The Science of Morality: No Gods Required

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 1, 2010 in Ethics,Video

Above is video of the speech I gave at Colorado State University, entitled The Science of Morality: No Gods Required.

The video brightens after about 10 minutes, and notice you can watch it in HD. The Q&A at the end cuts off after a while because our recording space ran out.

Parts on YouTube: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, or the full playlist

I didn’t use PowerPoint or Keynote for this talk, but Prezi. Here is my Prezi.

Thoughts

My first thought is that I was really impressed by Leaders in Free Thought, who sponsored the event. Great work, guys!

My second thought is that I was probably too ambitious in trying to cover divine command ethics, philosophy of language as it relates to meta-ethics, and moral epistemology in a single talk for a lay audience! I’m sure I talked over a lot of heads. Luckily, we did have a lengthy Q & A session afterward.

My third thought is this: The most common misunderstanding occurred when I used the word “survey.” People thought I was saying we should take a survey of what people around the world think is right and wrong, and that can determine what is right and wrong. But as I say in the Q & A, that would be a kind of “planetary subjectivism,” and was not at all what I was saying. The survey and observations around the world would be merely to discern what the subject matter of philosophy is, not what is right and wrong. Once the subject matter of philosophy is known, we can make objectively true statements about that subject matter on the basis of regular scientific evidence.

Script

Here is my script as I intended to recite it from memory, though I’m sure the video is a bit different:

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you all for coming, and my thanks to Leaders in Free Thought, who invited me out here to CSU.

The title of my talk is The Science of Morality: No Gods Required.

And I want to talk about this No Gods Required part first.

A LOT of people think you can’t have morality without God. In fact, when I was younger, I was raised a Christian and I used think you couldn’t have morality without God. I thought: Don’t you need a God who is watching your every move so you can be MOTIVATED to do good? I mean, without the fear of HELL to keep them in line, those crazy atheists must be out there doing whatever they feel like, like eating babies or having orgies or giving drugs to chipmunks and stuff like that.

But then, a few years later I did some studying and I lost my faith in God and I lost my fear of hell, and strangely, I didn’t suddenly want to eat babies or have orgies or give drugs to chipmunks. I still wanted to be honest with people. I still wanted to treat people with dignity. And I still wanted to, like, help save the world or something. And it wasn’t because I wanted to please God or because I feared hell, it was just because those seemed like good things to do!

But maybe that’s not what people mean when they say you can’t have morality without God. They don’t mean that you need God to ACT morally. That’s obviously not true. Heck, the two biggest philanthropists in world history are both atheists. So maybe what they mean when they say you can’t have morality without God is that without God, nothing is REALLY right or REALLY wrong. Without God, it’s all just a matter of human opinion. Without God, it’s all just quarks and electrons bouncing around and there’s no OBJECTIVE VALUE in the world at all.

But moral philosophers have been doing moral philosophy mostly without God for about 300 years, so… what’s the ARGUMENT? Why would you think that objective moral value can’t exist unless there’s a magical diety behind it all?

Well, let’s look at that claim a bit more closely. Here is how one Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, puts it. He says: “Without God, objective moral values don’t exist.”

“Without God, objective moral values don’t exist.”

Now, I want to point out right away that that’s a strange claim to make, because usually, the phrase “OBJECTIVE moral value” means something like “moral value grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a person or persons.” Right? If what you’re calling “moral value” is just based off somebody’s personal attitudes, that’s called SUBJECTIVE morality.

For example: If you say that what’s morally good for Ozzy Osbourne is whatever he thinks is good, and what’s morally good for Paris Hilton is whatever she thinks is good, that’s called Individual Subjectivism.

Or if you say that what’s morally good in Germany is whatever most Germans think is good, and what’s morally good in Japan is whatever most Japanese think is good, that’s called Cultural Subjectivism.

Well, God-based morality says there’s this person named God, and whatever he thinks is good, is good! So this is another subjective theory! If God approved of rape, rape would be good. If God approved of racism, racism would be good. God-based morality is a SUBJECTIVE theory of morality, just by definition.

So remember what William Lane Craig said. He said: “Without God, objective moral values don’t exist.” But actually, it would be better to say: “Objective moral values don’t exist WITH God, because God-based morality is SUBJECTIVE morality.”

So, then, how on earth can somebody like William Lane Craig say that God-based morality is objective?

Well, he does it by using a different definition for what “objective morality” means. For Craig, “objective morality” means “morality grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a particular species of primate: homo sapiens.”

Now, I think this is a bit sneaky, and kind of weird. Why would objective and subjective morality be defined in terms of the attitudes of a particular species of primate? That’s kind of strange.

That means if were visited by aliens and somebody decided to define morality in terms of whatever the aliens approved of, that new theory of morality would be an OBJECTIVE theory of morality according to Craig!

And I don’t think that’s what we usually mean when we talk about “objective morality.”

So, look: you can define words however you want, but I don’t think William Lane Craig’s definition of “objective morality” is what ANYBODY thinks of when they talk about “objective morality.” It’s really just a trick so he can pretend that God-based morality is suddenly an “objective” theory of morality even though it’s grounded in the attitudes of a person just like individual subjectivism is.

And by the way, there are other problems with God-based morality that I won’t go into now. There’s The Euthyphro Dilemma, for example, and there’s – a really big one – The Problem of God Not Existing.

So… lots of problems.

So I don’t think that if there was a God that would somehow give us objective morality. That would give us just another version of SUBJECTIVE morality. And I don’t think there’s a good argument for why there CAN’T be objective morality WITHOUT a deity.

But: I still haven’t shown how objective morality DOES exist.

So let’s get back to that first part of my title: The Science of Morality.

The question is this. In a world of quarks and electrons bouncing around, what IS morality? Can we measure it? Can we build a little box that will make little ticks when you hold it next to something that radiates moral value, like a Geiger counter, and then go around the world and figure out which things have moral value and which things don’t?

How could something be REALLY good or bad or REALLY right or wrong if the natural world is all there is?

Well, when we talk about good and bad and right and wrong and morality and value, I think our WORDS tend to trip us up. They tend to confuse us. And I want to illustrate this with a story.

Who wants to be in the story with me? I need somebody in the story with me. Will you be in the story with me? Alright, great. What’s your name? Okay, Kristen. Great. So here’s the story. Kristen and I are on a date.

Kristen and I are on a date, and I’m a sophisticated guy, so we’re at an art museum. And we’re looking at paintings, and we’re looking at sculptures, and then there are those whole rooms that are filled with weird objects and video cameras and TVs and crazy music and stuff and that just kind of ruins the mood between us so I take us back to the paintings and the sculptures and we’re having a nice time, and then we come across THIS.

And Kristen and I stare at this… thing… for a minute and finally I say, “Wow, that is GREAT art. That is… amazing. Really great art.”

And Kristen says, “What? What are you talking about? That’s total crap. It’s just a urinal. That is NOT great art.”

And I say, “No! What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see? This is great art!”

And we go back and forth like this for a while but eventually we ask each other what we MEAN when we say “great art.”

And it turns out that when I said “great art” I meant “something that was intended as art and had a lasting influence on lots of future artists.” But what Kristen meant by “great art” was “something that was intended as art and is seen as beautiful and pleasing by most people who see it.”

Well, we thought we were disagreeing, but it turns out we aren’t disagreeing at all! We were just talking past each other. If we use my definition for great art, well, I’m right that Marcel Duchamp’s urinal had a lasting impact on future artists. So it IS great art by MY definition. And if we use Kristen’s definition for great art, then she’s right, too, because MOST people probably don’t find Duchamp’s urinal to be beautiful or pleasing.

So we’re both right, and we were just talking past each other because the words were tripping us up. We weren’t being clear with our definitions at first.

But now, let me get back to my story. Kristen and I are so worked up that we just decide to keep arguing, anyway. Kristen says that HER definition of “great art” is better than my definition because it’s closer to what MOST people mean when they talk about “great art.” And I say “No, that’s not true, because there are all kinds of ugly paintings and music and things that are considered great art, but definitely aren’t beautiful, and if you look at lists that people make of all the greatest art works of all time, they’re all really influential art works, so my definition of great art is better.”

And we argue back and forth like this for a while and in the end it turns out to be really hard to figure out how you would even decide a question like that. How do you decide which definition for “great art” is the “correct” definition?

I mean, we could look it up in a dictionary, but different dictionaries give different definitions anyway, and they probably all have some definition that’s close to MY definition for “great art”, and they probably all have another definition that’s close to Kristen’S definition, too.

And in the end, it’s a question of how we want to use our word-tools.

Remember, words are just tools for communicating ideas. There’s no particular meaning that’s ‘essential’ to the sound “GREEAAATT AAAARRTTTTT.” There’s no essential meaning to that particular pattern of air blowing through my mouth and my meat-parts slapping together in a particular way. We just kind of all agreed roughly what we mean when we put that pattern of sounds together, because that helps us communicate with each other.

The problem is, we didn’t all agree about the meaning of “great art” with enough precision. And that’s what caused the argument between Kristen and I. We were using definitions for “great art” that were in the same ballpark, but definitely NOT the exact same meaning, so we got confused, and it looked like we were disagreeing when we really weren’t.

Now, we don’t have this problem when it comes to a really mature science like physics. Physicists agree to a high degree of accuracy what they’re talking about when they use the word “atom,” and so there’s no confusion when two physicists talk about atoms.

But in some subjects, things are a bit fuzzier, like sociology. For example what’s a “religion”? Well, we all have some agreement on what the word “religion” means, but still, there are lots of different definitions that people are using. So there can be some confusion when two sociologists are having a debate about religion.

But they usually figure out pretty quickly that they each have to define what they mean by religion, and once they’ve done that, then they can go out into the world and take surveys and make observations and see if anything in the world corresponds to their definitions of religion and what they’re saying about it.

But in other subjects, there’s so little consensus on the meaning of key terms of that subject matter that people who debate that subject matter end up talking past each other a lot of the time, like when critics are debating what the greatest art works are, or like when you’re debating with your friends what the best movie of the year was. What does “best movie” mean?

So let’s get back to morality.

I think the same thing is happening in moral philosophy.

You’ve got utilitarians like Sam Harris, who define “morally good” as “that which promotes the well-being of conscious creatures” or something like that. And you’ve got social contract theorists who might define “morally good” as “that set of social rules we would agree to if we didn’t know what kind of life we were going to be born into.” And you’ve got moral subjectivists who define “morally good” as “that which the speaker approves of.” And it’s easy for us to talk past each other, because we’re using different definitions for our words.

But notice I’m not saying all moral theories can be right as long as we define our terms first. Definitely not. If you define “morally good” as “that which is commanded by God,” then nothing is morally good, because nothing is commanded by God, because God doesn’t exist.

Or if you define “morally good” as “that which has intrinsic value,” well, I think that’s going to be a problem, because I’ve never seen any evidence that anything has intrinsic value.

So lots of moral theories are just gonna be WRONG, even IF we are careful to define our terms first.

Now, what’s really interesting here is that if Kristen and I got into a debate about whether Duchamp’s urinal was “great art” or not, I think most of us would be able to see pretty quickly that if we want to resolve the debate and get any ANSWERS, we need to define what we mean by “great art” and then go out into the world and see what matches that definition, if anything.

So… why isn’t this obvious when we have debates about morality?

I think part of the problem might be the PURPOSE of moral discourse. When we use moral talk, usually the whole point is to persuade someone to act a certain way, and to persuade someone, you need to speak with as much authority and power as you can. The whole point of moral talk is so that you can beat somebody over the head with your morals and say, “It’s wrong to protect people who rape children. It’s just wrong!” and in order to persuade them, you want to say “It’s wrong in an absolute, intrinsic way and it’s wrong according to any reasonable definition of morality!” Because the stronger you way it, the more impact you’ll have, and that’s the whole point of moral discourse, whereas it’s not so much the point of art discourse.

And maybe even more important, we evolved to have certain moral motivations because those motivations were beneficial to reproduction in our social species, and so our brains are wired to feel very strongly that some things are just absolutely wrong or absolutely right and definitions don’t change that. And in fact, neurological studies of what the brain is doing when we make moral judgments show that they are mostly emotional judgments that we rationalize later.

So maybe that’s why it’s hard to see that we can get past the word-confusion and start making progress on morality if we just define our terms.

So let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that when you say “morally good” what you mean is “that which promotes the well-being of conscious creatures,” and you provide a definition of consciousness, and you define well-being in terms of a particular brain state. Well, viola! That’s a scientific question! It’s a really, really HARD scientific question, and maybe not one we can answer very well for another few centuries, but it’s still a scientific question. Which acts or laws or desires tend to promote that brain state in conscious creatures? That’s a scientific question.

There really is an objective fact of the world about whether communism or capitalism does a better job of promoting the well-being of conscious creatures. There’s an objective fact of the world about whether legalized abortion promotes the well-being of conscious creatures. There’s an objective fact of the world about whether or not female genital mutilation promotes the well-being of conscious creatures. Those things might be very, very hard to measure with current technology, but IN PRINCIPLE those are scientific questions about quarks and electrons and the natural world.

And they don’t depend on any person’s attitudes, either. Even if the Nazis had won World War II and brainwashed everybody into thinking that killing people who aren’t white Europeans is okay, it would still be an objective fact that killing non-white people would NOT generally promote the well-being of conscious creatures. That would still be an objective fact.

