How Much Faith to Be an Atheist? Geisler and Turek’s Moral Argument.

How Much Faith to Be an Atheist? Geisler and Turek’s Moral Argument. October 17, 2019

This is a continuation of my response to I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek. Though fifteen years old, this book continues to be a bestseller in the category of Christian apologetics. Part 1 of the critique is here.

Morality (Mother Teresa isn’t a good example)

Geisler and Turek (GT) spend 25 pages giving their argument for a divine source for morality. I’ve written a lot about the weak Christian justification for morality before (some of those posts are listed below), but this is the most thorough version of the Christian argument to which I’ve responded.

That doesn’t mean that it’s well thought out. The chapter is titled, “Mother Teresa vs. Hitler,” and we’re already off to a bad start. Mother Teresa isn’t the saint that GT imagine (well, okay, literally, she is). She has received much criticism. She was little concerned about healing her patients or even preventing their pain. She saw her patients’ suffering as a moral crucible and said, “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.” The goal of modern medicine is precisely the opposite—not to celebrate suffering and disease but to fight it.

GT’s moral arguments are shallow, and the same few mistakes are made repeatedly. I’ll give a fair amount of the argument rather than simplifying it, in the hope that this prepares you for similar arguments. Their argument is aimed at the choir. The thinking is confused and sloppy and at best is a pat on the head to assure Christians that they’ve backed the right horse.

The Moral Argument

At this point in the book, GT have given us their Cosmological and Teleological arguments. Their third is the Moral Law argument:

1. Every law has a law giver

2. There is a Moral Law

3. Therefore, there is a Moral Law Giver (page 171)

Newton’s Second Law of Motion (f = ma) is also a law. Must there be a physics law giver? GT will say yes, but we need evidence. With GT, we rarely go beyond an intuitive, kinda-feels-right type of argument, but I suppose that works well with their target audience.

One definition of objective morality . . .

The theme running through this argument is a Moral Law that mimics the Greek god Proteus, changing shape whenever we grab it. The Moral Law is a claim of objective morality, but “objective morality” is never clearly defined. Let’s start with William Lane Craig’s definition of objective morality: “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”

And let me define my opposing hypothesis, the natural morality position. Morality comes from two places. Our programming (from evolution) explains the traits that are largely common across all societies such as the Golden Rule. We’re all the same species, so it’s not surprising that we respond in similar ways to moral challenges. Our customs (from society) explain society-specific attitudes to issues like capital punishment, sex, blasphemy, honor, and so on. I will argue here that natural morality explains what we see better than GT’s Moral Law hypothesis.

More from GT:

Without an objective standard of meaning and morality, then life is meaningless and there’s nothing absolutely right or wrong. Everything is merely a matter of opinion. (171)

Bullshit. Look up “meaning” and “morality” in the dictionary, and you will find no mention of an objective standard. Our colloquial uses of meaning and morality work just fine in supporting a meaningful life. GT denigrate our human evaluation of morality as “merely” opinion, but I await evidence that Christians do things differently. It’s easy to appeal to an objective standard; the hard part is showing that that standard actually exists.

. . . but wait! There are more!

GT don’t feel obliged to stick with just one definition of objective morality.

When we say the Moral Law exists, we mean that all people are impressed with a fundamental sense of right and wrong. (171)

Redefinition! Now the Moral Law is that which we all feel. I suppose this is an appeal to our moral conscience? The focus is now on people, while William Lane Craig’s definition was on a morality grounded outside people.

Everyone knows there are absolute moral obligations. An absolute moral obligation is something that is binding on all people, at all times, in all places. And an absolute Moral Law implies an absolute Moral Law Giver. (171)

How about “slavery is wrong”? Is that binding on all people, at all times, in all places? I wonder why we didn’t get that from God and, indeed, got the opposite. Apparently in God’s youth, coveting needed prohibiting but not slavery.

Let me invent a term that will get some use as we go through this chapter: the Assumed Objectivity Fallacy. GT declares, “Everyone knows there are absolute moral obligations”? Wrong—the Assumed Objectivity Fallacy is either assuming without evidence that objective morals exist or assuming that everyone knows and accepts objective morality.

Back to GT:

This does not mean that every moral issue has easily recognizable answers. (171)

Redefinition! Now the Moral Law is something that we only dimly feel. The Moral Law is binding on all people . . . but we don’t really know for sure what the Moral Law is saying at every moral fork in the road. That seems unfair—to be bound by a law that we don’t understand—but I suppose GT’s god works in mysterious ways.

The challenge I like to give any believer in objective morality is to take some moral issue of the day—abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, capital punishment—and give us a resolution of the issue that is (1) objectively correct and that (2) everyone can see is correct. Like GT, they justify neither the claim that it exists nor that this Moral Law is reliably accessible. I wonder then, what good is it?

GT’s childlike idea that our morality is objective isn’t supported by the dictionary or everyday experience. Being a grownup is apparently easier for some of us than others.

Continue with part 2.

Other posts responding to Christian views of morality:

If they can get you asking the wrong questions,
they don’t have to worry about the answers.
— Thomas Pynchon

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/17/15.)

Image from thierry ehrmann, CC license

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  • Brian Westley

    I think the easiest argument against objective morals (or, at least, morals that are treated as objective) is to look at one person who believes in some set of morals “X” due to her religion, and then, after changing to a different religion with a different set of morals “Y”, simply pointing out that some of her morals changed even though the only change was inside her head, which looks exactly the same as subjective morals.

    • I wish simply having a compelling argument were our only problem.

  • Jim Jones

    > the Moral Law argument

    1 & 2 are unproven assumptions and, IMO, wrong. Their argument fails.

    • Yup

    • NS Alito

      1. Every law has a law giver

      I wonder if G&T ever addressed English common law.

