the historical fact that natural theologians have been intelligently debating God for millennia, and that today sophisticated debate about God is waged between theistic and non-theistic philosophers, evidences that in general we do have that sense. It’s simply not plausible that all these highly intelligent and professionally trained people are talking nonsense without being aware of it. Perhaps what they are intelligently debating is a figment produced by our sociobiological evolutionary history, but there is *something* they are discussing about. (And exactly the same goes for moral discourse. Moral realism may be false, but our sense of morality is real.)

            Further, I claim that the definition of God as the greatest conceivable being according to our sense of greatness, is a hidden premise in the best atheistic argument against theism, namely the argument from evil. You seem to believe that there are other “sensible definitions” of God, which would suffice. I’d like to argue that this is not so. Consider the following discussion between an atheist and a theist:

            A: God, being all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing, would never allow for his creatures to suffer gratuitous evil. Yet there are many instances of gratuitous suffering.

            T: Let me for discussion’s sake agree there are many instances of gratuitous suffering. I disagree that God would never allow them.

            A: But any good human parent would never allow her children to suffer gratuitous evil if she could protect them from it, don’t you agree?

            T: Of course I do.

            A: But then with even more reason God, who is supposed to be a much better parent and also all-powerful, would never allow it either. Surely you see that.

            T: Actually I don’t. Precisely because God is a so much better a person than we are, you can’t simply project from what the effect that a human parent’s goodness has on her actions, to the effect that God’s infinite goodness would have on God’s actions. The difference in goodness is so huge that no such projection is possible. Unless you have an argument of why God infinite goodness, like a human parent’s finite one, would move God to protect creatures from gratuitous evil. Do you have such an argument? Because without it, your problem from gratuitous suffering isn’t worth a fig.

            So at this juncture how would you suggest the atheist should answer – without using our innate sense of the greatest conceivable being?

            There is no explaining or “grounding” going on here, just bare asserting.

            How do you mean this? A hypothesis is something one asserts. Theism’s hypothesis is that the metaphysical ultimate is the greatest being we can conceive, and thus, among other things, a personal being with a perfect moral character. (If you still find the first part unintelligible, feel free to use directly the latter part, namely that the metaphysically ultimate is a person who is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing.) Starting with this asserted hypothesis the theist describes how moral values are grounded in God’s moral character. So what’s the problem?

            Incidentally I am not claiming anything novel here. That’s the standard justification of moral realism in theistic philosophy today.

            Just because some powerful deity has a certain character, it does not follow that anyone else is under any obligation to do anything.

            That’s a separate issue. Perhaps moral realism holds and also we don’t have any moral obligations.

            On naturalism, certain moral facts could well be a foundation of reality

            Sure. The naturalist is free to ad-hoc add anything she wishes to her metaphysical hypothesis about reality. And the agnostic is free to judge that it is unreasonable to believe in the pasticcio-like result.

            I disagree that a belief being such that it makes people happier is evidence that the belief is true.

            My argument is that success in what one wishes to achieve is evidence that one’s beliefs are true. And since what we wish to achieve is to be good persons and to have a good life, if belief A helps us achieve these ends more effectively than belief B, then, ceteris paribus, A is more probably true than B.

            That’s not what biology tells us.

            I am curious. Do you know of any evidence that the slight differences in genetic make-up among humans can help explain why professional philosophers would choose radically different worldviews?

            Your idea that bright philosophers are not in any way influenced by the ideas they are brought up with as children is obviously contrary to the facts.

            I didn’t say they are “not in any way influenced”. But perhaps I am overestimating professional philosophers’ objectivity.

            Actually, on further thought I find that perhaps you are right. Upbringing not only affects a teenager’s noetic structure before she starts studying philosophy, it also affects the quality of her experience of life, and thus the whole of the evidence she will later evaluate as a professional philosopher. Evidence leads to belief, but belief also leads to evidence. In the business of life there is a dialectic going on here among the two. Which is one reason why epistemology is so hard. I understand Hegel did much work on precisely this issue.

          • John

            “Since neither plumbers nor electricians are anywhere near the greatest being we can conceive, the question is entirely irrelevant. ”

            Not at all. It shows the whole concept of objective greatness is incoherent.

            “I asked what your sense of greatness tells you [about whether a timeless entity is greater than a temporal one]”

            I don’t understand the notion of greatness simpliciter. Consider this question: is a banana greater than a hammer? Even for me to give an opinion, I first need to be told what category of greatness we are considering. If we were considering the category of “greatest at overcoming hunger,” I would choose the banana. If we were considering the category of “greatest at banging in nails,” I would opt for the hammer. But, one might ask, which IS the greatest of the two – the hammer or the banana? Without specifying some category, the question makes no sense; I couldn’t even begin to answer it. The same sorts of considerations go for the plumber and the electrician.

            So what is my view on whether a timeless entity is greater than a temporal one? Again, I don’t understand the question. Even for me to give an opinion, I first need to be told what category of greatness we are considering. I want to know “greatest at what?” If we were considering the category of “greatest at running fast,” or “greatest at picking its nose” I would say that a temporal entity is greater. If we were considering the category of “greatest at never getting old” or “greatest at being similar to an abstract object,” I would say an atemporal entity is greater. But which IS the greatest of the two – a temporal entity or an atemporal entity? Again, without specifying some category, the question makes no sense to me. That is one reason why I think that the definition of “God” as “the greatest conceivable being” is hopelessly defective.

            “So at this juncture how would you suggest the atheist should answer”

            I would never have proposed the argument as he did. One can argue for the falsity of theism by means of the argument from suffering without ever supposing that suffering is morally bad or that there are any moral properties in the world at all. The fact that God is supposed to love people is sufficient reason to regard the most unpleasant cases of suffering hard to explain if God exists. The best explanation anyone has ever proposed for why God has not prevented those cases of suffering is the explanation that God does not exist. Do you claim to have a better explanation than that one?

            “Perhaps moral realism holds and also we don’t have any moral obligations.”

            I regard that as impossible. I would say that moral obligations are conceptually inseparable from moral realism. So, to account for moral realism, theism would have to account for why there are moral obligations. The best attempt at that to date is Robert Merrihew Adams’ work, but he ultimately has to assume certain brute moral facts. So I see no optimism whatsoever here for thinking that theism is better off than any other view, even if we assume moral realism is true. All such views appeal to unexplained and inexplicable (i.e. brute) moral facts.

            “The naturalist is free to ad-hoc add anything she wishes [i.e. certain moral facts could well be a foundation of reality]”

            I thought you claimed there is good evidence that there are moral facts. If there WERE such good evidence, such an assumption on the part of the naturalist need NOT be ad hoc at all. He could simply point to your (alleged) evidence as its motivation.

            “My argument is that success in what one wishes to achieve is evidence that one’s beliefs are true. And since what we wish to achieve is to be good persons and to have a good life, if belief A helps us achieve these ends more effectively than belief B, then, ceteris paribus, A is more probably true than B.”

            I don’t agree with any of this. For example, I deny that the desired and achieved financial success of astrologers or TV so-called psychics or televangelists is evidence that any of those people have mostly true beliefs on their areas of alleged expertise. The fact that there are countless millions of people with incompatible religious beliefs, many of whom claim they are living a good life, makes nonsense of what you wrote here. Either people are hopeless at judging what “a good life” is or else the fact people are living one is not good evidence that their (mutually incompatible) religious beliefs are true. Either way, the position you propose here is in big trouble.

            “I find that perhaps you are right. [regarding the influences on philosophers]”

            OK, but that brings us back to the lack of any evidence to support moral realism beyond “It seems to lots of people to be so” (which I claim I earlier heavily undermined by reference to the evolutionary argument). Do you have any OTHER evidence for moral realism?

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            John,

            I don’t understand the notion of greatness simpliciter.

            Imagine an agnostic (i.e. somebody with no commitments whatsoever to any particular metaphysics) coming upon St Anselm’s definition that God is the greatest conceivable being. What concept of God, based on that definition alone, will the agnostic form? Surely she won’t think about plumbers or hammers. She will first decide about the main properties of such a being. Such as:

            Is the greatest conceivable being personal or non-personal? Surely, personal.

            Is the greatest conceivable being a good or an evil person? Surely, perfectly good.

            Is the greatest conceivable being a powerful and knowing person? Surely, maximally so.

            Is the greatest conceivable being loving and lovely? Again, perfectly so.

            And thus after contemplating the matter for only a few seconds the agnostic will come to the insight that God (if God exists) is a person who is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowledgeable.

            The basic stuff is extremely easy. I really don’t understand what you find so troubling.

            Now let’s continue:

            Is the greatest conceivable being accidental and contingent on something that exists on a deeper level, or will it be in some sense fundamental and self-supporting? Surely the latter.

            Will the greatest conceivable being *do* something beyond itself or will it eternally navel-gaze? Surely the greatest conceivable being will be a creator.

            What will it create? Surely the greatest, most beautiful, meaningful, and valuable in itself creation.

            And so on.

            I submit that we are here talking about a perception like cognitive capacity. Perhaps some questions are not clearly seen, but whatever one does see comes immediately and easily. Any apparent difficulty comes from dogmatism (including philosophical dogmatism) or lack of freedom of thought. Consider the following question:

            Will the greatest conceivable being be static and unchanging, or dynamic and growing? Our sense of greatness immediately reveals the latter, but a conflict arises with the ancient philosophical argument according to which a perfect being does not change – because change implies that the previous state was not perfect. One realizes the fallacy in that thought by considering the analogy of a small child. The child grows but nevertheless is perfect at each age. Indeed the child is perfect in a deeper sense precisely because it grows. To be static is an obvious imperfection. Another conflict arises with the correct belief that the metaphysically ultimate is changeless. From which it follows that God is not just the metaphysical ultimate.

            I would like to claim the following as a matter of fact: The actual world is such that reasoning from St Anselm’s definition alone and guided only by our sense of greatness, we arrive at a worldview which fits with the whole of our experience of life (as well as much of the theistic tradition). I suspect a powerful argument for theism lurks in this neighborhood. For when one considers all possible non-theistic worlds in which thinkers can reason it is only in a very few of those in which such an amazing fit between one’s sense of greatness and phenomenal reality obtains.

            One can argue for the falsity of theism by means of the argument from suffering without ever supposing that suffering is morally bad or that there are any moral properties in the world at all.

            True.

            The fact that God is supposed to love people is sufficient reason to regard the most unpleasant cases of suffering hard to explain if God exists.

            I don’t think the gambit will work. Let me try it by rephrasing the previous discussion between the Atheist and the Theist:

            A: God, being all-loving towards his creatures, and being all-powerful and all-knowing besides, would never allow them to suffer gratuitous evil. Yet there are many instances of gratuitous suffering.

            T: Let me for discussion’s sake agree there are many instances of gratuitous suffering. I disagree that God would never allow them.

            A: But any loving human parent would never allow her children to suffer gratuitous evil if she can protect them from it, don’t you agree?

            T: Of course I do. At least in general.

            A: But then with even more reason God, who is supposed to be a much more loving parent and also all-powerful, would never allow it either. Surely you see that.

            T: Actually I don’t. Precisely because God is a so much loving a person than we are, you can’t simply project from what the effect that a human parent’s love has on her actions, to the effect that God’s infinite love would have on God’s actions. The difference in love is so huge that no such projection is possible. Unless you have an argument of why God’s infinite love, like a human parent’s finite one, would move God to protect creatures from gratuitous evil. Do you have such an argument? Because without it, your problem from gratuitous suffering isn’t worth a fig.

            – So, in conclusion I submit one can’t construct any version of the atheologian argument without at some point calling upon our innate sense of greatness. Our sense of greatness is the only way on which to ground premises about God within the context of natural theology. The only other ground would be that of personal experience or revelation, but these I’d say belong to mystical theology.

            I would say that moral obligations are conceptually inseparable from moral realism.

            Perhaps we have a semantic issue here. For me “obligation” entails a previous promise. Thus in contexts in which no such promise was given we don’t have an obligation. But this is side-issue, which we need not pursue further. And indeed I am not sure how a moral realist is to discuss with a moral antirealist about the meaning of moral concepts, or about how they relate to each other.

            I thought you claimed there is good evidence that there are moral facts. If there WERE such good evidence, such an assumption on the part of the naturalist need NOT be ad hoc at all. He could simply point to your (alleged) evidence as its motivation.

            Right. I meant that for a naturalist to add moral properties to her worldview is ad-hoc not in the sense that she doesn’t have a good reason for doing so, but in the sense that it is an artificial and unnatural add-on. Moral properties do not fit naturally with a naturalistic reality; “queer” was the expression used by Mackie. So even though there is good reason for adding them the result *looks* ad-hoc, it looks like a conglomeration of unrelated stuff. Rejecting naturalism, starting with some platonic metaphysical ground, and trying to build a viable non-theistic worldview from there (which I understand is Parsons’ position) looks more promising. But here again I don’t see how one will get the platonic realm itself not to look ad-hoc: A realm of mathematical objects, moral properties, physical forms – what kind of metaphysical order is that?

            Theism has its problems, but non-theism appears to be much more problematic still.

            I deny that the desired and achieved financial success of astrologers or TV so-called psychics or televangelists is evidence that any of those people have mostly true beliefs on their areas of alleged expertise.

            My claim was that ”success in what one wishes to achieve is evidence that one’s beliefs are true”. In the example you give the beliefs in question are not of course the beliefs about astrology (astrologers probably don’t hold anyway), but the beliefs about how to make money out of the ignorant.

            The fact that there are countless millions of people with incompatible religious beliefs, many of whom claim they are living a good life, makes nonsense of what you wrote here.

            I think it is generally accepted that one can’t possibly know how reality *is*, but only to know which conceptual model of reality makes sense of one’s experience of interacting with it. In the life of an individual theist God is experienced in many different ways – according to the mystics even sometimes as an absence. So God-knowledge is not as easy as the knowledge of some fixed thing. Thus I find it entirely plausible that different cultures would have developed a different kind of iconography to make sense of their interaction with God.

            Inclusivism is an important issue, but again it leads us away from the current discussion. Let me only suggest an analogy: Imagine two peoples living on different corners of an island which is dominated by a huge mountain in its center. The first people may describe the peak of the mountain as a pointed one, the second people may describe it as rounded one. They appear to contradict each other but they may both be telling the truth. In order to judge whether they are really experiencing a mountain or not we should rather check what they say about how to come closer to the peak. If the first people would say that in order to come closer to the peak one should climb up, and the other would say that one should jump into the sea – then perhaps we should get worried. But as it turns out the way of living in conformance with reality all great religions teach is virtually identical.

            Or let’s again go back to our sense of greatness. Whom do you judge greater? A God who would appear to all people in the same way or in a way which would allow only one kind of understanding, or a God of plenty visions in the human condition, all of comparable beauty, meaningfulness, and fruitfulness? I mean even a woman in love loves appearing in different guises to her beloved. God is one, but God is also of plenty, one who revels in creativity. An insight BTW made by St Augustine 15 centuries ago.

            that brings us back to the lack of any evidence to support moral realism beyond “It seems to lots of people to be so” (which I claim I earlier heavily undermined by reference to the evolutionary argument).

            I conceded that given the dialectic between belief and experience one should not underestimate the power of upbringing even in the case of professional philosophers. But from this it does not follow that the fact that at least 40% of atheist professional philosophers believe in moral realism is entirely irrelevant – especially given the bad fit between moral realism and atheism.

            And I don’t think it’s simply a matter of seeming to “lots of people” neither a matter of upbringing. Rather it seems we are made, whether by blind sociobiological evolution or by divinely guided sociobiological evolution, to see the world in moral terms. Thus sociobiological evolution by itself is not an undercutting defeater for moral realism. It only becomes one if one already believes in naturalism, as most atheist professional philosophers do. (Which makes even more remarkable the fact that so many of them still remain moral realists.) On the other hand, given that moral realism seems to be true and given the lack of any defeaters, reason leads theists and agnostics to embrace moral realism.

          • John

            “Imagine an agnostic (i.e. somebody with no commitments whatsoever to any particular metaphysics) coming upon St Anselm’s definition that God is the greatest conceivable being. What concept of God, based on that definition alone, will the agnostic form?”

            If he is sensible, the agnostic will say “greatest for what?” My objection to the coherence of objective greatness-talk is twofold:

            1) Greatness simpliciter, apart from some category, makes no sense.
            2) Within any given category, greatness is often (but not always) a matter of subjective taste.

            An example of objective greatness is the notion of greatness among the positive integers, where one is clear that NUMERICAL greatness is the topic of discussion. So it is a matter of objective fact that seven is NUMERICALLY greater than 3.

            I would say that your “greatest conceivable being” talk falls foul of both of my objections, above. First of all, no category of greatness is provided, so we have no idea what you are talking about (greatest computer, greatest number, greatest abstraction, greatest tree, greatest person, greatest entity not limited by human concepts, etc). Second, even if some category is provided (e.g. greatest conceivable person), it is a matter of subjective opinion as to what that might be. Some would say that the greatest conceivable person is totally just (always issuing punishment to the degree people deserve) and others would say that the greatest conceivable person is at least sometimes merciful (sometimes issuing punishment to a lesser degree than people deserve). Some would say that the greatest conceivable being has a body and some would deny that. Some would say that the greatest conceivable person somehow is made up of three persons, some would say not. Some would say that the greatest conceivable person would interact with us closely and some would say that the greatest conceivable person would be so far above and beyond us that they would be aloof and would not do that. One’s position on these issues depends on one’s tastes and varies from person to person. One might try to change the taste of others on these issues, but there are no objective facts about what is “greater.”

            “Is the greatest conceivable being personal or non-personal? Surely, personal.”

            Why? What is the argument for that? What if Smith is considering the category of “The most unlimited things.” In that category, Smith thinks that a personal entity has more limits on what it is like than a non-personal entity, and consequently the latter is “greater” in that category. Do you have some argument to show Smith is mistaken?

            “Is the greatest conceivable being a good or an evil person? Surely, perfectly good.”

            if you are considering the category of “moral greatness” and if moral realism is true, then you might be right. If you are considering the category of “greatest in freedom” then an essentially morally good person can’t do lots of things and is NOT greater than a being that lacks that property. Which is greater depends on which is more important to you.

            “Is the greatest conceivable being a powerful and knowing person? Surely, maximally so.”

            We generally want to be more powerful and knowledgeable, so consider these “greater,” but that is still a matter of subjective taste, not an objective fact. We similarly prefer the taste of vanilla ice cream to the taste of engine oil, but that indicates unanimous agreement in subjective taste, not some objective fact about vanilla ice cream being “objectively more delicious.” Similar things are true for the sentence “powerful people are greater than less powerful ones” – it is something about which there would be widespread agreement in attitude or taste, I also think that the only resolution to the conflicts between the alleged great-making properties involves some sort of compromise where one of them is restricted in some way to allow compatibility with another. Which one chooses to restrict ends up as a subjective matter of taste. I have alluded to a few examples like that (e.g. mercy vs justice). There are many more.

            “Is the greatest conceivable being loving and lovely? Again, perfectly so.”

            What is “lovely” is a paradigmatic example of a subjective matter of taste. Like many others, I find very little lovely about the deity of the Bible and the Qur’an. Lots of people feel otherwise. I don’t think they are mistaken about that – for various reasons they have different attitudes and tastes to me. “Objective loveliness” makes no sense, along with your talk about a “perfectly lovely being.”

            “What will it create? Surely the greatest, most beautiful, meaningful, and valuable in itself creation.”

            People have different subjective ideas about what is the “most beautiful” creation, just as people differ about the “most beautiful painting” and I see no reason to think the differing people have made some mistake. I don’t even have a subjective personal notion of what the most beautiful universe might be, since it seems that for any subjective notion of a beautiful universe, I can imagine one that I prefer even more. So what you are talking about here seems nonsensical on many levels.

            “Precisely because God is a so much loving a person than we are, you can’t simply project from what the effect that a human parent’s love has on her actions, to the effect that God’s infinite love would have on God’s actions.”

            I don’t understand what your term “infinite love” means. I take “X loves Y” in this context as CONCEPTUALLY entailing “X has a propensity to be greatly concerned about the suffering of Y.” If you deny that God loves anyone in THAT sense, then I simply deny that God loves anyone. You should use some word other than “love” here, since it has a well-established meaning in English. You would be changing the meaning of a word we understand well, and giving it a new meaning if you claim that X can love Y without X being concerned about the suffering of Y (despite knowing about it). If you say that God DOES love us in the sense specified, then I repeat my request for your best explanation for why God has not prevented so many of the most acute cases of observed suffering in the world. I claim that my explanation – that God does not exist – is the best one anyone has ever proposed.

            “Perhaps we have a semantic issue here. [about whether moral obligations are conceptually inseparable from moral realism.]”

            Do you claim theism can explain what makes something a moral obligation, without appealing to brute facts? If so, please supply your explanation.

            “I meant that for a naturalist to add moral properties to her worldview is ad-hoc not in the sense that she doesn’t have a good reason for doing so, but in the sense that it is an artificial and unnatural add-on”

            It’s an add-on because naturalism has a much smaller scope than theism (i.e. it asserts much less). I see no reason to suppose naturalism + brute moral facts asserts any more than theism + brute moral facts. So I deny that the former is less plausible than the latter.

            “A realm of mathematical objects, moral properties, physical forms – what kind of metaphysical order is that?”

            You have never attempted to provide a coherent and enlightening theistic explanation of any of those things. One reason why is that none exists.

            “My claim was that ”success in what one wishes to achieve is evidence that one’s beliefs are true”. In the example you give the beliefs in question are not of course the beliefs about astrology”

            Then what are the relevant beliefs? When you say ”success in what one wishes to achieve is evidence that one’s beliefs are true” can you please specify WHICH beliefs you are talking about? Certainly lots of financially successful astrologers want to achieve correct astrological predictions (as well as financial success).

