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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Christian Delusion: Chapter Thirteen--Christianity Does Not Provide the Basis for Morality

In chapter 13 of The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, anthropologist David Eller returns to deal with one of the stock arguments that theists put forward, namely, that without a God, there can be no basis for morality. His essay is entitled, "Christianity Does Not Provide the Basis for Morality."

He begins by saying,
Imagine someone said to you that English provided the only basis for grammar. After you overcame your shock, you would respond that English is certainly not the only language with a grammar. You would add that grammar is not limited to language: understood broadly as rules for combination and transformation, many phenomena have a grammar, from sports to baking. Nor is grammar the sole or essential component of language: language also includes sound systems, vocabularies, and genres and styles of speech. And you would remind the speaker that grammar does not depend on human language at all: some species including chimps and parrots can produce grammatical—that is, orderly and rule-conforming—short sentences. Ultimately, you would want to explain that English does not “provide a basis” for grammar at all but rather represents one particular instance of grammar. English grammar is definitely not the only grammar in the world and even more definitely not the “real” grammar.

The person who utters a statement like “English provides the only basis for grammar” either understands very little about English (and language in general) or grammar or is expressing his/her partisanship about language (i.e. pro-English)—or more likely both. Thus, the person who utters a statement like “Christianity provides the only basis for morality” either understands very little about Christianity (or religion in general) or morality or is expressing his/her partisanship about religion (i.e. pro-Christianity)—-more likely both. But as a savvy responder you would answer that Christianity is certainly not the only religion with morality. You would add that morality is not limited to religion: understood broadly as standards for behavior, many phenomena have a morality, from philosophy to business. Nor is morality the sole or essential component of religion: religion also includes myths, rituals, and roles and institutions of behavior. And you would remind the speaker that morality does not depend on human religion at all: some non-human species demonstrate moral—-that is, orderly and standard-conforming—behavior. Ultimately, you would want to explain that Christianity does not “provide a basis” for morality at all but rather represents one particular instance of morality. Christian morality is definitely not the only morality in the world and even more definitely not the “real” morality.
(pp. 347-48).
What is morality? Eller quotes Michael Shermer: "right and wrong thoughts and behaviors in the context of the rules of a social group" (The Science of Good and Evil, p. 7). What this terse statement reminds us is that (1) morality always refers back to a set of rules and (2) each social group may have its own set of such rules(p. 352).

Why do humans have moral principles?
Because we, as an inherently social species, are necessarily interested in the actions and intentions of other members of our group (which may include, we now realize, non-human agents as well). Therefore, we need to evaluate each other’s behavior—to be able to determine the meaning of that behavior, the intention of that behavior, and the predictability of that behavior. Indeed, the very existence of society depends on, one might even say is, a shared set of standards for the interpretation, evaluation, and prediction of behavior(p. 352).
Morality is ultimately nothing more than a special case of the more general human predilection to appraise behavior and to erect systems and standards of appraisal (p. 353).
“Morality” is one entry in the universe of appraisal-talk, of which there are many other entries. What I mean is that “moral” and “immoral” are two labels that can be attached to behaviors depending on their conformity to group standards. But there are other labels too, available to members to praise or denounce (and hopefully affect and control) behavior: legal/illegal, sane/insane, mature/immature, normal/abnormal, polite/impolite, ethical/unethical, professional/unprofessional, and so on. None of these other pairs of terms quite overlaps (p. 353).
Different societies have different moral standards, for example,
most Westerners do not regard the display of a woman’s face or arms to be a moral concern at all, and some tribes like the Warlpiri or the Yanomamo did not regard public nakedness to be a moral concern. The Jains consider eating vegetables or killing insects to be a moral problem, while the average Westerner does not (pp. 353-54).
How do societies develop their moral standards (i.e., what they approve of and what they disapprove of)? They develop them based on how they believe their group can best function so as to survive and grow and have stability and order. The actual moral rules grow out of what Michael Shermer calls premoral sentiments: attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group (The Science of Good and Evil, p. 31 cited by Eller, p. 354).

In order to give more authority to the standards, societies have typically tied them to their particular religion, thus giving them divine authority.

Just as religions have different beliefs, they also have different standards of behavior. In orthodox Judaism, what one can and cannot eat is a moral matter. In many forms of Islam, it is morally wrong for a woman to show her face in public. In Hinduism, the moral standards differ based on the particular caste to which a person belongs:if one is pariah, one’s moral duty is to perform dirty jobs, and if one is kshatriya one’s moral duty is to lead, to fight, to kill, and to die (p. 357). In Buddhism, one is to follow the Ten Precepts: to avoid harming any living thing, taking anything not freely given, misbehaving sexually, speaking falsely, ingesting alcohol or drugs, eating untimely meals, dancing/singing/miming, using garlands or perfumes or other adornments, sitting in high seats, and accepting gold or silver (p. 357). Each religion and even various sects within each religion have their own moral standards which they believe is part of their faith to follow. As Eller says: Every ancient and tribal religion included its own moral standards, some similar to Christianity, some foreign to Christianity, some absurd to Christianity. And the feeling was mutual (p. 358).

While religions attribute the origin of their moral standards to a supernatural being, philosophers going back to the ancient Greeks have sought the basis for morality in reason. Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Kant, and J.S. Mill each developed a system of morality apart from religion or revelation.

Recent research has shown that its not just human beings but other species as well that have morality. For example,
Peter Singer’s 1981 The Expanding Circle, Robert Wright’s 1994 The Moral Animal: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, Marc Hauser’s 2000 Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think and his 2006 Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, Michael Shermer’s aforementioned The Science of Good and Evil, Richard Joyce’s 2006 The Evolution of Morality, and the many works of primatologist Frans de Waal, including Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (p. 362).
The core of this research is that “morality” is not utterly unique to humans but has its historical/evolutionary antecedents and its biological bases. “Morality” does not appear suddenly out of nowhere in humans but emerges gradually with the emergence of certain kinds of beings living certain kinds of lives. This is not to assert that animals have full-blown “morality” any more than they have full-blown language. It is to assert that, just as some pre-human beings have “linguistic” capacities, some pre-human beings also have “moral” capacities. The key to the evolutionary theory of morality is that social beings tend reasonably to develop interests in the behavior of others and capacities to determine and to influence that behavior (p. 362).
So, to summarize, Eller has shown that moral standards develop within societal groups (human and non-human) as a means to help them function and survive, these moral standards are often tied to a religion to give them "divine authority," and become incorporated within the culture. These moral standards evolve and change as everything within the culture does, including language and religious beliefs. To say that morality has to come from outside of man is to ignore the findings of sociology and anthropology.

142 comments:

  1. I'm not on this chapter yet, but does Eller get into any way to ground moral facts or deliberate between cultures on which cultural norms are better or worse than others? Another blog reviewer seems to indicate that he does not.

    http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/a-review-of-chapter-13-of-the-christian-delusion/

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  2. No, he doesn't because anthropology is a descriptive discipline not a prescriptive one. In other words, the anthropologist observes and describes human behavior but does not attempt to make judgments about which culture is "better."

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  3. Bummer. Does he perhaps at least refer to other books more on the prescriptive side of things? Or is this another PR disaster Eller has cooked up for us?

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  4. War,

    I just read the review that you mentioned. Here was my response:

    I think you misunderstand Eller's approach. Eller is an anthropologist. As such he is interested in observing and describing man's activities. His discipline is a descriptive one not a presecriptive one. In his text, Introducing Anthropology of Religion, he points out that his job is not to say which human practice is better than another but to simply analyze the behavior, attempt to understand why it is done and classify it among the behaviors of other cultures.

    His whole point in the chapter is that morality is an invention of the culture in which it is found, just as much as language, religious beliefs, and so on are inventions of the culture. Of course each culture thinks their ways are "better" (ethnocentrism) and will often tie their moral codes to some divine authority in order to objectify them.

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  5. Oh, I get the idea. That doesn't mean there's not another job to do in addition to being a good anthropologist.

    Ben

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  6. War,

    What Eller effectively shows in the chapter is that no morality is "objective" or "true" any more than any language or other cultural invention is "objective" or "true."

    I think he does an excellent job in the chapter and if one doesn't get it, its because they are not reading carefully.

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  7. And hence Eller undermines the other chapters on how evil God is? Perhaps God is perfectly good in terms of social Jewish norms or social Christian norms? Are we really going to give up criticism of Christian morality like this? Because it seems all that can be said is that God wouldn't fit in well in an atheist country. lol Enjoy the inconsistency, Ken.

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  8. It ought to be enough that people live morally. Why should they also be hassled with the question of whether their morality is "objectively true" or "right in the absolute sense?" When I listen to, say, Beethoven's 7th symphony and deem it beautiful, what does it matter to me whether it's "objectively beautiful" in some absolute, cosmic sense? I don't trouble myself with such things. I just enjoy the music.

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  9. So this is complete moral relativism? Murder and rape may be wrong within a particular culture and context, but there is no objective moral reason why they are wrong. As War_On_Error pointed out, doesn't this act as a defeater for much of the other criticisms of Christianity and religion?

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  10. *sigh* There's a such thing as "better than not." I think we should be in the business of troubling ourselves with those kinds of questions. Let's not get confused. Otherwise, uncritically accepting arbitrary cultural norms (as though cultural norms are even distinctly codified in the first place) is all we are left with. Even if there is not just "one perfect way to live" can't we still agree there are an infinite number of objectively wrong ways to live?

    Atheists make me sad sometimes. :(

    Ben

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  11. Yes, Dan. I've skipped ahead and read about half of Eller's chapter. Eller actually quotes Nietzsche!! As an authority, no less! *laughs*/*cries*

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  12. Ken said: "I think he (Eller) does an excellent job in the chapter and if one doesn't get it, its because they are not reading carefully."

    That describes exactly what I think of Ben's reading skills. *sigh*

    And to think Ben is the one telling us how to write the book even though he's "unskilled and unaware of it."

    *laugh/*cries*

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  13. Dan,

    You said: So this is complete moral relativism? Murder and rape may be wrong within a particular culture and context, but there is no objective moral reason why they are wrong. As War_On_Error pointed out, doesn't this act as a defeater for much of the other criticisms of Christianity and religion?

    I don't think so for two reasons: (1) there is no "objective" moral standard any more than there is a an "objective" language. Groups make up their own rules. This is simply the way it is--historically. Standards and taboos are part of their culture and they tend to credit their rules to a divine authority in order to try to make them "objective." Its true that these standards evolve. In the past for example, slavery was not forbidden in many cultures but it is today in most cultures. That is one of the problems the defenders of an objective biblical morality have--why was it okay to have slaves in Bible times but not today? (2) ethical theory and the rightness and wrongness of actions is a philosophical enterprise (not an anthropological one). I think one can make solid arguments in favor of forbidding certain things that are obviously detrimental to society such as stealing, rape, and murder and the fact that virtually all societies throughout written history have adopted these minimal moral codes is evidence of the fact.

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  14. I'm sorry about hurting your feelings, John.

    Tell me, when I perfect my reading comprehension skills, will that enable moral relativists to meaningfully judge Christian behavior or their God's behavior as "wrong"? Or should we just start saying that "Christians are different." And that "God is different than the one we would prefer."

    Let me know. It'll be a few years before I can get back to you since I'll have all those English, critical thinking, and anthropology classes to take so I can catch up with you and Eller.

    Ben

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  15. The modern Japanese are not a very religious people and yet, somehow, we don't see them raping and slitting one another's throats with abandon.

    War on Error, before you give us all this condescending sighing, tell us why your source of objective morality (the Bible, presumably) is so self-evidently true. For crying out loud, the book has a talking donkey in it -- and you're the one sighing at us?

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  16. Ken,

    "I think one can make solid arguments in favor of forbidding certain things that are obviously detrimental to society such as stealing, rape, and murder and the fact that virtually all societies throughout written history have adopted these minimal moral codes is evidence of the fact."

    We know, Ken. Duh. The problem is that you and Eller are playing both sides of the fence (and Loftus by proxy). Whereas some like me, (and perhaps Dan) is standing here going, "I know there's a spectrum from 'more objective' to 'more arbitrary.'" We don't need your instruction. We need you to not be just a propagandist for the book and recognize it's deficiencies along with its strong points. Although I think you've been doing a fine job so far of covering the strong points. I'd just hoped you would be more reasonable upon questioning. I've been covering the weaknesses in my review and relying on you to give the other side (so it's not that big a deal between the both of us). Hence, John's hurt feelings that have spilled over here. He is free to give me more ammunition to make him look even less gracious in my review of this chapter, but I'd recommend him leaving me alone unless he has something constructive to say.

    Ben

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  17. SteveJ,

    I'm an atheist. Thanks. In answer to your question, I have the "remarkable" ability to use my critical thinking skills in order to appraise not just the morality of my culture, but to also compare and contrast with other cultures to distill who might be getting at living the human condition the best. I'm sure you do it, too, to some extent. All I'm saying is we should recognize that and not pretend like everything is all good for every culture ever. Note, I'm not arguing any differently than Sam Harris or even Richard Carrier (who is a contributor to TCD). They both advocate a "science of morality" that is completely along the lines I'm speaking.

    Ben

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  18. I haven't read the book (though I plan to), so I am basing my questions solely on the information provided in this post and realize that my understanding of the issues(s) is probably quite incomplete. However, some of the recent "new" atheist arguments have taken a strong stand against a complete moral relativism, for example Dennett's Breaking The Spell:

    "The more one learns of the different passionately held convictions of peoples around the world, the more tempting it becomes to decide that there really couldn't be a standpoint from which truly universal moral judgments could be constructed and defended. So it is not surprising that cultural anthropologists tend to take one variety of moral relativism or another as one of their enabling assumptions. Moral relativism is also rampant in other groves of academia, but not all. It is decidedly a minority position among ethicists and other philosophers, for example, and it is by no means a necessary presupposition of scientific open-mindedness."

    Dennett goes on to argue in favor of certain transcendent values, such as truth and justice.

    I guess the problem I have is that while some behaviors may seem "obviously detrimental to society," if one accepts a purely anthropological explanation of morality, can one ever truly and objectively condemn those seemingly detrimental behaviors?

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  19. Obviously, I made a false assumption. That's what I get for skimming instead of reading.

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  20. Dan,

    Good quote. I would say Eller is definitely under that spell at least from what I've read of this chapter so far (the preliminary content would seem to exclude him coming around by the end of the chapter). And I'm sure Loftus will never admit he's let Eller undermine significant portions of TCD (some of his own chapters, no less).

    I'm also truly amazed that Carrier let this stuff fly. I'm dying to know what his rationale is. Though it appears he told himself something along these lines (from a comment on Amazon): "TCD does refer readers to alternatives (e.g. pp. 358-65, esp. w. n. 21; p. 310, w. n. 33; pp. 232-33), so it's false to claim it doesn't. And it's not a book about which alternative to take anyway, but about how to rationally choose which one you should." It seems he wasn't concerned about pointing people in a specific direction. That's atypical of him, but I somewhat understand.