  • Raging Bee

    Wow, these hacks are trying REALLY REALLY HARD to stay away from the one definition of “objective morality” that actually works: rules of behavior based on corroborated observation of the beneficial (good) and harmful (bad) consequences of actions. I mean, it’s almost like they don’t want to accept any moral code, no matter how good it is for how many people, if it can’t be plausibly linked to their imaginary God…

    • Alan Mill

      Good and bad are subjective and cannot be used as an objective measure of behaviour.
      That’s one reason why a god’s “good” cannot be used as an objective measure of behaviour.
      Theists also can’t get an ought from an is and so can’t ground moral obligation in obeying their alleged god’s alleged commands.
      That and the fact that there is not a shred of credible objective evidence for any god.

      • Raging Bee

        Good and bad are subjective and cannot be used as an objective measure of behaviour.

        Not if they’re based on objective facts of benefits or harm done.

        • Michael Neville

          I hate to open a can of worms but both sides of the abortion debate consider they have objective facts of benefits and harm done.

        • Doubting Thomas

          One side is wrong.

        • Raging Bee

          So what? That doesn’t invalidate the moral reasoning process I described.

        • Michael Neville

          It does when there’s disagreement on what the “objective facts of benefits or harm” are.

        • Raging Bee

          No, it doesn’t, just like yesterday’s disputes over geocentrism vs. heliocentrism didn’t invalidate astronomy; and just like some people’s adamant refusal to accept evolution doesn’t invalidate biology.

        • Michael Neville

          You and I may agree on the facts of abortion, but our opponents refuse to acknowledge those facts and substitute their own to justify their stance. Trying to equate the abortion debate to evolution vs creationism doesn’t cut it. There is no almost universal consensus on abortion.

        • Michael Murray

          Surely everyone here agrees that the immortal soul enters the baby at the moment of conception ? So we can all start from that basic fact.

        • Lark62

          Please tell me this is snark.

        • Greg G.

          MM is not above snark.

        • Lord Backwater

          I can give you Snark 5 Captain, but you’ll blow the engines!

        • Michael Murray

          Yep it’s been snark from the moment I conceived it. Scary though how easy it would be to find someone saying that completely seriously.

        • Raging Bee

          “I had tried [as a Nazi propagandist during WW-II] to be merely ridiculous; but that is hard to manage when people are so unwilling to laugh, so incapable of thought, so eager to believe and snarl and hate. So many people wanted to believe me. Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”
          –Howard W. Campbell, Jr., from Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

        • Lark62

          I’ve had Christians seriously and confidently inform me that putting crosses on war memorials is fine because crosses are a worldwide symbol used to honor the dead. A cross on a memorial doesn’t indicate christianity.

          Scary that these people breed.

        • Otto

          So the snark has a soul…nice!

        • Poe’s Law, I’m afraid.

        • NS Alito

          Having agreed that the immortal soul enters the baby at the moment of conception, we now agree that the soul of a blastocyst that dies goes straight to {limbo, heaven, hell}.

          I’m thinking of writing up a “choose your own morality” logic in the form of a “choose your own adventure” story. The tricky part would be dealing with the nature of ensoulment of identical twins (1/2 soul?) and chimeras (2 souls?).

        • Michael Murray

          Indeed. And as the survival rate from conception to birth is quite low (something like 70 – 80 % I forget the number ) heaven is predominantly full of blastocysts. For some reason a small minority of us have to do the whole, birth, free will, risk torment in hell for all eternity thing.

        • NS Alito

          …but our opponents refuse to acknowledge those facts and substitute their own to justify their stance.

          The primary function of the human cerebral cortex is to rationalize decisions the limbic system makes. 😉

        • Greg G.

          The primary function of the human cerebral cortex is to rationalize decisions the limbic system makes. 😉

          I have long thought that but my cerebral cortex couldn’t come up with the words.

        • The big difference between these two debates is that one is moral and the other isn’t. Still, it seems to me that obscurantist tactics work effectively in both.

        • Anri

          The problem with this is that it’s like the old joke about driving on the highway: everyone driving slower than me is a moron, everyone driving faster is a daredevil.

          In discussions involving, for example, how much security is worth how much surrender of liberty, would you agree that entirely reasonable people can have differing opinions on the topic, with no clear-cut way to determine who is objectively right?

          On some topics there are certainly unvarnished facts and opinions that fly in the face of them. On other topics, this is much less the case.

        • Michael Murray

          I think there was a similar disagreement on a recent thread here about homophobia on how much free speech it was important to have versus how much damage it can cause. Even if you could precisely measure the amount of damage and agree on the facts there is still going to be disagreement on the relative importance of free speech.

        • Raging Bee

          I never denied that reasonable people could have differing opinions of right vs. wrong; nor did I ever deny that many moral issues can be extremely complicated and hard to resolve. But again, neither of those facts invalidate the principle of fact-based objective moral reasoning.

        • Lord Backwater

          But again, neither of those facts invalidate the principle of fact-based objective moral reasoning.

          Who gets to define their opinion as ‘objective’? You are just trying to smuggle in subjectivity with a shell game.

        • Raging Bee

          This isn’t about defining opinions as “objective,” it’s about reasoning based on the consequences of actions. Of course everyone has opinions, and of course they’re all self-serving to varying degrees; but moral reasoning is done COLLECTIVELY, as people negotiate and reconcile their differing-but-often-congruent opinions to arrive at a consensus on “what we agree to prohibit because we all don’t want it to happen to us” and “what’s observed to work best for the greatest number of people.”

        • Lark62

          Each society, each group of humans in a given time and place will create a collective morality. But there is nothing permanent or absolute about that morality and the only thing certain is that no other humans in any other culture will not share that morality in its entirety.

          Is it immoral for a woman to show her ankles? It is immoral for a man to show his nipples when wearing a swim suit? Is it immoral to hang someone for theft?

        • Lord Backwater

          Collective != objective. QED.

