No objective morality without God


Hi cogitators, this post is coming out of an existing comment thread on the relationship between God and objective morality on my “About” page.  I’m moving it here for tidiness and greater visibility.

To get you up to speed.  It started with a comment I made at blogging compatriot A Reasonable Faith: “What basis does the work of clay have to judge its Maker?”

I received a response from a third blogger that “a work of clay can judge its maker if it’s better than its maker.”  While denying God’s existence, the blogger continues:

There are indeed objective standards for morals, in that they are those that allow civilization to move along smoothly e.g. the ideas of property and laws about the handling of it, the ideas of individual freedom, etc.

In turn, I characterized these as subjective:

Laws and customs about personal liberty and property rights, as you’ve mentioned do exist, but are only “subject” to limited enforcement. If for some moral duty a person can evade the long arm of accountability, then the moral duty is properly characterized as subjective.

In the subsequent reply, my fellow blogger defined objectivity:

If a law is uniformly found by humanity to be advantageous and can be demonstrated as such by facts, then one can call it objective, not beholden to personal beliefs that are not supported by facts.

Now we’re caught up.  This use of the word “objective” circumvents the conventional definition.  In Merriam-Webster Dictionary defintion 1b, “objective” is descriptive of something “having reality independent of the mind.”  Basing morality on laws “found by humanity” depends on mind twice, first to recognize it, and then to codify or normalize it.  This is not objective, but subjective, completely subject to human minds.

Besides this, restricting moral duties to what is advantageous to humanity is an arbitrary distinction.  Why not extend the limit to all animals, or even lichen?  Or, why not restrict it to only those humans in your halpogroup?  And what is “advantgeous” has been and will continue to be highly controversial among the ranks of humanity.  Say if the People’s Republic of China successfully spread the practice of one-child policy so that it was “uniform” throughout the world, would it then become right?  Finally, I am interested to know what specific moral values and duties are uniformly found to be advantageous?

What my fellow blogger is describing doesn’t quite get to the crux of objective morality.  He is focused on the epistemology of morality, that is, how we come to know moral values and duties. But the ontology of morality, the question of whether morality itself really exists, requires a logical grounding.  Otherwise, morals cannot be more than a subjective illusion.  After all, values like charity and fairness are immaterial, and “facts” themselves are incapable of pointing to their reality.

Speaking of facts, there is another distinction.  Right and wrong are descriptive of duties, while good and bad are descriptive of values.  An action that is right entails moral obligation.  No set of facts derived from observation of the material world can tell you what you are morally obligated to do.  In this sense facts are morally neutral.  But most people will affirm the reality that some actions we ought to do, regardless of the circumstances.  That which is deemed advantageous to humanity is at most a value but not an obligation, and thus fails to meet the full, common experience of morality.

Escaping subjectivity and achieving objectivity is indeed a high bar.  Moral values and duties are immaterial things that can’t exist in the natural world.  The only way objective morality might exist is supernaturally.  If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

*****

Now in the course of this post I will need to address some challenges from my fellow blogger, but these stand apart and are not necessary to support the above argument.

Challenge:

I’m guessing you think that your god enforces laws with no limit. That would be a good response *if* you could show that this was the case and that your god existed *and* did something. There is no evidence for this or any other god being a law enforcer. Thus, your claims of objectivity coming from god fail.

Response:  If God exists, he is the maximally greatest being.  As such, he is among other things perfectly just and omnipotent.  Whatever justice you do not see delivered in this world he is perfectly capable of administrating in eternity.  Obviously, he is very capable of “enforcing laws,” or our moral obligations, without limit in eternity if not here and now, as he often does through the providence of governments, natural disasters, and other things in his creation.

To show that God exists, I will build on the above premise about objective morality.  This is a version of the moral argument used by William Lane Craig.

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

I have laid out some reasons for premise 1 prior to the challenge section, and you, my fellow blogger, have assented to premise 2 twice already.