    All I was hoping from Eller was to give his anthropologist bit (without saying something stupid) and then refer to prescriptive moral theories like what Carrier lays out in Sense and Goodness. It appears that is not the case. Oh well.

    Ben

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  21. Dan,

    Dennett is a philosopher and so I would expect him to argue for a particular moral theory since that is a philosophical enterprise.

    Eller does not say that any standard of behavior is just as good as any other. In his books, Natural Atheism and Atheism Advanced , he makes that crystal clear.

    The title of his chapter in TCD, is "Christianity does not provide the basis for morality." I think he proves his thesis.

    People from different disciplines come at things from different directions. That I think is a strength of TCD. It is inter-disciplinary. Personally, I find the study of the anthropology of religion to be one of the strongest proofs against Christianity or any particular religion. I don't think I am alone either. Tom Reessays: participation in a "study abroad program" also created increased skepticism about religion.
    In other words, humanities and social sciences, much more than biological and mathematical sciences, challenge you to imagine the world though the eyes of others. And this exercise in imagination undercuts religious dogma far more effectively than any science lesson can.
    .

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  22. What about when it comes to the question of deciding which system's morality is correct? Can we even ask such a question, if atheism is true?

    See, I'm interested in knowing whether a moral value judgment is true, or correct. Saying "this group recognises it as good, this other does not" doesn't tell me anything about morality; it simply describes what that society believes. But if I want to know whether a given value judgment is true, independent of whether anyone believes it or not, can that exist, on atheism?

    If it can't, wouldn't it follow that it could be said that Christianity DOES provide an objective basis for morality (I'm not saying "only" as if other theistic systems can't; I'm just saying Christianity does) whereas atheism does not? And therefore your post here would be false?

    Peace,
    Rhology

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  23. Part 1:

    Ben, you just do not understand, and I do not have the time needed to correct you. Upon reading your review of Eller’s first chapter he said you were unskilled and unaware of it, just as a bad Karaoke singer is who thinks she can sing (you see, a bad Karaoke singer does not know she doesn’t sing well). Eller was surprised I even responded to you.

    Eller is doing exactly what Ken said he was doing. He was describing morality and how it originated. That is how it originated. Evolving creatures made it up to appraise other behaviors. So just like in other chapters in TCD where we have not disproved what a theist believes, Eller shows us that we have no need of the God hypothesis to explain morality. True, there might still be a God of morality despite how morality arose, but then that God might exist even though we can psychologically explain away religious conversions (a la Valerie Tarico), and even though believers accept what they were raised to believe (a la OTF). You see, there is no silver bullet argument, so when you criticize TCD because there are ways Christians can escape our criticisms mean nothing except you are unskilled and unaware of it. Yes, Eller is a moral relativist but that does not undercut the case he’s making with regard to the evolution of morality.

    Now, when it comes to morality, Eller said he liked Michael Shermer’s book on the subject. Shermer wrote: “morality exists outside the human mind in the sense of being not just a trait of individual humans, but a human trait; that is, a human universal.” According to him we “inherit” from our Paleolithic ancestors our morality and ethics, then we “fine-tune and tweak them according to our own cultural preferences, and apply them within our own unique historical circumstances.” As such, “moral principles, derived from the moral sense, are not absolute, where they apply to all people in all cultures under all circumstances all of the time. Neither are moral principles relative, entirely determined by circumstance, culture and history. Moral principles are provisionally true—that is, they apply to most people in most cultures in most circumstances most of the time.”

    You see, this is all the morality we can hope to have as human beings. It’s not absolute. There is no objective morality for all time and place. Just imagine your culture is that of a NY gang. Trust me when I say that kindness is seen as a weakness in a gang and if you are a kind person you may get eaten alive by both sides. The fact is that morality evolves, so inside any given culture you must follow the rules of that culture if you wish to survive in it.

    But if morality evolves does that make our heightened sense of morality “better” than in previous generations? What can “better” mean in this context? It is better for our generation, that’s for sure. Does an ape do wrong when he defeats another rival for the whole harem of females and the honor of ruling like a dictator over the others? Can we democratize apes? Can we democratize Iran, or Caesar Augustus?

    I’m editing another book where I’ve asked Richard Carrier to write a chapter about a realist morality (Ken has been asked to write one as well). I think the best that can be said about morality is something along the lines of this statement: “If we want to be holistically happy then science can help us understand what kind of behaviors and what kind of social policies make us happy.” Notice the word “if.”

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  24. Part 2:

    One last comment.

    Ben wrote: “Tell me, when I perfect my reading comprehension skills, will that enable moral relativists to meaningfully judge Christian behavior or their God's behavior as "wrong"? Or should we just start saying that "Christians are different." And that "God is different than the one we would prefer."

    This is an old Christian canard that reduces my estimation of your thinking skills to the lowest yet. Here’s the deal. The Christian thinks there is an objective absolute morality that stems from their perfectly good God, which is both eternal and unchangeable. Get the point. Do I need to spell out the implications of what they believe? My argument is that the morality found in the Bible reveals something quite different than this claim of theirs. It has and does change. It is not something we would expect from a perfectly good God. It’s a reductio ad absurdum (look that up).

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  25. Ken,

    A. This is TCD and not Eller's other two books. Though I'm glad to hear perhaps he takes a much more sensible approach there. I am a bit skeptical of his formulation there given how he's argued here. He could still be playing both sides of the fence incoherently. How exactly does he describe his moral theory? [edit: Oops, Loftus just answered that. Eller plays both sides. FAIL]

    B. There are plenty of pro-relativism choice quotes here in TCD which have already led a *sympathetic* theist astray. Note, jayman777 allows for the possibility of atheistic morality (!) and yet *still* gets the wrong idea. Isn't that crazy? That is a huge failure to communicate on Eller's part. [edit: oops, wrong again. Eller *did* communicate effectively. It's just the wrong message.]

    C. Attending a prolonged social institution like a university is a bit different than reading one pretentious book (or one short chapter in such a book). It's not "exposure" so much as it is an attack (you did see the title of the book, right?). In terms of information content, yes, it's *technically* exposure. In terms of subjective experience, not so much.

    D. Eller doesn't prove his point, because his point doesn't even connect with what Christians will typically be looking for. He's using an epistemic method like contextualism, where he argues something like this, "in context of these other religious moralities, Christianity is just another one." And, "if you disagree you just don't get it."

    ...

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  26. ...

    But we could easily take his opening example and show how logically speaking, there could be tons of other arbitrary languages and yet still be one divinely inspired language. And that's a weakness of contextualism. However you *could* say, "in context of other languages a, b and c, it *strongly suggests* that language x isn't a divine language." That's as far as contextualism goes (since it does have some merit), but it doesn't prove it. You could give examples of the inadequacies of one language and show how language x has similar issues (or in this case just point to other chapters of the book that do make arguments). But that would actually be an argument. Tarico and Long figured that out. Even Loftus has. But has Eller? Maybe, but probably not. He wants to win all his battles with pure anthropology. He's going to end up paying for that.

    Eller presupposes methodological naturalism and that every other kind of argument in favor of "divine" language x fails. Granted, I agree with him, but Christians readers will not and these things have just been taken for granted (unless we read Loftus' WIBA, which John said we didn't need to do). Unlike English, Christians don't see flaws in their inherited religion (though perhaps by this time in the book, they will have). Or they've been trained not to see them. We could almost forgive Eller for this here, since this is deep in the book after a number of arguments (contextualism!), but that still doesn't excuse him from declaring victory on all arguments for Christianity in sentence 2 of chapter 1 or for not just leaving certain things open ended as other more sensible authors in TCD have done. I've already pointed out on my review of chapter 1 that Christians have noticed.

    So, I don't have a problem with the basic intent or content of the chapter or even with failing to include moral prescriptions. But I do have a problem with the overempahsis on relativism [correction: *The* relativism.] and the failure to take a moment and direct readers to books by Dennett, Harris, and Carrier on an actual moral theory. The unintended consequences are way too obvious to have ignored. Loftus can play the "No one could have seen that coming" card or the "We can't respond to every objection," but c'mon! Moral prescription is like the other half of the moral description landscape. Most Christians (even liberal ones) REALLY care about that. This is in no way obscure Christian wiggle room. And I'll bet a lot of atheists are going to agree with me. I'm just the one speaking up regardless of the consequences.

    Ben

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  27. John,

    "Ben, you just do not understand, and I do not have the time needed to correct you."

    No, you have excuses, rank pulling, insults, and denial. Everything but an argument. Like I said, this is all ending up in my review of this chapter.

    "Yes, Eller is a moral relativist but that does not undercut the case he’s making with regard to the evolution of morality."

    Logically, moral relativism (as I've already explained above) does undercut the chapters on the arguments from evil if we are to take them seriously. Asserting otherwise doesn't help your case.

    As for the rest of what you said, I basically agree with. Maybe you should have written Eller's chapter? Or perhaps Shermer? Carrier? Anyone other than a moral relativist, perhaps? Just a thought. You wouldn't have to do the damage control here since you have such little time to waste.

    Ben

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  28. Ben, there is no damage control needed except for people who are "unskilled and unaware of it" like you are. Remember this, authors cannot say all that they know and they most certainly cannot say all that they know in one chapter. Eller has chosen to write for a specific audience who can understand and appreciate his arguments because they are already aware of some important things. You are not in that audience, for reasons already specified.

    Ken, he's all yours. I've wasted too much of my time on Ben already.

    He is proof positive that atheists do not have a corner on rationality and that the arguments in part one of my book apply to us all.

    Now, if I could only learn how to unsubscribe from this...

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  29. Rhology,

    Those are important questions.

    See Sam Harris' talk on the science of morality:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9oB4zpHww

    Or Richard Carrier's version on naturalistic morality:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dce8mE0q4zA

    Ben

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  30. WAR_ON_ERROR,

    Do those answer my actual question? Or do they also commit the naturalistic fallacy aka Hume's Guillotine?

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  31. Carrier specifically addresses that issue in his video, though Harris does not. He points out the structure of is/ought formulations and how to ground our moral facts in light of that.

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  32. Rhology,

    You say: See, I'm interested in knowing whether a moral value judgment is true, or correct . True or correct for whom? You have to decide what is the correct action for yourself. Everyone does unless they are willing to surrender that job to someone else or pretend that there is a holy book with all of the answers. I agree with Hector Avalos who said:
    As an atheist, I don’t deny that I am a moral relativist. Rather, my aim is to expose the fact that Christians are also moral relativists. Indeed, when it comes to ethics, there are only two types of people in this world:
    A. Those who admit they are moral relativists;
    B. Those who do not admit they are moral relativists.


    Now that doesn't mean that society cannot make rules and decide if actions are good or bad. They can and they do. These rules change and evolve over time although there are some that seem to be universal, including (but not limited to) rape, murder, and stealing. These universal principles I would say is the closest we can get to an "objective morality."

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  33. Ben,

    I think there is room for disagreement among atheists on whether or not there is an "objective" morality. Obviously, one's philosophical presuppositions are going to come into play here. I personally agree with Eller but I don't say that Carrier and Harris are "idiots" or "fools." They make some good points but at the end of the day I agree with Eller. The fact that we can't agree on this point just illustrates how elusive any "objective" knowledge is. Whatever knowledge we have we have as "subjects" and therefore is ultimately "subjective." Thus, I am an agnostic atheist.

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  34. Ken,

    Hmm, I bet you wouldn't ask "true or correct for whom?" if the question were: "Is it true that life on Earth evolved by a series of slight, successive modifications?"
    Or am I wrong to think that?
    If I'm not wrong to think that, why would this be a valid question? I'm asking about objective morality, not "What you think is right". What you think is immaterial - you could be wrong.


    Everyone does unless they are willing to surrender that job to someone else or pretend that there is a holy book with all of the answers

    Of course, if recourse to a holy book written by an omnipotent God Who is the very foundation for all knowledge, being, and morality, then your post's thesis would be incorrect. That's why it's relevant.


    my aim is to expose the fact that Christians are also moral relativists.

    Then perhaps you could do me the favor of presenting Avalos' argument that Christians are moral relativists? I certainly deny the charge (and I'm a Christian).


    that doesn't mean that society cannot make rules and decide if actions are good or bad. They can and they do.

    Are societies ever wrong?
    Consider this: You are traveling in a foreign land and go to an out-of-the-way picturesque temple. There you meet a native, there to offer religious piety. He finishes lighting his candle and then greets you, speaking serviceable English. He introduces himself as Tkalim.
    He offers to tell you a little about his religion. You, being the courteous gentleman/lady you are, invite him to proceed. He tells you that he and his whole society worship 5 gods of the fish, air, earth, fire, and tree. He then tells you that part of his worship devotion is to go with all the men of his society to steal girls between the ages of 3-8 years from their families in the nearby large city, take them into the jungle, and rape them.
    Once raped, the tribesmen leave the girls in the jungle as an offering to the tree god. He says he knows of no girl that has ever returned to the city to her family.
    Once he finishes his story with calm voice and clear eyes, he falls silent.
    I have something to say to him about this practice. What would YOU say? How would you try to explain that what he is doing is wrong? *Is* what he is doing wrong? On what basis?


    I think there is room for disagreement among atheists on whether or not there is an "objective" morality.

    It would seem you don't think such a thing exists, so it remains incumbent upon you to demonstrate that Christianity doesn't have objective morality either. I'll be very interested to see how that argument holds up. If it doesn't, then the Christian is quite justified in contending, as you said above, "without a God, there can be no basis for (I would add: OBJECTIVE) morality", and your entire post's thesis would fail.

    Peace,
    Rhology


    PS - WAR_ - I'm listening to the Carrier lecture now. So far I'm not at all sure he's going to say what you hope he will; he's already made several boo-boos.

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  35. Ken,

    That's fair enough. It would just have been nice, still, if Eller would have referenced the major debate (books going off on tangents on both sides) and not left the Christians purely spinning in relativistic la la land having one more reason to stick a "turn back now while you still can" sign in front of atheism.

    To me, moral relativism is an inconsistent failure of moral imagination born primarily in the subjective lack of success in figuring out how to translate our common happiness denominators into common terms in order to solve the equation and find out who is most likely getting things right (or better). One has no basis for condemning or persuading people in different belief systems otherwise. I've never had problems with that in principle or in practice (though one does run into situations where you don't have enough information to call it, which is why a science of morality would be wonderful), so I'm not a relativist.

    Ben

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  36. Rhology,

    haha, well I'm not lying. You are free to disagree with Carrier. Obviously there are many contentious points throughout any discussion on morality (with anyone, really).

    I can find the exact time in the exact video if you like.

