Linville’s “The Moral Poverty of Evolutionary Naturalism”

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 6, 2009 in Ethics,Reviews

nihilismMark D. Linville has written a critique of atheistic morality called The Moral Poverty of Evolutionary Naturalism, to be published in an upcoming book edited by Craig and Copan.

First, Linville argues that:

Darwin’s account of the origins of human morality… does not explain morality, but, rather, explains it away. We learn from Darwin not how there could be objective moral facts, but how we could have come to  believe… that there are… And so the naturalist is saddled with a view that explains morality away.

With this I heartily agree. Evolution cannot explain moral values for the same reason God cannot explain moral values: the Euthyphro dilemma. “Is something moral because it is loved by our genes, or is it loved by our genes because it is moral?”

Evolution only explains how we came to believe in moral facts.

Thus, the theist can level the same kind of attack on atheistic moral realism as the atheist can on theological realism. We have much evidence to show how religions – including Judaism and Christianity – are the products of biological and cultural evolution. If religious ideas merely evolved, this intuitively undercuts the chances that these religious ideas are true.

But in the same way, we have much evidence of how our moral beliefs are the products of biological and cultural evolution. If moral beliefs merely evolved, this intuitively undercuts the chances that these moral beliefs are true, too.

Thus, after a brief account of how evolution explains our moral beliefs, Linville concludes that:

…it would appear that the human moral sense and the moral beliefs that arise from it are ultimately the result of natural selection, and their value is thus found in the adaptive behavior that they encourage. But then it seems that the processes responsible for our having the moral beliefs that we do are ultimately fitness-aimed rather than truth-aimed. This is to say that, in such a case, the best explanation for our having the moral beliefs that we do makes no essential reference to their being true.

Again, I could not agree more. This is exactly why I keep saying that our moral beliefs and moral feelings are not a good guide to what is true about morality.

But then Linville says:

This is to suggest that there are no objective moral facts, though we have been programmed to believe in them.

But this clearly commits the genetic fallacy. The cause of a belief may be unreliable, but that does not mean the belief itself is false. Consider the Bakuba child who is taught by ignorant shamans that the stars are not infinitely old, because they were created when the white giant Mbombo got a stomach ache and vomited them into the sky. The child’s belief in finitely old stars comes from an extremely unreliable source, but as it turns out this is a true belief, and we can know it is a true belief by other means: scientific evidence.

So, Linville moves on to a weaker conclusion:

A more modest conclusion might be that we are not in a position to know whether there are such facts because our moral beliefs are undercut by the Darwinian story of their genesis… Thus, our moral beliefs are without warrant.

Here, Linville argues that because we cannot trust our evolved moral “sense” to give us moral knowledge, we cannot have moral knowledge at all.

But this does not follow. We cannot trust our evolved sense of invisible agents (which causes humans to believe in all kinds of non-existent spirits), but does this mean we cannot have knowledge of spirits? Of course not! As evidential Christian apologists rightly argue, we could know the existence of spirits through other means – inference from the apparent design in the universe, for example.

So Linville’s conclusion follows only if the sole possible source of moral knowledge is our evolved moral sense. But I see no reason to grant this hidden assumption. If moral facts exist, we may be able to infer them from scientific and rational discovery, and totally ignore our unreliable, evolved moral sense.

In fact, there are many atheistic accounts of how we might have knowledge of natural moral facts without consulting our evolved moral beliefs. I give one such account here, but there are others.

If Linville wants to claim that we cannot have moral knowledge in a naturalistic universe, he must give a different sort of argument. I suspect the best he could do is to defeat existing theories of naturalistic moral realism. But even that would not rule out the possibility that a later naturalistic theory will give us moral knowledge – just as the failure of ancient Greek arguments for atomic theory did not rule out that we would later gain knowledge of atomic theory by other means.

Because we can gain moral knowledge through reason and evidence rather than from our evolved moral sense, we “have no more cause for moral skepticism than we do, say, mathematical skepticism” (as Linville states the objection).

In response, Linville says:

[But] if our [evolved] moral convictions are largely the product of natural selection, as Darwin’s theory implies, then the moral theories that we find plausible are an indirect result of that same evolutionary process. How, after all, do we come to settle upon a proposed moral theory and its principles as being true?

