A Christian Apologist Wrestles Euthyphro and Loses

A Christian Apologist Wrestles Euthyphro and Loses September 1, 2014

We’ve recently seen how poorly God fares when measured against his own Ten Commandments. Let’s move on to a classic argument about God’s relationship with morality.

Euthyphro dilemma

Is something good because God says so, or does God say so because it’s good? The first option makes morals arbitrary. They’re just whatever God says, and he could’ve made them something else. They’re not based on anything, including external facts.

If God couldn’t have made them anything else, then they’re constrained, and that’s the second option. But this is no better: morals are external, and God’s role in morality is reduced to messenger boy. God is limited by morality.

Here’s an analogy. If I’m a clerk in a store and need the price of something, I look it up. I consult an external, superior source. But if I’m the boss, I could just make the price whatever I want it to be: “For you, let’s say $5.95.” So which one is God? Is he the boss (morals are arbitrary and changeable) or the clerk (morals are external and fixed)?

It’s “heads I win; tails you lose” for the Christian. Either option is unpalatable—morality is either arbitrary or God is not sovereign over an external morality.

Christian response

World famous apologist William Lane Craig responds:

The Euthyphro Dilemma has been refuted again and again as a false dilemma. We are not under any obligation to choose between saying something is good because God wills it or that God wills something because it is good. Those two are not contradictories. Those are not A or not-A. Therefore you can have a third alternative which is that God wills something because he is good. God is the good and his will is an expression of his essential nature.

How does this help? This simply changes the dilemma to: Is something good because God’s nature says so, or does God’s nature say so because it’s good? Is “God’s nature” changeable (morality could be something else) or not? If not, what does God’s character conform to? And we’re back to the original problem, with arbitrary vs. external!

And what does it mean to say that God is good? We run into Euthyphro yet again: Is Craig proposing that this is true by definition (“good” is arbitrary—it is whatever God says it is) or that we can know that God is good by evaluating his actions against a standard (“good” is defined by an external standard)?

Make it a proper dilemma

If Craig wants a proper dichotomy, let’s give him one. Let A be the statement “Morality is within the control of God” (or “God’s nature” if you prefer). The two possibilities are now A and not-A. No other option is possible.

Consider the consequences:

  • Option A is true, so morality is within the control of God/God’s nature. Morality can be anything that God says it is since it’s not bound by or evaluated against anything external, and morality becomes changeable. Murder would be a good thing, for example, if only God had said that. (And why couldn’t he? He’s not bound by anything.)
  • Option not-A is true, so morality is not within the control of God/God’s nature. This makes morality external to God. God might accurately report morality to us (through the Bible or our consciences, say), but morality’s source is something besides God.

Sauce for the gander: how does this work for the atheist?

To be fair, we should consider what the Euthyphro problem would be for the atheist. How does the atheist explain morality? Let’s simplify and consider just the Golden Rule: why is the Golden Rule a fairly universal moral belief among humans? Because evolution gave us that as part of our programming. We’re social animals, and working and playing well with others had survival benefit.

Euthyphro’s question to the atheist would be: Is something good because our genetic programming says so, or does our genetic programming say so because it’s good? There’s no difficult dilemma here—the answer is the former. Our genetic programming (our conscience, in this case) tells us what is good and bad.

It’s easy to imagine that God works the same way we do. He can’t just say, “Okay, next item on my list is murder … hmm … oh, what the heck—let’s call that one bad.” We certainly wouldn’t—we just know that murder is bad. But of course we have a conscience to consult, and the conscience is a component of the human mind whether you take the naturalistic or Christian viewpoint.

Does God have such a fixed source of morality that he consults? Then Christians are caught on one horn of the dilemma. Or does the buck have to stop somewhere, and God is it? Then Christians are caught on the other horn.

Science flies you to the moon.
Religion flies you into buildings.
— Vic Stenger (1935 – 2014)

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  • I’m sorry to see Victor Stenger has died. Luckily I once saw him in person speaking at my university here in Colorado.

    • That was a shame. I’ve seen his videos and read some of his books.

    • RichardSRussell

      Oh, that’s too bad. Vic was one of the good ones — intellectually brilliant yet grounded in the ability to talk to common people (and college students).

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Let’s try another real dilemma:

    Does WLC really consider his response to be substantive? Or is he just trying to distract believers with word salad until they forget there’s a problem?

    • WLC’s quote above continues this way: “So atheists who are pressing the Euthyphro Dilemma really need to get with the program and begin to respond to people like William Alston, Robert Adams, Philip Quinn, and others who have defended an ethics that is rooted in a metaphysics of theism.”

      He doesn’t mince words that he’s won, standing on the broken corpses of atheists and their arguments. I’m sure that plays well to the home crowd.

      Which does nothing to address your question. It’s a good one.

      • Greg G.

        If Craig knows that William Alston, Robert Adams, Philip Quinn, and others have substantive arguments, why does he use the “God’s nature” gambit?

        • My guess is that WLC’s argument (above) is just a popular version of theirs and they they bring little new to the table besides obfuscation.

    • MNb

      Is this a dilemma?

    • RichardSRussell

      He’s trying to make a living, and he’s found a large but not limitless supply of suckers willing to pay for every new book he comes up with. The problem is that after awhile they stop buying his old books, so he has to keep searching for new things to say or new ways to repackage the old stuff.

      What he’s down to now is the intellectual equivalent of TV’s knock-offs of copies of clones of spin-offs of Three’s Company (an odd lot of quirky people living together) — IE, observing all the conventions with none of the originality.

  • fnorgby

    You have the atheist’s version backwards. We absolutely *cannot* rely on biological imperatives as a source of moral values. To do so is to abandon the organ that gives us the ability to make value judgments. To raise biological imperatives to moral imperative leads to arguments like homosexuality is wrong because it can’t pass on genetic material.

    The atheist version is not a dilemma *BECAUSE* we do not (or at least should not) trust neo-Platonic pre-fabricated rules. We can and should evaluate each moral choice in its own context. We have a duty to re-evaluate our moral system (even if only in small portions) every time we make a choice. That’s the meaning of Nietzsche’s infinite road story in Beyond Good and Evil.

    • We absolutely *cannot* rely on biological imperatives as a source of moral values.

      If that’s where (part of) morality comes from, I don’t know that we have a choice. If your point is that we can override some of it with intellect, I agree. That’s the part where society comes in.

      To raise biological imperatives to moral imperative leads to arguments like homosexuality is wrong because it can’t pass on genetic material.

      That’s an intellectual argument (which doesn’t lead anywhere, but that’s not the point). It wouldn’t come from genetic programming.

      • Greg G.

        Just think: the brain is the only biological organ that has ever named itself.

        • Lest we be too effusive, keep also firmly in mind that the brain is the only biological organ that has ever sought to assign relative value to statements in Justin Bieber’s song lyrics.

        • Greg G.

          I take consolation that my brain has never done that.

        • R Vogel

          It’s also the organ that has produced the technology that may result in our ultimate destruction. Stupid Brain! (in Homer Simpson’s voice…)

        • RichardSRussell

          This triggers a vague recollection about a debate among the bodily organs as to which was most important. Each had its claim to fame, but the one that ultimately prevailed was the asshole, because when it stopped working everything else went to hell.

          (The original was funnier, but perhaps my mention of it will jostle someone’s memory of the full joke.)

        • smrnda

          This almost reminds me of the William S Burroughs bit from Naked Lunch which began “Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? “

      • Pofarmer

        Yeah, I don’t think it’s an either or. I just downloaded a new (to me,2013 book) called ” braintrust” that purports to show, the links between evolution and society and morality.

    • MNb

      “the organ that gives us the ability to make value judgments”
      Which organ might that be? And where in the human body can we find it? Perhaps the same organ and the same place that enables us to formulate those biological imperatives?
      Biology can make clear where our moral values come from, not what their content should be.

  • I find it hard to believe that literally the only contemporary religious thinker worthy of mention is the execrable William Lane Craig. I hope I can be excused for wondering whether the attention paid to Craig is because he symbolizes a believer whose debate skills far outweigh the coherence of his belief system.

    • “worthy of mention” is dubious here. I have a similar quote from Greg Koukl, but WLC’s was a little more suitable for my purposes.

      • Bob, thanks for the response. I was glad to hear that your blog is going to be renamed “William Lane Craig Says the Darnedest Things,” and aired on ABC on Wednesday nights. Best of luck!

        • I’ll watch a lot of Art Linkletter to get ready. I’m practicing my bemused smile and gentle chuckle.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      I find it hard to believe that literally the only contemporary religious
      thinker worthy of mention is the execrable William Lane Craig.

      And yet you couldn’t be bothered to supply a single example.

      • Gubs, thanks for typing. I guess I could have mentioned writers on philosophy and/or religion like Karen Armstrong, John Shelby Spong, Elaine Pagels, or Rebecca Newberger Goldstein.

        But would it really matter?

    • RichardSRussell

      I have no idea why anybody named Kardashian is of any interest to anybody whatsoever, and yet I haven’t been able to walk thru the checkout lane at the grocery store for the last 4 years without spotting plenty of evidence to the contrary. I think sheer ubiquity is seen by many as a legitimate substitute for competence or coherence.

  • MNb

    Spot on. This

    “God wills something because he is good.”
    is meaningless until the apologist has described what constitutes “good” as you point out correctly.

    “We’re social animals, and working and playing well with others had survival benefit.”

    We should consider the anti- and asocial elements as well. They are to be expected with a clumsy, aimless process like evolution.

    • Right. We work and play well (not perfectly) with others (and we do a lot of shitty things as well).

  • KarlUdy

    Euthyphro’s question to the atheist would be: Is something good because our genetic programming says so, or does our genetic programming say so because it’s good? There’s no difficult dilemma here—the answer is the former. Our genetic programming (our conscience, in this case) tells us what is good and bad.

    You run into some quite serious problems with this option. In particular your decision has implied that actions committed by someone described as “having no conscience” cannot be condemned. A Charles Manson who (Afaik still) maintains that he has done no wrong in committing acts that most people find repulsive has not contradicted his genetic programming/conscience, and has therefore done no evil.

    • I say he’s done evil. Anyone who decides a moral question differently than I do is wrong … from my standpoint.

      I bet you do it the same way.

      • KarlUdy

        So should people listen to their conscience/genetic programming? Or to you? Or do you propose some other solution?

        • You’ve never had a discussion with anyone? You’ve never been convinced by someone else’s argument? You’ve never convinced someone else?

          You do live in a society, right? I think you know how this works.

        • KarlUdy

          Yes, to all of your questions, but I think you’re missing the point. What happens when people disagree and cannot/will not be convinced? Should we all live according to our own consciences? Or according to the rules of those in power? One leads to anarchy, the other to tyranny.

        • powellpower

          I don’t think you have the right answer also. Paul says respect authority for they have been put there by God, but then there are other bible verses which says you should only obey God and not listen to authorities (e.g. Daniel).

          So what gives?

          You will still end up with people who disagree and cannot/will not be convinced, and all of them believing that God is on their side. So what do people do?

          Oh right – they form different denominations and claim that they are the only true believers while others are deceived by the devil. Whether that is anarchy (40K protestant denominations) or tyranny (everybody listen to the Catholic Pope) is up to you.

          *Addendum*
          In case this is not clear, your charge that therefore atheists have to come out with a proper system to decide what to do is not fair when theists do not know what to do either.

        • These appear to be yet more questions to which your answers will be the same as mine. Why ask them? If you’re leading up to a point, make it.

          And know that if your point is that objective morality exists, don’t bother unless you’re going to give evidence for this remarkable claim.

        • The Man With The Name Too Long

          That is an unfortunate possible side effect of moral disagreement. I mentioned this to Al (or was it Asmondius?). I don’t believe there’s an objective basis on which to decide absolute moral truth. You believe that there is, citing the Bible and referencing the existence of God. But that isn’t absolute morality either. When people disagree on with what you believe to be an absolute moral law-giver (which I suppose is actually the law of ordinary humans) there is no debate. It’s either “do what I say” or “burn in hell”. The fact that God supposedly has more power to enforce his view of morality than a million nukes doesn’t make his morality objective (and please don’t give me some cryptic, verbose assertion of how God’s morality is objective since he is the “ground of all being” or something like that–it won’t work). That’s essentially what happens between people. Am I saying that disagreement on morality should be resolved with war? No, but it sometimes becomes inevitable when people start getting hurt. For instance, I can’t say the Nazis were objectively wrong, but they were unmistakeably hurting many people. I want to stop people from hurting each other with malicious intent (but things like boxing are okay if they don’t go too far) and sometimes force is required (but not necessarily killing). We sadly don’t live in a world where every quarrel can be settled with rational discourse.

          I admit that my moral beliefs are not grounded in anything but my opinion that the world should not be one where we harm each other needlessly or gratuitously (and before anyone says it, no–a zygote cannot experience suffering and therefore cannot be hurt). If that’s not good enough for you, there’s nothing more I can say.

        • KarlUdy

          For instance, I can’t say the Nazis wereobjectively wrong, but they were unmistakeably hurting many people.

          On the whole, I agree with you here. The problem is that it is not just the Nazis who have unmistakably hurt many people. So did the Soviets. So are ISIS right now. In fact, probably just about every country does, some of whom we may think are acting justifiably. If we are honest, so do we, although perhaps not on the scale of a Hitler or Stalin, but we still hurt many people. Where and how do we draw the line?

        • smrnda

          I don’t think that forcing someone to obey a law they don’t fee like following is necessarily always tyranny, no matter how loudly someone will whine.

          If the board of health shut down a restaurant for failing to abide by the proper health code, the proprietor might whine about tyranny, but I don’t think that’s a valid complaint. If I wanted to build a bonfire in my lawn, it is illegal.

          I don’t think that no matter how strongly people object to those laws, forcing them to abide by them can’t be called “tyranny.”

          Overall, the laws exist both to let us live our lives with relative freedom, peace and security, but also to prevent us from making those things impossible for others. Part of living in society is you don’t get to do whatever you feel like, which is hardly tyranny.

        • Pofarmer

          Isn’t this rather where laws come in? Society as a whole( theoretically) passes and enforces laws. Maybe you don’t agree with the law, but there’s a penalty if you don’t follow it. Maybe I’m thinking too simply, it seems a common problem, commonly solved, for millenia.

        • Yes, exactly. Karl seems to be saying, “How do you humans work out the rules and customs of society?” as if this is a puzzle to him.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, if you think everything is handed down from on high, I suppose it WOULD be a puzzle.