Challenge:

I need to see that you can show me that the Christian god exists and is the only one responsible. Can you do that? You seem to have ignored my point that most, if not all religions, make the same claims, that their god/gods created the laws of mankind. This makes your claim simply one among many. Do you understand the weakness of your position?

Response: I just offered arguments for God’s existence through the moral argument above.  Are there other Gods?  Occam’s razor advises us not to multiply causes beyond necessity.  One deity is sufficient to cause our existence.  The one triune God has revealed himself through the Bible, which includes multiple, reliable historical narratives attesting to the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, fulfilled prophecies concerning the messiah, and is internally consistent.  It’s clear in this body of evidence that there is only one real deity.

Challenge:

If there were any objective laws from your god, then why did we have Christians on both sides of the slavery debate? Which side was on your god’s side? Why do we still have Christians who cannot agree about women’s issues, homosexuality, etc?

Response: Through the noetic effects of sin, the ability for all humans to know truth accurately has been impaired but is not without recourse.  That Christians, or anyone for that matter, may not apprehend objective morals with accuracy doesn’t affect the reality of objective values.  You have also assented to objective morality, so you share a similar burden to the Christian in justifying your specific stance on morality in contradistinction to the many others on the table.

Challenge:

I suspect you will invoke “free will” and claim that those Christians who disagree with you are not Christians at all and that your god is allowing them to make the mistakes they make. Again, this requires you to show me that your version is the only true version, and that your god exists at all.

Response: Free will is irrelevant to disagreements within the church.  There has been a recognizable pale of Christianity throughout the church’s history, sometimes captured by the idea of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.  There does exist a “true version” though it is obviously impossible for a human to know all its detail fully and accurately.  God’s grace is sufficient for a church whose constituents hold varied beliefs on secondary issues.

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About Lewis W
I earned an M.A. in Christian apologetics at Biola University, and occasionally write on ethics, truth, science and politics.

21 Responses to No objective morality without God

  1. Very well said. Perhaps even persuasive.

  2. Hi Duck! I’ll be back with my thoughts.

  3. First, I’d expand your definition of objective, also by using MW: of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers : having reality independent of the mind. I find your argument is verging on the solipsistic. The human mind, as a thing, is objective (what comes out certainly is often not). A red-hot bar of steel is objective; a sane human being will not grasp it because of their “immaterial” knowledge that it will horribly burn them. If all humans (or the majority, if you’d like) find that murder of them is not good, is this an objective idea that morals can be based on and thus be objective themselves? The human mind is not something that exists in a vacuum.

    There’s a reason that I said humanity, Duck. I didn’t say haplogroup, or tribe or family for a very good reason. There’s a reason I said civilization too. You ask why not restrict it to small groups. Really, you have to ask? Sorry, I have concern with humanity, not, for instance, some group that thinks that they are the chosen people of some deity. Why not extend this to animals or lichens? Well, lichens aren’t trying to kill me. My cow isn’t declaring that it owns the farm. Since we do have animals that do know fairness, (monkeys and dogs) I personally do my best to treat them as well as I would treat a human. So by all means, extend morals to animals if you wish.

    I have listed those moral laws already, those that keep civilization working, with property rights (you can’t take someone else’s stuff ) and those laws that keep us from killing each other (laws regarding murder, war). I know that some groups do not agree with them…yet. The progress of humanity has demonstrably been towards such things as we realize that humans are equally deserving of the same rights and leaving our primitive past behind. As for the Chinese one-child policy, can you explain how this is a moral law? As you will note in my post, I did say that many laws were subjective and only a good handful objective. There is nothing surprising in this.

    I find it amusing that you claim that charity and fairness are “immaterial” and thus are somehow not factual or actual. The immaterialness of something doesn’t prevent it from existing in reality. Facts can indeed point to their existence, these facts being actions and thoughts, which come from human minds, again existing in reality. For example, I can point to the people who donated millions to those hurt by Hurricane Sandy, it is a fact that they had a reason, generated by the human brain be it empathy, guilt, etc, to give resources to those in need. People learn that charity is good by observing such acts. Are you saying that these facts aren’t pointing toward the ideal of charity? If we have no action, then morals become subjective illusion.