Quite correctly, Linville summarizes the strategy of most moral philosophers like this:

Which do we know more certainly: the belief, It is wrong to stomp on babies just to hear them squeak, or some true moral principle that entails the wrongness of baby-stomping? In moral reflection, do we begin with the principle, and only then, principle in hand, come to discover the wrongness of recreational baby-stomping as an inference from that principle? Or do we begin with the belief that baby-stomping is wrong and then arrive at the principle that seems implicated by such a belief? Pretty clearly, it is the latter… As philosopher Mary Midgley has put it, “An ethical theory which, when consistently followed through, has iniquitous consequences is a bad theory and must be changed.”

And this method is precisely what I called The Wrong Test for Ethical Theories. I lambast this method as strongly as Linville does, and for the exact same reasons.1 Once again, Linville and I totally agree.

But this does not dismiss my objection. What if the naturalist rejects any information from his evolved moral sense, and instead discovers moral facts through reason and evidence, without ever testing them against his evolved moral sense? That is precisely the method of ethics that I – and many others – employ.

My method of ethics is precisely the method of science. I use evidence and reason to infer moral facts from the natural universe. I do not consult my evolved prejudices, I do not test my theory against them, and I use all the tools of science and logic to remove their influence from my moral calculus.

My objection summarized

I agree with most of Linville’s article, and will take pleasure in using it against atheists who appeal to their evolved moral sense as warrant for their claims of moral knowledge.

But I disagree with Linville’s conclusion, that given naturalism we cannot have moral knowledge. We can have moral knowledge for the same reason we can have knowledge of quantum mechanics.

We use logic and evidence to discover the truths of quantum theory. We do not consult our intuition for quantum truth. Indeed, quantum truth is often violently opposed to our intuitions. And we do not test quantum theory against our evolved intuitions. It is only by the reliable tools of logic and evidence that we discover quantum truths, and it is only by the same tools that we discover moral truths.

So if moral knowledge exists, the naturalist may attain it without any reference to his evolved moral sense.

Is theism better?

Linville concludes his article by saying that theism – unlike naturalism – gives us the opportunity to trust our moral sense, since it was designed by God to accurately detect moral truths.

This is a strange endorsement. Quite recently, our moral sense – the one Linville thinks we can trust – almost universally endorsed slavery, sexism, racism, and homophobia. In Biblical times, our moral sense endorsed tribalism and even rape (in certain circumstances).

Theism gives us no reason to trust our moral sense. If theism is true, it is still the case that our moral sense has given us wildly different moral “truths” across different eras and cultures. And even if theism is true, Linville gives us no evidence that a divinely-created moral sense exists, that it accurately detects moral truths, or that God would have given us an accurate moral sense. Indeed, if the God who gave us this moral sense is anything like the jealous, selfish, bigoted, totalitarian God of the Bible, one might suspect he gave us a very corrupt moral sense that maximized our subservience to him rather than one that accurately perceived moral value.2

Theism’s account of moral knowledge is dangerous. Not just because theism is false, but because theism allows people to justify their prejudices. According to theism, each narrow, bigoted, ignorant fool may consult his own feelings about morality and get the “right” answer, because he has been endowed with an accurate moral sense by his creator. (And so it is no surprise that this is a theory of morality that “feels” right to the common man.)

In contrast, my view of morality is anti-prejudice. My view says that the common bigot does not have much moral knowledge. Moral knowledge requires patient research by experts trained to combat their prejudices.

There is much left to say about the evidence for my moral theory, desire utilitarianism. There is also much to say about the lack of evidence for theistic moral theories – regardless of the truth of theism. But this is merely a rebuttal of Linville’s article against naturalistic ethics, and I have given it.

(significantly rewritten April 21, 2009)

  1. Linville only lambasts this method when assuming naturalism, though. Assuming theism is true, Linville thinks we have good reason to trust our moral sense. []
  2. Of course, many theistic traditions basically admit this. They say that subservience to a jealous totalitarian God is the ultimate good. But again, they justify this not by providing evidence, but by (surprise!) simply assuming it. []

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

anselm April 6, 2009 at 8:18 am

Luke said:  “My belief in finitely old stars comes from an extremely unreliable source, but as it turns out this is a true belief, and we can know it is a true belief by other means – albeit means arriving much later: scientific evidence. So, the evolution of moral beliefs does not suggest that our moral beliefs are false. Not does it suggest that we cannot have moral knowledge.”