            “In the life of an individual theist God is experienced in many different ways – according to the mystics even sometimes as an absence.”

            The point is that lots of people have incompatible religious beliefs and lots of those people (including religious people who deny that your notion of God exists) would say they have success in what they want to achieve. I fail to see how your quoted principle withstands these basic facts about the world. If your alleged “success” is evidence that your religious beliefs are true, then why (by your principle) isn’t the “success” of people who reject all of your religious beliefs and endorse some other religious beliefs, evidence AGAINST your religious beliefs?

            “Thus sociobiological evolution by itself is not an undercutting defeater for moral realism. It only becomes one if one already believes in naturalism”

            To merely assert theism is true is question-begging in the current context (where moral realism is in question). I suppose you might claim there are good arguments for theism, but I think the case there is hopeless. I doubt your God-talk is sufficiently meaningful to get to the stage where arguments could be offered for it (committed, as it is, to meaningless talk of “the [objectively] greatest conceivable being”).

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            John,

            If he is sensible, the agnostic will say “greatest for what?”

            In my judgment, no sensible person when asked to consider the greatest being she can conceive, will start by wondering about that being’s utility function.

            Perhaps you try to reason about this issue in naturalistic terms, as if the notion of the “greatest conceivable being” is contingent to measurable or testable quantities. Or as if this is a matter to be decided by argument. Rather, the theistic position here is that we all have a perception-like cognitive ability by which we see how the greatest conceivable being is. Which fits with the evidence, namely the sophistication of the ongoing theological debate in which many non-theists take part.

            On the other hand perhaps in some cases this ability is dulled to the level of blindness, or perhaps some people feel that to use such ability is epistemically reprehensible or pointless or dangerous, and thus avoid it at all costs. One way or the other you understand it is difficult to discuss the deliverances of a particular sense with somebody who claims he is lacking that sense.

            the notion of greatness among the positive integers

            You are equivocating here. The notion of “greatness” in the context of integers is synonymous to “size”.

            Why? What is the argument for that?

            No argument. One just looks. And I find it difficult to imagine that somebody can’t see that the greatest conceivable being is personal rather than non-personal. But perhaps I should have started at some more basic level, say that the greatest conceivable being is conscious rather than non-conscious, rational rather than non-rational, and so on.

            mercy vs justice

            That’s an interesting case. First of all it’s clear that God’s justice has nothing to do with “issuing punishment” (or rewards for that matter). The much discussed conflict is not grounded in our sense of greatness but in ancient and primitive dogma, apparently shaped by the conception of God behaves as a powerful earthly king would. Having said that, there is still some tension left between mercy and justice. I’d be happy to discuss how things stand when one looks, but since you appear not to actually look such discussion makes little sense.

            What is “lovely” is a paradigmatic example of a subjective matter of taste.

            Of course people disagree about how beautiful particular things are (and there is of course the question about esthetic realism). But nobody who actually considers the issue would disagree that the greatest conceivable being is utterly beautiful.

            People have different subjective ideas about what is the “most beautiful” creation

            Perhaps. On the other hand few would say that the universe is anything but an extremely beautiful thing. Look around. The universe in its mathematical beauty and perceptual grandiosity reminds one of a cathedral. (Incidentally, the deep mathematical nature of the universe is one of the facts that are difficult to fit with any non-theistic metaphysics. The vast majority of possible naturalistic worlds in which intelligent life evolves lack this property.)

            I take “X loves Y” in this context as CONCEPTUALLY entailing “X has a propensity to be greatly concerned about the suffering of Y.”

            The theist who denies the validity of the argument from evil would argue thus: You are clearly thinking of human love and projecting it to God. Yet as you know human love is mostly shaped by sociobiological evolution. The idea that one can simply project human love to God’s love, makes as little sense as the idea that one can project to God the concepts of power or of knowledge or of freedom one has build by dealing with the human condition.

            Now in the end of course I agree with you. I also believe that divine love is such that God is greatly concerned with the suffering of those God loves. And I believe this because this is how it clearly seems to be the case according to my sense of the greatest conceivable being. But since you claim to lack that sense, I wonder how you came to the same belief I hold.

            If you deny that God loves anyone in THAT sense, then I simply deny that God loves anyone. You should use some word other than “love” here, since it has a well-established meaning in English.

            Right. In the context of God we speak of omniscience and not just of knowledge, and of omnipotency and not just of power. Thus we may also coin and use the concept “omnilove” instead of just love. This is fine with me. Try then to produce a version of the argument from evil without using any moral terms and using only the concept of omnilove. You’d need to start with an argument that omnilove entails caring about the suffering of others. Do you have such an argument?

            I don’t think you do, which brings us back to my claim that one simply can’t produce a version of the argument from evil without using our sense of the greatest conceivable being as a hidden premise.

            In conclusion I think the only strategy for the atheist is to concede that we do have a God-sense, and then, first, proceed to argue that naturalism explains why we have that God-sense, and, second, argue that the deliverances of that sense *conflict* with the actual world in which we live. The proper theistic response here is theodicy, namely to show how any such conflict is superficial and that in fact there is a deep concordance between theism and the whole of our experience of life (including the physical order we observe around us).

            You would be changing the meaning of a word we understand well

            Well, frankly, that’s a tactic naturalists often use by changing the meaning of words such as “free will” or “goodness” or “responsibility” or “consciousness” beyond recognition. They call the meaning we understand well the “folk meaning”.

            The reason that theists have coined new words for divine power and divine knowledge but have not coined new words for divine goodness and divine love, is because according to our sense of God the original meaning of the latter words is sufficient.

            Do you claim theism can explain what makes something a moral obligation, without appealing to brute facts?

            No. In fact theism can explain nothing without appealing to God’s nature. (Scholastics disagree that God’s nature is a brute fact since they think they can explain it on principles of intelligibility alone. I think they are putting the cart before the horse. God created us with the respective sense of intelligibility precisely in order to guide our reason towards how God is.)

            It’s an add-on because naturalism has a much smaller scope than theism (i.e. it asserts much less).

            I would accept that naturalism’s basic assertion that the metaphysically ultimate is of a mechanical nature, is smaller in scope than theism’s basic assertion that the metaphysically ultimate is what is referred by the greatest conceivable being. On the other hand naturalism ends up having to add a lot of more assertions about moral facts, multiverses, and whatnot. Which shows that the “smallness” of the original scope is only apparent and in fact naturalistic metaphysics tends to explode into a menagerie of unrelated beasts. Or else implode into eliminativist nihilism, such as the one described in Alex Rosenberg’s recent “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality”. One way or the other it is clear to me that naturalism offers an unstable foundation for metaphysical philosophy.

            You have never attempted to provide a coherent and enlightening theistic explanation of any of those things.

            I haven’t, but my guess is you don’t want to discuss my subjective idealism. If you do I am game – but here again the basic steps are grounded on our sense of the greatest conceivable being.

            Certainly lots of financially successful astrologers want to achieve correct astrological predictions (as well as financial success).

            Financially successful astrologers are probably smart enough to know that astrology is bogus. You have also mentioned financially successful televangelists. Here I’d say it is patent that most of them do not believe what they preach. Things are more complicated though since there is also our capacity of self-deception. A marvelous novel in this context is Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum”.

            lots of people have incompatible religious beliefs

            I disagree on this. I think that when put in the proper metaphysical frame the basic beliefs of all the great religions are compatible. I tried to explain this above using the analogy of different cultures describing the same mountain peak using what only appears to be incompatible language.

            To merely assert theism is true is question-begging in the current context (where moral realism is in question).

            In the current discussion I am not asserting that theism is true, but arguing that moral realism fits naturally with theism, and that if theism is true then moral realism is true.

          • John

            “Perhaps you try to reason about this issue in naturalistic terms, as if the notion of the “greatest conceivable being” is contingent to measurable or testable quantities. ”

            If greatest-being talk were objective, there would certainly need to be some objective criterion or method that could be applied, at least in principle, to decide which of two things is “greater,” and you are yet to provide one. I have asked you what the greatest conceivable piece of music, or painting, might be. Thus far you have come up empty. I just want to know what your method is to ascertain, when given two entities A and B, which is “greater,” aside from appealing to subjective feelings. I don’t have a clue what else there might be to it, and from what I can tell, you don’t either.

            “No argument. One just looks.”

            Other people “just look” and disagree. Neither of you has any argument. It’s like watching an art debate on whether Impressionism is greater than post-impressionism. You “just look” and say one thing and someone else with different tastes “just looks” and says something else.

            “Rather, the theistic position here is that we all have a perception-like cognitive ability by which we see how the greatest conceivable being is.”

            I don’t agree that theism is committed to any such idea. That sounds like the importation of your own very specific ideas into a view that has no such commitment. In any case, what you say seems far-fetched, since there are plenty of disagreements among humans over what the great-making qualities are for persons, just as there are disagreements over what the great-making qualities are for paintings or music. The latter topics are a matter of subjective opinion, so why not the former?

            “You are equivocating here. The notion of “greatness” in the context of integers is synonymous to “size”.”

            Equivocation involves one term with two meanings, but there is ONE meaning here. If you think there are two different meanings here for the term “greatest number,” please state those two meanings. If not, your equivocation claim is surely false.

            “And I find it difficult to imagine that somebody can’t see that the greatest conceivable being is personal rather than non-personal.”

            Lots of people don’t share your tastes. Here is just one example. Plenty of self-declared theists of an apophatic bent have claimed that God is beyond human concepts except negations of them (i.e. via-negativa theology). There is a tradition of such thinking in the Church. Its proponents would deny God is a personal being. Those people’s ideas of what is “greatest” may well be different to yours. Why think what is going on between them and you is anything but subjective disagreement in taste?

            “First of all it’s clear that God’s justice has nothing to do with “issuing punishment””

            If it is “clear,” what is the evidence for it and why does only a minuscule proportion of humanity believe it? The overwhelming proportion of people who have ever lived (including theologians and professional philosophers) would say your sentence here is flat-out false. How can that be, if it is “clear” that it is true?

            “there is still some tension left between mercy and justice. I’d be happy to discuss how things stand when one looks”

            The trouble is that different people look and give different answers, just like when they look at paintings or listen to music. You seem to have no criterion that could settle this dispute even in principle (no matter how much information we acquire in future), so it seems not to be a factual dispute at all.

            “The much discussed conflict is not grounded in our sense of greatness but in ancient and primitive dogma, apparently shaped by the conception of God behaves as a powerful earthly king would.”

            Most religious people and numerous religious philosophers would say your claim is false. They would say it is not just human kings who punish wrongdoers, but all great rulers. Their tastes differ from yours and that is the end of it, so far as I can see. If not, which facts might ever be brought to bear to settle this?

            “On the other hand few would say that the universe is anything but an extremely beautiful thing.”

            There can be universal agreement in matters of taste and attitude, so this shows nothing.

            “You are clearly thinking of human love and projecting it to God.”

            No – definitely not. The human CONCEPT of love is such that if X loves Y then, necessarily, X has a propensity to be greatly concerned about the suffering of Y. There is NO ASSUMPTION that X and Y are humans. If you claim that God doesn’t love people in THAT sense, then, so far as the English language goes, he doesn’t love people at all.

            You might has well claim that God has an “infinite car” in heaven that is beyond our concept of a car because it has no wheels, no engine and no body. But such a thing would not be a car at all, since those things are essential to our concept of a car. Or you might claim that God can draw “divine triangles” that don’t have three vertices or three sides! If you rip out the things which are essential to one of our concepts and keep using the same word, then you misuse language.

            “I also believe that divine love is such that God is greatly concerned with the suffering of those God loves.”

            OK, so what’s your explanation of why God does not prevent so much of the suffering and premature death observed in the world, if God cares deeply about the sufferers? My explanation, that God does not exist, is thus far the only one on the table. I am taking “God” here to mean “A greatly loving, powerful and knowledgeable being.”

            “But since you claim to lack that sense, I wonder how you came to the same belief I hold [that God loves people].”

            I ask people who use God-talk to tell me what “God” means and they generally tell me that God is a powerful, knowledgeable and loving being who created the physical world. I claim to have excellent evidence that THAT being does not exist. It is not a definition I came up with myself – they supplied it. Most of them tend not to add on mumbo-jumbo about “the greatest conceivable being” so I am prepared to say their definition is meaningful. When they say “God exists” they are asserting something false. When you say it, you aren’t asserting anything at all.

            “You’d need to start with an argument that omnilove entails caring about the suffering of others. Do you have such an argument?”

            I don’t agree that I need use any such word. Even the word “love” is dispensable. The argument from suffering provides excellent evidence that there exists no powerful, knowledgeable being who cares deeply about humans. Do you deny this? If you do, what is your contender-explanation for why that being has not prevented so much of the suffering we observe?

            “On the other hand naturalism ends up having to add a lot of more assertions about moral facts, multiverses, and whatnot.”

            That is false. Naturalists are committed to no such things. Furthermore, one need not be a naturalist to recognise that theism is an improbable view with little explanatory value and little in its favour.

            “You have also mentioned financially successful televangelists. Here I’d say it is patent that most of them do not believe what they preach.”

            OK, so your view entails that the handful of successful televangelists and astrologers who DO believe in what they preach are such that there is evidence they have true beliefs about the supernatural and astrology, respectively?

            “I disagree on this [that lots of people have incompatible religious beliefs]”

            So when the Muslim says “Jesus did not die on the cross” and the Christian says “Yes he did” they are actually in agreement about Jesus dying on the cross? That seems absurd. If they are in disagreement about that issue, the problem I mentioned last post arises: according to you the Muslim’s unspecified “success” in life is supposed to be evidence that his beliefs are correct and the Christian’s unspecified “success” in life is supposed to be evidence that his beliefs are correct. That is problematic, to say the least! Then, of course, there is the secular humanist who has “success” in life and thinks they are both mistaken!

            “In the current discussion I am not asserting that theism is true, but arguing that moral realism fits naturally with theism”

            We are discussing whether there is any evidence for moral realism and you referred to theism to rebut my evolutionary argument that aims to undermine support for moral realism. Theism, however, only involves talk of “goodness” if we define it that way and presuppose that moral realism is true. So your theism-talk does indeed presuppose what is at issue. It is question-begging to endorse moral realism on the grounds that theism might be true, unless one has some strong argument that theism IS true. I know of none.

        • Keith Parsons

          John,

          Thanks much for your eloquent and probing response. Let me reply by first considering your three points:

          1) I am a bit confused as to what you are claiming here. Are you saying that there is massive disagreement about ethics or metaethics? Of course, ethical issues are hotly debated, but the deep disagreements often mask deeper
          shared intuitions. Generally, deep ethical disagreements are not due any sort of incommensurability or radical divergence of fundamental values, but because self-interest, emotion, or ideology has corrupted moral judgment. Basically, the corruption involves illicitly seeing people who are morally equivalent to you as “other.”

          Example from U.S. history: By 1860 opponents and proponents of slavery could no longer speak rationally or civilly to each other. Was this symptomatic of a deep
          clash of fundamental values? But Frederick Douglass put his finger on the key point by noting that everybody thinks that slavery is wrong FOR HIM. Proponents were not claiming that chattel slavery was right for everyone, but
          only for certain individuals. Their justification for imposing slavery on only African-Americans was an appeal to racist ideology. That ideology and a number of other cultural and psychological factors poisoned the simple, obvious
          judgment of extending to others the same freedom and dignity all would demand for themselves. Similar factors corrupt the judgments of those who today would deny LGBT people equal rights.

          If, on the other hand, the disagreement is one over metaethical theory, then the disagreement does not surprise me, nor is it relevant to my point. My point is that those philosophers, however numerous, that advocate any species of moral antirealism must face up to the challenge that Plantinga has powerfully articulated. Liking or not liking is an appropriate comment on the performance of a play, the taste of soup, the weather in Houston in August, or the dean’s new bow tie. It seems woefully inadequate, even perverse as a response to Nazi enormities.

          2. On the contrary, evolutionary psychology not
          only explains why we see the world in moral categories but why certain conditions and activities have intrinsic value for creatures with our biological constitution. Larry Arnhart in Darwinian Natural Right lists twenty natural desires, that is, trans-cultural and trans-historical desiderata that are universally desirable for human beings. Why they are universally desirable is explicable in evolutionary terms. Further, ethical naturalism views the good as the desirable so that the human good, eudaimonia in Aristotle’s terms, consists in the achievement or attainment of such desiderata. Among the intrinsic goods Arnhart lists are being able to provide parental care to offspring, sexual identity, sexual mating,
          familial bonding, friendship, social ranking, justice as reciprocity, political organization, health, beauty, wealth, speech, and aesthetic pleasure. In short, it is a matter of objective fact that beings such as ourselves will find that certain things confer intrinsic value, and humans flourish when they get to enjoy all or at least a substantial subset of those goods.

          3.
          I think that Alasdair MacIntyre is right that the equation of moral imperatives with categorical imperatives is really something that has only seemed plausible or intuitive since the Enlightenment. Further, MacIntyre sees ethics since the Enlightenment as in radical disarray. The basic problem, as MacIntyre sees it, is a loss of any idea of a human telos, a concept of the true, completed, fulfilled, human nature—humans as they could be rather than as how they are. That concept of a state of self-actualized completion was a crucial element of the pre-Enlightenment ethical tradition that began with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

          As a neo-Aristotelian moral realist I see moral obligation as a hypothetical imperative: Here is the way you should act if you are to achieve that completed, fulfilled, self-actualized state, eudaimonia. That state is one in which the intellectual and moral virtues are practiced. We behave rationally and we practice courage, temperance, generosity, and justice with our fellow humans. Why should Smith not be selfish? Because selfish people cannot be happy. Smith may claim that he has “fully reflected” on the issue and is sure that he will
          be happier if he is selfish. But he will be wrong. He will be making a claim against the facts of biology—just as much against the facts as if he had claimed to have gills and be able to breathe underwater.

          I am sure that you are right in saying that error theorists could be just as appalled as anyone else at Nazi atrocities and might sacrifice his life to stop them. BTW, my critique was not in any way meant as an ad hominem against ethical antirealists; I do not doubt that they can be just as outraged by atrocity as any moral realist (even Plantinga!). My question is this: If one is an error theorist, what makes outrage a more appropriate reaction to atrocities than indifference or approval? On my view, it is praiseworthy when people are outraged by outrageous things, but, if, by your lights, nothing is objectively outrageous, what makes outrage the appropriate response? For instance, suppose that a gay man is set
          upon by homophobic thugs who beat him savagely and carve “faggot” into his flesh with a knife. Suppose that an
          error theorist hears this on the news and, for whatever reason, simply feels no outrage. Should he be concerned about his reaction? Is there any reason or rational motivation for him to regard this response as questionable or problematic? What basis would he have, qua error theorist, for not just accepting his indifference as appropriate?

          You suggest that a moral realist try to live a day without employing moral terms. Actually, most of us already do.
          I doubt seriously that within the past 24 hours I have issued the judgment that X is wrong or that P (morally) ought not to be doing Y or any such explicitly moral judgment. The question is not the language we use but what is assumed to be behind the language. Suppose an acquaintance makes a blatantly racist remark. Most of us would respond not by saying that the remark was wrong, but by saying something like “Pardon me. I find that remark very offensive.” However, saying that someone’s behavior offends you assumes that they have some
          sort of obligation not to be offensive, that is, that something has been violated, something done that should not have been. On the other hand, if someone draws a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban (like the Danish cartoonist) and some Muslims are homicidally outraged, they have no right to be. We use the language of being offended, but the real issue is whether we have any right to be offended, that is, whether
          anything objectively wrong was done.

          Thanks again for your response.

          • John

            Keith,

            Thanks for your reply.

            1) I was merely challenging your claim that irrealism about morality is somehow comparable to irrealism about intentionality. The PhilPapers survey shows that about 40-50% of philosophers would refrain from endorsing moral realism. I think the proportion refraining from endorsing realism about intentionality would be much lower. If I am right, that would be some evidence that not many people who have thought about it would agree the two views are equally plausible.

            You say:

            “Liking or not liking is an appropriate comment on the performance of a play…it seems woefully inadequate, even perverse as a response to Nazi enormities.”

            I think most of us would say they are repulsed by the Nazis rather than that we merely don’t like them, and far more repulsed than by any food dish you care to mention. No doubt you would say mere repulsion is inappropriate too. But what sense of “appropriate” do you have in mind here? Presumably not “morally appropriate,” since that would beg the question. If it is just a vague hankering after something more, then I can only suggest the analogy of the religious person who says life is pointless if there is no afterlife. That is a mere expression of a certain type of attitude, and is one that it is not difficult to overcome. In the end, we tell such people that whether or not the world is how they would like it to be doesn’t change how the world is.

            I have a question for you. Suppose someone were to say (as I would) that the Nazis acted in a way that was contrary to bringing about a certain state (of, say, human flourishing or happiness) and were to urge everyone to oppose them. If that person but were to explicitly refrain from using the words “evil” or “wrong” or any other normative language to describe the Nazis, would his response be “inappropriate” too? On your view, what more does it add to call the Nazis “morally wrong,” beyond the things I just mentioned?

            2) You say “evolutionary psychology not only explains why we see the world in moral categories but why certain conditions and activities have intrinsic value.” I don’t agree that evolution explains how or why anything has intrinsic value. If (purely hypothetically) we were to learn tomorrow from archaeologists that all early humans lived in large groupings so that they could more effectively attack and conquer neighbouring tribes and appropriate their possessions, would anyone say we could conclude important moral lessons from that? For example, why in that scenario couldn’t we conclude that evolution shows that human flourishing requires making war on neighbouring groups of humans and stealing their property? My conclusion here is that if there are any moral facts out there, I don’t see we can learn them from archaeologists or our evolutionary history.