    Your claims about right and wrong being only for duties, good and bad being only for values, are arbitrary in themselves. It is you who have stated this, no one else. If we look at MW again, right is a synonym for good, so your distinctions are essentially meaningless. You might wish to expand what you mean further. And of course facts derived from the observations of the material world can tell someone what they are morally obligated to do. The simple golden rule, you know, that one the bible states like “do unto others as they do unto you” is emblematic of this. Facts, which include consequences, are not morally neutral. We derive morality from those facts. You also seem to be changing your mind on how you want to define things. Are morals now obligations or now values? Are they what we must do or ought? And what is the “full common experience of morality”? Is mine the same as yours?

    Then we go on to the argument from morality, that since there may be objective morals then God simply must exist as their source and the universe as a thing built of action and reaction can’t possibly be the source. Again, we have your assertion that immaterial things cannot exist in the real world. Very Socratic, but without evidence. They only exist in the real world, no other exists. If you wish to counter that, again, where’s the evidence? Without the material, the immaterial does not even get a chance to exist.

    Duck, what if I say “If Tezcatlipoca does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist?” Your claim, “If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.” is based on an assumption that 1. your god exists and 2. that objective moral values only come from this god. Without the overarching claims being proven, your logic, however technically sound, means little. I’m assuming you go with Lewis with his claim that somehow magically morals will become worthless if we find that they are not from some god or are indeed all subjective. Didn’t happen with me so his absolute statement is false. I found out that morals don’t come from some god and I’m a more decent human being because of it, because I know that I and I alone am responsible for my actions, no god to clean up after me.

    You give another common argument next: the ontological argument, the claim that since something can be imagined, poof, it must be real because we can imagine such a thing. We see no evidence of the JudeoChristian god, or that it is perfectly just and omnipotent. All I see are Christians who claim “well, our god will get around to it” when it comes to justice and fairness. Other theists claim the same thing, that we can’t understand their god and it’ll do something, trust them. I also see other theists claiming that their god/gods interact with humanity through governments, natural disasters and others things in *their* creation. I would ask you, again, can you show your god exists *and* that others do not?

    WLC is not a good person to go to for logic and logic is not always infallible. It always depends on overarching claims Please tell me why objective things depend on the existence of your god, Duck. That’s the assumption here. Why can’t objective things exist without a god? I do indeed believe objective values exist to humans. I have yet to see that any god is required. It may be a simple feature of the universe at it is that there are objective things. Can you show me why we need a god like yours?

    You’ve offered arguments for the existence of imaginary things. I can imagine that there is a teapot circling Zeta Reticuli but there is no reason to think this is true (aka Russell’s Teapot) so thus I have no reason to think a god is real. Occam’s razor and Aquinas’ use of it is an interesting gambit. However, again, other religions would make the same claim. You only need ours! Ours is the First Cause, so why think of another? You for get that Occam’s razor is nothing more than an heuristic (essentially an educated guess) and it doesn’t always work, so why assume it does in this case? There are plenty of anti-razors that often work too, “The variety of beings should not rashly be diminished.”- Kant. And as ever, no evidence for any of them. Occam’s razor also can be seen to think that there is no need for gods whatsoever, and physics (that you use everyday) already shows that no god is needed to create anything.

    As for your claims that there are “multiple, reliable historical narratives”, that is completely untrue and the argument offered by someone who evidently thinks I’m quite ignorant. Christians often claim that they have these resources. Here’s a review of a few of the most commonly mentioned (wikipedia has a good article “historicity of Jesus” that mentions many of these): Josephus, a forgery according to most scholars, being that the part in question is not mentioned at all by the early church fathers who already had Josephus’s book; Tacitus, a mention of Christians, not Christ, which would make the mention of believers of any god anywhere evidence that those gods exist as much as the Christian one, and also wrong on the status of Pilate like a game of telephone; the talmud, which claims that someone was hanged (or stoned), not cruxified, rather important since so many supposedly fulfilled prophecies depend on that nailing; Suetonius, and Pliny, more mentions of Christians, not Christ. If you find any of these or any others compelling, we can discuss those too.