          As pointed out in another comment, the standard for whose views get to be included in the collective has changed within the last couple centuries, which should inform the perceptive thinker.
          “greatest number of people” – so chimpanzees get no consideration whatsover? Other non-human animals?

        • Raging Bee

          Actually, yes, moral reasoning has progressed to at least begin to include other animal species; both because we’re more in agreement that cruelty to animals is wrong, and because we’re realizing we need those other species as part of a thriving biosphere that benefits us.

          …the standard for whose views get to be included in the collective has changed within the last couple centuries…

          Yes, that’s called progress; and it’s a result of evolving reality-based moral reasoning: we’re observing that discrimination is (to put it mildly) harmful to innocent people in many significant ways, and such observations are the basis for reasoned lawmaking and policies aimed at correcting such harms.

        • Lord Backwater

          You don’t realise it yet, but you have admitted the weakness of your argument. What was considered “objective” a few centuries ago is different from what is considered “objective today. This is a serious problem.

        • Lark62

          I think this is what they call an “own goal”.

        • Raging Bee

          No more serious than the problem of geocentrism giving way to heliocentrism.

        • Lord Backwater

          Yes, that’s called progress…

          Once upon a time, when I was young; paving over swamps to build shopping malls was called ‘progress’. That was before swamps were called ‘wetlands’ and big boxes became empty boxes.

        • Raging Bee

          So that means…what? People made wrong decisions before therefore we can never trust them to be right about anything? That’s what religious obscurantists say about science: “Scientists change their minds all the time, therefore we can never trust them! We have to trust the Word of (our) God (as we interpret it) instead, because that NEVER CHANGES and is therefore always right!”

        • Lord Backwater

          We are not talking about epistemology, we are talking aesthetics. Thus, the comparison to science is inapt.

        • Raging Bee

          Aesthetics? Please. Nice dodge, but it doesn’t work.

        • NS Alito

          A lot of approaches which work best for the greatest number of people is counter-intuitive.

        • Anri

          They don’t invalidate it the principle, just demonstrate its limits.

        • Phil Rimmer

          I think the issue of personhood is badly dealt with by one side. I cannot see they offer facts, only facts about some people’s subjective feelings, the which exist possibly bootstrapped by culture.

        • Lord Backwater

          One side claims to have scientific backing but an examination of their ideas shows they are very much mistaken.

        • NS Alito

          One side claims to have scientific backing but an examination of their ideas shows they are very much mistaken.

          Both sides claim to have scientific backing. The closest proxy I have to the concept of a “soul” is self-awareness.

        • NS Alito

          AIUI, most people see their personal biases as based on objective facts.

        • Raging Bee

          And we’re not always wrong about that either.

        • When they conflate “objective morality” with “strongly felt moral intuitions,” they’re now right, but they’ve abused the definition.

        • Lord Backwater

          Not if they’re based on objective facts of benefits or harm done.

          You are trying to smuggle in a subjective standard and call it objective. Benefit for whom? Harm to whom?

        • Lark62

          Not if they’re based on objective facts of benefits or harm done.

          That’s nonsense. People in 1930s Germany produced plenty of “objective facts” that killing the mentally impaired would benefit society.

          Today’s Trumpists claim to have “objective facts” that locking up children and arresting parents working to feed their families will make America “great again.”

          There is no such thing as universal objective morality. Just humans who think their own subjective morality is best and who create deities to back them up.

        • Raging Bee

          People in 1930s Germany produced plenty of “objective facts” that killing the mentally impaired would benefit society.

          And plenty of other people understood that was all BS. And plenty of people used objective moral reasoning to show that the Nazi regime was about as close to absolute evil as a regime can get, and got together to overthrow it.

          Seriously, this is all obvious and documented fact. Why are you so eager to deny it? Do you not WANT people to engage in fact-based moral reasoning? Or do you not want to admit there’s an objective basis for certain progressive justice movements?

        • Lark62

          Yes, “some people” disagreed, because morality is not absolute. But a lot more people agreed with killing “undesirables” than would admit to it later.

          What is obvious is that every human group, large and small, creates and enforces standards of behavior. And these standards differ between every single culture and, quite often, within a single place and time.

          Look at the US today and the morality of how immigrants should be treated. I am disgusted by the behavior of our government, locking up children and deporting parents who just dropped off kids at school, while others chant “National Security! National Security! Rah Rah Rah.”

          There is no such thing as absolute morality. And wishing and pretending won’t make it so. “Do I not WANT people to” put a fully restored 1956 Chevy in my driveway, signed over to me? Yes, but that doesn’t change the reality of the old Honda sitting in that spot.

          Do you not WANT people to engage in fact-based moral reasoning? Or do you not want to admit there’s an objective basis for certain progressive justice movements?

          Fact based moral reasoning would be a lovely change. That pretty much rules out “I won’t bake a cake for those yucky gays, because 3000 years ago some middle eastern shepherds said gays were yucky. Just like shrimp.” and “Lock up those immigrants because Jesus was a Republican.” and ” A non-viable collection of cells without a nervous system is a person who’s needs trump those of the living, breathing, fully formed woman who’s life or well being is at risk.”

          The fact is that there is no objective morality. It is on us, in this place and time, to sort out what standards of conduct will make this a better place to live here and now. It is not easy. The answers are not clear. Sometimes there simply is no clear or easy answer. Sometimes no path is fully right or good.

          But trying to pass off this hard work of trial and negotiation with “But my Imaginary Friend said the answer should be X” is garbage.

        • Raging Bee

          The fact is that there is no objective morality.

          I have explicitly shown that there is. (Note I’m saying “objective,” not “absolute” — the latter is an outdated subjective concept that we can leave to the religious authoritarians.) The fact that large numbers of people don’t consistently accept or uphold it, doesn’t make it less real or objective; and it sure as hell doesn’t invalidate any of our rational arguments against any of the injustices you just mentioned.

