Showing posts with label morality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label morality. Show all posts

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Without God, does morality mean whatever we want?

A favorite claim among Christian apologists is that, without God, morality can mean whatever we want. That’s what happens when good and evil is not grounded by a divine standard. All we have are individuals with personal preferences judging others with preferences that may well be very different. As best, an individual or group can only impose their rules and judgements on others with a show of force, often referred to as “might makes right.” Those human rules and judgements can not be said to have inherent validity. While I’d love to rebut this claim entirely I can not do that any more than I can grant them that they are fully correct. Language and ethics are very complicated and both are at play here.

At the most literal level, yes, moral terms like good, evil, right, and wrong can mean whatever we want. Why? Because moral terms aren’t special. Any word can mean whatever we want. This should go without saying, but languages are invented and maintained by the population of speakers. If enough speakers evolve English so that evil means good, that is how it shall be moving forward. A single speaker redefining words will find himself unable to effectively communicate with everyone who hasn't adopted his fringe definition. That's why the meanings of good and evil tend to remain roughly the same within cultures, secular or religious. It’s hard to get everyone on board for an arbitrary remapping of terms.

The secular definition of moral good is essentially to behave in a way that is beneficial to others. Regardless of the letters written or sounds made to communicate this concept, it would not change it’s value. In other words, if “good” is renamed “evil” tomorrow, that would just mean that we would start to value “evil” over “good.” Now the question is: do we value the concept we call good because a divine third party made us? There’s no way to know, but we do know that there are reasons for social beings to value the concept we call good independent of supernatural mandates.

  1. Being good to others earns more opportunity for earn friends and make families. (Here I could argue that the odds of finding mates and living longer are increased with this behavior, making the instinct to be good a selected trait, but I think this argument is only additive and not required for my points. Since people who do not accept evolution will likely read this, I will not argue this further.)
  2. Being good allows for the creation of culture and societies that provide benefits ranging from the division of labor to shared resources.
  3. Being good, rather than evil, keeps animosity from others low and makes for a more safe and stress free life.

There are many more reasons to be good rather than evil, but evildoers still exist. Apologists argue that people who do wrong do so because they separate themselves from God or ignore that divine moral compass within them. Some even say that it’s an acceptance of moral relativism that swings open the door to sin. While it is always wrong for the slave to strike an owner, it may be right (in the owner’s mind) for the owner to strike a slave. The rapist isn’t wrong to rape because (in the rapist’s mind) what’s right and wrong are up to whatever we want and, the rapist wants to rape. While there are individual defectors who periodically discard their value of good to serve base desires, they are rarer exceptions. More common are those who maintain their value of good with a more narrow view of equality. The slave owner treats other whites as peers with the same understanding of good as you or I, but define blacks as a class in which the definition does not apply. The same could go for the rapist and how he sees women. It may not be the definition of good that’s a moving target, it could be the definition of human.

There is more to the secular meanings of good and evil after we take into account context, motives, consent, ect. What’s most important to the point is that every culture has a name for this concept and places a high value on it. Apologists who admit this attribute it to the aforementioned God-given moral compass within us. I’ll stick with the alternative that all humans share something else, a desire to not be alone. Don’t underestimate how lonely, and short, one’s life would be if they placed no value on being good.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Grounding Morality in Reason

Religious apologists often overlook secular reasons to be decent to our fellow man in order to make their arguments that morality can only be grounded in God. For them, I present these ten secular incentives to ground one's morality in reason.

Points one and two can be seen as a catch all and that all following points can be seen as subsets of one and two. The truth is, by making one and two so broad was the only way to cover all the ways people can come to what we consider good behavior. The rest are just some specifics that are probably obvious to all but the most religious of apologists.

1. To avoid negative consequences.

Try to kill, rape, or steal from someone and that someone will be pissed. If the person is able to hurt you, he or she is much more likely to hurt you as a punishment of your previous action. The motivation for the retaliation could be revenge or just to put you on notice that if you try that shit again then you’ll be hurt again. If that person is unable to hurt you directly, he or she may have allies who will. Even if the person has no allies, anyone else who witnesses your transgression may make an example out of you in order to discourage such transgressions in there future against them. This is part of the foundational reasoning for enforced laws in societies.

2. To claim positive rewards.

There are a variety of incentives to act positively toward others. Some speak to other items on this list. Safety, camaraderie, freedom, and charity are just some things we can enjoy in a mutually altruistic culture. Hell, even after you do wrong, good behavior may lessen your sentence.

3. To conform.

Conformity is sometimes colored as a negative, but not here. If most people are violent, you need to conform to violence to defend yourself. However, if most people are generally peaceful except toward violent defectors, you’d do well fit in with the generally peaceful majority.

4. To collaborate.

The division of labor allows for some people to specialize in certain tasks and other people to specialize in others. The result is that each task is performed using less resources and time. Trade comes from collaboration, which is why we can barter or buy food rather than needing to grow or hunt it ourselves-an activity that would otherwise take up most of our time with less net nourishment. All this is possible only if you don’t scare or alienate your community by doing what we consider immoral-especially in excess.

5. To not be alone.

There is a reason long-term solitary confinement is among the worst treatments of prisoners. Everyone I know values some amount of socialization.  It should be obvious that one needs to ingratiate themselves to others to avoid this treatment occurring. At the very least, your actions need to not offend others, as immoral actions often will.