    • MNb

      “cannot be condemned”
      That’s correct. He still can be sentenced. Though Dutch penal system is quite liberal compared to the American one it’s very harsh on cases like this:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Involuntary_commitment#Netherlands

      In The Netherlands this means that the convict is examined every two years by a team of psychologists, who advise a judge. The convict literally has no idea if and when he can leave the clinique.
      The basic idea is simple: if Charles Manson has done no evil he is mentally ill and can’t be released before he is cured. So I don’t see the problem.

      • KarlUdy

        That’s correct. He still can be sentenced.

        Granted. Although I thought the discussion is about good/evil, right/wrong, not legal/illegal. After all, I think we agree that there is such a thing as bad laws.

        The basic idea is simple: if Charles Manson has done no evil he is mentally ill and can’t be released before he is cured. So I don’t see the problem.

        I can see how this operates according to Netherlands law, but as a question of whether this is right or good, someone is incarcerated because, according to Bob, their conscience or genetic programming is different to those in power. It seems to me to lead to a distinct arbitrariness of morals, and something very much like “might makes right”.

        • wtfwjtd

          Not quite. It’s fair to say that in many circumstances that the might of society makes right, but not nearly so much the individual. Of course, sometimes individuals buck the system, and eventually gets society to change its (collective) mind about things.
          Ideally, legality/illegality is a societal attempt to codify right/wrong; of course it don’t always work out as planned, hence our laws are in a constant state of change. Which, is far, far, preferable to the attempts at modeling laws on an arbitrary, outdated, ancient holy book, which allows for no change or flexibility whatsoever.

        • KarlUdy

          It’s fair to say that in many circumstances that the might of society makes right, but not nearly so much the individual.

          Agreed. But we don’t need to go too far to find societies where that application is troubling to us, eg ISIS.

          We must then ask, in a contest between two societies over what is right, who gets to decide? It only takes one group being unwilling to “live and let live” to instigate such a conflict (and, to be fair, their conscience may not support such an approach.)

        • And the leaders of many countries are wrestling with challenges like ISIS right now. Your point is apparently that sometimes thing suck and sometimes countries are dickish. Agreed.

        • powellpower

          Tell that to the Nazis, or since we’ve always point the finger at Nazis all the time, why not try the Conquistador?

          2 societies met, one survived. Who gets to decide? You have your own answer there. I’m not saying what is right or what’s wrong, but I’m just telling you what happened.

        • KarlUdy

          powellpower,

          Tell that to the Nazis

          Of course. I say they were wrong and evil, and even if they won it would be so. Could you say the same? And on what basis?

        • R Vogel

          Are you so sure you would, if you were a German living in 1939 Germany? Certainly there were those who did, but are you that confident you would have been one of them?

        • KarlUdy

          I did not say that. I am saying that I think they were wrong. And that my basis for saying they were wrong is not that they were defeated.

        • MNb

          I actually agree with this. But it doesn’t follow that your basis is objective. Neither is mine.
          Still I think you miss RV’s point. If the basis of your morals is objective, how comes it depends on the time and place you’re living in? That’s a valid question, don’t you agree?

        • KarlUdy

          I actually haven’t made a case for objective morality in this thread. I have critiqued the basis for morals that Bob has given, and others have defended here.

          And since I don’t think it is very fair in a polite discussion to just stand on the sidelines and throw stones, my position is that morality must have an origin greater than humanity.

        • So you say that there is an objective morality but you’re not going to defend the claim? Or was that it?

        • KarlUdy

          For a start, a morality greater than humanity is not necessarily objective.

          Further, I’ve seen some different assumptions in these comments about what is and isn’t objective morality, some of which I probably do hold others which I probably don’t. I think it is fair that if I do defend a claim, it is something I believe, not what someone erroneously assumes I believe.

        • Kodie

          a morality greater than humanity is not necessarily objective.

          This is meaningless. I don’t know but don’t let me assume the wrong thing, but that’s the solution you’ve come up with to why god has a different moral standard than people do.

        • KarlUdy

          Thanks for proving my point

        • Kodie

          Thanks for continuing to repeat your deepity without elaborating what the hell you mean, and demanding that we read your fucking mind.

        • Less time fuming about being offended and more time making clear your position, please.

        • R Vogel

          We all think they were wrong now. We can all come up with reasons why we think they were wrong in hindsight. It is easy to say that your reasons for thinking they were wrong has nothing to do with their defeat, but there is really no way to defend that, especially if you are not confident that you would come to the same conclusion at the time as your post hoc judgment.

        • adam
        • powellpower

          hmmm so are conquistador evil? most of if not all of Nazis and conquistador (who won in case you haven’t noticed) are christians.

          But that is besides the point.

          Since I do not believe in absolute evil or absolute good, I will simply use the golden rule to determine what they are doing is bad. I don’t like this being done to me, so I want to discourage others from doing it to me as well.

          And please don’t say that golden rule is from the Christian God. Firstly, many different religion and culture have the same golden rule template.

          Oh wait, you got me thinking – if you say Nazis are objectively evil, then wouldn’t David and Moses be evil as well considering that they were merchants of genocide too? Or perhaps genocide in this instant is ok because it is approved by God. So therefore it is not killing that is evil, it is not following God that is evil!

          OMG. Thanks! Oh wait again… I forgot Nazi soldiers are mostly christians… so are they following God? hmmm… Hitler seems to think he is following God’s order. Wait once more… wad if Moses and David are delusional and think that God ask them to murder and then they tried to justify their act post killing? hmmm… I get more confused the more I think about it. Oh wait sorry, I suddenly remember Moses and David most likely did not exist based on archaeological evidences.

          Ok thanks for clearing that up.

        • KarlUdy

          powellpower,
          thanks for holding up such a fascinating conversation without me. Pity you couldn’t bother to find out what I actually think about these things.

          In short, we know quite a lot about the Nazi regime as it is quite recent. I’m no expert on the Conquistadors, although I’m sure there were evils done by them and many other colonists. But it is all a diversion from what I thought this discussion is about. I thought we were discussing the basis for morals according to atheism.

          You seem to think the Golden Rule is a good basis. But some societies stress strength and honour such that that they reject the Golden Rule to some extent. The Nazis are an example of a society that was able to justify to themselves for a time their actions against Jews as “good” and “right”.

          My point is that I don’t see how atheism can provide a basis (other than power) for moral judgments of another society.

        • Kodie

          It’s actually really easy to see the golden rule misused. Even though it’s older than Jesus, and it simply makes sense as a guideline, it actually takes some analysis.

          Do unto others – it’s super easy to dehumanize people.
          as you would have them do unto you – commonly mistaken for variations that do not mean the same thing,such as “what they will do to you” or “before they do unto you”, or keep score, etc. so you don’t owe them any moral consideration if they fail to also follow the golden rule.

          Without irony, people still use it as a guideline even with the mistakes and justifications for ignoring it in self-serving circumstances.

          And also, due to cultural variations and personal preferences and tolerances, doing unto someone may not be ok, even if you would have them do unto you. I’ve had people justify doing things to me because they have no problem if I did it to them. Never mind that I actually mind, stick to the script.

          But anyway, Karl, you’re looking to justify killing people who don’t convert to Christianity, for their own good. If there’s a god, that makes no sense. Relying on a personal message from god that says you must do something cruel is not morality. “Loving” homosexuals to beat them and treat them second-class so they straighten out, so-to-speak, and avoid the worse fate of hell is not “love,” but that is apparently many people’s motivation for bigotry. But Christians will say, if I was headed down the wrong path, I wouldn’t hold it against anyone to do whatever they had to to get me on the path to Jesus, which I guess includes being beaten and treated like a second-class citizen, thrown out of your home and disowned by your parents, or driven to suicide.

          Because a Christian wouldn’t mind if you did it to them!

          These are merely the penalties for violating a group’s moral decisions, which can be pretty arbitrary, after all. There is no other penalty. They act with the backing of fear from the bible that tells them what they must do to save a soul from hell, and that’s all that matters to them, not a living human being, or their natural human desire to be accepted in the group a little less conditionally. How is using god for a basis of morality anything other than shifting the power to something you can’t see, that takes the blame off you for actually wanting to beat the shit out of gays, you’re only able to say you’re doing it out of love because the lord insists?

        • MNb

          “I thought we were discussing the basis for morals according to atheism.”
          For such a discussion it’s useful to separate the content of these morals (what do we consider good and what bad?) form the fact that we have morals.

          “My point is that I don’t see how atheism can provide a basis (other than power) for moral judgments of another society.”

          And you fail to make that separation. Power is not a basis for moral judgments; morals never have been the sole reason to go for war.
          Like every thinking system (compare Euclidean geometry) a moral system is based on some assumption(s) that can’t be proven, religious ones as much as non-religious ones. Hence these assumptions depend on the subject – are subjective. It’s not hard.
          Your assumption is that there is a god and that he has communicated his morals by means of a Holy Book. That’s conceivable and not a priori wrong. But obviously christianity runs into a few problems given the Bible. Another problem is the Eutyphro Dilemma. Even if it can be solved it remains an assumption a la Euclides.

        • powellpower

          Whoa I love that passive aggressiveness dude.

          Back on topic, I would say it is you who are not getting the point. I get what your question. You want to know how atheism do moral judgement of each other. How about this – we don’t.

          Most atheists have a live and let live attitude in life. And hence it is also not surprising to see most liberals proclaiming to be atheists compared to conservatives. This is highly relevant because it answers your question directly. Atheists value freedom, and we don’t judge anybody – not in the sense that “OMG THIS IS SO STRONG AND YOU ARE A BAD PERSON” kinda way.

          A society that wants to kill themselves? Go nuts, however if you want to start killing us – hmmm thats a no no, and hence I will do my utmost to protect what I like and my integrity. In this regard this is very similar to christians defending their way of life. BUT, christians are not just interested in defending their own territory, they would love to convert everybody else and bend the world to their wishes. Doesn’t this sound like…… Nazis?

          And btw, what you say about society who values strength and honor reject Golden Rule. That is not true. It is just that for themselves, they value honor, so they would rather die then be dishonored. Similarly, if someone is being dishonorable, they will want them to die rather than living. This is fair in the mind – see? We all want honor, and the standard to me is the same standard to you.

        • KarlUdy

          powellpower,
          So, you have some anarchist tendencies. Unfortunately, anarchy rarely ends up being all peace, love and happiness. Even in hippy communes.

          And if you don’t judge anyone, why do judge Christians and Nazis? (And Conquistadors while we’re at it?)

          It’s very easy to say “I don’t judge anyone”, but it is a lot harder to put into practice. Albert Camus found this out the hard way.

        • powellpower

          Nah, I don’t like anarchy. I like society order through peaceful democracy. That doesn’t mean I get to have what I like all the time. Is Gandhi’s way of protest the PERFECT way to go? Of course not all the time. Perhaps to you everything is dichotomous – either good or not.

          But then lets put it this way – is it good that we don’t kill those who are obviously going out of their way to harm people ala Batman? Or should we do the Punisher Routine?

          How abt this?

          Is it good that someone die for another person’s sins? I don’t think it is fair, you think it is fair. What gives? Lets try another. Is it right that you save 3 kids who cannot walk versus 1 baby that is perfectly healthy from a fire? What is right and what is wrong?

          To believe that there is an absolute right vs absolute wrong rather narrow I think.

          Btw, note that I never judge that Nazi or Conquistadors as EVIL. They are people with their own interest at heart. But would I stop them if I were them? Yeah of course. Why? Not because I am some hippie lover, but because if I let them continue their way of conquest it will end my way of life. I advocate freedom – but until your freedom ends up on my nose.

          Oh and as an addendum. Before you go and say Nazi is evil. Honestly how many of them are just teenagers getting caught in the moment, getting excited and thinking they are serving a bigger cause? You call that EVIL? I call that sad.

        • smrnda

          I don’t think ‘who gets to decide’ is the right question, it’s more ‘how do these decisions get made?’

        • KarlUdy

          Good point.

        • MNb

          “Might makes right” refers to the question legal/illegal, so you’re inconsistent with

          “about good/evil, right/wrong, not legal/illegal.”

          “because, according to Bob”
          I don’t always agree with BobS and indeed what he wrote just underneath is not my view.

          “as a question of whether this is right or good”
          I don’t see much of a problem here too. Is it morally wrong to try to cure someone who is ill? I guess not. So what remains is the question if it’s morally right to treat someone against his will. But Charles Manson basically argues that his crimes didn’t come from his will anyway.

        • KarlUdy

          “Might makes right” refers to the question legal/illegal

          Really? I have not come across it used that way.

          I don’t always agree with BobS

          Fair enough.

          I don’t see much of a problem here too. Is it morally wrong to try to cure someone who is ill?

          The problem comes in defining someone as being mentally ill. As an illustration, homosexuality used to be widely viewed as a mental illness (and still is in some circles). Yet many homosexuals regard “cures” as an attack on their identity.

        • smrnda

          Homosexuality is only considered a mental illness within circles whose opinions don’t matter since they are quacks, and even these quacks have no track record of successful ‘cures’ for anyone to take them seriously.

          The thing with mental illness is, like physical illness, it requires people making judgment calls. What’s high blood pressure? How does the number get decided? It would be wrong to say ‘high blood pressure’ is a totally arbitrary designation, but it would also be wrong to suggest that it’s a totally objective number.

          I think on a broader level, whether we term something ‘ill’ or ‘wrong’ a question is whether we’re talking about something that’s harmful, or whether we’re just criticizing something for not being normal.

          But these issues get discussed all the time; it isn’t like people can’t reach a consensus over time. Take marijuana legalization in many regions. People weighed the advantages and disadvantages.

          Now, you could ask, how do we know we’re right now, or (perhaps better put) more right than we used to be? This is an ongoing discussion.

        • Al

          Help me out. Before 1974 or so homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the psych profession. Were they quacks?
          Keep in mind that the taking homosexuality off the list of mental was not because new research showed otherwise. It done for political reasons.

        • Kodie

          They were not as informed as we are today. You’re not as informed as we are today.

        • smrnda

          Yes, they were all quacks. Back in 1974, ‘psychiatry’ could hardly be considered a science. Much of ‘psychiatry’ back then was armchair philosophy, where psychiatrists came up with ‘theories’ (based on no empirical evidence whatsoever, and in quotes because many were unfalsifiable) which they then used to attempt to explain mental illness. Much of psychiatry back then was speculation, and little else. ‘

          I mean, look at Freud or Jung. This is even older, but nobody takes them seriously these days since all of their thoughts about mental illness were nothing more than armchair speculation. They had occasional valuable insights, but their entire method was wrong.

          The psychiatric profession was wrong about lots of things. They thought schizophrenia was caused by ‘repressed trauma’ and could be treated by psychoanalysis, and that if a patient had a breakthrough and discovered the source of the trauma, they would be well. This belief was based on no empirical evidence whatsoever, and therapy based on this belief didn’t tend to work.