          Is it perfect? Of course not; like astronomy and physics, it will never be perfect as long as imperfect creatures are doing it. But it’s the best source of morality we have, so there’s no use denying its validity altogether.

        • Lark62

          I have explicitly shown that there is. (Note I’m saying “objective,” not “absolute”

          LoL. ‘Fraid not.

          You have in fact provided excellent support for the subjective nature of morality and the non existence of “objective morality.”

          Actually, yes, moral reasoning has progressed to at least begin to include other animal species; both because we’re more in agreement that cruelty to animals is wrong, and because we’re realizing we need those other species as part of a thriving biosphere that benefits us.

          …the standard for whose views get to be included in the collective has changed within the last couple centuries…

          Yes, that’s called progress; and it’s a result of evolving reality-based moral reasoning: we’re observing that discrimination is (to put it mildly) harmful to innocent people in many significant ways, and such observations are the basis for reasoned lawmaking and policies aimed at correcting such harms.

          This is an excellent description of changeable subjective morality. People living in one time and place recognize the implications and harm of things like animal cruelty or segregation and change the norms of their times.

          When I was young, drunk driving was a joke and people laughed about episodes of drunk driving in polite conversation.

          When MADD repeatedly and pointedly communicated the harm caused by drunk drivers, laughter and polite acceptance gradually became unacceptable. Morality changed – in 20th century America. But there is no standard of drunk driving response. There are just people, here and now, growing, learning and changing.

          Of course we as a society think our present morality is as close as it gets to some perfect standard of morality. If we thought our moral structure were wrong, we would try to change it.

          But humans living in other times and places with other cultural norms would likely find our morality wrong, misguided or baffling. Because there is not objective standard.

        • Alan Mill

          G’day Raging Bee

          Good and bad don’t work as a measuring stick for our behaviour as what is good for me can be bad for you and vice versa. What’s good and bad is subjective and not universal.

          A measuring stick for our behaviour has to be mutual, the same for everyone.

          Morality is the rules of social living, encapsulated in the Golden Rule. I prefer Confucius’ version over the New Testament’s.

          The rules of social living are political rules as morality deals with power relationships.

          Morality is a political act so it needs to be grounded in a political idea.

          Confucius was of the view that this political idea is mutual peace and confidence.

          Mutual peace is the same for everyone, whether they agree with practicing it or not.

          Mutual peace is external to an individual mind as it involves two or more people.

          As a general rule, breaching mutual peace with others is doing wrong. Sustaining or creating mutual peace is doing right. Murder is the most extreme breach of mutual peace. Rape and slavery, assault and theft, lying and cheating are all breaches of mutual peace. Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you means don’t breach the mutual peace you have with others.

        • Raging Bee

          Good and bad don’t work as a measuring stick for our behaviour as what is good for me can be bad for you and vice versa.

          The rest of your comment pretty much proves your first sentence wrong.

        • Alan Mill

          No it doesn’t as it doesn’t use subjective good as a measuring stick for our behaviour.
          Theism tries to use good as a measuring stick and fails as good is subjective and internal to an individual mind, be that mind human, or if it existed, a god’s.
          Mutual peace is objective as it is external to an individual mind and free of bias when used as an impartial spectator.
          The Biblical god is very subjective.

        • Raging Bee

          We’re not “using subjective good,” we’re using objective facts of benefits vs. harms to individuals.

        • Alan Mill

          Benefit and harm are subjective too as benefit and harm are really just another way of saying good and bad. Something that is beneficial to you may be harmful to me, so the measure is not mutual.

        • Raging Bee

          No, they are not subjective. Even when something is beneficial to one and harmful to the other, those benefits and harms are objectively verifiable.

          Your refusal to accept this fact raises serious questions about your motives.

        • Alan Mill

          Raging Bee
          I think you are missing the point.
          The benefits and harm are verifiable but if the same action is beneficial to one person while being harmful to another then benefit and harm is not useful as an objective moral measure of behaviour. It doesn’t help you measure whether that action is right or wrong.

          Please leave off with the ad hominem attempt. That’s unnecessary. And not effective. You could have just asked me what my motives are.

          My motives are to show that Theism cannot ground moral obligation whereas a Secular Humanist world view can. This means that Theism can’t go on to ground morality as it can’t get an ought from an is, while Secular Humanism can get an ought from an is.
          I think Confucius showed that there is an objective morality that is grounded in the socio-political actions of humans and that Theism doesn’t objectively ground morality as its morality is hopelessly relative.
          PS I’m not a Confucianist but I find Eastern philosophy has some answers that western philosophy doesn’t as the East didn’t have to deal with the religious thought police.

          What are your motives? Correct me if I’m wrong but they appear to be to show that Theism does not own the rights to use the phrase objective morality and that they are wrong to claim it. If so that’s the same as I’m working on but from a different angle to you.

        • Raging Bee

          The benefits and harm are verifiable but if the same action is beneficial to one person while at the same time being harmful to another then benefit and harm is not useful as an objective moral measure of behaviour.

          Yes, it is still useful. You just have to weigh benefits vs. harms, and come to some kind of rational conclusion as to whether the benefit justifies the harm, whether the benefit was important enough to justify harming someone else, whether there’s a less harmful way to get the same benefit, etc.

        • Alan Mill

          You just have to weigh benefits vs. harms, and come to some kind of rational conclusion as to whether the benefit justifies the harm, whether the benefit was important enough to justify harming someone else, whether there’s a less harmful way to get the same benefit, etc.

          You still haven’t got an explanation of an objective measuring stick that explains how you come to this “some kind of rational conclusion” so that everyone will not get a different subjective opinion from their different conclusion. I note that you need to use the words “some kind of” rather than be specific about a conclusion.

