Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Morality Week: Explaining to a True Believer Why He Shouldn't Kill Grandpa

The following is another pointless debate with a theist.

Apologist: What is the source or determinate of morality in a purely naturalistic reality? I understand that murder can be bad for society as a whole, and therefore a naturalistically adopted rule. But if benefit to the whole is the goal, shouldn’t we euthanize the elderly, physically disabled, etc? Society would benefit and thrive greatly without the burden of those who can not sexually reproduce or contribute labor or mental innovations. By what moral code do you defend the life of a person who is unable to contribute to society sexually, mentally or physically?

Grundy: The majority of civilized people defend the life of the elderly, myself included, because humanity is sympathetic to the Golden Rule. We love our grandparents and we know we will one day become old, so we want old people in general protected. I would never want the elderly euthanized because I know and care about old people and I wouldn’t want them euthanized. I know I will one day become old and don’t want to set the example that would let me be euthanized. I’ve met a bunch of people in my life and the vast majority of them are decent so it is reasonable to assume that a random stranger who is old or disabled is likewise someone decent and should not be put down. Why wouldn’t you euthanize the elderly?

The reason I wouldn’t pull the plug is because God teaches us that all human life is intrinsically valuable. It has no relationship to what I think about the persons worth to me or others. And I would defend these by stating that I believe God is the standard of morality in the universe. So you would not rid society of the noncontributor, but under what standard could you argue to someone else who wanted to, that they shouldn’t?

Grundy: I already provided some perfectly acceptable reasons for why we shouldn’t euthanize the elderly that could easily be explained to anyone. Your single reason would never work on someone who is an atheist. So my reasons are more likely to convince the most people...assuming you find many people who don’t already have similar reasons.

I have a reason for every moral choice I make. To say that God gave you your morality is to say that there is no reason behind it. You are saying morality is completely arbitrary. I know that isn’t true for me and I doubt it is true for anyone.

Apologist: To say that God gave us morality is the only reason to embrace it. If you have to have reasons to be moral then it isn't morality. You simply weigh the pros and cons. So you would never be able to tell someone that anything is wrong, and that is reason enough not to do it. Morality is a standard of truth about what is right or wrong, not beneficial or diminutive.

Grundy: Morality is adherence to a moral code, not God. Individuals or societies can have moral codes--The Golden Rule is an example of a moral code that pops up organically in many societies and was part of my reasoning to not shut down nursing homes. This action would be wrong according to my moral code. Is it wrong to the universe’s moral code? Or God’s? I don’t believe it can be because the universe has no moral code and God may or may not if he even exists--which I think is very unlikely.

It is better to have reasons for what we do when the alternative is following arbitrary values of right and wrong. I can explain why rape and murder is wrong on a deeper level than “God made it so.” Telling someone to not do something is one thing. But when they ask why, your plan is to say "because God says so." That reasoning works for children, but not for me.Why didn’t God make rape and murder right? Did God have a reason for what is right and what is wrong? If so, then we can discover the same reason and cut out the middle deity. If not, then it is arbitrary.


  1. "If you have to have reasons to be moral then it isn't morality."

    That is where the apologist loses me. I thought you answered it pretty well talking about the moral code. If it was me I think I would have asked what he means by "moral code", because if in his mind it can't be arrived at through reason then we have different definitions of morality.

    1. This particular apologist is a friend of mine. And, yes, we do have wildly different definitions on nearly everything regarding religion.

      At least mine are dictionary definitions.

  2. Your picture amply refutes your own proposition: How is it we know, intrinsically, that murder is a bad thing?

    Now, you can correctly claim that the Moral Argument does not automatically argue for the Abrahamic God, but it still demands that we acknowledge that it comes from something other than us.

    1. "Your picture amply refutes your own proposition." Explain.

      We can't know that murder is intrinsically a bad thing, but we can know that it is a bad thing.

  3. Nice mis-representation of the apologist. Do you realize you won't even get this far with most apologists until you answer the question of ontology? I said it before and I'll say it again: this moral framework you have has no basis. You say that it works because of the Golden Rule. But how do we know the Golden Rule is even right? Who gets to say that it's right, and on what basis?

    That's what I mean by having a moral foundation. There has to be some standard by which we determine something to be either right or wrong. Your position starts with the assumption that something is right and then works from there. But you can't argue epistemologically until you've answered the question ontologically. And on that, my friend, you fail to have an answer. Sorry.

    1. There is no meaningful question of ontologically.

      Common sense tells me treating others how I'd want to be treated is the way to go. Lead by example? It doesn't take a degree in social psychology.

    2. An appeal to common sense is a logical fallacy because it is not based on any merits, so perhaps you should consider a degree in philosophy. How is the question of ontology not meaningful? We're talking about the foundation on which any moral system must be constructed. It is THE most meaningful question, for no other questions are rational unless this one is satisfied. I can't believe that you would argue moral ontology is irrelevant. No reasonable person who has anything to say on morality would argue that point, theist or atheist.

