Showing posts with label The Euthyphro Dilemma. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Euthyphro Dilemma. Show all posts

Friday, November 24, 2017

Sacerdotus Is (Even More) Stupid (Than Previously Thought) Part 5


Author's note: I know I just wrote that I'd be spending more time writing about social issues and lay off atheism for a bit, but a recent attempt to rebut my blog post on why I'm an atheist got my attention and prompted me to make a response. I'll get back to social issues when this is done.



Happy Thanksgiving!

A supposed "philosopher" who challenged me on my post Why I'm An Atheist, wrote a follow up to my follow up, and in it he claims again, that's he's refuted me and that I'm ignorant of science and philosophy. The exact opposite is true and I can easily show why. His arguments are so bad, they are laughable. And I don't mean this to be facetious, I mean this with all seriousness. He makes so many common argumentative mistakes and factual errors that I cannot take him seriously that he has a degree in philosophy and science. If he does have a degree, he should get a refund, because he apparently learned no serious critical thinking skills because of it. His arguments are on the caliber of the same old tired internet apologist, like the many wannabe William Lane Craig clones out there. Only he's at the low end of the spectrum.

If you're wondering why my posts denigrate him so harshly it's because he mocks atheists and calls atheism stupid. Here I'm just giving him a taste of his own medicine.


I continue with part 5 covering arguments 12 and 13. Starting with his response to argument 12, his words are in block quotes.


12) All the arguments for god fail


Continuing on with this sad excuse for rebuttal we come to some demographics on atheism. He writes,

Atheism is declining. The author is not up-to-date and relies on an old 2014 study.  According to the Pew Research, atheism is on the decline (see: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/07/why-people-with-no-religion-are-projected-to-decline-as-a-share-of-the-worlds-population/). Previous studies claiming that the "nones" is on the rise clearly specify that these "nones" are not atheists, but those who are indifferent to religion. In other words, they are people who simply do not adhere to organized religion but still believe in God.  Atheism or atheists who completely reject God and religion are in fact on the decline. It is nearly extinct in Russia (see: http://www.sacerdotus.com/2017/07/atheism-declining-in-russia.html).

Many mistakes here. First, taken at face value, that article doesn't say atheism or the unaffiliated is declining. It says the unaffiliated will decline as a percentage of the world's population only due to the rising number of Muslim births in third world countries. (And by this metric Christianity is also declining). It doesn't say the raw number of atheists or unaffiliated will decline. In fact, the number of unaffiliated is actually expected to grow from 1.1 billion to 1.2 billion. He'd know that if he actually read the article instead of reading the headline.


Secondly, I've already written a critique on my blog about the faulty methodology of PEW's projection methods. Read: Did Pew Project The Future Of Religion Accurately? I wrote that "It seems that they're not taking into account conversions and deconversions. Many theists are leaving their religions and becoming unaffiliated (which includes all deists, agnostics, and atheists) and this is especially true in the West, where the number of Christians is dropping precipitously. Their future projection of the percentage of the unaffiliated in the US by 2050 seems deeply suspect, and indeed, out of whack with their other data."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sacerdotus Is (Even More) Stupid (Than Previously Thought) Part 4


Author's note: I know I just wrote that I'd be spending more time writing about social issues and lay off atheism for a bit, but a recent attempt to rebut my blog post on why I'm an atheist got my attention and prompted me to make a response. I'll get back to social issues when this is done.



A supposed "philosopher" who challenged me on my post Why I'm An Atheist, wrote a follow up to my follow up, and in it he claims again, that's he's refuted me and that I'm ignorant of science and philosophy. The exact opposite is true and I can easily show why. His arguments are so bad, they are laughable. And I don't mean this to be facetious, I mean this with all seriousness. He makes so many common argumentative mistakes and factual errors that I cannot take him seriously that he has a degree in philosophy and science. If he does have a degree, he should get a refund, because he apparently learned no serious critical thinking skills because of it. His arguments are on the caliber of the same old tired internet apologist, like the many wannabe William Lane Craig clones out there. Only he's at the low end of the spectrum.

If you're wondering why my posts denigrate him so harshly it's because he mocks atheists and calls atheism stupid. Here I'm just giving him a taste of his own medicine.

I continue with part 4 covering arguments 10 and 11. Starting with his response to argument 10, his words are in block quotes.


10) Euthyphro's trilemma


And now we come to the Euthypho trilemma, one of my favorite areas to debate.

I wrote that Euthyphro's dilemma works with monotheism as well as polytheism. He ignorantly writes back saying,

It actually does not. The Euthyphro dilemma originates from Greece where polytheism was the norm. Euthyphro himself was a priest of a polytheistic sect. If he were alive today, he would not understand the argument the author is making and will probably be upset at the distortion the author is giving the dilemma that bears his name. 