6. To be left alone.

Even if you want solace, you will not find any by being immoral. Act against others and they will naturally act against you. To be alone you need to be neither moral or immoral. You need to be isolated.

7. To realize a winning game theory strategy.

Cooperation may seem like a bad idea when you can cheat to achieve a short-term win, but even if you ignore the other listed reasons, you’d still know that’s a bad idea with a little experience or foresight. Game theory shows that groups that don’t screw each other profit more than groups that defect from cooperation. Caring only for yourself as an individual means gaining less in the long run.

8. To protect oneself.

One, even the strongest one, will never be able to defend himself or herself from a group. I don’t care if you’re Batman, a large enough group will prevail. Being a dick to everyone ensures you will have no allies because everyone will either actively want you to fail or passively stand by while you do. Sure, you can be a dick to some and not others. That happens. In fact, that explains most of the world. Absolute dickishness, however, is a horrible life strategy.

9. To explore emotions.

If you resist acting immorally toward people long enough, you might start to like some of them. Love and other emotions are some of the most valued aspects of life, whether you want to say they are from chemicals in the brain or deities in the sky. Either way, a deity in the sky isn’t needed to explain why we might refrain from acting a fool in order to explore these emotions.

10. To live out one’s indoctrination.

How many of the beliefs that inform our behavior are taken for granted because their source was our first authority figures: our family. You probably know someone who acts in a way different from you because of their different upbringing. To that person, the same applies to you. The things my family told me to do and not do are informed by the other items on this list, but even if they weren’t, I would have still listened, at least when I was young.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Teaching via Mockery

Religious apologists often confuse the word objective with words like absolute, transcendent, and universal--especially when talking about morality. To illustrate what objective means, I will now insult these people.

They are least in the subjective sense, which is a judgement I'm making influenced by personal feelings and opinions. However, in the recent past, I could test these people and state objectively that they are morons, imbeciles and idiots--each of these labels corresponding with an IQ score of 51–70, 21–50, and IQ of 0–20 respectively. A metric, like an IQ score, means that feelings and opinions can't factor in. Your IQ is your IQ regardless of what I personally think of you, and therefore objective.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Incomplete & Circular Apologetic Definitions

Are you healthy? I don’t know much about you, reader, but if you are the average American your answer is probably close to “sure...I guess” or maybe even a straight up “I don’t know.” That’s because the term “healthy” is an imprecise word that means different things to different people. A judgement of health, when poorly defined, is subjective and not very meaningful. If, on the other hand, I asked if you are overweight then provided a scale, tape measure, and the calculation to determine your Body Mass Index, we could objectively see if your BMI is over 25 and therefore overweight.

In debates with religious apologists, I’ve noticed their moral arguments rely on the imprecise meaning of right and wrong--of good and evil. Ask them to define them clearly and you will be met with resistance. Define them secularly and those meanings will be dismissed. Push, and you will likely hear one of two meanings.

  1. Good or evil are inherent properties of the action in question.
  2. That which is right is that which we have a moral obligation to God to do and that which is wrong is that which we have a moral obligation to God to refrain from.

Let’s take the first one first. “Good or evil are inherent properties of the action in question.” The first problem is that most will latter disagree with the definition they provided. If evilness or wrongness is an inherent property of lying or killing, then it can’t ever be right. However, they will almost certainly agree that lying to protect others or killing in self defense isn’t wrong or evil. In Catholicism there is something called The Principle of Double Effect which allows Catholics to break commandments to achieve what they judge to be the greater good. Hell, most theists in America support the death penalty, that should tell you something.

The second problem is that the property definition is incomplete. It’s like explaining to a child that wetness is a property of water without ever getting into what it means to be wet. Wetness could mean it’s liquid, it could mean it’s clear, it could mean it’s made of molecules. What does the property of good or evil say about the actions? From here they might falter and give secular reasons regarding a harm vs. benefit analysis of the actions, which would negate the perceived need for a deity entirely, or they might move to the previously mentioned secondary definition.

“That which is right is that which we have a moral obligation to God to do and that which is wrong is that which we have a moral obligation to God to refrain from.” Not only does this mean nothing to anyone who doesn’t already believe and therefore has no persuasive power, it also undermines the moral argument entirely. Assigning morality a definition that assumes God exists, cannot then be used to demonstrate that God exists. It is a simple example of circular reasoning. The crazy thing is, I’ve heard many apologists be fine with that--to the point that they ask “what’s wrong with circular reasoning?” Jesus Christ!

Don’t follow apologists down the moral rabbit hole until you know just what they mean by right and wrong. Depending on how these terms are framed, morality can be subjective, objective, relative, conceptual, nonsensical or anything in between.

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.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Morality and the Definition Divide

Search “morality” in Merriam-Webster and the first definition you’ll see is “beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior.” That’s beliefs, plural. This implies that what I believe is right and wrong isn’t the only belief out there, which should be obvious. Add the word “objective” in front of a word with a definition like this and the result is an oxymoron. Morality, by definition, is subjective. Case closed.