    3. What specifically is the question of ontology as pertaining to morality? Is it asking whether or not morality exists? It exists as a concept. It exists as a word. How do you define morality? I've been working with the dictionary definition (Merriam Webster) of a doctrine or system of moral conduct. That exists, yes. How does that disagree with what I've said?

    4. Moral ontology deals with the foundation for a moral framework. As C.S. Lewis put it, you wouldn't know if a line on a paper was crooked unless you had some idea of what a straight line looked like. And even then you wouldn't know if a line that looked straight was actually straight unless you had a perfectly straight line to measure it against. The perfectly straight line is the foundation for our knowledge of what a straight line is.

      So on morality, what do you consider to be the straight line by which you measure everything against?

    5. In an analogy, two objects, in this case morality and a line, are shown to be similar. Then it is argued that since a line has a property, in this case another object to compare to as a standard, so also must morality have said property. An analogy fails when the two objects are different in a way which affects whether they both have the property. You might as well compare emotion and a square. Or nature and a dolphin.

    6. Nice explanation, but incorrect. We're discussing the ability to "know" something, not the property of an object of comparison. This is the difference between ontology and semantics. In the case of the line, we're discussing how we know a straight line is straight. The answer is that we can establish a solid foundation as a means for comparison.

      In morality, we're discussing how we know something to be morally right. The answer requires the same burden as does the straight line: a solid foundation by which to base our knowledge.

      So the analogy is perfectly sound, and I challenge you to answer my question, please.

    7. That analogy only works in regards to morality when you already accept the argument that morality is how you believe it to be. It doesn't help you make that argument.

    8. That makes absolutely no sense. You can't pre-suppose anything without a foundation to do so. The analogy describes this very idea.

      Are you refusing to answer my question because you have no good answer? That's rather intellectually dishonest of you. So I ask again, what is the basis by which you explain whether something is morally right or morally wrong?

    9. The analogy is false. All kinds of ideas don't work in that analogy. Take motivation or intelligence or a particular emotion and make them work with the analogy. Is there one version of motivation that all other motives should be judged against? Or one version of love that all others should be judged against? It doesn't make sense. Morality has much more in common with these ideas than a line.

    10. If you wanted to say that version of motivation or love is "right," then absolutely you need a measuring stick.

      And if you want to say some specific act is morally right, then absolutely you need a measuring stick.

      But regardless of the analogy, the question is still pertinent. What is the basis by which you explain whether or not something is morally right? Why do you keep avoiding the issue?

    11. I thought the issue you thought I was avoiding was the analogy. "What is the basis by which you explain whether or not something is morally right?" That's easy. If something causes harm, especially if it involves others without their consent, it is morally wrong. If it helps others it is morally right. If neither, it is usually morally neutral. There are other cases when stigma may make something morally wrong, but those are dependent on how a given society views the action.

      Do you disagree?

    12. So if I were being attacked by a mugger who planned to kill me, and in self-defense I punched the mugger in the face so I could get away, what I did was morally wrong?

      Let's look at your definition of "morally wrong" and break it down: "If something causes harm, especially if it involves others without their consent, it is morally wrong."

      1) Did it cause harm? Yes. The mugger now has a black eye or broken nose or whatever that he didn't have before. I caused the mugger harm.

      2) Did it involve others without their consent? Yes. It involved the mugger, and he didn't give me permission to deck him.

      So the logical conclusion based on your definition is that I committed an immoral act by defending myself. There's a second piece to this, but let's start there.

      Do you disagree? And if so, please provide good reasons for your disagreement, since I've used your definition verbatim.

    13. You're absolutely right, there is more to it than what I said before. I was thinking I was the acting subject in the moral scenario, but when I'm the reacting subject, it can be different. When others are acting immorally, the reasonable thing to do can be to act against them. I still have a clear reason for my actions, in the case above, it would be self-preservation.

    14. Alright, then let's take it to the next step then. Your definition of morally wrong was that it causes harm and involves others without their consent, unless it is for self-preservation. Since we have to consider all moral actions lest we commit the taxicab fallacy, let's look at a more absurd yet still reasonable situation: the home run.

      Does hitting a home run cause harm? Yes. A pitcher's emotional and mental state is negatively affected by the shame of giving up the worst possible hit in his profession.

      Does it involve others without their consent? Yes. The pitcher did not consent to you hitting the ball. In fact, he would prefer if you didn't swing, and you had a choice not to do so. So you actually had a choice to refrain from causing harm, and didn't do so. (Note that the consent issue is not to playing the game, but to the specific act of the home run, an important distinction)

      Is it for self-preservation? No. There is no imminent threat to the danger of life by a home run.

      So on your definitions, hitting a home run would be an immoral act. Do you agree?