          Now, schizophrenia is treated mostly using medication. We don’t know exactly what goes wrong in the brain to cause it, but we know that using drugs helps, pointing to an underlying physical cause.

          A long time ago, psychiatrists thought that autism was caused by mothers who were not sufficiently warm and loving. This has been rejected, and it was pure speculation. We don’t know exactly what causes autism, but we do know that parents can’t do something wrong and cause autism.

          So yes, in 1974 a lot of psychiatrists were quacks. I used to be in the field of cognitive and social psychology, and am reasonably familiar with the history of the field. A lot of quackery went on up until recently.

          The psychiatrists of today have better, more reliable information than we had in the past, and on top of that, they’re using proper methodology and in the past that was not the case. So the opinion of a psychiatrist from 1974 should be regarded like the opinion of a medical doctor from the 1700s as opposed to a doctor from today.

        • MNb

          It was incorrect science. Just like Aristotelian mechanics was incorrect science. Plus it has exactly zero relevance for BobS’ point regarding genetic programming.

        • Isaac Newton thought alchemy was science. It’s not. He made a mistake.

          Help us out here–do homosexuals exist? Are they mentally ill? What about the homosexuals in other species–are they abnormal?

        • Exodus International, the largest gay-reversal organization (I believe), shut its doors after admitting that pretty much 0 clients became not-gay.

        • KarlUdy

          I brought up homosexuality as an example of how whether something is described as a mental illness can be both controversial, and also perceived as an abuse of power.

          Describing someone with different morals as mentally ill runs the same risks.

        • MNb

          Sure, but it’s still irrelevant for the Charles Manson example. Not being able to tell right from wrong like he does is not the same as having different morals. More detailed:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisocial_personality_disorder

          There are tests for this mental illness. They are fallible and of course the concept has been abused in Soviet clinics. That doesn’t mean the concept is scientifically invalid though.

        • MNb

          “Really?”
          You need might to force laws.

          “The problem comes in defining someone as being mentally ill.”
          That obviously should be done by psychologists.

          “As an illustration, homosexuality used to be widely viewed as a mental illness”
          We already know that science is fallible.

          “Yet many homosexuals regard “cures” as an attack on their identity.”
          That’s irrelevant for the example of Charles Manson. Even in the days that homosexuality was regarded by psychologists it was never a reason for tbs (Involuntary commitment).

          So there is and there was no problem with BobS’ point regarding genetic programming. You’re getting dangerously close to splitting straws.

  • Paulie

    I have to say I wasn’t satisfied by your answer to the Euthyphro as an atheist either. The second option seems more accurate to me. As I see it, we have our genes by virtue of the circumstances within which genes (and the individuals they create) evolve. The brute facts of those circumstances determine what is “good” – e.g. Dennet-esque algorithms about converged-upon optimal methods of success/survival/resource distribution/whatever – and our genes have been selected to succeed within that framework. So our genetic programming doesn’t determine the good, it is determined by the good, where the good is what necessarily works best given the world in which we find ourselves.

    • The second option seems more accurate to me.

      So our genetic programming says so because it’s good? Do you mean “useful” instead of “good”?

      • Paulie

        Hm, yes, that’s fair. In that context “useful” and “good” might as well be synonymous. Thank you for pointing that out; I hope to avoid making an embarrassingly bad argument, heh.

        I don’t mean to imply that the behaviors or emotions that come to us through evolutionary heritage are good, but rather that the forms “goodness” can take are determined by however reality happens to shake out, e.g. biological, economic, mathematical facts, etc. In other words, “good” is determined by various circumstances that precede our genetics, circumstances which might then even influence our genetics. (If I were a Christian, I’d say the good is a standard outside God for the same reasons – far more satisfying than the other prong.) It’s still our job to do the intellectual work of identifying good goals and the good ways to achieve them.

        How does that sound?

        • Sounds reasonable. The “useful” addition is something I’ve made a note of and will incorporate into this thinking in the future.

        • Machintelligence

          Actually, good in this case means “promotes the replication of the genes which reside in this organism.” Genetic evolution occurs at the level of the replicators, which are genes. See Dawkins book “The Selfish Gene.”

  • Despite their attempts at solving this dilemma, I believe Christians are nearer to the first case: they deem “good” whatever their “God” commands.
    You find evidence in the Bible itself, where “God” ordered the disruption of many innocent nations, whose only wrongdoing was occupying the lands Jahweh and his bloodthirsty people wanted for themselves, and also in the deity’s somewhat erratic behavior, for example getting David order a census and then punishing the country with plague because he was carrying it out!
    Needless to say, this “That’s-good-because-God-wants-it” approach has enabled many self-professed “God’s messengers” to spread tyranny & injustice, with most people tolerating it because, you know, it was “God’s will”.

    • I think you’re right, but it leads to the bizarre situation of having two sets of objective morals–what God says for us to do and what God actually does.

      • MNb

        That’s not bizarre actually – it’s just subjective. It’s the same as the medieval idea that different social classes must have different morals. “God is good hence his commands good” is essentially the same as “nobless obliges”.

        • Subjective objective morality?? My brain hurts.

          I do like the nobles/commoners analogy.

        • MNb

          Subjective morality incorrectly called objective. How’s your brain doing now?

  • RichardSRussell

    At the bottom of all this is the delusion on the part of so many participants that morality can be determined objectively. It’s all opinion, folks. There are no apples falling from trees to tell us beyond dispute, observable by anybody at any time, whether killing a living creature is right or wrong. Or any other judgment of right or wrong.

    To demonstrate this for yourself, try to think of any single act you imagine to be wrong and then just ask yourself (you don’t even have to look anything up) if you can think of any person or group of people who considered that action to be perfectly acceptable. I’ll bet you can’t come up with a single “wrong” action that has been universally reviled by all of humanity. No matter how vile or loathsome or “immoral” you consider something to be, someone somewhere thot it was OK.

    • MNb
      • I’ve scanned their work. Sam Harris seems to be saying something similar with his Moral Landscape.

        The keeper here seems to be: you can weigh two possible alternatives against objective criteria–scientific studies, for example. If we study children spanked a lot, spanked occasionally, or spanked not at all, we could draw conclusions that could be called “objective” (because they’re grounded in facts).

        This isn’t the transcendental grounding that Christians imagine, but it is “objective” in a sense.

        (1) Is this a correct characterization of what those other guys are saying?

        (2) Do you buy my summary?

        • MNb

          1) I’m not sure. Both are very verbose and I usually don’t think that a good sign.
          2) No.

          “you can weigh two possible alternatives against objective criteria–scientific studies, for example.”

          This is related to 1) because they never make clear what those objective criteria are and where they do come from. Science doesn’t provide them. Consider psychology – and this is related to the issue KarlU brought up. We generally want people to be happy, emotionally stable, critically thinking and independent people who can take care for themselves (the list might be incomplete). Neuroses typically get in the way, so they are treated. But that “so” is in fact a non-sequitur. In another time and another place such people might be hailed like shamans ….
          The thing is that we in the west have gotten so used to the idea that happiness (whatever that means) is desirable that we take that idea for granted. But that’s not the same as objective.

    • At the bottom of all this is the delusion on the part of so many participants that morality can be determined objectively. It’s all opinion, folks.

      I don’t think it’s a “delusion” to think that we can arrive at moral principles to help us, for example, increase the well-being of conscious creatures on Earth. It’s strange to hear someone claim the issue isn’t worthy of investigation merely because it isn’t a rigidly scientific one.

      Saying “it’s all opinion” seems like a defeatist approach to an important, complex matter. As Sam Harris notes in The Moral Landscape, just because it may be difficult to arrive at answers to ethical questions doesn’t mean the answers don’t exist.

      • MNb

        “increase the well-being of conscious creatures on Earth.”
        Yes, but the idea that increasing this well-being is a good thing is still just opinion.

      • RichardSRussell

        It’s certainly not a delusion to recognize that human beings arrive at moral opinions by the boatload. Each of us has hundreds, perhaps thousands of them.

        The delusion comes from thinking that any of them are objectively verifiable, which is the only thing I asserted in the part of my comment that you misquoted.

        • Richard, you’re just handwaving away nearly all the ethical philosophy that has ever existed, on your own incredulity and inappropriate expectations. I guess we forget that man-made constructs like logic, reason, scientific inquiry, and morality have foundational assumptions that appear arbitrary when we look too closely at ’em.

        • RichardSRussell

          Key word: “assumptions”. If I drop a rock anywhere near the surface of the Earth, it’ll fall. That’s not an assumption, that’s an observable fact, verifiable by anybody. There is no equivalent of such a demonstrable fact in moral philosophy, no handwaving required.

          If you disagree, feel free to come up with a counterexample. I’m betting all you can find are opinions.

        • Richard, I’ve already pointed out a couple of times that your expectations of scientific precision and verifiability in ethical philosophy are unrealistic. Your utter refusal to acknowledge this point makes this a pretty one-sided dialogue. If you ever take your fingers out of your ears, let me know.

        • RichardSRussell

          Beyond unrealistic, they are unattainable. Basically, then, you have conceded my point that there are no objective standards for morality. I am happy to have been of service.

        • Translation: “La la la Richard can’t hear you! La la la!”

        • MNb

          I guess I must be deaf, dumb and blind as well, because my first thought when reading

          “expectations of scientific precision and verifiability in ethical philosophy are unrealistic”

          was:

          “replace precision and verifiability by testability and it becomes clear that ethics are subjective indeed – so RSR is right.”

        • Kodie

          Morality doesn’t seem to fit in that list. When I look at morality, it seems like part superstition and part solution. Either something is bad because I have an aversion, and maybe it’s a popular aversion, but morality is a tool to solve problems in society. It’s not surgically precise or absolute in any sense.

    • Yonah

      Are you OK that someone thot it was OK to do the most vile and loathsome thing to a child?

      • Kodie

        Wasn’t Mohammed’s wife 9?

        • Didn’t Yahweh burn babies (Sodom), drown babies (Flood), and order them butchered (genocide of the Canaanites)?

        • Kodie

          I thought we were talking about real people. There’s also at least one culture that everyone kills themselves before the age of 30 and I’m pretty sure they also leave disabled children out in the woods to the elements of nature. This is normal. I thought we were talking about real people and also maybe their normal culture. Justifying doing something bad, that you know is bad isn’t quite the same thing as thinking it’s good. I didn’t even get into punishments.

        • You could be right. Didn’t mean to jump into fiction.

        • Kodie

          I tried to post this before but it went to spam I guess:

          North Korean children playing guitar

          Starving North Korean parents eating their children

          This juxtaposition of talented and privileged children being trained like animals to perform perfectly for Dear Leader from a very young age, and impoverished children being eaten… take note the first part of the 2nd video explains how a parent was executed for eating his children. This is not like American sick fucks who think it would be interesting who do the unthinkable, They’re just that hungry.

        • Well, his wife was 6, but he didn’t do it to her until she was 9. So–sort of.

      • RichardSRussell

        You mean like a Catholic priest?

        Nope.

        But that wasn’t my point, was it? The priest evidently thot it was OK. There are no universal shibboleths.

        • Yonah

          Yeah, like a not-okay Catholic priest.

          What if the priest wanted very much to hurt the child because he knew that the child would be absolutely terrorized..and the not-okayness of it all was exactly the thing that turned him on because of the power-trip?

        • RichardSRussell

          My point was that there are people who think that would be OK.

          What’s your point?

        • Yonah

          I think some people like things precisely because they regard them as not okay.

        • Kodie

          Plenty of people are horrible people and still think they’re good people. They’re selfish and mean, inconsiderate, etc., and they have friends, people like them, people to have their back, and they go through life thinking they’re pretty decent.

        • Yonah

          I agree with that. But, are there not also people who say, “I’m bad and I like being bad by doing bad things to other people.”?

        • smrnda

          I agree that there are people like this. And there is a reason why, when we catch them doing bad things, we lock them up.

        • Kodie

          Not sure what the point you’re trying to make repeatedly is. Richard wrote:

          I’ll bet you can’t come up with a single “wrong” action that has been
          universally reviled by all of humanity. No matter how vile or loathsome
          or “immoral” you consider something to be, someone somewhere thot it was
          OK.

          to demonstrate something which you have ignored, but you keep talking about but all the bad people who know they’re bad and do bad things because they like being bad. You keep trying to change the subject to another one nobody disagrees with, but you don’t address the original point.

        • RichardSRussell

          Not at issue. Readily conceded.

          Now, do you have anything to say about the point that I actually raised?

        • Yonah

          To tell you the truth, I couldn’t understand how what you said wasn’t just a neutral thing. It seems to me that your observation doesn’t tie to Bob’s contention that morality is grounded in survival benefit. I guess…what you said is just something that is floating out there…the fact that some people can be okay with anything. I fail to understand how that observation informs us of anything beyond the observation.

        • RichardSRussell

          It wasn’t intended to do so. It was intended to show that, as a matter of observed reality, any contention that there is any objective basis about the rightness or wrongness of anything is unsupported by the evidence. It’s all opinion, and any given opinion has its supporters and its opponents. And who’s to say who’s right?*

          _____
          *Let me answer that last one in the only way that actually reflects the way the world really works: each of us individually does so all the time.

        • Yonah

          So, would you count Bob’s explanation of morality being grounded in survival benefit an opinion unsupported by evidence?

        • RichardSRussell

          Not at all. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable explanation of how ideas of morality arose, attained the variety we observe, and continue to evolve to this day. A reasonable explanation of the mechanism is in no way indicative of any objective validity of what it’s explaining. They’re opinions, just like political preferences, sports-team loyalties, patriotic affiliations, or viewpoints about favorite books or movies — all of which are grist for the mills of sociologists everywhere and none of which anyone would claim are inevitable results of rock-hard basic, objective principles. Only religion makes people do that.

        • Yonah

          Or religion, depending on the specific religion or sub-division thereof, offers the choice to do that.

        • Kodie

          You know what else about that Catholic priest who victimizes children? The congregations who support him while he endures the scandal! Never mind he’s done a terrible thing, the legions of people who are literally making excuses and looking the other way.

          I thought the challenge was to think of the worst things imaginable and then think of someone somewhere thinks it is ok. You seem really focused on people who do bad things they know are bad. They’re called criminals.