            3) You say, “I see moral obligation as a hypothetical imperative: Here is the way you should act if you are to achieve that completed, fulfilled, self-actualized state, eudaimonia.”

            I gather then, that on this view, the ultimate reason to be moral is that it is irrational to be immoral. People who act immorally are being irrational, since they are harming themselves as well as their victims, and preventing the state you mentioned from becoming actual. One problem here is that it is hard to see why moral language is needed at all. If “Killing Jews is wrong” just conveys the idea “Killing Jews does not help to bring about a state of human flourishing for all involved,” why not just say the latter (apart from issues of brevity)? My point here is that the latter is far more wimpy than the former, and they are surely not equivalent. Nobody would be prepared to dispense with moral discourse which uses the former and replace it with the latter. If you agree with me, I ask: why not? The basic problem is that if viewed as hypothetical imperatives, moral demands are forms of advice (“You need to do so-and-so, or else such-and-such will happen), and that is far too wimpy to be confused with a full-blooded moral demand. Asserting that only by ceasing the Holocaust will the Nazis and Jews flourish together doesn’t sound much more “appropriate” as a response than asserting that the Holocaust is repellent, and calling on all like-minded people to make it stop. Neither strikes me as a plausible analysis of “the Holocaust was morally wrong” though as an error theorist I would utter both sentences.

            Another problem is that how we react towards alleged wrong-doers does not seem similar to how we react towards irrational people generally. If the Nazis had not killed anyone but had instead wasted their resources on some obviously hopeless and irrational enterprise (e.g. an attempt to send a man to Pluto) we would regard them as irrational, funny, unfortunate and likely we would be SYMPATHETIC. These do not seem to be the sorts of emotions morally demanded towards the Nazis when they exterminated six million Jews. That seems hard to explain if what makes killing others wrong is that it is irrational and harms oneself and one’s interests.

            I would say that most of us have reasons to act in loving and thoughtful ways towards others, and perform actions that would benefit others. I see no reason to suppose a society full of error theorists would be much different to our own in that regard. One thing I find problematic in moral discourse is that moral imperatives are generally supposed to be inescapable, authoritative and desire independent. It just isn’t plausible to me that all people, regardless of their desires, would ultimately prefer to act in putatively moral ways if they were sufficiently informed and clear thinking. For sure, all or almost all people crave warm and loving relationships with others. But it seems quite possible to me that SOME people (especially those lacking in empathy) are able to balance having such relationships with those close to them with occasional exploitation of outsiders. It seems far fetched to suppose that every instance of putative immoral behaviour in the history of the world is always such that if the perpetrator had been sufficiently intelligent and clear thinking, he would have concluded his action was irrational. It seems more plausible that in SOME of those billions of cases, the condition does not hold. If I am right, that would be deeply problematic for moral discourse, since people with aberrant desires (serial killers, those who enjoy harming others above all else, those who just don’t care about outsiders) are not supposed to be exempt from moral obligations.

            Keith wrote:
            “For instance, suppose that a gay man is set upon by homophobic thugs who beat him savagely and carve “faggot” into his flesh with a knife. Suppose that an error theorist hears this on the news and, for whatever reason, simply feels no outrage. Should he be concerned about his reaction? Is there any reason or rational motivation for him to regard this response as questionable or problematic? What basis would he have, qua error theorist, for not just accepting his indifference as appropriate?”

            Whether or not he has reasons to be concerned depends upon his other desires and his likely future interactions with people. I think that for most of us, if we found that we were becoming indifferent towards the suffering of strangers, it would likely have effects that clear-thinking and informed versions of ourselves would regard as deleterious. We would see that it would lead to unhappiness for ourselves and those we care about. I don’t see that this obviously holds for everyone, though. Some people are a lot less compassionate than others, and for some people making sacrifices to help strangers is not particularly fulfilling or enjoyable.

            Keith wrote:
            “Why should Smith not be selfish? Because selfish people cannot be happy. Smith may claim that he has “fully reflected” on the issue and is sure that he will be happier if he is selfish. But he will be wrong.”

            Smith isn’t completely selfish. He has warm and loving relationships with his family and friends. But he can easily ignore Jones’ plight (just as most of us ignore the fact that every time we spend money on ANYTHING that is not strictly essential for our lives, we are effectively sealing the fate of some poor person in a far-off country who will later die of some easily curable disease). It seems a mistake to me to suppose that people cannot ever enjoy warm and loving relationships with those close to them and partially or totally ignore the plight of those further away. Some of us might regard it as unpleasant that people do that (some would say it is immoral, too), but I don’t see how those people are being irrational.

            Keith wrote:
            “saying that someone’s behavior offends you assumes that they have some sort of obligation not to be offensive, that is, that something has been violated, something done that should not have been.”

            I don’t see that it does. I simply hope that the person I speak to cares about his offending me and wants to avoid causing offence to me, or perhaps that he at least cares about a certain convention we have about not offending others. If he doesn’t give a damn, then I will have wasted my breath. So I don’t agree with you that it is “assumed to be behind the language” here that moral realism is true.

            Thanks again for your interesting and thoughtful reply!

      • staircaseghost

        Intuitively, we have free will only if we have “immaterial souls” with “contracausal powers”. But neither of those ontological conditions obtains.

        As a compatiblist, I want to say that our intuitions on this topic are just plain wrong. Rosenberg is allowing the terms of the debate to be defined by the theist and her naive metaphysics.

        Intuitively, something is evil only if it “subverts the objective moral order of the universe”. But there is no such ontological structure.

        As an expressivist, I reject the idea that we owe some sort of moral obligation to any non-human reality. But I see no reason whatsoever why the everyday noncognitive function of moral discourse (to exhort, to chasten etc.) requires any more ontological backing than any other expressions of our subjective attitudes, so you can see I don’t have problems “living with my theory” or “trivializing evil”. Evil is the worst thing in the world! Watch me shout it from the rooftops!

        If people complain that my theories of compatiblism or expressivism are not intuitively satisfying, then their intuitions need adjusting, not my theories.

        The particular part of your post that sparked my reply was when you seemed to say that ethical naturalism was just as plausible a metaphysical grounding as theism (okay, I realize what you literally typed was just that theism is “no more promising than” EN, but the implication of a rough equivalence is there). What I want to do is question both the coherence and the desirability of the Grounding Relation itself. Because from where I sit, both attempts at “grounding” are equally dubious, for reasons inherent in the attempt.

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

          staircaseghost,

          Evil is the worst thing in the world!

          What do you think is this “evil” you judge to be the worst thing in the world? You only explain that it is not what subverts the objective moral order of the universe, since you hold there is no such ontological structure. So, what do you think evil is?

          • staircaseghost

            I think lots of things are evil. Cruelty, bigotry, dishonesty — don’t you? Most non-sociopaths have no general difficulty recognizing good and evil when they see it.

            Of course, you are asking me to give an identification with some set of descriptive properties, when as I’ve said I reject descriptivism in favor of expressivism, so the question turns out to be a category mistake. How much does green weigh? Did the number 23 have a happy childhood?

            I can just imagine a town hall meeting where they are debating whether to raise property taxes by 1.3% to pay for a new elementary school. “Sure,” I say, “that sounds like a good idea.”

            The Christian apologist is the person who agrees with me that it’s a good idea, but refuses out of spite to stand with me unless I can supply a grand “objective metaphysical framework in the fabric of the cosmos” that validates my opinion. Seems a little self-defeating…

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            staircaseghost,

            Most non-sociopaths have no general difficulty recognizing good and evil when they see it.

            So what is it non-sociopaths recognize and then express by saying, for example, “cruelty is evil”?

            Of course, you are asking me to give an identification with some set of descriptive properties, when as I’ve said I reject descriptivism in favor of expressivism, so the question turns out to be a category mistake.

            Right. So what is it you previous statement “Evil is the worst thing in the world” expresses? I mean it does mean something or other, doesn’t it? Indeed something significant enough to be shouted from the rooftops. So what does it mean? Perhaps that you are disgusted with some choices people make more than anything else that disgusts you?

            The Christian apologist is the person who agrees with me that it’s a good idea, but refuses out of spite to stand with me unless I can supply a grand “objective metaphysical framework in the fabric of the cosmos” that validates my opinion.

            Well, for any utterance to have meaning it must connect in some way or the other with reality, don’t you agree? I mean even on expressivism moral language expresses something. What it expresses has no truth value, as e.g. a work of art has no truth value. But even a work of art has some connection to reality, at the very least on the emotional level. (Incidentally philosophers should now and then make a reality check to ascertain what connection to reality their ruminations have.)

            As for the example you mention, the moral antirealist may explain why a suggestion *sounds* like a good idea, and the moral realist may explain why a suggestion *is* a good idea. This has nothing to do with “Christian apologetics” even though there are arguments according to which on moral realism theism is more probable than naturalism.

          • staircaseghost

            “So what does it mean? Perhaps that you are disgusted with some choices people make more than anything else that disgusts you?”

            At least that. And that I am committing myself to reducing it as much as possible, and giving notice to those who create it that I will thwart them at every turn, and recommending this form of life to all within earshot, and exhorting them to imagine how they would feel if they changed their souls to agree with me.

            “Well, for any utterance to have meaning it must connect in some way or the other with reality, don’t you agree?”

            “Shut the fuck up.”

            Were you momentarily offended just then, for a few moments before you realized I was mentioning the phrase, not using it and directing it to you? Then you know perfectly well what that sentence means.

            How would you say this expressive, non-descriptive imperative “connects with reality”?

            More like a bat to a ball than a glove to a ball, I would say.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            staircaseghost,

            How would you say this expressive, non-descriptive imperative “connects with reality”?

            Above you describe it pretty well yourself. Moral discourse expresses (communicates to other persons) qualities of your experience, as well as your will, as well a promise you make. On theism these are all fundamental aspects of reality, since they represent major and clear aspects of the personal condition. Thus on theism, expressivism and the particular facet of the meaning of moral discourse it refers to, connects easily and naturally with reality.

            On naturalism the connection is more strenuous. The best I’d be able to do if were a naturalist is this: First I’d claim that all mental concepts refer to mental properties which supervene on particular physical processes. Then I’d describe the underlying physical processes in the brain of the person giving a moral speech, assume as per property dualism that these processes entail the respective mental properties, i.e. those experienced as “perception of moral value”, “will”, “promising” etc. Finally I’d describe “expressing” as a physical process by which mirror physical processes are caused in the brains of others. – Now does the description I give work? What do you think? Or perhaps you can give a better description of how on naturalism and expressivism the meaning of moral discourse connects with reality. Or perhaps you hold that moral discourse has meaning without in any way connecting to reality.

          • staircaseghost

            “Thus on theism, expressivism and the particular facet of the meaning of moral discourse it refers to, connects easily and naturally with reality.”

            Reading this sentence quite convinces me I’ve not been a successful educator on this topic.

            If you agree expressivism is true, you deny moral realism!

            “On naturalism the connection is more strenuous.”

            If you think naturalists don’t believe that animals shriek when they are angry or coo and purr when they are content, then you need more help than I know how to give.

            Do you think naturalists are just flummoxed by the phenomenon of an alpha wolf growling menacingly, so that the beta wolves slink away from the carcass?

            Your stuff about property dualism (huh?) just left me baffled, which in turn leads me to believe you don’t have a clear notion of what “connects with reality” means in any operational sense. Descriptive claims “connect with reality” by transforming causal impacts on the sense organs into useful anticipations of future experience. Expressive claims “connect with reality” by sending out causal waves to other organisms’ sense organs so as to cause the brains behind them to align their behavior more closely with the claimant’s own desires.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            staircaseghost,

            (Sorry for the delay BTW, I was held up by less interesting tasks.)

            If you agree expressivism is true, you deny moral realism.

            Sure. I didn’t say that expressivism is true, I said that expressivism reveals a particular *facet* of moral discourse, namely the expression of a moral attitude.

            Expressive claims “connect with reality” by sending out causal waves to other organisms’ sense organs so as to cause the brains behind them to align their behavior more closely with the claimant’s own desires.

            Right, that’s what I said when I wrote “Finally I’d describe “expressing” as a physical process by which mirror physical processes are caused in the brains of others.

            Incidentally, Rosenberg in his “The Atheist Guide to Reality” explains that *all* discourse connects with reality in this sense. That’s what discourse *is*, a means by which a brain causes other brains to move.

            Still, we must be careful here. It’s one thing to describe the physical or operative way by which discourse connects to reality, it’s another thing to describe how the *meaning* of discourse connects to reality. Perhaps on naturalism, and certainly on Rosenberg’s scientism (which I dare say is most atheists’ worldview), these two become one and the same: there is no meaning beyond the physical effects of discourse. In my judgment this is an ugly and indeed irrational view, since it eliminates what we normally mean by meaning. It’s kind of interesting to observe that the elimination of God from metaphysics pushes people to eliminate a lot more too.

          • staircaseghost

            Incidentally, Rosenberg in his The Atheist Guide to Reality explains that *all* discourse connects with reality in this sense. Thatís what discourse *is*, a means by which a brain causes other brains to move.

            Even if you’re some weirdo who thinks thinking is something other than what brains do, “causing other minds to move” is still what language is for. The fundamental divide between declaratives and imperatives is still the divide between causing you to expect a certain observation (have a belief), and causing you to have a certain emotional reaction (have a desire).

            And once you accept that the function of moral discourse is to cause desires, you end up jettisoning the notion that moral claims can refer to any fixed descriptive content. Which is just a more technical way of making the same point John has been making about “greatest conceivable beings”: “greatness” fails to univocally secure reference.

            “Still, we must be careful here. Itís one thing to describe the physical or operative way by which discourse connects to reality, itís another thing to describe how the *meaning* of discourse connects to reality.”

            Nope. The two are identical.

            Meaning is function. To learn the meaning of the French word for “dog” just is to learn that “chien” functions to describe canines to Francophones.

            “In my judgment this is an ugly and indeed irrational view, since it eliminates what we normally mean by meaning.”

            This isn’t an argument, it’s a whine. In my judgment metaethcial noncognitivism is a quite rational, elegant, aesthetically pleasing view which explains all observable data with minimal parsimony cost and dovetails beautifully in a consilient fashion with everything I know from science, art, metaphysics, and life. It is everything one could ask for in a philosophical theory.

            Frege-Geach embedding is a real argument against it, but I’ve got that beat. The idea that there is some kind of performative contradiction when I exclaim that something is “not fair” even though I deny objective morality is a real argument, but again, one I can handle. But your personal distaste is not a real argument, and the unexamined and uncritical prejudices of people who lead with their gut is no defeater at all.

            What really separates my view of the world from yours is not any metaphysical presupposition. It is my refusal to accept truthyness as a substitute for truth.

            If you’re just left complaining “but… but… it’s so counterin-toooooo-itive!”… well, then I consider my argument to have been decisively won. When you responded to John’s request for an argument for why something was greater with “No argument. One just looks,” my jaw hit the floor.

        • John

          staircaseghost wrote:
          “But I see no reason whatsoever why the everyday noncognitive function of moral discourse (to exhort, to chasten etc.) requires any more ontological backing than any other expressions of our subjective attitudes,”

          Noncognitivism about moral discourse is a very implausible view for numerous reasons. Moral utterances appear to function like assertions in so many ways:

          1) They (moral utterances) can be given in the indicative mood (e.g. “It is indeed the case that lying is wrong”).

          2) They can be transformed into interrogative sentences (e.g. “Is lying really always wrong?”).

          3) They appear embedded in propositional attitude contexts (e.g. “Alan knew that what he was doing was wrong”; “Betty hopes that evil will not triumph”).

          4) They are typically described in everyday discourse as true or false, correct or mistaken, plausible or implausible.

          5) They are involved in debate which has all the hallmarks of factual disagreement.

          6) They can be used in logically complex contexts, such as antecedents of conditionals (i.e. the Frege-Geach problem).

          7) They are understood as making authoritative and binding claims about what ought to be done, such that it is illegitimate to ignore them. No mere expression of one’s attitude can do that.

          8) Putative moral predicates can be transformed into abstract singular terms (e.g. “goodness,” “depravity”), suggesting they are intended to pick out properties.

          Moral utterances certainly often function to express attitudes, but they ALSO function like truth-apt discourse in all the ways mentioned above.

          • staircaseghost

            I was referring specifically to the non-cognitive function of normative claims as not requiring an “ontological grounding” or whatever sort of metaphysical underwriting the realist challenges us to supply. From your last sentence it seems like you don’t have a quarrel with this.

            And since we know from Wittgenstein that meaning just is function, then the meaning of morality is emotive arm-wrestling over what kind of desires we are going to agree to have. So the realist’s picture of moral inquiry as simply the passive absorption of empirical facts (facts about the correct interpretation of Scripture, facts about pseudo-aristotelian “flourishing”) is wrong, and the anti-realist’s picture is correct. This is the response I would like to see more “professional atheists” making to claims like Plantinga’s above.

            As far as your enumerated items go, they apply only to naiive emotivist treatments of the subject. Norm-expressivist (sometimes called “quasi-realist”) analyses like those from Gibbard, Blackburn, Horgan, and Timmons have IMNSHO dissolved the embedding problem. If truth is assertability in a discourse, and the functional structure of normative discourse is active and emotive (as opposed to passive and empirical, like science), then there is no insurmountable barrier to moral claims being truth-apt, factual, indicative, logically complex etc.

            They are just not true in virtue of being some kind of “discovery” of an extra-human objective moral order. But why should anyone accept this standard as a criterion for whether we are allowed to call genocide-loving scumbags like Craig “scumbags”?

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            staircaseghost,

            Norm-expressivist (sometimes called “quasi-realist”) analyses like those from Gibbard, Blackburn, Horgan, and Timmons have IMNSHO dissolved the embedding problem.

            Sounds sophisticated, but here’s a basic issue: Either moral statements have a truth value or they don’t. If they don’t then one cannot use them in logically complex contexts, and the Frege-Geach problem obtains. If they do then a premise of expressivism is false. Now philosophers are free to imagine kinds statements that are quasi-realist or have quasi truth values, but at some point the nonstop hair splitting and creative definition of new and strange concepts stops deserving being taken seriously. At some point the strategy of trying to conceptualize a problem out of existence becomes proof of impotence.

          • staircaseghost

            “If they don’t then one cannot use them in logically complex contexts, and the Frege-Geach problem obtains.”

            They do, and it doesn’t.

            “If they do then a premise of expressivism is false.”

            Which premise would that be? It would help if you could provide a citation to any of the contemporary expressivists I listed who maintain this mysterious premise.

        • Keith Parsons

          SCG,

          I agree with you concerning the fallibility of intuition. I think that much silliness in philosophy has come from pumping intuitions. All too often, the appeal to intuition is the lazy alternative to thinking. On the other hand, if we can cogently justify a theory of moral value and find that it DOES jibe with our pre-theoretical ethical intuitions, then, all the better, right?

          The problem that Plantinga is pointing to is not that ethical antirealism is counterintuitive; it is deeper than that. The problem essentially is how we justify vehement reactions–strong enough to shout from the rooftops–when we admit that nothing objectively justifies such a response. Living, as we do, in the Age of Outrage, we are familiar with people flying into foaming tirades over nothing. That is the whole schtick of some TV pundits (Michelle Malkin comes to mind).

          You would admit, I take it, that some of the TV screamers protest too much (It is about the season for Fox News to whip up its annual “war on Christmas” hoax). The question for the moral antirealist, then, is what justifies outrage in some cases but not in others? Why is it appropriate to be outraged at atrocities in Syria, but not when someone wishes you “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”? How do you distinguish the genuinely and justifiably righteously indignant from the merely overwrought?

          The equivalence between theism and ethical naturalism you mention in your last paragraph is for me merely rhetorical or forensic equivalence. Nobody can persuade the Underground Man. Sheer defiance is not a philosophical position that can be rationally addressed by anybody, theist or naturalist. As for the grounding of ethical naturalism, I hold that it is far better and more clearly grounded than theistic ethics. For the naturalist, the grounding is biology. The good is the desirable, and the desirable is made desirable by the facts of human biology. Creatures with our biological constitution will find certain activities and states intrinsically good. Moral imperatives are hypothetical imperatives directing us towards the actualization of those goods for ourselves and others. The grounding of theistic ethics is….Well, despite listening to theists on this subject for years, I haven’t figured it out yet!

          • staircaseghost

            “The question for the moral antirealist, then, is what justifies outrage in some cases but not in others?”

            Moral outrage is a perfectly fine human practice on its own. Expecting metaphysicians to swoop in from the outside to supply an underwriting or justifying philosophers’ story is like expecting a list of the rules of chess to include a rule explaining why chess is worth playing.

            That is the intuition I aim to undermine. The one that tells you “either you find some nonhuman authority (divine or otherwise) to swear your obedience to, or there is no point in committing to anything”. In this respect, I am in the same position as the physicalist compatiblist who wants to undermine the intuition that either we have libertarian free will, or we have no free will at all; or the intuition that either we have immaterial minds, or we don’t “really” think intentionally “about” anything. I am rejecting the framing of the entire question.

            “Why is it appropriate to be outraged at atrocities in Syria, but not when someone wishes you ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘merry Christmas’?”

            In the former case, people are being cruel, where in the latter they are being considerate.

            I think that’s a pretty big difference!

            “Nobody can persuade the Underground Man. Sheer defiance is not a philosophical position that can be rationally addressed by anybody, theist or naturalist.

            Then I consider my point to have been made.

            Realism about X doesn’t entail that every person’s views on X are rational, but it does entail that there is (in principle) a rational address for every mistaken view on X.

            Therefore realism about morality is false. QED.

            “Creatures with our biological constitution will find certain activities and states intrinsically good.”