    15. Disagree. Engaging in the game of baseball is consent. The pitcher is fully aware that every batter has the intention of hitting the ball out of the park. If the pitcher can't handle the "harm" of disappointment weighed against the potential reward of victory, he shouldn't engage in the game.

    16. Did you even read my note? We're talking about the specific act of the home run, not engaging in the game. That's like saying the woman who got mugged and raped deserved it because she was walking down a dark alley. Do you really want to go down that path?

      Engaging in a supervening act has no bearing on whether your action specifically is moral or not. We're talking about the specific instance.

      So without thinking about whether or not the pitcher engaged in the game willingly, please judge the act of hitting the home run on its own merits as it regards to your definition of immoral. Do you still disagree?

    17. The point of the baseball comparison is to find a real world scenario where my morals make no sense, but you can't change the parameters of the real world to make it work. You don't see me altering Bible passages to prove my point. Every pitcher who plays baseball knows that every batter's only motivation is to thwart his best efforts to strike them out. If he doesn't like that idea, he doesn't play. Consent.

      Totally different from a woman walking down an alley. The woman doesn't know that there is a team of guys who will rape her. A smart woman might consider that someone could rape her, but worrying about a risk is a far cry from knowing about a certainty.

    18. I disagree with your point, but let's go elsewhere with this.

      You also said if it helps someone, it's morally right. What about assisted suicide? It helps someone die, but it is also harmful, done without the consent of family in many cases (who are also harmed by the act) and not done in self-defense.

      So this would fit both definitions. Is it morally right, or morally wrong? It can't be morally neutral, so which one do you pick?

    19. Why do you disagree with my point?

      Why can't assisted suicide be morally neutral? A lot of things are morally neutral. Assisted suicide is a perfect example of a subjective moral. There is a range of opinions on this. I feel it is morally right in cases where you are ending the suffering of a patient and the patient is sure of the decision.

      You don't have the option of weighing each scenario to judge it's morality, that why I think my morality is superior. You must see assisted suicide as immoral because killing is a sin. You must also see killing Bin Laden and Hitler as immoral for the same reason.

    20. I disagree because you're using a supervening cause to define the morality of an act. That would be akin to me saying that because the American army invaded Iraq, the torturing of an American POW is perfectly acceptable because he consented to the war. That's absurd.

      Assisted suicide can't be morally neutral because on your definition it is only morally neutral if it is not harmful or helpful. Clearly it can be defined as both.

      So if assisted suicide is morally right, then why is it harmful? A life is ended. Surely killing someone is causing them harm, even if they want it. Are you saying something that causes harm can be morally right?

    21. It would only be like the torturing of an American POW if the POW consented to being tortured and you considered torture roughly the equivalent of being bummed out at the end of a sporting event.

      I didn't give a definition of morally neutral, I gave an example of something that's morally neutral. If something harms as much as it helps, it can be morally neutral.

      From a suffering patient's perspective, the assisted suicide ends the harm. And yes, something that causes harm can be morally right if it helps more than it harms.

      I take it that you do see killing Bin Laden and/or Hitler as immoral, correct?

    22. And how do we differentiate torture from shame at giving up a home run on the moral landscape? Please give me more than a "common sense" answer--give me the foundation of this distinction.

      And how can we know that something is equally harmful and helpful? Who makes that formula up?

      So you're going on record as saying that assisted suicide is morally right? That ending someone's life is morally right?

      Yes, I do view the murder of Bin Laden as immoral. I understand why it was done, but that doesn't make it right. Do you disagree?

    23. I think it's safe to assume that torture does more harm than a baseball loss psychologically. And I don't have to assume that torture does more physical harm, that's evident.

      Who makes that formula up? I do. Or you do. Or how you think God does. Or society does, it depends.

      Yes, and it isn't a fringe opinion. Almost half of the U.S. agrees. http://www.gallup.com/poll/154799/Americans-Including-Catholics-Say-Birth-Control-Morally.aspx

      Killing Bin Laden was moral in the same way killing an armed home intruder would be moral. Bin Laden made it clear that he had every intention to kill more Americans just as an armed intruder would make it clear that he intended to kill you or you family. There is also the concept of justice, but I don't want to complicate this anymore.

      I take it you are always against the death penalty then, correct?

  4. "Why didn’t God make rape and murder right?"

    He did in the Old Testament, actually. Fundamentalists conveniently ignore than in moral discussions.

    "Did God have a reason for what is right and what is wrong? If so, then we can discover the same reason and cut out the middle deity. If not, then it is arbitrary."

    A very good point. Humans are rational beings and thus should have the capacity to reason out what is good and evil. The Biblical God, on the other hand, seems to have no fixed reasons for what he declares good and evil, other than his will at the moment. He changes his moral rules so often than Biblical morality is highly arbitrary and mutable.