So Sam Harris’ theory would still be an OBJECTIVE theory of morality, because whether something is good or bad would be independent of the attitudes of people.

But now, this might not satisfy you. You might say, “Okay, Luke. Sure. I get it. If we define ‘morally good’ this way, then we can go out and measure what’s morally good or not according to that definition. And if we define ‘morally good’ in this OTHER way, then we can go out and measure what’s morally good or not according to THAT definition. But I wanna know what’s REALLY good or bad! Which set of definitions SHOULD we go with?”

And when I hear that concern raised, there are two ways I’m tempted to answer.

At first, I want to say “No. That’s it. I know you WANT morality to be not just objective but also be, I dunno, written into the fabric of the universe, or something, whatever that means. I know you WANT there to be one true definition of morality, but that’s just not how language evolves. People use moral terms in many different ways, so there is no ‘one true definition’ for moral terms. So sit down, think about this carefully, get over it, and then maybe go out there and do the science of morality! Go measure and test and figure out what it is that promotes the well-being of conscious creatures, or whichever set of objective facts about the world you want to investigate.”

So that’s one way I’m tempted to reply to this question.

The other way I’m tempted to reply is that while I don’t think it makes sense to talk about One True Theory of Morality, because that’s not how language works, I still think there might be something kinda LIKE that. And here’s what I mean.

There are some limits on what you can reasonably call a theory of morality. You can’t give a 30 minute talk about how gravity is really just an effect of the curvature of spacetime and then suddenly tell everyone that you’ve just explained your theory of morality. No, what you have is a theory of gravity, not a theory of morality. It’s just not useful to suddenly redefine your words so radically that for you those words refer to things that nobody else in history has ever meant by them.

So, some theories or sets of claims are going to be more “about morality” than other theories are, at least in terms of the ideas that go along with morality when most people talk about morality.

But then, there might be a certain theory you could come up with that fits the assumptions of common moral discourse better than any other theory. We could go out and take big surveys of people and come up with lists of the ideas the are most commonly associated with moral talk – ideas like obligation and permission and praise and condemnation and rights and duties and actions that are “above and beyond the call of duty” and all those kinds of things that we talk about when we talk about morality. And some of these ideas would be more central to moral discourse than others. And then you could come up with a theory that makes sense of most of those ideas, and maybe that theory would be more “about morality” than other moral theories are.

Of course, you’d also want all the claims of your theory to be TRUE. So you couldn’t come up with a moral theory that would account for EVERYTHING different people and cultures think about morality, because different concepts of morality can contradict each other, and also they sometimes refer to things that don’t exist like gods and intrinsic value. But you could still come up with a moral theory that incorporates lots of common ideas associated with moral talk better than any other theory of morality and your theory could be one that makes only true claims.

So what’s the picture, here? There’s all these dozens of moral theories out there. The first, most obvious step is to pick out just the few that make only true claims. And then from those, you can pick the one that can account for the assumptions of moral discourse most closely.

And if you could do that, you wouldn’t have the One True Theory of Morality, but you might have the One Most Universal Theory of Morality or something like that. And then you could go out and measure what is really, truly, objectively morally good according to that theory, and what is really, truly, objectively morally bad according to that theory, and you could get real answers to moral questions, and, perhaps – 2500 years after Socrates – we could finally have The Science of Morality.

Now, if we decide to do this – if we develop the SCIENCE of morality – what advantages can we look forward to? As I see it, the main advantage is this: We could come to know and agree on the moral facts through reason and evidence rather than through our conflicting intuitions.

Let me explain. How do most of us make moral judgments today? I think most of us take the advice of Jiminy Cricket. “Let your conscience be your guide.” We close our eyes and we think about whether stealing music off the internet is right or wrong, and it either feels right or it doesn’t, and that’s how we decide whether it’s right or wrong.

Of course it’s not ALL intuition. There’s usually SOME reasoning involved. For example you might have an intuition that pain is always bad, and through a series of logical arguments you might discover that in order to be consistent with that value you already hold intuitively, you really shouldn’t be contributing to the massive pain of millions of animals by buying factory farmed meat. But maybe you have a different intuition, that fairness is more valuable than the absence of pain. And then you might reason from there to different conclusions. But we always come back to our intuitions about right and wrong.

But let’s look at this again: “Let your conscience be your guide.” I think Jiminy Cricket’s advice is bad advice. How could that be bad advice?

First, remember that this is the SAME advice people used 200 years ago when most people approved of slavery, racism, sexism, and homophobia. When your moral judgments depend on your conscience, your moral judgments turn out to be an accident of the culture you live in, and you could end up endorsing some really awful stuff.

The second reason to NOT “let your conscience be your guide” is that it doesn’t make any evolutionary sense. Why would primate brains have evolved a special morality module that was able to accurately detect moral truths by intuition? There’s no evidence that this happened. And, the fact that people all around the world disagree so much about morality shows that even if we DID evolve a conscience, it is extremely faulty and not to be trusted.

The third reason to NOT “let your conscience be your guide” is that it turns out that our intuitive moral judgments are hugely influenced by irrelevant factors. Let me give you a few examples. If I walk up to you and say, “Hi! I’m taking a survey on morality. Would you like to participate? It’ll only take a minute.” And you say “Sure,” and I’m holding a warm cup of coffee so I say, “Here, would you hold this for a second?” And I grab my thing down here and I say “thanks” and take the cup back, when you fill out the survey now, you will make more generous moral judgments about the situations described on the survey than if I had NOT had you hold the warm cup of coffee for two seconds.

That’s what happens when researchers conduct this experiment. Our moral intuitions are very fickle.

Or, if you take the survey when you’re in the presence of freshly baked bread, your moral judgments will be different than if you’re NOT in the presence of freshly baked bread.

Here’s another one. If I’m a researcher, and I go to a novelty store and buy a can of FART SPRAY, and I spray a little bit in a room – just a little bit, you can’t really even tell that it smells bad, but subconsciously you can smell it – and then I invite a bunch of you into the room to fill out the survey, you will give less generous moral judgments than if I had NOT sprayed the fart spray in the room. That’s what happens.

I can even change your moral judgments with magnets. There’s a thing called a transcranial magnetic stimulation where if I point these magnets at a certain part of your brain just behind your right ear, it’s called the right temporal-parietal junction, I’ll temporarily disrupt communication in that part of the brain. And if I do that, the moral judgments you give will be more focused on the outcome of the actions your judging, whereas normally you would take into account not just the outcome of the actions but also the intent of the person who is acting. Our moral judgments change when somebody is pointing a magnet at the RTPJ right here behind the right ear.

So I can change your moral judgments with a warm cup of coffee, with freshly baked bread, with fart spray, and with magnets.

So for these three reasons, things are not looking good for our moral intuitions. Things are not looking good for Jiminy Cricket.

But look what happens if we develop a science of morality! NOW how do we get at moral truth?

WE DO SCIENCE!

We already know science works. Science cures diseases and flies us to the moon and gives us more new knowledge every YEAR than we gained during the entire Christian Dark Ages. When we make morality a science, we can leave our faulty intuitions behind and get REAL ANSWERS on moral questions that we can come to agree on.

I mean think about it. Special relativity is pretty counter-intuitive. Special relativity says if I stay here and I send my twin in a rocket to Beetlejuice and back, my twin will now be YOUNGER than I am. He won’t just LOOK younger. He will actually BE younger. That makes NO SENSE to my intuitions. But guess what? I accept it. Because the scientific evidence strongly supports it.

And the same thing can happen if we make morality into a science. We can come to agree on the moral facts even if our intuitions don’t agree, because we CAN agree on what the scientific evidence says. And that’s the good news of the science of morality.

So just to review:

We DON’T need gods to have morality – and in fact, grounding your morality in God just makes morality SUBjective, because it’s grounded in the attitudes of a person.

Second, we can have a science of morality if we limit ourselves to the theories of morality that make only true claims, and then we pick the one that captures the most ideas from our moral talk.

And third, when we develop the science of morality, we can finally really KNOW moral facts, and come to agreement about them, just like we come to agreement on other scientific facts, because our moral conclusions will be based not on our conflicting intuitions, but on scientific evidence.

Now I will admit, moral questions will be harder to answer when we make morality a science, ‘cuz we can’t just close our eyes and get the answer anymore. We have to send thousands and thousands of trained scientists out into the world to measure and test what really is moral according to the best theory of morality available.

But it can be done, and it’s what we NEED to do if we want to really, truly know how to make the world a better place.

Thank you.

Transcript of Q & A section

QUESTION: Where can I go to hear more of your stuff and learn more about this.

LUKE: I have a website called CommonSenseAtheism.com. It’s mostly focused on philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. On there I have a podcast called ‘Morality in the Real World’ where a philosopher friend and I are developing this kind of approach and then getting more specific about specific moral claims and whether they’re true or not, but it takes a long time to do that, and so each episode is about 10 minutes and we’re probably gonna do 100 episodes or something before we really solve any philosophical problems.

If you want to check out more of this: CommonSenseAtheism.com. Also if you want, you can click ‘contact’ on there and say “Hey, I was interested by this particular part” and I’ll even be able to send you papers to read if you really want to dive deep into that. So yeah: CommonSenseAtheism.com.

QUESTION: You seem to have two options here, either morality is about intuitions, which you reject, or it’s about scientific investigation, but what about the option of morality being about facts of reason, about rational thought – the categorical imperative. Why reject those? We wouldn’t expect to find such things scientifically, because they’re not the kinds of things you can find. So why reject that?

LUKE: Yeah. So the question is, maybe I’ve given a false dichotomy. I said that we could do morality by consulting our intuitions, or we could do morality by science. But maybe there’s a third method: we could do morality by reasoning through it. There’s a couple different ways you might do that.

One way is you start with your intuitions and you reason from that. So you might start with the intuition that pain is just bad, always morally bad. And then from there you might be persuaded by a series of logical arguments that if you hold that value already, if your’e gonna be consistent with that value that you already hold intuitively, then you shouldn’t be eating factory farmed meat. And that would be reason, but it always goes back to an intuitive moral judgment.

But what you asked about was another option of reasoning toward morality – the categorical imperative. It’s really hard for me to answer that. If there was such a thing as a categorical imperative such that, I mean one way to cash it out is that it would be somehow fundamentally irrational to do things that are immoral, or it would contradict human identity is another way to cash that out. I’ve looked at those and I wish that I could make one of those theories work, I just can’t. It would make morality much easier, because we could solve moral problems from our armchairs, and we could think about it, and we wouldn’t have to send scientists out into the world.

So I’m still exploring that and would very much like it to turn out to be the case that that works, and just can’t find any way to make it work. Now maybe somebody else will, maybe somebody else already has, but you’re right I just kinda skipped over that whole option and that’s seriously a research program worth doing. There are some reasons why I’m not optimistic about that research program.

QUESTION: The little country of Bhutan has an interesting way of tracking its health among it’s people. It’s called Gross National Happiness. I think you could make a case that if you track Gross National Happiness and morality in those parallels, because we can track certain aspects of happiness: security, food safety, other things that other people need to achieve happiness – morality is simply a human condition… it seems like this would be one way to approach the scientific [approach to morality].

LUKE: …Bhutan is measuring not so much Gross National Product because it’s not doing so well on that front, but it’s measuring Gross National Happiness, and it is doing surprisingly well on that front given its economic status. Maybe one way to cash out the definition of morality is to talk about, basically, whatever maximizes human happiness. That’s what we should be concerned with when we’re talking about morality. And this is actually a pretty popular view. And if you are able to provide a specific enough definition for what happiness is, you could go out and measure what it is that promotes the most happiness. This would be hedonic utilitarianism or preference satisfaction utilitarianism or desire satisfaction consequentialism.

There are a couple of reasons why that isn’t my view. I mean, the intuition here from John Stuart Mill or even from Aristotle is that happiness is the only thing that we value or desire, and I think that’s gonna turn out to be false. We can often sacrifice happiness for other things that we desire. So I think that is a theory worth doing as a science – it’s certainly worth figuring out what it is that promotes happiness, I think we would all care about that – but I think we’re going to be able to find a theory that both makes more abundant true claims and is also more about the subject matter of morality in terms of capturing the assumptions of everyday moral discourse around the world. I’m hopeful that we can do even better than that.

But even apart from whether we want to semantically make the decision to call that morality, obviously we all care about what it is that produces happiness, so that’s a valid research program anyway.

QUESTION: I’m not sure how you’re reaching beyond just a large-scale intersubjective morality. So you speak pretty poorly about subjective accounts of morality – whatever God says is right is right, whatever Britney Spears thinks is right is right – and that seemed problematic, it seems you don’t favor that very much. So you go on where you say okay let’s try to capture overall moral discourse of people around the globe as best we can. Put that together. That to me just sounds like an intersubjective approach to morality, which you could make arguments for that.

But I don’t see how science helps much with that in the intersubjective and scientific realm because let’s say we do that. We get everybody’s opinions about what they think is right or wrong. We put it together, and now we have the most popular intersubjective theory take on what is right and what is wrong. That doesn’t sound like it would really help me in my moral thinking process.