            No, we will intrinsically find them good. The difference is subtle but profound. Darwinian creatures simply do not have any “in order tos” or “purpose fors”.

            “Moral imperatives are hypothetical imperatives directing us towards the actualization of those goods for ourselves and others.”

            “And others?”

            When I helped a blind woman cross a busy intersection the other day, it sure as hell wasn’t because I was selfishly increasing the probability that I would one day be helped across the street. In fact, if you told me I was decreasing my future payoff, I still would have done it, because it was the right thing to do. So it’s hard to see what merely hypothetical imperative I was pursuing.

            Why do atheist moral realists complain that my lack of a metaphysical foundation makes a mockery of my moral beliefs, but think that their reducing the categorical to venal hypothetical imperatives does not?

  • Joseph O Polanco

    How woul a a neo-Aristotelian ethical naturalist answer the following:

    “If the Neo-Nazis were to attain world domination and exterminated everyone who thought racism was wrong, would that suddenly make racism and bigotry moral?”

    • Steven Carr

      Or if we found a new updated Bible authored by God Himself which said that racism and bigotry were moral?

      Of course , a skeptical theist would simply claim we had no reason to doubt that a god might do that, as a god is cleverer than us and knows a bit more about morality than we fondly imagine ourselves to know.

      • Joseph O Polanco

        I don’t follow. How does this address my query?

        • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

          Don’t like it when someone doesn’t answer your query hugh? Why don’t you set a good example and answer mine:

          Suppose god wanted to pass judgement on the Jews, and so god commanded Adolph Hitler to exterminate the Jews, just as god had commanded the Jews to exterminate the Canaanites, Amalekites and Midianites. If god commanded the Nazis to exterminate the Jews, would the holocaust then have been not only moral, but a moral obligation?

    • David_Evans

      Aristotle’s ethics centre on the idea of the good life, sometimes restated these days as “human flourishing”. They do not imply that ethics is a matter of majority vote. I would argue that a racist and bigoted society is clearly not one which promotes human flourishing.

      • Joseph O Polanco

        Here’s the thing. Regardless of efforts to the contrary, all life suffers and ends. Therefore, a case could be made that maximizing one’s pleasure should be the absolute moral touchstone by which to adjudicate moral values. As a famous adherent of this philosophy candidly expressed, “The greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable ‘value judgment’ that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others’? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me—after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.”” -Ted Bundy

        Since this equally persuasive opinion conflicts with yours, how would you show it to be objectively false and yours objectively true? That is to say, which of the two reflects reality?

        • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

          It’s easy, if raping and torturing people was held up as a moral virtue – on par with, let’s say, compassion and love, society as we know it would completely collapse. So it is not a difference between driving on the left versus driving on the right. A society could function just as well if it drove on the left versus the right. But no society could even function, let alone flourish, if it valued murder and rape and stealing. That’s an objective fact.

          That’s common sense, which you apparently don’t have.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            And? On Atheism, we are just concomitant nimieties of nature having evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck stranded somewhere in a bleak and purposeless universe condemned to annihilation individually and collectively in a relatively near future. What, then, per Atheism is so splendid about human beings?

            “Atheism certainly promotes a low view of humanity- how much lower can you get than thinking yourself an accidental by-product of a series of even larger accidents!”
            ― John Dickson

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Are you just trolling by copying William Lane Craig again, or are you willing to be original for ONCE?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            And this answers my queries how precisely?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            It shows you’re unable to write original material and rely on WLC and co. to powerhouse your faulty arguments.

            Is a child conceived through a rape any less important than one conceived through marriage?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            I still don’t see how this answers my query …

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Well as of yet you’ve still refused to answer mine.

            We can say that human beings alone are the one species who have discovered their evolutionary past, who can contemplate the concepts of zero and infinity as well as some of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos, and who have the greatest capacity for emotional stimulation. That, one could say, is what gives human beings intrinsic value on a naturalistic supposition.

            I suppose, under Christian theism, we have such rights and value because god gave them to us. In other words, god says we’re really special, and this is apparently the source of our value. But not only would this actually be an example of extrinsic value – value given from outside, and not intrinsic value, if god said we weren’t special anymore, would our value suddenly evaporate? It would seem so on theism. Furthermore, human rights seem to be in conflict with the rights god has endowed us in the Bible, which, among a litany of other things, affirms that some people are slaves and should accept their place (Ephesians 6:5, 1 Peter 2:18, Titus 2:9). Apparently god does not approve of recalcitrant slaves. That’s a “recalcitrant fact” theists have to lie to avoid dealing with. So the Christian view is actually out of sync with human value and rights on the most basic humanist views of ethics.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            i. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2013/10/25/evil-as-an-argument-for-god/#comment-1097942922

            ii. That’s real slick coming from someone who happily cheers a healthy woman’s right to premeditatedly kill her healthy child in utero as birth control, i.e., murder as well as the legalization of Sodomy among other deviant behavior. How can you write such putrid filth without taking a shower afterwards?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Is it any worse than praising a god who commands unarmed women and children be mass slaughtered and that human slavery is perfectly moral?

            How can you believe such putrid filth without taking a shower afterwards?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Strawman. Here’s a thought. How about attempting a cohesive refutation of what I’ve actually stated instead of bickering with the crooked mockeries fabricated by the voices raging in your head?

            Time for me to get off this merry-go-round: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2013/08/piper-and-pangloss/#

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            “Time for me to get off this merry-go-round”

            Oh really? Going to go out door to door?

            Birth control is murder? How so? And why is sodomy wrong? (you know that includes oral sex too right)

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Strawman. But thanks for admitting that you’re trolling and not actually interested in learning anything.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I think going around secular blogs with copied and pasted arguments from apologists each and every one of which has already been refuted, is a better definition of trolling. Don’t you think?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            I’d agree with you but all the success I’ve been enjoying refutes your outlandish opinions :)

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            If getting your ass kicked in debate after debate and getting banned from one blog after another and getting the most number of down votes is what you call “success” then sure.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Only from the militant Atheist sites. Agnostics, on the other hand, have been very, very welcoming.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Militant atheists sites? Like where? And what agnostic sites are you going to that welcome the kind of poor-man’s apologetics that you employ?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Riiight, riight. The same caliber of apologetics that’s regularly embarrassed the likes of Dawkins, Wolpert, Carrier, Harris, Hitchens, Delahunty, Eberhard, Seidensticker, Libby Anne, Vorjack, Mehta, Lowder, Florien, Krauss, Kappel, Kagan and all other militant atheists like you …

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            LOL. It’s funny you should say something like that considering how I’ve kicked your proverbial ass so many times (as well as many others). You’re a poor-man’s apologist. You don’t know anything about science or philosophy. All you do is copy and paste other people’s arguments and defend them using apologetic talking points. That’s why no serious person is being convinced to think highly of your Armageddon cult by your outlandish ineptness.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            http://bit.ly/18fW3e8

            I have to admit, you are very, very good at kicking the stuffing outta all the Strawmen you continuously parade …

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Oh right, that’s why you’re never able to defeat my arguments and instead must resort to folly and evasion.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Actually, given your dependence on Strawmen, it’s the other way around.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Strawmen? The only arguments without brains spew out from you. With the low quality of your plagiarized arguments, there’s no need for me to attack strawmen. And the fact that over and over again you prefer to evade rather than rejoin is a testament to that.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Yes, Strawmen. You’re addicted to them.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            If you only had a brain….

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Aut disce aut discede.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            awsome

          • Daniel Wilcox

            Hi Thinker,

            But a question: Haven’t many societies functioned and flourished for a long time which “valued murder and rape and stealing”? Not only cruel empires of the past, but wars of the last few hundred years engaged in the slaughter of civilians and stole continuously.
            It’s just that they kept those activities for “others” outside of the “in” group.

            I don’t think one can create a basis for ethics based on what works.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I’m not arguing that we should shape our ethics based on an in group, out group system. That certainly doesn’t work.

          • Daniel Wilcox

            If you don’t mind sharing, What would you base ethics on?

            Ethics are of vast importance to me. It seems most worldviews’ ethics are built on sand. I learned this in my own case–growing up Baptist.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Ask yourself these questions, if god is good, how can you know that? What is it about him that makes him good? What attributes would he have that make him good? What standard would we measure god by to determine that he’s indeed, good? You can’t just assume god’s good, because then the word good becomes meaningless. Someone could say Adolph Hitler is good. And you would disagree. Why? What is it about god that makes him good? You will have to create an independent standard by which you determine why god is good. Otherwise you will be doomed to circularity. In other words, if god is good because he’s loving, compassionate and fair, then why is being loving, compassionate and fair good? Are they good because god is good? If so, your reasoning is totally circular. Therefore standards of good and evil, right and wrong exist independently from god.

          • Daniel Wilcox

            Well, you didn’t answer my question.

            But you’ve asked me some so I will try and answer:-)

            #1 As finite beings, I doubt that we can prove whether ethics exist or not, but practically, very few humans ignore ethics. Even if they engage in unethical practices, most humans think ethics exist, except for sociopaths of course, (and even they may have a very advanced understanding intellectually, but they don’t empathize and apply.)

            #2 It’s my intellectual conviction (as well as spiritual, emotional, social, etc.) that ethics are objective, meaning they exist in objective real existence “outside” of the human species.

            Even if all human brains died, and humans disappeared from the solar system, ethics would still exist. I suppose in a similar way that math exists. 2+2=4, dishonesty, rape are bad; bravery, compassion are good.

            However, I know some thinkers don’t agree. When I was an anthropology major, many of the leaders claimed that all ethics are relative to culture. In the U.S. women drive, in Saudi Arabia they aren’t allowed to do so; in Somalia they engage in female mutilation, while most Americans oppose that action as immoral.

            #3 Where do ethics exist then in essence? They are the nature of Ultimate Reality “beyond” matter and energy. I suppose this is an almost Platonic view in a limited sense. In other words God IS Goodness, IS Truth, IS Justice.

            I reject the Divine Command view of ethics.

            And there is nothing about god which “makes him good.”

            Goodness is God.

            But you ask, how does one find out what is good since various cultures disagree on what is good?

            Good question;-)

            It seems to me that is what human history has been all about–seeking, from a human point of view< to find true ethics. What is the true "ought"? Kant spent some time on this, though as I recall, he said one could never prove ethics, but only live ethics in a practical sense.

            It would seem, for instance, that most humans now realize, if human beings have value and worth, then they shouldn't be treated as an "it." Thus slavery must be inherently evil.

            Thomas Jefferson claimed ethics are "self-evident." I don't think that worked, since he himself never rejected slavery. It must not have been self-evident, or he was a hypocrite.

            Many Christian leaders look to the Bible, but the ethics in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament engage in many forms of contradiction, even very extreme examples.

            Many secularists claim ethics are relative and subjective. This seems the weakest version because, it's like reinventing the moral wheel.

            Nearly all humans now agree on ethical topics like slavery, so it seems to be a step backward to say one society can have slaves, another may choose not to. (or whatever example we want to deal with–dishonesty, abortion, war, promiscuity, etc.

            #4 Lastly you say if one judges god by ethics, then "right and wrong exist independently from god.

            But, of course, this is assuming then that "god" isn't really the ultimate, because then the "right and the wrong" become the ultimate.

            What's beyond the ultimate?
            That's like asking what is beyond east if we keep going east;-)

            Or maybe there is no ethical in the ultimate. If so, we humans are very deluded.

            Then I suppose we are where Albert Camus was at the end of his books including The Rebel, Existence is absurd.
            But, even he, after reaching that position didn't carry it out in his later life, but strongly opposed the killing of children, for instance. He did this, not because of his hard existentialism, but because despite that, he really thought killing children was wrong.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            It seems to be that you pretty much base ethics on the same things I do, but you, unlike me, believe they’re somehow grounded in a god. I ground ethics in reason and evidence. Imagine if there were two identical universes with the same exact laws of physics existing side by side. One universe is created by an omniscient god, and the other came into being naturally. In these two universes, moral values and actions like love, kindness, fairness, and generosity would have the same exact affect towards living things and that of course includes human beings. Therefore, morality is founded in nature itself, in real experiences that affect conscious beings, and where our intentions and the effects of moral actions hold the objective foundation.

            You said, “Goodness is God” but I again, I want to know how you know that to be true. How do you determine god is goodness? And how do you determine what “good” is in the moral sense? Describe for me the process you go through from the start, where you end up having determined this.

            And Jefferson originally wanted to end slavery, but the other founders disagreed as slavery at the time was considered too important to them. And so the original declaration and constitution didn’t abolish it.

          • Daniel Wilcox

            Ah more questions:-) Okay. But while I answered yours in my last post, you have as yet not answered my question from before that.

            Let me rephrase my question: For you, how can ethics exist objectively “outside” and independent of the human species, if there is no ultimate reality “behind” matter and energy?

            In other words, how do you get an “ought” from an “is”?

            Or would you say that objective ethics are built into the universe for ‘reasoning, consciously-aware species’ sort of like math is built into the universe, or for that matter, reason?

            As for your saying, “morality is founded in nature itself,” I would totally disagree. Please come out to the central coast of California and observe the behavior of the elephant seals! There’s no equality there, no right or wrong, no good or evil, no justice or injustice, and certainly no monogamy. It’s very tooth and claw…

            For that matter, you ought to meet my cat and the trials she has with larger cats in the neighborhood. No “oughts” in nature there at all.

            Shall we speak of the Black Widow or the…

            As for Jefferson, yes, I know all this. Being a former teacher, I know more about his life, than for my own good;-) His youthful revolutionary side eventually lost out to his traditional, aristocratic Virginian side. Maybe because of his experiences in Revolutionary France, or maybe just because of getting older.

            At least I, too, used to be a lot more revolutionary in my youth…got kicked out of my apartment near Philadelphia for an anti-war sign on the back of my van, the Mystical Hippopotamus;-)

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Dan, you misunderstood me.

            “…how can ethics exist objectively “outside” and independent of the human species, if there is no ultimate reality “behind” matter and energy?”

            Ethics are all relative to species. If we were cold blooded, our ethics would be different. If we laid 50 eggs and were unable to raise all of them except for the strongest, our ethics would be different. Ethics are always relative to the biological nature of the species. That’s why we don’t expect animals to behave according to our moral codes. And that’s of course why elephant seals aren’t expected to behave according to human ethical norms. What positively benefits human beings is something that exists irrespective of human opinion. Our intentions and actions and the consequences they have are what grounds our morality.

            “In other words, how do you get an “ought” from an “is”?”

            How could you even decide what ought to be without knowing what is? If you’re telling me that I need an invisible man in the sky to tell me what I ought to do, then you’re basically stuck as a child who needs to be told by daddy not to hit your little sister over the head. When you grow up you learn it’s wrong, not because daddy says so, but it’s wrong because it hurts the other person. So you must appeal to reason, not authority.

            “For that matter, you ought to meet my cat and the trials she has with larger cats in the neighborhood. No “oughts” in nature there at all.”

            Most animals have very limited reasoning capabilities and evolution tuned their social behavior in varying ways. For social species, particularly in mammals, we do see instances of monogamy, empathy, altruism, and group cooperation – all the things we also see humans but to varying levels.

          • Daniel Wilcox

            Good morning Thinker,

            Sorry I misunderstood your point.

            It does appear that we are coming from very different perceptions/worldviews. We don’t even seem to be agreeing on terms.

            You say,

            >Ethics are all relative to species. If we were cold >blooded, our ethics would be different. If we laid 50 eggs >and were unable to raise all of them except for the >strongest, our ethics would be different.

            This shows we don’t agree on the definition for the word “ethics.”

            As I understand various species on earth according to scientific findings, there doesn’t appear to be another species besides humans which has “ethics,” except maybe some other primates, and perhaps dolphins?

            Webster’s 9th Collegiate Dictionary: “…what is good and bad with moral duty and obligation”

            It would appear that “ethics”–the sense of duty and obligation, the awareness of “good” versus “bad” etc. can only exist in a species who is self-aware and a species who can reason, and a species who has at least a little creativity–the ability for alternative choice.

            It’s only with these abilities that we as a species can sometimes transcend our instinct, impulses, etc.

            Then you say,
            “Ethics are always relative to the biological nature of the species.”

            I completely disagree with this view. Ethics are objective and NOT conditioned/changed by the biological nature of the species. For instance, (speculating like a sci-fi novel I read recently) what if the species on earth that became aware and reasoning was reptilian, not mammalian? That wouldn’t change the nature of ethics, though perhaps how those ethics got carried out. Compassion, honesty, diligence, purity, etc. would still be the end goal–the “ought.”

            You say,
            >”It seems to be that you pretty much base ethics on the same things I do, but you, unlike me, believe they’re somehow grounded in a god.”

            I seek to base ethics in what is true to existence, what is not illusion or delusion or evil. I am convinced that “ethics” are transcendent, come from the ought of ultimate reality.

            How a species via evolution comes to conscious awareness and the ability to reason, etc., may affect how that species carries out “ought”, but the ethical truths themselves are objective and transcendent.

            You say,

            “I ground ethics in reason and evidence.”

            That sounds good, like grounding your checkbook or how to send an explorer to Mars in math.

            You add,

            ” Imagine if there were two identical universes with the same exact laws of physics existing side by side. One universe is created by an omniscient god, and the other came into being naturally.”

            I wonder, again, if maybe one of our huge problems is that we didn’t define terms at the start of our exchange?

            For I think that our universe came about “naturally.”

            It came about “naturally” from Ultimate Reality (in religious term–God).

            What would you say our universe came about “naturally” from? Or are you more in line with the logical positivists?

            Then you say,

            ” In these two universes, moral values and actions like love, kindness, fairness, and generosity would have thesame exact affect towards living things and that of course includes human beings. Therefore, morality is founded in nature itself, ”

            ?

            How could that be? According to most scientists, evolution as a scientific method has NO intention, No purpose, No meaning. Even the Christian cell biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University who was a key witness for the defense against Creationists, states this!)

            Again, how could “ought” possibly be grounded in nature since the very term ought is transcendent–about what isn’t but about what “ought” to be?

            Then you also say,
            in response to my saying “Goodness is God”
            that you “want to

            know how you know that to be true. How do you determine god is goodness?”

            ?

            We aren’t discussing whether or not a particular religion is true or false but are dealing with whether objective ethics exist–oughts grounded, essential to the ultimate nature of existence.

            Thus, the terms are by definition. The word “god” for most people (even though they drastically disagree about the application) means “goodness.” (Well I suppose this wouldn’t be true for an avowed Satanist, but the latter are an extremely small portion of the human species. Most humans understand that when one says “god” one means ‘good”).

            Of course, our next step would be to ascertain in specifics exactly what “good” in action is. Here’s where it gets crazy right? Millions upon millions of Christians have thought it good to slaughter others (for instance, I’m in the middle of a scholarly tome on the English Civil War, and have finished many books on the American War Between States. Then there’s always the 30 Years War, the Crusades, etc.)

            Lastly, here’s another question from you,

            “And how do you determine what “good” is in the moral sense? Describe for me the process you go through from the start, where you end up having determined this.”

            I’ve already explained that I think determining what is good comes from conscious awareness, wrestling with the “moral wheel” already found by billions of humans previously to my own birth–what is accurate, what is twisted, what is delusional in their view?) And, of course my seeking is shaped by my own experiences, reasoning, etc. (and from a theological perspective from the “wooing” of Ultimate Reality. As I recall “wooing” is a term from Whitehead or Charles Harthorne or John Cobb, one of those process theologians/philosophers.)

            And this takes me to the next point. We seem to have very different views of what the word “god” means.

            You say,
            “If you’re telling me that I need an invisible man in the sky to tell me what I ought to do, then you’re basically stuck as a child who needs to be told by daddy not to hit your little sister over the head.”

            Heck, Thinker! I’ve never thought the way you describe god, NOT even when I was a young fundamentalist of about 11 years of age. At 11 I was struggling with why the Bible claimed God had sent bears out to attack a bunch of kids, etc.

            I never thought God was an “invisible man” never thought Jesus was God…

            Do you really personally know any theist whose view of god is like you describe?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            “As I understand various species on earth according to scientific findings, there doesn’t appear to be another species besides humans which has “ethics,” except maybe some other primates, and perhaps dolphins?”

            Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with morality, which is the distinction between right and wrong. So ethics are a human construct, but when I said animals have their own “ethics” I didn’t mean that reptiles and chimps have philosophers! I meant that they all have behavioral norms which are part of their nature. And some mammals have acquired behaviors for group survival.

            “Ethics are objective and NOT conditioned/changed by the biological nature of the species. For instance, (speculating like a sci-fi novel I read recently) what if the species on earth that became aware and reasoning was reptilian, not mammalian? That wouldn’t change the nature of ethics, though perhaps how those ethics got carried out. Compassion, honesty, diligence, purity, etc. would still be the end goal–the “ought.””

            Objective according to whom? Suppose no humans ever existed, would our ethics that are relevant to human beings still exist? If so, why? What practical application would that have? Suppose there was only one species that existed, and it was solitary and cold blooded and the females ate the males like praying mantises do. Would our ethics be relevant in such a world?

            “I seek to base ethics in what is true to existence, what is not illusion or delusion or evil. I am convinced that “ethics” are transcendent, come from the ought of ultimate reality.”

            If the ultimate reality is god to you, you simply cannot prove it exists. So to ground your ethics in an immaterial being, that has little evidence supporting it, and that no one can agree on, seems to me, in all honesty, a pretty flimsy foundation for ethics. (No offense :-)) You’re going to be doomed to moral relativism, perhaps even to a worse extent to a secular person like me. Haven’t you ever noticed that liberal Christians always believe in a liberal god, and conservative Christians always believe in a conservative god? It’s much better to ground ethics in things we can see, measure, test, and objectively experience, like pain, pleasure, well being, and facts, etc.