Yes, but doesn’t “warrant” involve more than accidentally stumbling into true belief?  Under standard concepts of epistemology (adhered to by just about all schools of thought, I believe) doesn’t a belief have to be justified true belief in order to constitute knowledge (not accidental true belief)?

Linville said:  “…it would appear that the human moral sense and the moral beliefs that arise from it are ultimately the result of natural selection, and their value is thus found in the adaptive behavior that they encourage. But then it seems that the processes responsible for our having the moral beliefs that we do are ultimately fitness-aimed rather than truth-aimed. This is to say that, in such a case, the best explanation for our having the moral beliefs that we do makes no essential reference to their being true.”

Luke said “Again, I could not agree more. This is exactly why I keep saying that our moral beliefs and moral feelings are not a good guide to what is true about morality.”
But if our cognitive faculties are ultimately fitness-aimed and not truth-aimed (and thus are not a good guide to truth about morality), why are those same faculties a good guide to determining the truth of “scientific evidence” (since science would then just be a group enterprise composed of individuals with cognitive faculties not aimed at truth)?

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Jim April 6, 2009 at 9:39 am

The full version of Mark’s piece addresses the genetic fallacy charge. You might try reading this:

http://adventuresinelfland.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/the-moral-argument/

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lukeprog April 6, 2009 at 11:14 am

As a Bakuba child, I would not have warrant for believing in moral facts; that’s part of where Linville and I agree.

Anselm, yours is a totally different topic that I will take up elsewhere. A very entertaining podcast episode that covers this topic is here.

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lukeprog April 6, 2009 at 11:16 am

Jim: The full version of Mark’s piece addresses the genetic fallacy charge. You might try reading this:http://adventuresinelfland.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/the-moral-argument/

I will indeed!

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anselm April 6, 2009 at 11:50 am

lukeprog: As a Bakuba child, I would not have warrant for believing in moral facts; that’s part of where Linville and I agree.Anselm, yours is a totally different topic that I will take up elsewhere. A very entertaining podcast episode that covers this topic is here.

Actually, I’m not sure it is a different topic, since elsewhere on the blog in a comment you state:

“Of course to get moral goals you need a way to detect them, but I propose that the way to detect them is with the tools of science”

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lukeprog April 6, 2009 at 12:37 pm

anselm,

You’re questioning the reliability of ALL senses. You seem to be asserting solipsism. Of course if we can’t have any knowledge we can’t have moral knowledge, either. But that’s a different topic and I’ll have to prepare full posts on that.

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Anselm April 6, 2009 at 1:41 pm

lukeprog: anselm,You’re questioning the reliability of ALL senses. You seem to be asserting solipsism. Of course if we can’t have any knowledge we can’t have moral knowledge, either. But that’s a different topic and I’ll have to prepare full posts on that.

No problem, I look forward to your posts (particularly on why you agree with Linville that if our cognitive faculties are only adapted for survival it means our moral beliefs lack warrant, but then take the position that our beliefs arrived at scientifically–including beliefs about moral values arrived at “scientifically”–whatever that may mean–do not lack warrant).

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lukeprog April 6, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Anselm: I look forward to your posts (particularly on why you agree with Linville that if our cognitive faculties are only adapted for survival it means our moral beliefs lack warrant, but then take the position that our beliefs arrived at scientifically–including beliefs about moral values arrived at “scientifically”–whatever that may mean–do not lack warrant).

That’s a great way to frame it! Why do I think that the moral sense we have evolved is totally unreliable if I think we can get reliable information from our other evolved senses? I shall be happy to oblige you with an explanation when I have the time.

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Anselm April 6, 2009 at 4:04 pm

lukeprog: That’s a great way to frame it! Why do I think that the moral sense we have evolved is totally unreliable if I think we can get reliable information from our other evolved senses? I shall be happy to oblige you with an explanation when I have the time.

Great (although it looks like you blog has been linked all around the internet based on your debate review, so you will probably have many more comments to respond to–the attention to your blog is well-deserved, though!)

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Sabio April 6, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Humans seem to be born with the illusion of dualism.  I think too, that since humans are born with a sense of morality, they also have the illusion that it must exist outside of their inborn sense — that is, that morality must be logical or natural law or god given.  But I am pretty certain a substantive view or morality is also an illusion that is hard to escape.  That is why even Atheists fall for it.