    Always a good sign to see words like “noetic” used. Noetic: related to or based on the intellect. This claim that some magical sin screwed everything up is something made up by some Christians, a just-so story. Again, no evidence of this at all. No way to tell which Christian is being “noetically” influenced or not about what they believe. Is Westboro Baptist Church the right one or are the United Church of Christ the right ones? Whose views are the “wrong’ ones? But let’s look at this another way. This depends if you think the bible is an accurate representation of your god. Do you? Once upon a time, God said slavery (or we could use genocide) is good and gave instructions on just how to do it right. We have a couple of places where it can be construed that God is against slavery. We had Christians on both sides saying that God agrees with them. How do we tell who was right? How do we tell who has the “objective morals” in this case? It’s not a matter of accuracy, it’s a matter of a complete contradiction. And I have no problem in discussing why humans can ignore objective morals: selfishness, stupidity, religion, etc. Why we follow them? Empathy, guilt, love, etc. All very human, no need of gods or devils. This problem also begs the question, why can’t your god make itself clear? If it is omnipotent, it doesn’t want to; if it can’t, then it’s not omnipotent.

    “Within the church”, as if it were one thing. I have read “Mere Christianity”. My favorite part is where Lewis said that lying to prospective Christians was fine. I do find it a bit disturbing that you simply hand-wave away the murders that sects do when other sects don’t agree with them. Murders your god evidently has no problem with, as it does nothing to stop people from killing each other over such problems as “sola scriptura” and how one gets baptized. This is where I’m guessing free will comes in since you seem to like WLC, but if you are a predestinationalist, maybe you believe that we have no choice in the matter.

    Happily this violence doesn’t happen so much now, thanks to secular laws. You also try to claim that something is “obvious”, a sure warning sign that you don’t really have answer. Why should it be “obvious” that there exists a true version of Christianity and “obvious” that a human can’t know its detail fully and accurately? It’s certainly not obvious to me nor is it obvious to the thousands of sects around the world who are betting their eternal salvation on it. The only thing in the bible that could be construed that God doesn’t’ care, is when it is said that ignorance might be an excuse, but that’s shot in the foot very quickly by the common Christian claim that we magically “know” what is right and just don’t do it. Other than that, this claim of God’s Grace being a ‘get out of jail free card” is simply invented by modern Christians who don’t want to be bothered by the rather silly laws and restrictions that this god supposedly gave out.

    Well, those are my thoughts. I didn’t want to “tit-for-tat” your post for fear of clogging up your comments. I can do that on mine, if you’d find it easier to respond to. Or if you’d like to address any part more intensively, that’d be fine too.

    • makagutu says:

      Club I like your response.

      Duck, i will start by saying that a thing that necessarily exists has no need for a creator. If objective moral values exist, they don’t need a creator unless you are saying god had no choice in the matter.

      The second argument against the argument from morality is it doesn’t prove which god it is. It can be Zeus and it would require a lot of stretching and theological gymnastic to make it the jedeo-christian god.

      Three if we take it that the christian god exists and is the author of moral values, then he took a long time before he did this. He didn’t appear to the Chinese, the Egyptians and Romans and only waited for some goat herders to appear to them, how pathetic!

      We still have a problem, you have not provided evidence for your god or any god for that matter. Without sentient beings, there is no need for morals. And we get better at morals as we improve.

      On the question of historicity of Jesus, there is not sufficient evidence to even believe that he existed and the bible is not internally consistent. There are no prophecies that were fulfilled, anyone writing after the fact can claim to have a fulfilled prophecy and if you allude to the passage in Isaiah to refer to Jesus, then you have committed the same mistake most people do. Is. speaks to the people of his time and not a future time .