    Ben

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  37. Rhology,

    Let me ask you a couple of questions:

    1. Is it always wrong to kill infants and toddlers?

    2. Is it always wrong to own another human being as your personal property?

    Regarding your question about evolution. I think there is plenty of evidence that leads me to believe that evolution is true. There is also plenty of reasons for me to think that child rape or any kind of rape is wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Ken,

    1. No.
    2. No.

    Please answer them too. Thanks!

    Now, you said that "evidence" leads you to think evol is true. Then you said "reasons" lead you to think rape is wrong. In what way can these latter "reasons" be likened to evidence you think you have for evol? Where is the prescriptive power in evidence for evol? And where is the prescriptive power in your reasons to categorically reject rape? Why do you reject rape while other atheists such as Dan Barker can think of scenarios in which it might be acceptable? And what of the scenario I just described - is what Tkalim is doing wrong? How do you know?

    ReplyDelete
  39. Rhology,

    The Carrier video series I linked to does get into is/ought structure, but this is the most specific (it's a time link, too):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GkE1TxMRzU#t=2m33s

    It's been a while since I've watched them and the talks are so similar that I merged some of the contents in my head. Sorry.

    Ben

    ReplyDelete
  40. WAR_

    I just finished the first 6-part series. Actually, he doesn't get into it in nearly enough depth. Rather, his own hypothesis assumes what he needs to prove - that fulfilling people's desires is good. The whole thing is one big question-beg, and so he utterly and totally fails at dismantling Hume's Guillotine. Sorry; I know Carrier is a big atheist hero, but them's the facts.
    Further, he seems to have chosen the lamest and most emptyheaded Christian representation to respond to. I'm sure there are those who think like the Xtians he represents there, fine, but that's far from the most erudite critics of atheistic moral theory, and that's also far from biblical ideas with respect to the question.
    --For example, his "Christian's objection" is that w/o Christian morality, ppl will start running around killing everyone. Like I said, maybe some think that, but that's not even close to my position.
    --Or, "you ought to do what's moral b/c you'll burn in Hell otherwise." Eh? Gospel?
    --"Unspoken assumption that everyone wants to go to Heaven". What? Who thinks that? Is Carrier utterly unfamiliar with the doctrine of Original Sin?
    --Impossible dichotomy between "gaining Heaven" and "doing what's right".
    And on and on. Pretty lousy.
    All in all, it was quite unsatisfying. And if Carrier whiffs, I have every reason to believe Sam Harris will merely wet his pants.

    Peace,
    Rhology

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  41. Rhology,

    No, actually your version of Christianity fits Carrier's target perfectly. You just don't realize it. Lifted right out of the link you gave:

    "These laws from God are backed up with the force of justice. He will punish all breakers of the law with eternal torment, so evil is met with just judgment. The law has a policeman and judge as well - God. In other words, the statement "Raping little girls is always wrong for everyone at all times everywhere." is true, everywhere, for all people, at all times.
    That's what I mean when I say "objectively wrong". It doesn't depend on my personal preference."
    [emphasis mine]

    If you prefer eternal torment, then raping little girls isn't wrong. Carrier said as much, you just didn't let him address your views in your brain.

    "Rather, his own hypothesis assumes what he needs to prove - that fulfilling people's desires is good."

    No, Carrier's hypothesis takes into account what is actually true. That people have desires and that they want to fulfill them. Whatever that fulfillment is is called good, because that's just the label everyone always puts on the fulfillment of desires. We could call that "xingophlingflam" and it wouldn't matter. "Good" is just a word designating the structure of desire fulfillment. To accept some other definition leaves an ever moving goal post that can't logically *ever* be fulfilled in any event. Even your theory doesn't do anything about it:

    "WHY did He give this law this way?Because these laws are how He is. The law He gives flows out of Who and how He is. He is holy; His law demands holiness (and describes how to be holy). He is good; His law demands goodness (and describes how to be good). "

    Clearly you don't recognize that saying things God proscribes is good because God is good is just circular reasoning with no actual non-arbitrary content. And in reality your conception of "god is good" is based on your own appraisal of ideal human desire fulfillment (filtered through the opinions of Christian authors) projected onto the character in the Bible.

    Fulfilling desires is good. Carrier describes competent desire fulfillment and it would be incredibly foolish to disagree, imo.

    Thanks for giving the video a chance.

    Ben

    ReplyDelete
  42. WAR_

    You just don't realize it.

    I'm sorry you don't understand biblical theology very well. That's my almost-uniform experience with atheists, so you're not alone.


    "you ought to do what's moral b/c you'll burn in Hell otherwise."

    The whole point of Xtian theology is that NO ONE DOES GOOD. That's the strawman. You can NEVER do enough good to get into Heaven. Eternal life depends solely on the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, and His resurrection, which grant forgiveness of sin.


    If you prefer eternal torment, then raping little girls isn't wrong.

    Not on Christianity. On Christianity, raping little girls is wrong at all times for all people in all circumstances. If you prefer eternal torment, you prefer eternal torment; your desires or preferences have nothing to do with anything. That's what "objective" means, but obviously since this idea is absent from atheistic worldviews, I don't blame you that much for being unfamiliar with it.



    Carrier's hypothesis takes into account what is actually true. That people have desires and that they want to fulfill them.

    Yes, I know that. But how does that get to "fulfilling desires is good"?
    The fact that people have desires and that they want to fulfill them tells us... that people have desires and that they want to fulfill them. That's all.



    Whatever that fulfillment is called good

    You just pulled your magic bunny out the hat. Hume would be laughing at you here.
    PROVE it's good - that's the whole point!
    To help you, let me propose a diff way of looking at it. *I* call fulfilling people's desires "bad". It's what I want to avoid at all costs; in fact, it's morally compulsory for me to do so (in my thought experiment). Am I wrong? How can we know who's right between us?



    We could call that "xingophlingflam" and it wouldn't matter. "Good" is just a word designating the structure of desire fulfillment.

    Now you're trying to treat me like I'm stupid. "Good" has an implicit meaning to people - that this is to be preferred. Implies normativity and prescription.
    So I insist - call it "xingophlingflam", but don't call it "good" until you have an argument for its goodness.



    To accept some other definition leaves an ever moving goal post that can't logically *ever* be fulfilled in any event. Even your theory doesn't do anything about it:

    ?? Methinks you didn't read carefully. Obeying God's commands is an objective good. Nothing moving about that goalpost.



    Clearly you don't recognize that saying things God proscribes is good because God is good is just circular reasoning with no actual non-arbitrary content

    Um, of course! I just told you that God is the ultimate standard. He's the standard of comparison. I'm not PROVING anything; I'm telling you what my position is, and how this post is mistaken.



    And in reality your conception of "god is good" is based on your own appraisal of ideal human desire fulfillment

    Prove it.


    Fulfilling desires is good

    Prove it.

    Peace,
    Rhology

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  43. Hi,

    Wasn't Eller charged with under-age sex recently? Why should he be telling us about morality? Do we need more child sex?

    ReplyDelete
  44. From wiki:

    David Barry Eller (born April 30, 1945) was a professor of Religious Studies and head of the Department of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College until his termination, following his arrest for attempting to meet a minor for sex in July 2006.

    ReplyDelete
  45. John Sfifer,

    Genetic fallacy. Just FYI.

    ReplyDelete
  46. John,

    Please check your facts before you go making such serious allegations. The author is Jack David Eller and he is not the person to whom you refer. He has taught college in Denver for the last 10 years or longer.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Rhology,

    So you think its okay sometimes to:

    1. Kill infants and toddlers.

    2. Own another human being as your personal property.

    If that is the case, I am not sure that I need to bother having a discussion with you about morality and I am surprised that you think its wrong to rape children. Apparently its okay to kill them just not rape them?

    ReplyDelete
  48. Ken,

    Yes. You said "always", which means 100% of the time. I can think of a very, very few situations in which either could be justifiable, but that would be less than 100%. I expect, if you want clarification, you'll ask.


    I am surprised that you think its wrong to rape children. Apparently its okay to kill them just not rape them?

    Yes. I am consistent with my fundamental presupposition - that God lives and speaks. He spoke in the Bible. In the Bible, God commands, a few times, for certain people to carry out His judgment upon another group of people by killing them. But God never commands nor approves of rape.
    So, you've so far left a number of questions directed at you on the table. Would you mind answering them, please?

    Peace,
    Rhology

    ReplyDelete
  49. Hi, Ken. Hope you don't mind me posting here.

    Rho said: Yes, I know that. But how does that get to "fulfilling desires is good"?
    The fact that people have desires and that they want to fulfill them tells us... that people have desires and that they want to fulfill them. That's all.


    To add to this, desires for different people are...well...different. I desire peanut buttery chocolate over vanilla. Others love vanilla. Neither of us is right or wrong. If there are no objective moral values, then nothing is actually "right or wrong." Some people prefer to love their neighbors, others prefer to eat their neighbors, neither is "right" and neither is "wrong."

    ReplyDelete
  50. Rhology,

    So, let me get this right.

    1. It is okay (even good) to kill infants and toddlers as long as your god commands it.

    2. It is okay (even good) to own another human being as property as long as your god condones it.

    Is that correct?

    But yet it is never right to rape children? Would it be right IF your god commanded it?
    In addition, what about older children or even adult women, is it ever okay to rape them?


    Now to answer your questions:

    I maintain that we as human beings have an instinct or intuition that certain things are wrong. Where does this intuition come from? I tend to think its just the way our brains have evolved. We can act against these intuitions, especially when an authority tells us its okay, but usually the authority gives us some rationale (excuse) why in this particular case its okay to go against our intuition.

    Thus, my intuition tells me that its always wrong to kill infants and toddlers, its always wrong to own another human being as property and its always wrong to rape.

    ReplyDelete
  51. 1. It is okay (even good) to kill infants and toddlers as long as your god commands it.

    If one has a divine command. But what reason, on your view, do YOU give for not ever killing infants?

    2. It is okay (even good) to own another human being as property as long as your god condones it.

    You might read this essay.

    But yet it is never right to rape children? Would it be right IF your god commanded it?

    We never have to worry about that, because rape is always wrong. Killing is only wrong if it's murder. A justified killing isn't murder.

    Thus, my intuition tells me that its always wrong to kill infants and toddlers, its always wrong to own another human being as property and its always wrong to rape.

    Other people's don't. What makes you right and them wrong. If it's all based on intuition, then different intuitions = different moral values.

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  52. Ken,

    Oops, sorry about this...I googled David Eller, this was a surprise.

    ReplyDelete
  53. How Christian of you to slander, John! You evangelicals are all the same. You claim to be the righteous "salt of the earth", but statistics show otherwise. You sir, are a class A douchebag.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Rho and the Bossman don't like doubt, complexity and ambiguity. They can’t function without absolute certainty. So, they've mentally removed and eliminated all doubt, complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty.

    God is always good.

    God commanded Joshua to kill babies, so killing babies was good.

    Absolutely, positively. No doubts, no questions and no proof required. It's untestable circular reasoning and totally arbitary, but that doesn't matter.

    Good luck to all those who try to convince them otherwise.

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  55. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  56. God commanded Joshua to kill babies, so killing babies was good.

    David's intuition commanded him not to kill babies, so killing babies was bad. Presumably, if his intuition were to change, which he can't prove it won't, killing babies would become good.

    Absolutely, positively. No doubts, no questions and no proof required. It's untestable circular reasoning and totally arbitary, but that doesn't matter.

    Good luck to all those who try to convince him otherwise.

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  57. Wow, I'm glad David just thoroughly psychoanalyzed Rho and I through the interwebz. Amazing.

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  58. If the choice is between (1) using objectively real things such as empathy, reason, and an instinct for reciprocal exchange to conclude that killing babies in Canaan is bad and (2) concluding that it’s ok to kill babies in Canaan because a tribal leader claimed that a voice in his head said “this is God, and it’s good to kill babies and steal the land”… I’m going to go with Choice 1, whether it’s “intuition” or not.

    Actually, I have no absolutes, lots of doubts, lots of questions, and I attempt to find some objective and real world-based reasons for why I think it's bad to kill babies in Canaan. In place of circular reasoning, I attempt to understand the evolutionary, historical and human mental function roots of moral codes. Among other things, I’ve noticed that the leaders of genocide almost always claim that they are doing it for the greater good, and most historical cases, they also claim that they are following the dictates of a “higher power” of some sort.

    You can test my basis for saying that killing babies in Canaan is bad by attempting to disprove the hypothesis that the capacity for empathy, reason, reciprocal altruism, language, the creation of cultures that promote survival, domestic tranquility and general welfare are all objective properties of Homo sapiens. If these are not objective characteristics of the species, then my basis for determining good and bad is invalid.

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  59. Bossman, I think we know each other pretty well by now. But if you disagree with my analysis, by all means, let me know where I went wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Rhology,

    Thanks for responding.

    "I'm not PROVING anything; I'm telling you what my position is..."

    Well see, that's part of the problem, because you also have no way to tell us why we should give a hoot about your moral theory. The instant you actually attempt to do that (which I'm sure you probably would in any other context other than this), you'll immediately fall into Carrier's trap.

    "Obeying God's commands is an objective good. Nothing moving about that goalpost."

    Does God exist? If so, who cares? Why should we do what he tells us? What does it even mean to call God "good?" Why not call something else good? If you can just assert that "God is good" then why can't someone else just assert "fulfilling desires is good?"

    If you held atheism to the same kind of standards you hold your own moral paradigm, you'd have no problem with Eller's relativism or any other kind of moral theory. If you don't take any of this seriously, you have no basis for criticizing this post and all the accusations backfire.

    "Eternal life depends solely on the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, and His resurrection, which grant forgiveness of sin."

    Why should I want my sins forgiven? Do I even have sins? Did Jesus even die for them? What does that even mean? Do I even want to go to this heaven? Does it even exist? Etc. There's nothing of substance here.

    "On Christianity, raping little girls is wrong at all times for all people in all circumstances. If you prefer eternal torment, you prefer eternal torment; your desires or preferences have nothing to do with anything. That's what "objective" means"

    So "objective" means you just assert out of no where that it's "always wrong" just because? What is the difference between saying "Raping little girls is always blue, and if you prefer oranges, that doesn't matter" and what you've said? It's just a string of gibberish unless you actually step up to Carrier's conventions.

    ...

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  61. ...

    The fact that people have desires and that they want to fulfill them tells us... that people have desires and that they want to fulfill them. That's all.

    No actually that's enough. Let's look at your curious counter-example to prove the inescapability and obviousness of it:

    "*I* call fulfilling people's desires "bad". It's what I want to avoid at all costs;"

    You say you WANT to avoid fulfilling your desires at all costs? Really? Won't you fail if you succeed? ;) You see, we only do what we most want to do, and whatever we call the fulfillment of that doesn't matter. We are agents of desire who will always do what we most want to do (if it is practically possible). Carrier's theory merely embraces reality and tells us how to perfect it.

    I said:

    "And in reality your conception of "god is good" is based on your own appraisal of ideal human desire fulfillment"

    You said: "Prove it."