          Lets use a classic moral example that this blog alludes to regularly – slavery.
          Lets say that Alan enslaves Raging and uses you as forced labour to build a large wall that I want built for security reasons. God says in Deuteronomy that its ok for me to use you as forced labour as you come from a distant nation and therefore have no value as an individual human. I work you on this wall 18 hours a day until you die of exhaustion and then I replace you with another slave. This is of great benefit to me as I get my wall built cheaply and quickly and I get to keep my plunder and virgins safe and secure for my pleasure. For you however this causes the greatest possible harm, your early death.

          How exactly do you weigh benefit and harm, so that it tells us enslaving you is wrong? What measuring stick do you use to conclude that a specific amount of harm done to you matches a specific amount of benefit to me. Why is any amount of harm to you acceptable?

        • Raging Bee

          You still haven’t got an explanation of an objective measuring stick that explains how you come to this “some kind of rational conclusion”…

          Yes, I did, and you’re being dishonest when you claim I haven’t.

        • Alan Mill

          Ah, the good old Monty Python argument sketch. Are we doing the 5 minutes or the full half hour?

          Assertions without reasoning don’t help others understand your point of view. You aren’t explaining yourself clearly. You’ve been given a specific practical example to use to explain your POV and how exactly you weigh benefit and harm but instead you’ve deflected with a Python gag. It appears that you can’t explain why enslaving you is wrong. Happy to be corrected.

          Anyway, this is all putting the horse before the cart, so lets also put the horse back in front and deal with grounding moral obligation. After all, if you can’t explain why we ought to be obligated to behave morally, discussing grounding morality itself is not that productive, as this discussion is showing.

          Maybe it will make your viewpoint clearer once you have explained how you think moral obligation is grounded, ie supply an is that explains why we ought to behave morally.

          I predict that you wont show how you can get an ought from an is and will deflect again. Prove me wrong.

        • Raging Bee

          What are your motives? Correct me if I’m wrong but they appear to be to show that Theism does not own the rights to use the phrase objective morality…

          Who said anything about “Theism?” Objective morality is based on OBJECTIVE facts and circumstances, not on any unproven religious belief.

        • Alan Mill

          Who said anything about “Theism?”

          ??? The whole point of Bob’s blog is Theism. Theism claims it supplies an objective grounding for morality. That is being refuted on this particular thread. Why are you here?

          There’s no need to shout. I’m not blind.

          Which bit of this comment of mine are you having trouble understanding?”My motives are to show that Theism cannot ground moral obligation whereas a Secular Humanist world view can. This means that Theism can’t go on to ground morality as it can’t get an ought from an is, while Secular Humanism can get an ought from an is. I think Confucius showed that there is an objective morality that is grounded in the socio-political actions of humans and that Theism doesn’t objectively ground morality as its morality is hopelessly relative.”

          You questioned my motives. I explained them.
          I asked you a simple question for you to reciprocate with your motives but you didn’t do that. So, what are your motives on this blog?

      • Lark62

        Theists also can’t get an ought from an is

        Case in point – If god had wanted us to walk around naked, we would have been born that way.

    • Lord Backwater

      I mean, it’s almost like they don’t want to accept any moral code, no matter how good it is for how many people

      So your standard of what is good or bad depends only on how it affects people? So a member of any other species could simply point out that it is not universal, but depends on the species of the evaluator?

      You can call this the argument of “Should have read more science fiction”.

      • Robert Baden

        Don’t vegans/non vegans show this?

    • Lark62

      Every human culture creates morality. It’s like language. The details differ, but morality is present.

      Society enforces its rules. Go to Costco on a busy Saturday. Long lines, no express lane. First try to cut in line carrying one item. Somebody will likely let you head to the front of the line with your one item. Maybe two or three items, but that is about it. Now that you are at the front, have a friend show up with a full basket and join you at the front of the line. Do you think the other humans waiting their turn will oppose your action? The reaction may vary from a dirty look, to a spoken word, to a call to the manager, to someone following you to the parking lot for a fight.

      Human societies enforce their rules. And all without any “Costco Queuing Rules” lawgiver.

    • NS Alito

      There is a difference between what someone perceives as having the most overall benefit and what really happens. What someone does under misunderstanding or misdirection can be intended to meet the greater good and have the opposite effect.

      • Raging Bee

        True, but that only means the process of moral reasoning is often complicated, and people do it with wildly varying degrees of honesty and competence. Just like nearly any other collective human activity.

    • Another aspect of a good definition: morality that is reliably perceived by every healthy adult. Since even Christians can’t agree on the right course of action, there goes that one.

      • Raging Bee

        Maybe the Christians aren’t healthy. Or aren’t adult.

  • Polytropos

    “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.”

    What exactly does the world gain from the suffering of poor people? And how could that justify their suffering anyway? Mother Teresa was a deeply disturbed individual and in no way a moral role model. Including her as an example of good morality shows Geisler and Turek aren’t engaging with their subject matter critically or honestly.

    • Michael Neville

      MT [Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. –Christopher Hitchens

    • Michael Murray

      This is the brilliant Catholic solution to the Problem of Suffering. Many theologians try explain suffering away by free will, the Fall etc, but the Catholics just charge straight in and declare it not a problem. In fact suffering is a gift from God to allow us to share in the suffering of Christ! Thanks God!

      • Ficino

        Don’t forget that Fr. Brian Davies instructs us that God is not a moral agent, has no moral duties, so therefore there is no Problem of Evil.

        • Yeah, it turns out when they say God is “all good”, that doesn’t what most people think (i.e. morally), but merely “the most fully existing thing”. How misleading.

        • Michael Murray

          There is an amazing amount of word redefinition in Catholic Theology. You could almost call them Jesuitical.

        • Yes, it seems to be prevalent. In fact you apparently need to read many books or take weeks of course work before it can be really understand is what I’ve been told. Of course, the Jesuits were notorious for this, even among fellow Catholics.