      Duck, you alluded to the statement that Ivan comes to in Brothers Karamazov, if there is no god everything is permitted, but I think if there is god everything is permitted. Since a brief survey of god’s law as contained in your holy book allows every kind of abhorrent crime in one page and condemns another in the next page, how are we to chose if we rely on this god unless we agree that we are more moral than the said god and make our laws as we go along? Besides if your god forgives all, what justice is their for the person violently murdered?

      I will paraphrase a great American, R.G.Ingersoll, in one of his speeches asks why god wants us to forgive those who can hurt us while he is willing to damn everyone who doesn’t follow him whereas we can’t hurt him!

      No god is needed to be good, in fact I would go on as say one is needed to be bad!

    • Grady says:

      How can you define the objective (in this case, laws, morality, etc.) by invoking some consensus of humanity as to what they think is “advantageous”? Who determines what percentage majority of humanity must agree for something to suddenly become “objective”? What exactly is advantageous, and how advantageous must it be? And when this majority of humanity changes its view of what is advantageous, as tends to happen over long spans of time, does that mean what was objective then changes, or is it that we in the present have a monopoly on objective morality such that we can look back and cast judgement on the accepted “advantageous” morality of previous ages?

      • makagutu says:

        Grady, do you foresee a future when the majority whatever number it is will agree that rape is moral? Now you ask who determines what is the size of the majority, well I haven’t sat in any committees that determine this numbers so I don’t know but it seems to me that any thing that results in good for the majority will be considered moral- you may disagree- but i don’t see a better alternative.
        It must be advantageous to the extent that it allows the species to procreate and rear children, then it will be preferred.
        If you want to argue there should be a god as the source of law, then first provide evidence for that god. You can’t start from saying morals exist so god must exist.

      • since the morality of previous ages was long left behind since it didn’t work, then it’s not a problem at all to judge it.

      • Grady says:

        Makagutu, my ability or inability to foresee some future scenario does not make something objective, and neither does some majority consensus. If something that was subjective goes from 50.0000% approval to 50.0001%, that does not suddenly make it objective, nor does any other percentage of approval.

        Club, if the morality changes over time based on some averaging of cultures, then first, it is subjective being viewed differently by different observers, and second, we can not say that our current morals are objective knowing that some future state of humanity may simply decide otherwise.

    • Thanks Club for continuing this engagement. I am learning a lot as I think through the issues.

      Allow me to modify my claim that “If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist” to “If the supernatural does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.” We can discuss the difference between God and the supernatural later.

      You have asked me these:

      Are morals now obligations or now values? Are they what we must do or ought? And what is the “full common experience of morality”? Is mine the same as yours?

      I use morals and morality to mean “objective moral values and duties.” Values describe judgments like “That movie was bad,” “charity is good,” or “your performance was so-so.” When something is valued, it is placed on a spectrum that runs from good, to neutral, to bad.

      Duties entail obligation to act or abstain, as in right or wrong. “To give to charity is right,” “Murder is wrong,” “Becoming a lawyer in itself is neither right nor wrong.” That “right” is a synonym for “good” in common usage is not relevant to this context. I will try to avoid equivocation in that respect.

      What I meant by the “full common experience of morality” is that people perceive morality as an obligation, not just as a value that is a preference. Remember I am taking morality to encompass both values and obligations. I assume you perceive morality as a set of obligations as well.

      Now I’d like to focus just on the objectivity of values. I am not suggesting solipsism. The following clarification is consistent with the existence of other minds. You have asked,

      “If all humans (or the majority, if you’d like) find that murder of them is not good, is this an objective idea that morals can be based on and thus be objective themselves?”

      Perhaps with a little grammatical clean up, I agree this statement represents an objective phenomenon: “All humans (or the majority, if you’d like) find that murder of them is not good.” Relying on the expanded M-W definition you provided, it can be observed because you can query all people orally or in writing to know how they “find” murder.