So for example let’s say hedonism – you know whatever produces the most pleasure, a utilitarian approach. That is what most people agree is morally agree. So I realize that, and then I’m faced with a moral decision, and I calculate how much happiness it will produce and how much it won’t, and in the end I still think my intuitions tell me it’s wrong, even though this intersubjective morality says it’s right. It doesn’t seem like it would be very useful to me in that situation. I would just disagree with it.

And for example this intersubjective approach might be biased toward what time you’re at. Say a century ago you take the opinion of in general what do most people think about slavery: is it right, is it wrong? Well, okay, most people think it’s right. Now I’m on my own and I think it’s wrong, and I do the science calculation and most people think it’s right, I still think it’s wrong , it still doesn’t seem to be that useful.

So I guess I’m saying it feels like the science will always have the is-ought gap between… you can determine what IS out there, but that doesn’t necessarily determine what OUGHT to be out there. And the intersubjective approach doesn’t seem like it would really help my moral intuitions much. I would still go by my moral intuitions, not by general people’s moral intuitions.

LUKE: There were, like, 7 or 8 issues in there… You said that I seemed pretty harsh on moral subjectivism. I’m actually not that harsh on moral subjectivism, I just don’t like it being called moral objectivism. So my complaint was that Dr. Craig was calling a morally subjective theory a morally objective theory. Actually I think it would be pretty easy to make a morally subjective theory that was correct according to its own definitions. If I define “morally good” in terms of what Luke Muehlhauser approves of, that’s a subjective moral theory, and I could make rather trivially true claims. Like for example, ice cream has a great deal of moral value on that view. That would be very easy to measure.

The problem is more the semantic issue. I don’t think it would capture very much of what we mean by morality.

There are a whole bunch of questions you raised where I think we’re agreeing on more than you might think. Really what I’m trying to do here is not so much accept the problem of moral definitions or what’s the One True Moral Theory and then solve it. What I’m more trying to do is just say it’s a bad question and dissolve it. So I say there’s not gonna be just one true moral theory. There’s gonna be a lot of different theories that have lots to do with what we usually talk about with regard to morality. Some of them might be about how do we produce the most happiness, how do we produce the most pleasure – and those are all scientific questions.

So what you were saying about how even if we did this whole survey-taking of what the assumptions of moral discourse are and we picked the one theory that captured the most of those assumptions and we defined morality in terms of that, I would wanna say that that whole time when we’re doing that, we’d have to be very conscious of the fact that language is constructed. So maybe if we find that theory of morality that most captures what we mean in moral discourse, then that’s gonna be interesting, but maybe that’s not gonna be your goal. Maybe your goal isn’t to do with whatever it is… like let’s say we go with the definition that morality is whatever creates the most well-being in conscious creatures – maybe you have other goals and you don’t have a personal, internal reason for action to promote the greatest well-being for conscious creatures.

That’s fine, I accept that, because I’m trying to dissolve this mystery and this force behind the word “morality” and just recognize it for the word-tool that it is…

The theory of morality that I actually deploy and didn’t even mention tonight says that, for example, it is true that we have reasons for action to promote or condemn certain types of action because if I condemn lying that’s gonna help me fulfill my desires in a lot of cases, because aren’t gonna lie to me and thwart my desires. So it might be the case that you have reasons for action to condemn lying that you don’t even know about, and so that’s why this might still be a better approach than going with your intuitions because… for example let’s say your intuitions say that there are a lot of cases in which lying is going to help you get what you want, and then we do the research and find out that lying is really destructive to happiness or something – it probably isn’t it, but let’s say it is. That would be a case in which I would say for your own benefit you would want to go with the science instead of your intuitions.

QUESTION: To some extent I feel like what you’re getting at is what we already do in law. For example, our legal system is based around an agreement about what we should be doing and what we shouldn’t be doing, but when I see something as illegal, I don’t necessarily see it as wrong. Okay, our society says it’s wrong, but that doesn’t mean it really is wrong. So it might be illegal, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or right. In a similar case, in general most people think this is right… but that doesn’t mean it’s right. So to take my fickle, inner subjective opinion and say that somehow everybody’s fickle opinion is better than my fickle opinion, just seems like [the same problem].

LUKE: It sounds like you were talking about how we would take a survey of the world and figure out what people think is right and wrong and then that would determine what we would define as morally right and wrong. That would be a kind of planetary subjectivism, where morality is grounded in terms of what most people on the planet value. What I was talking about was a very different issue, where I was talking about the semantic issue of what we decide to define as morality, how we decide to use that word-tool. The most practical way to use a word-tool is to use it in a way that meets two conditions. The first condition is that it successfully refers to things that actually exist. It’s really unproductive to use words to talk about things that don’t exist. And then the second one is that we generally want to capture what most of us are talking about when we use that word. That’s why if I come up here and give a talk on general relativity and then I suddenly say I gave a talk on morality, that’s just not useful.

I’m not saying we should take a survey of what most people think is right and wrong, and that would determine what’s right and wrong. I’m saying something different. The survey part was just to resolve the semantic issue of what most people mean by moral terms, but there’s still the matter of: Does the theory that has an account of those moral assumptions of moral discourse successfully refer to things in the real world.

QUESTION: You talk alot about evolution. I want to believe, and I like the idea that we can discover moral facts, and I wanna believe that there’s… a population of moral truths that is universal, but I realized this year – I was talking to Eugenie Scott – and I’ve started to become what evolution in a biological context means. It means that there’s multiple answers, and it depends what environment you’re in. So as time progresses, and environmental circumstances change, it changes the moral landscape accordingly, and the moral landscape has to adjust accordingly.

So by doing these kinds of studies, I guess my question… do you think it’s dangerous to presuppose that there’s something or is it better to be aware that there is a constant change?

LUKE: This kinda goes back to one of the earlier questions from the previous gentleman, I didn’t answer the question then. The question of: If we do this survey thing… aren’t we just committing ourselves to this snapshot in time. Is that it?

QUESTION: I just fear that scientists… we’re perceived in this one way, coming to tell you what’s right, there’s such a pushback to that kind of moral top-down direction that I think is dangerous.

LUKE: That’s a very different question, then. I think most people are comfortable with top-down morality because most people are theists. Doing it scientifically is a very ‘from the ground up’ way to do morality because you’ve got thousands of different people and you can test their claims against the world and you could have your white coat on but you could be wrong and I could show you to be wrong because I could run the experiment and do the measurement. So this would be a really collaborative effort to find moral facts and it would be something that, like the rest of science, is totally amenable to correction by better data or new experiments and so, to me, it would be the opposite of a top-down morality. It would be like science is, where it’s endlessly correctable, and accountable to the evidence instead of accountable to untestable assertions about divine commands or untestable assertions about brute moral facts that exist in a Platonic heaven.

QUESTION: Intrinsic in this system would be a kind of agreement to accept whatever comes out of your survey, as opposed to just being aware that different moralities work in different circumstances at different times.

LUKE: Again the survey is not about figuring out what is right and wrong, it’s just about the question of what we generally mean by moral terms. So as long as we’re clear that that’s what we’re talking about, that when I talk about “morally good” I’m using this specific set of definitions, like scientists are, then I think we resolve the problem. Because the problem usually is that we aren’t clear about what we’re talking about and we’re talking past each other like Kristen and I were when we were disagreeing about great art but we hadn’t provided a definition for ‘great art.’

QUESTION: What’s your opinion about the problem that if you do morality as a science, you won’t be taken seriously as a science?

LUKE: Yes, there’s a huge resistance in the scientific community to making any normative claims, especially moral claims. Science is very successful BECAUSE it doesn’t engage in philosophy, and it sticks to facts about what IS in the world, and not about more fuzzy questions about what OUGHT to be the case. And so scientists are very understandably very resistant to this idea. But I think if it’s explained to them that what we’re doing is really just first settling the semantic issue, getting this conflict of definitions out of the way and just picking a definition and saying this is what we’re talking about, then I think scientists will be quite happy to measure and test what it is that promotes the well-being of conscious creatures or whatever we’re going with.

I think we just need to make the semantic issues very clear first. And then I think scientists will recognize that this does fall under the IS category, that this is a question that falls under their domain. It is a question about quarks and electrons that manifest themselves in terms of brain states or whatever we’re trying to measure.

This actually goes back to another question that I didn’t answer from a previous questioner about the is-ought gap. This comes from David Hume, a very famous passage about how in every previous vulgar system of morality I’m always encountering a moral argument that says something is wrong because it’s commanded by God and then suddenly there’s this gap where we’re not talking about IS statements anymore but we’re talking about OUGHT statements, and nobody’s explained to me or justified what this gap is.

Now most people have read Hume to be saying that you can’t demonstrate the truth of an ought claim by talking about is claims. But they probably haven’t read the next chapter of Hume where Hume justified a bunch of ought claims in terms of is claims.

Think about it this way: Either ought claims are part of the world of is, or they’re part of the world of is-not. If you’re making ought claims and they’re not part of the world of IS, I have to say I don’t care about that. The other question is, if ought claims are not part of the world of is, how do they have an influence on matter that we would care about? So I think ought claims are part of the world of is.

A really simple way to say this is that one very uncontroversial type of ought is the hypothetical imperative where you say, if you want to get from Fort Collins to Denver you ought to go south. This is a very simple type of ought claim to justify. It’s just a desire and a prediction. You recognize the desire to go from Fort Collins to Denver and you make a prediction that if you go south, you’ll end up fulfilling that desire.

So this is an ought that is fully explained in terms of IS statements. An is statement about a desire that exists in someone’s brain, and an is statement about the geographic locations of Denver and Fort Collins. I think it’s gonna turn out to be the case that all the oughts we can justify have to come from the world of is, or else they have no impact on the world of matter that we live in, and they’re just part of the world of is-not, and then I don’t care about them.

QUESTION: …What if, when you go and do the scientific study about what we mean when we use moral terms… [we find that] we DO mean something religious [by these terms]? …Perhaps its the case that when you do the semantic study, the end result will be that religion is the correct answer based on the common agreement of terms rather than science, and I would think that would actually be more likely considering the majority of people in the world are going to appeal to some sort of religious institution in order to get their morality. How would we reconcile that with having science try to give us the answer?

LUKE: It’s an excellent question. I think it’s very plausible that one of the most common assumptions of moral discourse when we take that survey would be that morality has a transcendent source. I think that’s very plausible.

We’ve encountered lots of these situations before. A really popular one in the literature is about the word “atom.” The word atom from the very beginning in Ancient Greece… the word means, literally, “uncuttable.” It means indivisible. It’s something you can’t cut down any further. It’s the smallest constituent of nature, you can’t divide it further.

We discovered around 1900 that you can cut atoms. But we kept calling them atoms. Why did we do that? Well, this very central assumption of what an atom is turned out to be false. But we didn’t suddenly say, well, atomic theory is false. Because this word atom still successfully referred to all these other things that were part of the assumptions of atom discourse, for example that it was particular and discrete units that are used to build up the substances that we observe in life, that these atoms can combine because of their physical properties in different ways and can’t combine in other ways… there are all these kinds of things that were part of the atom discourse, and so we decided to hang on to the atom discourse, even though the really central assumption that it was uncuttable… turned out to be false.

I think we can do the same thing with morality if we think that’s gonna be useful to discourse. We can say well, it turns out that moral facts aren’t transcendent because let’s say naturalism is true and nothing is transcendent in that way. It would still be the case that we can make sense of talking about obligation, permission, praise and blame, actions that are above and beyond the call of duty, normative reasons, all these other assumptions of moral discourse, even if this one really central one of transcendent turned out to be false.

That’s one way forward.

QUESTION: I’m less optimistic about the possibility of ridding ourselves of these intuitions that are so problematically mutually exclusive. I thought it was ironic for example, to discard intuitions by appealing to our intuitions, for example that it would be inappropriate to appeal to the smell of bread or a warm cup of coffee. All of us immediately, intuitively, know that that’s not a legitimate consideration in moral judgment. That’s an intuition that we have. And I suspect that as we begin this journey using science to discover moral facts, that again it’s going to require all along the way a definition of terms, even if we stipulate them based upon what the majority of people believe – that we just won’t be able to disentangle ourselves from the necessity of precise thinking, rational reflection. It sounds like a kind of naive scientism. So my question is: How do you see that relationship between moral epistemology, philosophy, and science. Do you really think there is some kind of philosophy-free, value-neutral science, that could be free of intuitions.

LUKE: That’s a very good topic. When I get around to doing a Ph.D. program, that’s what I’d like to write my entire dissertation on, right there.

There’s no way to make this entirely scientific because at the very least we have the semantic issues. And those are more philosophical issues. So we have to resolve those types of issues and then we can do the science, which of course was what I talked about in my speech.

So how do we have an intuitions-free science of morality? We do it the exact same way that we have a relatively intuitions-free science about relativity theory. It also depends how you’re using your intuitions. There are certain cases in which it’s going to be legitimate to appeal to intuition when you’re deciding how to define a term, but then there are going to be other cases where it’s not, and I think the differentiation there comes from whether or not it’s an essentially contested topic, which is a model of language that Gallie introduced in 1954.

I think that’s a really good question and I think considerations like that are the ones that I worry about personally in doing this project, more than an of the others.