The argument's logic is not dependent on polytheism, and Euthyphro would recognize the argument in a monotheistic context. In fact, the argument makes more sense on monotheism, because then there is only one god in which morality could be dependent on, instead of a council of gods, who might have conflicting views. It is irrelevant that the argument got started in a polytheistic culture. That Sacerdotus doesn't know this proves he can't possibly have a degree in philosophy.

Furthermore, I did not simply state "God is good." I wrote more than the author acknowledges. We can assume why he/she does not acknowledge my refutation. He/she cannot address it. Once again, the author restates his/her faulty premise.  

Um no. Let's review what he originally wrote in his response:

In reality, the atheist is the one who has the problem. God is good. God is the fullness of goodness and love. God is love (1 John 4:8). Goodness and love do not exist as separate entities from God.

All that does is assert the same idea: "God is good." It doesn't prove any of the assertions, it just asserts it! Prove god is good. Go ahead. Go do it. Quoting the Bible doesn't prove squat. Also, explain to my why is god good. Is god good because "God is love" as you state in 1 John? Then that means love is good independently of god. If love isn't good independently of god, then the burden of proof is on Sacerdotus to show why. He needs to tell us why love is good. You see, Sacerdotus is a typically lazy internet apologist. He literally thinks he can just say "God is good" and "God is love" and think that settles it. Oh my. I guess since some internet apologist with a fake degree said god is good then that settles it! Atheism is false! How imbecilic he is. The atheist has no problem here because the theist has no evidence. They just assert a claim and think they've won. The trilemma is unavoidable. If you can't explain why god is good you can't demonstrate the claim. And you can't explain why god is good without showing goodness exists independently of god.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Sacerdotus Is (Even More) Stupid (Than Previously Thought) Pt. 3


Author's note: I know I just wrote that I'd be spending more time writing about social issues and lay off atheism for a bit, but a recent attempt to rebut my blog post on why I'm an atheist got my attention and prompted me to make a response. I'll get back to social issues when this is done.



A supposed "philosopher" who challenged me on my post Why I'm An Atheist, wrote a follow up to my follow up, and in it he claims again, that's he's refuted me and that I'm ignorant of science and philosophy. The exact opposite is true and I can easily show why. His arguments are so bad, they are laughable. And I don't mean this to be facetious, I mean this with all seriousness. He makes so many common argumentative mistakes and factual errors that I cannot take him seriously that he has a degree in philosophy and science. If he does have a degree, he should get a refund, because he apparently learned no serious critical thinking skills because of it. His arguments are on the caliber of the same old tired internet apologist, like the many wannabe William Lane Craig clones out there. Only he's at the low end of the spectrum.


Here I continue with part 3 covering arguments 7, 8, and 9. Starting with his response to argument 7, his words are in block quotes:


7) Brute facts are unavoidable


Next he continues falsely accuses me of plagiarism, saying,

Yes, that is what the word plagarize means.  The author wrote word-for-word an article from Wikipedia. Note, Wikipedia is not a valid source.  Anyone can edit it. Universities frown upon it and automatically fail students who use it as a source. The fact that this author derives his/her content from Wikipedia shows academic sloth. 

No I didn't. I merely copied the trilemma itself from the article in order to list it, that is different from plagiarizing an article. To plagiarize is to "take (the work or an idea of someone else) and pass it off as one's own." I didn't do that, and he even admits I never stated that I tried to pass it off as my own. That means his plagiarize claim fails. Wikipedia simply lists the trilemma so that he and everyone else can understand it, since it's obvious he's ignorant of it (despite his supposed degree!). It isn't to prove the trilemma is true. Wikipedia is actually a great resource for learning philosophy. Sacerdotus would learn a lot more if he spent more time on it. It's clear he has no thirst for truth. All he does is try and defend his preexisting views, albeit, really badly.

The Munchausen’s trilemma (also known as Agrippa's trilemma which goes all the way back to Diogenes) is a well known trilemma that everyone with a philosophy degree should known about. Apparently that's not Sacerdotus. Even his former professor Dr. Pigliucci affirms it, so it's hard for me to believe he has an actual degree. He's just so ignorant of basic philosophy it can't be real. Dr. Pigliucci for example writes,

Munchausen’s trilemma is a reasonable conclusion arrived at by logical reasoning. 

In other words, the trilemma is logically unavoidable and most, if not all people who are actually familiar with philosophy are aware of this thorny problem.

Moreover, I never stated that the author discovered the trilemma. He/she is clearly lying here. Nor did I claim that he/she claims God has an immutable nature etc.  This author clearly has reading comprehension problems. I stated that the author does not understand theology and the immutable nature of God. This is why his/her argument fails. The author claims that "God's will to create this universe is not necessary.." this premise is baseless. 