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Fortuna April 7, 2009 at 9:57 am

One thing that may be worth considering is what it means to say that our cognitive faculties are adapted to promote survival, rather than establish truth. It may be more accurate to say that our faculties evolved the way they did because they ultimately promoted survival, but that is not the same thing as saying that that is therefore the only role they could perform. Human hands, for instance, develop the way they do ultimately because it has proven adaptive for our species, but we recognize that hands can do things that they didn’t “evolve to do”. Humans didn’t evolve alongside pianos, for instance. Similarly, there is no contradiction in supposing that our faculties could be capable of arriving at true conclusions reliably (by some method or other) while recognizing that they didn’t necessarily evolve for that purpose.

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Anselm April 7, 2009 at 10:30 am

Fortuna: Similarly, there is no contradiction in supposing that our faculties could be capable of arriving at true conclusions reliably (by some method or other) while recognizing that they didn’t necessarily evolve for that purpose.

Sure, they could be capable of that, but evolutionary naturalism provides us with no basis of confidence in the trustworthiness of our faculties.  As Charles Darwin put it:

“But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (source, Letter to William Graham, 1881:  http://tinyurl.com/cz2mpq)

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kevinbbg April 7, 2009 at 3:15 pm

There is no morality that exists outside of us, we created the idea and created what we consider moral.  It is an aesthetic value, there is no objective truth.

And I have to wonder why morality hardwired into our brains by god is more valid than morality hardwired into our brains through natural selection.  At least with the second one we know it is for our survival.  If done by a god it would be for his purposes, which are unknown.

But we can take these ideas even further.  I heard one scientist explain that we never see the world, we only deal with our GUI interface designed by evolution for ease of use.  Here again, the overriding principal this GUI interface was survival, not truth.

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kevinbbg April 7, 2009 at 3:38 pm

After reading this I discover that PZ Myers has a post on almost the very same subject.

http://tinyurl.com/chk6nr

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Richard April 9, 2009 at 8:48 am

Luke, may I remind you that you have not yet succeeded in meeting my challenge to explain the meaning of objective moral statements (like “murder is wrong”). Don’t you think you should suspend your claim that objective moral values exist until you can at least say what they mean?

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lukeprog April 9, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Richard,

Yes, sorry. I’m working on all kinds of stuff and trust me, responding to your questions is one of those projects.

As I recall, I responded that “Murder is wrong” or “One ought not to murder” means “There are reasons for action that exist to not murder.” You responded that descriptive reasons for action do not entail prescriptions, to which Alonzo Fyfe responded here. What, precisely, is the current state of your objection? And, are you familiar with what I’ve already “argued” in my mini ebook?

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toweltowel April 9, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Richard: Luke, may I remind you that you have not yet succeeded in meeting my challenge to explain the meaning of objective moral statements (like “murder is wrong”). Don’t you think you should suspend your claim that objective moral values exist until you can at least say what they mean?

That presupposes a pretty implausible premise, that one should only make claims if one can give a satisfying philosophical account of their meaning and truth.

I mean, surely I can claim that 2+2=4 without being an expert in philosophy of mathematics.

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Richard April 10, 2009 at 1:30 am

Luke, I’ll respond by email, since I’m still finding your blog an awkward pace for discussions, and our discussion of this subject has already spanned at least two other threads, plus email.

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Richard April 10, 2009 at 2:15 am

toweltowel:
That presupposes a pretty implausible premise, that one should only make claims if one can give a satisfying philosophical account of their meaning and truth.
I mean, surely I can claim that 2+2=4 without being an expert in philosophy of mathematics.

That’s a good point. However, Luke is not just making a specific moral claim but the metaethical claim that he can demonstrate the objective truth of his moral calculus (desire utilitarianism). In terms of your mathematical analogy, his claim is equivalent to claiming that he can give a rational foundation to mathematics, not just claiming that 2+2=4.
When people argue about the truth of a particular mathematical proposition they are generally in implicit agreement about the basic axioms of mathematics and have a common understanding of standard terms. In this case, however, it is the very meaning and existence of objective morality which is in question.

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lukeprog April 10, 2009 at 6:40 am

Richard: That’s a good point. However, Luke is not just making a specific moral claim but the metaethical claim that he can demonstrate the objective truth of his moral calculus (desire utilitarianism). In terms of your mathematical analogy, his claim is equivalent to claiming that he can give a rational foundation to mathematics, not just claiming that 2+2=4. When people argue about the truth of a particular mathematical proposition they are generally in implicit agreement about the basic axioms of mathematics and have a common understanding of standard terms. In this case, however, it is the very meaning and existence of objective morality which is in question.