      But what do you mean by “basing” morals on this objective phenomenon? If by basing you mean assigning an action a value on the spectrum of good and bad, then this is an action dependent on mind, and therefore subjective. The objective fact entailed in the observable phenomenon “all people think murder is bad” is not identical to “murder is bad.”

      “Basing” morality on human flourishing, or the benefit of civilization is also subjective. If everyone thought “extending human longevity is good,” then we could only deduce from the observable phenomenon that “everyone thinks extending human longevity is good.” Of course, people have always disagreed on what things improve human flourishing or civilization, particularly property rights. But I am a huge fan of those.

      Values (not like the thing “charity” but the valuation “charity is good”) have yet to be observed in the natural world. But maybe in the future scientists will discover that “loving thy neighbor is good” is etched on subatomic particles. Otherwise, moral values are not real unless they are extant beyond the natural world. That would make them supernatural.

      If you don’t like God, a type of moral platonism could approach having objective values by classifying them as necessary. In some realm somewhere, “charity” is necessarily fixed as having the value good. There may be another supernatural alternative you can flesh out.

      Alas, the supernatural does not avail itself readily to observation by the senses. But on the Christian worldview, all people will stand before God in eternity, and so have the opportunity to observe moral values. Then the values that exist necessarily would be verified as objective. Failing this, moral values are at best subjective.

      Back to that work of clay which judges its maker. It can utter “My maker is bad!” But it will only be a subjective claim. It can know the objective truth “I think my maker is bad,” but that is not the same as “My maker is bad.”

      • Hi Duck,
        With someone who quotes the creed like you do, trying to claim that you don’t really mean the Christian God in these posts seems more than a little silly. You still are beholden to show that he “supernatural” exists or your entire premise fails. I’d also like to see your definition of “supernatural”.

        If you define morals as only “objective” ones, then you’ve redefined the word. Morals and “objective morals” don’t mean the same thing. Morals are based on beneficial and detrimental, value judgements. One simply assumes that there is an absolute value to an action. And I don’ really care what you think is relevant or not. Right does equal good. Murder is bad, to give to charity is good.

        Not all people perceive moralilty as an obligation, but I think indeed most do. An obligation to what? Themselves? Civilization? A god? A person is real, a civilization is real. A god? Not so much.

        The belief “murder of me is not good” is what the moral “murder is not good” is based on. It has been extrapolated, I’d say by empathy, that murder of anyone is not good. If there is no murder, then there is no reason to have such a moral. It is based on a objective occurrence. Since without humans, the idea that murder is bad would not exist, basing on humans is needed and thus the objectivity. I think the problem may be is that your assumption that there some Platonic ideal of magical ideas somewhere apart from humanity makes this a difficult topic. I’ll soldier along in any case.

        As I have said, I think the proof of what makes mankind flourish are limited, not all laws or morals are objective, and that they sift out in the end. Back a couple of thousand years ago, civilization said that slavery is good and right. Gods supposedly gave their blessings on it. And now, slavery is seen as awful. What has changed? Humanity and their slow realization that humans are the same and all deserve equal rights.

        You use a common thing that I always chuckle at. You want to claim that humans are somehow not part of some “natural world”. How so? There is no evidence of any supernatural world to extend to so your claim is rather moot. And charity, which I would define as part of altruism does happen in the non-human world. look up the “altruism in animals” article on wikipedia.

        I definitely don’t like God because his morals are less than we have today as described in the book that supposely accurately describes him. And we don’t need to invoke supernatural realms that have these magical properties. This universe does quite well. Charity helps humans and thus we pass it along to our offspring. Charity works and thus it exists.

        Yep, in the Christian world view your god will supposedly judge everyone. On what basis is the question. The OT laws, the NT? Or those modern ones? If this god knew about the modern laws, approved of them and didn’t say “Hey Moses, cut the stupid parts about women being property out” why didn’t he. This god has never been shown to have objective laws. At best, they are subjective to it and they do change, if one is to believe Christians.