Well, of course the case isn’t closed. I can’t cite Merriam-Webster and expect millennia of philosophy to buckle.  Honestly, it isn’t even justified. Merriam-Webster has four definitions for the word “morality,” and MW is hardly the only dictionary in circulation. Should I go with the terminology of Google? Wikipedia? Who is the linguistic authority here?

Few theists will deny the reality that different beliefs of right and wrong behavior exist, they just believe one in particular belief is true in an absolute and objective way, conveniently, it’s their own. Digging deeper we need argument on more definitions. What does right mean? What does wrong mean? According to the first entry of Merriam-Webster, right behavior is that which is morally or socially correct or acceptable. Apologists reject any definitions of right and wrong in terms of what is acceptable because those definitions are subjective. They say, “what if people find rape acceptable, then is rape right by this definition?” That is true, by this definition. Finding it distasteful doesn’t strike it from the vernacular. If it did, we likely wouldn’t have a word for “rape” to begin with. Still, they want another definition. Lucky for them, there are 15 other definitions in MW alone, some of which tell us little. Right behavior is defined as what is moral, what is moral is defined as good behavior, and good behavior is defined as right behavior. Thanks. Zero help.

Apologists also don’t like definitions that are relative. This means defining right behavior as that which benefits others or causes no harm is a no go. They don’t see morality as a social contract, they think it exits independent of those capable of moral choices. In other words, rape was wrong in some transcendent way even before living creatures existed to rape or be raped. Where does that leave us?

It leaves the majority of us using relative and/or subjective definitions while apologists demand words with meanings that are absolute and objective. Words like...okay there are no words like that. Language is a human invention that at some point paired concepts with arbitrary strings of letters. I’ve spent the last couple weeks trying to understand how apologists arbitrarily paired their words.

I tried asking apologists to define “right” behavior. They did their best not to, but when pushed I received the following responses.

  • “The right thing is what we ought to do.”
  • “The right thing is part of God’s nature.”

There is something interesting about each of these apologetic definitions.  “Ought” implies obligation. Ought to according to whom? The answer is, of course, God. The second answer explicitly mentions God as part of the definition. It’s clear from this that many religious apologists frame their understanding of morality with God as a fundamental prerequisite. Given this understanding, they are completely correct to say morality requires God, but not by logic or deduction, rather by definition. The perceived validity of the moral argument for God then is a product of indoctrination. Any outsider with a secular understanding of the terms, should see the moral argument for God as entirely circular. The conclusion, that God is required for morality, is assumed from the start.

Monday, January 13, 2014

"How can you judge something as immoral without a divine moral foundation?"

Some theists claim that when atheists judge the character of God in the Bible as immoral, they show that they have a sense of objective morality which could only be present if God is a foundation for morality.

By claiming this they are implying that the atheist's judgement is objectively correct. These theists either must agree that God is objectively immoral or admit that the atheist's judgement isn't objectively true thereby discounting their claim that the atheist's judgement shows that we have a sense of objective morality.

Monday, December 9, 2013

God Argument Power Rankings

The following is my personal assessment of the validity of popular apologetic arguments. The list goes from most valid to least valid.

The Fine Tuning of the Universe: Could be valid, currently based on assumptions.
  1. There are a vast number of physically possible universes.
  2. A universe that would be hospitable to the appearance of life must conform to some very strict conditions. Everything from the mass ratios of atomic particles and the number of dimensions of space to the cosmological parameters that rule the expansion of the universe must be just right for stable galaxies, solar systems, planets, and complex life to evolve.
  3. The percentage of possible universes that would support life is infinitesimally small (from 2).
  4. Our universe is one of those infinitesimally improbable universes.
  5. Our universe has been fine-tuned to support life (from 3 and 4).
  6. There is a Fine-Tuner (from 5).
  7. Only God could have the power and the purpose to be the Fine- Tuner.
  8. God exists.
This argument, had we just a little more supporting knowledge, could make me deist. It says that the physical laws and constants that allow for a life-sustaining universe lie in a very small fraction of the possible spectrum of values and the fact that our universe is within that unlikely range is evidence that it was designed with us in mind. Many atheists argue the anthropic principle here, which says that we can only come to this conclusion because we are, in fact, here. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t. Obvious, I know. The anthropic principle is worthwhile when arguing against the fine tuning of earth specifically, but we don't have enough information for it to be meaningful in terms of the fine tuning of the universe.

The difference is that the variables that can vary widely and affect the possibility of life on a planet (such as distance from a star, having a moon/asteroid belt to deflect impacts with space objects, the presence of water, etc.) are most likely all fulfilled throughout the universe. There are enough planets that one can say, “sure, we are alive on this planet because we couldn’t be alive elsewhere.” However, we can only account for one universe. If this universe is all there has ever been, and if the aforementioned laws and constants can vary to the degree apologists claim, then I agree that we are such a coincidence that a designer is a better explanation than chance. I’m just not convinced because those "if"s are not answered. I tend to think that the laws and constants can vary, but that enough other universes either have, will or currently exist to make the anthropic principle meaningful--but that’s just personal speculation.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument: Invalid, only replaces one mystery with another.
  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
  2. The universe has a beginning of its existence;
  3. Therefore: The universe has a cause of its existence.
  4. (Implied) God is that cause.
This argument is at least based on something that is most likely true--the Big Bang Theory. So, I won't argue premise 2. As much as they like the Big Bang, apologists stop paying attention to the science after it can be used to support their beliefs. Traditional causation could very well not apply in general at the quantum level in which we find the singularity, and especially in the case of the universe with no prior time or space for a cause to occur or God to exist. The Big Bang, after all, isn't just the beginning of our universe, but also space and time as we understand it. To posit otherwise is merely an "of the gaps" argument. The implication of 4 is hasty now that there are more hypotheses than ever for possible causes of the universe and likely others that haven't occurred to us. In the end, the biggest weakness is that the argument establishes a rule because a lack of counter examples and then arbitrarily makes what they want to believe an exception. If we say that everything that begins to exist has a cause because we have no examples of things that exist without a cause, then we can also say everything that exists is within time and space because we have no examples of things that exist outside time and space. Since apologists require their God to be outside time and space for this argument to work, they would have to explain why the first statement is legitimate while the second it not.