    Well feel free to correct me. I'm not a mind reader. But I imagine that you actually emotionally interact with this God in any coherent way, you have at least some intimate understanding of his personality and preferences. It's pretty much unavoidable since we are always building mental models of other agents' behaviors and traits so that we can interact with them. Unless you are telling us that God visits you directly on a regular basis and sits down and has conversations with you, then most of this is going on in your imagination on his behalf. And unless you really have some absolutely crazy idea of what God is like (that is so unrecognizable as to be useless), he's probably a lot like an ideal human moral agent with absolute capabilities. We work with what we know. Right? Be honest, this isn't an attack.

    Ben

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  62. Bossmanham,

    To add to this, desires for different people are...well...different. I desire peanut buttery chocolate over vanilla. Others love vanilla. Neither of us is right or wrong. If there are no objective moral values, then nothing is actually "right or wrong." Some people prefer to love their neighbors, others prefer to eat their neighbors, neither is "right" and neither is "wrong.""

    I'm afraid this is overly simplistic and most of the time not true. And even when sometimes it appears to be true, it isn't really true. It's somewhat complicated, so let me explain.

    Let's take the first half of your comment. Chocolate vs. Vanilla. Now, no one here is saying that absolutely everything has some rigid ideological answer for every little aspect of life. That's silly. Even typical Christian apologetics has a spectrum from less important to more important. Otherwise pork would probably still be unclean for Christians or we might imagine that homosexuality could have slipped from its Levitical abomination status. So, can Christians here be at least a tiny bit reasonable and observant that their moral paradigm has shades of gray?

    ...

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  63. ...

    Now, let's take the second example you give. There certainly are cannibals out there and have been. Notice though, that most cannibal tribes (as I understand it) mainly eat the bodies of their out-group. They still maintain in-group social ethics. Hence there is something to work with. They aren't amoral sociopaths. One, we could make good arguments that there probably is no such thing as "life force" and that eating and drinking the blood of their enemies doesn't actually convey any advantage. But it does increase the likelihood of getting some kind of disease. So they are factually mistaken in their beliefs and that alone might well put them along side do-unto other folk. Then there's another level of persuasion that gets into the value of individuals and how murdering them or persisting in war with other groups of people really isn't as advantagous as negotiating peace treaties and working things out in diplomatic ways. Both tribes may even have a lot to offer each other that perhaps they have not considered. In other words, we appeal to a broad spectrum of other competing human desires and show them how they might satisfy themselves in objectively *more satisfying* ways over time.

    Granted, this is no easy task, depends on many complicating factors and details of an actual situation, and certainly people are stubborn and often stuck in their ways. But that's just how life is and any contrary moral theory is going to have serious obstacles to scale. For instance, it's not necessarily very easy to convince people that God exists, or that he's the Christian God, or that your interpretation of Christianity in practice is actually correct.

    Anyway, surely we all know the following to be the case. We think we want one thing, but it turns out, after some experience and growing up, that we were mistaken and certain facts brought us into recognition that there was in fact a better way to get more bang for our emotional buck. We can get things wrong even on our own terms, and by extension, even well established ways of life for entire other civilizations can get things wrong by their own terms. And it is my hypothesis and contention that when all the relevant facts are laid bare (of psychology predominantly), all human cultures for at least as long as our species has been recognizably our species probably have a "best" way to run the human condition (or perhaps several equally good ways).

    Certainly Christians are known for advertising the exploits of virtue in their own lives. They look at the immoral as foolish for chasing after fleeting self destructive desires. And Christians should recognize that this in and of itself is a reason to cultivate virtue rather than vice since we actually have to live with ourselves and each other, even if it is only for a while.

    Ben

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  64. Ken,

    This comment caught my attention.

    Thus, my intuition tells me that its always wrong to kill infants and toddlers, its always wrong to own another human being as property and its always wrong to rape.

    I am glad to see that you recognize that these are always wrong. However, the morality you espouse seems to fail as a morality because it lacks an prescriptive power that is normative for all people. At the end, it appears that you have nothing to say to Rho's tribal person. Certainly, I see no basis for declaring the rape of young girls as wrong for those people.

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  65. thechemistscorner,

    I am glad to see that you recognize that these are always wrong. However, the morality you espouse seems to fail as a morality because it lacks an prescriptive power that is normative for all people. At the end, it appears that you have nothing to say to Rho's tribal person. Certainly, I see no basis for declaring the rape of young girls as wrong for those people.

    You're right. Ken is getting along well enough in his moral niche, but running into problems when he confronts other perspectives. He needs something better than intuitions or if he persists is guilty of intuitional-centricism prefering his moral intuitions over others arbitrarily.

    Now, I don't think we should throw intuitions completely out. Intuitions are the result of compiled heuristical experience. And plausibly everyone's experience has something relevant to say about the human condition even if that build up is flawed for whatever reason. And hence, we don't waffle to some other ridiculous extreme, but instead learn to work with what we got in the appropriate way.

    And that appropriate way is A: Understanding what moral intuitions are the result of. B. Recognizing their natural limitations. C. Noticing that others may have different intuitions (and why). And D. Taking the criticism we'd give to anyone else about trusting their intuitions. We'd have to subject them to the same checks and balances of our error correcting mechanisms that are provided for in the brain.

    ...

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  66. ...

    In other words, we don't just trust our sight, because we know there are visual illusions. We don't just trust our hearing because we know we can misidentify sounds. We don't just trust our memory because we know memories can be confused and muffled with other junk in the brain. In the same way, we don't just use our moral intuitions as is, like some kind of magic dowsing rod for absolute moral truth and we don't throw it out either any more than we pluck out our eyes for seeing the wrong thing. We use all of our faculties working together to test and double and sometimes triple check to make sure any one of them is not fooling us. Of course, all of them can be mistaken, but it is logically impossible to do better.

    Eyes can be trained to understand illusions and moral intuitions can be re-tasked over time to "feel right" about new moral conclusions that differ from our personal history of mistakes. So, in terms of the moral conundrum at hand, confronting the child rapists who are of the intuitive conclusion that raping young girls is "right" we'd have to find ways of educating them to the facts of the matter that both they and their potential victims can have a much better life minus the raping. If you don't think you can do that (in a similar way that I've described in confronting cannibals), then I suppose raping little girls is just as good a way of life as anything else. The difficulty of the problem doesn't mean it can't be done in principle. It just means you have a failure of imagination and shouldn't jump to conclusions that it can't possibly be done without having an arbitrary divine source telling you one way or the other.

    Ben

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  67. Hello War,

    Can you clarify this comment? I'm not seeing the circularity that you see.

    Clearly you don't recognize that saying things God proscribes is good because God is good is just circular reasoning with no actual non-arbitrary content. And in reality your conception of "god is good" is based on your own appraisal of ideal human desire fulfillment (filtered through the opinions of Christian authors) projected onto the character in the Bible.

    It appears that there is two things going on here: (1) the argument that what God proclaims is good because he is good is circular and (2) the statement "God is good" is contentless.

    I do not see how (1) is circular. If God is good in his nature how can what he does or command be anything but good? This is analogous to finding a freshwater well and being surprised that you get fresh water when you tap into the well. I don't think we can entertain (2) until (1) is settled.

    Cheers,
    The Chemist

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  68. The Chemist,

    No problem. It is circular because it doesn't explain what good actually is. Your example of water makes sense to you because you happen to know what water is like from your own experience and connect the arbitrary label "water" to your memory of actual water.

    If we divorce the phraseology from the loaded term "good" and say, "God is x, so of course we get x from God" that doesn't tell us anything about what x is supposed to be. It is contentless and circular. The content is coming from some place else (much like the water example) or you would not respond positively to the idea (any more than you would know that water quenches your thirst).

    Ben

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  69. . It is circular because it doesn't explain what good actually is.

    Yes it does. Whatever God desires and is, is good. And we know that from the Bible. Simple.
    And yes it's tautological - God is the ultimate standard of good. ALL such talk ends up tautological. And yet look at the absurd alternatives - you STILL haven't answered very many substantive questions for your position at all.

    You know, in all this talk about fulfilling desires and intuitions, this one very important fact is forgotten. Morality is supposed to tell us which DESIRES and INTUITIONS are good. If your answer is "by the majority", how can we know whether the majority's desires are good? If by "that's what keeps society alive and in good order", how can we know whether keeping society alive and in good order is good? You have to answer this.

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  70. Rhology,

    "Yes it does. Whatever God desires and is, is good. And we know that from the Bible. Simple. And yes it's tautological - God is the ultimate standard of good. ALL such talk ends up tautological."

    Backing it up to the Bible doesn't tell us that it's good. It just tells us that it's in the Bible. You've given us no method for discerning between holy books since "god is x" doesn't tell us which holy book correlates to the contentless definition.

    "And yet look at the absurd alternatives - you STILL haven't answered very many substantive questions for your position at all."

    hehe, true enough. I haven't written an entire book in these comments, but it looks like I'm working on it, eh? Next, someone will be complaining, "you respond to everyone!" lol

    "You know, in all this talk about fulfilling desires and intuitions, this one very important fact is forgotten. Morality is supposed to tell us which DESIRES and INTUITIONS are good. If your answer is "by the majority", how can we know whether the majority's desires are good? If by "that's what keeps society alive and in good order", how can we know whether keeping society alive and in good order is good? You have to answer this."

    Good desires are desires that tend to fulfill other desires and bad desires are desires that tend to thwart other desires. That's desirism 101. Desires that don't tend to do either are optional and not within the moral realm.

    Next question, or are we getting the idea yet?

    Ben

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  71. WAR,

    Backing it up to the Bible doesn't tell us that it's good. It just tells us that it's in the Bible.

    That's what it tells YOU. But I have every reason to think that the Bible is God's speaking, so it has God's authority backing it up.



    You've given us no method for discerning between holy books since "god is x"

    If you'd ask, I'd tell you how I discern. But that's neither here nor there.



    Good desires are desires that tend to fulfill other desires and bad desires are desires that tend to thwart other desires.

    But how can we find out whether those desires to be fulfilled are bad?
    How does this answer my scenario with Tkalim and child rape? It sounds like you don't have any way to make definite, objective, absolute moral statements. As long as enough people desire something, it's "good".
    And how do you figure out the boundaries of the desires you fulfill? How many people? What % of society? What % of "other desires" does a desire have to fulfill before it's good? What if all those desires to be fulfilled are desires to thwart everyone else's desires?
    and further and more fundamentally, you're just ASSERTING that DU is true. How do you KNOW it's true? How do you overcome Hume's Guillotine?

    IOW, you have a LONG way to go.

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  72. Bossman,

    I am not ignoring you but Rhology asked the questions and I wanted to see his response before I launch into a defense.

    ReplyDelete
  73. Ken,

    1. Yes. IF.
    2. Yes. IF.

    And yes, it is never right to rape children. God has never commanded it and I have no reason to think He will.
    It's not right to rape ANYone. I thought I made that clear.

    And I agree with WAR - your "intuition" is extremely insufficient. Let's say my intuition is totally opposite to yours, at all times. Which of us is right and how can we know?

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  74. Chemist,

    You say: the morality you espouse seems to fail as a morality because it lacks an prescriptive power that is normative for all people.

    It is not my role, but the role of the society in which one lives, to set prescriptions for behavior. I do have that privilege with my minor children or perhaps in a few other limited roles.

    At the end, it appears that you have nothing to say to Rho's tribal person. Certainly, I see no basis for declaring the rape of young girls as wrong for those people. I may not be able to prove philosophically to this tribal person that raping a child is wrong (assuming that philosophical proof would mean anything to him) but I believe he probably also shares the same moral intuition and I can appeal to that intuition (i.e., his conscience). If he persists, I believe I have a personal responsibility to prevent the child from being raped if at all possible.

    ReplyDelete
  75. Rhology,

    You say: Whatever God desires and is, is good. And we know that from the Bible. Simple.

    1. So, whatever God does is a reflection of his nature and is the definition of "good"?

    If so, that removes any real content to the word "good". You might as well just use the words "God's nature" and do away with the word "good." Of course this would result in many nonsensical statements.

    2. So, when God orders the killing of infants and toddlers, that is "good"? The the word "good" it turned on its head and becomes meaningless to most people.

    3. Why would it okay to kill a child but not rape one? At least the child still has its life. Rape typically does not have as severe a penalty in human jurisprudence as does killing.

    ReplyDelete
  76. Rhology,

    You say: it is never right to rape children. God has never commanded it and I have no reason to think He will.

    But, hypothetically, if he did would it be "good"?

    You say: It's not right to rape ANYone. I thought I made that clear.

    How do you know this?

    You say:your "intuition" is extremely insufficient. Let's say my intuition is totally opposite to yours, at all times. Which of us is right and how can we know

    I follow my intuition (which is what Paul commands with regard to the question of eating meet offered to idols) and you follow yours. I believe I am right and you believe you are right. Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

    However, when it comes to a society and its laws, then men have to agree on what is permissible and what is not. When they come to an agreement (and their ideas may evolve as it did with regard to slavery), then the society's law is passed.

    ReplyDelete
  77. Rhology,

    "But I have every reason to think that the Bible is God's speaking, so it has God's authority backing it up."

    Even so, why is God authoritative on what constitutes "good"? Why should we listen to him?
    Surely you've seen this coming? Why did you think someone should accept this answer or any of the ones that came before?

    I'd said:

    "You've given us no method for discerning between holy books since "god is x""

    You said:

    "If you'd ask, I'd tell you how I discern. But that's neither here nor there."

    Okay. How do you discern? How would we know the right God when we found him if we don't already know what "good" is? And if we already know what good is in order to find this God, then why do we need to look for God in the first place?

    I'd said:

    "Good desires are desires that tend to fulfill other desires and bad desires are desires that tend to thwart other desires."

    You said:

    "But how can we find out whether those desires to be fulfilled are bad?"

    I just told you. You've just ignored my answers. All I'm doing is describing the structure of desire and I even showed you how your counter example proved my point. You ignored it labeling it all "desire talk." That's not a conversation. That's I give you answers and then you stop listening and pretend like I haven't proven my point already.

    ...

    ReplyDelete
  78. ...

    Christians already apply desirism. An easy example is sex. You think the desire for sex is good if it doesn't inhibit other desires for friendship, loyalty, purity, and commitment, etc. (aka, marriage). You might say "sex is good in the right context" but the right context is about making sure you are fulfilling more than one desire and not at the expense of others. Why else would God recommend one thing over the other? And if he recommended behaviors that thwart every human desire (including a desire for holiness, for instance), why would you ever listen to him?

    Desirism accurately describes what people are doing and when we understand the structure of that, we can reapply that knowledge as a prescription for doing it better. All you have to do is recognize, "Oh yeah. That is what I am doing. And I do think fulfilling my desires is good and that fulfilling more desires is better and that inhibiting desires is bad and that inhibiting more desires is worse." It is just the actual nature of agents of desire. Desires are by definition reason to action. If we didn't have them we'd never do anything. You are an agent of desire and so I trust you are quite capable of putting two and two together. And when you realize what is going on in an introspective way, you realize how people can get that wrong and how they can get it right. We can get objectively more skillful at fulfilling all our desires and finding a place for everything. A la happiness.