        Before I go on, Let me ask you, do you think the definition of “love” (or sometimes transalated as charity) in the bible is an objective definition of it?

      • Hello again Club,

        Your input has helped me rework the argument. I’m not answering all your questions here, but I am still delivering the challenge, ““What basis does the work of clay have to judge its Maker?” Here’s what I’ve got.

        We’ve been working with two meanings of “objective” side by side. From your expanded M-W definition: “of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers,” and separated by a colon, “having reality independent of the mind.” Taking both to be true (if “sensible” is like sensory rather than reasonable) gives “objective” a hard naturalism that must deny the reality of all minds, including the observer. I ran with the definition to show that on naturalism, people’s opinions of moral values are subjective. But in the context of “If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist,” I mean “objective” to be “independent of mind.”

        At this time I will dispense with “objective” and say either mind-independent or true.

        I asked “What basis does the work of clay have to judge its Maker?” You affirmed “A work of clay can judge its maker if it’s better than its maker.” The statement itself is mind-dependent and therefore subjective. M-W describes subjective in a relevant context: “characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind.”

        This does not mean nothing can be true independently of mind. It’s not statements, but their information content that have the value of being true or false. The information content of “better than its maker” includes an assignment of the value of relative goodness “better” to “maker.” As you have said, “One simply assumes that there is an absolute value to an action.” That “one” in the instance of your affirmation was you, although the value was relative, strictly speaking.

        What things are true independently of mind? Once again from the M-W definition of objective you brought: “An object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers.” The statement “Earth has one natural satellite” is mind-dependent, but the information content has the value “true.”

        The same cannot be said of moral values and duties. The informational content in each statement “People perform charity,” and “people feel the obligation to perform charity” is true. The statement “I think charity is good” can be true and the informational content can be true. But the statement “Charity is good” has informational content that is mind-dependent and not necessarily true. The only way that charity really is good is if the informational content of the statement “charity is good” is necessarily true. To be necessary is to be not contingent, that is, uncaused.

        Moral values, such as “charity is good” and “murder is bad” are subjective unless they exist necessarily and are uncaused. As such, all judgments based on observed, felt, or logically formulated moral values (and/or duties) are subjective, not necessarily true.

        You can continue to assert that some subset of moral values and duties simply are good or the right thing to do. It doesn’t change the truth that your assertion is subjective and not necessarily true. You are wanting to base your morals off of your conceptions, and me mine. True for you, but not for me. This is the real challenge of morality, not one of
        utility but of truth. Are any moral values and duties in a mind-independent sense (objectively) true?

  4. john zande says:

    Hi Cogitating Duck. Nice post. Curious, would you go as far to suggest a human being is incapable of empathy without some notion of a god?

    • Thanks. The ability for any given human being to feel empathy is independent of the individual’s assent to the idea of a deity.

      • john zande says:

        I’d agree. So, logically, there really is no need for a deity of any sort so as to have a strong sense of right and wrong, of a moral core, correct?

      • You don’t need to believe in God to be a good person. You are free to subscribe to any subjective set of morals you wish.

        God needs to exist for objective morality to exist. See my first reply to Clubschadenfraude’s first lengthy reply on this post.

      • john zande says:

        I think you’re just playing word games here. Objective reality/Subjective reality is fluff. There’s nothing terribly complicated about it. Replace “god” with “society” (which begins with family/parents) and we have the final answer. Every child is born atheist. Through society and natural empathy (the cognitive ability to place ourselves in another persons shoes and understand their feelings) we find our moral core. That core is not static. It shifts and expands with more experiences.

        If i might go further, i actually find religion immoral in 2 respects. Firstly, by the displacement of responsibility. “god did it” or its “gods plan” is a lazy way to deal with physical problems. It’s socially irresponsible. Secondly, by convincing people this life is just a transit lounge before the real party begins in some magical kingdom numbs them from being positive participatory citizens in the here and now. It’s the opposite of true empathy.