The Ontological Argument: Invalid, basically it's just wordplay.
  1. Nothing greater than God can be conceived (this is stipulated as part of the definition of “God”).
  2. It is greater to exist than not to exist.
  3. If we conceive of God as not existing, then we can conceive of some-thing greater than God (from 2).
  4. To conceive of God as not existing is not to conceive of God (from 1 and 3).
  5. It is inconceivable that God not exist (from 4).
  6. God exists.
"Greater" is a value judgement that can vary from person to person, which is problematic to this argument. However, the real problem is that the argument works for any concept that includes the linguistic trick of including "must exist" in it's definition. For example, if one said the Fly Spaghetti Monster exists, by definition, then it exists. Somehow I doubt many Christian apologists would accept that definition. Nor should they, because existence isn't a property one can prescribe conceptually. Neither is "greatness" for that matter.

The Argument from Moral Truth. Invalid for a variety of reasons.
  1. There exist objective moral truths. (Slavery and torture and genocide are not just distasteful to us, but are actually wrong.)
  2. These objective moral truths are not grounded in the way the world is but, rather, in the way the world ought to be.
  3. The world itself—the way it is, the laws of science that explain why it is that way—cannot account for the way the world ought to be.
  4. The only way to account for morality is that God established morality (from 2 and 3).
  5. God exists.
I don’t know if this is the worst argument for God in my book, but it is certainly the worst of those still popular in the apologetic community. Why? Because it has so many points of failure. There is Euthyphro’ Dilemma that shows that God is a redundant factor if objective morality is valid. There is the impossibility of ascertaining exactly what the objective morals are if they exist, unless. of course, they are defined by humans in relation to social interactions which would discount a need of a supernatural law giver. There is the question if morality is objective at all (I see morality as a broad concept including the possibility for a variety of moral codes--which may be applied objectively but are hardly transcendent.) There is evolutionary biology that suggests moral instincts are selected traits which are passed down genetically. I feel apologists over estimate the argument’s power because the opposition can seem scatter brained when refuting it because the number of ways to refute it makes one’s mind spin out. That, and it’s the one argument that allows them to both claim there is a god and take the moral high ground in one fallacious move.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Morality? What Morality?

Atheists usually argue that morality is subjective because, well, theists argue that morality is objective. Some atheists also argue this because they accept the reality that people define their morality in different ways. This is undebatably the way it is, but doesn’t have to be. If everyone defined morality identically, it could be objective sans deity. Apologists claim that God is needed for a moral standard. The way I see it, a moral standard is needed and this standard not only needn't be God, but it can’t be God.

I define right conduct as simply that which benefits others more than it harms. Wrong conduct is obviously that which harms others more than it benefits. This is a moral standard. From here we can take any action and determine it’s morality objectively. Going on a shooting spree causes direct harm to everyone hit and therefore is morally wrong. Stopping the shooter benefits all those who would have been hit and is therefore morally right. Even if one must kill the shooter to save the rest, it is a morally right action because a greater benefit comes from the one instance of harm. Few would say that this isn't a more nuanced and correct application of morality then strictly following the commandment "thou shalt not kill."

Christian’s define morality in terms of God then use that definition of morality as evidence for God--hold on, y'know I don’t want to generalize.
If there is a Christian within the sight of my text who both believes our morality is evidence for God yet doesn’t use a specific definition of morality in terms of God, please comment or e-mail me. Any definitions referring to the nature of God or an obligation to God are obviously invalid.
Okay, if and when I hear back from someone I’ll update, until then I’ll continue.

Christian’s define morality in terms of God then use that definition of morality as evidence for God. This is textbook circular reasoning which is completely invalid. The Christian doesn’t believe morality exists as I define it and I don’t believe morality exists as they define it. When whether or not this or that version of morality exists is put into question, it makes debate over its objectivity mute. All we can do is bring into focus their fallacious thinking--which is almost always met with defensivness. It’s best to be gentle when pointing out to someone their mental record is skipping.*

*Wow, timely reference. Maybe I should have gone with “their mental streaming video is buffering.” That’s awful wordy. I feel old.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Faora Doesn't Get Evolution

I admit, I’m a strange bird. I’m always keeping an eye out for content for this blog which has me coloring even the most secular interactions in my day-to-day as metaphors for religion. When I see something that inherently does have religious themes, I’m so distracted about how to leverage it into a post that I stop living in the moment. This weeks opening movie, Man of Steel, has inherent Christian themes--yet I barely realized until retrospection. This goes to show, as much as I think about Jesus, I think even more about Superman.