QUESTION: Would you agree that their may be some room to expand on what may be looking like a false dichotomy between a scientist and a philosopher? …Maybe morality is more like ecology, which is a very fuzzy science…

LUKE: Explicitly in this talk, morality would have to be a project that philosophers and scientists would have to work on… I think I’m actually probably continuing or pushing forward the distinction between philosophers and scientists because science is a particular set of methods that work a lot better than philosophical methods. I think philosophy is at it’s best when it’s almost science, as close as possible. And that’s actually the dominant view in philosophy right now, that’s called naturalism.

You said maybe this looks like ecology. There’s actually a philosopher who is one that sees morality as a science who describe morality as the science of human ecology. His name is Owen Flannagan.

QUESTION: What you’re saying is that science turns into a new religion of sorts because if science has all the answers, then anything that’s scientifically proven as beneficial becomes morally permissible, then we can look to science to hold all the answers, just like many religions look to God to hold all the answers, when I don’t think you’ve acknowledged the limitations of science. I’ll be the first to pay homage to science and say of all the great things that it has done for humanity, but at the same time, think about some of the flaws in scientific viewpoints, and things change. For a while there we didn’t believe the earth was round, we believed the sun revolved the earth, crazy things like that were conventional science… that later were proved to be exactly wrong…

Science to me doesn’t give me any ways to live practically differently.

LUKE: The first was about science making mistakes and reversing itself. That happens – in some sciences it happens more than in others. Right now it’s happening a lot in dietary science. The problem is that the other methods are even worse. So philosophy is even worse. And theology and astrology… is way worse. Science is socially constructed. It is a human activity. It just turns out to be the one that works the best.

So I’m not saying we should trust all the deliverances of science as gospel…

You also talked about science becoming a religion in that it’s answering all these questions that religion used to answer. In particular, morality has been a central answer that religions have given and not science in the past. So this is another threat from science in that way. I think you’re correct that science can’t answer all questions, but I think what I’m trying to do, just because it’s the most successful method, is try to figure out ways to hand off the questions to science as much as possible…

When you talked about, “Should I have scientists do experiments to tell me what I ought to do?” Again, remember though that we have to define what we mean by ‘ought’ in terms of things that exist in the real world. And then those claims are amenable to science.

You also asked how could morality as a science be useful to me? Let’s say for the heck of it that you were going to stick to your moral intuitions about what’s right and wrong, and you thought that pain was really morally bad. Science could show you that if you’re gonna be consistent with that view, with that value that you hold personally, then you shouldn’t be eating factory farmed meat. That could be the case. And by the way I’m using this example but I’m not even a vegetarian, so if I’m condemning anybody I’m condemning myself.

Science can figure out the things that correspond to the values that you already hold, and it might be useful to you in that way.

I know that it has done that for me in the past where I had wrong information about a particular topic, and when I had the correct scientific information, I actually changed my views about how I should be responding to that situation.

QUESTION: Do you think if we were able to view science as the way to prescribe moral truths to people, would that actually end up making a difference in any real-world problems?

LUKE: Obviously, there’s so much horror in the world that it’s easy to be a pessimist. This is the 21st century and we still have women living lives of incredible oppression in Muslim countries around the world, and even in 1st-world countries in some cases. So it can be easy to be a pessimist. I’m an optimist, maybe it’s just a decision, but… I think about, for example, slavery. Slavery was accepted in most cultures around the world for thousands of years and then suddenly, in the space of a few generations, most of the world rejected slavery as morally permissible.

What happened there? Part of it was that we encountered the views of others. I think part of it was a lot of moral praise and condemnation.  I think part of it was scientific research on how it’s not correct that people of African descent are significantly anatomically… very difficult from, say, whites.

If you take the long view of not the last 5 years but the last 300 years, I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about.

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{ 80 comments… read them below or add one }

Jugglable December 1, 2010 at 8:59 am

I still think God-based morality can be objective. If there is an all-perfect being, wouldn’t he or she know all objective truth, including moral truth?

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Jugglable@ December 1, 2010 at 9:04 am

Whoops, I didn’t mean to post that comment yet. I meant to write it down as a note to think about, but I haven’t finished watching the video yet. I clicked submit by accident.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 1, 2010 at 9:18 am

Jugglable,

But then that’s not God-based morality in the sense I mean it. That’s a theory where morality is grounded in something beyond God, and God is a messenger.

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CJ December 1, 2010 at 9:41 am

Jugglable,

That’s where the Euthyphro dilemma comes into play.

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Patrick December 1, 2010 at 9:43 am

I’ve always found that aspect of Euthyphro to be really interesting. I’ve always felt that the arguments against the internal coherency of objective yet divine command based morality are much stronger than the arguments against objective with god as messenger morality, but it seems like it doesn’t much matter because theists would rather stab themselves in the eye with a fork than advocate the latter.

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Muto December 1, 2010 at 9:46 am

That was a good talk.

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MauricXe December 1, 2010 at 10:09 am

Speaking of morality, is Craig guilty of plagiarist?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L85oePTQZoQ

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MauricXe December 1, 2010 at 10:10 am

lol should be “is Craig a plagiarist?”

or “is Craig guilty of plagiarism?”

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bossmanham December 1, 2010 at 11:54 am

The comment I tried to post isn’t appearing, so I’ve put it on my blog, which you can view by clicking on my name.

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Tony Hoffman December 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm

I copied what Bossmanham had posted on his blog below:

Bossmanham: I’m actually surprised that there is someone out there who thinks we can discover moral truths by performing scientific experiments, but Luke from Common Sense Atheism thinks we can. As I understand it, most ethicists would deny that science has this ability, and I’ll explain here in my response (which I’m also trying to post as a comment on his blog, but am having issues), why this fails.

Luke says:

Now, I want to point out right away that that’s a strange claim to make, because usually, the phrase “OBJECTIVE moral value” means something like “moral value grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a person or persons.” Right? If what you’re calling “moral value” is just based off somebody’s personal attitudes, that’s called SUBJECTIVE morality.

I’ve seen this from you a couple of times, and despite it being answered even by fellow athesits it seems you still think it’s a pretty strong objection.

Here are the issues. 1) It’s a straw man. Theists, at least those who hold to the divine command theory you’re attempting to critique, don’t think that moral values are based in the attitudes of God, but in His very nature. His attitudes toward behavior flow from this essential part of His being. So you misled this audience.

2) It doesn’t destroy the objective nature of the moral values that we are defending. These morals exist in spite of what anyone thinks, what anyone desires, what makes anyone happy, etc. All people are bound by them and all people will be judged by them in light of being made in the image of God. Innately, all people whose mental faculties are functioning properly apprehend these morals even if they don’t believe in God; hence the common belief that some things are really wrong.

3)Who says that the well being of conscious creatures is a good thing; good enough to base our concept of morality off of? People all around the world would debate your assertions about “whether legalized abortion promotes the well-being of conscious creatures. There’s an objective fact of the world about whether or not female genital mutilation promotes the well-being of conscious creatures.” What are you basing these personal opinions of yours on, Luke? Do you realize that the Muslim cultures that practice the latter are far outpacing the western nations that cringe at this practice in spreading their genetic code? Further, they would say it does produce the well being of those in their society because it keeps the women in line. You’re just assuming your western ideals, fostered in a Christian context, are the thing that is the best for people. But the Mullah in Pakistan is going to ask, “who the heck are you?”

Even if the Nazis had won World War II and brainwashed everybody into thinking that killing people who aren’t white Europeans is okay, it would still be an objective fact that killing non-white people would NOT generally promote the well-being of conscious creatures. That would still be an objective fact.

The Nazi’s thought it would, and that’s why they acted on it. They thought the well being of humanity hinged on eliminating the Jews. Those who owned slaves and subjugated the rights of women thought that advanced the good of conscious creatures. It’s subject to the prevailing perception of what is beneficial for conscious creatures. That isn’t objective at all, Luke.

Further, who grounds the assertion that the well being of conscious creatures is worth promoting. Who says? What do conscious creatures have over non-conscious creatures? That sounds like specie-ism.

4) We do science? To discover morality? Really? Science can’t tell us what actually should be considered a benefit to conscious creatures, because that is a personal opinion dependent on individual notions of what is beneficial. And that is just an arbitrary definition anyway. Does the moral fact that “we should advance the well being of conscious creatures” have some basis beyond the human mind? If not, it’s subject to those human beings who think that way. There isn’t actually a moral code that is objectively true and binding for all people, rather your formulation here is just as subjective as any other secular moral theory.

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Justfinethanks December 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Bossmanham:

Theists, at least those who hold to the divine command theory you’re attempting to critique, don’t think that moral values are based in the attitudes of God, but in His very nature. His attitudes toward behavior flow from this essential part of His being.

I’ve never quite understood how this solves anything. Couldn’t an Alien Command Theorist assert the same thing by saying that “No, we’re not just saying that the aliens’ OPINION on moral facts is what makes them moral. We’re saying that the aliens are by their very nature perfectly Good. And their moral opinions flow from that part of their nature.”?

Furthermore, to make this assumption, you must first include “Good” as part of the definition of God. That’s fine, and it certainly is part of the classical definition of “God”, but why not say “human flourishing and happiness” or something is just “good” by definition. If the latter is just arbitrary, I don’t see why the former isn’t as well.

To paraphrase your objection to utilitarian type theories: God is good? Who says?

And I don’t see why pointing out that people disagree on what “beneficial” means undermines secular morality in favor of theistic morality when people also disagree on what God commands of us. It could simply be the case that people are just wrong, either in regards to what is truly beneficial or in regards to what God’s true moral order is.

Science can’t tell us what actually should be considered a benefit to conscious creatures

Yes, I think philosopher Patton Oswalt described this dilemma thusly: “Hey, we made cancer airborne and contagious! You’re welcome! We’re science: we’re all about coulda, not shoulda.”

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Cyril December 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I thought it was great up until it cut you off in the middle of a sentence.

But anyways, here are some thoughts about what bossmanham said:

1) I’ve always found it weird to think about “God’s nature” as opposed to his {thoughts, feelings, actions, etc.}. What does that even mean? When we talk about human nature, we usually mean human psychology and the commonalities between people’s psychological make-ups. But if there’s only one God, then there is no commonalities between them and those “other gods”, because they’re the only one. And even if we start talking about a pagan pantheon and their “nature”, then that still doesn’t make any sense. Why would there be commonalities between the natures of uncreated beings? We get ours either because either God or evolution gave it to us. Where did They get Theirs from?

2) It’s not true that “all people” will be judged according to God’s nature, because by definition God is both a person and will not be judged, since They Themselves are the judge.

3) I’m not sure about this one, because I think it might contradict itself. Namely:

Even if the Nazis had won World War II and brainwashed everybody into thinking that killing people who aren’t white Europeans is okay, it would still be an objective fact that killing non-white people would NOT generally promote the well-being of conscious creatures. That would still be an objective fact.

and

It’s subject to the prevailing perception of what is beneficial for conscious creatures. That isn’t objective at all, Luke.

And even if it’s a subjective feeling that you want something, it’s still an objective fact that you have that subjective feeling. This topic has been covered numerous times within discussions about desirism (and even before that in the context of relativism v. realism of truth claims). So… yeah.

And I’m not even sure what to think about 4. At first glance it looks like a recap of 3, but I haven’t read it carefully enough to weigh in on it.

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bossmanham December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Justfinethanks,

I’ve never quite understood how this solves anything. Couldn’t an Alien Command Theorist assert the same thing by saying that “No, we’re not just saying that the aliens’ OPINION on moral facts is what makes them moral. We’re saying that the aliens are by their very nature perfectly Good. And their moral opinions flow from that part of their nature.”?

If they could show that somehow the alien’s nature is good, that we are all subject to the alien’s nature, judgment, and commands, and how the alien would have claim to us and the universe. Did the alien create us? Further, this alien needs to be a necessarily existing thing that transcends the material world because if this morality were to be objective, it would need to be true in all possible worlds. That alien would then need to exist in all possible worlds.

If you do that, it seems to me this alien starts looking a lot like God.

but why not say “human flourishing and happiness” or something is just “good” by definition. If the latter is just arbitrary, I don’t see why the former isn’t as well.

Because what God is doesn’t depend on what anyone thinks. What human flourishing and happiness is is contingent on current attitudes of humans borne out of their prior evolutionary history.

To paraphrase your objection to utilitarian type theories: God is good? Who says?

It’s inherent in the very definition of God as the greatest conceivable being.

And I don’t see why pointing out that people disagree on what “beneficial” means undermines secular morality in favor of theistic morality when people also disagree on what God commands of us.

Because you’re basing your judgments on morality off of a standard that has been arbitrarily defined and is subject to human attitudes. God’s nature is beyond human interpretations of that nature. Hence these things existing in spite of what anyone thinks, what anyone desires, what makes anyone happy, etc.

Yes, I think philosopher Patton Oswalt described this dilemma thusly: “Hey, we made cancer airborne and contagious! You’re welcome! We’re science: we’re all about coulda, not shoulda.”

Very profound insight. I agree.

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bossmanham December 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Cyril,

If I cut off in mid sentence, it’s because I often jump around while constructing these posts as new critiques and thoughts pop up in my head. I then must have missed it in proofreading the post.

I really only have one thing to respond to in your post:

And even if it’s a subjective feeling that you want something, it’s still an objective fact that you have that subjective feeling. This topic has been covered numerous times within discussions about desirism (and even before that in the context of relativism v. realism of truth claims). So… yeah.