        • Yonah

          I tend to agree with you on the rallying around the priest thing, but I suppose a lot of lay people there have talked themselves into the idea that the allegations are not true whereas the worse situation is the bishop who knows full well the allegations are true, yet covered them over. Cardinal Law was a graduate of the Catholic seminary in Columbus, Ohio…which I took courses at in my day as a Lutheran consortium student (we had to take a few courses at the other area seminaries). So, after the crimes of Law were exposed, it came out in the paper that he was to be the commencement speaker at the seminary graduation. I emailed the Dean and asked him how they defended that. He told me that Law was alumni…and a sinner…and even sinners get to go home (it was pretty schmaltzy….and I just wanted to barf…and I thought what a lovely treat for the graduates…they had their special day adorned by Cardinal Law…how special).

          As to your second point…are you then saying that the question of where morality comes from is just a completely different topic than the question of where “criminality” comes from? If so, I’ll go with that.

        • Kodie

          Criminality seems to be the violation of societal morals, and societal morals tend to come from an agreement on what things are bad.

          Let’s look at slavery. I imagine people who engaged in slave ownership did not feel like they were doing a bad thing, and it was a common institution and not considered a crime. We still have issues that are similar, where a privileged class does not see anything wrong with their oppression of another class, are not swayed by appeals to treat people with equality and dignity. When you bring up the inhumanity of what they’re doing to a slave owner, they think it’s preposterous. It takes a lot of social change for people to consider the opinions of people who oppose what they take for granted as moral and stop doing it because they feel wrong about doing it. Slavery is a good example because we have fairly recently in US history come to recognize slavery as a wrong thing. And yet, “outsourcing” labor to a country with more relaxed labor laws and cheaper and perhaps inhumanely low pay, child labor, etc., is common, and few Americans refuse a bargain price for the goods they like to buy that is the result of it. So saying slavery is bad is more lip service than anything. The reality of it is, if another country does not have our same regard for the fair price and conditions of human labor, It’s “not our problem to fix.”

          Another example is rape. Most people agree that rape is bad! But when a woman is raped and accuses her rapist, she often has to endure the popular public opinion that she was asking for it, she’s slutty, she shouldn’t have gone to that party, she is ruining some young man’s bright future! The law defines rape and society does not in reality hate rape as much as they say, because they do not seem to have a problem with a man forcing a woman to have sex in many common circumstances, or believe the woman was forced in many common circumstances.

          Another example is prohibition. Alcohol and other vice being labeled as the source of immorality was one of the social changes that led to the prohibition of alcohol sale and consumption. Failed experiment. But it is reflected in our anti-drug laws. Jails are filled with criminals for dealing or possessing drugs. Lots of debate on this topic, whether to legalize drugs or why criminalize drug possession? Drug use causes a lot of problems, but alcohol does too, and it’s legal, and criminalizing it causes other problems similar to when prohibition was in effect – crimes that occur around drug use, like theft and murder, because drugs are illegal.

          Another example is gambling. Most states prohibit casinos, but most states have casinos because American Indians are allowed to construct and operate casinos on their protected land. Is it immoral? Apparently the Indians have no qualms, why do we? I live in Massachusetts and for some reason the state decided to give up on the ban on gambling and open 3 casinos. Where to put them is a different issue. Nobody wants a casino mucking up their neighborhood. Shopping complexes ok, casinos bad.

          Some morals come from adapting past behavior to treat more people as people with feelings and rights and all that. We change, slowly, to value them as humans and stop treating them like property, and slowly begin to judge negatively the people who would treat other people as lesser than themselves. It becomes law, but social change is slower. Morals do not change only because there’s a law. Some morals come from somewhat arbitrarily targeting a societal ill, but morality adapts to find loopholes around laws or disregards them and operates in secret. Of course if it’s a crime, you’ll be prosecuted, but there is also something wrong in society when a young black drug dealer ought to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law (or judged with a bullet for walking while black), while a young white rapist should go free because his victim wasn’t being careful.

        • Yonah

          Those are good examples to consider, but if we take them down to the ground of Bob’s contention that morality is based in survival, then the question is called to look at your examples and the social contracts pertaining to them and ask of those social contracts if whether they are all entirely grounded in the goal of survival.

          And, is there a Kodie 2.0? The writing style hath changed.

        • Kodie

          I don’t know what you’re talking about. We were talking about examples of things you don’t like being perfectly ok some place or some time. I’m me, I don’t know what you mean by my writing style. I have a long-winded writing style and a short-winded writing style.

        • Yonah

          okay…I was seeing that difference.

        • 90Lew90

          I know I’m prone to wordiness. Why use one word when you can use twenty? (Say Irishmen.) But to précis you, you appear to be questioning a claim that morality (with the attendant penalties for digressions that notion entails), empathy and altruism are evolved traits, whose ultimate “goal” (to use an imperfect term) is the preservation of the species. Is that right?

        • Kodie

          You know, it’s like saying intelligence is an evolved trait like it’s a goal to be smarter than it is a valuable trait for survival. Obviously many people have offed themselves or others from stupidity alone, few people are the innovative problem-solvers that really affect humanity, and many are so afraid of change that they bolt themselves in the past and deny reality. It doesn’t seem to impact our short-term survival. Almost everyone seems to find no obstacle to mating or procreating despite their lack of intelligence, but almost everyone points to the pinnacles of intelligence to symbolize all of our intelligence as a species. Humans are stupider than they think they are despite that some are smarter than everyone else. I’m not even sure innate intelligence is a biological trait that needs to be unlocked or whatever, if everyone has it, because it seems to be a detriment to mating. I am out of my depth though. I just know that especially the religious like to think of humans as being superior based on the intelligence of a few, and not like animals despite how our general behavior is observably animal.

          A certain amount of intelligence of humans is what perpetuated our survival as a species, but it’s just not as much as most people estimate or present to our species full potential as most people estimate. Could we accomplish so much more if we all had the capacity and put our heads together? It pretty much takes a network of humans to effect innovation, which can rely on a single person in that network to vocalize a breakthrough notion. Just like I said it doesn’t do well for survival if everyone at the same time had the instinct to run toward danger to sacrifice themselves to save others. It seems to just take a few.

        • 90Lew90

          A friend of mine has just had herself imprisoned. She’s always been told she’s clever. Her father pointed out to me when I said she’s clever that she’s not as clever as she thought. She’d taken one of those IQ tests and come up surprisingly short. To which I had to reply that there’s intelligence and then there’s guile. Poor old man nodded and came over all Irishy. “That’s what we call ‘native craft’.” You can’t measure intelligence any more than so-called native craft. A bright, inquisitive, questioning brain is enough for me to establish who’s smart. A bit of wit. Anger with the world is also usually a pretty good sign of some intelligence. Forget about the tests. I took one and got a low mark. But you can practice at them. On the last I got invited into MENSA and thought: Stick it up your hole!

        • Kodie

          I have a strong desire to hug you now.

        • 90Lew90

          Air hug received gladly. Thanks. 🙂

        • Ron

          “Perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.” ~Antoine de Saint Exupéry

        • Kodie

          I have always had a difficult time editing things I’ve already written. Even when I had to write papers for college, I would deliberate on a sentence while I was writing and never look back. It might have more to do with procrastination that I developed this habit, or rather, never developed the habit of improving drafts, but I stare at things I’ve written trying to shorten them and only think of more thoughts to add. I participate in my posts in a more conversational tone than I would write something professionally. There are plenty of times I write something and decide not to post, believe it or not. It’s all or nothing; that’s the only way I know how to edit.

        • 90Lew90

          That’s quite dangerously Zen. “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha!” — Lin Chi.

        • Yonah

          No. Just that part of morality commonly called “love”. So, if a neighbor does a lot to check up on an elderly person next door every day…is that not really “love”…or genes doing what genes do? And, so how does attending to that elderly neighbor serve the genetic survival programming?

        • Pofarmer

          We are a social species, it is typically I our nature to care for our young, care for our elderly, etc. Many mammals do this, not just humans. “braintrust”.

        • Kodie

          You really have to ask why caring for members of your community has benefits? One time I was walking to the grocery store, it was a half hour walk, and this poor old woman on the steps of her apartment, stopped me, and I am not easily stopped. I keep walking I don’t want to take your pamphlet, or sign your petition or listen to you yammer about Jesus. This is a thing. Once someone has stopped you, you sort of feel a social obligation to hear them out politely. Anyway, this woman was decrepit. She asked me to do her a favor. She needed a couple items of produce from the Russian market a block away and on the other side of the street, and she handed me a couple of dollars to buy them. I told her I was going to the real grocery store and could stop on my way back to deliver the items, but she insisted on this market. So fuck me, I went, and I had to walk back in the wrong direction to deliver the groceries. When I got back to her, waiting on the stoop, she thanked me again and asked me to come the next day and fetch her prescription.

          I feel really bad now telling this story because … I don’t know. I didn’t promise her I would come back, and I don’t know if she got her prescriptions. I just felt like, because I paid someone a little attention and did a nice thing, now I’m her adopted granddaughter and obligated myself. And there may have been benefits to me if I had decided to pursue that relationship. But I think she had a system that probably worked more often than it didn’t. I have a grandma and she lived alone until last year, and I know my cousin camped at her place a while to be near his job in the city, and never once asked her if he could pick anything up at the store, even though he knew she couldn’t go that far anymore. It makes me a little sad if this woman has no neighbor in her own building to look after her, so long as she is reasonably social and not too proud to ask for help. I lived more than a mile away without a car and it was not practical for me to give her false hope or continue to obligate myself to her, but I might have made a friend who told interesting stories and maybe teach me to cook something new, and care for me like my own grandma does, who’s far away from me. There’s another good chance that not all old ladies are anything like my grandma and I wouldn’t have enjoyed her company and would feel bad if I developed her dependency on me. And I’m going to be old someday, who is going to take care of me?

          Some people say that, as it turns out, having children and treating them well has a lot of benefits on the investment when you’re old.

        • Yonah

          Well, my question was rhetorical. If someone’s answer would be no, I would asky why.

          I like your story. There is a Jewish saying on this kind of stuff that goes something like: It’s not for us to do everything and neither is it for us to do nothing.

        • Interesting story and conundrum. Thanks for sharing.

        • 90Lew90

          We seem to be on shifting sands (or goalposts) here. What is “love”? A vague, broad term that could be construed in any number of ways both palatable and unpalatable. After defining “love” then you can tell me how it fits into ethics, and what it has to do with morals which make up ethics. I suspect you’re trying to take me down the ‘love is a transcendent, ineffable thing’ path. No. Let’s keep our feet on the ground. I could just as well turn around and say “passion” is a part of morality. Riddle me that.

          Checking on an elderly neighbour every day? I would call that altruism or simply kindness. Presumably you’ve been seeing your neighbour for some time and have developed a fondness for them and their quirks and stories. That’s a simple human bond. There is a moving beauty in such simple bonds but “love” is a nebulous term. Let’s deal with what we know and what we can explain. Let’s not get carried away. This is not poetry corner. Altruism in humans and in apes is well explained in evolutionary theory.

          If you’re genuinely interested, there’s a brilliant little book called ‘The Evolution of Co-operation’ by Robert Axelrod. Also ‘The Origins of Virtue’ by Matt Ridley. They’re both a bit old now. ‘Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil’ (lofty title, I know) is newer but a good survey of what we know so far. That the term ‘origins’ recurs in these titles is an obvious nod to Darwin. That’s because Darwinism has the best explanatory force and the logic of it has spread across any number of disciplines from straight biology to human psychology to neuroscience and zoology. Wherever it is applied, it works. “Love” is a warm-fuzzy. Facts please.

        • Yonah

          If I am here, it is a poetry corner.

          I think of those I love in different ways…God, my wife, my daughter, my best friend from childhood who has MS, the student I had who was hit and killed by a drunk driver…and on….all of those have their differences, but yet they all are realities I am attached to, and it is that attachement that the Christian and Jewish traditions often speak of in regard to love. One might try to define a word without doing justice to the existential fact of it…how it lives in flesh and blood…you probably do need poetry to do that. I think of a poem by Robert Penn Warren entitled “American Portrait: Old Style” in which he recounts his boyhood days with his best friend…and their subsequent growing up and loss of innocence. At the end of the poem he returns to a field where they played war and lies down in a trench and imagines what it would be like to be dead, and then suddenly shifts to the fact that he’s not dead yet, and the world has a way to go…and he loves the world even in his anger…”and love is a hard thing to outgrow.”

        • 90Lew90

          Play me the world’s smallest violin. It’s late/early and I’m tired. If this is poetry corner, read some James Baldwin. Best writer your country produced in the 20th Century (in my humble opinion — forget the celebrated ones), whose only good predecessor could have been Ralf Waldo Emerson, except that Baldwin was black and gay. And your people nearly lynched him so he had to leave and live in Paris. For short pieces (essays, musings and reviews) get the collection called ‘The Cross of Redemption’. All of his novels are good. ‘Giovanni’s Room’, ‘The Fire Next Time’ and ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ are among my favourite works of literature. I’ll say no more because I’m sitting here drunk and feeling like I’m defaming a hero by mentioning his name. Go to him.

        • Yonah

          “Cast a cold eye On life, on death. Horseman, pass by.”

          Probably written under the influence of alcohol…the Irish tiny violin.

        • 90Lew90

          Yeats! Great! Bit innocuous though. Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ is a masterwork. Don’t bother with the impenetrable and tedious Ulysses (unless you find yourself a fan) and leave well alone the almost indecipherable Finnegan’s Wake unless you can muster up the Irish accent in your head when you’re reading it. A teacher presented Dubliners to me again last year (this was my third go). It blew me away. The first two times I read it I just didn’t get its richness. He wrote it when he was 24. I could hardly believe how sensitive and angry he was, and how intelligent, at that age. It’s incredible. Subtle, measured and rich. Nabokov likened his work to “marble”. Ezra Pound lionised him. I like him best because he was a real person: a faltering drinker who loved his women.

          My two Irish favourites from around that time are Wilde and Shaw. But it’s funny (or sad — much of my life is lived on preferring the former); that on discovering that Wilde and Shaw were Anglicans I didn’t consider them truly Irish. Such are the seeds that religion and nationalism (close cousins) plant for which we need good weed killer. Wilde is a personal hero of mine; whatever of his writing. It’s his balls I like. His mettal. He had real courage. He could have been whisked away to France and escaped his fate but he stood. “Here I stand, I can do no other.” He knew he was a revolutionary. He knew he had a duty not to a country or a religion but to his own: Men who are lovers of men. That, to me, is a most noble martyrdome. And it did kill him. You should read the speech he made in the court they slung him in front of.

          Yeats was a prude and full of false austerity. Shaw was a proper rebel a self-taught polymath. Who, incidentally, hated religion… I feel like I’m writing an essay here. Nope. Just spilling thoughts.

        • MNb

          I have read only If Beale Street could talk and indeed it beats many celebrated novels.

        • 90Lew90

          You’ve caught me there! Haven’t read it. But if it came from that pen I don’t doubt you.