Spoilers follow.

Sure, Man of Steel depicts Kal-El as a miraculous birth who grows up to stand beside stainglass windows of JC and float out of space ships crucifixion-style, but as I said before, I barely noticed in the awesomeness that is Superman. The only thing that bothered me enough to take me out of the flick was a mid-fight speech in which General Zod’s right-hand woman waxed poetic about the merits of evolution over morality. To sum up, she said that their military core of Kryptonians had evolved past the more primitive concept of morality and that history shows that evolutionary progress always wins. *Heavy sigh.* Can’t we save the evolution talk for the X-Men? It’s kinda their thing.

Faora, Zod’s follower, has an oversimplified view of the Theory of Evolution that I would expect from a Christian fundamentalist, but not so much from a member of a highly advanced civilization. First off, it’s nonsensical to say that only Zod’s sect is lacking in morality seeing how Kryptonians at large clearly have morals--see exhibit A, Jor-El. Evolution doesn't so dramatically effect a threesome of criminals and leave out the general pop. It just doesn't work that way.

Second, Zod has a sense of morality, just not the sense of morality. He clearly cares for the people of Krypton in that his purpose until the final battle is to either save them or repopulate them. It could be argued that Zod only cared about certain bloodlines, but then so did Jor-El. Super-Dad opts to save his own bloodline while Zod, presumably, could have saved many, just not all. (I realize that Jor-El allowed for future generations of Kryptonian bloodlines through the Codex in Kal-El’s cells, but that eventuality is a long-shot compared to Zod's pro-active use of the Codex.)

And third, the message is oversimplified to the point of falsehood. “Evolving past morality” implies that we also evolved to morality. This means, to her villainous logic, that altruism is a trait that was once selected for survival, but then stopped being selected. I can’t think of how that such a change could have occurred within the Phantom Zone--especially when only a single generation was trapped. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Feora was victim of a Texan education.

Of course, I’m over thinking this, but propagating a message that couldn’t be true in their world or ours to a theater-going public that already largely buys into it is a bad thing. It’s made worse when churches are capitalizing on it by quoting the film as part of their Jesus was the first superhero campaign. I just hope Man of Steel 2 isn’t subtitled “The Passion of the Clark.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Inconsistent Foundations

I wrote in my last post how a newly popular Christian apologetic argument is claiming that God is needed as a foundation for logic. I was trying to classify the argument and the best I could come up with is simply a bundle of talking points I’ll label the Foundation Arguments. What strikes me as particularly fallacious about each example of this type of reasoning is that they clearly don’t take into account the entirety of the deity they argue for. Let’s go over a few.

God is needed as a foundation for logic.

And yet God, as many Christians define him, is omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal--qualities that break logic in several different ways. Examples follow.
  • An omnipotent God can’t both make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift and then lift said stone.
  • An omniscient God can’t know what is it like to learn considering he has always known all, yet he must know what it is like to learn in order to know all. 
  • An omnipotent God can, by definition, commit suicide; yet an eternal God, by definition, cannot die.
I've heard excuses for all these and they all suck. The closest a logical deity can get is mostly powerful (quasipotent?) and mostly knowledgeable (quasiscient?)

God is needed as a foundation for morality.

And yet God, as many Christians define him, violates his alleged good nature regularly in both their holy book and day-to-day life. The lives taken by Yahweh/Jehovah in the Torah/Bible include almost everyone on earth at one point. He is a vengeful, jealous being who allows for cruel and unusual punishment. Outside of myth, Christians must accept that God either causes or allows asymmetrical suffering for every form of life.

God is needed as a foundation for beauty.

And yet ugly things exist. If God is responsible for desirable aesthetics, he is also responsible for the undesirable. Reality isn’t all sunsets and kittens, we also have excrement and maggots.

Monday, May 13, 2013

An Abortion of a Post

A Catholic apologist I follow recently said that “religion isn’t required to show that an unborn child is a human being.” The particular phrasing of this statement makes it obvious. A child of a human is a human. No need for debate there. The less clear question is this: is an unborn zygote or fetus a child? For the sake of argument, let’s say yes, but that still isn’t entirely the point. After all, the corpse of a human is still a human. The morality of abortion must take into account more than black and white definitions.

Killing cells isn’t a morally wrong act by anyone’s standard. If it was, everything from sun tans to common medical procedures would be stigmatized or illegal. A fertilized egg is a very active collection of cells. In my opinion, the main distinction between human cells and human people is consciousness. While the moral argument of aborting a mind cannot be made until the brain develops, the moral argument for aborting a soul can be made at conception...providing one accepts that the spiritual enters the material during orgasmic climax or shortly thereafter. I know breeders tend to say “on my God” in bed, but I’m not sure that’s exactly what they mean. It’s magical thinking, and it’s the foundation for religious pro-life reasoning.