Yes, objectively, I have subjective feelings. I objectively have the subjective preference of milk chocolate over dark chocolate. That doesn’t change the fact that what desire I have are subject to me and what I think and am like. Playing word games with the concepts doesn’t change the problem. Luke is claiming that these meta-ethical theories based on personal preference and proclivities can be made objective. I’m saying he’s at the very least equivocating.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Lol.

cl is calling for censorship at… wait for it… college campuses.

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bossmanham December 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm

If that’s true, then that sounds like Hector Avalos…hmm…and all the anti-ID fanatics out there…hmm…

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Luke Muehlhauser December 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I shouldn’t feed my trolls, I know, but here’s a quick response to cl’s article about my speech:

(1) I just disagree that only people with certain credentials should be allowed to speak on college campuses. I defend free speech instead. Nobody was required or even pressured to attend my talk. And certainly, nobody was required to agree with it.

(2) cl writes that the phrase God-based morality implies there is only one such theory. No it doesn’t. Obviously, there are tons of God-based theories of morality. Christians don’t agree about morality among themselves.

(3) cl says I put up a straw man and knocked it down. Not true. I explicitly quoted one Christian theist’s views on morality, represented them accurately, and then explained why they didn’t work. At the end of that section of my speech, I said that of course there are other arguments I don’t have time to cover in such a short talk, but none of them work for me.

(4) cl says that the usual definition renders desirism a subjective theory. This is both irrelevant and false, as I have already explained to cl. I said nothing at all about desirism in my speech. Furthermore, desirism grounds moral value in more than just the attitudes of persons. In fact most desires, I suspect, are held by minds that do not belong to persons.

(5) cl writes: ” For example, he has claimed that if everybody desired to blast loud noise out of a boombox all day, that this would be moral. So then, what, exactly, is the difference between a person declaring as good that which fulfills their desires, vs. people declaring as good that which fulfills their desires?” This is false, and the reason for its falsity has been explained to cl many times. This is not desirism.

(6) cl writes: “I would admonish Luke that his definition of objective morality is identical to Craig’s. After all, Luke just defined objective morality as “moral value grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a person or persons,” which is no different than Craig’s definition, since – as far as we know – all persons are Homo sapiens.” This is blatantly false, as explained in the very passage of my speech from which cl quotes. The difference is that Craig narrows the definition to consider only human persons. I explained what the differences result in – for example Craig would have to call a moral theory grounded in the attitudes of chimpanzee ‘objective’ while I would not.

(7) cl writes: “As a theist, I find this annoying. As a respecter of logic and reason, I find it utterly deplorable. Luke effectively handwaves a millennia-old debate and foists his beliefs upon the impressionable minds at Colorado State University.” I just disagree. God’s existence was not the topic of my debate. Obviously, people disagree. I did not claim that everyone agrees that God doesn’t exist. That would have been misleading. Instead I said God doesn’t exist, which is a claim I defend at length in my writing, but that was not the subject of my talk. cl seems to think my lecture should have been 100 hours long.

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PDH December 1, 2010 at 3:35 pm

If I’m going to base my morality on something I want to know that that something is worthy of it. God might be amoral, he might be immoral, he might have a morality but it might be a morality that is so alien to us that we would be fools to emulate it. Or He might be evil. Worse, if you define ‘good’ as the nature of the thing that I’m basing my morality on then we end up with serious problems.

Let’s say I go to a dinner party in a big mansion out on a hill somewhere. I get up to go the little atheist’s room and on my way back I hear a gunshot and run into the dining room to find the host has been killed by a smoking pistol that is lying on the floor. I ask who did it and everyone says the same thing, ‘not me.’

Then I come up with a plan. We’ll put all the guests in a circle and spin a bottle. Whoever the bottle lands on is the guilty person. ‘Great,’ everyone says. ‘I can’t see any problem with that.’ So, we spin the bottle and it turns out that Professor Plum is the murderer.

‘Now, steady on,’ says Professor Plum. ‘Before – when I thought I had a one-in-six chance of getting away with murder – I was all in favour of this but in retrospect I now see that there is a flaw with this whole thing. It’s completely arbitrary!’

‘Damn,’ I say. ‘You’re right. OK, here’s a different idea.’

I then place the bottle down pointing at Plum and say, ‘there you go, we won’t spin it this time, then it won’t be arbitrary. Furthermore, I’m going to say that the definition of ‘guilty’ when it comes to murder is whatever this bottle points at – you, in this case – so you’re guilty by definition, sorry . Now go straight to jail, don’t pass go and don’t…hold on, wrong game.’

There are two problems:

1) It’s still arbitrary. The starting point is arbitrary.

2) We are letting a bottle make moral decisions for us.

God is an empty bottle. There’s no reason to think He points to true moral facts, assuming they exist. If whatever God is pointing at is a true moral fact then there is nothing special about a true moral fact beyond its relationship to an empty bottle. If it is some kind of logically necessary bottle that always points a certain way, the situation is not improved. The theist is trying to escape the horn of the dilemma that says, ‘If morality is based on God’s commands then it is vacuous and arbitrary’ but clearly you don’t escape the Euthyphro Dilemma by saying it’s based on God’s nature instead of His commands. The same problem arises: is it good because it reflects God’s nature or does it reflect God’s nature because it is good?

I don’t care if it’s not based on God’s arbitrary whims but on His essential nature, instead. It’s still arbitrary to base our morality on God as opposed to something else. I want to know what’s so great about God? Why should I base my morality on Him? If your only answer to that amounts to ‘God is great by definition,’ then the definition of greatness is just ‘whatever God is.’ I don’t care whether I’m great if it just means ‘whatever God is.’ As Scott Clifton points out, that would mean that when theists say, ‘God is good,’ they are effectively saying, ‘God is himself.’ They’ve reduced the concept to a meaningless tautology. Satan is himself, too. I am myself. Everything is itself. Being the thing that one is does not make one moral unless morality is ‘whatever that thing is,’ in which case, who wants it?

If this theory is true then morality is arbitrary and vacuous. Worse, basing our morality on God would be no better than basing it on Satan. You are welcome to it.

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Ben Mackay December 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Hey,

i just want to weigh into the debate going on between bossmanham and justfinethanks.

What I see with the problem of basing objective morality with God is this: when you say that God’s nature is good there just dont seem to be any reasons for accepting this. God’s nature could include loving torture if that is his nature. But we would think it is absurd, but we can only say it’s absurd because there are prior conceptions about torture and the suffering it causes. If i say suffering is wrong, that is a moral basis that chimes with our intuitions and how we talk about morality. When someone is being beaten up we say “this is wrong because you are hurting him” not “this is wrong because it goes against God’s nature”. Thanks.

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nate December 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm

It’s inherent in the very definition of God as the greatest conceivable being.

What does “greatest” mean?

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Godless Randall December 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm

i’ve resisted getting involved for a while but:

^cl is calling for censorship at… wait for it… college campuses.^

i just read the post and saw no call for censorship. are you lying, or maybe just wrong? if not and i just missed it, where is the call?

and isn’t a troll someone who comments just to piss others off and start flame wars? where is your evidence that Cl has that motive? if you don’t have any, isn’t it wrong to accuse others without evidence?

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Joseph December 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm

I must commend you for trying to put morality on a scientific basis. I think this would be an understudy quite worthwhile.

However I must caution that no matter what, morality will always be somewhat arbitrary. It’s the nature of the beast, and no one can do anything about it.

Let me give you an example to clarify my idea. Let’s take my household. I might have rules in my house that I would request you, or any visitor, to respect. One of those rules could be for example, you’re not allowed to put your feet on a table. Now I might have good reasons why I have that rule in my house, such as reasons A, B, C. But you could always ask why A, B, C in which case I would have to give you other reasons, and you could still ask why those reasons. At some point I won’t be able to answer, and I guess you have recognized the problem of infinite regress. No matter how you cut it, whether based on science or not, your “objective” morality will always have that stigma of arbitrariness.

And I think that we must be honest about it, and say it from the onset. And whether it’s Christian morality, or Jewish, or Islamic, or for that matter any religious or cultural morality, the reality is that morality has always been somewhat arbitrary. And because of that arbitrariness, it was allowed to evolve along with society, as this is necessary for any society to survive as the problems a society faces constantly change with the times.

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temp December 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Godless Randall, it’s in the second paragraph of Cl’s post.

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Godless Randall December 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm

your trippin. the second paragraph in full:

^First off, I wondered how it came to be that Luke – a newbie atheist who was a self-described irrational Christian just a few years ago – was granted the authority to educate students at a major university. What are his credentials? Should anybody with a popular blog be allowed to educate the populace in our public institutions?^

asking legit questions = call for censorship on college campus? bullshit

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Tony Hoffman December 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Yes, I don’t think it’ s the warfare alone that is mental over there at cl’s blog.

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Tony Hoffman December 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Pdh,

I loved your comment. I think that Craig-style apologists have gotten away too long with confusing arbitrary as meaning something like “based on God’s whim.” The “God’s nature” reply totally misses the point that the designation of God’s nature in DCT as good is what is purely arbitrary. They’ve escaped nothing.

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bossmanham December 1, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Luke,

cl says I put up a straw man and knocked it down. Not true. I explicitly quoted one Christian theist’s views on morality, represented them accurately, and then explained why they didn’t work.

CL isn’t the only one that pointed out that what you tore down was a straw man. Craig never contends that ““moral value” is just based off somebody’s [God's] personal attitudes.” So you did straw man his position. And I’ve already shown why your contention doesn’t work anyway.

What does “greatest” mean?  

Highest, not able to be surpassed, best, awesomest, neat-o-est.

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temp December 1, 2010 at 4:59 pm

I’ve added highlighting;

^First off, I wondered how it came to be that Luke – a newbie atheist who was a self-described irrational Christian just a few years ago – was granted the authority to educate students at a major university. What are his credentials? Should anybody with a popular blog be allowed to educate the populace in our public institutions?^

It looks like a call for Luke to specifically not to be extended speaking engagements at major universities. To me, it seems to be sour grapes on Cl’s behalf.

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nate December 1, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Highest, not able to be surpassed, best, awesomest, neat-o-est.

how do you measure this?

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Justfinethanks December 1, 2010 at 5:42 pm

bossmanham:

If they could show that somehow the alien’s nature is good.

Well, theists usually don’t say they can “show” God is good. They usually just say that its part of the definition. (Which leads to the problem presented in the evil God challenge. ) So if that is a requirement to accepting an objective morality based on theism, then theistic ethics is false.

Did the alien create us?

I don’t see how that’s relevant. My Dad made me, and I don’t think he’s the locus of my morality. And if you are going to make a “get your own dust” joke, suppose my dad was a mad scientist who mastered and harnessed the casimir effect to create me from the vacuum of nothingness, would my morality be grounded in him?

Grounding your morality in whatever being happens to create you seems awfully subjective.

What human flourishing and happiness is is contingent on current attitudes of humans borne out of their prior evolutionary history.

I suppose that would indeed make what is and is not a moral action contingent. For example, if for some reason people grew happier and more in health if they got punched in the back of the head, then possibly sucker punching people would be a moral good. (Even though it is not the case in our current evolutionary situation). But the fact that encouraging human happiness and flourishing can lead to a wide variety of seemingly contradictory actions depending upon our evolutionary circumstances doesn’t seem to undermine the theory, as long as its ultimate root (flourishing and happiness) still exists, then it could still be considered objective.

And of course, what is and is not a moral action is contingent on divine command theory as well. Is killing some stranger immoral? Well, if God tells no, then its immoral. If God tells me yes (which would be a seemingly immoral act, but would be necessary to achieve some greater good), then it would be immoral for me NOT to kill that person. Surely you don’t believe that the contingency of a moral question (“Is it moral to kill person X?”) undermines theistic morality? And if you don’t, I don’t see why it should affect secular ethics as well.

It’s odd, but attacks on secular morality in defense of theistic based ethics always sound to me as being something closer to arguments in favor of error theory, since these objections, if successful, seem to penetrate all forms of moral realism.

Because you’re basing your judgments on morality off of a standard that has been arbitrarily defined and is subject to human attitudes. God’s nature is beyond human interpretations of that nature.

Again, I don’t see why “God’s nature” is any less or more arbitrary a center of morality than those offered by utilitarian type theories. These kinds moral centers are declared good “by definition” and the conversation seems to stop there. (I’m not as educated as I should be on moral theories so I could be happily corrected on that point).

Also what is could be considered “happiness and flourishing” might change according to biology, but “happiness and flourishing” itself has a definition that is not subject to human whim. If the Nazis thought the holocaust satisfied this definition, its possible they were just plain incorrect. Just as (under DCT) someone who believes that stomping on people’s feet is God’s will is just plain incorrect.

and all the anti-ID fanatics out there…hmm

Of course the distinction is that “Is God necessary for the existence of objective moral values?” is a robustly debated topic in philosophy, with intelligent arguments on either side, and Luke’s stance on it (“No”) being held by many respected individuals in the field. So even if Luke doesn’t have academic credentials, he is representing a commonly held position by those who are credentialed. So here Luke is providing a good educational opportunity for students and the public at large.