        • 90Lew90

          PS. I don’t think I answered you adequately but it was 5am or thereabouts and I’ve just found the bottle of whisky that I’d hidden on myself. I stuck it under a damn couch knowing I wouldn’t remember where I put it ten minutes later. And neither I did. It is greatly diminished. But I woke up this morning to discover that I’ve broken some cupboards in the search. I really shouldn’t drink that stuff but sometimes there’s nothing else for it. I quite like the intensity of it. Or the insanity of it. I’m draining the dregs now but I have to go to a wedding. (I can’t be bothered. It’s a two-hour journey and I have to sleep in some strange bed but I’m obligated. It’ll be good when I get there. I skipped the church and food bit.)

          Anyway, I’ve never heard of Robert Penn Warren. I’ll look him up. My favourite American poet is Walt Whitman. “Great guy.” Or, as we say here, “Some lad.”

          Peace be with you. Let’s hope no taxi driver runs over any tourists (as happened a couple of weeks ago) on this trip to Belfast. Please God. Stop treating me like Job. Even though I hate your guts. Sense of humour? Apparently not.

        • Yonah

          Good luck getting through the wedding. Weddings were the hardest thing I had to do as a pastor…the bridezillas, you know. I got lost in your parts once and had to have the post office in Crossgar tell us where we were. Take care.

        • 90Lew90

          Did you ask for directions? Typical Irish answer: ‘Well I wouldn’t have started from here!’

          A boy pulls up with some fella in Clonmany and asks how he gets to Letterkenny. Fella furrows his brow and thinks about it for a minute, turns round and goes: “Me Da takes me.” There’s a lot to love here. Daft as it is.

  • The Man With The Name Too Long

    I don’t think I should be posting something online that I don’t want anyone to see. How do I delete my posts?

    • Definitely a tough situation. If you live in the West, I assume that any difficulties would be only with your family and community. Living in a Muslim country with this predicament sounds like a much tougher situation.

      The advice I’ve heard in the past, which sounds reasonable to me, is that if you’re still dependent on your family for your well-being (food, house, tuition) that you might want to just walk the walk. There will be plenty of time once you’re on your own for you to spread your wings and be open about your beliefs. Your mother accepting your atheism may not be likely, and coming out as an atheist may not be something worth doing right away. What is possible, however, is her accepting your good qualities (even though you disappoint her on this issue) once you’re out and on your own.

      This is just speculation, so reject any of this that is off target. Thanks for sharing.

      • The Man With The Name Too Long

        Sorry I edited the post out of fear that it would be seen by someone I don’t want it to be seen by. I changed my username as well because I use it on YouTube as well. But I appreciate your response. It’s just that “believe in God” or “burn in hell forever” is pretty explicit in Islam.

        • At your request, I deleted your opening comment.

          It didn’t seem like it gave any identifying information (besides the name), but my opinion on the matter doesn’t count. I can see how you might need to be cautious. Share with us only what you feel comfortable with.

        • The Man With The Name Too Long

          Thanks a lot. I really like to engage in discussion here, so please acknowledge me now as “The Man With The Name Too Long To Fit In The Name Box.”

        • Damn–that’s even longer. Or just “Man.”

          I’ll even assume that that’s just a placeholder, since we don’t know (or care to know) your gender for certain.

        • Kodie

          What’s a problem here is there’s nobody punishing you but people if you tell the truth. The system where it’s up to them to punish you if you don’t do what the religion says to do makes it necessary to lie. Lying is wrong and painful sometimes, but do they really expect non-believers would voluntarily tell the truth in that situation?

        • The Man With The Name Too Long

          I really had the whole hell thing ingrained into me. I’m turning 20 in a few months but I only started to “deconvert” about two years ago. But I doubt my family will be able to take it well, and it still pains me to think about how they assume I’m going to be eternally tortured unless I do something that I cannot do.

        • I recently wrote about a discussion among pastors about a man whose son (about your age) had died. Problem 1 was that the man was grieving the loss of his son. But problem 2 was the man’s theology put his own son in hell.

          The pastors had to dance around this, acknowledging the rightness of the theology but trying to give the guy comfort.

          Who says that religion doesn’t have downsides?

  • avalon

    “the conscience is a component of the human mind whether you take the naturalistic or Christian viewpoint.”

    This is not WLC’s point of view. As I read recently:

    William Lane Craig talks frequently about our shared moral intuitions as proving his premise.

    This premise wants to be able to assert the following:
    (1) I feel certain moral intuitions.
    (2) Those moral intuitions come from a source external to myself and other people.
    (3) This external moral source is actual, factual, and reliable.
    Therefore, my moral intuitions describe something objectively real.

    It is #2 and #3 that are important to believers and ridiculous to rational people.

  • Yonah

    In the event that a person makes a moral choice to sacrifice him/herself for a child, how is this grounded in the “survival benefit” of human genetic programming? Does the “survival benefit” go to the child…as in taking an action that furthers the survival of the human species?

    • RichardSRussell

      What evolution tells us has nothing to do with the decision any single individual makes but rather with innumerable such decisions made by countless people over extremely long times. The decision which tends to favor the propagation of the species will eventually be over-represented in the gene pool (to the extent that it’s genetically based) and eventually will seem to be “the right thing to do” to all the survivors.

      if, however, we had evolved from mantises instead of apes, it would probably be a mortal sin not to bite off your husband’s head after sex.

      • Yonah

        Okay, you have stated what evolution tells us. But, I am asking what the decision of a single person to sacrifice him/herself for a child tells us.

        • RichardSRussell

          It tells us that that person decided it was the right thing to do in that instance.

          Were you expecting to draw some generalization from that?

        • Yonah

          I was thinking Bob would respond to it in regard to his view of the basis of morality…that is, I wonder if he, somehow, sees a survival benefit somewhere in the event where a person sacrifices for a child. If the person’s life is negated in favor of the child’s life, where is the survival benefit in that event located?

        • RichardSRussell

          It’s hard for evolution to be affected by things that don’t occur very often, because the effects of things that do occur more frequently, to more organisms, tend to overwhelm the effects of the rarities.

        • Yonah

          So? Everything, even infrequent things, come from somewhere. I still am interested in self sacrifice thing for the child. But, how infrequent is such…given there are still many children?

        • Kodie

          Because raising a child to adulthood takes a lot of effort, I would say relatively just about all parents sacrifice themselves for the good of the child. My view of “sacrifice life” doesn’t equate to death. For example, what if Jesus stayed out of trouble, he could have helped a lot more people by sacrificing his life instead of negating it. A dead person can no longer contribute to civilization, and yet we revere death as the highest form of sacrifice, pretty much in circumstances where death cannot be avoided, but still. Living people can continue to contribute and actively sacrifice their lives for something. For another example, say I decide that what I want isn’t important anymore and sacrifice my life to find a cure for cancer. It’s almost selfish that I more or less passively decided not to. If I just trade my life so someone else can live, that person may turn out to be a detriment to society; or die symbolically to uphold freedom, freedom may not be upheld and my death would be in vain. I could contribute much more alive than dead. At least if I decide to. Passing on genes and allowing those genes to propagate is not all there is, and I think morality definitely speaks to that. There’s more than one way to contribute to the well-being of the tribe and prospects for the future of the tribe than merely procreating or dying so that a child may live.

        • Yonah

          I agree with you there. Actually, my using the word “sacrifice” was not meant to denote only by death. Indeed, there are some in our culture today for whom any sacrifice is something akin to “death” to them.

          When I was teaching middle school, one teacher conference I had was with a mother whose daughter was having some academic challenges in class, but not as much as some…so, I thought I was going to have a garden variety conference. Oh, no. The mother narrated for a long time that her daughter’s academic slump was part of a larger behavioral slump…that actually the girl as well as her siblings were all going wild at home. Why? Well, the lady had just kicked out their father, and moved in a new boy friend. Before I could say a word, the lady anticipated perhaps the conventional reply that maybe it would have been better to wait awhile before the boyfriend was inserted into the the home. Children cannot just adjust on a dime to such things….of course their behavior would be affected. Without me getting a word in edgewise, she just blurted out, as if talking to herself, “Well, I can’t put my life on hold for these kids.”

        • Kodie

          I don’t think that’s a great story and of course, I will tell you why. Plenty of parents do put their lives on hold, maybe indefinite hold, maybe do not get divorced when they should, even, because they guess certain circumstances will be better for children. Sorry, nothing is ever perfect for children. My sister got divorced with a toddler and both parents moved back to our hometown to co-parent him week to week. The set-up upsets my grandmother because what will happen to the boy, he’ll get confused. He did act out for a while, and given that he was 3 and 4 there for a while, it could just be that. He also knows he’s loved by a lot of people. Would everyone just choose the martyr root if another way wouldn’t be that terrible?

          I don’t know the mom in your conference, but her kids are around middle school age, and what she did isn’t the worst thing to happen to anyone, ever. If she is loving and involved, they will cope. If her boyfriend’s a dick and she doesn’t care, they’ll resent her either way because she probably already sucks as a human being. I don’t like situations in which parents begrudge themselves opportunities for self-fulfillment because they have kids. Maybe they can’t do everything, but I’m tired of too many parents who actually do not make a positive step in their own growth and resent their kids, or they pro-actively avoid making themselves happier by using their kids as an excuse – and then resenting them besides, when really they’re just scared or insecure about going back to school or trying a new career or fuck it, divorcing their rotten spouse. My aunt was a home-maker and seems extremely happy now in her 60s with grandkids and not the least bit resentful. Some people would though. It’s not for me to say this woman was a hero to us all, but not everyone should put their lives on hold in the interest of their kids well-being just because society says that’s what you do. They’ll be better off in the long run, I bet, because their mom is happy, and because they’re shitty little uncivilized human beings, they don’t really get that yet. Their mom is still a mom to them and one day, they will recognize that she’s a person too.

        • Yonah

          I think the problem for the kids…the others were younger than my student…was the immediateness of the boyfriend moving in.

        • Kodie

          I’m not going to say it wasn’t a permanent problem with a lot of negative repercussions that never healed, but yeah so what if I suggest that might have been the case? Resentful martyrs are terrible parents too. Who’s to say what’s the right thing? Oh yeah, we were talking about morals and where they come from. Sometimes sacrifice is unnecessary and merely symbolic, and happy fulfilled parents might do a better job raising their children than bitterly unhappy ones. So these kids had a new person living in the house, sometimes that person is nana, and sometimes you have to move to a new place because your parent got a transfer, and sometimes a parent leaves for months at a time because they’re in the military and we’re sort of having a war right now. It’s kind of a que sera sera thing. Kids process things in their own and the best you can do is communicate with them through it. It’s not something the mother was doing to her kids to make them miserable, and I’m not expecting them to love it just because she does. I’m just saying it’s not the worst thing any kid had to deal with, and with a communicative approach, everyone can adjust.

        • Yonah

          Yes, it’s a common thing. My brother went through this. He met a woman online who he eventually soon married. She has a daughter by a previous marriage. The ink on the divorce was not dry and the separation very recent. So my brother asks me what to do because the little girl keeps hitting him, lol. I told him to just hold off a while on announcing an upcoming wedding…give the kid a little time. They didn’t, and the kid hit him more and bit him. Things did level out after several years.

        • Kodie

          I mostly think it’s one of those things where the outsider is quick to judge a parent for doing things they wouldn’t do or doesn’t think they should do because of how we care about children. It’s pretty easy to screw kids up, doesn’t it seem like it? There are plenty of people who defend their own parenting because of the extremely anecdotal statement, “my parents did this and I turned out ok.” But anyway for the most part, parenting is a series of difficult decisions that don’t only affect one person. If you do what you really want, kids are affected, and if you do what you think is best for the kids, you are affected. You are an outsider judging this parent because your primary concern is the children’s welfare, not the parents, and as I explained, a happy fulfilled parent can probably parent better than a resentful bitter martyr. You were one of her children’s teacher, and you noticed that her grades started to suffer, as it was explained to you by the parent you described to talk and not listen (self-absorbed?), rationalize, probably wanted to get the conference over with quickly, and you make a “bad parent” judgment out of concern for the child.

          Is this evolutionary? Judging other parents is popular and fun, and primarily the mothers take the brunt, because mothers are the primary parent, the key to unlock every dysfunction, is meant to sacrifice every damn element of her life to cater to the fragile upbringing and mental and emotional development of their children at a cost to herself and her own happiness. Mothers judge other mothers, everyone judges mothers. Your kid is being an asshole because you gave in and bought them candy to suppress a tantrum; your kid is having issues in school because mommy took a new job and has to work late because she doesn’t want her boss to mommy-track her. Etcetera. I think a culture that caters to overly avoid upsetting children is faulty and annoying for the future when those children are grown – and I always think of children as being “in the process of becoming civilized adults” and not as a separate kind of person* (I can tell you why after). And what I think is best is also a judgment, but I think everyone in a family should be important, and children should grow up in a family where sometimes what someone wants is going to bum them out, but it’s not the end of the world, and you have to learn to deal.

          * I would not say I had a happy childhood, but I can’t say that I had a miserable childhood. I literally have no notion now how I felt about life when I was a kid, and to say I used to be happy or it was really rough would just be revisionism. All I know is that there was a bright line, after which, expectations were absolutely magical. Before my sister was born when I was five, I have some memories of having a few innocuous preferences like spoons I wouldn’t use, or “my” seat on the couch. A little OCD maybe. After she was born, I had to eat with whatever spoon I was given and sit somewhere else, or whatever. I don’t remember it being hard to adjust. But that’s not the bright line. Innocence and all that stuff attributed to childhood, little responsibility, protection. I don’t remember the age of the bright line, but probably 7th grade. Without any prior experience of the sort, I was just expected to be a different person, an older, more mature, more responsible, less dreamy, more realistic, and less protected, and no real instruction or modeling. I think that’s way too late to start making an adult. One day you’re an innocent child and the world is your oyster, and the next day, you’re breaking rocks and you have to like it. Welcome to the real world. Nobody tells you why, it just is. I think that’s a sucky way to raise children. I didn’t like it, anyway.

        • Yonah

          A clarification on the teacher conference…it wasn’t one I called. Typically what is done in schools today is that whole buildings have a teacher conference night…and whoever shows ups, shows up….it’s totally at the choice of the parent whether they want to go. Typically, it’s mainly about academics.

          Some of what you touch on above is what they call “helicopter parenting”….where parents hover over all their children’s smallest wants and needs. It the other extreme from neglect. It’s all a matter of balance.

        • RichardSRussell

          Are you seriously asking where the parental instinct comes from and whether it has evolutionary value?