            “What would you say our universe came about “naturally” from? Or are you more in line with the logical positivists?”

            I’m not a positivist, I was just using that as an example. If you want to talk about the universe, that’s a whole other topic. Let’s stick with ethics for now.

            “How could that be? According to most scientists, evolution as a scientific method has NO intention, No purpose, No meaning. Even the Christian cell biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University who was a key witness for the defense against Creationists, states this!)”

            Evolution itself is an “is” statement. It is ultimately meaningless, purposeless, and undirected, but that’s just the way it is. When I say that morality is founded in nature, I don’t mean it is completely founded in evolution (although our evolution did embed many of our basic moral behaviors for their survival benefit like group cooperation, altruism, fairness, etc.). I mean if an action harms someone unnecessarily, then the harm that action causes is the grounding for why that action is wrong. If it didn’t cause any harm, it wouldn’t be wrong. The harm itself is a natural outcome and an intentional action, and the harm or benefit something causes are what lay the objective foundation of our ethics.

            “Do you really personally know any theist whose view of god is like you describe?”

            Well some do, some don’t. In Christianity god is a father, so he’s male, he’s a person, and he’s invisible. So he’s an invisible, male person. Sounds like an invisible man to me!

            If you want to read more about some of my ethical ideas, read this post here” http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2013/02/a-case-for-secular-morality-objective.html

          • Daniel Wilcox

            Hello again, Thinker,

            Thanks for the url. I’ll check it out later.

            Just 2 quick questions:

            Would you agree or disagree with Richard Dawkins’ famous statement that human ethics had their start in a “mis-firing” of evolution?

            If ethics are, as you say, a “human construct,” how can they possibly be “objective” or an “ought”?

            As for you questions and last point:

            You say “in Christianity god is a father, so he’s male…”

            LOL;-)

            I’ve never thought God was a male! anymore than I ever thought he was a woman with breasts like the Hebrew Bible describes in one of the prophets, or that God has feathers like the psalms says, etc.

            We’re talking metaphor…(I know I am weak in the philosophy department, but as a retired literature teacher and poet, I do know what a ‘meadow’s-for’;) I like puns too.

            You also say,
            “Suppose no humans ever existed, would our ethics that are relevant to human beings still exist?”

            Would the higher math still exist if no primate–our ancient forbears–had begun to think? Yes.

            Just because there were no human beings doesn’t mean that the universe would cease to operate acccording to what Einstein called its impersonal “beauty.”

            Ethics are essential, not a human construct.

            Besides, one could also view the multiverse (if it exists) or the many galaxies in the universe and hold to a Carl Sagan view that there are many conscious, reasoning species not just humans. All of those species would also find the essential ethics.

            Of course, I am speculating. Maybe we humans are the sole conscious, reasoning, “ought”-sensing species that exists. But even if we became extinct, that wouldn’t affect ultimate reality.

            How do I “know” ethics are real and not a human construction?

            Well, in the sense of mathematical formula or scientific experiment, I don’t “know.”

            That’s why ethics are categorized in the Humanities, not in the sciences, right? Because we can’t prove that Augustus Caesar was “better” or “worse” than Francis of Assisi or whatever.

            We can prove when conception begins, but we can’t prove whether killing what is in the womb is wrong or not.

            But like so many philosophical issues, “objective-transcendent ethics” makes more reasonable sense to me.

            And, of course, there is my own human experience which adds its 2 cents. But I won’t give you anecdotal evidence, since I’m sure other individuals could give contrary experience.

            In all of this, that is why I do admire and agree with Jefferson’s assigning ethics to a transcendent category.
            If ethics are a “misfiring” or a human construct or given by society or culture, then, of course, they can be changed because they aren’t “essential.”

            At least, if ethics–the “ought” which informs all humans except sociopaths, is transcendent, then through reason, experience, even tradition and intuition sometimes, we can move closer and closer to the ideal, just like a scientist can move closer and closer to the reality of the natural world via reason and experiment.

            But if the natural world is only a human construct (strangely as a few philosophers have argued), then
            everything is up for grabs.

            If ethics are a human construct, then what is expedient or what is best for my society usually gets center stage.
            This just happened with torture by the U.S. government. When “they” do torture, it’s bad, but when our nation, the U.S. does torture, then it’s good, or at least necessary.
            ETC.

            Then you say,
            “If so, why? What practical application would that have? Suppose there was only one species that existed, and it was solitary and cold blooded and the females ate the males like praying mantises do. Would our ethics be relevant in such a world?”

            Well, we are getting really speculative (though I’ve read a few science fiction books in my youth that got pretty far out).
            Let’s say that the mantises did all this and eventually became conscious and reasoning, and creative and discovered the sense of “ought.”

            Then I suppose that they would abandon/reject eating “the males” just like most humans eventually rejected cannibalism, polygamy, enemy mutilation, and slavery.

            Thanks for the discussion. I see why you call yourself The Thinker.

            You’re taxing my brain;-)

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            “Would you agree or disagree with Richard Dawkins’ famous statement that human ethics had their start in a “mis-firing” of evolution?”

            I’m not sure what the context he said this was in.

            “If ethics are, as you say, a “human construct,” how can they possibly be “objective” or an “ought”?”

            Perhaps you should define what you mean by objective.

            God is anthropomorphically male. But could Jesus have been female?

            “Would the higher math still exist if no primate–our ancient forbears–had begun to think? Yes.”

            You seem to be a Platonist. I’m not.

            “Just because there were no human beings doesn’t mean that the universe would cease to operate acccording to what Einstein called its impersonal “beauty.””

            Sure, the universe would exist regardless of whether we did. But it takes a certain level on consciousness to recognize beauty. And beauty is always subjective.

            “Ethics are essential, not a human construct.”

            You need to demonstrate this.

            “But like so many philosophical issues, “objective-transcendent ethics” makes more reasonable sense to me.”

            What if human females had to cannibalize men they just copulated with like spiders do, and this was part of our biological nature. If they didn’t do it, the fetus wouldn’t get nutrients and die, and the whole species would become extinct. Would it be objectively wrong for females to cannibalize the males?

            “If ethics are a “misfiring” or a human construct or given by society or culture, then, of course, they can be changed because they aren’t “essential.””

            Of course they can be changed. Slavery was Ok in the bible, now it’s not. It changed. Certain normative behaviors will allow human beings to flourish, others will not. That is what’s objective. But if our biological nature were different, these norms would be different. So they are essential to the human species, but not essential to the universe. You’re putting human beings in the center of the universe, as if we defined the norm universally. We don’t.

            “Then I suppose that they would abandon/reject eating “the males” just like most humans eventually rejected cannibalism, polygamy, enemy mutilation, and slavery.”

            But if cannibalism were necessary for their survival they’d go extinct if they didn’t do it.

            “If ethics are a human construct, then what is expedient or what is best for my society usually gets center stage.”

            Science is also a human construct, by that doesn’t mean there aren’t objectively right or wrong answers in it. In ethics, certain norms will increase fairness, compassion, and minimize unnecessary harm. That will allow any human society to flourish. Look at how well liberal democracy has been in the West, and how dictatorships are declining. There are things that are naturally better or worse for us to do, ethics tries to make sense of them into ethical theories, just as science makes theories to explain nature. That’s why it’s a human construct.

          • Daniel Wilcox

            Thinker, I am traveling…I tried to send this message earlier via my droid phone, but it didn’t work…so now 5 hours later and thanks to Barnes and Noble, I’ll try again:

            I started reading your website.

            More later.

            As for Dawkins’ statement that ethics started with a “misfiring” of evolution, I don’t remember which of his book sthat was in.
            I’ve read 7 of Dawkins’ books. I,obviously, don’t agree with his view of philosophy (I thought his book The God Delusion was very superficial. I could write a better book against theism:-)
            but as a biologist, Dawkins is amazing!

            I don’t agree with your view of science.
            In my view science isn’t is a human construct.
            (Maybe some of the more speculative edges are
            until they get confirmed or proved wrong.)

            So I guess our disagreements go extremely deep.

            As for the speculative cannibal species…If the
            cannibal came to reason and ethics, and she had
            no alternative choice, then
            she would need to be willing to die rather
            eat her mate.

            Have you heard Martin Luther King Jr.‘s
            speech, “Values”?

            Maybe you’re too young:-)

            I agree with a central thesis of that famous speech from the late

            1950’s. Briefly, King states that ethics

            are “eternal.”

            King:”The first is this-the first principle of value that we
            need to rediscover is this-that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In
            other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the
            universe, just as abiding

            as the physical laws….I’m here to say to you this morning
            that some things are right and some

            things are wrong. (Yes) Eternally so, absolutely so. It’s
            wrong to hate…”

            ETC.

            For instance, rape, killing,
            dishonesty, etc. are always wrong across all species.

            Honesty is always right, etc.

            So I guess we’re reaching the end of the road,
            but thanks for the dialog.

            Daniel Wilcox

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I urge you to read my post that I wrote about morality from the link I sent you and tell me what you think. I cover some of the points you bring up.

        • David_Evans

          The Thinker has given a good answer.

          Another good answer to Ted Bundy is: Since you are a threat to the people around you we will do all in our power to make sure that you will not be able to act on your desires. You can have no complaint about this, since you don’t believe in human rights.

          I might equally ask, how would you show that your morality is objectively true? If you base it in the will of God, how would you show that your view of the will of God is accurate?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Simple. If the Neo-Nazis, for instance, were to attain world domination and exterminated everyone who thought racism was wrong, would that suddenly make racism and bigotry moral?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            You forgot to answer my query:

            Suppose god wanted to pass judgement on the Jews, and so god commanded Adolph Hitler to exterminate the Jews, just as god had commanded the Jews to exterminate the Canaanites, Amalekites and Midianites. If god commanded the Nazis to exterminate the Jews, would the holocaust then have been not only moral, but a moral obligation?

          • Joseph O Polanco
          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Cop out. Please answer my question honestly.

            1. I said, “Let’s say for sake of argument, advanced warning was given, would the holocaust then have been not only moral, but a moral obligation?”

          • Joseph O Polanco
          • Bradley Bowen

            If Jehovah commands us to slaughter thousands of men, women, teenagers, children, babies, and fetuses (by killing pregnant women), and to show no mercy to them, then it is our moral duty to carry out this slaughter.

            But if Adolf commands us to slaughter thousands of men, women, teenagers, children, babies, and fetuses (by killing pregnant women), and to show no mercy to them, then it is our moral duty to oppose Adolf as a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant.

            It’s all very simple, so that we simple-minded folk will know what to do.

            (Or maybe it was Adolf who we are supposed to obey and Jehovah who we are supposed to oppose. I’m not sure. I don’t remember. Guess I need to go back to Sunday School for a few more mind-control lessons.)

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            What if god commands Adolph Hitler to command us to slaughter thousands of men, women, teenagers, children, babies, and fetuses (by killing pregnant women), and to show no mercy to them?

          • Bradley Bowen

            You mean, like Jehovah commanded Moses to command the Israelites to slaughter thousands of men, women, teenagers, children, babies, and fetuses (by killing pregnant women), and to show no mercy to them?

            Deuteronomy 2:31-35
            American Standard Version (ASV)

            31 And Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have begun to deliver up Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land.
            32 Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, unto battle at Jahaz.
            33 And Jehovah our God delivered him up before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.
            34 And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed every inhabited city, with the women and the little ones; we left none remaining:
            35 only the cattle we took for a prey unto ourselves, with the spoil of the cities which we had taken.

            Deuteronomy 3:1-6
            American Standard Version (ASV)

            1 Then we turned, and went up the way to Bashan: and Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, unto battle at Edrei.
            2 And Jehovah said unto me, Fear him not; for I have delivered him, and all his people, and his land, into thy hand; and thou shalt do unto him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon.
            3 So Jehovah our God delivered into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people: and we smote him until none was left to him remaining.
            4 And we took all his cities at that time; there was not a city which we took not from them; threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan.
            5 All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars; besides the unwalled towns a great many.
            6 And we utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying every inhabited city, with the women and the little ones.

            Deuteronomy 7:1-2
            American Standard Version (ASV)

            1 When Jehovah thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and shall cast out many nations before thee, the Hittite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
            2 and when Jehovah thy God shall deliver them up before thee, and thou shalt smite them; then thou shalt utterly destroy them: thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them;

            Deuteronomy 20:16-17
            American Standard Version (ASV)

            16 But of the cities of these peoples, that Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth;
            17 but thou shalt utterly destroy them: the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; as Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee;

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Yup. Or dashing baby’s heads against rocks, killing adulterers, witches, homosexuals, false prophets, people who worship other gods – you know, anything god arbitrary decides to command.

          • Bradley Bowen

            Jesus said “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). Jesus was talking about Jehovah.

            Gosh, I don’t know. I’m just a lowly sinful human being. I can try to be good, but how can I ever hope to attain the infinite moral perfection of Jehovah?

            Maybe someday, if I repent, and humble myself, and pray for forgiveness, I might be able to reach for the perfect moral goodness of Jehovah. Someday, I too could command the slaughter of thousands of men, women, teenagers, children, babies, and fetuses, just like Jehovah!

            I know that it seems too much to hope for, that one day I might reach such glorious heights of moral perfection, but with Jesus as my guide, all things are possible.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            And make sure not to wash your hands before eating (Matthew 15:20)

          • Steven Carr

            If I only had a short amount of time to pass on a message to humanity, then ‘don’t wash your hands before eating’ would not be high on my list.

            But I think the Bible was written by fallible human beings, so what do I know? After all Plantinga will tell me it is objectively immoral to wash your hands before eating as his god has told him not to.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I agree the Bible was written by fallible human beings, but perhaps unlike you I also think Jesus himself was a fallible human being. No divine being who knew everything would recommend anyone to not wash their hands before eating for whatever reason, lest he would have wanted to contribute to suffering, misery and death. A being who said such a thing would either be ignorant, or evil.

          • Daniel Wilcox

            Hello Bradley,

            Of course the slaughter of war happens throughout history for “reasons” other than the only the Hebrew Bible.

            Many, probably most, humans defend the slaughter of their enemies, not just the Israelities. Consider the bombing of Dresden by the Allies and the fire-bombing of the cities of Japan which killed almost 1/2 a million unarmed civilians! It’s not like those civilians started the war, but rather Japanese warlords in control of the Japanese government.

            It seems that humans can always justify the slaughter of civilians if they are enemies.

            But it sounds like that you think the the ancient Jewish people should have had a ‘higher’ standard.

            Upon what basis do you claim their moral standard should be different from the moral standard of the 20th century Allies?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Do you honestly think it wrong for God to kill in defense of the innocent? After all, “minatur innocentibus qui parcit nocentibus”, wouldn’t you agree? Therefore, while the Bible candidly Jehovah God’s past adverse judgments you must bear in mind that they were always against evil people and in defense of the innocent. For example, it was not until the earth of Noah’s day became “filled with violence” that Jehovah said: “Here I am bringing the deluge of waters upon the earth to bring to ruin all flesh in which the force of life is active.” (Genesis 6:11, 17) Regarding another judgment, it was only because the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had “abandoned themselves to sexual immorality and were bent on perverted sensuality” that God caused it to “rain sulfur and fire.”—Jude 7, The New Berkeley Version; Genesis 19:24.

            Did God relish bringing all flesh to ruin in Noah’s day? Or did he derive some fiendish pleasure from destroying the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah? For an answer, let us look at the events surrounding the Flood of Noah’s day. After stating that God would wipe evil mankind off the surface of the ground in order to cleanse the earth of violence, the Bible says: “Jehovah . . . felt hurt at his heart.” Yes, it devastated God that “every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only bad all the time.” Hence, to save as many as possible from the impending Deluge, God dispatched Noah, “a preacher of righteousness,” to sound a warning message and to build an ark for preservation.—Genesis 6:3-18; 2 Peter 2:5.

            Adverse judgments from God have always resulted because evil people adamantly refuse to abandon their depravity and evildoing, not because Jehovah enjoys killing people. But you may wonder, ‘Did not Jehovah encourage the Israelites to war with other nations and annihilate them?’

            The Amalekites, for instance, were “the first one of the nations” to launch an unprovoked invasion on the Israelites after the Exodus, at Rephidim near Mount Sinai. As a consequence, Jehovah decreed ultimate extinction for the Amalekites. (Nu 24:20; Ex 17:8-16; De 25:17-19) Twice during the days of the Judges these bitter enemies of Israel shared in assaulting Israel. They did it in the days of Eglon king of Moab. (Jg 3:12, 13) Again, with the Midianites and Easterners, they ransacked the land of Israel seven years before Gideon and his 300 men dealt them a smashing defeat.—Jg 6:1-3, 33; 7:12; 10:12. Because of this relentless hostility, during the period of the kings Jehovah ‘called to account’ the Amalekites, commanding King Saul to strike them down, which he did “from Havilah as far as Shur, which is in front of Egypt.” (1Sa 15:2-33)

            On the other hand, spiritism, child sacrifice, sadistic violence, and various forms of grotesque sex worship were the order of the day with the Canaanites. As a God of justice, Jehovah could not allow these disgusting practices to disrupt the peace and security of innocent people, especially Israel. (Deuteronomy 5:9) For example, imagine if the community in which you live was without a reputable police force or militia to enforce the laws of the land—would that not lead to anarchy and violence of the worst kind? Similarly, Jehovah was compelled to act against the Canaanites because of their licentiousness and the real danger they posed to pure worship. Therefore, he decreed: “The land is unclean, and I shall bring punishment for its error.”—Leviticus 18:25. “It is for the wickedness of these nations that Jehovah is driving them away from before you”, we read at Deuteronomy 6:4-6, “It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to take possession of their land; in fact, it is for the wickedness of these nations that Jehovah your God is driving them away from before you.”

            Divine justice was carried out when God’s executional forces—the Israelite armies—destroyed the Canaanites. The fact that God chose to use humans to carry out this judgment, rather than fire or flood, did not diminish the sentence. Thus, when warring with the nations of Canaan, the Israelite armies were instructed: “It is only of the cities of these peoples that Jehovah your God is giving you as an inheritance that you must not preserve any breathing thing alive, because you should without fail devote them to destruction, the Hit´tites and the Am´or·ites, the Ca´naan·ites and the Per´iz·zites, the Hi´vites and the Jeb´u·sites, just as Jehovah your God has commanded you; in order that they may not teach YOU to do according to all their detestable things, which they have done to their gods, and YOU may indeed sin against Jehovah YOUR God.” —Deuteronomy 20:16-18.

            Unlike with Ares, Otrera, Keres, Enyo, Eris and the like, Jehovah God is a respecter of life. As such, He did not sanction indiscriminate killing. Deuteronomy 20:10-14 directed the ancient Israelites, “In case you draw near to a city to fight against it, you must also announce to it terms of peace. And it must occur that if it gives a peaceful answer to you and it has opened up to you, it must even occur that all the people found in it should become yours for forced labor, and they must serve you. But if it does not make peace with you, and it actually makes war with you and you have to besiege it, Jehovah your God also will certainly give it into your hand, and you must strike every male in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the little children and the domestic animals and everything that happens to be in the city, all its spoil you will plunder for yourself; and you must eat the spoil of your enemies, whom Jehovah your God has given to you.”

            While Israelite soldiers were allowed to marry captives they had to treat them with the same rights and respect due to an Israelite wife. Unlike what’s seen in today’s wars, Israelite soldiers were proscribed from raping or otherwise abusing female captives. Jehovah instructed, “In case you go out to the battle against your enemies and Jehovah your God has given them into your hand and you have carried them away captive; and you have seen among the captives a woman beautiful in form, and you have got attached to her and taken her for your wife, you must then bring her into the midst of your house. She must now shave her head and attend to her nails [for hygienic reasons], and remove the mantle of her captivity from off her and dwell in your house and weep for her father and her mother a whole lunar month; and after that you should have relations with her, and you must take possession of her as your bride, and she must become your wife.” – Deuteronomy 21:10-13 (Bracket mine.)

            When the residents of one Canaanite city, Gibeon, asked for mercy, Jehovah granted it. (Joshua 9:3-27) Would a bloodthirsty war god have done this? No, but a God who loves peace and justice would.—Psalm 33:5; 37:28.

            Time and again, the Bible associates God’s blessing with peace. That is because Jehovah is a lover of peace, not war. (Numbers 6:24-26; Psalm 29:11; 147:12-14) Consequently, when King David desired to build a temple of worship to Jehovah, God told him: “You will not build a house to my name, for a great deal of blood you have spilled on the earth before me.”—1 Chronicles 22:8; Acts 13:22.

            While on earth, the Greater David, Jesus Christ, spoke of a time when God’s love of justice would no longer allow him to stomach the present-day evil we see. (Matthew 24:3, 36-39) As he did in the Flood of Noah’s day and in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God will soon take judicial action to cleanse the earth of selfish, evil men, thus paving the way for peaceful conditions to exist under his heavenly Kingdom rule.—Psalm 37:10, 11, 29; Daniel 2:44.

            Clearly, Jehovah is not the bloodthirsty God he is undeservedly accused of being. On the other hand, he does not shrink back from exacting justice when it is due. God’s love of goodness requires that he act in behalf of those innocents who love him by destroying the evil system that oppresses them. When he does so, true peace will flourish earth wide as the truly meek ones unitedly worship Jehovah, “the God of peace.”—Philippians 4:9.

          • David_Evans

            No. Now will you answer my question? How would you show your view of the will of God is correct?

            Bearing in mind this quote from Hitler’s Mein Kampf:

            “Acting According to God’s Will. I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.”