On the other hand “Is Intelligent Design necessary to explain biological complexity?” is not seriously debated in the relevant literature, and the overwhelming number of people who answer in the affirmative are outsiders. Those who are ID proponents with relevant credentials are about as common as someone who denies the mainstream historical account of the holocaust with relevant credentials. (And yes, they do exist.) And giving such a kooky, outsider view mainstream respectability by giving them voice at a major university is deeply misleading to students and the public at large, and thus any school would be remiss in their academic duties in allowing such a thing to happen.

Unless, of course, they made it clear just where Intelligent Design stands in mainstream biology.

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CJ December 1, 2010 at 6:49 pm

A buddy of mine is liveblogging Dinesh D’Souza tonight in Oklahoma.

http://agnostichicagokie.blogspot.com/2010/12/liveblogging-dinesh-dsouza.html

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Joel December 1, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Luke,

Regarding the categorical imperative; coincidentally, I have been musing over it and its various formulations this week. You claim that categorical imperatives do not exist, and I think there is proof that you are correct.

Recall that Kant says that morality is about objective reasons for action (i.e. objective prescriptivity) and this involves universalizable maxims. If something is not universalizable, it cannot be an objective reason for action. So lying cannot be objectively good, since it cannot be universalized (lying undermines the institution upon which it depends – the institution of truth telling – you can’t lie in principle or in practice if there is no such thing as truth telling).

But here Kant conflates having no objective reason with having objective reason not to. I do not have an objective reason to lie, but that does not mean I have an objective reason not to lie. It may well be the case that lieing is neither obligatory nor forbidden – it may well be permissible.

So Kant’s argument shows us what cannot be objective reasons for action, but doesn’t proof that the maxims remaining are all objective reasons for action – they may well all be permissible, sans further proof.

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Joel December 1, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Bossmanham,

Regarding the “God’s nature” rejoinder to the Euthyphro, that Craig himself uses;

It begs the question. We can still ask, is it A) in God’s nature because it is Good, or is it B) Good because it is in God’s nature? A) is the realist answer, B) is the anti-realist answer. A) commits you to non-theistic moral realism, B) commits you to the idea that theistic moral realism is unsustainable.

The only way to escape this is to claim equivalency between God’s nature and the Good. Now, this equivalency cannot be analytic (i.e. semantic), given Moore’s Open-Quesiton Argument, but it could be synthetic (i.e. ontological – a matter for empirical research to decide).

But then you’ll be left still at the starting point – you have to have empirical proof that God’s nature is equivalent to the GOod. And no one has been able to do this; people have been trying since an eternity ago to prove that X (i.e. happiness, pleasure, preference satisfaction, naturalness) is good, yet they have all failed, and simply made recourse to “I feel that tis so”.

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Sly December 1, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Thanks for posting Luke!

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bossmanham December 1, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Justfinethanks,

Well, theists usually don’t say they can “show” God is good. They usually just say that its part of the definition.

But good isn’t inherently in the definition of “alien” is it? The “evil God challenge” is handled in the definition of a being which no greater can be conceived. I can conceive of a greater being than an all evil one, namely an all good one.

I don’t see how that’s relevant. My Dad made me, and I don’t think he’s the locus of my morality.

Fallacy of division. The maker of the whole would have a prerogative that the makers of the parts wouldn’t have.

Not to mention that this isn’t analogous to what we mean by God making the universe anyway. Your dad only provided genetic material for your construction. Beyond that, he did nothing. God brought the universe into being, constructed it, and sustains it in being. If the Bible is correct, God also made you in the womb. He constructed your material and immaterial parts. He just used a part provided by your dad (that was made by Him anyway).

And you do have a responsibility to obey your dad as a child. Your analogy doesn’t seem to be very well thought out.

And the casimir effect happens in the preexisting, rich, law-controlled quantum vacuum. So get your own rich, law-controlled quantum vacuum.

Grounding your morality in whatever being happens to create you seems awfully subjective.

Well luckily this is a straw man of my position, since I am using God’s ownership of the universe as one of the criteria for being the basis of moral grounding. But as we see above, this isn’t really a problem anyway.

But the fact that encouraging human happiness and flourishing can lead to a wide variety of seemingly contradictory actions depending upon our evolutionary circumstances doesn’t seem to undermine the theory, as long as its ultimate root (flourishing and happiness) still exists, then it could still be considered objective.

Who says human flourishing and happiness is what we should base moral decisions on? Who says it’s good?

And of course, what is and is not a moral action is contingent on divine command theory as well. Is killing some stranger immoral? Well, if God tells no, then its immoral.

Killing isn’t necessarily bad. Murder is bad and it is unjustified killing. Justified killing isn’t bad. If God commands a killing, then it is just. Obviously this would flow from His necessarily just being and so He’d never command one that wasn’t needed. Murder always bad; not subjective or contingent.

Again, I don’t see why “God’s nature” is any less or more arbitrary a center of morality than those offered by utilitarian type theories.

It’s constant, eternal, unchanging, objective, necessary, the actual basis of good….far different from human thoughts. Can you see now?

On the other hand “Is Intelligent Design necessary to explain biological complexity?” is not seriously debated in the relevant literature, and the overwhelming number of people who answer in the affirmative are outsiders.

Of course this displays your ignorance of the current state of biology and of the silly tactics these supposed professional institutions use to keep any talk of ID out. Stephen Meyer’s work has, IMO, made purely naturalistic notions of the origin and complexity of life look like a fool’s science. But you’d have to actually read his book to see that.

And it’s been the history of science for specific pet projects and dogmas to be entrenched so deeply that innovative thought is ostracized and straw manned till people finally wake up. So I’m not really surprised it’s happening to ID.

Joel,

If that’s the case, then we can ask is red red because it’s red, or is it red because someone says it’s red? At some point you get to the definitional meaning of what good is. That’s what the Euthyphro dilemma is asking; what is the definition of good, a or b? I choose c and it eliminates the unpleasant consequences of the other two.

It’s not begging any question, it’s recognizing the definition of good.

And why do I need empirical proof for what the good is? I’m fine with reasoning there by considering the concept of God.

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Kyle Key December 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm

@Luke:
I enjoyed the talk, particularly the Q&A, but it definitely looks as if it was too abstract for most of the audience–questioners repeatedly showed that they didn’t understand that the hypothetical study was NOT just a ‘tick good or bad for these 10,000 scenarios’ questionnaire, but rather seeking to clarify definitions so that empirical research could be undertaken. Perhaps if you had been more explicit about desirism, or Sam Harris’ definition since you introduced that, the crowd would’ve been less confused by having something more concrete to think about.

@PDH & Joel:
Bravo.

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Joel December 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Bossmanham,

The point of the euthyphro is to show the inherent tension between theistic ethics and ethical realism. As you said, you can choose a third option (i.e. equivalency), but analytic equivalency falls to Moore’s Open Question Argument. It is always a open question, semantically, whether something is good. The only way for you to close the question, is to concede that analytic equivalency isn’t what we’re after; it’s synthetic equivalency. So perhaps X has the property of intrinsic goodness, but we would not know this by mere philosophical reflection and semantic debate.

So if you claim that the good is God’s nature, it is not enough to, as you put it, ‘recognize the definition of good’ or by conceptual analysis, because people can always disagree over definitions. You need to refer to the something real (the world) and show how X has some property of goodness. So, no, it is not enough to ‘recognize the definition of good’.

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Cyril December 1, 2010 at 8:17 pm

bossmanham,

Sorry, I didn’t mean you. I meant the end of the Q&A that got cut off. If I had been paying attention, then maybe I would’ve read ahead of time that that would happen. But I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

Also, regarding the arbitrariness of the definition of morality:

Yes. Yes, it is.

But all of our word’s definitions are somewhat arbitrary. If they weren’t, then language wouldn’t change, because as the sounds changed then people would get confused as to what the meaning was. But language changes all the time. That’s just the way things are.

But even if different language communities might have different words for a concept, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be overlap (thus the possibility of translation). And it’s no different with regards to what we in English call “morality”, “virtue”, “ethics”, etc.

That’s why people can make things like the Golden Rule poster and the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights possible.

So yes, definitions of morality are all fairly arbitrary. But that doesn’t leave us without a starting point.

Or at least that’s my thought on the matter.

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Patrick December 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm

The idea that you can cite to the definition of God to determine the attributes of God is stupid. Definitions do not work that way.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uuQQGnYY2o

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Kyle Key December 1, 2010 at 8:42 pm

@hamhocks:
“But good isn’t inherently in the definition of “alien” is it?”
There is no word inherently in the definition of anything, so no, good isn’t inherently in the definition of alien, nor god, nor toothpick. Humans make words, and humans furnish the description of those words with other words, creating a definition; your saying that good is in the definition of god is vacuous if all I’m supposed to go on is your word.

“I can conceive of a greater being than an all evil one, namely an all good one.”
Well, since all you care about is pure conception, I conceive of the all evil one being greater. There you go, now it’s one-one. By the way, The Being (my all evil God) killed Yahweh, so your (former) God is clearly out of the running as to which’s “greater”–no hard feelings? Whoops, two-zero. Man, I should’ve gotten into this conception business a long time ago, it’s much easier beating people in arguments when I don’t have to bother myself with reality.

“The maker of the whole would have a prerogative that the makers of the parts wouldn’t have.”
So your ‘argument’ goes…”my God’s more powerful than you, it gets to boss us around ’cause authoritative relationships are awesome, QED”? Clearly that’s not what you think, as you’ve said (vacuously) that God’s “nature”–whatever that amounts to–is equivalent to “the good,” so I’m wondering what the purpose of this quote even is. How does it square up with what I just summarised your position as? If God’s nature just ISSSSSSSS good, what difference does talk of “makers” make?

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bossmanham December 1, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Joel,

I wonder if you’ve ever actually read Plato. The dialog with Euthyphro is all about clarifying what good is. Is it what the gods say is good, or is it what the gods recognize as good? In other words, what do we define good as? I choose neither of those and introduce a third option: it’s what corresponds to God’s nature.

It is always a open question, semantically, whether something is good.

That isn’t the question being posed here. It is what to define the good as. What do we measure actions against to see if they are good?

So perhaps X has the property of intrinsic goodness, but we would not know this by mere philosophical reflection and semantic debate.

This isn’t the issue either. Your confusing, it seems, acts of good and the ontological basis of good. To posit God as the greatest conceivable being would be to posit a morally perfect being; the very basis of morality.

An empirical confirmation would be divine revelation. If this being told me He is the locus of morality. After realizing that this being couldn’t lie, since a lie would mean He isn’t the greatest conceivable being, then I would have further confirmation than just philosophical reflection.

Or I could use inference to the best explanation. After realizing there are objective moral values, I would then see what best explains them. None of the silly naturalistic moral theories trotted out here have done it. They are all subjective in some way. But placing the good in God’s very nature doesn’t face problems of subjectivity or arbitrariness; ergo that is the best explanation.

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bossmanham December 1, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Kyle, none of what you said makes any sense. If you think you’ve made some sort of amazing refutation of what I said, you may want to go back and review basic logic.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 1, 2010 at 8:48 pm

bossmanham,

Have I misunderstood Craig’s moral views? In what way does Craig think that moral value is not grounded in the attitude/nature/will of God? I know he seems to endorse Adams’ view that there are brute value facts apart from God’s authority, but he doesn’t call those “moral” facts.

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bossmanham December 1, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Luke,

You didn’t say “grounded in the attitude/nature/will of God” you characterized Craig’s position as, “God-based morality says there’s this person named God, and whatever he thinks is good, is good!” and “God-based morality is suddenly an “objective” theory of morality even though it’s grounded in the attitudes of a person.”

Craig’s position couldn’t be that morality is grounded in all three of those things. Craig’s position is that the nature of God is what is the good and His attitudes and will flow from that. Not that His attitudes constitute what the good is.

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Justfinethanks December 1, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Fallacy of division.

Fair enough. But I still don’t think it follows that I have an obligation to someone by virtue of them making me. Someone making me merely is a description of where I originate, it doesn’t prescribe any behavior or establish a moral locus.

And you do have a responsibility to obey your dad as a child.

Sometimes perhaps, but is he incapable of offering an immoral command (as is the case with God supposedly)? That fact that he made me (or, at the very least had a part in making me) doesn’t actually lend him any genuine moral grounding.

I am using God’s ownership of the universe as one of the criteria for being the basis of moral grounding

I see. But it seems “ownership” is an arbitrary prerequisite for morality.

Who says human flourishing and happiness is what we should base moral decisions on? Who says it’s good?

Well, like I said before, if you can declare that “God is by definition good” and have it not be arbitrary, then I don’t see why a defender of secular morality couldn’t say “happiness if by definition good.” In fact a quick peak over at dictionary.com reveals that one of the definitions of happiness is “good fortune.” Does that mean that you can’t have “happiness” with it essentially being “good”?

It’s constant, eternal, unchanging, objective, necessary, the actual basis of good….far different from human thoughts.

Well, “happiness” isn’t a human thought, it’s an abstract concept. And abstracta (like numbers for example) can indeed possess the qualities you listed. So “happiness” could possibly fulfill that criteria.

. But you’d have to actually read his book to see that.

Oh, I have a special interest in the creationism-evolution culture war, and have indeed experienced the displeasure of slogging through Signature in the Cell. (Though Steve Matheson’s comments on it provide more expertise and wit that I could provide.)