        • Yonah

          More than that. As I just shared in another response, when I was a teacher, we had a colleague killed sacrificing herself for a student. So…that instinct…that many call “love”. Yes, there is the question of where it comes from…is it only grounded in survival? And if the answer would be still yes, than I wonder about the feeling people often have of such sacrifice being thought of as love directly for another…are they deluded…or any evaluation of that thought of love aside, does the thing called “love” have value.

          Now, evolution being evolutionary…I also ponder how to evaluate what the evolution produces. For if sacrifice is grounded in survival…in terms of historical biology…what are we to make of human notions of love that developed subsequently? Putting it another way, in evolution, did the essence of “survival”…evolve to include something beyond survival…the love of another?…nor for his/her gene extension capacity, but for them in their own personhood?

        • MNb

          “when I was a teacher, we had a colleague killed sacrificing herself for a student.”
          As far as I know this hasn’t been answered by science. I have read at least one suggestion (by Jerry Coyne if I recall correctly) but didn’t think it particularly convincing.
          So I don’t know.

        • RichardSRussell

          In the absence of anything remotely resembling reliable data, we are simply speculating here. My own speculation is that adults manage to save children from harm far more often than they perish in the attempt, which rewards continuing to try. I doubt that any adult who essays such a rescue expects it to be fatal; they all go in expecting to succeed.

          But, as I say, that’s only my speculation. The last people we’ll ever find out from for sure are the ones who didn’t make it.

        • Kodie

          Shortish answer because I have to go soon – we’re social creatures and in case you never noticed, we tend to care more for the people who can actually help us than other people. The news will often report and give special attention to victims of a plane crash, Olympic athletes, what have you, with local ties. So I’m supposed to feel something more because someone I don’t know from Massachusetts was involved in something on the other side of the planet than I would for someone from another state or another country. Sometimes they find a sole victim from the US, close enough. We’re supposed to care more about that person than anyone else on that flight or at least find the story more interesting because an American was involved. I could read news from my hometown and not know someone but feel weird about it because I know someone I know knows that person, probably. I get that feeling about some people I used to know a while ago, but no chance I would ever see them again anyway – like the daughter of a former neighbor at least 5 years older than me, or that girl who was in my gym class my first quarter in high school who died in a drunk driving accident 2 years later, or any dead celebrity who hasn’t made a movie in over 20 years.

          We get attached somehow and it feels different when there’s a loss because you know someone who you’re not in contact with anymore is suffering a loss in their family. Based on statistics, there is nowhere on the planet this isn’t happening right now, but you don’t feel a sentimentality for all of them.

        • Pofarmer

          You need, to read “braintrust” by Patricia, Churchland.

        • Kodie

          The survival benefit of the child? So the child survives to reproduce? Not difficult.

        • Yonah

          Okay, that’s the ballpark I was wondering about. It sounds like to me that Bob’s model would say that any morality inherent in a person sacrificing themselves for a child is grounded simply and solely in the biological survival instinct of the species to reproduce over against any concern for the well being of the child in the child’s own experience. To say that in another simpler way, such a sacrifice is grounded in simply advancing the species rather than trying to prevent a child from feeling pain/terror/destruction/death.

        • Kodie

          I don’t know if it’s a conscious behavior. There’s certainly enough expression about childhood being innocent and tragic for young people to die. Parents have aspirations and potential for their children that is lost when the child dies before them, and perhaps a selfish instinct for a parent to avoid living without their child has something to do with it as well. Perhaps we’ve made a huge thing about this socially, that the parent would look like such a dick if they did not do whatever they could, and therefore are culturally mandated to demonstrate the sacrifice even if they don’t succeed, I don’t know maybe it is biological, I do not really know. I just know that if an adult (not necessarily the child’s own parent) demonstrates self-preservation over sacrifice for a child, they are never living that down.

        • Yonah

          I think your last sentence there is fact. It exists.

        • The Man With The Name Too Long

          Then again the survival aspect is probably less important to a life-sacrificing Christian simply because the nature of death is different to a Christian than most of us on this blog. Christians believe in an eternal afterlife, so death is really just a transition to some other part of life than the end of it. Self-sacrifice is viewed as an extremely virtuous thing as well, so the Christian sacrificing him/herself probably believes it would curry favor with God and almost guarantee a seat in Heaven. So the Christian concept of self-sacrifice (that is, giving up one’s life) seems more like trading in one’s dirty socks for a new car where the altruism is secondary to the eternal reward (but would it still be considered altruistic then?). This idea is reinforced in my head whenever I hear a Christian complain that life and doing good are pointless if there is no Heaven or Hell.

        • Yonah

          Well, first I would contend that authentic Christianity believes in eternal life not “eternal after life”. Eternal life is such that it spans all time and place, a qualitative that includes the qualitative.

          But, you wouldn’t need a Christian for the sacrificial act. A mother who is not a Christian sacrifices for her child…..must that be grounded in survival instinct if she is not a Christian? I think of the Virginia Tech shooting where the Jewish guy barricaded the door long enough for students to escape out the window while he was being shot to death through the door. Many Jews do not have any firm notion of an afterlife…the Virginia Tech guy may have been such.

        • Kodie

          Well, there’s not too much survival if the survival instinct of sacrifice causes everyone to run toward the danger. It really seems to be a particular quality that maybe all people are capable of having but not all in the same circumstances. Even the oxygen mask instructions say put one on yourself before your child.

        • Ron

          Define “authentic” Christianity and explain why your particular definition should prevail over all others.

        • Yonah

          In this context, it necessitates proficiency in Koine Greek or an accurate translation of it in John 3:16

          16οὕτωςγὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα
          πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ’ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

          ζωὴν αἰώνιον does not mean after anything…if that was the idea being communicated, it would use the Greek prefix meta before ζωὴν.

          In verse 22 we see meta being used as it talks about a sequence of action:

          22Μετὰ ταῦτα ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν γῆν καὶ ἐκεῖ διέτριβεν μετ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐβάπτιζεν.

          So, in the early Church eternal life was never used in the language of sequence in terms of life/after life.

        • MNb

          “Eternal life is such that it spans all time and place.”
          That’s incorrect. Most christians agree that human life for the individu begins somewhere around the conception. If life has a beginning it can’t be eternal.

        • Yonah

          Eternal life is not a personal possession but God’s own life one enters into.

        • MNb

          Thanks for confirming my point and contradicting yourself. The word “enter” implies a beginning – thus no eternity.

        • Yonah

          The word “enter” is put on doors.

        • MNb

          Brilliant reply! The definite pro god argument! I can only bow my head. Tomorrow I’ll convert.
          Or not. Because still

          “most christians agree that human life for the individu begins somewhere around the conception”
          no matter how many doors we pass through.

          (edited on request of Yonah underneath – it’s apparently essential to him that a non-native English speaker writes English perfectly)

        • Yonah

          pass through

        • Kodie

          Can you explain the point? If souls are eternal, and enter a body at some point, and go on to their afterlife at another point, what is the reason we need to experience life? We need to exit from god and determine if we are eternally worthy or not? It just seems like … stupid.

        • Yonah

          Yes. The situation here is that we’re talking about Greek translated to English…and then people are taking the wrong connotation in English.

          The greek words in John 3:16 are zoen aionion. The word “zoen” is the “life” word. The word “aionion” has a qualitative and not a quantitative meaning. You are assuming the English meaning of “eternal” to refer to time when you could, if you chose, select a meaning referring to depth…i.e. “eternal love” does not mean primarily love that will never end, but a love that is deeper than any other love…as in a similar phase “true love”. The Gospel of John, among other things, uses language that competes with the philosophical rhetoric of Gnostics at that time. Gnosticism was in the business of “knowing” (gnosis) what was “true”…not in a scientific sense, but a spiritual sense. So, the Gospel of John uses the word “aionion” in the Greek tradition of that word going back to Plato who used the word not at all referring to time, but the timeless. Then, there is something else John is doing in the use of spiritual language with many linkages. As John is using aionion in the Platonic tradition…referring to the timeless/true…then, we cannot fail to recognize that John’s agenda is to argue over against the Gnostics about just WHAT is timeless/true. The Gnostics have their answer, and John has his…Jesus himself. Jesus is the true life…the eternal life. We see this in John 11:25 where Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life”…zoen being used for “life”. Also, the words “I am” are used often in John. The Greek is “ego eimi”…which corresponds to the Hebrew name of God…the holiest of words in Judaism…so holy one is not supposed to say or even write that word…but which is translated “I Am”…the name given to Moses when Moses asked what the name was. Throughout John, you have Jesus saying “I am”….this or that….the word “I am” being a synonym for God. Thus, entering eternal life denotes entrance to the “true” life of God (as opposed to the false life of the world) both here and now….and to the ages of ages.

        • Kodie

          It’s… not what I asked.

        • Yonah

          I was trying to be polite in avoiding that your original notion of souls being eternal is not a Judeo-Christian concern, but rather what the Creator has created and what He wants to come of it…that the Creation including human beings be redeemed and kept within the life of God….which is eternal.

        • Kodie

          Still not explaining it.

        • Yonah

          But, I tried.

        • adam

          Agreed

        • 90Lew90

          So is “no exit”.

        • Yonah

          To the Jew and Christian, that is good news and precisely what is held to be God’s grace in both initiation rites..either at the mikveh or the baptismal font…that God’s promise is complete (perfect).

        • 90Lew90

          Oh fuck off. What a load of bollocks.

        • 90Lew90

          Allahu Akbar. You forgot your Muslim brothers who shout that while firing guns. Go join them and shoot each other.

        • Machintelligence

          If the person’s life is negated in favor of the child’s life, where is the survival benefit in that event located?

          Assuming the child is a relative, it is located in the preservation of genes that favor altruism (plus others, of course) in the gene pool of the population. This is the evolutionary basis for the development of altruism. See W. D. Hamilton and Robert L. Trivers for the early work on this subject.

        • Yonah

          It would not have to be a relative. When I taught elemenary school, we had the constant problem of crazy adults speeding into our parking lot to pick up or drop off children. So many times, there were mindless near misses of children being injured and teachers/aides as well trying to pluck the children out of harms way. We were frightened for the kids. As Senior Faculty Rep, I pressed the administration for as much on-duty cop presence as possible…even if it was once a week. She refused because she didn’t want the political blow back from parents…so SHE covered her genes…but we’re the teachers also governed by “preservation of the genes”…if so, how shall we categorize the great pathos the issue engendered among teachers and aides.

          That pathos was exponentially increased one afternoon when at the next neighboring school, which was having the same problem, a child was directly in the path of a car speeding into the school’s round-about drive, and a young teacher…a mother…threw herself out to shield the child, rolling the child to safety but being killed herself. Was this “gene preservation”?

        • Kodie

          There may be more than one factor, but not necessarily any conscious motive. The thing about kids is they don’t know a lot of stuff yet and haven’t been completely assimilated, so some of it is a protective instinct to protect them because they cannot get out of the way themselves. For teachers, let’s already consider that people attracted to the profession like kids (usually) and have at least made a more personal investment in children especially than anyone except their parents. You don’t want to see your work destroyed, and you don’t want a bad time at school when the kids have to mourn another kid and confront death maybe for the first time. When a child dies, their life is set up in terms mostly of the things they’ll never get to do, like date, and kiss, and graduate high school. We don’t know that they would ever do those things anyway, but we assume they’re normal and frame them in the way the rest of their life that never happened would be if they had lived, doing normal things like everyone else, and less with the person they already were, or even a glimpse of some individual characteristics that may have been. That’s a little strange to me, and if you think about it, it might be to you too.

        • Yonah

          There are two kids who died who stay with me. One was 4 year old girl with a brain tumor in my second church. Adults were very shaken by her in her time of dying. This is because she insisted on coming to church and Sunday School. No matter what the chemo during the week had done to her. Adults would quiver, but she did not. She looked them straight in the eye and told them that she knew she was going to go be with Jesus. On Palm Sunday of her last days, she stood with me in the chancel having processed with myself and the choir at the opening of the service…we carrying palm branches, and the little girl faced the congregation and thrust her fist and palm branch into the air in defiance of Death….and the sanctuary turned inside out.

          And then there was a 10 year old in my class. She was hit and killed by a drunk driver as she helped her family deliver newspapers. The family asked me to preach the funeral because they knew I had once been a pastor. But, they did not know that one day their little girl preached to me in class about how to handle a disruptive classroom better than I was in my frustration, and I confessed to this in the sermon…that God had spoken to me through a child.

    • Guest

      A human being may sacrifice himself for his child, but an animal will not.

      • Compuholic

        Bullshit. It actually occurs in many species.

        • Kodie

          The poster “Guest” is obviously not familiar with common knowledge about the behaviors of birds or bears.

        • Guest

          FAIL. No examples meet the criteria. Instinct is not altruism.

        • So we act on our programming and it’s often “altruism” or “morality,” but other animals do the same and it’s not?

        • Kodie

          It’s only called altruism because that’s the word for it in our language. In case you never noticed, humans have a higher opinion of themselves than they do other animals, and are able to reflect on their experiences with much praise.

        • MNb

          That’s a circular argument. Human decision making is a criterium for self sacrifice, hence animals won’t sacrifice themself for their childs like humans do.
          You’re the one who has failed.

        • Guest

          Thanks, you just made my point for me.

  • avalpert

    “We certainly wouldn’t—we just know that murder is bad”

    Murder is a particular challenging (or enlightening) example. In a tautological sense we know ‘murder’ is bad because we define it as ‘immoral or illegal killing’ – but if you were actually to represent specific scenarios it is not at all obvious that we as a species would generally agree that a specific act of killing was bad (if anything it is obvious we don’t).

    I don’t think you can get from observed human behavior to some fixed innate good/bad out there even via genetic programming. At least if you try to take it to a level below some vague notion that humans genetically tend to follow generic rules that happen to be set because following rules is good – sure we are herd animals that tend to follow a leader, but how that manifests in any specific instance is highly variable.

    • MNb

      I think it’s a bit more complicated. It seems to me that morals were developed to address the possible conflict of individual interest vs. group interest.

      • avalpert

        I think you have to be more precise – when you say ‘morals were developed’ what exactly do you mean?

        For example, it may be in the individual interest of a worker bee to break free from his chains and bang the queen but it is in the group interest that he stay in his place – and lo and behold they do. Is this a from a form of ‘morality’? Or are morals the human mechanism for accomplishing the same ends – and if so, is it the notion of morals or specific acts that have been deemed moral/immoral – and if specific acts, can we actually identify what they are because as I said above I don’t think it is obvious that there are any shared ‘morals’ generally across humanity when you get to levels of specificity meaningful enough to be observed.