    "How does this answer my scenario with Tkalim and child rape?"

    I'd appreciate it if you would look at the ground already covered on cannibalism since you're ignoring one extreme example just to make me write you a whole book on every possible morally complex problem ever. I'm happy to do move to the next example if this conversation is in good faith, but it seems like you are in the process of rejecting virtually everything I've written here so far in these 70 plus comments without demonstrating that I'm actually wrong about anything. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that perhaps you haven't read all the comments here.

    "It sounds like you don't have any way to make definite, objective, absolute moral statements."

    Can you defend that moral intuition that all moral statements have to be absolute? I don't see why they have to be. Cuz I'm pretty sure I can define "better than not" along the way even if I can't be quite sure yet what the absolute best way to live is.

    "As long as enough people desire something, it's "good"."

    Again, you are arbitrarily rejecting what I've written. This is quickly becoming a non-conversation as a result. I've never said anything about a human popularity vote.

    ...

    ReplyDelete
  79. ...

    Individuals happen to be a portfolio of many competing desires. You wouldn't even bring up your objection unless you had yet another desire for empathizing with other people that are not in the majority. Hence, via DU, people will not tend to gang up on other people because it tends to thwart their own desires. I'm sure you already have a working knowledge of this if only you would identify the structure of that in your ordinary life. Have you not yet discovered the many benefits of caring about others and what happens when you do not? That's kind of an awkward claim coming from a Christian.

    And with self reflection (and a lack of defensiveness) you'll have to realize that all other objections that you could possibly appeal to (if they are to mean anything at all to anyone) will also be backed by other competing desires you have as an individual. If not, then there's no reason to object or expect a resolution. Even your very line of questioning reinforces DU.

    "What % of "other desires" does a desire have to fulfill before it's good?"

    There is a such thing as opportunity cost. Conflicts of interest happen all the time and I doubt there's any definitive number value we can put on anything since it's all relationally established. One desire doesn't get an all time label of good or evil since contexts those desires manifest in can shift (such as the sex example) and you have reevaluate the relational status as you go (though certain trends to persist and those desires naturally get the "goodest" label). Do I need to explain concept of "making the most of any situation" or can I avoid spelling out a long list of obvious things? We are in "normal person" territory. You can probably answer all these questions yourself if you think them through with real examples.

    "What if all those desires to be fulfilled are desires to thwart everyone else's desires?"

    Then they execute you. Obviously. If you translate that position into "normal speak" you've described the monster's perspective of an angry mob out to get it for murdering the sons and daughters of the village. If you desire to live more than to thwart everyone else's desires then you'll change your tune. And if not, then why shouldn't they kill you? Aren't their desires just as important as yours? Your desire would have been good...if it weren't in the business of thwarting all those other desires.

    "and further and more fundamentally, you're just ASSERTING that DU is true. How do you KNOW it's true? How do you overcome Hume's Guillotine?"

    I've consistently pointed out all your double standards and empty alternatives. I've demonstrated how the structure of Richard Carrier's goal theory (GT) and Alonzo Fyfe's DU maps out onto actual realities you are familiar with as an agent of desire with the goal of happiness and cannot hope to avoid. Are you really going to bite the bullet and maintain, "I don't want anything that I want"? That's denial, by definition.

    Ben

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  80. Ken,

    If the society in which one lives sets the prescriptions for behavior, how can you possibly be justified in intervening in the affairs of a separate society that has its own moral code? Certainly if societies set their own moral agenda--and there are no objective moral laws--then none of the moral codes can be viewed as superior to the other. Appealing to your moral intuition doesn't seem as a valid recourse. How do you know your moral intuition is functioning properly to begin with?

    Perhaps relating it to a less hypothetical scenario will help. In many Islamic societies women are treated very poorly by Western standards. Is it morally correct for our society to demand better treatment of women in those states? After all, they are functioning in their own society, which as set its own moral codes.

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  81. I'm not so sure that the Bible says that rape is always wrong. Depends a bit on how you define rape. If rape is any case of forced sex, the OT Law does permit rape in the case of captured virgins. Now, there is a requirement for "marriage" in this act of rape, but there is no indication that the woman can refuse to marry, that is, refuse to have sex with her captive. In addition, the "marriage" can be ended quite easily if she "displeases" her captor, and at this point, the woman is considered "dishonored".

    On balance, this is not as bad as battlefield rape, but it does have elements of forced sex.

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  82. Chemist,

    I think it is futile to try to convince Islamic societies to change their treatment of women. It is not going to happen BECAUSE they see their standard as objectively true and as divinely established (you see how this kind of thinking can create tyranny?).

    I think that the wisest approach is education and maybe the women will rise up and demand better treatment but these kinds of changes take a long time (realize that women only got the right to vote in US about 100 years ago).

    I have to decide for myself what I think right conduct is but if I want to live in a society, I have to follow the standards that are set for everyone in that society. Fortunately in the US we have some ability to influence those standards.

    I can argue with those who disagree with my standards but I can never "prove" that my position is the objectively true one. I can provide reason and evidence for why I think my view is the correct one but I cannot prove it to anyone except myself.

    Now I do believe that virtually all men have a basic moral compass and agree on a few things--murder, rape, punishing innocent people, etc are wrong. Beyond those few things there is not a lot of agreement.

    I think the very reason that societies have tied their moral standards to a deity is as an attempt to make them objective.

    ReplyDelete
  83. David,

    See my post coming tommorrow on: Does the God of the Bible condone rape?

    ReplyDelete
  84. Ken,

    Thank you for your responses. However, I think we are talking past each other. My main question is whether or not a society has a right to correct the moral codes of another society based on your ethical theory. From what I have gleaned from your posts, you are a moral subjectivist though you feel a personal responsibility to intervene in other societies whose moral codes are in your opinion deficient (please correct me if I have put you in the wrong pigeon hole). I am having a hard time seeing how this is a coherrent view.

    Let's go back to the example of Islamic women and the intervention of foreign states in the moral laws of an Islamic nation. As you noted, the treatment of women in those states flows from the moral codes in place in that society. You advocated some form of intervention from your comment about educating those individuals in to improve the treatment of women. However, educating them suggests that their socially-derived moral codes are somehow inferior or defective. Why are they defective? There is no standard in place for adjudicating these things on your views. It is merely opinion. I see no reason to favor the morals of one society over that of another in the absence of any objective moral laws that are normative for all people. I suspect this a situation where you are attempting to carry some vestiges of your former Christian morality (e.g., the list of intrinsic morals you gave that all people share) onto a philosopical construct that cannot support it.

    At the end you mention that all people recognize some common intrinsic morals and attempt to identify them with a deity. I think people do this precisely because they recognize objective moral laws exist. In fact, this seems to be evidence for the objectivity of moral laws. Indeed, such a trend would be expected in a world where objective moral laws are in place as opposed to a world where different social groups develop their own moral codes across vastly different geographic locations and times across the globe.

    War,

    I am hoping to find time to respond to your argument. It is difficult with two little ones under three. If this conversation dies out before I can get back to it, then just take it that I a disagree (I bet that shocked you!) ;o)

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  85. Bossman, I think we know each other pretty well by now. But if you disagree with my analysis, by all means, let me know where I went wrong.

    David, if this is any sign, I would say you are a tad deluded if you think we can "know each other" from some short convos over the internet without having ever seen one another. The internet surely can be a weird place.

    WOT,

    I'm afraid this is overly simplistic and most of the time not true.

    Really? How so? It really doesn't matter how much of the time it's true. All that matters is it is right for some people, in their minds, to eat other people. Why are they wrong?

    Now, no one here is saying that absolutely everything has some rigid ideological answer for every little aspect of life. That's silly....

    No one ever claimed that. If morals are based on personal preference or intuition, it still stands that they would be comparable to liking ice cream better than jello.

    So, can Christians here be at least a tiny bit reasonable and observant that their moral paradigm has shades of gray?

    Importance of an issue doesn't change its rightness or wrongness. Even an unimportant issue can have a right and wrong stance.

    Notice though, that most cannibal tribes (as I understand it) mainly eat the bodies of their out-group. They still maintain in-group social ethics

    So this makes it more acceptable?

    They aren't amoral sociopaths

    Who said anyone was amoral? That isn't even an issue here.

    So they are factually mistaken in their beliefs and that alone might well put them along side do-unto other folk

    Mistaken about what?

    Then there's another level of persuasion that gets into the value of individuals and how murdering them or persisting in war with other groups of people really isn't as advantagous as negotiating peace treaties and working things out in diplomatic ways

    Altruism isn't advantageous for an individual either, so is it wrong to help others? Some people don't care if something is advantageous, they only care if it's right.
    And on what standard are you basing the assumption that we should only do what is advantageous? That sounds like a personal preference that others would disagree with.

    Granted, this is no easy task...

    What does this have to do with whether something is actually right or wrong or not? Why shouldn't the cannibals eat other people? Maybe they just like it, or maybe it's a religious prerogative?

    We can get things wrong even on our own terms,

    Wrong according to what standard?

    They look at the immoral as foolish for chasing after fleeting self destructive desires

    Which means they look at their past selves the same way, because we were "dead in [our] transgressions and the uncircumcision of [our] flesh, He made [us] alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions" (Colossians 2:13-14).

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  86. If rape is any case of forced sex, the OT Law does permit rape in the case of captured virgins. Now, there is a requirement for "marriage" in this act of rape, but there is no indication that the woman can refuse to marry, that is, refuse to have sex with her captive

    Oh, David again shows his complete lack of Biblical knowledge. He says, "hey look, a case of rape in the Old Testament. Oh look, a penalty applied for rape, but God still must have been okay with it."

    The Bible never okays rape, ever.

    And, Ken, just as God has never commanded murder (since murder is an unjustified killing and murder is always wrong) so too has God never commanded, nor never will command a rape, because it is always wrong, according to His own character. It is a sin against someone made in God's image (if you forget that whole intrinsic worth given to humanity thing).

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  87. Ken,
    It is not my role, but the role of the society in which one lives, to set prescriptions for behavior.

    Yes, we know that. So why are you telling us something we SHOULD obey? Or are you not telling us anything with SHOULD value?


    I may not be able to prove philosophically to this tribal person that raping a child is wrong

    Again, yes, that's clear. that's why I brought it up.
    And speaking of intuition, how pitifully useless is a moral system that can't tell someone that raping and murdering a child is always wrong

    at all times for any reason? "I feel like you shouldn't be shoving those Jews in ovens, but I can't prove it!" Um, great, thanks.


    If he persists, I believe I have a personal responsibility to prevent the child from being raped if at all possible.

    But the only reason you have for that is b/c you feel like it.
    Again, you would not treat questioning of evolutionary theory in this way. It's clear this is not a fact for you, and thus not binding.

    Hume's Guillotine has decapitated your moral authority as well.


    1. So, whatever God does is a reflection of his nature and is the definition of "good"?

    Yes.


    If so, that removes any real content to the word "good".

    Make an argument.
    The Bible is actually quite long. There's an awful lot of content in it. Try again.


    You might as well just use the words "God's nature" and do away with the word "good."

    I do use those words, often. Why not make an argument that actually makes a dent in my position?


    2. So, when God orders the killing of infants and toddlers, that is "good"?

    Yes. Do you have a problem with it? Does it give you indigestion, or make you want to sniffle? What's the difference between that feeling

    and the feeling that Mormon elders report to me they felt when they asked God whether the Book of Mormon is true?


    3. Why would it okay to kill a child but not rape one?

    a) The occasions on which it is permissible to kill a child are very, very limited. I would not expect such a permission for myself today.

    Besides, the commandment from God is "do not MURDER". Murder = unjustified killing. But if God commands you to kill someone, it is

    justified.
    b) B/c God has made specific and sweeping commands against sexual immorality in the Bible. Rape is sexual immorality; He does not command us

    to break His law. Rather, He commands us to obey it.


    But, hypothetically, if he did would it be "good"?

    Hypothetically, if God made a square circle, would it be "square"? The question is impossible to entertain, sorry.


    your "intuition" is extremely insufficient. Let's say my intuition is totally opposite to yours, at all times. Which of us is right and how

    can we know

    I follow my intuition (which is what Paul commands with regard to the question of eating meet offered to idols) and you follow yours. I

    believe I am right and you believe you are right


    That's pathetic. I didn't ask you what you FELT. I asked you who is RIGHT. Please answer the question (if this weren't a concession

    already).


    See my post coming tommorrow on: Does the God of the Bible condone rape?

    Don't forget to interact with what's gone before, like this series. If you go back to the same ol' canards, like failing to recognise the concept of war brides or the concept that the Bible records oftentimes w/o commending, you'll just look foolish. I'd love it if you could actually advance the conversation.

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  88. WAR,

    why is God authoritative on what constitutes "good"?

    B/c He's God. He made the universe.
    If He's not the final standard, the final arbiter, I'd be in YOUR situation, and I wouldn't have any objective way to tell good from bad.


    How do you discern?

    I've not yet found a competing worldview that is internally consistent. If I found another that is besides Christianity, I'd move on to other

    modes of analysis, but so far none has been needed. And like I said, it's irrelevant to this discussion.


    How would we know the right God when we found him if we don't already know what "good" is?

    You wouldn't. That's why I don't reason like that.


    "But how can we find out whether those desires to be fulfilled are bad?"

    I just told you.


    No, you told me how you arbitrarily label them, but that's not what I asked you.


    Christians already apply desirism. An easy example is sex. You think the desire for sex is good if it doesn't inhibit other desires for

    friendship, loyalty, purity, and commitment, etc.


    Maybe some "Christians" do, but at issue here is what ChristianITY teaches.


    You might say "sex is good in the right context" but the right context is about making sure you are fulfilling more than one desire and not

    at the expense of others.


    Sorry, that is a total strawman. The right context is loving, committed marriage. Weighing "desires" has little to do with its morality.
    You're revealing that, like most atheists, you have a poor understanding of Xtian theology.


    Why else would God recommend one thing over the other?

    I can think of a lot of reasons, but don't want to go over them here. Go listen to Tommy Nelson's sermon series on The Song of Solomon and

    you'll get quite a lot of related info.


    And if he recommended behaviors that thwart every human desire (including a desire for holiness, for instance), why would you ever listen

    to him?


    2 answers:
    1) I'd listen b/c He's changed my heart to do so.
    2) I'd BE RIGHT TO LISTEN b/c He's the ultimate standard for good.


    Desires are by definition reason to action.

    And if I desire to rape children...
    And desire to mold reality and others' desires such that my raping children fulfills most desires? Like Tkalim - HIS actions tend to fulfill the most desires for everyone who matters to him. What you're telling me is that his actions are 100% justified. That's sick.


    you're ignoring one extreme example

    It's called an argumentum ad absurdum.