          • Joseph O Polanco

            i. And you would be correct! You would also be demonstrating the reality of objective moral values and duties.

            ii. My view of God’s will is the very same Christ had:

            “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.” -Matthew 22:37-40

          • David_Evans

            (i) Yes, in the sense that I think there are objective answers to the question “What conduces to human flourishing?”
            No, in the sense that I can’t prove to anyone that they ought to care about human flourishing. In that sense my final choice of morality is subjective, as is Ted Bundy’s. But mine could be the basis of a human society and his couldn’t.

            (ii) You have told me what your view of God’s will is, but not how you would show it to be correct. Argument from authority, even the authority of Christ, doesn’t work here. Especially considering the number of crimes committed throughout history in the name of that same Christ.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Let’s keep going then. As you’ve no doubt noticed, that quote was taken from the Gospel of Matthew. It is the fortieth book from the collection of sixty-six distinct works known collectively as The Bible.

            One of the most compelling reasons why millions of reasonable people the world over recognize the Bible as the inspired word of Jehovah God is the fact that it contains many, many highly specific prophecies that were fulfilled exactly as predicted. No other text – religious or otherwise – holds such an esteemed distinction. Given that it’s humanly ** impossible ** for anyone to predict with full accuracy what’s going to occur from one hour to the next it’s clear that Bible prophecies are not of human – thus divine – origin: http://bit.ly/1d0Y82v

          • David_Evans

            I haven’t the time to look at all the prophecies on that site. I notice that the first link there refers to events before 1000 BC, much older than any surviving manuscripts of the Old Testament. It’s not hard to prophesy the past!

            Also, the Bible has quite a few failed prophecies: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Failed_biblical_prophecies

          • Joseph O Polanco

            I’m more than happy to show otherwise. I invite you to select your best argument and present it.

          • David_Evans

            These are not my arguments. I’m simply pointing to evidence that the Bible is not a book of uniformly successful prophecies. I would be interested in your comments on the first few prophecies in my link, and also on Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 13, in particular from

            13:24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,

            13:25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.

            to

            13:30 Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            “When answering the question of his disciples concerning the sign of his presence and the conclusion of the system of things, Jesus mentioned a “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” (Mt 24:3, 21) As a comparison of Matthew 24:15-22 with Luke 21:20-24 reveals, this had initial reference to a tribulation to come upon Jerusalem. The fulfillment came in 70 C.E., when the city was besieged by the Roman armies under General Titus. This resulted in severe famine conditions and much loss of life. The Jewish historian Josephus relates that 1,100,000 Jews died or were killed, whereas 97,000 survived and were taken into captivity. (The Jewish War, VI, 420 [ix, 3]) Such a “great tribulation” has not occurred again or been repeated upon Jerusalem.

            Jesus also referred to this tribulation in connection with his coming in glory: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity.” (Mt 24:29-31)

            The term “immediately” in this passage does not rule out the possibility of a lapse of a considerable period between the tribulation upon Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and the events that were to follow. Writes Greek scholar A. T. Robertson: “This word, common in Mark’s Gospel as euthus, gives trouble if one stresses the time element. The problem is how much time intervenes between ‘the tribulation of those days’ and the vivid symbolism of Mt 24 verse 29. The use of en tachei [shortly] in Rev. 1:1 should make one pause before he decides. Here we have a prophetic panorama like that with foreshortened perspective. The apocalyptic pictures in verse 29 [of Matthew 24] also call for sobriety of judgment. . . . Literalism is not appropriate in this apocalyptic eschatology.”—Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1930, Vol. I, pp. 192, 193.

            Others have made like observations concerning the use of the Greek word rendered “immediately” at Matthew 24:29. A footnote on this text in The Westminster Version of the Sacred Scriptures reads: “‘Straightway’ [immediately] is probably here ‘a term of prophecy, not of history’, and so does not imply immediate sequence, which indeed in any case is not always to be pressed . . . Similar terms are common in apocalyptic literature to introduce a new scene in a rapidly changing series of visions: cf. Apoc. Re xi. 14: Re xxii. 12.” Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible states: “It is usual, in the prophetical style, to speak of things great and certain as near and just at hand, only to express the greatness and certainty of them. . . . A thousand years are, in God’s sight, but as one day, 2 Pet. iii. 8.”—1976, Vol. III, p. 205.

            Biblical evidence indicates that the tribulation upon Jerusalem in 70 C.E. pointed forward to a far greater tribulation. About three decades after Jerusalem’s destruction, the apostle John, with reference to a great crowd of persons from all nations, tribes, and peoples, was told: “These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation.” (Re 7:13, 14) Earlier, the apostle John had seen “four angels” holding back destructive winds so that the sealing of the 144,000 slaves of God might be completed. This sealing evidently links up with the ‘gathering of the chosen ones’ that Jesus foretold would follow the tribulation upon earthly Jerusalem. (Mt 24:31)

            Accordingly, the “great tribulation” must come after the chosen ones have been gathered and their sealing is completed and when the four angels release the four winds to blow upon the earth, sea, and trees. (Re 7:1-4) The fact that a great crowd ‘comes out of the great tribulation’ shows that they survive it. This is confirmed by a similar expression at Acts 7:9, 10: “God was with [Joseph], and he delivered him out of all his tribulations.” Joseph’s being delivered out of all his tribulations meant not only that he was enabled to endure them but also that he survived the afflictions he experienced.

            It is noteworthy that the apostle Paul referred to the execution of God’s judgment upon the ungodly as tribulation. He wrote: “This takes into account that it is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you, but, to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” (2Th 1:6-8) The book of Revelation shows that “Babylon the Great” and “the wild beast” have brought tribulation upon God’s holy ones. (Re 13:3-10; 17:5, 6) It therefore logically follows that the tribulation to come upon “Babylon the Great” and “the wild beast” is included in the “great tribulation.”—Re 18:20; 19:11-21.”

          • David_Evans

            Pasting from The Watchtower, I see.

            I’m not going to dive into the theology. I’ll just say that if someone says “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled”, the natural interpretation is that the things he has just spoken of will all happen within a human lifetime. St Paul clearly thought so, saying things like

            “7:29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;”
            7:30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not;
            (1 Corinthians) which make no sense if the world is to last more than a generation.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            If someone, anyone, sure. But Christ wasn’t just anyone and he didn’t just say things:

            “To those outside all things occur in illustrations, in order that, though looking, they may look and yet not see, and, though hearing, they may hear and yet not get the sense of it, nor ever turn back and forgiveness be given them.” – Mark 4:11

            “I [Jesus] speak to them by the use of illustrations, because, looking, they look in vain, and hearing, they hear in vain, neither do they get the sense of it; 14 and toward them the prophecy of Isaiah is having fulfillment, which says, ‘By hearing, YOU will hear but by no means get the sense of it; and, looking, YOU will look but by no means see. 15 For the heart of this people has grown unreceptive, and with their ears they have heard without response, and they have shut their eyes; that they might never see with their eyes and hear with their ears and get the sense of it with their hearts and turn back, and I heal them.’” – Matthew 13:13-15 (Bracket mine.)

          • David_Evans

            So why did St Paul write “the time is short”?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            What passage are you referring to?

          • David_Evans

            Are you afflicted with a particularly short memory? Two hours ago I quoted 1 Corinthians

            “7:29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none”

            and you replied. That is the passage I am referring to.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            I ask for a clarification and you interpret this as an invitation to be boorish?

          • David_Evans

            Was that boorish? Maybe. I’m still angry with you for replying to my request for comments on Matthew 13:30 with quotations implying

            (i) that Jesus doesn’t want me to understand his words

            (ii) that if I don’t understand, it’s because I have shut my eyes and heard without response.

            That is a way of biasing any discussion of the Bible against an unbeliever (it also works for the Qur’an), not a way of carrying on a fair argument.

            Also, I see your asking for clarification as a way to evade answering my specific question, which I will reformulate:

            Why did Paul in 1 Corinthians write

            “7:29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;”

            if not because he believed that Christ’s second coming was to be expected within a human lifetime?

            Not being Christ, you need not speak in parables. Plain words will suffice.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            My apologies. I forget sometimes that not everyone has read the Bible in full.

            Regardless, it is significant to note that Christ’s apostles faced the same challenges you face. These, however, sought explanations from Jesus while the rest of his audience simply turned around and walked away. (Matthew 13:36)

            Let’s return, then, to Paul’s words. As I shared with you earlier, Christs’s prophecy found initial fulfillment in 70 CE when the Romans razed Jerusalem under General Titus. Since Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was written a few decades before this event took place, it was a very fitting admonishment since they needed to be ready to flee Jerusalem as per Luke 21:20-24.

          • David_Evans

            Do you know, that possibility had not occurred to me. Score one for you.

            However, since Corinth is about 800 miles from Jerusalem, I’m not sure I see the relevance.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            h e heh hehehe I appreciate the compliment but I’m not here to score points. As far as I’m concerned, I’m helping a friend resolve some important questions :)

            Getting back to your reply, the issue is twofold. First it served as a reminder to those Christians in Jerusalem (Paul’s letters were circulated among the Christian congregations) and, two, after 70 CE it would serve to strengthen the conviction of Christians the world over that the Bible is the Inspired Word of God.

          • David_Evans

            So Christ speaks in parables in order that “those outside” may not understand him. Thanks a bunch. I see that that’s very convenient for you. You can dismiss any problems I have with the text by simply saying that Christ doesn’t want me to understand. How lucky you are to be on the inside.

            I’m done with this. Goodbye.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            If you really think I’m on the “inside”, how did I get here? Was it by throwing my hands up in the air convinced if I didn’t understand no one would?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Let me know when you’re doing perlustrating the body of evidence for the Bible’s divine origins I shared with you earlier. I’m very interested in your objective opinion :)

    • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

      How would a Jehovah’s Witness answer the following:

      Suppose god wanted to pass judgement on the Jews, and so god commanded Adolph Hitler to exterminate the Jews, just as god had commanded the Jews to exterminate the Canaanites, Amalekites and Midianites. If god commanded the Nazis to exterminate the Jews, would the holocaust then have been not only moral, but a moral obligation?

      • Joseph O Polanco

        Your analogy doesn’t work because it’s missing two very important components:

        (1) Advance warning: “For the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will not do a thing unless he has revealed his confidential matter to his servants the prophets.”

        “The Sovereign Lord Jehovah himself has spoken! Who will not prophesy?’” -Amos 3:7,8

        (2) Means of escape for the righteous: Before Cesitus Gallus sieged Jerusalem in 66 CE, Christ presaged around 33 CE, “when YOU see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Ju·de′a begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her; because these are days for meting out justice, that all the things written may be fulfilled.” -Luke 21:20-22.

        The righteous heeded Christ’s prophecy and escaped Jerusalem to Pella. The remaining were either part of the 1.1 million killed or the approximately 97,000 enslaved.

        Likewise, in Noah’s day, Jehovah God gave advance warning and made provisions for the righteous to escape his impending judgment against evildoers.

        Even now, Jehovah has given advance warning for Armageddon and clearly laid out what the righteous need to do in order to avoid being executed along with evildoers.

        Will you heed this warning or remain obstinate?

        • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

          1. Let’s say for sake of argument, advanced warning was given, would the holocaust then have been not only moral, but a moral obligation?

          2. You’re forgetting that Luke was written after 66 AD. Even Mark, the earliest gospel was written no earlier than 65 AD according to almost every scholar.

          2.1. The Canaanite conquest involved no advanced warning to the Canaanites by god. He never sends a prophet to warn them like Noah supposedly did to the people around him, so your analogy is flawed.

          2.2 You JoHos are obsessed with the end of times, yet you’ve consistently failed at predicting the end of the world. So if you’re so confident the end is near, just give me all of your money then. Deal?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            1. The Roman holocaust of 70 CE was an expression of divine judgment. The Nazi Holocaust wasn’t. End of story.

            2. Argumentum ignoratio elenchi. Even if your figures were even remotely accurate, Matthew’s Gospel was already in circulation since “subscriptions at the end of some manuscripts [] say that it was 41 C.E.”.

            2.1. I see you still insist on teaching what you do not know. Deuteronomy 20:10-14, among other passages, refutes your casuistry.

            2.2. People who argue that the Earth is flat also give reasons and arguments for their position. They’re under the delusion that they’re one of the most rapidly growing demographics in the first world. These choose to ignore the massive and compelling evidence for a round Earth, and such people are, in any case, immune and impervious to facts and logic. They cling to their conclusion with such frantic desperation they won’t let go no matter what anyone says, no matter what reasons or arguments they’re presented with.

            It seems clear to me you are much like these advocates of a Flat Earth. Yes, you present reasons and arguments for your position but you present the same reasons and arguments that have been around for the past century or two while ignoring the most obvious facts and arguments that contradict your position. I’m not going to kick a menhir, and declare that I’ve refuted your arguments anymore than I’m interested in persuading a Flat Earth advocate that the world is in reality round.

            You are free to go your way, believing whatever benighted and moonstruck ideas you wish. All the best!

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            1. No it’s not the end of the story. I asked If the Nazi holocaust was an act of divine judgement, would the holocaust then have been not only moral, but a moral obligation?

            2. Prove it. Virtually no scholar dates Matthew before 70 AD. Don’t fall for frauds.

            2.1. You sure about that? (Josh 11:20)

            2.2 So ironic, you comparing me to a flat earther, don’t you think? You have no evidence to support your Armageddon cult fantasy, sorry.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            1. Asked and answered: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2013/10/25/evil-as-an-argument-for-god/#comment-1097923023

            2. Cura te ipsum!

            2.1. Absolutely otherwise Rahab and her family wouldn’t have survived the siege of Jericho. (Joshua 6)

            2.2. Same excuse Noah’s contemporaries gave before they drowned …

            “Those who don’t learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.”

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            1. I said, “Let’s say for sake of argument, advanced warning was given, would the holocaust then have been not only moral, but a moral obligation?”

            2. You didn’t perlustrate my rejoinder.

            2.1 See 2.

            “Those who don’t learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.”

            You’d think the JoHos would learn then from all their failed past end of world predictions.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            i. For the sake of argument, if God had decided to use them to this end the way he employed the Assyrians, the Babylonians or the Romans in ancient times, then, yes, it would have been moral. Not necessarily an obligation, though, because he could have used any resource at his disposal (even the elements).

            ii. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/08/and-you-wonder-why-i-see-the-right-as-anti-woman.html#comment-1053538013

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            1. There, that wasn’t so hard was it? Admitting the holocaust could have been moral is a bit difficult isn’t it?

            Why couldn’t god have used to elements to kill the Canaanites, Amalekites and Midianites? Or, why couldn’t he have just painlessly annihilated them by instantly vaporizing so that not one drop of blood had been spilled?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            i. If you weren’t so slimy I wouldn’t have had to take precautions to cover my bases. Regardless, it wasn’t so the question is moot.

            ii. Who says he couldn’t? Why should he be soft on those who practice evil? How would that be loving towards all their victims? Only the good and innocent merit God’s forbearance, not those who hate him.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            2. “Who says he couldn’t?”

            But he didn’t. So he chose the most violent of all his possible options.

            “How would that be loving towards all their victims?”

            Gee I don’t know, because you claim god is INFINITE love? So I guess I’m more compassionate and loving than your lord.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            And you would be committing a naturalistic fallacy. Yet another in the loooong list of irrationalities your cognitive dissonance is contingent upon.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            How so?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            You’re, again, conflating that which is descriptive (“is”) with the prescriptive (“ought”). Just because Jehovah God employed human executionary forces doesn’t in any way restrain him from using supernatural means to meet out justice (as he’s done many times in the past and is poised to do so once again in the very near future at Armageddon).

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            1. There, that wasn’t so hard was it? Admitting the holocaust could have been moral is difficult isn’t it?

            Why couldn’t god have used to elements to kill the Canaanites, Amalekites and Midianites? Or, why couldn’t he have just painlessly annihilated them by instantly vaporizing so that not one drop of blood had been spilled?

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    For the ethical naturalist the true scale of values is a matter of biological fact.

    Sociobiological evolution does explain the facts of human behavior we call “moral”, including facts about how we feel about such behavior. Thus, as you say, naturalism can ground the true scale of moral values, in the sense that this scale can be shown to depend on the physical facts of sociobiological evolution.

    This is not what Plantinga’s argument is about. His premise is that on naturalism the meaning of moral value, and thus also the meaning of the scale of moral values, cannot be metaphysically grounded. What we mean by “moral value” appears not to make sense on naturalism, which therefore must reduce these values to behaviors and feelings, and deny their existence as actual values. So Plantinga’s argument is not that in a naturalistic reality we wouldn’t feel as we do feel in the actual reality about crimes in Nazi concentration camps. Rather his argument is that in a naturalistic reality there isn’t anything more to the matter than these feelings, and no “objective” moral values are present. Naturalistic philosophers from Hume to J. L. Mackie agree. Indeed to my knowledge no scientific naturalist has proposed a viable theory which metaphysically grounds moral values. So when theists speak of “objective moral values” they don’t mean “non-arbitrary moral judgments” but “actually existing moral values”.

    Part of the misunderstanding about the meaning of “objective moral value” in theistic talk appears to stem from this: Theists are apt to argue that a very powerful dictator could bend the flow of sociobiological evolution to produce a humanity which would value, say, rape. And thus shift the position of rape within the true scale of values. The argument here is that the concept of moral values entails that some things such as rape are intrinsically evil and cannot possibly change no matter what a dictator may do. Theists explain this by pointing out that on theism moral values are grounded in the character of God and thus cannot change – only our behaviors and feelings related to these values may change because of biological, cultural, or other contingencies.

    In short then Plantinga’s argument appears to be this:

    1. Theism entails moral realism, and naturalism entails moral non-realism.
    2. To take our moral feelings seriously entails moral realism.
    3. Therefore to take our moral feelings seriously entails to reject naturalism. And, as long as no non-naturalistic non-theistic theory of moral realism is forthcoming, to embrace theism.

    The nihilist cuts to the chase and simply answers that the naturalist recognizes the true nature of moral feelings and therefore does not take them seriously in the relevant sense, but uses them as the mere sociobiological contingencies they are.

    • Eric Sotnak

      DG: “Theists are apt to argue that a very powerful dictator could bend the flow of sociobiological evolution to produce a humanity which would value, say, rape.”
      Sort of like God could command the slaughter of infants rendering that morally valuable?

      But more importantly: When you say, “What we mean by “moral value” appears not to make sense on naturalism, which therefore must reduce these values to behaviors and feelings, and deny their existence as actual values.” What does “actual values” mean? That is, what is the criterion of actuality?

      Suppose I say that the feeling of pain, given human nature, is intrinsically disvaluable (in fact, it is exactly because of its intrinsic disvalue that it can have instrumental value). “Ah,” says the theist, “but feelings are subjective and therefore there is no ACTUAL disvalue in pain.” I would reject the inference. That pain is experienced subjectively does not mean it is in any useful sense not actual. This is why the Euthyphro dilemma has force: Even if God proclaimed the experience of pain to be objectively good, if he didn’t alter its natural character (the fact that it feels bad to us), it would not thereby actually be good.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

        Eric,

        What does “actual values” mean?

        It means that values exist. More specifically that they exist in a way which is not grounded in sociobiological evolution or the behavior and feelings it engenders.

        I suppose there are two metaphysical views possible here: Either values exist and we have some cognitive capacity to perceive them, or else they don’t exist and any talk about values refers only to a certain set of behavior and kinds of feelings present in the human condition. Let me hasten to say that the latter view is entirely viable.

        That is, what is the criterion of actuality?

        I take it you mean what is the criterion of existence? In our current condition, and beyond one’s current conscious experience, there isn’t any criterion of existence. The problem has been recognized and discussed by philosophers since ancient Hinduism and Plato and his cave, up to Kant and Hegel in modern times. My own answer is pragmatic: In our current condition the best we can do is assume that X exists when X helps us make sense of the whole of our experience of life, and, significantly, when assuming that X exists is found to be clearly and consistently useful in the business of living. Thus, for example, subjective idealists and scientific realists may strongly disagree about the metaphysical nature of walls, but all agree that walls exist. In this context I find that moral realism is consistently useful in that it empowers me to live in the way I wish, namely as a good person.

        Suppose I say that the feeling of pain, given human nature, is intrinsically disvaluable

        What has human nature to do with it? Even in the absence of humanity or of human evolution it would seem that the feeling of pain (felt, say, by animals billions of years ago) is intrinsically disvaluable.

        There is a matter I failed to raise with Keith in my comment above. Even though our sense of morality can be explained on sociobiological evolution, it is difficult to square it with it. For example to sacrifice myself for my neighbor does not increase human flourishing in any biological sense whatsoever, yet according to our moral sense it is good. As for the feelings of pleasure or pain they appear to be tangential. Suppose we had the technology to zip in a spaceship to an uninhabitable galaxy far away, and shoot planets into small bits. The experience for us may be great fun, but our moral sense tells us that to do so would be evil. Sociobiological evolution may explain why we *feel* it is evil, but utterly fails to explain why it *is* evil. It seems clear that on naturalism there is nothing to ground the evilness of such an act. Which leads me, and also many naturalists, to the view that naturalism entails moral non-realism.

        That pain is experienced subjectively does not mean it is in any useful sense not actual.

        Right. In fact whatever is experienced subjectively is the only thing we know is actual.

        This is why the Euthyphro dilemma has force: Even if God proclaimed the experience of pain to be objectively good, if he didn’t alter its natural character (the fact that it feels bad to us), it would not thereby actually be good.

        Two things.

        Starting an argument with a theist by saying “Even if God proclaimed pain to be good” is akin to starting an argument with a mathematician by saying “Even if one plus one equaled three”. It is in the nature of numbers that one plus one does not equal three, and (according to the universally accepted St Anselm’s definition as understood by normal people) it is in the nature of God that pain is not good.

