Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Life Gives You Objectively Good Lemons

The moral argument for God is very convincing to Internet apologists because they believe in something called transcendent morality. It comes up by many names including objective morality, absolute morality--and as I prefer, cosmic morality and magical morality. Regardless of the name, it is seen as a moral standard that exists somewhere independent of the minds of mere mortals and supersedes alternative judgements.

That’s the claim. Is there proof? No. Is there evidence? No. The defense for the claim is essentially finding a moral value agreed upon between the apologist and the non-apologist, such as “murder is wrong,” and using that shared common ground to say all other assessments aren’t just wrong from their perspective, but wrong independent of perspective.

What do you think, is murder wrong independent of perspective? In my experience, “wrong” means different things to different people. It is like saying not murdering is better than murdering. “Better,” like “wrong” in this case, is imprecise language that the apologist can leverage during these exchanges. Analogy time. What if I said lemons are an objectively better fruit than blueberries? This seems laughable because we understand taste preferences are opinions. However, we can say something is objectively true here if only I use a clear metric. I value sour flavor. Lemons are objectively more sour than blueberries. This isn’t a matter of taste, we can actually compare pH levels and know for a fact that lemons are more sour and are therefore objectively more appealing to one who values sour flavor.

Apply this to morality. Instead of saying something imprecise like not murdering is better than murdering, which could be subjective or objective depending on the metric used to judge something as “better,” let’s say not murdering allows for a safer world than murdering. This specification allows us to say not murdering is better for those who value safety. That is an objective fact and an instance of an objective moral.

I cannot say anything about one’s morality without saying something about one’s values. Because the majority of us value human life, safety, and equality (at least to some degree) the discouragement of murder is near universal...but transcendent? No, that is neither justified nor demonstrable.


  1. That's the thing, there are no objective morals whatsoever, there's no way to get to any moral position objectively and anyone who says otherwise clearly hasn't thought it through. Just because a moral idea is near universal, that speaks to the commonality of human experience and human need, not to some transcendent moral code written in our hearts. I get so sick and tired of people who ought to know better claiming that morality, even secular morality, is objective. It just isn't.

  2. I like what you have done here. Although I do not believe that objective morality exists. For example, we can still find ways to justify murder. If this is the case then morality fails if it is objective, however if it is subjective then there is no problem.

  3. Christians that believe this are coming at this argument with more than one assumption, that there is an objective morality and that they know it.

    Also, if they don't know the difference from right and wrong wthout God, then how do you know that God is right and not wrong?

  4. Nate, over at "Finding Truth" just did a similar analogy but using color.
    Believe it or not, there are many secularist philosophers who feel that there is some objective basis for morality. The Ethical Atheist is one of them, for instance.
    He is not blogging now, I think
    Anyway, it is a big meta-ethical question. I am not an ethical realist -- I (like you, it seems) am an anti-realist.

    1. Morality can be objective, but there needs to be a metric to tell what is objectively better than something else, like the pH level mentioned in the article. Body count could be one measurement to determine which killer is more moral than another, although it doesn't apply to moral questions that do not result in death.

  5. The author at the link I supplied would disagree with you, I think. As would other moral realists.
    You and I are both anti-realists.
    Theists think the standard is some book. The guy I linked you to feels it is a sort of calculus of desire.