This post is probably painting me as a bleeding heart pro-choice advocate. I don’t consider myself as such--my view is more nuanced. Unlike religious pro-life reasoning, there is valid secular pro-life reasoning that takes into account the terms of the pregnancy as well as other factors. When the brain and nervous system develop and the unborn child begins to think and feel, I am far less comfortable with abortion. Watching the ultrasounds of my twins, I learned that this development happens surprisingly early. It’s hard to say exactly when my feelings on the subject change. As a rule, I am pro-choice for the first trimester and pro-life for the third, with my opinion during the second trimester contingent largely on the situation--but still leaning pro-life. I think this is a common take on the moral dilemma of the issue. The religious pro-lifers tend to defend their position with images of near-fully developed kids cut out of women’s bodies. This is always gruesome and, at least in my case, a straw man pictorial. In a way, it’s also misrepresenting their own position, considering Catholics focus the lion’s share of their propaganda  on late term abortions while they feel the exact same way about morning after pills.*

*This may be a generalization, but it’s a well informed one. I’m representing the Catholic Church’s position and very few Catholics defect from the Church’s position on anything much less a hallmark like abortion.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Rebuttal: Part Three

For this to make sense, please check out my post exchange with Dr. Luke Conway here and here. You might as well check my Rebuttal, Part One and Rebuttal, Part Two also.

I’ve covered the moral argument for God multiple times on this blog and consider it the worst argument in the long, sad history of apologetic arguments. The only way I can address this again and remain sane is if I break up Dr. Conway’s post and address it in segments. The bold bits are the words of The Apologetic Professor. Here it goes.

Theism provides a more coherent view of morality than atheism.

No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t. It. Does. Not.

If you are an atheist, you believe in a universe that has absolutely no moral will.

This part is true. I believe the universe has no will, moral or otherwise.

The materialist must assume that I have a moral will for the same set of reasons that I have blue eyes or a love of the Indigo Girls, or that the sky appears blue or rocks are solid substances – they are the result of a long chain of purely physical events guided by physical laws or chance or what-have-you. I presume none of you believe that, at the Big Bang (or whatever), the atoms there assembled in the way they did so that someday they could produce the thought I should not kill my neighbor for fun inside my head. Such a thought exists because of chance physical processes.

This harkens back to Rebuttal, Part Two talking about instincts. It could be said that we have a moral instinct brought to us by the very same long chain of physical event that which Dr. Conway takes issue. Think of aspects of morality as adaptions that are selected for survival. The survival of the altruistic can be simplified to a generational game theory. Like the famous prisoner’s dilemma, two socially interacting creatures share a larger net gain by cooperating, even at the cost of personal loss by not defecting and claiming an individually larger gain for themselves. This defection could get the creature killed or made an outcast--taking it out of the gene pool either way. In addition, by leaving the increased gain on the table by continuously acting selfishly ends with the result of less resources than those held by cooperating creatures.

This is an example of how everything from instinctual sharing to general empathy could have evolved. I also find it difficult how one couldn’t see that cooperation is the best policy from the experience of just a single lifetime. This is, in part, what apologists argue when morality comes up.

Now, if the professor is saying that thought in general couldn’t have evolved through “a long chain of purely physical events,” that is a actually a better argument than saying moral thought specifically could not. Still, that is an entirely different debate. I’d like to know that he admits the moral argument is bunk before delving into cognitive sciences.

The atheist universe isn’t an immoral universe, as some have claimed. It’s an amoral universe. Morality isn’t bad in the atheist universe; morality doesn’t exist in the atheist universe. Morality has no meaning in that world.

Dr. Conway, I don’t think morality means what you think it means. Seriously, this is a fundamental conflict of definitions that is an insurmountable hurdle in every atheist/theist debate I’ve ever had. Morality as defined by God’s nature is invalid in my book and morality as defined by human culture is invalid in theirs.

Pretty much every atheist I know actually believes in morality (including all of the “new” atheists, e.g., Dawkins, Harris, etc.). And they don’t just believe in it in a “well, that’s nice” kind of way; they don’t believe that it’s wrong to kill people for fun is just a chance-y neuronal deal and they’d be fine if it had turned out the other way around. No; they really believe in it – like it matters that it turned out this way. In fact, they believe in it so much that they often use moral arguments against theism, as a reason to get rid of it.

Yeah, for two reasons. One, most of us have a high degree of empathy--a trait selected for survival (see above.) And two, because morality works. What’s the alternative? Killing fellow humans on sight? Most of us are intelligent beings who can see that would result in living in fear and constant danger. The Golden Rule is the best thing in the bible, yet pre-dates it. If you see moral acts as those that benefit others and immoral acts as those that harm others--pair that with reasoning to weigh the scales of a given situation fairly and our desire to be benefited and avoid harm, ta-da! Morality. I really don’t see why this is so hard. Yes, it allows for some things to be morally ambiguous, which it distasteful, but some things are morally ambiguous. That’s why we are constantly debating things like capital punishment and abortion. It’s objectively clear that at least some moral issues have no objectively clear answer. Saying that you believe you are right on a divided issue is fine, but saying that you are absolutely right because it was written in a book in another language from a less civilized culture over a thousand years ago is crazy. Doesn’t it sound crazy? I think it’s crazy.

My philosophy says that God built morality into the fabric of the universe.

Do rocks have morality then? Do tornadoes strive to be nice? Or is this only evident in intelligent, social beings who have a vested interest to act civil, all things being equal?