And it’s been the history of science for specific pet projects and dogmas to be entrenched so deeply that innovative thought is ostracized and straw manned till people finally wake up.

Occasionally. More frequently, however, when an idea is ostracized and dismissed it’s because it’s unsupported and stupid. For every one case in which a good scientific idea is met with hostility because it challenges an established paradigm, there are a thousand things like the hollow earth, autism causing vaccines, and ancient astronauts, which are and were dismissed and met with harsh skepticism because they just aren’t very good ideas.

ID proponents have this bizarre fantasy that one day the pillars of “dogmatic Darwinism” will come crashing down and they will take their rightful place as respected members of academia. But if you follow the history of creationism you know that what we’re seeing now is just more of the same, and when Behe, Meyer, Dembski, Axe, Wells, and the rest are old old men in their rocking chairs, ID will basically have the identical standing amongst actual experts in the field as it does now. Even though I’m an atheist I would be less shocked to see the second coming of Christ than the day Paleyism comes back in vogue amongst biologists.

But of course now, we’re getting WAY off topic.

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Dwayne Johnson December 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm

ID = Intelligent Design?

More like Incredibly Dumb!

Amirite?

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Joel December 1, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Bossmanham,

1) You seem to fail to understand the basic rejoinder to the theistic objections. Yes, you may discount the traditional formulation of the Euthyphro “Does god will the Good because it is Good, or is it Good because god wills it?”, but substituting “God’s nature” for “God’s will” doesn’t solve the problem, because one’s will is derived from one’s character and nature, and because it is conceivable that God’s nature is different. You can’t say that it is better that God be (A) rather than (B) because A is better/greater than B, since that begs the question against what is good/greater/better.

2) I am not confusing the ontological basis of good and type-examples of good. All I am saying is, to demonstrate the ontological basis of the good, you can point to type-examples and then analyse their property of the good. It is not, as you insist, a matter of conceptual analysis, because I can always disagree. I can always say that the right has to be above all persons, and everyone, God included, is bound by the sovereign moral law.

3) Regarding divine revelation: Why is lying wrong? How can you base your evaluation of God’s moral character on some separate standard, unless, of course, morality is sovereign over all (non-theistic moral realism)?

4) Regarding naturalistic theories: Subjective how? By simply claiming that X is good? The same way you claim that God’s nature is good?

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soku December 1, 2010 at 10:41 pm

“Well, God-based morality says there’s this person named God, and whatever he thinks is good, is good! So this is another subjective theory! If God approved of rape, rape would be good. If God approved of racism, racism would be good. God-based morality is a SUBJECTIVE theory of morality, just by definition.” — Luke

Uh, doesn’t Craig hold to a modified divine command theory? If so, wouldn’t this objection totally miss the mark as it’s generally stipulated that God in question is an all good, perfectly loving God?

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Pablo December 1, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Hello, someone at “Skeptoid” recommended this podcast.

I apologise for posting the comment here. Perhaps you could set up a “suggestion box”?

How about an episode on the Qur’an?
You could address the issue of some of the verses about women and Jews which critics point to, but that Muslim apologists deny as false translations or things taken out of context. Where can we find impartial Arab translaters for the Qur’an?

Or; you could address the issue of the Qur’an mentioning the atom. Some Muslims point to this as a proof of the Qur’an’s divine knowledge. You could talk about the history of awareness about atoms, dating it back to India, through Ancient Greece…

It seems to be a very important topic. I’m sure many people would be interested in the skeptic side of things.

Again, sorry for being off topic.

Pablo.

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Garren December 2, 2010 at 5:06 am

Mixed feelings about the Q&A session, but that was a fantastic prepared talk for a general audience, Luke.

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Tony Hoffman December 2, 2010 at 6:05 am

These are hysterical:

Of course this displays your ignorance of the current state of biology and of the silly tactics these supposed professional institutions use to keep any talk of ID out. Stephen Meyer’s work has, IMO, made purely naturalistic notions of the origin and complexity of life look like a fool’s science. But you’d have to actually read his book to see that.

Dunning Kruger. The effect in its full fury.

And it’s been the history of science for specific pet projects and dogmas to be entrenched so deeply that innovative thought is ostracized and straw manned till people finally wake up. So I’m not really surprised it’s happening to ID.

Awesome. Although there is some truth here, the things that Bossmanham is decrying (pet projects, dogmas, entrenchment, ostracizing) are the things that science tries to defeat, and for which religion has shown itself to be the chief promulgator.

And why do I need empirical proof for what the good is? I’m fine with reasoning there by considering the concept of God.

Because you’ve given yourself no grounds from which to achieve agreement on what is good with any other person, and the point of morality and ethics is how you relate to other persons. You are sputtering away with no reason for me to think that what you have say is of any consequence.

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poban December 2, 2010 at 6:18 am

Playing word games with the concepts doesn’t change the problem.
Agreed
……………………………………………………………………………………………………

Theists, at least those who hold to the divine command theory you’re attempting to critique, don’t think that moral values are based in the attitudes of God, but in His very nature.
……………………………………………………
What are the difference between a god’s attitude and a god’s nature??

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Luke Muehlhauser December 2, 2010 at 7:04 am

bossmanham,

Ah, yes. That’s what I thought. No, in such a short talk I’m not going to tease out the differences between grounding morality in the “nature” of God vs. grounding morality in the “attitudes” of God vs. grounding morality in the “commands” of God. Those are all subjective theories. Grounding morality in the “nature” of a particular chimpanzee is no less subjective, in the usual sense, then groudning it in the “attitudes” of a particular chimpanzee.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 2, 2010 at 7:06 am

soku,

But that doesn’t change the counterpossible that I stated.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 2, 2010 at 7:06 am

Pablo,

I’ve invited many Muslims on the show, but they always back out.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 2, 2010 at 7:10 am

Garren,

I was very unhappy with my responses in the Q & A. Obviously I am much clearer when I have time to think about the clearest way to respond.

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Tony Hoffman December 2, 2010 at 7:18 am

Luke,

I loved the talk. I thought you did a great job of pacing, etc.

Where I thought you needed the most work was, as you already know, the Q&A. In particular, I think that you failed to give the audience an adequate understanding of what a scientific investigation of morality would look like. I think this problem became clearest when the one guy said that he wouldn’t be willing to replace his own moral intuitions with a larger group’s intuitions. Clearly, not enough of the audience understood that a scientific investigation of morality was not a poll of intuitions, and that could have been explained in the Q&A (something I think you struggled with because I don’t think you understood the guy’s misconception for awhile), but I think it would have gone a long way if you had inserted some example in your presentation.

I also haven’t read Harris’s book yet, so I have no helpful suggestion on that topic, but I’m sure you do.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 2, 2010 at 7:49 am

Tony Hoffman,

Yup. Watching the Q & A makes me want to slap myself and say, “Dude! They don’t get that we’re not taking a poll of what people think is right and wrong! Explain what a scientific investigation of the subject matter of morality looks like!”

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Garren December 2, 2010 at 10:18 am

My view is essentially:

1. Philosophical study of moral language to determine what moral language refers to.

2. Scientific study of the things moral language refers to.

Obviously, the viability of step 2 depends on the result[s] of step 1. I hold an error theory about anything in step 1 that can’t transition to step 2.

I’m writing a short series on metaethics that goes into more detail.

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Eneasz December 2, 2010 at 10:30 am

I find the dialog with Bossmanham very interesting. While I can’t comment on his actual age, his argumentation is that of a juvenile high-school kid. Not the AP kids either, just your average Sophmore or Junior. And yet Bossmanham could potentially by much older, because the arguments are fairly typical of many apologists. Could he secretly be educated and mature, but simply made to sound dumb by the quality of the arguments he’s forced to use to defend such a ludicrous proposition? So I must propose a new dilemma.

Bossmanham’s Dilemma:
Is the the argument made to sound juvenile by the quality of the arguer, or is the arguer made to sound juvenile by the quality of the argument?

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Tony Hoffman December 2, 2010 at 10:49 am

Regarding psychologizing, it seems that there is a reverse ratio of the level of secular education to the amount of condescension in a commenter’s writing. The most conservative statements are, typically, made by those who practice science as a profession, or have made a profession of studying the discussed topic. (I suppose much of this is attributable to the Dunning Kruger effect I mentioned earlier.)

The writers with whom I disagree that I find most compelling are the ones who seem to have a brain but manifest an inability to use it. I really do believe that these folks are more victims of their initial circumstances, and that they find themselves caught in a worldview that they could only extricate themselves from with great upheaval — the admission of having been fooled, the wasted intellectual effort, the loss of esteem, the alienation of friends, family, possibly spouses, etc.

On my side of the debate, I could find Jesus tomorrow, adopt that worldview, and lose very little — certainly most of my family and friends and people I work with would consider themselves Christians, and I am not very public about my skepticism. And as a skeptic, it seems intellectually forgivable (even laudable) for me to adopt a new position given what I describe as new evidence. In other words, I have almost no skin in the game, with a great deal to gain socially (and everlastingly!) were I to change my mind.

I have to remind myself that those who find themselves on the apologist side have very little freedom to change compared to my position, and that there is a level of fear that enters these discussions that I never have to feel. I am grateful to, by dint of good luck given my upbringing and circumstances, to find myself living with a kind of intellectual freedom that I could just as easily have lost given a few small changes in my life.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

Tony,

That’s one thing I worry about is that the very practice of investing so much into, for example, desirism, puts “some skin in the game.” That’s going to bias my defense of desirism. :(

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Tony Hoffman December 2, 2010 at 11:17 am

That’s exactly why I have been so reserved in my enthusiasm for Desirism, Luke. This way, when the pack encircles you, I can step quietly aside, grab my torch and pitchfork, and join in your righteous condemnation.:)

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Bill Maher December 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Bossman,

I am not anti-intelligent design, just as I am not anti-astrology. Whatever you do on your time is your business. I am however, anti-anti-science and anti-anti-education.

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ayer December 2, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Have I misunderstood Craig’s moral views? In what way does Craig think that moral value is not grounded in the attitude/nature/will of God? I know he seems to endorse Adams’ view that there are brute value facts apart from God’s authority, but he doesn’t call those “moral” facts.

I think you have failed to distinguish between the axiological and deontological aspects of moral values, as Adams does. The value facts become “moral” facts (i.e., obtain their deontological properties) through divine command. Do other moral philosophers consider Adams’ position, if successful, to be one of subjective and not objective morality? I don’t think so, and I believe Craig’s view is the same as Adams’.

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Patrick December 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Craig believes that human beings just sort of know right from wrong, and that this is evidence of God.

Craig also believes that at least a few times in history God has directly ordered his followers to butcher every last man, woman, and child in entire civilizations in a massive holocaust. He believes that following these orders was morally obligatory, and that the true victims were not the murdered women and children, but rather the soldiers who had to carry out these massacres because following such orders would undoubtedly scar you emotionally.

I don’t think dragging a coherent moral theory out of Craig is a worthwhile project. I genuinely cannot figure out how one might go about explaining how moral intuition is evidence of God, but God sometimes orders us to go against moral intuitions in very extreme fashions, but morality is objective, but even smashing babies to death against rocks can be both moral or immoral depending on the circumstances and/or God’s orders of the day, but good and evil are not rooted in his God’s preferences but rather in his eternal nature, but the actualization of good and evil shifts constantly and can only be determined by God’s expression of his preferences. Any attempt I come up with at harmonizing one or two or three of those results in problems for others.

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Rob December 2, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Patrick,

Knock it off, you are being intentionally obtuse. Just because we do not know God’s reasons for ordering the smashing of babies against rocks does not mean he did not have a good reason.

After all, God’s ways are not our ways.

So next time you see somebody torturing a baby, do not interfere with the free will of the abuser. Take comfort in the knowledge that God has a good reason for everything.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 2, 2010 at 8:07 pm

*the sound of me finally giving up on cl*

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Garren December 2, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Has Adams ever addressed whether, under his view, a human government commanding something good is sufficient to create a new moral obligation? It would certainly seem to follow.

And if so, no God required.

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Ignostic Morgan [ Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth] December 2, 2010 at 8:46 pm

I find that wide reflective subjectivism underpins objective – independent- morality as Noen implies. This is the subjectivism of Hobbes and Hume where our considered judgments overrule our mere tastes and whims, and thus that very overriding implies that objective morality independent of those tastes and whims. Google the presumption of humanism- covenant morality for humanity.
Even the simple subjectivism of Lord Bertrand William Arthur Russell and Michael Ruse can be fine as it doesn’t mean for harming othersas Beversluis notes.
Philosopher John Beversluis notes how Clyde Staples Lewis ever makes logical fallacies in his ” C.S.Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion,” where he notes how wide reflective subjectivism has two objective components plus that overriding proviso that I’m making into this paradox that the one underpins the other or at least, both subjectivism and objective morality bear on us and any putative God.
And Aquinas and others beg the question of His nature when they try to obviate the horns of the Euthyphro by defining His nature as good. Remember that definitions, postulations and faith cannot instantiate Him or His referents or attributes!
See my answers to the fine-tuning argument under #2, fine-tuning generalized. Such a non-starter is that fine-tuning! Oh, today scientists note that life can depend on arsenic, thus implying that the parameters are wider than what supernaturalists claim! Doesn’t Prof. Irwin Corey make more sense than theologians, those exponents of woo! James van Praagh, Sylvia Brown[e] and John Edward rank with the Dolly Lama, Pope Benny Ratz and the Rev. Billy Crackers as exponents of woo- both the twin superstitions of the supernatural and the paranormal are what Paul Kurtz calls “The Transcendental Temptation.”