Yes. I’m not merely saying that there are an infinite number of prime numbers because I’m pretty confident that mathematicians have proved it. I’m instead planning to defend a meta-ethical theory and propose that it is superior to other meta-ethical theories, whereas I simply wouldn’t bother to do that with meta-mathematical theories. I don’t have the time (though I do have the interest).

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dgsinclair April 11, 2009 at 8:18 pm

>> With this I heartily agree. Evolution cannot explain moral values for the same reason God cannot explain moral values: the Euthyphro dilemma. “Is something moral because it is loved by our genes, or is it loved by our genes because it is moral?”

I think this is a faulty argument, because it assumes naturalism – the xian view is that morality has nothing to do with the natural world or our genes, or even ‘what is healthy.’ 

While those may be secondary indicators, we would argue that morality comes from an independent lawgiver, the same lawgiver that established the natural laws.  While science can define the natural laws, it can’t answer how they came to be, or why the universe is orderly and obeys laws.  Same with moral laws.  It may be able to define which things lead to health and happiness (though not always can it do so), but it can’t define why such laws exist.

I may not be approaching this correctly, but I think your dilemma is a straw man, since it assumes naturalism.  It’s a tautology, or circular.

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dgsinclair April 11, 2009 at 8:36 pm

>>Linville wants to say that (1) if our moral beliefs have evolved naturalistically, then moral facts don’t exist. Or at least, he wants to say that (2) if our moral beliefs have evolved naturalistically, then we have no way of knowing moral facts. But neither of Linville’s conclusions follow, for the same reason that evolutionary accounts of religion do not disprove religious claims. Both arguments commit the genetic fallacy…..So, the evolution of moral beliefs does not suggest that our moral beliefs are false. Not does it suggest that we cannot have moral knowledge.

I disgree with you, and agree with Linville.  He is not making the genetic fallacy.  He is NOT saying that because morals have been fluid and evolved, they can not be true.   He is saying that the evolutionary view of morality (which I don’t share, nor in biology) depends not on truth, but on what is beneficial to the organism.

And we all know that this is a poor way to define morality, and in many ways, would obviate altruism, if you believe that evolution causes me to protect MY genes over yours.

I agree that the evolutionary argument does not obviate objective morals.  However, I think that naturalism does, for the classic reasons.  By what standards do you establish such?  Naturalism demands subjectivism and relativism, and I still don’t see any way around that.

Which is why Bill Craig and Frances Schaeffer both argued that what most atheists do is live inconsistently with naturalism – they profess naturalism, but live as if objective morals exist, making a leap of faith, as it were, that their view rejects. 

I’ll have to look into the arguments for how naturalism could establish or be consistent with a belief in objective morals, but I suspect that it has some fatal logical flaws, or sophistry in their somewhere.

But such arguments become incredibly esoteric, and it may just come down to this – atheists can hide behind their reason(s) and esoteric philosophical arguments, but that does not excuse their unbelief, as Romans 1 states (all men are without excuse because God’s existence and basic nature are revealed in the creation, which is why people feel transcendance when in nature).  In the end, it comes down to ‘those who say in their hearts ‘there is no God’ are fools.’  Educated, articulate, maybe even nice, but fools nonetheless.

Sorry to be negative, but sometimes I tire of the philosophic wrangling – such things are why satire like A Modest Proposal is written – because the truth is plain, but men like to argue over it while ignoring their obvious responsibility and culpability.

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lukeprog April 11, 2009 at 9:46 pm

dgsinclair,

My argument that evolution cannot provide objective moral values is not circular. All I said is that evolution cannot provide objective morality. I did not say that nothing outside evolution could provide objective morality. Are you sure you’re clear on the meanings of “tautology,” “circular,” and “straw man”? You’ve used those three as if they are interchangeable but they all mean different things. Stick around for my course in logic…

> I disgree with you, and agree with Linville.  He is not making the genetic fallacy.  He is NOT saying that because morals have been fluid and evolved, they can not be true.   He is saying that the evolutionary view of morality (which I don’t share, nor in biology) depends not on truth, but on what is beneficial to the organism. <

Did you not read the paragraph I quoted from Linville? He explicitly says there that the evolution of our moral intuitions implies that moral facts do not exist, or at least the we cannot have moral knowledge.  Linville does not stop at saying our moral intuitions have evolved. He makes the leap from there to saying that moral facts do not exist or else we cannot have moral knowledge. That is precisely the genetic fallacy.