        • Michael Murray

          Ah. This is why I try to say POS not POE.

        • Greg G.

          Theists use “Evil” as a noun but to most others, it is adjective. “Suffering” cannot be denied or redefined, though some are reluctant to actually embrace the depth of it.

        • MR

          Theists use “Evil” as a noun but to most others, it is adjective.

          An important distinction that can’t be understated. Theists are notorious reifiers.

        • Michael Murray

          I have seen Catholics try to move the notion of suffering so that it requires some form of self awareness. That way animals (which they deny have self awareness) don’t suffer. They can then avoid having to explain why God made suffering of all living creatures Her device via natural selection for development of humans.

        • Greg G.

          I think even WLCraig has used that excuse.

      • “When someone says that something in the Bible is bad, tell them how it’s actually good and turn that frown upside down!”

        — Rule #1 of apologetics

    • Raging Bee

      …or even competently.

    • NS Alito

      And, of course, Mother Teresa sought modern medical care for herself.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    The chapter is titled, “Mother Teresa vs. Hitler,”

    How is Hitler an example of someone who does not have a divine source for morality?

    “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Mein Kampf, p65

    • Michael Neville

      So what G&T really should do is have a discussion about who is more evil, Hitler69 or Mother Teresa.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Without an objective standard of meaning and morality

    One of the more moronic discussions you can have is to talk about the 10 commandments, and get to that 7th (or 6th, depending on whose version you use) that says, “Thou shalt not kill.” OK, that sounds like a pretty objective standard, so let’s use it. But no! sayeth the Lordsters. Killing is ok, what the commandment really says is, “Thou shalt not murder.”

    But what is murder? Murder is …. killing when you aren’t allowed to kill. How’s that for objective morality? Does the bible define murder? Nope. We get to define murder. Great, that means that the 7th or 6th commandment boils down to….”Thou shall not kill if we (as a group) decide that thou shall not kill.”

    Flicking brilliant!!!!! Man, good thing we have the bible and the 10 Commandments to keep us in line, we’d be all flicked up without it.

  • Otto

    If your choice of religion is subjective so are your morals.

    • Alan Mill

      You can subjectively choose to be objective.

      • Otto

        One can certainly make that attempt, but that does not mean one is in fact objective.

        • Alan Mill

          And it also can mean one is being objective.
          When you have a dispute with your neighbour, partner, work colleague etc, are you able to decide to become what Adam Smith called an impartial spectator, and step into the other person’s shoes, walk around and look at your behaviour and see where you may be wrong in the dispute and then own your error with a “My bad. Sorry.”
          People become objective impartial spectators all the time. Some have the character to own their error, others don’t.

      • NS Alito

        I object to this subject!

  • eric

    1. Every law has a law giver

    Even that one?

    If so, then prior to a lawgiver creating #1, laws didn’t need lawgivers, and a bunch of laws we have now could’ve cropped up during that pre-#1 time. This is similar to one of the prongs of Euthyphro, i.e. that good [piety] exists prior to and separate from God [the gods]. If this is the case, their entire argument falls apart.

    OTOH, if #1 didn’t require a lawgiver, the entire argument falls apart.

  • Michael Neville

    Nobody has ever proposed any coherent account of how “objective morality” is derived. Those people who insist it exists disagree on the source of this morality. Their opinions on this question are purely subjective and arbitrary and thus are a hopeless base for establishing objective morality.

    The advocates of objective morality explain that it is concerned with what one “should do”, regardless of human opinion or desire. When asked what “should do” means they’ll replace it with a near synonym, explaining that it is what one “ought to do”. But if we press further they’ll simply retreat into circularity, explaining that what we “ought” to do is what we “should” do, and thus beg the whole question. They can’t do any better than that, though they’ll likely appeal to their intuitions and prejudices, which are subjective

    Those of us who reject objective morality have a clear answer. The “oughts” and “shoulds” are rooted in human opinion, they are what people would like to happen. Thus morality has the form “I am of the opinion that you should …” or “the consensus of a particular group is that you should …” or “people have an emotional revulsion to …”. But, without the subject doing the feeling and opining, morality would not make sense. Morality is all about what other people think about someone’s actions. That is why evolution programmed moral senses into us. Remove that subjective human opinion and the result is literally nonsensical.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      I’m going to ride my personal hobbyhorse of this topic through here, and say:

      Morals are the survival instincts of a *society*, because societies with incorrect morals don’t tend to survive.

      • Michael Neville

        While all groups have morality, what is or is not moral differs, often widely, from group to group. Pacifists consider killing to be immoral, soldiers have a different opinion. Catholic clergy think artificial contraception is immoral, most other people, including most Catholic laity, disagree. Intelligent, rational, well meaning people disagree on the morality of abortion.

      • Lark62

        Nazi Germany had a morality – a shared view of what behavior was okay and a shared understanding to who was entitled to protection as a member of the group and who was not.

        This moralilty was repugnant and as you indicate likely contributed to the relatively quick fall of that culture, but it was a morality.

        Every time two or more humans come together on a regular basis they create rules of behavior. Walk into Costco and observe the “standing in line rules” that most abide by and the dirty looks at those who flaunt them.

    • The response to this is usually mocking: you atheists are of the opinion that Hitler was wrong, just like you are of the opinion that (say) chocolate is better than vanilla.

      I suppose that’s better than “evolution says ‘from goo to you via the zoo!!!'” but not by much.

      • Michael Neville

        Exactly, I have the opinion that Hitler69 was wrong. However, Nazis69 had the opinion that he was right and was doing a moral action by ridding the world of Jews and other untermenschen.

  • Kev Green

    The Golden Rule is pretty much ingrained in humanity; or at least the realization that how we treat people goes a long way in determining how they treat us. Unfortunately, the search for loopholes is also pretty well ingrained. That’s where religion comes in. Tribal gods like Yahweh were less about keeping people from killing and stealing from other tribe members and more about justifying doing those things to those not in the tribe. Christianity isn’t a source of morality, it’s a justification for immorality toward non-Christians.