        • MNb

          “when you say ‘morals were developed’ what exactly do you mean?”
          Something like this: our far ancestors were unicellulars. We safely can say that they didn’t have morals. We have. At some point in our evolutionary history they must have been developed, invented, created (without implying a supernatural source) or whatever word you prefer.

          “it may be in the individual interest of a worker bee to break free from his chains and bang the queen”
          That’s a bad example, because worker bees are not capable of banging. There are sexually sterile. If you can think of a better example you’re welcome. I have tried twice (before posting my previous comment and while typing this one) but failed.

        • avalpert

          What I think you need to be more precise on is what are these ‘morals’ that have been developed, invented, created or whatever. Can it be specified at anything below the general sense to think some actions are good and some bad, with that sense possibly being strongly susceptible to localized environmental influences?

          “That’s a bad example, because worker bees are not capable of banging”

          You are right, i should have chosen one of the ‘sociologically sterile’ species like the dwarf mongoose.

        • MNb

          “what are these ‘morals’ that have been developed, invented, created or whatever. ”
          I disagree. This is irrelevant for my point, which was about the fact that humans have morals:

          “to address the possible conflict of individual interest vs. group interest.”
          In other words, I’m not convinced it’s (only) genetic programming.

          “the ‘sociologically sterile’ species like the dwarf mongoose.”

          I’m far from an expert, so perhaps I’m talking out of the lower end of my digestive system now. I’d say such structures just offer an other answer to the conflict between individual and group interest. Which solution a given species develops will depend on evolution.

        • avalpert

          But what are ‘morals’ then? What is it you think humans have developed to address the possible conflict of individual interest vs. group interest – specifically, what is it? Is it an innate feeling that some (unspecified) action is right and another wrong? Is that any different than ‘instinct’?

          “I’d say such structures just offer an other answer to the conflict between individual and group interest. Which solution a given species develops will depend on evolution.”

          At what level does evolution act – gene, cell, individual organism or species? What is the ‘group’ whose interest is in conflict with what ‘individual’?

          By the way, there aren’t obviously right answers to these questions – biologists don’t agree on it at all. All this is just to point out that describing evolutionary processes is difficult business and when it is being done on a vague, generalized notion like ‘humans have morals’ it is rarely done with enough precision to be meaningful at all.

  • DJMankiwitz

    I’m personally less interested in where a moral sense came from (evolution) than I am in whether or not they’re right. Evolution may be our source of empathy, but it’s also given us a lot of rather terrible impulses (violence, “group think”, do I really need to go on?). What you’re writing seems dangerously close to saying that whatever evolution gives us is right because it’s from evolution. I believe evolution happened, but I don’t draw any sense of morality from it. I think at some point, humanity needs to take the reigns so to speak and tell our genes to go jump in a lake. Humanism isn’t spawned from evolution, it just takes one part of us, our empathy, and logically extrapolates that a lot of our other tendencies are NOT in harmony with that value. So no, I will never argue that evolution MAKES our morals right. I think that’s stupid, and arbitrary, as we could easily have been super-intelligent spiders had the long view of history taken a different path, and that wouldn’t justify selfish “I got mine jack” (wherein “mine” means “your head in my stomach”) morality just because spiders lacked empathy.

    • Plutosdad

      Nowhere in that article does he say anything of the sort. He says evolution could be (or is) the source of one particular virtue. He doesn’t say anything else other than that.
      NO one that believes evolution programmed certain virtues into us believes that that means we should also see all evolutionary programming as “good”. Except maybe social darwinists.

      • DJMankiwitz

        “Euthyphro’s question to the atheist would be: Is something good because our genetic programming says so, or does our genetic programming say so because it’s good? There’s no difficult dilemma here—the answer is the former. Our genetic programming (our conscience, in this case) tells us what is good and bad.”

        The way I interpreted that was him saying that evolution is the source of our morality, and that is enough of an explanation. I may have misread here though.

  • Stanley Dorst

    Bob,

    Have you considered posting your refutation of Craig’s argument on his web page? I would be interested in knowing how he responds…

    • I’ve done that a few times with various apologists. I don’t know that I’ve done it with WLC. I doubt he’d deign to respond.

      But hey–if you’re motivated, go for it. If he replies, I promise a response here.

  • I wonder if god is powerful enough to contradict its own nature.

    • Guest

      God is not the author of confusion.

      • Sweet, I knew god didn’t create the whole universe!

        • hector_jones

          It was one of his students who authored it. God just signed his name to it.

        • Grad student, no doubt

        • hector_jones

          Underpaid, overworked

        • 90Lew90

          You’re good.

      • adam

        Of course not, ‘god’ is IMAGINARY..

  • Plutosdad

    I remember when i was a Christian, we would say God’s free will was different than ours, in that God could NOT commit evil acts. But really that is just option B, Good is Good , and god only says and does good things because he can’t do otherwise.

    Craig and all other apologists are merely picking the 2nd option. They are just using weasel words to try to avoid admitting it, pretending there is a 3rd option.

  • Grotoff

    Conscience. Or, as I prefer, instinct.

  • I still don’t really recognize this as an effect argument against either theism or Christianity.

    So, if as has been argued or implied by several thinkers, that moral goodness and moral justice is an absolute standard that exists independent of human nature– sort of like how e = mc^2 regardless of whether human beings able to understand physics have evolved or not– then why would that possibly mean that God or Christ therefore doesn’t exist?

    Seriously, it’s a real non sequitur. If goodness exists as a fundamental, independent thing (again, like the laws of physics), then why would that imply anything specifically about a hypothetical good God existing? Then that God would just exist and be good.

    • The Christian arguments that I’ve seen would demand to know where this independent goodness came from (or what supports it or some related puzzle). They aren’t satisfied until they have a conundrum that they can answer “Cuz God!” and then they’re satisfied.

  • Bluago

    Before our world existed the standard of good which exists in our world did not exist because the world on which its existence is dependent did not exist. Therefore when God created the world he created a specific standard of goodness which exists in this world. Therefore goodness is not an arbitrary concept but neither does it exist independently of the Almighty.

    Or we can just simplify all this bullshit and say that since God is Love, everything he does is done out of love. And love is good, and good is God.

    Is something loving because God says so, or does God say so because it’s loving? Is something logical because God says so, or does God say something is logical because it is? Oh no there must be a standard of logic which exists independent of God. Or not, because God created everything you stupid motherfuckers and nothing can exist independent of Him. Or, alternatively, anything that exists independently of God only exists because God created it. Why does God exist? Because. Existence is arbitrary, whether there is a god or not. But goodness is not arbitrary because it is derived from what exists. And God is eternal. Therefore goodness cometh from God and God does what is good because God is good.

    Since God is omnipotent does that mean he could stop being good? Yeah. So what. It doesn’t mean He will. Or perhaps God is not absolutely omnipotent, but is still as supremely powerful as possible. Who cares. All these philosophical objections to Theism are just a bunch of bullshit objections that have arisen due to the limitations of human language and thought. The Euthyphro dilemma is meaningless and stupid. You are all stupid. The only one who knows what the hell is going on is God. We are just a bunch of foolish mortals, although some of us think we are wise.

    • Ah, I’m glad to see that you’ve identified bullshit in this discussion about God.

      God created everything you stupid motherfuckers

      Any chance you could give us an actual reason? Instead of just vomiting out your theology?

      Why does God exist? Because.

      Uh, no. I guess not.

      The Euthyphro dilemma is meaningless and stupid. You are all stupid. The only one who knows what the hell is going on is God.

      Oh, I see. Just presume God and then everything works the way you’d like it?

      • Bluago

        I’m not trying to prove God’s existence you dumbass. I’m proving that the concept of God is not disproved by the Euthyphro “dilemma”. If God exists the only reason he could exist is BECAUSE. There can be no ultimate reason why something rather than nothing exists. Is that concept too hard for you to understand? The way I’d like things to be has nothing to do with the fact that if God exists he would know “what the hell is going on” because He is God.

        You are an arrogant turd. You have an inflated opinion of your own intelligence. I am also an arrogant turd, but I at least have an honest appraisal of my own intelligence. You didn’t even address my arguments, you just addressed the assumptions on which they were based. You completely missed the point. Only idiots do that.

        • Kodie

          You seem familiar! You don’t have to change your name and start a brand-new account just because you couldn’t stay away.

        • Bluago

          Dude(ette) I’ve never even visited this website before. I was just thinking about the Euthyphro dilemma tonight and how dumb it was and decided to go on a nostalgic journey back to the days when I used to waste lots of time on the internet arguing with people about religion.

        • And you’re going to come back for old time’s sake to waste our time? How lucky for us.

        • Bluago

          You’re wasting your own time you little bleeding heart. Take some responsibility for your own actions.

        • Kodie

          You were nostalgic for a time like earlier today?

        • Bluago

          No you stupid idiot. I was polite to you first and I have gone into internet tough-guy asshole mode. I’ve never visited this site before tonight, and whoever you think I am must have either been really smart or else you are just too dumb to distinguish between stupidity and truth buried by insults.

        • Kodie

          Unless you are who I suspect you are, you were never polite to me. It’s really strange that two people felt like filling their posts with rage and insults, projecting a lot of anger issues and not really saying anything. In the same day. Did your dog die today or something? Girlfriend won’t answer your texts? Mom forgot to buy the frozen burritos you like?

        • Bluago

          Whatever.

        • Tough-guy asshole mode? Cool! You must have a big dick.

        • Bluago

          Yeah I was making fun of internet tough-guys you dolt

        • Even your rage doesn’t come across clearly. You might want to just communicate like a regular person.

        • Bluago

          Regular people are boring.

        • Good point. You’re much more fun as a wild-eyed asshole than a regular person.

        • Bluago

          Right on. Nobody makes movies about boring people, because movies about boring people are boring. They make movies about either ordinary people in unusual circumstances or unusual people in ordinary circumstances, because nobody wants to watch/read about boring crap. Beverly Cleary novels suck.

        • Kodie

          Are you seven?

        • I have no idea what the hell you’re selling, but I wanna piece of it. You sell it beautifully.

          I’m not trying to prove God’s existence you dumbass. I’m proving that the concept of God is not disproved by the Euthyphro “dilemma”.

          Gosh, I really am a dumbass because that disproving God was never my goal.

          Say, I have a tip: read the post thoroughly next time.

          You are an arrogant turd. You have an inflated opinion of your own intelligence. I am also an arrogant turd, but I at least have an honest appraisal of my own intelligence.

          You focus on getting everyone to hate you, and I focus on clear arguments. Oh well—to each his own.

        • Bluago

          You’re arguing that the Euthyphro dilemma is a dilemma. You’re grasping at straws. Your arguments are like tears in the rain. If you can’t see that the Euthyphro dilemma is bullshit, then I can’t help you. You are destined to wallow about in your “clear arguments” until you either die or become too senile to even think you understand philosophy.

          What you should do is get more in tune with nature. Go lie naked in a field of flowers and stare up at the clouds and ponder your own existence without the help of old dead guys who confused themselves and others thousands of years ago. The Euthyphro dilemma is merely linguistic shenaniganery.

          And I never said that you were trying to disprove God with the Euthyphro dilemma, if you want to get technical. I said I was proving that it didn’t disprove the CONCEPT of God. Poor choice of words, perhaps, but you have once again addressed nothing of substance I have written. You only care about the inflammatory crap I say, which is understandable considering humans’ thoughts are ruled primarily by emotion and insults are by default more interesting than sound arguments.

          Cool beans.

        • If you can’t see that the Euthyphro dilemma is bullshit, then I can’t help you.

          I can’t see that it’s bullshit. You can’t help me.

          You are destined to wallow about in your “clear arguments” until you either die or become too senile to even think you understand philosophy.

          Nothing I love better than to hear a pompous asshole talk down to me.

          The Euthyphro dilemma is merely linguistic shenaniganery.

          My only lament in this whole fascinating chat is that you understand why it’s bullshit and yet you won’t share with us the secret.

          Durn.

          And I never said that you were trying to disprove God with the Euthyphro dilemma, if you want to get technical. I said I was proving that it didn’t disprove the CONCEPT of God.

          Uh yeah. Been there, lampooned that. But thanks for the pleasant memory.

          you have once again addressed nothing of substance I have written

          I think you’re right. Next time, write something worth responding to.

          considering humans’ thoughts are ruled primarily by emotion and insults are by default more interesting than sound arguments.

          Life’s a mirror, pal. Act like an asshole and you get treated like one.

        • Bluago

          One of the problems with the Euthyphro dilemma is that no one even defines what the hell they mean by “good”. Is good a concept? For example, we could say that a good action is an action which leads to the greatest prosperity/happiness/whatever for the sentient beings in a given world. Concepts do not exist independently of minds. Therefore God commands what is good because it is good but good wouldn’t even exist without God because nothing would exist without God and therefore the concept of a “good” that is independent of God is a ridiculous notion and the Euthyphro dilemma is vapid.

        • no one even defines what the hell they mean by “good”.

          No, they don’t. Is that required for discussing the Euthyphro dilemma? I don’t think so.

        • Bluago

          You don’t think so? You don’t think you should define your terms before making an argument? Therein lies your problem: you have no understanding of language and its limitations. You can’t even comprehend what I wrote. How cute. How “pompous” of me to say what I just said. I should write a book on the psychology of trolls (in very simple English) so that people like you can understand how to respond to them, and so that people like Kodie can understand how to distinguish between different ones.

          To be clear: when I insult you I am trolling (sort of), but the argument I’ve been making that no one’s even attempting to refute because they apparently can’t even wrap their brains around it is a serious argument.

        • Bluago

          And by trolling “sort of” I mean that although the insults may be true I actually don’t give a poop and am not angry in the slightest when I say them. I just say them to get a rise out of you fools, and it works like a charm.

          And now if you’ll excuse me my mommy says its time for me to go to beddy-bye. I got to get my rest for my doctor’s appointment (concerning my psychological health, or course) tomorrow, ya know.

        • The asshole laughs last? Or perhaps there’s some other maxim that I’m missing. I’m missing a lot in what you write.

        • Kodie

          So you’re admitting you’re a sock puppet?

        • You don’t think you should define your terms before making an argument?

          When the argument turns on that definition, yes. Not so here.

          Change the dilemma from “Is something good because God says so, or does God say so because it’s good?” to “Is something blah because God says so, or does God say so because it’s blah?” The dilemma doesn’t care.

          You can’t even comprehend what I wrote. How cute.

          And don’t forget that I don’t care, either.

          the argument I ‘ve been making that no one’s even attempting to refute because they apparently can’t even wrap their brains around it is a serious argument.

          The argument “your argument sucks!”? No, I guess I can’t wrap my brain around it.