    I'm happy to do move to the next example if this conversation is in good faith

    Given that I've answered every question and you guys are leaving numerous ones on the table, I don't think there's any question where the good faith lies here.


    Can you defend that moral intuition that all moral statements have to be absolute?

    ?? I don't "intuit" that at all. It's a question.


    I don't see why they have to be

    OK, so if not all "have to be" (whatever that means on atheism), then whether any are is arbitrary, which means none are. Which means child rape, or God condoning rape as you like to (wrongly) claim, or shoving Jews into ovens, is not absolutely wrong. Duly noted. Again, though, that's sick.

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  89. I've never said anything about a human popularity vote.

    Yes you did. "Tend to fulfill the most desires" is a popularity vote. Sorry you don't see it that way.


    Have you not yet discovered the many benefits of caring about others and what happens when you do not?

    Now you're just begging the question, smuggling in "consequences of caring about others = good".


    Conflicts of interest happen all the time and I doubt there's any definitive number value we can put on anything since it's all relationally established.

    So you don't have an answer.


    You can probably answer all these questions yourself if you think them through with real examples.

    Like Tkalim. But I guess we've seen your answer already - what he does is not wrong at all.


    If you translate that position into "normal speak" you've described the monster's perspective of an angry mob out to get it for murdering the sons and daughters of the village.

    But maybe the mob is wrong.
    See, I'm out for something called "truth", whereas you're apparently only concerned with pragmatism. If nothing else, the fact that this is clear makes this convo very satisfying for the Christian.

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  90. "Oh, David again shows his complete lack of Biblical knowledge."

    Well, that's nice, but I don't think that you addressed my points. So, the captive woman has a choice? What is the penalty for forcing the captive woman to have sex with you?

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  91. Oh, I didn't realise today was "impose your own viewpoints and guesswork onto the text" day. I'd've gone out for a celebratory latté if I'd known.

    Show me in the text where that's occurring and we can talk. Otherwise, you prove your bias and should probably give it up. And you might even want to read the link I provided, or else fall prey to intentional ignorance, aka biased stupidity.

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  92. Ah, sorry. I figured you'd be familiar with the text.

    10 When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

    And, please. EVERYONE imposes their own viewpoints and guesswork onto the text. But I forgot that only your interpretation is the truly, true interpretation.

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  93. So...where's the part about allowing forcible sex...?

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  94. The Chemist,

    "I am hoping to find time to respond to your argument. It is difficult with two little ones under three. If this conversation dies out before I can get back to it, then just take it that I a disagree (I bet that shocked you!) ;o)"

    No problem. I don't consider myself any more or less correct if someone doesn't respond to me on the internet. :D

    Ben

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  95. bossmanham,

    I find that most of your response seems given to rejecting individual sentences of mine at the expense of other sentences of mine. It is as though I've written, "I have a dog. His name is Jerry." And you respond to the first sentence: "What is his name?" and you respond to the second sentence, "Oh yeah, but what kind of animal is he?"

    I'm just going to pick out one easy example of you doing this and then ask you to explain what the deal is. Because I suspect if I comprehensively respond to the multitude of unnecessary misunderstandings you present, you will present twice as many unnecessary misunderstandings.

    For example:

    I said:

    "So they are factually mistaken in their beliefs and that alone might well put them along side do-unto other folk"

    You said:

    "Mistaken about what?"

    But I had clearly said in the two sentences before that:

    "One, we could make good arguments that there probably is no such thing as "life force" and that eating and drinking the blood of their enemies doesn't actually convey any advantage. But it does increase the likelihood of getting some kind of disease."

    If I can't get you to connect little dots like that (even if you disagree with my overall conclusion), this "conversation" is grossly stalled out.

    Granted you later said:

    "Maybe [the cannibals] just like it, or maybe it's a religious prerogative?"

    And that might be true. But, I was picking on ONE kind of cannibal that I was aware of. Every situation is different. And I had clearly also said:

    "Granted, this is no easy task, depends on many complicating factors and details of an actual situation..."

    Can you not at least admit that if their beliefs are specifically incorrect they might no longer have a reason to be cannibals?

    Anyway, you did that kind of thing...A LOT. I'm a pretty patient guy, but I don't feel obligated to clean up every mess. If perhaps you just feel you are being attacked, or overwhelmed by the number of things going on here and do not have the time or the patience to sit and contemplate what others are explaining (in context of other sentences, paragraphs, and comments of theirs), fine. It's not really that big a deal (like I don't consider you a bad person or anything), but I do have other things to do.

    One more thing though:

    You responded to David:

    "Oh, David again shows his complete lack of Biblical knowledge. He says, "hey look, a case of rape in the Old Testament. Oh look, a penalty applied for rape, but God still must have been okay with it.""

    You would think that would make him look stupid, but incidentally it doesn't. Perhaps there is justified rape and unjustified rape? Just like there is justified killing and unjustified killing? Notice we could say something like this:

    "Oh, [bossmanham] again shows his complete lack of Biblical knowledge. He says, "hey look, a case of [killing] in the Old Testament. Oh look, a penalty applied for [killing], but God still must have been okay with it."

    Your point isn't made because the Bible's moral theory is more versatile than you make it out to be when you don't like the conclusion. One wonders where you are getting the conclusion that there can't be justified rape if in fact the Bible (your only moral authority) condones instances of rape, as David has pointed out.

    Ben

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  96. Rhology,

    I said:

    "why is God authoritative on what constitutes "good"?"

    You said:

    "B/c He's God. He made the universe."

    That might make him an authority on how to make a universe, but how does that tell us he is an authority on what good is? Is there ever going to be an answer? Because this is how it's going to go:

    A. You will forever move the goal post to yet another arbtirary theological "is" but will never get an "ought" out of that (aka Hume's guillotine).

    B. You will be forced to admit you are asserting your conclusion and have no more or less basis for judging what "good" is than anything you've criticized (aka, Avalos' relativism revelation).

    C. You recognize that we naturally judge good/bad based on the fulfilling or thwarting of our desires on balance (aka, Fyfe's desirism). (Or similarly you give us a reason to care about supposed theological facts ((like avoiding eternal damnation)) and then we are in Richard Carrier's trap).

    D. Take the conversation in a different direction that I have not forseen.

    Good luck!

    You protested:

    "Like Tkalim - HIS actions tend to fulfill the most desires for everyone who matters to him. What you're telling me is that his actions are 100% justified. That's sick."

    I said desires are innately reason to action and *in context* I also said:

    "Your desire would have been good...if it weren't in the business of thwarting all those other desires."

    Hence, a lack of sickiness. If we could imagine some bizarro world where raping people didn't conflict with many other desires, then we wouldn't consider it wrong. Why would we? I don't see how that's feasible though, even hypothetically, since the term "rape" pretty much already means one person's desires are thwarting another's by definition. Hence, in any world rape is wrong according to desirism (which just describes the natural mechanics of desires).

    One wonders where your label of "sickness" actually comes from? How have you got an ought from a theological is? How have you shown you are not a relativist? Have you given us a reason to care about supposed theological facts? Are you still not evaluating things based on the thwarting of desires?

    It is my contention you are still stuck in desirism land. I will demonstrate this again:

    My question to you was:

    "And if [God] recommended behaviors that thwart every human desire (including a desire for holiness, for instance), why would you ever listen to him?"

    You answered:

    "1) I'd listen b/c He's changed my heart to do so. 2) I'd BE RIGHT TO LISTEN b/c He's the ultimate standard for good."

    Number two is still subject to Hume's guillotine. You haven't shown why it is right to listen.

    Number one is a matter of semantics. I'm assuming you don't think God has physiologically changed your blood pump, right?

    So what does "changed my heart" mean? My hypothesis (and I think it's a really good one) is that you think God has given you a new set of desires. In other words, God *isn't* thwarting all your desires (see my original question), he's *fulfilling* all the desires of your heart.

    So how do you know that when God changes your heart, that is good? What was "wrong" with it before? Why do you judge it an improvement? Because, if I'm right, when you actually get into details, desirism will be an accurate description of why you think God's new heart for you is better than your old one. Feel free to prove me wrong.

    Otherwise your moral theory is no different than letting a mad scientist open up your brain and give you a random set of desires. There's no reason to necessarily call that "good."

    Ben

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  97. Gentlemen,

    I am glad that you find this conversation engaging. Please remember my desire that this blog not be turned into a forum where one's intelligence is questioned, veiled or not so-veiled personal insults are hurled, and other forms of uncivil discourse are practiced. There are plenty of forums on the internet if that is what you want to do.

    I am interested in intelligent dialogue. I don't think that I have all the answers or understand everything perfectly. I am willing to learn and grow.

    Some of my critics think my position has no merit because it cannot be shown to be true objectively. That is simply the way it is with much of what we believe. There are many things that cannot be proven philosophically, for one example, the existence of other minds.

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  98. Chemist,

    You ask: From what I have gleaned from your posts, you are a moral subjectivist though you feel a personal responsibility to intervene in other societies whose moral codes are in your opinion deficient (please correct me if I have put you in the wrong pigeon hole). I am having a hard time seeing how this is a coherrent view.
    I don't think intervene is the right word. I have a desire to see other people treated with dignity and respect. This is my personal view and I think it is shared by many people. I think the best way to accomplish this is through education. Obviously, I think my moral code is superior to others or I wouldn't hold it. But to think I can prove this to others is naive.

    You say: However, educating them suggests that their socially-derived moral codes are somehow inferior or defective. Why are they defective? There is no standard in place for adjudicating these things on your views..

    Yes, there is. I have arguments for what I believe is right moral conduct but to think that I can prove them to everyone's satisfaction is a pipedream. I can prove them to myself.

    You say: It is merely opinion. I see no reason to favor the morals of one society over that of another in the absence of any objective moral laws that are normative for all people. I suspect this a situation where you are attempting to carry some vestiges of your former Christian morality (e.g., the list of intrinsic morals you gave that all people share) onto a philosopical construct that cannot support it. .

    I don't think so. There are many problems and inconsistencies with "Christian morality." As Eller points out, there is no "one" Christian morality anyway just as there is no "one" Christianity. The Bible condones things that no American Christian today would condone. Christians even in America disagree over what the moral teachings of the Bible are. So, in my estimation, you are no better off than the moral relativist. You think that your particular interpretation of the Bible is the objectively true one and provides you with an objective basis for morality but many Christians would disagree. So, it ultimately comes back down to subjectivism. You believe this or that is wrong because of your understanding of the Bible. Some other Christian disagrees with you. How do you decide who is right?

    Even if the Bible provided a consistently objective moral standard, your or my interpretation would still be subjective. Whatever knowledge we have, we have as subjects and therefore is subjective. That does not mean that any idea is as good as any other. That is why we as humans have discussion and debate. To try to refine our thinking and see things as others see them. But at the end of the day, each man has to decide for himself what he thinks the best understanding is.

    You say: At the end you mention that all people recognize some common intrinsic morals and attempt to identify them with a deity. I think people do this precisely because they recognize objective moral laws exist. In fact, this seems to be evidence for the objectivity of moral laws. Indeed, such a trend would be expected in a world where objective moral laws are in place as opposed to a world where different social groups develop their own moral codes across vastly different geographic locations and times around the globe.

    I disagree. I think the essential agreement among humans as to basic morality springs from the way our brains evolved and the pragmatic necessities of living together in social groups.

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  99. "So...where's the part about allowing forcible sex.."

    Victorious soldier sees virgin.
    Victorious soldier wants to have sex with her.
    Virgin is forcibly taken to home of soldier.

    Virgin has no choice.

    After a month, soldier can have sex with virgin. Yes, he has to marry her, but he can discard her if she displeases him.

    Virgin has no choice about the marriage.
    Former virgin has no choice about the discarding.

    After being discarded, former virgin is "dishonored". Why?

    Ask woman if this is forcible sex. No joke, go out on the street, and ask the next woman you meet.

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  100. Ask the next woman you meet...but don't mention that this is from the Bible. Just present the scenario as a hypothetical.

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  101. Ask woman if this is forcible sex.

    Well, we sorta can't, b/c they're all dead of old age by now.
    So what we have is David assuming what he wants to see. Thank you for demonstrating clearly what we all already knew.

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  102. Hey Ken,

    I've recently read more of this chapter (almost done) and I noticed that in answer to one of my very first questions here:

    "Does he perhaps at least refer to other books more on the prescriptive side of things?"

    that Loftus actually inserts an editorial note after the chapter which points to the two sources I suggested later in the comments: Sam Harris' video and Carrier's Sense and Goodness.

    That also helps answer another earlier question of mine:

    "I'm also truly amazed that Carrier let this stuff fly."

    Just thought I would follow up. Still disappointed with Eller's own position (and hence the framing of the chapter and how it impacts the structural arguments of the book), but I'll give credit where credit is due.

    Ben

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  103. Rhology,

    "Well, we sorta can't, b/c they're all dead of old age by now."

    Are you saying we can't repeat this experiment? *raises eyebrow* In your view, there'd be nothing wrong with that, right?

    Ben

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  104. Rho,

    Sorry, should have been clearer. I meant ask a woman today.

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  105. If I decide to convert to Christianity next week and live according to God's objective morality, I assume the standards of behavior, or rules, can be found in the Bible. If there's another source, please let me know.

    Assuming the rules are in the Bible, I'd really like to know if I can still get a tattoo or wear clothes made of more than one fabric after I convert. Those are just some of the rules many Christians seem to ignore these days, so maybe I am taking them out of context. Is there a divinely inspired document that can help me answer these types of questions? Does each Christian denomination decide which rules should be followed and which ones no longer apply? Does the list evolve over time, and if so, are mere mortals making those decisions based on what they think God would command in today's culture?

    Until I get some satisfactory answers to these questions I think I'll just continue to have empathy for others and essentially follow the Charter for Compassion.

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  106. Obviously, I think my moral code is superior to others or I wouldn't hold it. But to think I can prove this to others is naive...I have arguments for what I believe is right moral conduct but to think that I can prove them to everyone's satisfaction is a pipedream. I can prove them to myself.

    This turns all moral statements of "X is right" into mere statements of "I like X." That isn't a morality at all. A moral code should have the power to make prescriptive "ought" statements. Now, I certainly agree that your moral theory allows for moral statements within a society, but I do not think you have carried the burden of proof to demonstrate that you may make moral precriptions against other socially-derived moral systems in the absence of an objective standard.


    There are many problems and inconsistencies with "Christian morality."
    Ken, I think you missed the thrust of this. (1) You have not demonstrated why an Islamic society needs to change. All I see is your private views, which you wish to impose on others. On an atheistic worldview there is nothing intrinsically wrong with dehumanizing women. It just happens to be their opinion, which is different from yours. So what! (2) I never said what the objective code is. All I am arguing is that there is one. You completely lack this foundation to make criticisms of other socially-derived moral codes. Shifting the conversation to the content of Christian morality is a great topic, but it is really irrelevant to what we are talking about here.