    • eric

      AIUI even monkeys have a sense of ‘fair treatment.’ Probably a fairly positive adaptation in social animals whose survival depends (in part) on sharing and cooperating with others. It’s analogous to animals that take a long time to become independent (i.e. requiring parental care) evolving an instinct for familial love or caring. Very adaptive.

      • Lark62

        Yes. And dogs can tell the difference between an intentional kick and an accidental kick.

  • Anri

    Oddly, I have never encountered a believer in objective morality who did not think the universe agreed with them as to what was moral.

    Doesn’t mean they don’t exist – I’ve just never met one.

    • eric

      Were I to believe in an objective morality, I’d think that killing things that can feel pain for food is wrong. Which basically puts all carnivores, parasites, and most omnivores in the “constantly do evil” category. [Edit] I should add that I’m not myself a vegetarian, so this would count as an example of someone believing that objective morality didn’t match their own behavior…if I believed in an objective morality.

      • Anri

        So far, I’ve had no one, at least to my satisfaction, give me what I think would be the three basic requirements for accepting objective morality:
        1) Definitive – exactly what constitutes an objective moral must be made clear and unambiguous.
        2) Discernible – a definite way to tell what is and is not such a moral must be delineated (this may be inherent in 1, of course),
        3) Useful – there must be some good reason to accept the objective morals once they are defined and discerned. Again, this might be inherent in 1 and/or 2, but it’s terribly important.

        What I mean by the third is just this: from everything we have learned about the universe, it is utterly indifferent to humanity and what humanity wants. I see no reason to assume some system of objective morality would be any more clement.

        (edited for fat-fingering the “reply” button before completing the comment…)

        • Tell me more about #3. I’m guessing it’d be a rule such as, “Always bow before a member of the Klernion race from planet Qen.” Since we’re never going to meet these people, this rule is pointless, not useful.

          (Since Christians are on all sides of all moral questions, there obviously is no clearly discernible objective morality as far as humans know, but I’m ignoring that.)

        • Greg G.

          The only reason the Earth exists is that no Earthling has ever failed to bow before a Klernion.

        • Whew! We dodged a bullet on that one.

        • Anri

          The idea that such moral precepts would be entirely irrelevant actually hadn’t occurred to me, but it’s an interesting point.

          I was thinking more along the lines of (as a hypothetical example) finding out that, per objective morality, slavery is not only permissible, but a positive thing – that according to the rules of objective morality, most people should be literal property of an elite few.
          Or something equally pernicious – perhaps that the only moral code is “might makes right” and anything opposing that is immoral.

          Whenever I ask what believers in objective morality would do if faced with a moral stricture they find not only unpleasant but downright evil, they typically reply in such a way that suggests to me that the possibility never even occurred to them, or that they dismissed it – of course objective morality would fall into line with what they think is good.
          If they reply that such an objective moral code would not have to be followed, than I ask, what’s the point? If we are deciding for ourselves what morals are and aren’t, why bother looking for objective morals just to dismiss them?

          That’s what I mean by useful.

    • And isn’t it curious that you never hear a believer go on and on about how bad a fit their religion is. They never say, “The rules are completely nuts, but rules are rules, I guess” or “The core beliefs go against everything I hold dear, but this god clearly exists, so I’m smart to follow them.”

      Nope–those whose god says that gays are bad don’t seem to have too much trouble accepting that. It’s almost like their beliefs came first, and the (interpreted) rules came later.

      • Anri

        I have heard only one believer do this kind of thing, now that I think about it. They were a commenter on FtB until they were banned due to repetitious proselytizing, and I don’t recall their name. I could look for it in my history if any cares.

        They were very well educated, and a hard-core Calvinist. They never seemed to like the conclusions their faith led them to, but accepted them just the same. Very odd person.

        • Greg G.

          I knew a guy who became a Calvinist. It seems to be the logical conclusion of the Bible and thus the disproof of it by reductio as absurdum.

        • Anri

          The poster I was talking about was very good at defending their beliefs – it was all quite sensible.

          Just also quite horrible, and I think they knew that.

    • Raging Bee

      I “believe in” objective morality, and I never thought “the universe agreed with me.” The universe isn’t a sentient entity, so it can’t agree or disagree with anyone’s reasoning. Prove or disprove people’s beliefs, yes, but that’s not a conscious process.

      • Anri

        So if slavery is revealed to be an objective good, will you hold slaves or volunteer to be one?

        • Raging Bee

          Depends on what you mean by “revealed to be an objective good.” That would have to be one helluva revelation, to outweigh all the objective evil that’s already well known to anyone who pays attention.

        • Anri

          Well, I don’t know how a moral stricture gets definitively determined to be or not to be an objective good (as it hasn’t been demonstrated that such things exist), so if you could run it through the process, we can find out.

          And you didn’t actually answer the question, you just seemed to be banking on the presumption it couldn’t possibly be such – which is to say, that as far as slavery goes, the universe agrees with you in condemning it, which was what I was talking about in my previous post. Of course, I might have misinterpreted you – you might not actually think that. Sure sounds like it, though.

  • RichardSRussell

    Here’s a word that is defined in the dictionary: objective adj.

    1a. Existing independent of or external to the mind; actual or real: objective reality.

    b. Based on observable phenomena; empirical: objective facts.

    2. Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices: an objective critic. (See Synonyms at fair.)

    • Raging Bee

      Thank you. And per 1a and 1b, if moral rules are based on observable phenomena, which are external to the mind, then those rules can be called “objective morality.”

      • RichardSRussell

        The phenomena may be observable (which makes them objective FACTS), but any moral rules drawn from them are invariably matters of OPINION (which makes them SUBjective, not OBjective).