        • Bluago

          So you think the argument “is something poopy because God says so, or does God say so because it’s poopy?” is a serious argument? It’s linguistical nonsense! You truly are fucking stupid. I wish we could go back to the days before modern technology when everyone just lived humble lives toiling in the dirt from dawn till dusk. I should become Amish. All this technology gives dumb people too much free time to make fools of themselves on the internet.

          Hahahaha I’m laughing at your response in advance which would probably have included something directing that last statement back at me had I not just written this sentence.

        • It’s linguistical nonsense!

          Wrong again. The point of the Euthyphro dilemma is to explore the origin of something. That something isn’t the point.

          You truly are fucking stupid. I wish we could go back to the days before modern technology when everyone just lived humble lives toiling in the dirt from dawn till dusk. I should become Amish.

          Powerful wisdom. I think I’ll needlepoint that, thanks.

          And BTW, are you going to contribute to the conversation or just be an asshole? Cuz it sounds like you’re a waste of space.

        • Kodie

          You’re not a fan of demonstrating how intelligent you are. Or…. I mean, I guess you are? You aren’t.

        • Pofarmer

          “All this technology gives dumb people too much free time to make fools of themselves on the internet.”

          Ding ding ding ding.

        • Kodie

          No, we understand. You have a gigantic ego that you think if you are blustery enough, we’ll think you’re legitimately making arguments.

        • Bluago

          Here I will enlighten you on my psychology.

          1. I know that no matter how respectful I am, no one will ever be persuaded because I’ve never seen a single person get persuaded about anything by anyone on the internet, ever
          2. I was in a weird mood last night, and slightly bored
          3. I figured it would be fun to argue about some crap in an extremely insulting way, and it was, but now the thrill is gone
          4. You guys need to get a life

        • Kodie

          1. You may lack the coherence to persuade anyone.
          1a. People are persuaded by things they see on the internet all the time, but not necessarily when or where you can see them.
          1b. Internet discussions like this (or others) do not necessarily persuade anyone engaged in the argument immediately, but may be persuasive to lurkers who don’t report their conversion or deconversion to your majesty.

          2. Fuck your weird mood. Hope your ma brought you those burritos.

          3. What a drag it is when you have to take your medicine and calm down.

          4. Hypocrite.

        • Bluago

          I smell your stench.

        • Kodie

          I don’t know what you mean by that.

        • Pofarmer

          So, the written word has never persuaded anybody ever?

        • Dys

          4. You guys need to get a life

          And clearly so do you. And you need to come up with better arguments, because the one you’re going with doesn’t work.

        • MNb

          Did he provide an argument? I must have missed it.

        • Kodie

          If by “argument,” you mean “tried to pick a fight”.

        • Dys

          Basically, he doesn’t have one. He’s just providing his own answer to the Euthyphro dilemma without realizing it, and pretending that it somehow deflates the argument.

        • Dys

          One of the problems with the Euthyphro dilemma is that no one even defines what the hell they mean by “good”.

          Probably because the Euthyphro dilemma is entirely about how good is defined in the first place. Is it defined by God, or something else?

          Most apologists that I’ve run into go with “God determines what is good” and take the “mysterious ways” escape hatch on the dilemma for all the things that don’t match up.

        • Pofarmer

          I think we need to go back a level of ridiculous.

        • Dys

          ponder your own existence without the help of old dead guys who confused themselves and others thousands of years ago.

          Cool. So we can completely dismiss the bible, and realize that we are on a small dot in a vast, indifferent universe and yet we’re connected to it. And there’s no god necessary.

          default more interesting than sound arguments.

          At least it would be, but you haven’t made any sound arguments.

        • Pofarmer

          “There can be no ultimate reason why something rather than nothing exists.”

          Oddly enough, you may be onto something there.

    • Greg G.

      Therefore goodness is not an arbitrary concept but neither does it exist independently of the Almighty.

      If God made up what is good, then it’s arbitrary. He could have made it a virtue to act like an ass on the internet. He could even lie about what is objectively good.

      • Bluago

        The argument I was making is that God created a world in which certain actions (as compared to other actions) could lead to greater prosperity for the creatures within that world. So what is good is not just arbitrarily chosen, but chosen based on which actions lead to the greatest prosperity in that world. So “good” is still arbitrary in a certain sense, but a rather meaningless one. “Good” is a concept and cannot exist without residing in a mind. Therefore the concepts of good and evil existed before the world did, in the mind of God, but the specific actions that are good could not have existed until the world was born. God chooses to be good, but the concept of goodness is not independent of God.

        • Dys

          chosen based on which actions lead to the greatest prosperity in that world.

          But since it’s God and he set the whole thing up, the actions that lead to greater prosperity are likewise arbitrary. You’ve just pushed the arbitrariness back a level.

          “Good” is a concept and cannot exist without residing in a mind. Therefore the concepts of good and evil existed before the world did

          You’ve made the assertion, but really haven’t defended it. Good and evil are concepts, but they’re concepts mankind created.

        • Bluago

          Good actions are arbitrary, but the concept of good is not (although the word “good” is). And you haven’t backed up your assertion that good and evil are concepts mankind created. But that’s not the point. Discussions of the Euthyphro dilemma have nothing to do with evidence.

        • Pofarmer

          Is there any evidence that good and evil aren’t human related concepts? It used to be considered good if you just didn’t beat your slave to death. Now slavery is considered evil. It used to be considered good to burn apostates at the stake. Now that is generally considered evil in Christianity, but not in Islam in many places. It would seem the one who needs to back up their assertions here-is you.

        • Besides bluster and bullshit, do you have any arguments that are actually against the summary of the problem of Euthyphro above?

        • Dys

          Correction: the concept of good is most definitely arbitrary if God sets it – that was the point I was making. If God created everything, the actions and the concept are all arbitrary. He could have set them up any way he pleased and decided that would constitute good, right?

          And you haven’t backed up your assertion that good and evil are concepts mankind created.

          Well, there are only a few select species with any notion of morality at all. We don’t have any evidence of mystical deities in the aether dealing with it.

        • Pofarmer

          “God created a world in which certain actions (as compared to other actions) could lead to greater prosperity for the creatures within that world.”

          I wonder if you could demonstrate that? It sounds suspiciously like evolution

          “Good is a concept and cannot exist without residing in a mind.”.

          Which is a problem for an immaterial God. Not so for humans. It’s almost like good and evil are human concepts developed to describe human actions. It seems to me that good and evil didn’t exist as concepts until humanity formulated them.

        • Greg G.

          That raises the question of whether God made up the actions deemed good and then created a world where those actions are beneficial or designed a world and then just called some optimal strategies “good”.

          No matter what the wishes of the god are, what the language-bearers deem beneficial will be called “good”. If the god disagrees, then it undermines your point. But things that are good for one group is bad for another, so each will appeal to a god, usually different gods to arbitrate. All other things equal, the gods tend to favor the one with the best weapons.

          Then there is the question of how we are really supposed to know what the gods think are good. If it was a matter of thriving being good, necessities, like carbon atoms, would not be in limited supply. Populations size is maintained by predation and disease or else by Malthusian limits. All we get from the Bible on that is “Go forth and multiply”.

          Life started out converting carbon compounds in to cells that reproduced. Eventually most of the carbon compounds were part of other life forms so some life forms began to exploit others. Some began to defend themselves by sticking together to be too big to eat but some of those became predators, too. Eventually, they became more complex and the tradition continued. Is that the way God planned it or is it just evolution in a mindless universe?

          At best, your argument turns it into the Euthyphro Trilemma, still with each horn being implausible.

    • Pofarmer

      All these philosophical objections to Theism are do the the incoherent presuppositional thinking demonstrated in your post.

      • Dys

        If apologists didn’t have presuppositionalism, they wouldn’t have much of anything at all.

    • Dys

      Therefore goodness is not an arbitrary concept but neither does it exist independently of the Almighty.

      Okay…you just explained why it is arbitrary, but then declared it really isn’t.

      since God is Love

      But he’s not – that’s the illogical bumper sticker liberal hippy God definition. Love is an emotion, not an entity.

      All these philosophical objections to Theism are just a bunch of
      bullshit objections that have arisen due to the limitations of human
      language and thought

      Gotta love a smartass who thinks he can just reject the problems out of hand without dealing honestly with any of them.

      The only one who knows what the hell is going on is God.

      The only thing that’s perfectly clear is that you don’t have any idea what’s going on at all. But you’d have to demonstrate there’s a god in the first place for your statement to be true.

  • Benjamin Wirtz

    This article is not the slam dunk the author thinks it is. Let’s start with his store analogy. The manager could try to set the price but if it is not within a range that the market will accept, than he will go out of business, so this actually does more to disprove his point than to prove it. Then an assumption he makes is just because something remains a dilemma makes it irreconcilable. Am I male because i have a Y chromosome or do I have a Y chromosome because I am male? This looks like a dilemma ion the surface but it is not at all irreconcilable as it describes the nature of something.

    • The manager could try to set the price but if it is not within a range that the market will accept, than he will go out of business

      It’s an analogy. If there were no differences, it wouldn’t be an analogy.

      There are lots of differences. The manager is mortal, but God is not; the manager is forgetful, but God is not; and so on.

      You’ve done nothing to overturn the main conclusion of the post.

      just because something remains a dilemma makes it irreconcilable

      In this case, it’s a dilemma because neither option is palatable.

  • scdorman

    Ok, @BobSeidensticker:disqus here is what I think.

    “Is something good because God’s nature says so…”

    Yes. God’s nature is the objective standard for moral values. However, this does not make moral values arbitrary. Why? God did not make this standard up nor can he change it. This moral standard in God’s nature has always been what it is. It could never not exist or change. It is necessarily so. So, we can have this objective standard for moral values to reference yet it is not arbitrary or independent of God either. So, the euthyphro dilemma is a false dilemma because it can be solved. Now, “If the non-theist should demand, “Why pick God’s nature as definitive of the Good?” the answer is that God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, and a being which is the paradigm of goodness is greater than one which merely exemplifies goodness. Unless we are nihilists, we have to recognize some ultimate standard of value, and God is the least arbitrary stopping point.” 1

    1. Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (p. 182). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

    • Pofarmer

      ONce again. How do we reference it? How do we know it? How do we account for all the differences in morality between groups? How did god access these standards if he didn’t initiate them?

      • scdorman

        “How do we reference it?”

        Though our conscience, reasoning and the bible, cause it is from God (goodness itself).

        “How do we know it?”

        We know objective moral values and duties exit, because of our moral experience and that we don’t have any good reason to believe that these moral beliefs are all false, which is what you would have to prove to show (2) of the moral argument is false.

        “How do we account for all the differences in morality between groups?”

        Some things can be true of me here in america, but not in another culture. Something could be objectively right for me to do relative to a context.

        It could be that our morality doesn’t really differ. It just differs in how we accomplish what it right or wrong. For example, “all cultures have some form of greeting, which is an expression of love and respect. However, cultures differ widely on just what that greeting is. In some it is a kiss; in others it is a hug; and in still others it is a handshake or a bow. What should be done is common to all cultures, but how it should be done differs.”1

        “How did god access these standards if he didn’t initiate them?”

        He is the standard. So, it is not hard for him to access them.

        1. Geisler, Norman L.; Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Kindle Locations 3383-3385). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

        • Greg G.

          But you have defined objective morality as independent of what human beings believe, yet your method of referencing it is “by conscience, reasoning, and the bible” which are totally human sources. The Bible has some wicked stuff in it that goes against our modern day reasoning and conscience, like slavery and how it is OK to beat a slave to death if he suffers a day or two before dying. If you don’t have a moral system before you read the Bible, you don’t know which parts to reject, but if you do have a moral system already, you don’t need the Bible.

        • MNb

          “Though our conscience, reasoning and the bible, cause it is from God (goodness itself).”
          More circularity.
          Objective morals come from the Bible, the Bible comes from God, who is by definition goodness and hence encompasses objective morals, which proves that there is a god.

        • Rudy R

          scdorman claims he has a B.A. in philosophy. If he’s telling the truth, then his college should have their accreditation stripped.

        • MNb

          Indeed – that thought occurred to me as well. I had to explain to him in detail how induction works.

        • His arguments are no worse than WLC’s. Neither of them can see the holes or anticipate what we’re going to say in response. And Craig has two doctorates–maybe those institutions should be ashamed.

        • Rudy R

          You know what they say, you can lead a horse to the water….

        • Pofarmer

          I think you have a case here if someone getting a degree to use it as apologetics, rather thsn getting a degree for the knowledge of it. Evangelicals are pushing people to do just that. They want to get more theists in philosophy departments.

        • Rudy R

          My comment was mainly snarky, but I agree with your point. How else can you explain someone with a biology degree that doesn’t believe in evolution, if nothing else but to give Creationism credibility.

        • Pofarmer

          “Though our conscience, reasoning and the bible, cause it is from God (goodness itself).”

          Here’s an idea. Work on an argument that isn’t merely definitional, circular, or question begging

          “that we don’t have any good reason to believe that these moral beliefs are all false, ”

          More nonsense. We don’t have to assume our moral beleifs are false to assume they’re not divinely inspired

          “He is the standard. So, it is not hard for him to access them.”

          That isn’t what you said.

    • God consults his nature like you consult your conscience? This turns God into a messenger boy. Morality is fixed, and he’s simply reporting it to us.

      And objective morality remains (1) to be defined and (2) to be justified. After all our back and forth, you’ve provided nothing more compelling than a simple common sense appeal to objective morality that is better explained by natural causes.

    • Michael Neville

      a being which is the paradigm of goodness

      Then your god doesn’t qualify. Read the Old Testament. Yahweh kills people just because he can. In Exodus Pharaoh won’t listen to Moses so Yahweh kills the first born of Egypt. The terms “innocent bystander” and “collateral damage” are meaningless to your sadistic bully of a god. Plus why won’t Pharaoh listen? Because Yahweh “hardened his heart” (Ex 9:12). Ol’ Yahweh set Pharaoh up to fail and so a bunch of children get killed. Justify your “paradigm of goodness” killing kids. And if you give me “gawd works in mysterious ways” then I’ll know you’re just blowing smoke.

      William Lane Craig does a song and dance about “whatever gawd does is automatically good and moral even if it were done by anyone else it would be considered bad and immoral.” That is special pleading and is considered a fallacy (something which Billy Lane knows but ignores).

      • After Job complains, God tells him, “Yeah, get back to me after you’ve created a frikkin’ world, bitch.” God makes clear that might makes right, and he’s got the might.

    • Dys

      So, we can have this objective standard for moral values to reference yet it is not arbitrary

      You haven’t eliminated arbitrariness at all. In order to do that, you would need to explain why God’s nature is the way it is, and not some other way. You haven’t – instead you’ve just declared a stopping point and said “that’s just the way it is”.