        Secondly, on moral realism how things “feel” to us, is irrelevant. On theism God has given us some truth-tracking moral faculty, but one which can and often does go wrong. What makes something good is not how we feel about it, nor what God “proclaims”, but how well it comports with God’s nature. On theism then, when an atheist correctly perceives what is good the atheist is correctly perceiving the nature of God, albeit without realizing it.

        • Walter Van den Acker

          “What makes something good is not how we feel about it, nor what God “proclaims”, but how well it comports with God’s nature.”

          There is a huge problem with this.

          In order to define God’s nature as non-arbitrary, you have to prove that God’s nature cannot be other than what it is, IOW that God’s nature is necessary. “Necessary” means that there is no possible alternative. It means that it is logically impossible for God’s nature to be such that it condones things nlike rape and murder etc.

          And why is that impossible? Because by “St Anselm’s definition …God is the greatest conceivable being” and the greatest conceivable being cannot condone such things because… those things are not great.

          So, it turns out that what makes something good is not how well it comports with God’s nature, but whether it is objectively “great” or not.
          To summarize. If objectiive “greatness” does not exist then neither the theist nor the naturalist has a metaphysical basis for morality. If, on the other hand, objective greatness does exist, then the naturalist has the same metaphysical basis for morality as the theist, namely the necessary truth of “gretaness”.
          But that means that, in this,God is redundant

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            Walter,

            In order to define God’s nature as non-arbitrary, you have to prove that God’s nature cannot be other than what it is, IOW that God’s nature is necessary.

            I don’t see why I have to prove anything of this kind. Theism grounds moral realism on the nature of God, as it actually is. Naturalism appears to be unable to metaphysically ground moral realism, and is reduced to having to argue that there is nothing more to morality than feelings and behaviors contingently produced by our sociobiological past evolution. So in this context theism has an advantage at least among those who take morality seriously. Here, for example, is how a theist puts it: I keep having these experiences of value outside of myself, usually in nature and face-to-face with other people (and animals as well). It keeps seeming to me that there’s real value out there, and I haven’t yet come across any anti-realist arguments that I take to be strong enough to defeat this seeming.

            A different question is how to ascertain how well a choice or a state of affairs comports with God’s nature. Here, it seems to me, the theistic consensus is that ethics is not so much a matter of discovering the right formula, or of reasoning from fundamental premises, but a matter or actually perceiving God’s nature. Further, in my understanding the moral choice does not exclusively depend on the external state of affairs one finds oneself, but also on one’s own state. But I am digressing.

          • Walter Van den Acker

            “I don’t see why I have to prove anything of this kind. Theism grounds moral realism on the nature of God, as it actually is. ”

            If you don’t prove it, or at least argue for it, you are left with “What makes something good is not how we feel about it, but how God happens to feel about it”. Or you would have to admit that there is nothing more to morality than feelings and behaviours contingently produced by God’s character.

            In order to avoid this, you will have to argue for why God’s character (or God’s nature) is necessary, which inevitably leads to either a denial of objective morality or to the concession that God is redundant when it comes to morality.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            Walter,

            If you don’t prove it, or at least argue for it, you are left with “What makes something good is not how we feel about it, but how God happens to feel about it”.

            How “somebody happens to feel about it” is language fit for creatures, but not for the metaphysically ultimate creator. On theism, the metaphysical ground of all that exists is of a personal and thus of a moral character. Values, including moral values, are grounded on the properties of this metaphysically ultimate nature. Thus theism easily accounts for moral realism.

            Now you ask whether these properties are necessary. Modal logic in the context of what’s metaphysically ultimate is a tricky matter – because, again, what’s typically the case for existents need not apply to their ultimate metaphysical ground. We can discuss this issue if you like, but I still don’t see why it matters to the question at hand. Suppose that God’s moral character is not necessary, in the sense that there is at least the logical possibility that it could have been different. Perhaps God wills the final shape of God’s moral character, and therefore might have willed something different without logical contradiction. Why should that be a problem? The fact remains that God’s moral character is as it actually is, and that, say, rape does not fit with it and is therefore objectively wrong.

            A possible retort here might be this: What if God wills to change God’s moral character in a way that would render rape intrinsically good? The question is akin to the question: What if Dianelos while having dinner with friends suddenly decides to pour the contents of his plate on his head? Since both are hypothetical questions about states of affairs with zero probability of obtaining in the real world, they are false questions. (Actually, in a logically possible world where somebody looking very much like me makes such a choice, that person is not me. Thus it is not only metaphysically but not even logically possible that I would make such a choice.)

            Another possible retort might be this: By the same measure the naturalist grounds morality on facts about our sociobiological evolution. Moral truths are grounded on properties of the evolved human nature, appropriately defined. The problem here is a confusion of terms. According to what we know our sociobiological evolution is of a purely physical nature, and thus has nothing on which to ground moral values. In other worlds Hume’s and Mackie’s arguments against moral realism still apply. By speaking of “human nature”, which we all agree is moral, one hides the metaphysical grounding problem under the rug. And there is a further problem: Our sociobiological evolution can be modified in a way that would render rape objectively good. Here the probabilities are not zero, which renders the theory unfit from the point of view of anybody who takes morality seriously.

            In my judgment naturalism’s metaethical problem is even harder than the mind-body problem. In the context of the latter problem the naturalist may reject scientific naturalism and claim that some version of property dualism is true, despite the total absence of scientific evidence. That is, one can hypothesize that consciousness is a fundamental feature (i.e. a substance) of reality. I don’t see how the same can be done with morality. How the heck do you fit moral values within an ultimately mechanical worldview? The only viable option for the naturalist seems to be to reject moral realism, which leads directly to moral nihilism. And in the social context, not to put a fine point on it, leads to fascism. I wish I could see a solution, but I don’t. Naturalism may be true, but it is certainly not pretty. Nor, I fear, will our future be pretty if naturalism should carry the day. The good news is that it probably won’t. The social movement away from religion we observe today seems to be motivated by the rejection of dogmatism and literalism, and not by the acceptance of naturalism.

          • Steven Carr

            A huge number of words that mean utterly nothing.

            Tell us about this Old and New Covenant and how morality changes from one day to the next, so that working on one day is moral and working on the next day (the Sabbath is immoral)

            How can an objective timeless morality be founded on a book which has an Old section and a New section?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            First off, “Old” and “New” are misnomers. The Bible is, in reality, sectioned as the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek Scriptures.

            Next, you seem to be under the impression that all of God’s laws are universally applicable. However, God’s dealings with the ancient nation of Israel clearly evince otherwise: http://bit.ly/17i5ZFO

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            So you admit that your moral values are relative to people, places and certain times.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            My morality is grounded in godliness.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Like jealousy, wrath, and human slavery being acceptable, stoning to death homosexuals, adulterers, witches, false prophets, disobedient children, allowing arranged marriages of 50 year old men to 13 year old girls, etc. I get it, you’re just a republican.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Strawmen, each and every single last one. Tr … you know what? Nevermind. You’ve had sufficient opportunity to be coherent but you insist on being sophistic instead.

            So long! See you never …

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Those are all things that your god either commands, or permits, and his character is intrinsically jealous, among other things. So if you deny that, you don’t believe in the god of the bible.

            Don’t ground your moral in such a pernicious being if you can’t own up to the consequences of it.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            It’ll be a cold day in Sheveluch before I take moral advice from an ungodly militant atheist …

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Right….but you’ll take it from an Armageddon cult.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Are you kidding me? I can’t wait for God to cleanse the world of the ungodly so the rest of us can finally be free to live in peace, harmony, joy, love and abundance in a revitalized world. I pray for the coming of Armageddon!

          • Nox

            Thank you for demonstrating what morality grounded in god looks like.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            It truly is inspiriting, isn’t it? Finally, after thousands of years of Satan’s botched rule, the world will be free of him and his ungodly cohorts for all eternity.

            With Jehovah God’s installed king, Christ Jesus, in his place there will be no more hunger, no more suffering, no more cruelty, oppression, war, violence, abuse, strife, discord, animosity, hatred, bigotry, inequality, injustice, abject poverty or depravity. As if that weren’t enough, it will free man from disease, decrepity and death. Even the loved ones we’ve lost will be returned to us younger and more vibrant than we ever knew!

            Mankind will finally thrive the way God purposed at the outset of its creation in peace, harmony, prosperity, love and pure bliss … for all eternity. http://bit.ly/15XCebD

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Like I said, you belong to an Armageddon cult, you’re proving my point. And your utopia sounds a lot like communism.

            Since you’re positive the end is near, my offer for you to give me your money is still open. I can link you my PayPal account and you can just transfer me all or a part of your funds. What have you got to lose? The end is near!!

          • Joseph O Polanco

            I can explain it but I can’t understand it for you, sorry.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Right, because your communist sky-fantasy is illogical, contradictory, and has absolutely no evidence supporting it. People like you who want the end to come shouldn’t be allowed to hold certain jobs, you cannot be trusted.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Strawman. You’re done.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Pointing out the fact that you have no real evidence for your communist paradise earth fantasy is a strawman?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            How about attempting a cohesive refutation of what I’ve actually stated instead of bickering with the crooked mockeries incessantly fabricated by the voices raging in your head?

            But thanks for admitting that you’re trolling and not actually interested in learning anything.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            How about you try to write something original for once instead of relying on other apologists to make your argument?

            And btw, you haven’t offered any evidence that the end of the world is near and you refuse to give me your money, which shows even YOU don’t believe it.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Funny, that’s exactly what the crack addicted homeless woman in the subway was screaming the other week. You must both have the same voices raging in your head, or go to the same church.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Hitchens was right all along. The faithful are salivating for the end of the world. bit.ly/18Q2mlU

            By the way, since you’re positive the end is near, my offer for you to give me your money is still open. I can link you my PayPal account and you can just transfer me all, or a part of your funds. What have you got to lose? The end is near!!

          • Joseph O Polanco
          • Walter Van den Acker

            “God happens to hate rape and murder” is not a basis for moral realism. And it is not even how most theists defend moral realism.
            If you have nothing more to offer than this “might makes right” morality I fear this discussion is pointless.

          • Joseph O Polanco
          • Eric Sotnak

            Can you explain more here? Exactly how is morality grounded in God’s nature? What constitutes grounding?

            I am wary of “nothing more than” arguments. You wrote, “…there is nothing more to morality than feelings and behaviors contingently produced by our sociobiological past evolution.”

            But it is an objective fact about us that we find some types of experiences to be disvaluable. So why can’t objective morality be grounded in our nature rather than in God’s?

          • Joseph O Polanco
        • John

          DG wrote:
          “It seems clear that on naturalism there is nothing to ground the evilness of such an act.”

          Whether God exists or not, the “ultimate ground” of morality (if such a thing exists at all) is a set of brute moral facts. Theists have to presuppose brute facts such as “If God commands something, then it ought to be done” or “If something is part of God’s nature, then it ought to be done.” If theism is true, no further “grounding” exists for any of these brute moral facts. They have to be presupposed, without further explanation.

          I see no reason why naturalist moral realists cannot do much the same sort of thing. Theists believe that God exists, plus some unexplained brute moral facts. Naturalists can believe that just unexplained brute moral facts exist. So the evilness or goodness of an act would be grounded in certain moral facts, which would be grounded in other moral facts, which would eventually be grounded in brute moral facts which would be ultimate and have no further grounding. This is the same thing for theists and atheists alike.

          For various reasons, I don’t think moral realism is plausible, but even if I did, I fail to see how that would present a reason to believe God exists.

    • Steven Carr

      ‘Theists explain this by pointing out that on theism moral values are grounded in the character of God and thus cannot change ‘

      But the real god could come down and tell you that he had all along planned rape to be moral as from 1 November 2013, and he had not ever once changed his mind about that.

      This alleged god didn’t change. His plans about morality simply came to fruition.

      After all it is alleged that there is a god who decided that working on one day was moral and working on another day of the week was immoral.

      This proves that to a god, morality is time-dependent.

      What is moral one day (not eating pork , working on a Friday, circumcising baby boys) could easily be declared immoral the next day.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

        Steven and Eric,

        You both use similar arguments:

        But the real god could come down and tell you that he had all along planned rape to be moral as from 1 November 2013

        Sort of like God could command the slaughter of infants rendering that morally valuable

        Whether theism is true or not, there are right and wrong ways to think about God. And it is clearly wrong to think about God in a way which contradicts St Anselm’s definition that God is the greatest conceivable being. So, do you, by your own sense of greatness, really think that the greatest conceivable being would want to do the things you suggest above? I am certain you don’t. But then it’s not God you are referring to.

        In general to use “can” and “could” in the context of God is misleading since God, being omnipotent, does what God wants. The concept of “can” only may apply to not omnipotent beings. Thus many suggested paradoxes about God’s attributes are vacuous – such as “can God create a stone too heavy to lift?” or “can God create a square circle?” or “can God remove God from existence?”. God, being the greatest conceivable being, clearly does not want these absurd things and therefore the questions are meaningless. “What if” questions are often meaningless too, as for example when one asks “what if one plus one equaled three?”. When one thinks about truth one thinks about reality – it’s a waste of time to think about possibilities which do not apply (are not “metaphysically possible” in philosopher-talk).

        Interestingly enough “can” or “could” questions are sometimes meaningless even when applied to humans. For example consider the following question “When having dinner with friends could you suddenly lift your plate and pour its contents over your head?” Both a “yes”, “no”, and “I don’t know” answers are wrong – so the question itself is found to be wrong.

        • Steven Carr

          DIANELOS
          So, do you, by your own sense of greatness, really think that the greatest conceivable being would want to do the things you suggest above?

          CARR
          What is this?

          Are you claiming that we puny Earthlings get to dictate morality to a god?

          We get to tell god that his plans about morality are wrong?

          As a skeptical theist, I have no idea what morality this god planned to introduce on 1 November 2013.

          Perhaps this hypothetical god will make working on the Sabbath immoral again. After all, there is a time-dependent clause in what is moral , according to Christians.

          What is moral one day can be immoral the next, and vice versa , according to Christians with their Old Covenants and their New Covenants.

          But I admire Dianelos’s claim that I, Steven Carr, am the arbiter of morality.

          So why do I need a god, when I simply have to conceive of what a god might do?

          By the way, why is your god limited to what I can conceive of?

          ‘And it is clearly wrong to think about God in a way which contradicts St Anselm’s definition that God is the greatest conceivable being.’

          Obviously, if I can conceive of an infinite being, it is not infinite…..

          And the greatest morality is of course, the greatest morality I can concieve of.

          Which means I don’t need a god to tell me what is moral, as I will simply claim that any god must meet all my personal preconceptions and prejudices before I will follow Anselm and say it is a god.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            Steven,

            Are you claiming that we puny Earthlings get to dictate morality to a god?

            No. I am simply pointing out that according to theism we are made in the image of God and thus have some cognitive capacity to pereceive personal greatness. Indeed our sense of greatness is the main, if not the only ground on which natural theology stands. We do have a sense of greatness by which we perceive God (or if you prefer to perceive how God would be if God exists). It is because of this sense that intelligent discourse between theistic and atheistic philosophers becomes feasible. For example please observe that the problem of evil and all the argumentation that goes with it depends on that very sense. If it weren’t for our sense of greatness then nobody would have come up with the problem in the first place. Or the theist would simply shrug it off saying “Why is the presence of evil a problem? All that happens, no matter how we feel about it, is what God does or allows. What’s the problem exactly?” But our shared sense of greatness makes clear to all what the problem is. For example, we immediately see and we all agree that if it is the case that the greatest conceivable being allows evil to obtain there must be an overriding reason for that.

            But I admire Dianelos’s claim that I, Steven Carr, am the arbiter of morality.

            I am not claiming that. I am claiming that when we see what is good then in fact we are perceiving the nature of God – even though of course many do not realize this.

            By the way, why is your god limited to what I can conceive of?

            Right. The definition speaks of the “greatest conceivable being” – in general. In practical terms this means that God is no less than the greatest being one can conceive. It also means that we all, from the child to the wisest philosopher, can do no better than to think about God as the greatest being each one of us can conceive.

          • Steven Carr

            So Adolf Hitler was made in the image of God, and if his greatest conceivable god wanted Jews dead, and your greatest conceivable god did not want Jews dead, then you have an impasse.

            By the way, what stopped your god from always having intended rape to be moral from 1 Nov. 2013, apart from the fact that you find such a god distasteful?

            ‘For example, we immediately see and we all agree that if it is the case that the greatest conceivable being allows evil to obtain there must be an overriding reason for that.’

            There mus be an overriding reason why 6 million Jews had to die…..

            Wait a minute! My greatest conceivable being doesn’t allow wild dogs to snatch a baby from its mother’s arms and eat it alive.

            So your hypothetical god doesn’t exist, as the greatest conceivable being doesn’t exist.

          • John

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “For example please observe that the problem of evil and all the argumentation that goes with it depends on that very sense. If it weren’t for our sense of greatness then nobody would have come up with the problem in the first place. Or the theist would simply shrug it off saying “Why is the presence of evil a problem? All that happens, no matter how we feel about it, is what God does or allows. What’s the problem exactly?”

            The problem of evil can be recast as “the problem of suffering and premature death” and totally dispense with all normative language or any mention of goodness. Even those who reject moral realism could defend this argument. God is supposed to be, among other things, a loving being. Those who love others do not, all else being equal, allow those others to suffer greatly and die prematurely. This is a conceptually necessary truth. One could assert this truth even if one thought that loving others is valueless (or even irrational or evil!). So your claim, above, that the argument from evil is tied in any important way to realism about greatness or realism about value, is well off track.

        • John

          Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
          “And it is clearly wrong to think about God in a way which contradicts St Anselm’s definition that God is the greatest conceivable being.”

          I see no reason why theists need to include this ill-defined attribute in their definition. Including it in a definition of “God” would make God-talk cognitively meaningless, since there is no fact about what is the greatest conceivable being, any more than there is a fact about what is the greatest conceivable ice cream flavor, or the greatest conceivable painting. Different people have different preferences and there is no objective decision-procedure to settle such disputes, even in principle. Would the greatest conceivable being exist in time or not in time? Would it be a mind, or not a mind? Would it be essentially embodied or not? Would it have emotions, or would it be somehow “beyond” such petty things? Would it be a trinity (having 3 persons), or some other number? Would it be completely just (always administering the punishment deserved to wrongdoers), or completely merciful (administering less than the punishment deserved)?… The questions go on and on – this is just a selection. You may have your own set of preferences on the questions I just asked and others would have other preferences. There is no objective way to show one set of preferences is the “greatest”, and that shows that “the greatest conceivable being” is not a term with any clear referent, and so has no place in objective discourse about what exists.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            John,

            I see no reason why theists need to include this ill-defined attribute in their definition.

            Because it works so well. Theists disagree on many things, by they all agree that any view of God which is less than the greatest one can conceive, is wrong. Of course they do disagree about their views of God, but seems to me that many disagreements are really grounded more on dogma than on their sense.

            Including it in a definition of “God” would make God-talk cognitively meaningless, since there is no fact about what is the greatest conceivable being, any more than there is a fact about what is the greatest conceivable ice cream flavor, or the greatest conceivable painting.

            Only as a matter of fact there is intelligible discourse about God based on precisely this definition. Indeed it is impressive to observe how sophisticated theistic reasoning atheistic philosophers are capable of. Which proves that the definition works, and works universally.

            Theism explains this fact by pointing out that we are all made in the image of God and therefore have some cognitive capacity for perceiving God’s nature. Naturalism has no particular difficulty to explain the same fact, no doubt grounding it on some features of our common sociobiological evolution. One way or the other the fact remains that St Anselm’s definition is demonstrably cognitively meaningful. No similar facts obtain in the context of discourse about the greatest conceivable ice cream flavor, so the analogy fails.

            Incidentally I am now reading the very recent “Debating Christian Theism” with many good pieces by both theistic and non-theistic philosophers, including our Keith Parsons. I suggest you need not be a theist or a Christian theist, to enjoy reading the book.

            Different people have different preferences and there is no objective decision-procedure to settle such disputes, even in principle.

            True, but this is a general problem of metaphysics. A problem recognized at least as far back as Plato and his cave. Indeed, I observe naturalists deeply and increasingly disagreeing among themselves and being unable to settle their disputes. By any objective measure I’d say theistic understanding appears to slowly converge, whereas naturalistic disputes appear to spin out of any semblance of control or of being able to track the truth.

            Would the greatest conceivable being exist in time or not in time? Would it be a mind, or not a mind? Would it be essentially embodied or not? Would it have emotions, or would it be somehow “beyond” such petty things? Would it be a trinity (having 3 persons), or some other number? Wou ld it be completely just (always administering the punishment deserved to wrongdoers), or completely merciful (administering less than the punishment deserved)?

            Given that the greatest conceivable being is the metaphysically ultimate, several of these questions don’t even make sense.

            Having said that, thank God there are several disagreements in natural theology, such as about whether reality is dualistic or monistic (as per subjective idealism), about the Trinitarian nature of God, about the reason for creation (and thus about theodicy), about the eschaton. It would be quite boring to be a natural theologian if everything were solved, on the other hand it is gratifying to see steady if slow progress being made.

          • John

            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “Only as a matter of fact there is intelligible discourse about God based on precisely this definition. Indeed it is impressive to observe how sophisticated theistic reasoning atheistic philosophers are capable of. Which proves that the definition works, and works universally.”

            I don’t agree that there is any intelligible discourse about God that is based on a definition that includes the property “the greatest conceivable being,” or even that all theists include that term as a defining attribute of “God.” Plenty of debates on the existence of God, maybe most, proceed with no mention of this property.

            John wrote:
            “Different people have different preferences and there is no objective decision-procedure to settle such disputes, even in principle.”
            Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:
            “True, but this is a general problem of metaphysics.”