        For instance, swatting a mosquito stops a beating heart. Observable fact. Does that constitute murder? Purely a matter of opinion.

        • Raging Bee

          You’re repeating the same argument that’s already been refuted.

        • RichardSRussell

          I missed the refutation. Where may it be found? Or perhaps you could summarize it for us here.

        • Raging Bee

          So you’re ignoring what’s already been posted? That just proves you’re not worth our time.

        • RichardSRussell

          104 comments? No, I haven’t read them all. I was hoping you might do me the courtesy of pointing me at the specific one you had in mind, but obviously it wasn’t worth 10 seconds of your precious time.

        • Raging Bee

          Opinions based on objective facts are more valid — and, yes, more objectively true — than opinions that aren’t.

          Oh, and it’s not an “opinion” either; it’s a conclusion reached by reasoning from certain premises. If you don’t know the difference, then you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • Lord Backwater

    Without an objective standard of meaning and morality, then life is
    meaningless and there’s nothing absolutely right or wrong. Everything is
    merely a matter of opinion. (171)

    Why were adjectives invented?

    If you have a non-objective standard of meaning, then you certainly have a standard of meaning, and it is extremely silly to say that your life is meaningless. We’re into A = !A territory here. BTW, I think that objective meaning is a category error, since meaning is inherently subjective. Really, that’s what meaning means; the import that something has for a particular person.

    Just because there is nothing absolutely right or wrong does not mean that there is nothing right or wrong. We’re back to adjective = !adjective again.

    • It also fundamentally ignores the fact that even though some things are subjective, they are not (by any means) arbitrary. GT seem to think that subjective means that anything goes, when that’s far from true. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of humans prefer the smell of vanilla, over the smell of feces, but that doesn’t make that preference any less subjective.

      • Lord Backwater

        I think one of the reasons that people can agree to the extent that they do on what is moral is because we share a lot of evolutionary ancestry.
        Is it moral to kill and eat a mate after copulation? Almost all people would agree that it is not, but mantids might not.
        When pairing up with a new widowed mate, is it moral to kill all her children from her previous mates? Most people would agree it is not, but lions might have a different view.
        Accident of evolutionary history != objective.

        • Greg G.

          Is it moral to kill and eat a mate after copulation? Almost all people would agree that it is not, but mantids might not.

          Mantids might consider it immoral to not lend the nutrients of one’s body for the production of offspring.

        • TheNuszAbides
    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      BTW, I think that objective meaning is a category error, since meaning is inherently subjective.

      QFFT!

    • Just because there is nothing absolutely right or wrong does not mean that there is nothing right or wrong.

      The dictionary is helpful. Look up “right” and “wrong,” and you don’t find anything about “absolutely” as a requirement.

      • Alan Mill

        How do you know the dictionary is right? 🙂
        Who is this person who authors the dictionary? Why did they get the gig? Why do they have authority? Why are we appealing to their authority?

        • Greg G.

          I tried to read the dictionary. I couldn’t keep up with the plot changes.

        • MR

          I want you to know I made a new friend with this line. I was in my favorite coffee shop several days ago and an older gentleman next to me had a dictionary. I remembered your line and used it. He kind of chuckled and we both went about our business. A couple days later I was there having coffee and he came up to me and said hello. We got to talking and had a nice little chat. Thanks for breaking that ice. 😉

        • Greg G.

          Great to hear that. I usually get groans.

  • Lark62

    It is simple. And obvious. Every human society has rules of conduct, and the rules of any human society differ at least in part from the rules of every other human society.

    Look at all the christian communities that claim to have an absolute morality from a specific source. Find one behavioral standard that is common to all, in every place and every century.

    Adultery may come close, but even there different christian groups mpose different penalties for violating that command. And if the person is powerful or useful, adultery gets a pass. E.g. Cheeto Jesus.

  • Len

    1. Every law has a law giver

    2. There is a Moral Law

    The “law giver” in #1 doesn’t have to be a single (or triple) entity. The law giver is the society where the given law applies. That they try to shoehorn their invisible friend into the role of law giver shows that they are not being honest in the discussion nor the conclusion.

    The Moral Law that they see (#2) is the result of society-driven laws in several societies which, because we all evolved to be human beings, have a similar basis. For example, don’t kill people.

  • Rudy R

    William Lane Craig’s definition of objective morality: “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”

    This is a sloppy definition, because it can exclude god believing in a valid and binding moral.

    • Otto

      And if nobody believed in one of those values what exactly would make it binding and why…?

      • Alan Mill

        The binding is the problem for WLC.

        I think it is an ok definition but it can’t be used with Theism as Theism cannot be used to get an ought from an is to ground moral obligation which is required for binding.

        WLC has never been able to substantiate his definition as he can’t supply a non optional reason to make it binding, for why we ought to behave morally.

        The Secular Humanist world view does do that. Society is necessary so we ought to follow the rules of social living, aka morality. No gods are needed. Just reasoning power developed through evolution which enabled humans to have socio-political awareness and act socially and politically.

  • NS Alito

    Here’s a consistent moral system I like:
    I. Be generous to others.
    II. Do not take unfair advantage of Commandment I.
    III. Kill any stranger who comes to the village.

    • Michael Neville

      That’s rather hard on the strangers coming to the village.

      • NS Alito

        They might want to sell us marching band equipment, or proselytize.

        • Michael Neville

          +1 for Music Man citation.

        • Raging Bee

          Marching band equipment? Including accordions?! Heaven forefend!

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    It’s easy to appeal to an objective standard; the hard part is showing that that standard actually exists.

    And unless you have another objective standard to judge the first objective standard against, you can say nothing about the goodness of that original standard. Without knowing that, you can’t know the goodness anything judged by that standard, either.

    Kinda sounds like the supposedly critical objective standard doesn’t actually do anything.