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dgsinclair April 12, 2009 at 8:32 pm

>> lukeprog:  All I said is that evolution cannot provide objective morality. I did not say that nothing outside evolution could provide objective morality.

I’m glad you did not say that, but many evolutionists do.  I am new here, and find your type of atheism refreshingly logical and fair, though of course, I disagree with some of your conclusions.

Regarding the <a href=”http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/genetic-fallacy.html”>Genetic Fallacy</a>, I understand that to be when someone disregards a statement due to the reasons someone has for holding it, rather than the verity of the statement itself.    I’m not sure what logical fallacy you are accusing linville of, but I don’t think that’s it. 

He is not saying that moral facts don’t exist because evolution is somehow bogus, but rather, that if we assume evolution to be true, it follows logically that moral facts do not exist.  Now, perhaps he is making a leap from ‘evolution implies that morality is subjective’ to ‘evolution therefore teaches that no moral facts exist,’ but I think that such a view would be consistent with evolutionism – and that is the crux of the moral argument for God. 

IF morals exist objectively, subjectivism, and the theories that depend on lead to them, are false.   And of course, further, there must be an objective, outside lawgiver.

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lukeprog April 12, 2009 at 11:02 pm

dgsinclair: And of course, further, there must be an objective, outside lawgiver.

Grounding moral value in the traits or opinions of a particular person makes an ethical theory subjective by definition, not objective.

> [Linville says] that if we assume evolution to be true, it follows logically that moral facts do not exist. <

Yes. Specifically, Linville writes that because (given atheism) the reasons for our belief in objective morality (evolved moral intuitions) are totally unreliable, therefore objective morality is false (given atheism).

Let O = “objective morality exists.” We believe that O because we evolved to feel that O. With that, I agree. But Linville argues that because the origin of that belief is unreliable, therefore the belief is false. That’s the genetic fallacy.

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Anselm April 13, 2009 at 4:47 am

“Grounding moral value in the traits or opinions of a particular person makes an ethical theory subjective by definition, not objective.”

If that value is grounded in the person of God, whose nature is by definition unchanging and synonymous with the good, then it is grounded objectively–i.e., those moral values are anchored outside our minds and cannot change.  (Just as the truths of logic and mathematics are grounded in the way God’s mind essentially thinks–that does not render them “subjective,” since God cannot think what is not true (i.e., 2+2 = 5).  Such grounding is different in kind, not degree, from thoughts held in a contingent, limited human mind).

Further, in the original post you say that this statement commits the genetic fallacy:  “if our moral beliefs have evolved naturalistically, then we have no way of knowing moral facts.”  I disagree; if objective moral facts exist, but our cognitive faculties have not evolved with truth-attainment as their goal (as naturalistic evolution states–survival is the only goal of all our faculties), then objective moral facts could exist without our having any way of discerning their truth; i.e., the reliability of those faculties would be at best inscrutable.  I’m not clear on why you think this commits the genetic fallacy?

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lukeprog April 13, 2009 at 7:17 am

“if our moral beliefs have evolved naturalistically, then we have no way of knowing moral facts”

Yes, that commits the genetic fallacy. Consider: “If our astronomical beliefs have evolved naturalistically (for example, to believe the earth is flat or at the center of the universe), then we have no way of knowing astronomical facts.”

This second statement is just as false, and for the same reason. Showing that our moral intuitions (the cause of our moral beliefs) is unreliable does not mean that we cannot know moral facts. It just means we can’t know them by way of our moral intuitions.

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anselm April 13, 2009 at 8:01 am

lukeprog: “if our moral beliefs have evolved naturalistically, then we have no way of knowing moral facts”Yes, that commits the genetic fallacy. Consider: “If our astronomical beliefs have evolved naturalistically (for example, to believe the earth is flat or at the center of the universe), then we have no way of knowing astronomical facts.”This second statement is just as false, and for the same reason. Showing that our moral intuitions (the cause of our moral beliefs) is unreliable does not mean that we cannot know moral facts. It just means we can’t know them by way of our moral intuitions.