        Respectfully.

      • John Zande:

        I like that characterization, “word games.” Games have rules and a player can win. Debates and discussions require words to be used within a set of rules, with the goal of finding a suitable answer to a question.

        I concur that social environment and genetics help shape a person’s moral outlook. With your reference to empathy, maybe what you call a “moral core” is known also as a sense altruism. Most but not all people are subject to this. Apparently somewhere near 1 or 2% (I don’t recall exactly off hand) of the general population is psychopathic, without general concern for the well-being of others. I agree that individuals’ understanding of what helps others changes with time. These are subjective changes with regard to values.

        No one is born an atheist. Atheism is the affirmation (or nearly so) that God does not exist. No baby pops out of the womb with an actual mental state affirming “God does not exist.”

        Religion in itself does not displace responsibility. Belief in a natural order, from antiquity, to the classic age of Islam, to the Christian Renaissance, stemmed from belief in God, The Good, or some sort of necessarily supernatural grounding. Without this, the project of science would have been severely retarded. Followers of Christianity are morally obligated to worship God, and this entails doing everything well, including thinking about natural causes. I don’t know what else religion is if not responsibility to God and others.

        As for the transit lounge, this is not the Christian view. Jesus commissioned his disciples to spread the gospel, commanding work in the field to harvest the crop and to be a fisher of men. He wants us to provide for those in material need. These things don’t sound like lounging around to me. The same empathy you’ve cited for your moral motivation also motivates most other people, including those who look forward to an afterlife.

        Thanks for the exchange.

      • john zande says:

        Thanks, Duck. Every child, however, is indeed born atheist, although it is a misleading term. Atheism is the default setting. The gods are learnt depending on who your parents are and what country you were born into. In effect though, atheism only truly becomes a ‘thing’ by itself the moment you dismiss all the gods you were told about. You’re an atheist, Duck. You dismiss tens of thousands of gods. The only difference between you and me is that i take it one god further :)

        As for morality, it predates any and all the gods. Altruism was necessary for the survival of social groups long before we humans even grew our frontal lobes. Morality has evolutionary origins and has been refined over time through secular moral philosophy, rational discussion, and legal debate.

        Glad to hear you’re a constructive, proactive member of our species. Sad to say it, but many deeply religious folk aren’t.

        Cheers
        J

      • John Zande,

        If you think altruism actually, truly, predates animals who could exhibit the behavior, and exists independently of their observing it, then you think it necessarily exists. You must concede that altruism is a truly real, necessary thing, or confess it is a simple fiction of logic that helps you make sense of the world you find yourself in. A real and necessary thing called “atheistic altruism” may as well be your god. You orient your life around it, submitting your reason, action, and feelings to its authority. You are doing what you think is best for others based on what you believe to be true. This is what I do, too.

        Everyone has a worldview, and to preclude yourself from this is a type of special pleading. As for atheism, you are only redefining the term so its consistent with your belief. I believe in one God, a polytheist believes in one pantheon, and a Vedic philosopher believes in one illusion. And you believe in one “god,” the naturalist worldview atheism, that really goes out of its way to not deal with the fact that humans have spiritual (emotions about truth) and social natures at the same time. In other words, being religious is part and parcel of human experience.

        I too know that many people–both religious and irreligious people alike–are not constructive members of humanity. I thank God that you, me, anyone still reading this have enough common ground to have this constructive discussion.

      • john zande says:

        Couldn’t agree more, Duck! You deserve an honest “thank you” for holding yourself so well and presenting your arguments in a rational way. One cannot ask for more.

  5. Arkenaten says:

    The one triune God has revealed himself through the Bible, which includes multiple, reliable historical narratives attesting to the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, fulfilled prophecies concerning the messiah, and is internally consistent. It’s clear in this body of evidence that there is only one real deity.

    I would ask, which ”….multiple reliable historical narratives…” do you refer to?

    And also, which ”….. fulfilled prophecies concerning the messiah,….” do you refer to?

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