            If there is no possible way EVEN IN PRINCIPLE to ascertain what is “the greatest conceivable ice cream flavour” or “the greatest conceivable painting” or “the greatest conceivable piece of music” or “the greatest conceivable being,” that would show that all of those terms have no place in objective discourse. If someone were to claim that the greatest conceivable ice cream flavour actually exists, he would not be asserting anything true or false. He would be expressing a preference, since there is no fact of the matter about what the greatest conceivable ice cream flavour is. Different people have differing tastes and it is nonsense to say that raspberry flavour is objectively greater than strawberry flavour. For very similar reasons, I see no reason to suppose your God-talk, which involves the idea of “the greatest conceivable being” is cognitively meaningful, either.

            In any reply, please be clear on which of the other greatness-discourses I mentioned you regard to be objective (i.e. truth apt). In other words, according to you, Is there a fact of the matter about what is the greatest conceivable ice cream flavour, painting or piece of music?

  • Steven Carr

    ‘Naturalism does not have the resources to accommodate or explain this fact [the existence of objective evil] about these states of affairs. ‘

    I see.

    When did naturalism become an explanation?

    I have yet to open a science book and say that magnets attract or repel each other because of naturalism.

    Or a book on music which says that a piano sounds different to a cello because of naturalism.

    So Plantinga complains that naturalism is not an explanation, when nobody expects naturalism to be an explanation of anything at all?

  • L.Long

    Everything we all do can be explained and justified thru nature and science.
    The main reason is that ‘god’ cannot explain anything as where is there gawd saying what to do? The buyBull is just that and it even states…’No man may know the mind of gawd!’ So where is there any verifiable PROOF that gawd ever demanded us to do anything?
    So lacking that, which I would reject in any case as I would the demands of any dictator who cannot give a good reason why, it is up to us to answer these questions of right and wrong.
    And what is EVIL??? Who decides? The majority? then states that vote to outlaw gays is perfectly OK as they are doing away with evil. The minority? then what the Nazis did is OK, as they thought so.
    For me evil is simple…doing unnecessary harm to another person and doing so against their will. Giving a flu shoot is OK (necessary), a knife to the heart is evil (Unnecessary if not self defense).

  • Greg G.

    If supernatural being G says lying, stealing, murder, not trimming the end of yout son’s penis, and acquiring excess wealth are bad while supernatural being S says the acquisition of wealth is tantamount and lying, cheating, stealing, and murder are acceptable and good for that purpose, how do we mortals know which one to follow if we don’t have an independent sense of right and wrong. If we have an independent sense of right and wrong, we don’t need to be told and we can judge on a case by case basis.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      You start by discerning our Creator’s full nature. Suppose we concede for the sake of argument that an evil Creator/Designer exists. Since this being is evil, that implies that he fails to discharge his moral obligations. But where do those come from? How can this evil god have duties to perform which he is violating? Who forbids him to do the wrong things that he does? Immediately, we see that such an evil being cannot be supreme: there must be a being who is even higher than this evil god and is the source of the moral obligations which he chooses to shirk, a being which is absolute goodness Himself. As such, if god is evil then there must necessarily exist a maximally great, supreme God who is all powerful, all good and all loving; One who is the very paradigm of good.

      So we don’t praise Him for doing His duty. Rather He is to be adored for His moral character because He is essentially loving, just, kind, etc. It is because God is that way that these qualities count as virtues in the first place. Essentially, God is good the same way rain is wet, diamond gemstones are hard, photons tear across space at luminous speeds and cerulean suns blaze. So if we think of God’s goodness in terms of His possessing certain virtues rather than fulfilling certain duties, we have a more exalted and more adequate concept of God.

      • Greg G.

        A being that is constrained by moral obligations cannot be maximally great. A god that allows suffering is indifferent, evil, or negligent. An indifferent or negligent god with good intentions that are not put into practice makes the adjective “good” inappropriate.

        Stars shine, rain makes things it falls on wet, a good thing benefits its recipient, but evil and suffering prove the non-existence of a sufficiently powerful good being.

        • Joseph O Polanco

          Prove it. Prove your claim.

          • Greg G.

            Suffering may exist because there is no being sufficiently powerful enough to prevent it. If there is a sufficiently powerful enough being that could prevent suffering, then it is not necessary for that suffering to exist. If the suffering exists, the sufficiently powerful being has chosen for that unnecessary suffering to exist. That makes “sadistic” an appropriate adjective and “good” an inappropriate adjective.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Because your argument obviates the reality that mankind chooses to suffer, it does not obtain. As a wise man once recognized several millennia ago, “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the LORD.” -Proverbs 19:3

            http://bit.ly/11EyvgO

          • Greg G.

            We are talking about real suffering, not some metaphorical type of suffering. Everytime you say grace before a meal thaking your god for your food, a mother somewhere is watching her child die of starvation. If the god can feed your face, it is unnecessary for that child to die and deplorable that you blame that victim for their suffering.

            The link explains suffering in terms of the devil. How ridiculous!

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Why is it ridiculous?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            And how does this prove that “A being that is constrained by moral obligations cannot be maximally great”?

          • Greg G.

            A thing can only be constrained if the constraints are greater than the thing that is constrained. How can something be called maximally great with constraints greater than it is?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            So because God is omnipotent he is unable to govern himself? How does that make sense?

          • Greg G.

            Govern himself according to what? If he is constrained by the concept of good, then good is greater than god. If god is constrained by his nature, it cannot be said to be good because we have nothing to measure it against. That nature is just a matter of happenstance.

            If that nature happens to correspond better to our word “evil” then evil is the appropriate adjective.

            If he has the ability to stop all suffering from occurring but chooses to allow it, then evil and despicable describe his nature.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            i. According to his will. He does, after all, have volition.

            ii. What about personal responsibility? Are you saying God should have stopped you every time you opened fire on your fellow man and maimed or killed him/her?

          • Greg G.

            i) Governing himself according to his will makes no sense. That’s just doing anything he wants, not governing anything. What governs his will?

            ii) If a being can prevent suffering despite someone else’s personal responsibility but doesn’t, also bears responsibility. If it’s an omnipotent being who can prevent suffering without risk and could have anticipated the situation and prevented it, is even more responsible.

            If someone pushes a 3 ft child into 4 ft of water and you are over 5 ft tall and standing next to the splash, you can’t deflect blame for the child drowning by saying it was the other guy’s personal responsibility. Yet you are trying to make excuses for a god that can’t make his own excuses.

            This is a true and fairly recent story. A man from my state test fired a gun. The bullet struck an Amish girl riding in a buggy on the road over a mile away and killed her. Once he pulled the trigger, there was nothing he could have done to prevent the suffering. But a sufficiently powerful god could have prevented the suffering before or after the trigger was pulled. The man didn’t know he shot someone until he saw the news but your god should have been able to anticipate it.

            Now blaming suffering on the devil doesn’t work for you either. Blaming Satan would be like blaming the gun to absolve your god. But a maximally great god should have realized the possibility that a created being could be a loose cannon and limited its ability to cause suffering. He could also prevent Satan-caused suffering from occurring after it was triggered. And your god should be able to stop human caused suffering, too. That answers your question of why the excuses in that link are ridiculous.

            Instead of practicing apologetics, you should simply apologize for the inaction of your god. He doesn’t seem to be man enough to apologize for himself. Or it’s just a figment of your imagination.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            So we should hold God responsible for all the people you crippled or murdered and all the suffering you wrought when you could have simply chosen not to abuse your freedom and inflict suffering on others? (I’m assuming, of course, you’re not a sociopath or a narcissist.)

            Are you hearing yourself?

          • Greg G.

            Rather than passive-aggressively accusing each other of being sociopathic, consider a scenario of a high-tech prison with lots of hidden cameras and microphones. A gang gets some misconstrued information that a member, Prisoner Al, is a snitch.

            The warden knows that a member of the gang who works in the infirmary has accessed the medical records to learn that Al is deathly allergic to peanuts but nobody else in the cellblock is. Another member works the receiving dock and puts peanut oil in the canola oil bottle.

            Prisoner Bob has the same allergy so is transferred into the same cellblock to consolidate the allergy sufferers to save money but his records are not transferred properly so the gang could call off the hit due to Bob being a made man in the Mafia. The gang doesn’t want Mafia entanglements.

            The warden has access to all this information and is aware of all the plots and implications. In fact, it was the warden who allowed certain information to be leaked with full knowledge that it would be misconstrued.

            The warden put the seed of the idea into a staffer’s head to suggest putting prisoner’s with similar food allergies together to save money.

            The warden knew the plan and could have ordered a lockdown to diffuse the situation at any stage, he could have released information that cleared Al of snitching. He fould have given Al and Bob the proper antihistamines to save their lives after they ate. He could have put Bob’s medical records into the hands of the gang member who could have relayed the information to call it off.

            Who is most to blame? The guy from the infirmary? The dock worker? The gang leader who devised the plan? The cook or the guy who ladled out food unaware of the consequences? The victims themselves who chose to put the food in their mouths to cause their own suffering?

            Or do we blame the warden who had full knowledge of what was happening, could anticipate what would ensue, manipulated the knowledge of the gang, knowing their tendencies, and did nothing to stop. it because it was all part of his plan and the warden works in mysterious ways.

            Perhaps it was just to cause strife between the gang and the Mafia so that he could control each others access to one another so each encounter goes according to the warden’s long term plan.

            If humans were caused by a god, the god is ultimately responsible for their actions just as a person who fires a gun is ultimately responsible for the damages and injuries whether the shooting was intentional or negligent.

            The Problem of Evil and Euthrypo’s Dilemma are older than Christianity but have never been answered adequately. You probably won’t solve either.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            I don’t follow. How does any of this answer my query? Are you trying to argue that you, like the gun in your analogy, have no control over your actions?

          • Greg G.

            OK, the gun has free will and can fire at any time of its own volition but the owner knows in advance precisely when the choice will be made and can ensure its directed in a safe directio at that time, unload it just before fires, or stop the bullet in flight before it causes harm.

            The owner knows the nature of the gun. The owner is responsible for making that nature a ppropertyof the gun. If the owner is responsible for also giving the gun the free will knowing it will cause harm no matter what commands the owner gives it, the owner is not absolved of guilt by ordering the gun to not fire.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Now you’ve just totally lost me. Do you have a better analogy?

          • arthur quozon

            of all the thousand of words thrown and written in contest that can be shorten the meaning: God vs. evil and satan vs. good. but the matching is wrong its God vs. satan and good vs. evil. God and satan are the entity, while good and evil are the works.
            1. first, in search for truth its high time that we declare evil is the first work of satan and good is the first work of God, and why first? because if we say till today that only three fights on earth that is God, good and evil where is now satan? saying all happenings today is still the works of God or evil, then satan have the greatest fulfillment of his plan on earth established his kingdom and kingdom is not kingdom without people even as followers. Proof? (1st group) adam and eve thrown on this earth, (2nd Group) cain, the son of the wicked one is the first to multiply on the plains of this earth (3rd group) satan was thrown on earth with his evil angels, (4th group)another war in heaven, defeated rebel angels were also thrown on this earth,( 5th group)angel/watchers of heaven done evil by seducing beautiful (generations of cain)daughters of men and produce (6th group) sons and daughters. So what is this earth? nothing but a planetary prison a multitude of defying/dis-obidient prisoners of God, mixing to each, intercoursing to each and every one producing nothing but generations of evil sons and daughters. SO WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT OF THIS EARTH? EVIL, EVIL, MORE EVIL AND UNSTOPPABLE EVIL., n made inventions to create happiness, to love material things away from God, material things to forget God in spirit or forget even the spirits. can we change this earth? no, so we are the fulfillment of satan. will God change this earth to good NO, after all God needs only the spirit to save to his own, not the flesh which is the creator/propaGATOR OF SINS. Proof? there is no second salvation, no perpetual crucifixion, no more sins sacrificed by another but judgment day, Proof? the words of God in revelations said ” let them who do good do it still, let them who do evil do it still, let them who do abominations, woremongers, creator/maker/worshipper of graven stones and images do it still, all shall have their day on judgment. SO WE MUST KNOW FIRST WHO WE ARE?, WHAT WE ARE? WHAT RACE DO WE BELONG? WHAT GENERATIONS WE BELONG? GOOD OR EVIL? are we dual-nature? the innerman (spirit) and outerman(flesh) fights between us. result is what we are.! find us before we find solutions, equations, controversies on God. more

      • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

        Don’t you ever get tired of making this totally circular argument?

        If god is essentially loving, just and kind, I could ask, “Why are those good properties?” You can’t say that they’re good because god is god, because then their reasoning becomes viciously circular, and those words become meaningless. You’d be saying in effect, “Compassion is good because god is good, and god is good because he’s compassionate.” It gets us nowhere and it’s totally circular.

        • Joseph O Polanco

          Why is a diamond gemstone hard? Why do cerulean suns blaze? Why do photons tear across space at luminal speeds? Why is rain wet and ice cold?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Same reasons why JoHos are incoherent. It’s their nature. If you can’t refute my argument without being circular, just admit it and save us all some time.

  • http://scavengersdaughter.lescigales.org/ Maxens M. Finch

    This quote makes me angry.
    People should just assume their responsibility in acting monstrously, they had and have choices, and realize the responsibility others have and had in doing such things. Especially those who were leaders, they had choices. This kind of logic is disgusting. Plus at the time (and after) there were lots of assimilated Jews (and
    yes even some who were atheists!) who probably also count as having
    been defying God? I see how they could also rationalize other holocaust victims as “having defied God”. People keep blaming the victims of the holocaust, and now they even say that if God doesn’t exist then what happened isn’t bad. Damn, that quote is horrifying as well. Some even say similar things to what was said before about Jews and homosexuals and think it’ll happen again and say that as if it was acceptable. This comment probably doesn’t make sense, but I’m tired of this. Let them buy some sort of moral compass or.

  • Bradley Bowen

    Keith Parsons said:

    “What could the theist say to the Underground Man that would help? Of course, the theist could threaten him with hell, a sanction the naturalist cannot deploy. But the traditional doctrine of an eternal, punitive hell is one hard to square with any plausible conception of goodness. (As I have argued. See “Heaven and Hell’ in Debating Christian Theism, edited by J.P. Moreland, Chad Meister, and Khaldoun A. Sweis.). Besides, if the Underground Man chooses spite over happiness, why wouldn’t he spitefully defy God’s will? In fact, isn’t this just what sin is traditionally conceived to be?”

    In addition to the problem of reconciling hell with a plausible conception of moral goodness, we see in the ideas of heaven and hell that Christians believe that humans are motivated by self-interest and the desire for happiness or well being.

    Heaven and Hell are just the Old Testament promises of earthly punishments and rewards pumped up on steroids. According to Moses, Jehovah threatens all kinds of curses on those who disobey him, and promises all kinds of blessings to those who obey him. Heaven and hell just takes the OT idea and transfers it to the afterlife, in view of the fact that the Jews were not doing so well in this life. In order to save the idea that Jehovah was just and would keep the promises he made (per Moses), the promised punishments and rewards were moved to the next life.

    The OT and the NT agree that human beings are motivated by self-interest and a desire for happiness/well being, and NOT motivated by grasping the ‘objective truth’ of moral principles. I think that Moses and Jesus would reject the views of Plantinga.

    But the shift from OT earthly punishments and rewards to punishments and rewards in the next life points to a fundamental problem: moral goodness and justice don’t necessarily align with happiness and well being in this life, and from an atheistic/naturalistic point of view, there is no next life to fix this problem.
    Sometimes good people suffer and evil people live out long and happy lives. So, the idea of punishments and rewards in the next life does have an advantage over the OT view. The problem is that there is no next life, so this is just a myth or lie told to try to fool people into being morally good.

  • Bradley Bowen

    “…How can we understand this intrinsically horrifying character?…A good answer (and one for which it is hard to think of an alternative) is that this evil consists in defying God, the source of all that is good and just, and the first being of the universe. What is horrifying here is not merely going against God’s will, but consciously choosing to invert the true scale of values…(The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy , p. 326).”

    It is worth pointing out that another major analytic philsopher who defends theism completely rejects this view of evil.

    Richard Swinburne argues that moral principles are necessary truths that hold in all possible worlds, and he also argues that the existence of God is a contingent fact, NOT a necessary truth. So, the basic truths of morality hold whether there is a God or not, and these truths are NOT grounded in the nature or existence of God.

    Swinburne does also argue that some moral duties are grounded in the commands of God, but these are logically contingent duties that arise because of more fundamental moral principles that direct us to obey God’s commands.

    According to Swinburne, we owe God a debt of gratitude for our existence, and we are only borrowing the Earth and its contents from God, the true owner of the Earth and its contents, so (based on property rights) we also owe it to God to use the Earth and its contents in accordance with the owner’s wishes.

    The underlying moral principles that we ‘ought to please our benefactors’ and that we ‘ought to respect the wishes of the owner of something concerning how that something may be used when we borrow it from the owner’ are logically necessary truths that exist independently of God, according to Swinburne.

    So, even when the commands of God create moral obligations, these new, logically contintent duties arise only because of previously existing (eternal) necessary truths that exist apart from God. God’s moral authority, if you will, depends on moral principles that exist independently of God, just as logic and mathematics exist independently of God.

    The wrongness of genocidal murder is NOT that it violates a command of God, nor that it goes against the will of God, but rather that it violates a moral principle that is a logically necessary truth, a truth that would hold whether there was a God or not. That is the view of Richard Swinburne. Swinburne has known Plantinga for many years, and has not yet been persuaded to adopt Plantinga’s view of evil.

  • edwardtbabinski

    IF, as Plantinga asserts, there is “real and objectively horrifying evil in the world” that raises the question why a totally good God is doing nothing about either natural or human horrifying evil. I guess He finds it consistent with a mysterious plan only God can envision.

    Therefore about the only thing one can argue with Plantinga about is that this “plan” includes filling heaven with people who know little to nothing about Christianity, I am speaking about the fact that half of all human zygotes perish before birth, about 20-30 percent of zygotes undergo a twinning after which one of the twins is reabsorbed into the womb or the remaining zygote, while right up till the 18th century half of all children born died before reaching the age of eight years old due to many natural diseases and infections they are prone to. Not to mention natural disasters that have killed large populations indiscriminately for tens of thousands of years. Not to mention that according to estimates by a renowned population bureau, seven billion human beings had lived and died on earth before Jesus was born, not to mention the way news of Christianity is spread, via human beings, which leaves much of the world unevangelized and/or told confusing information or wrong information, leading to yet more people who know little to nothing about “true” Christianity. So all in all, if God forgives all those dead zygotes, and all those children who died from 1-8 years old, and the 7 billion people who died before Jesus was born, as well as those who have not heard the Gospel or heard a confused message or the wrong message, then heaven will be filled to overflowing with people who arrived there knowing little to nothing about Christianity. Great plan. While the rest of us, who do know about Christianity, like apostates, are damned.

    Makes sense I guess (if you happen to be Plantinga).

    Reminds me of the old joke involving the missionary and the Eskimo. An Eskimo hunter asked the local missionary priest, “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”

    “No,” said the priest, “not if you did not know.”

    “Then why,” asked the Eskimo earnestly, “did you tell me?”
    ____________________________

    Of all the failures of which we have any history or knowledge, the missionary effort is the most conspicuous. The whole question has been decided here, in our own country, and conclusively settled. We have nearly exterminated the Indians, but we have converted few.

    There is an old story of a missionary trying to convert an Indian. The Indian made a little circle in the sand and said, “That is what the Indian knows.” Then he made another circle a little larger and said, “That is what missionary knows, but outside there the Indian knows just as much as missionary.”

    Great minds in evangelical seminaries across the country continue to dispute among themselves as to what is to become of the heathen who fortunately died before meeting any missionary from their institutions.

    Robert Ingersoll

    • edwardtbabinski

      I would slightly reword the beginning of what I wrote above:

      IF, as Plantinga asserts, there is “real and objectively horrifying evil in the world” that raises the question why a totally good God appears to be doing little about either natural or human horrifying evil. I guess He finds it consistent with a mysterious plan only God can envision.

      Also see my piece on Why Theodicies Are Flawed

      http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-problem-of-evil-why-theodicies-are.html

  • John

    Plantinga wrote:
    “How can we understand this intrinsically horrifying character [of the Nazis actions]?…A good answer (and one for which it is hard to think of an alternative) is that this evil consists in defying God, the source of all that is good and just”

    It is hard to make any sense out of this. I want to know whether Plantinga would say that it is a definitional truth that “God is good.” If he would, then his final sentence above commits him to the view that God is the source of God. That sounds like gobbledegook.

    If he would NOT say that it is true that God is good, then why would anyone believe that God is “the source of all that is good”? One obvious answer is that THIS is a definitional truth. So God is not good, but God is (definitionally) the source of all that is good. But a basic problem here is that to say X explains Y, where X is defined as, among other things, “the source of Y” we need to know in virtue of what X is the source of Y. Otherwise the “explanation” is vacuous – not an explanation at all. Since Plantinga doesn’t provide this above, his alleged “good explanation” clearly fails as any explanation at all.

    Consider the following three statements:

    (S1) Cruelty is intrinsically wrong.

    (S2) There exists a creator of the universe who is a single person who makes it the case that cruelty is intrinsically wrong.

    (S3) There exists a creator of the universe who is a single person who makes it the case that cruelty is intrinsically wrong by means of commanding people not to be cruel and having a nature that is good and thereby opposed to cruelty.

    If we assume moral realism is true, I see no reason to suppose (S2) or (S3) are more likely irreducible, brute facts than (S1), I can also see numerous reasons to suppose (S2) is more likely false than (S1) and (S3) is more likely false than (S2). So I don’t see how moral realism being true (if it were true) would provide the slightest bit of support for theism.


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