But it is not just our moral intuitions, but all of our cognitive faculties, which have evolved naturalistically.  And to say that we can’t know moral facts by way of our cognitive faculties is just to say that we can’t know them (or at least that we can have no confidence in their reliability for knowledge-attainment).  And this would apply to astronomical facts, too.  Now, I obviously believe that we DO know astronomical facts (as well as moral facts).  But the fact that we know them shows that our cognitive faculties did not evolve naturalistically, but theistically.

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lukeprog April 13, 2009 at 5:25 pm

anselm,

Yup, I know you make this argument. This is Plantinga’s EAAN. And you know all the responses I’m going to give to that. We’ll have that debate later, my friend. :)

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Anselm April 14, 2009 at 5:01 am

lukeprog: anselm,Yup, I know you make this argument. This is Plantinga’s EAAN. And you know all the responses I’m going to give to that. We’ll have that debate later, my friend.

Ok, but since Linville’s argument really appears to be a subset of the EAAN, I don’t really think you can deal with one without the other.  Thanks.

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Muddle April 21, 2009 at 3:50 am

lukeprog: Grounding moral value in the traits or opinions of a particular person makes an ethical theory subjective by definition, not objective.> [Linville says] that if we assume evolution to be true, it follows logically that moral facts do not exist. <Yes. Specifically, Linville writes that because (given atheism) the reasons for our belief in objective morality (evolved moral intuitions) are totally unreliable, therefore objective morality is false (given atheism).Let O = “objective morality exists.” We believe that O because we evolved to feel that O. With that, I agree. But Linville argues that because the origin of that belief is unreliable, therefore the belief is false. That’s the genetic fallacy.

I’m surprised to drop by and find that you are still asserting that my argument moves from observations on the Darwinian account to the conclusion that moral beliefs are false.  Where do I say that?   It would be an odd slip of the finger on the keyboard, as I do not believe that and have gone out of my way to say otherwise.

I will say that, as one looks at the Darwinian account in light of the options in metaethics, there seems a better fit between the former and, say, non-cognitivism or subjectivism, and both of these entail that any variety of moral realism is false. 

But my argument is simply that moral skepticism is in order given the account.  In this, I back off from the bolder conclusion reached by the likes of Sommers and Rosenberg, Wilson and Ruse, Simon and Garfunkel and other famous duos.

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Muddle April 21, 2009 at 4:13 am

One more note….  I thought that I remembered posting a bit here a few days ago, but now I do not find it.  It was simply a paragraph from the Companion essay that is, I think, relevant for this discussion.  It appears in a section titled “AEN and the Genetic Fallacy.”  I open that section with a discussion of Elliot Sober’s consideration of evolutionary ethics and the genetic fallacy, and then develop my own view.  The following is representative of my own argument:

Bertrand Russell allegedly once observed, “Everything looks yellow to a person suffering from jaundice.” Actually, I believe the truth of the matter is that people suffering from jaundice look yellow. But suppose that both are right: jaundiced people both appear and are appeared-to yellowly. Jones enters Dr. Smith’s office, complaining of various and vague discomforts. Smith takes one look at Jones and exclaims, “Your skin has a very tawny appearance!” He diagnoses Jones with jaundice and prescribes accordingly. Later, it occurs to Smith that all of his patients have a yellowish tint, as do his charts, the floor tiles, once-white pills and the nurses’ uniforms. A simple blood test determines that he is suffering from jaundice. It dawns on the doctor that Jones would have appeared yellow to him regardless of Jones’ actual condition. Has Smith now a reason for supposing Jones is jaundiced is false in the way that, say, a negative blood test would provide such a reason? It seems not. Perhaps Jones is jaundiced. Smith simply lacks any reason for thinking that Jones’ appearance was caused by Jones’ condition, or that the belief that Jones was jaundiced is epistemically dependent upon any medical facts about Jones. And this is to suggest that facts about Dr. Smith’s own condition have now supplied him with an undercutting defeater for his belief regarding Jones’ condition.

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lukeprog April 21, 2009 at 5:54 am

Muddle,

It is certainly not my intention to misrepresent your argument! I do address your analogy from Sober in my upcoming response to your BCNT chapter.

You explicitly say that “[The evolutionary account of our moral sense] is to suggest that there are no objective moral facts.” That commits the genetic fallacy, right there.