Theists attempt to show that morality without God is arbitrary. On the contrary, I can think of multiple reasons why any given moral choice is right or wrong. To apologists I ask, does God have reasons for what is right and what is wrong? Is there a reason His nature is how it is? If so, let’s say we can come to the same reasoning and cut out the middle god. If not, then it’s the theist's morality that is arbitrary. Even if the Christian God exists, we face the exact same pointless morals...except, y’know, my perceived source of morality doesn’t occasionally commit genocide.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Last Moral

Meet Bob. he’s the last person on planet Earth. Due to a massive Goat Flu epidemic or a hydronuclear summer or a quantum-volcano eruption, the vast majority of the world’s population has expired. Bob, who was held up in an adamantium mine shaft or a bug-out bunker or an abandoned Blockbuster, managed to survive when no one else could. Good for Bob.

I pose this unlikely scenario to ask this question: is morality relevant to Bob moving forward? Christian apologists argue that morality is an objective truth that transcends human experience. If this is accurate then hypothetical Bob still has valid morals to follow. Granted, most Biblical laws don’t apply to Bob’s situation. He can’t very well kill, steal from, or covet his neighbor’s wife, for example; he has no neighbor. However, Bob can surely violate some religious rules. He could masturbate, he could make a false idol, he could have any number of impure thoughts, or he could attempt to make love to an irradiated buffalo corpse (which, incidentally, is a great way for him to speed up the inevitable extinction of humanity.)

According to secular definitions of morality, Bob can do no wrong in his lonely existence. Morality as the right way to interact with others, is meaningless without others. As the last living creature with the capacity to define morality, Bob can do whatever he damn well pleases.  It takes at least two minds for a code of conduct to be agreed upon or for morality to emerge. At least that's how I see it.

P.S. It’s worth noting that I declared “It takes at least two minds for morality to emerge” to an apologist during a standard “moral argument for God” debate--and he agreed with me! I was shocked until he counted God as one of the minds. Does that mean that we’ll have to agree to disagree to agree?

P.P.S. I imagine God’s Mind gets capitalized as with every divine trait. Maybe Divine should be capitalize as well, it’s unclear. I’m sure they’d go ahead a subscript words mocking God if they could.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Morality of Babes

“Objective morality is revealed to us by God” --this is as close to a Christian universal as I can get. A question I often ask is: how do we know what actions are objectively right and which are objectively wrong. I get one of two answers: (a) that the Word of God is spelled out in the Bible and we should follow it’s guidelines for morality, or (b) that we are born with a moral compass that shows us God’s Nature. The first answer is an assertion that their holy book isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law--and that’s all it is. Claims can be made about anything when there is no expectation to back them up. The second answer is more interesting, and one in which I have gained extra insight in the last couple years.

I’m the father of twins, a boy and a girl. It certainly seems like they were not born with morality. They are born to suck. It’s wired into their little brains to find a boob or bottle and suck vigorously. When they get a little older, their nature is to crawl. Before they have any business crawling, I saw them constantly attempting to flip over and push themselves up. The first moral act I witnessed was decidedly immoral by adult standards. The boy hit the girl and the girl quick returned fire. There was escalation until it became an arms race mired with theft and snitching. I can chalk up a lot of what I observed to instinct, but I never observed a sense of right conduct.

Granted, this is hardly scientific. An anecdotal account with a sample size of two shouldn’t convince you of anything...but my wife specifically said no experiments on the children, so it’s all I got. This is my experience. There is going to be a long road ahead teaching my kids to morally socialize. I imagine I could use the good bits of the bible as examples of good behavior, but why cherry pick? I’d much rather draw on my own experience. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Deity-Free Moral Challenge

The debate about the origin of morality has been beaten to death by a dead Calvary of horses. They aren't recently dead either, rigamortis set in long ago. Anything you or I can say about the merits of grass roots societal goodness or objective moral truths, has been said before--and I hate being unoriginal.

In an effort to avoid rehashing the claims of people far smarter than I, even though I came to said claims completely organically, I have two options. First, I could hang up my argumentative guns and ride into the sunset confident that I'm right while unwilling to engage the opposition--but I run a freakin' atheist blog, so obviously that's not going to happen. I'm left with option two. Much like Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru, I must alter the parameters of the argument. Instead of debating why we have morality, I'd like to debate why we share (or don't share) specific morals.

The Challenge

If you believe the only way to explain common morality is by appealing to a higher power, it must be that you can't think of natural, human reasons to be good. If you could, then those reasons should be all the explanation you need. To defend your position, I ask you to submit a moral situation for which only God can be the explanation for why a reasonable person would do the right thing. In return, I will offer an entirely human answer for the moral choice I, and likely many others, would make.

The moral situation should be fairly straight forward to best make your point, if, of course, you can stump me. An ambiguous moral situation is more likely to draw different choices from different people, and would only contribute to the idea of subjective morality. If you think your choice for the ambiguous moral situation is the objectively correct choice, that's only you elevating your opinion to the status of truth and there is likely no way to prove your moral high ground without referencing the Bible, which I don't accept. So, to sum up, I'll accept situations where one pushes an elderly convict into a child, thereby pushing the kid out of the way of an oncoming train and dooming the old fella, but...let's try to stick to scenarios both likely to happen and without too many moving parts.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Built-in Ad Hominem of the Morality Debate

An ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.