    I disagree. I think the essential agreement among humans as to basic morality springs from the way our brains evolved and the pragmatic necessities of living together in social groups.

    Fair enough. This is an example of the failure of evidentialism. We can leave it to that.

    I think this has pretty much ran its natural course, and I am satisfied to leave it to the reader to judge. It was nice talking with you. I sincerely hope and pray that haven't totally shut the door to God in your life.

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  107. The Chemist,

    I'd like to make one closing thought on top of your conversation with Ken. You said:

    "Now, I certainly agree that your moral theory allows for moral statements within a society, but I do not think you have carried the burden of proof to demonstrate that you may make moral prescriptions against other socially-derived moral systems in the absence of an objective standard."

    It seems to me that if you agree one can make prescriptive statements about doing better or worse in one society, then I fail to see how those tools can stay cooped up within those bounds. Even in one society, people can have vastly different opinions even with common national themes that may color them all. If you are able to build something relevant in those confines, what stops it from engaging every other culture in the world? I literally just don't know how to arbitrarily stop the critical thinking short.

    Take any given issue that many societies have a take on. Everyone doesn't just happen to have a brain fart ex nihilo on a topic that they stick with forever without modification. They have reasons for feeling the way they do and even on their own terms find meaningful ways to change their minds. And humans have too much in common as a species to be able to really get away from stepping on each other's conclusions. To use a temperature analogy, one society may use Kelvin and another Celsius and another some system we've never heard of. But what are the odds it is impossible to convert the units?

    I just think too many people in my camp give up because the task is subjectively difficult and intellectually challenging. And too often people turn that subjective failure of moral imagination into an ideology that stops making coherent sense at a certain point when you prod it. We've explored some of the obvious inconsistencies of moral relativism right here. And I don't know how to be a moral relativist without flat-lining the meaning of any moral statement.

    Now, a creator could take responsibility for that moral operating system and even have instructions for how to run it the very best. There's nothing necessarily at odds with theology in some ideological way with desirism or goal theory. I'm not sure how even a Christian could maintain that the "law is written on our hearts" otherwise. It's just incidentally specific "revealed" theologies seem to have infringed on moral territory we can be expert on enough to dismiss. The help would be nice in sorting out the tough moral dilemmas that life can present, but not necessary enough to need to believe in a religion despite it's obvious failings.

    Ben

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  108. WAR,

    I typically focus point by point on what an individual says and respond to them. I did make a mistake in addressing what you said about someone being factually mistaken about a life force (partly because I was tired) but I'm not sure how that would nullify any other point I responded to. I will, however, try to avoid that in the future. I can assure you it doesn't happen very often.

    Your whole point about there being a process in which societies may learn what is most advantageous for them in perhaps cooperating with another society is really not even an issue here. We're not speaking of moral epistemology, the process one uses to come to know what is right, we're speaking of moral ontology, what those morals are founded in and what makes us accountable to them. So the points you have shown aren't relevant to the discussion. It's interesting how some may come to know what is right and wrong, but if it's all just based on personal intuition, there isn't really anything such as right and wrong, but only personal opinions on what is right and wrong.

    Can you not at least admit that if their beliefs are specifically incorrect they might no longer have a reason to be cannibals?

    What does this have to do with anything? Perhaps if a condition changed, then these cannibals may eventually change what they think is right or wrong. But that does nothing in telling us what actually is right or wrong.

    Anyway, you did that kind of thing...A LOT.

    No, I didn't, and patronizing someone isn't an argument. How about you deal with what I've said?

    You would think that would make him look stupid, but incidentally it doesn't. Perhaps there is justified rape and unjustified rape?

    Um, no. There is something such as justified sexual intercourse and unjustified sexual intercourse. Rape is a type of unjustified sexual intercourse, just as murder is a type of unjustified sex.

    Your point isn't made because the Bible's moral theory is more versatile than you make it out to be when you don't like the conclusion.

    This isn't so at all. You're not following what is sin and what isn't at all. No murder is justified, because murder is an explicit sin. Some killings are justified because not all killings are murders. You have to stop equivocating to understand the point.

    Likewise, as I stated, no rape is justified because rape is an explicit sin. There are justified methods of sexual intercourse, rape happens to not be one of those.

    One wonders where you are getting the conclusion that there can't be justified rape if in fact the Bible (your only moral authority) condones instances of rape, as David has pointed out.

    It's not been shown that the Bible condones rape.

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  109. "Rape is a type of unjustified sexual intercourse, just as murder is a type of unjustified sex."

    should read:

    Rape is a type of unjustified sexual intercourse, just as murder is a type of unjustified *killing*.

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  110. Ken said,

    Obviously, I think my moral code is superior to others or I wouldn't hold it. But to think I can prove this to others is naive.

    But, Ken, if you are going to be consistent, you can't make that judgment. You would have to say you prefer your moral code, but there is no way to say it is superior to anyone else's, just as my preference of peanut buttery chocolate is no more superior to another's preference of vanilla.

    Also, if this is true, you have no justifiable reason to tell another person, say a cannibal, that they shouldn't be doing what they are doing. You could say, "hey I don't think that's right!" But he'd say, "ok, thanks for your input, *chomp*."

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  111. It's only rape if it's unjustified sex, but force does not mean the sex was unjustified. Not all killing is murder and not all forcible sex is rape. There are justified methods of sexual intercourse...and these can include forcing a woman to sex. So forced sex is not rape. If it's justified.

    Brilliant! Sign me up for that absolute objective morality of yours! Of course, I may have a little trouble getting a date with you rules for rape.

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  112. It's nice you've misquoted me. You sure are adding to that dishonest reputation you're getting.

    And how is specifying that certain types of sex are justified while others are not taking away from an objective morality?

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  113. Misquoted you? How? Can forced sex ever be justified? Can forced sex not be rape?

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  114. WAR,

    Are you saying we can't repeat this experiment? *raises eyebrow* In your view, there'd be nothing wrong with that, right?

    1) We can't unless you have a time machine.
    2) Apparently you're fond of making anachronistic judgment calls. Why would that be convincing to anyone?


    David,
    I meant ask a woman today.

    Why would I do that? What do today's women have in common with women in that situation, other than anatomical similarities?



    Brap Gronk,
    I assume the standards of behavior, or rules, can be found in the Bible. If there's another source, please let me know.

    The ULTIMATE, OBJECTIVE standards, yes. There are plenty of secondary and tertiary sources, all to be submitted to the Bible's moral law.



    Assuming the rules are in the Bible, I'd really like to know if I can still get a tattoo or wear clothes made of more than one fabric after I convert.

    Your lack of understanding doesn't make the Bible's authority any less binding.



    Does each Christian denomination decide which rules should be followed and which ones no longer apply?

    No, but the Bible does.
    I don't get it - how are asking ignorant questions supposed to cause me to question the Bible, again? Help me out.



    I think I'll just continue to have empathy for others and essentially follow the Charter for Compassion.

    Give me a good reason to think that following the C for C is morally right.

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  115. "What do today's women have in common with women in that situation, other than anatomical similarities?"

    Ah, so you're a cultural relativist.

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  116. Once again, you have no idea what you're talking about. Internal critique, anyone?

    ReplyDelete
  117. You said...

    "What do today's women have in common with women in that situation?"

    I assumed that this means that opinions of women today are not relevant or of value, because the women of today do not have anything in common with respect to situation with the captive virgins of Canaan. It doesn't matter if women of today would think that forced sex was rape, because they are in a different situation. Was this not your point?

    So, again, why not ask a living woman if forced sex is rape?

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  118. why not ask a living woman if forced sex is rape?

    Why not look at the text in question and prove that these women were undergoing forced sex? That would be a better place for you to start.


    Let me quote someone else who's discussed this in detail:
    7) What is merciful or cruel can also be deceptive. For example, to be a war bride is not ideal. But it’s not as if Canaanite women were better off in Canaanite culture. A war bride had rights under the Mosaic Law. And she could learn about the true faith. And raise her kids in the true faith. That was a mercy compared to her ungodly existence outside the community of faith.
    (Source)


    The reasons for taking a war bride might be several: love, lust, a marriage of convenience.
    Treaty-wives were a cynical political arrangement.
    Surrogate motherhood and Levirate marriage existed because Israel was a tribal society in which land-holdings were the common possession of the clan. Without a legitimate living heir, land would pass out of the clan.
    It was also a safety-net for childless widows.
    Levirate marriage may also have received a measure of Scriptural sanction insofar as it served to advance the seed of promise (Gen 3:15; 17:6-8).
    The Bible condemns promiscuous polygamy (Deut 17:17).
    The Bible does not approve of everything it records or regulates. On the other hand, marriage was often seen as an economic institution and economic necessity.
    The OT already looked upon polygamy as, at best, an accommodation to besetting sin or special circumstances, and the NT is even less tolerant of this concession (Mt 19:3-12; 2 Tim 3:2).
    On the other hand, if, say, a man marries two women, and has children by both, then he has assumed a set of obligations to each which he cannot dissever after the fact—just as a young man who seduces a young woman was thereby bound to marry her (Exod 22:16; Deut 22:28-29). He is committed to care for her forever after. So sin often entangles the sinner in a web of unforeseen obligations.
    Monogamy remains the Biblical ideal, but we need to take into account the practical demands that gave rise to certain forms of polygamy, and we also need to come up with our own alternative strategies for dealing with the same circumstances.
    (Source)



    Yes, there is Scripture that clearly teaches that such things would be sinful today. My theology of Law teaches that some things that were perfectly holy, righteous, and good under the Mosaic Law would be sinful today under the Law of Christ. For you to attempt to do what was commanded by God through Moses in Deuteronomy 21:10-14 would be sinful today. This is because President Bush is not the God-appointed King over Israel, a physical theocratic kingdom, nor are we under the Mosaic Law/Old Covenant. We are in a different era with different laws (cf. Galatians 4:21-31; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 8:13). What applied under one covenantal era doesn't necessarily apply under this era. For example, to hate the enemies of Israel and hack them up in pieces as commanded by God in the OT was a righteous and holy thing to do as directed by God (Deut. 23:3-6; Joshua 6:15-21; Psalm 139:21-22), but under the New Covenant, we are to love our personal enemies and pray for them, instead of hacking them up into pieces (Matt. 5:44-45).
    (Source)

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  119. That’s a deliberate travesty of what the passage implies.

    i) The virgins were war-brides. The Jewish men married them. There’s a standard provision in the Mosaic law for dealing with this type of situation (Deut 21:10-14; Jewish wives enjoyed civil rights under the Mosaic law. And this was a great improvement over the life they would have endured had they remained in a pagan culture.

    Consider the alternatives:

    a) Suppose the Israelites never conquered the Midianites. Would women living in a heathen, ancient Near Eastern culture, have led a better life? Would they have been at liberty to marry anyone they wanted? Love at first sight?

    b) Having killed the Midianite soldiers, should the Israelites have left the virgins to fend for themselves?

    ii) The Mosaic law is sometimes harsh by modern standards. Why is that? Because the ANE was a harsh place to live, and the Mosaic law is adapted to the socioeconomic conditions of the time. Why was the ANE such a harsh place to live? Because it was dominated by pagan cultures–like the Midianites. To the extent that you and I are better off, that’s because we live in a culture which has been influenced by Biblical ethics. If Luke had his way, we’d revert to the brutal conditions of the ANE.
    (Source)

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  120. “The Mosaic law is sometimes harsh by modern standards. Why is that? Because the ANE was a harsh place to live, and the Mosaic law is adapted to the socioeconomic conditions of the time.”

    Ding! Cultural relativism. “Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual human's beliefs and activities should be understood in terms of his or her own culture.”

    I’m not sure that all of your verbiage answered the question. So, I’ll try again.

    I assumed that (your previous comment) means that opinions of women today are not relevant or of value, because the women of today do not have anything in common with respect to situation with the captive virgins of Canaan. Is this a correct interpretation of your position? It doesn't matter if women of today would think that forced sex was rape, because they are in a different situation. Was this not your point?

    As for the verbiage itself, I think that it would make more sense to post this under Ken’s “Does the God of the Bible Condone Rape?--Part Two”. This is the place where the interpretations of the various passages regarding rape are currently being addressed. Why carry on the same conversation in two places?

    My specific question was about the value of the opinion of modern women, and if their opinion lacks value, why does it lack value? For arguments about the text, see Rape-Part Two.

    I do have to admire the phrase “war bride”. You’ve destroyed everything and everyone the woman has ever known or loved…and now she’s a “war bride”. I like it. Orwell would have loved it, too. So, like the Bossman, you believe that there are occasions with forced sex is acceptable.

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  121. It doesn't matter if women of today would think that forced sex was rape, because they are in a different situation. Was this not your point?

    Nope. The point is that I doubt you have access to any women in this era who are in a similar situation, to ask THEM. And even then you can't know what the women back then thought.


    I do have to admire the phrase “war bride”. You’ve destroyed everything and everyone the woman has ever known or loved...and now she’s a “war bride”.

    And once again you project your own biases onto the acct. How do you know they liked being where they were before? Don't ASSUME it - PROVE it.


    you believe that there are occasions with forced sex is acceptable.

    Put that one right up there with "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"
    Obviously I have numerous times challenged you to PROVE forced sex took place, and you respond by ASSUMING it took place. You can repeat the same blockheaded assumptions all you want; I'll keep calling attention to them.

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  122. Rhology,

    I thought you were not a moral relativist? You say: My theology of Law teaches that some things that were perfectly holy, righteous, and good under the Mosaic Law would be sinful today under the Law of Christ.

    How can something be holy one day and sinful the next? That is the problem you face when you claim to have an absolute standard. The simple fact is you don't.

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  123. "Obviously I have numerous times challenged you to PROVE forced sex took place, and you respond by ASSUMING it took place. "

    So, since there are no written protests from the women, you're free to assume that there was no forced sex. You'll only accept that there was forced sex if I can interview dead women. It's only forced sex if we have written testimony from the victims. You're going to fall back on the position that you're right, because I can't actually interview any of the virgins forced to have sex with their captors.

    You can read this text (and other OT texts concerning Bronze Age warfare) and conclude that it's a "blockhead" position to conclude that there was forced sex? You can honestly think that maybe these women were thrilled by what had happened to them because it "improved" their situation? Wow. And you repeatedly call me an idiot? You truly have a
    faith that surpasses all understanding. I'm never fail to be amazed at the abilty of religious faith to dehumanize.

    By the way, I'm beginning to think that "context" is a synonym for "relativism".

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  124. You'll only accept that there was forced sex if I can interview dead women.

    I cannot express how funny it is to watch you
    1) bemoan the innocent before proven guilty concept, and
    2) dog me for requiring evidence to believe a naked assertion.
    Yep, I'm just a weirdo.