Later, you weaken your assertion to say that because of evolution we can have no moral knowledge. This does not commit the genetic fallacy, but a related fallacy instead. See my Update at the end of the post:

Consider Linville’s first conclusion: that if our moral sense has evolved then there are no moral facts. This does commit the genetic fallacy. But his second conclusion – that if our moral sense has evolved then we cannot know moral facts – does not technically commit what is called the “genetic fallacy.” However, it still does not follow. Just because we cannot trust our evolved feelings about astronomy does not mean we can’t gain knowledge about astronomy through other means. Likewise, just because we cannot trust our evolved moral feelings does not mean we can’t gain moral knowledge through other means.

Have I still misrepresented your argument? I don’t think so…

I agree with you is that if we take our moral sense as the only source of information about moral facts, then I think moral skepticism is the most honest position. This is why I argue continuously against “moral sense” or “intuitionist” theories. But myself and many other naturalist moral realists do NOT consider the human moral sense as a source of moral knowledge at all, and instead depend wholly on facts about the natural world from which we can deduce moral properties, even if they contradict our moral sense. That is why you cannot jump from “Evolution cannot supply us with moral knowledge” to “We cannot have moral knowledge.”

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muddle April 21, 2009 at 8:54 am

lukeprog: Muddle,It is certainly not my intention to misrepresent your argument! I do address your analogy from Sober in my upcoming response to your BCNT chapter.You explicitly say that “[The evolutionary account of our moral sense] is to suggest that there are no objective moral facts.” That commits the genetic fallacy, right there.Later, you weaken your assertion to say that because of evolution we can have no moral knowledge. This does not commit the genetic fallacy, but a related fallacy instead. See my Update at the end of the post: Have I still misrepresented your argument? I don’t think so…I agree with you is that if we take our moral sense as the only source of information about moral facts, then I think moral skepticism is the most honest position. This is why I argue continuously against “moral sense” or “intuitionist” theories. But myself and many other naturalist moral realists do NOT consider the human moral sense as a source of moral knowledge at all, and instead depend wholly on facts about the natural world from which we can deduce moral properties, even if they contradict our moral sense. That is why you cannot jump from “Evolution cannot supply us with moral knowledge” to “We cannot have moral knowledge.”

Yes, I believe that you are still misrepresenting my view.  Any earlier assertions are before I have done any “Chisholming” on the argument, as Plantinga would put it.  That is, I begin with the bolder assertion and then, in light of an important objection, back off to a discussion of warrant.   Again, I think that the naturalist is implicitly comitted to an account that poses an undercutting defeater for our moral beliefs in general.  Note, also, that when Sober offers his “urn” example, he concludes that “Ben’s” beliefs are “probably false.”  That conclusion is a function of the fact that we think that there is no causal connection between slips of paper randomly drawn from urns  and class enrollment.  I think he is right about this.  As it stands, there is a 1/100 chance that Ben’s belief is true.  (And, even in that case, it is not, it seems, justified or warranted.)  I do not think that Sober commits the genetic fallacy here (and would be very surprised if he did).  My conclusion is less bold than his. 

Further, as Sturgeon himself has argued, an appeal to pre-theoretical moral beliefs seems unavoidable, as even those who claim the “scientific method” must ultimately employ some belief that is taken non-inferentially as a starting point.

Forgive me if I do not check back in right away.  This sort of format provides a kind of instant gratification, as words go directly into readable print.  I could do this all day, but to my own detriment.

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muddle April 21, 2009 at 9:01 am

muddle:

So, here I am “checking back in right away.”

The other, and, I think, more important objection to my sort of argument is what I have referred to as the objection to “Greedy Reductionism.”  As Kitcher has put it, maybe all that evolution has done for us is to provide us with the capacities for rational and moral discovery.  Perhaps some of what you have in mind in your critique bleeds over into this discussion.  I spend a good deal of my effort in both papers trying to answer this objection.  I think that distinctions made by, say, Street and Midgley, are significant if turning away objections from this front.

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lukeprog April 21, 2009 at 8:11 pm

muddle,

I have now rewritten my original article to more specifically address the points you wanted addressed. I will respond to the Sober analogy in my review of your article, “The Moral Argument.”

As I suspected, one big reason I enjoy interacting with your work on this subject is that we agree on so much.

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Cuddles January 27, 2012 at 1:38 pm

“I use evidence and reason to infer moral facts from the natural universe.”

No you don’t. There is no evidence, no objective way, to determine any sort of morality from the natural universe. Your “reason” is simply the manifestation of your life experiences and your own emotional compass telling you which way to go. You have subjective preferences one way or the other.

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