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bossmanham December 2, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Justfinethanks,

Notice that God making you really wasn’t the criteria I was using, though I think He does have some claim to authority on those grounds; ie you owe your existence to Him. Also, you are in His universe. I used other criteria that you are also ignoring.

I see. But it seems “ownership” is an arbitrary prerequisite for morality.

Not for authority though. And if God’s authority also extends to the moral realm, as it would if He exists, then it isn’t arbitrary at all.

Well, like I said before, if you can declare that “God is by definition good” and have it not be arbitrary, then I don’t see why a defender of secular morality couldn’t say “happiness if by definition good.”

The concept of God entails that He is good. The concept of happiness entails no such thing.

(Though Steve Matheson’s comments on it provide more expertise and wit that I could provide.)

And Matheson has been rebutted. As Casey Luskin comments in that downloadable book, “Matheson has been reviewing SITC chapter by chapter, mixing frequent personal attacks on Meyer with exposés of occasional typos and the possible discovery of one minor error. That is not a bad track record for Meyer,
considering that at the writing of this response, Matheson has reviewed nearly half the book.”

Also a funny quote, “Matheson contends that ‘what one must do is show that the non-design alternative (whatever it is) is unable to provide the expected explanation.’ He ignores the fact that this is a major part of what Meyer does throughout the book.” If this is what supposed refutation of Meyer is, then I’m pretty comfortable with his work.

And since you read the book, how about you give me the argument that Meyer spends 500 pages developing? It should only take a small paragraph. Email it to me if you like.

Occasionally. More frequently, however, when an idea is ostracized and dismissed it’s because it’s unsupported and stupid.

And cue the inevitable ad hominem when discussing ID with a dogmatic neo-Dariwnist. Yes, this is certainly a very damning critique; don’t deal with the actual science being presented, just call it dumb.

ID proponents have this bizarre fantasy that one day the pillars of “dogmatic Darwinism” will come crashing down and they will take their rightful place as respected members of academia.

I think all those remotely interested in science and philosophy should hope for even a fraction of that, because the neo-Darwinian paradigm is so woefully inept, philosophically and empirically, and it really serves no good practical purpose.

Joel,

1) Yes, God’s will does flow from His nature. But the Euthyphro dilemma is solved because God’s nature is not arbitrary, but necessary. What God wills is not necessary. So no, I don’t fail to understand your rejoinder; your rejoinder doesn’t do anything to my position.

2) You can say whatever you want. You saying something doesn’t really change the truth of the situation, and it doesn’t change the fact that the Euthyphro dilemma is a false dilemma.

3) Lying is wrong because it is an attempt to be deceitful, and deceit is contrary to the nature of God.

4) No, by placing the standard in the contingent wills of human beings

bossmanham,Ah, yes. That’s what I thought. No, in such a short talk I’m not going to tease out the differences between grounding morality in the “nature” of God vs. grounding morality in the “attitudes” of God vs. grounding morality in the “commands” of God. Those are all subjective theories. Grounding morality in the “nature” of a particular chimpanzee is no less subjective, in the usual sense, then groudning it in the “attitudes” of a particular chimpanzee.  

No one’s asking you to tease out all of the nuances of Craig’s view. But the least you could do is get it right in what you do say.

And I’ve given reasons here why God’s nature is not akin to a human nature and why everyone would be subject to it. If He rules, then His standard is the objective governing standard of the universe, similar to how a government’s laws apply to all under its authority. It is an objective law for all those people. Since all are under the governing of the Creator, then His moral nature would be the standard by which we are all subject.

Like it or not and equivocate as you may, that’s objective.

Bill Maher,

I am not anti-intelligent design, just as I am not anti-astrology. Whatever you do on your time is your business. I am however, anti-anti-science and anti-anti-education.

Course this is all I ever see from anti-ID fanatics (and they think it’s so clever and pithy); assertion that it’s anti-science and if taught would mean the end of science as we know it *gasp*! Now maybe if there were some argument to confirm that assertion….oh we can dream I suppose.

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Zak December 3, 2010 at 12:10 am

Bill Maher,

http://thewordofme.wordpress.com/2010/04/03/the-imminent-demise-of-evolution-the-longest-running-falsehood-in-creationism/

You guys, I’m super serious this time. Guys! Seriously, evolution is on it’s last leg!!!!!1!

I know, I know, we creationists have been saying that the age of the earth (this 4.6 billion nonsense) is on it’s last leg since 1825. And yes, we have been saying that evolution is on it’s last leg since 1878! Yes, and I know that every several years, we say that evolution is dead meat and wont last more than a few more years!! Yes, I know.

But seriously guys, seriously, this time we are super serial. THIS time, evolution IS on it’s last leg. Guys? Serialy, it’s over. I know, I know, in 2005, Paul Nelson said that he sees common decent lasting 3 years MAX!! Ok, so maybe he was a little off. But he is still right. It’s over. Any second now…. any second. Wait. Wait for it…. wait.

And ok, so yes, every creation– oop, I mean ID’er has been saying that evolution will collapse any second now, and we have always been wrong. But srrsly guys, SRRSLY, this time… It’s over. Trust me, I know this stuff, cause I read the Discovery Institute blogs and books, and they have TWO biologists there who don’t have any agenda at all. Unlike those atheists scientists like Ken Miller and Francis Collins. Those guys just hate God. I mean, look at em, with their lab coats, thinking they’re so smart. Smug bastards. Real scientists don’t do research, don’t you guys know that!!??

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Kyle Key December 3, 2010 at 4:44 am

@ham:
“If He rules, then His standard is the objective governing standard of the universe, similar to how a government’s laws apply to all under its authority.”
The God of “Might Makes Right.” Your god’s more powerful than us, and we’re in its ‘hood, so what it says, goes, got’cha. Might I add, your authoritarian god can toss off. I reject the state’s arbitrary authority similar to how I reject your god’s imaginary authority.

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Bill Snedden December 3, 2010 at 6:31 am

@bosshmanham:

1) Yes, God’s will does flow from His nature. But the Euthyphro dilemma is solved because God’s nature is not arbitrary, but necessary. What God wills is not necessary. So no, I don’t fail to understand your rejoinder; your rejoinder doesn’t do anything to my position.

2) You can say whatever you want. You saying something doesn’t really change the truth of the situation, and it doesn’t change the fact that the Euthyphro dilemma is a false dilemma.

You appear to be operating under a misconception, here. Grounding moral values in God’s “nature” doesn’t “solve” Euthyphro or avoid it’s point. It’s merely accepting the second of the two possible positions Plato outlines: the good is what the gods love. Here’s why:

In order for moral values/rules to be considered objective, and avoid being arbitrary, they must be grounded in something other than “will” (this is Euthyphro‘s first horn). We therefore place them in something outside of will or conscious intent. Whatever that might be, it’s not subject to will and cannot be altered or affected by desire or whim. This is actually the second horn. The way Plato phrases his dialogue, it’s easy to see why many people see a reference to a necessarily external ground, but it’s not really what’s being advocated and a close reading of the text makes clear that he’s making a distinction between subjective and objective grounds.

So, grounding morality in God’s nature doesn’t avoid Euthyphro at all, it merely takes the “second” horn.

The real issue for theists who take this tack (and most do), is to explain why God’s nature and why not the nature of anything else. Why not the nature of Existence? Why not human nature? Both exist objectively. Neither is subject to desire or whim.

If He rules, then His standard is the objective governing standard of the universe, similar to how a government’s laws apply to all under its authority.

Ayn Rand was once asked, “Should the rational man seek to rule or to serve?” Her answer: “a rational man should seek to do neither.” I’m not her greatest fan, but it seems to me that she was right on the point here. It is immoral for a sentient being to claim to “own” another sentient being. Rational beings do not seek to rule over other rational beings. Moral agents are by definition autonomous and authority is granted by consent only and not by any other means. “God” has no legitimate authority to “rule” over us and morally we can only subject ourselves to his will and not vice-versa.

If God exists, and he is a rational being, then he will deal with us as rational beings deal with each other. He would have designed the world in such a way that moral values are part of its fabric and we would be able to reason them out. Such a method does not require pronouncements or dictates from above to promulgate, but merely that we have the faculties of perception and reason.

One more minor point unrelated to the above:

He ignores the fact that this is a major part of what Meyer does throughout the book.” If this is what supposed refutation of Meyer is, then I’m pretty comfortable with his work.

Not entirely accurate. Matheson doesn’t “ignore the fact”. The reality of course is that Meyer did a horrible job of demonstrating that non-design is NOT a viable alternative and Matheson is merely taking note of that fact. Besides Matheson, numerous other scientists have reviewed Meyer’s book and found it severely wanting in this and other ways. The assertion that Meyer has adequately addressed the topic is simply false.

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Tony Hoffman December 3, 2010 at 8:41 am

Bossmanham: And cue the inevitable ad hominem when discussing ID with a dogmatic neo-Dariwnist.

Cue something indeed. Clearly someone has their irony detector disabled.

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JohnC December 4, 2010 at 11:44 am

Luke attempts to argue that morality could be studied scientifically, but he does not seem to give a justification for morality in a naturalistic mindset. Luke argues that “morality” is a consequence of evolution but it does not explain how morality (“well being of conscious creatures”) would evolve naturalistically? OR that this form of morality will continue in the future. Why care about whats going on across the world? Luke does show that you don’t have to believe in God to care about others, but does not explain his justification for caring for others. Maybe its better for OUR conscious well being to not care about THIER well being. Luke dismisses a God who cares, but does not give justification to why we should care. ESPECIALLY especially about people’s whose lives do not effect our own. These are objections that do not seem to be answered in a naturalistic worldview. Theism at least gives reasons for caring about others, but naturalism seems to lack any warrant for caring about the “well being of conscious creatures”.
Luke’s explanation of God’s role in morality is suspect. If someone believes in God and their morals area reaction to a fear of Hell, this would make even a theist hesitant to call it morality. But if there is a God, who has created INTRINSIC value in humans and morality, it would make more sense why we should act morally, or why we should care about the “well being of conscious creatures”. Its interesting that the justification for this definition of morality seems to fit better in a theistic worldview rather than a naturalistic.

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cl December 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Luke,

cl is calling for censorship at… wait for it… college campuses.

I suspect you and temp may have been frustrated or just plain hasty in your induction. That I question the productivity of what appears to be an “anyone with a popular blog can say anything they want at CSU” policy does not entail any “call for censorship on college campuses.” My grievance is that you were allowed to misconstrue WLC’s position and feed it to the masses sans any sort of checking or opportunity for WLC to defend himself. That from someone who arguably deserves to be called an expert on WLC.

I defend free speech instead.

That’s interesting… what was the name of the commenter you banned?

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Luke Muehlhauser December 10, 2010 at 12:55 pm

cl,

His name was Neil. I defend his right to publish on 10,000 of his own websites if he wants. But all he did was shout, so I don’t want him on my site.

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cl December 10, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I defend his right…

The apparent contradiction of endorsing free speech while banning Neil temporarily aside, that’s interesting: what you call rights don’t exist. Elsewhere, you claim that we shouldn’t attempt to justify our claims on things that don’t exist. Yet here, you seem to be appealing to this strange concept of rights. Aren’t rights at least as non-existent as intrinsic value defined as “value sans valuer?”

Anyway, my point was to demonstrate three things:

1) Your claim that I made a “call for censorship on college campuses” was not an accurate representation of what I actually said;

2) The description of “attitude based” DCT that you attributed to WLC was not an accurate representation of what WLC actually argues; and,

3) Like any other reasonable individual, your embrace of free speech comes with a caveat [for example I think racist hate speech has no place in our universities].

If you deny any of that, we have an issue. Else, I’ve got nothing to add on this one.

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Paul December 17, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Interesting. I must admit that I haven’t yet gone through your entire lecture but I do like that you are truly giving an indepth analysis here. Anyhow, Craig doesn’t define objective moral values as you say. As he clearly says in his debates and podcasts, objective moral values are moral values that are true independent of anyone’s views. You’ve seen all of Dr. Craig’s debates so you should be familiar with Ruse’s article entitled “Is rape wrong on Andromeda?” I think this thought experiment will help you grasp what Craig means by “objective moral values”. Imagine an advanced human race invades the earth and rapes our people. On what basis on atheism can we argue that what they are doing is wrong? We cannot appeal to our social rules or our own rational/pragmatic aims. However, it does seem as if humans do have genuine “objective moral value”. What those aliens are doing really is wrong. Whereas wrong is defined as “departure from what ought to be”.

The solution to the euthyphro dilemma-that God wills it because He is good-isn’t properly called subjective (depedendent upon a particular group or circumstance). Instead, it is routed not in the will of God (that is how it is translated to man) but it is grounded in the essential nature of God. This is not subjective because it is neither contingent nor predicated upon someone’s will(not even God’s will for it is necessarily part of God)

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