When it comes to the debate of moral truth, can the ad hominem be avoided? It always comes to a theist questioning an atheist's morality and an atheist questioning a theist's morality. Since one's morality is the scale we measure the "goodness" of the person, we are basically saying that the individual we are debating against is a bad person. I don't like this, but since the only way to debate the validity of subjective morality is to call into question the moral beliefs of your opponent, I see no way around it.
If I'm debating someone who gets their morality from the Bible, I will mention Deuteronomy 22 or some other verse of the "Good Book" that conflicts with my morality and the morality of my modern society. I usually go with Deuteronomy 22 because it has everything from rules against mixed fabric to the stoning of women who had sex out of wedlock. Yesterday's morals make today's bible purist a bad person.

Inversely, a theist will call into question my belief that homosexuality is not a sin. Or that I am immoral because I have had sex outside of marriage. Or that I'm immoral by default simply because I haven't accepted Jesus to wipe away original sin. You can hate the sin and not the sinner, but that doesn't change the fact that an immoral person is a bad person.

I understand that most of these debates deal with the hypothetical and not the practical, but I'm tired of talking about hypothetical bestiality. It's humiliating and insulting. It detracts from the point of the argument. Is there a god and did he give us our morality? Those that think that there is and he did, also think that said god gave us life, the universe and everything. So let's talk about that, because I'd like to think that we're all good people.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Morality Week Reflection

During Morality Week, I tried my best to explain morality from an atheist perspective. I hoped to be able to sum up morality in a tight text snippit. A typographic sound byte. The tagline for godless goodness. I think I failed.

Is this because I suck? Maybe, but I doubt it. Morality is a multilayered issue. It’s more than commandments. It’s even more than the Golden Rule, which is probably the most utilitarian moral cliff-note available. I think the best way to verbalize my view of morality is a set of “best practices” to live by. Let's break it down one last time.

Right vs. Wrong

Let’s rebrand “right” and “wrong” as “better” and “worse.” I say “better” and not “best” because the “best” thing for an individual may be at the expense of others. Morality only makes sense as a term when it's applied to the group. We are moral because we are social. We are social because others enrich our lives.

Objective vs. Subjective Morality

Morality varies across cultures. Even within the U.S., polls show there are many issues that have the population split as to their moral worth. This is evidence for subjective morality. The only "evidence" any one has ever presented for objective morality is asking a question similar to "is murder wrong?" To which I give my answer, "yes." The answer is my belief that murder is wrong. It's subjective. Your belief, which is also likely to be that murder is wrong, is subjective. The argument of common consent basically states that most people believe in God therefore God exists. This argument of common consent seems to be their basis for objective morality as well. Most people believe murder is wrong, therefore it is wrong. Unlike the argument of common consent as applied to God, I am part of the consent in regards to murder, but that only means that we should treat murder as wrong. To say it is wrong, or in fact exists at all outside of humanity's ability to conceive and act upon it, is unfounded. In addition, belief in objective morality is dangerous. The same people who don't just believe murder is wrong, but know it is wrong, also know that homosexuality and other victimless "sins" are wrong. With this supposed infallible knowledge they can enforce what are really just opinions without considering the possibility that they are wrong. Abortion clinic bombers not only know that abortion is wrong, but they know they are doing the Lord's work. To paraphrase MiB's Agent Kay, "Imagine what they'll know tomorrow."

The Argument from Moral Truth

While I don't see any evidence for objective morality, this argument is flawed to the point of uselessness even granting a universal moral truth. The argument states:
  1. There exist objective moral truths. (murder is not just distasteful, but it's actually wrong.)
  2. These objective moral truths are not grounded in the way the world is but, rather, in the way the world ought to be. (Consider: should white supremacists succeed, taking over the world and eliminating all who don’t meet their criteria for being existence-worthy, their ideology still would be morally wrong. It would be true, in this hideous counterfactual, that the world ought not to be the way that they have made it.)
  3. The world itself—the way it is, the laws of science that explain why it is that way—cannot account for the way the world ought to be.
  4. The only way to account for morality is that God established morality (from 2 and 3).
  5. Therefore God exists.
Why did God make murder wrong? Why not make it right? Is there any reason for God's choice or is morality completely arbitrary? If God had a reason, then we should be able to come to the same reason. If God had no reason, then why follow pointless rules? Either God is a redundant middle man or we are still left with no reason moral truths are true. If we feel the need to explain our possible objective morality, then why are we more comfortable with a lack of a supernatural explanation then we are with a lack of a natural explanation? At least we know the natural exists! The whole argument is passing the buck.

The Bible as a source of morality.

Item 4 of the argument leads to where believers go to find God's established morality. The Bible is a popular repository of perceived goodness. Shall we start with the Old Testament that commanded people to keep slaves, slay their enemies, execute blasphemers and homosexuals? might be best to pick and chose which Biblical morals to follow and interpret them to be relevant to our society. The question here is, if you need the Bible to give you your morals, how do you know which morals in the Bible are the most moral? It's, of course, because we already had morality before we checked the "good book." It makes sense, if the majority of people didn't think murder was a bad thing prior to Moses, I doubt humanity would have survived long enough to get those tablets. If you believe that sort of thing.