    I'm beginning to think that "context" is a synonym for "relativism".

    *Shrug*. You strike me less and less as someone who should be trusted with any rational or moral judgment at all.

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  125. So, you'll only accept that there was forced sex if I can interview dead women, yes? Just want to be clear about this. This is the evidence that you require before you'll acknowledge forced sex.

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  126. This is fascinating as the three main "angles" of this conversation mirror different stages in the development of my own thinking on morality. (Please forgive that I have not read the book reviewed in OP). I was raised in fundamentalist milieu, and in my early life did not question that the Bible and its teachings provided the ultimate moral yardstick for the world. To shorten a long/complicated process, I lost/left my faith during my late teens and twenties, which coincided with taking a degree in anthropology. During those years I remember epic arguments with my evangelical family from my new standpoint of cultural relativism. My basic point - who are we to judge? My sub-text - who are you to judge me? Recently, I found that, over the years, I have come full circle - that is to say, I have not returned to a Biblical morality, but I have returned to a position where I believe that morality is a bit more fundamental than "whatever you're having yourself." The problem with cultural relativism is that the assumption is all parties share that culture's morality. I would now argue that all parties are shaped by it, but may not share it equally. For one thing, the powerful in any culture have a way of writing the rulebook to suit themselves. It does not follow, for example, that in a culture where slavery is "culturally acceptable," that the slaves agree. It does not follow that the women in cultures where marriage by raid and kidnap think that is fine and dandy. Much of morality turns on power, and when it works, it functions to mitigate the effects of power. Morality is what keeps us from outright rule of thuggery, and "might makes right." What allows breaches of morality (which generally boil down to a forcible, or sometimes sneaky, overcoming of the will of another) are cultural or religious beliefs that allocate different values to different types of humans, such that there are no consequences to hurting them, or that preach some "higher good," before which mere human dignity and choice must give way. On both scores, I would now rate the Bible I was raised on as a profoundly immoral book. But, likewise, I could not accept, just to be "culturally permissive", practices that are said to be fine and dandy with other cultures (eg. genital mutilation, widow self-immolation, etc), since there is no real way in which the victims of these practices, who share the same culture, have any real choice in the matter. Their hands are forcibly turned, and, whatever possible "stability" or "meaning" it may lend to the society as a whole, the overpowering of individual will is as objectively against a human-sized morality as I can offer.

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  127. you'll only accept that there was forced sex if I can interview dead women, yes?

    Not necessarily, but I would like a little evidence. Apparently evidence is too much to ask unless it's your pet theory.



    Scotlyn,
    My sub-text - who are you to judge me?

    Interestingly, in this combox we see the inverse - the non-evangelicals are all too quick to rush to (unwarranted and groundless) judgments of the Bible and God. Isn't that funny, how the shoe goes so easily on the other foot?


    morality is a bit more fundamental than "whatever you're having yourself."

    Then you're more on my side than on Walter's, David's, or for sure Ken's.

    I would encourage you, however, to look deeper - you take something for granted. Ask a few more "Why is THIS 'good'?"s and you'll see what I saw - the buck has to stop somewhere, and the only place it makes sense to stop is at God.

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  128. Evidence? Seriously? The only way you could fail to find evidence here is by blind devotion to your faith and/or by appeal to cultural relativism. Despite your "not neccessarily" denial, you know very well that unless someone produces signed statements from the victims, you will continue to deny that there is any evidence.

    Which of the following statements are inaccurate?

    Everything and everyone that the virgin female knows and loves is utterly destroyed by an invading army. All are killed EXCEPT attractive female virgins.

    Victorious soldier sees virgin.

    Virgin has no choice.

    Victorious soldier wants to have sex with her.

    Virgin has no choice.

    Virgin is forcibly taken to home of soldier.

    Virgin has no choice.

    After a month, soldier can have sex with virgin. Yes, he has to marry her, but he can discard her if she displeases him.

    Virgin has no choice about the marriage.
    Former virgin has no choice about the discarding.

    After being discarded, former virgin is "dishonored". Why? What did the victorious soldier do to "dishonor" her?

    Now, given the above evidence, what part of forced sex don't you understand?

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  129. Brap said: "Does each Christian denomination decide which rules should be followed and which ones no longer apply?"

    Rho said: "No, but the Bible does."

    Thanks for the link to that post, Rho. That's the first time anyone has ever answered that question for me. I've got a little reading to do.


    Brap said: "I think I'll just continue to have empathy for others and essentially follow the Charter for Compassion."

    Rho said: "Give me a good reason to think that following the C for C is morally right."

    I'm sure I can't give you a reason you would consider good, but it suits me because I wouldn't have any objection to someone applying it to me or to anyone else (Golden Rule, basically). I am curious to know if there is anything in the C for C that contradicts the objective morality in the Bible.

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  130. David,

    The only way you could fail to find evidence here

    So just provide it. Should be easy, then.



    Victorious soldier wants to have sex with her.
    Virgin has no choice.


    Right there. Prove it.


    Virgin is forcibly taken to home of soldier.

    Now make the necessary connection to "forcing her to have sex with him".


    Yes, he has to marry her, but he can discard her if she displeases him.

    He has to marry her. And if he discards her, there are laws to provide for a wife.


    Former virgin has no choice about the discarding.

    Sure she does. She can go ahead and not displease her husband. You think modern American marriages are that much better, where men can dump women over "irreconcilable differences" if they but feel like it? Your modern bias is a sham.


    After being discarded, former virgin is "dishonored".

    B/c she was married and didn't put forth effort to please her husband.


    what part of forced sex don't you understand?

    Just the "forced" part of it.


    Brap,
    Thanks for the link to that post, Rho.

    You are very welcome!


    Golden Rule, basically).

    See, the question I'm raising goes this way. I know that most people in the modern West think the Golden Rule is pretty cool, pretty great. But I'm taking a step back and asking: "Why is the Golden Rule good? I don't want to take anything for granted here."
    And to be sure, empathy is not the answer. Neither is "intuition", which is simply "I feel like the Golden Rule is nice", and that tells us nothing.


    if there is anything in the C for C that contradicts the objective morality in the Bible.

    There probably is a little, and I don't care to get into that right now, but what I'm trying to say is that, if atheism is true, then there is no objective morality at all. There's just what individuals like and dislike, and that carries no normative or prescriptive power toward anyone else. Tells us nothing about what anyone SHOULD do. Given that, if atheism is true, then holding to the C for C carries the same moral value as shoving Jews into ovens. Does that make sense?

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  131. To steal a passage from one of Ken’s other posts…

    The word translated "dishonored" in v. 14 is the Hebrew verb `anah (ענה ). In the Piel perfect it means compressit feminam [Latin], to deflower a woman, usually by force (Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon, p. 783). The Latin compressit feminam means to suppress/control/stifle/frustrate/subdue/ a woman . This word obviously refers to rape and is so translated in other Hebrew scriptures.

    For example,

    Judges 20:5: They raped my concubine, and she died.

    2 Sam. 13:14: since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

    2 Sam.13:32: ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar.

    Such extraordinary skepticism when you don’t want to accept something. Deny, deny, deny, then dehumanize.

    Now, all you have to do is turn your extraordinary talents for demanding “proof” to the question of whether or not Jesus was God.

    I understand that this futile. You're blinded by the light, of God and Truth and Right. Believe as you wish.

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  132. Hello all,

    This thread has expired for me. I haven't even read the last round of responses since I last responded. I think that one can get a good sense of my perspective on naturalistic moral realism from stringing all my comments together. If anyone has any further questions or comments, feel free to follow me to xanga. I'm sure the topic will resurface again and again. Bits of this will probably show up in my review of Eller's chapter.

    take care (sorry to those who don't know how to define "care"),
    Ben

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  133. Rho said: ". . . what I'm trying to say is that, if atheism is true, then there is no objective morality at all."

    I agree. Nobody can stand back and be 100% objective for every possible scenario. Although judges are supposed to be objective in their rulings, a judge must recuse himself from matters in which he has a personal interest.


    Rho said: "And to be sure, empathy is not the answer. . . . Given that, if atheism is true, then holding to the C for C carries the same moral value as shoving Jews into ovens. Does that make sense?"

    I'd like to make an attempt at answering the question you posed in the empathy post on your blog. (I scanned the comments there, but I don't think this exact answer was given.) The question was how one decides, other than intuition, to be empathetic toward the potential innocent victims of the Oklahoma City bombing or toward Timothy McVeigh. I would choose by being empathetic toward the party that is not being the least empathetic. In this case McVeigh is not being empathetic toward the people inside the building, whereas the people inside the building are not doing anything non-empathetic toward McVeigh. In your holocaust example, the least empathetic party is the one shoving others into ovens. I realize this method becomes exponentially more complicated as more parties are involved, but I'll need a little more convincing that empathy is not the answer.

    If the next question is why you should show empathy toward one party, and therefore do something, I'll admit that we will either go in circles or get to the "ought" vs. "is" argument, which I'm clueless on. But I would also ask where in the Bible it suggests that we take action to prevent people from behaving immorally? Our intuition certainly tells us we should stop someone from committing murder in most if not all cases, but is it commanded (for lack of a better word) in the Bible?

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  134. David,

    Deny, deny, deny, then dehumanize.

    When are you going to provide me some proof that "dehumanising" someone is morally wrong? It's not like I haven't asked you 10 times!
    I'd also love an answer to my scenario, which nobody has even touched. Which is pathetic.
    Nor have you even discussed Hume's Guillotine.

    You have a lot of work to do. When are you going to start?



    anah = deflowered

    It means a lot of things in its semantic range. Which means the context defines the meaning. Which I've repeatedly asked you, and which you've repeatedly failed, to do.


    WAR_
    I think that one can get a good sense of my perspective on naturalistic moral realism from stringing all my comments together.

    It's not like anyone questions whether you have A morality. I've been asking you to justify it and show why it has any normative or prescriptive power, thus removing it from the realm of the utterly solipsistically tautological. You haven't done so. Thanks for showing, again, how atheism can't answer the moral question.


    Brap,
    Nobody can stand back and be 100% objective for every possible scenario.

    1) Cool, then hopefully you'll join me in calling out as unsubstantiable all these atheists in this thread who say "rape is wrong, period", etc.
    2) Of course, I believe atheism is utterly false, and this is one of the reasons why I reject it. It can give no reason to do or believe ANYthing. So our agreement is in a very limited and specific area.



    I would choose by being empathetic toward the party that is not being the least empathetic.

    Sorry, but that begs the question again. McV was being empathetic towards himself and his friends and his anti-American group. You're being arbitrary again.



    In this case McVeigh is not being empathetic toward the people inside the building

    So? If he were empathetic towards THEM, he couldn't act on his empathy for his friends and associates. Arbitrary.



    whereas the people inside the building are not doing anything non-empathetic toward McVeigh

    Sure they are. They're living as American capitalist pigs, being happy, not working toward making McV king of the world. All of this is extremely unempathetic toward McV. See, this is called being non-arbitrarily consistent. W/o God to adjudicate between frail human whims and emotions, there's no way to objectively choose between all these competing voices.



    But I would also ask where in the Bible it suggests that we take action to prevent people from behaving immorally?

    All thru the Mosaic Law. Genesis 9:6. Jesus' words. The epistles.
    Tons of places, but with various contexts, so you can't just throw stuff out there w/o examining when, to whom, and why it was said.



    Our intuition certainly tells us we should stop someone from committing murder in most if not all cases, but is it commanded (for lack of a better word) in the Bible?

    1) In the 10 Commandments, #6 is "Thou shalt not murder". Genesis 9:6 precedes the Mosaic Law too. Tons of places.
    2) Why *should* anyone obey *your* intuition? What if *I* intuit that murder is a good thing? What if I intuit that it's morally compulsory? How can we know which of us is right? If we can't find out, doesn't that make any talk of morality and ought-ness completely meaningless?

    Peace,
    Rhology

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  135. Assuming God is a source of objective morality, how do we know what he has told us is objective? How do we know it's right? How do we know it's good? Can we say his word is objective or right or good (or any other adjective you choose) just because it says so in the Bible, although a subjective or wrong or evil god could have said the same thing? Does it boil down to "objective morality" must be unchanging, everlasting, and not of human origin? Whatever it is, it is, and we ought to follow it? If so, why?

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  136. how do we know what he has told us is objective?

    B/c the alternative is absolute and total moral nihilism. We have no idea whether anything is right, and how to tell.
    And b/c God has said so. There is no higher authority than God. Just b/c you may not believe in Him changes nothing other than you and your own eternal destiny. Does nothing about reality.



    Does it boil down to "objective morality" must be unchanging, everlasting, and not of human origin?

    That's the only way *I* could think of that morality could be objective. But other options are worth entertaining. In years of asking, though, nobody's ever given me one.

    Here's why you should follow it, BTW.

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  137. Rhology,

    You said that unless one accepts your particular concept of objective morality, then one is left with nihilism and has no idea how to tell whether something is right. I think that is terribly simplistic.

    How does a 3 year old child know that it is wrong when his playmate takes his toy away from him? He hasn't read the Bible, he doesn't have an elaborate philosophical theory, he just knows it not right.

    There are certain actions that are universally recognized as wrong. Once you get beyond this basic set of principles, there is a lot of diversity of opinion about particular actions. Compare this to the concept of beauty. There is no objective textbook that lays out the laws of beauty, that which makes something beautiful. Yet, on a basic level we can agree that something is beautiful. Once we get beyond that which we all agree on, there is going to be a lot of diverse opinions, but that doesn't change the fact that there is basic agreement on a limited number of items that virtually everyone would consider beautiful. In your view, though, unless we have an objective standard by which to measure beauty, then beauty does not exist.

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  138. "Anah...means a lot of things in its semantic range."

    And for you, the words will always mean what they need to mean in order to keep the house of cards from collapsing.

    Vacation time. Bye for now.

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  139. Oops, posted this on the wrong thread. Sorry.

    How does a 3 year old child know that it is wrong when his playmate takes his toy away from him?

    1) If atheism is true, he doesn't know it's WRONG. He know he doesn't like it. Interestingly, that's what your own intuition view reduces to. You haven't developed any further from a 3-yo child, by your own tacit admission.
    2) He knows stealing is wrong (on Christianity) b/c God has written the law on human hearts. Read Romans 2, please.


    There are certain actions that are universally recognized as wrong

    1) Like what? I doubt you can find a single one that's UNIVERSALLY recognised as wrong.
    2) The question is not "do people think this is wrong?" but rather "Is this wrong?" I doubt you'd say "most people think young earth creationism is right, therefore it's right" is a very compelling argument. An argumentum ad populi is what you're offering us. Whoopie.


    Compare this to the concept of beauty.

    Fine. So one man thinks rape is beautiful. Who are you to criticise, you Philistine?

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  140. the words will always mean what they need to mean

    Or maybe they just mean what they mean, and you should find an argument that actually works.

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