I didn't say he accused me directly of discovering the trilemma. If you accuse someone of plagiarizing, which again means to take (the work or an idea of someone else) and pass it off as one's own, then this implies that I tried to pass the trilemma off on my own. Because if I didn't try to pass it off as my own, then I didn't plagiarize. That's Sacerdotus's dilemma. Either I tried to pass it off as my own and I plagiarized, or I didn't try to pass it off as my own and I didn't plagiarize. He can't accuse me of plagiarizing material while acknowledging I didn't try to pass it off as my own.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sacerdotus Is (Even More) Stupid (Than Previously Thought) Pt. 2


Author's note: I know I just wrote that I'd be spending more time writing about social issues and lay off atheism for a bit, but a recent attempt to rebut my blog post on why I'm an atheist got my attention and prompted me to make a response. I'll get back to social issues when this is done.



A supposed "philosopher" who challenged me on my post Why I'm An Atheist, wrote a follow up to my follow up, and in it he claims again, that's he's refuted me and that I'm ignorant of science and philosophy. The exact opposite is true and I can easily show why. His arguments are so bad, they are laughable. And I don't mean this to be facetious, I mean this with all seriousness. He makes so many common argumentative mistakes and factual errors that I cannot take him seriously that he has a degree in philosophy and science. If he does have a degree, he should get a refund, because he apparently learned no serious critical thinking skills because of it. His arguments are on the caliber of the same old tired internet apologist, like the many wannabe William Lane Craig clones out there. Only he's at the low end of the spectrum.


Here I continue with part 2 covering arguments 3, 4, 5, and 6.Starting with his response to argument 3, his words are in block quotes:

3) Causality doesn't exist in the way we think it does


He writes,

Yes, the author does not understand causality.  

I understand causality way better than Sacerdotus does. Notice how he doesn't even bother to attempt to define causality. And notice that his assumption of causality presupposes presentism, which he has not ever even attempted to justify (because he's too ignorant to know he's even presupposed it!).

Yes, there is a consensus that the universe had a cause. This is taught in all cosmology, physics and astronomy courses.  Clearly, the author has never taken any of the aforementioned.

Prove it. Prove the universe had a cause. I asked him to show evidence for that in my last response post, and he still has provided no evidence. Better yet, he needs to define what he means by "causality." I defined what I mean by it, he has not. He's begging the question. This is an utter failure on Sacerdotus's part to demonstrate he's logical and knows how to debate. I've provided ample evidence for my claims, he's provided very little or none for his. Also, I took physics and astronomy courses. There was no mention of the universe having a cause. None. He's also not understanding the usage of "cause" in the colloquial sense versus what it really means to most physicists. He's confusing the colloquial cause with the scientific cause in the same way creationists confuse the colloquial "theory" with the scientific theory.

The author claims that I showed no evidence, yet in my previous post I provided the paragraph the author quoted with a hyperlink. Once again, the author misapplies the argument ad populum. The aforementioned is coined for criticism against common belief, not scientific fact. In science, a consensus is needed. This is why the peer review system exists. This is how science checks and balances itself. We see once again that this author simply is aloof to the facts.

Sacerdotus never provided any evidence that the universe had a cause, which is the thing in question. He provided a link to an article from Cern saying the universe shouldn't exist, but that's completely irrelevant. Yet another failure on his part to be logical and rational. You can't tell me I'm out of line with a consensus when you provide zero evidence for a consensus. My views are actually the mainstream view. Sacerdotus is too ignorant to realize that because all he knows is popular level apologetics.

The author then appeals to Sean Carroll in order to avoid addressing my reply. He/she does not realize that Sean Carroll is giving his personal opinion and does not even offer data or statistics to back up his claims. If you look at the pdf file linked, there is no data. It is just an essay that he wrote. Give me a break.

Carroll is just giving his opinion. He believes that events do not have purpose or causes, but does not show why. 

Wait, so when I quote a scientist, I'm just giving his "opinion," but when Sacerdotus quotes a scientist, it's somehow scientific fact? Give me a break. Look at that double standard. Carroll isn't giving his option. He's explain how, from his decades as a physicist working on cosmology and a fundamental understanding of the universe, there is no causality in the way people normally define the term. He explains this in the paper he wrote, that what we think of causes are really just

a description of the relationship between patterns and boundary conditions....If we know the state of a system at one time, and the laws governing its dynamics, we can calculate the state of the system at some later time. You might be tempted to say that the particular state at the first time “caused” the state to be what it was at the second time; but it would be just as correct to say that the second state caused the first.

Carroll further explains this in his excellent book, The Big Picture, and in his many talks and lectures. See here where I fast forwarded his talk to the relevant section on causality:



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sacerdotus Is (Even More) Stupid (Than Previously Thought) Pt. 1


Author's note: I know I just wrote that I'd be spending more time writing about social issues and lay off atheism for a bit, but a recent attempt to rebut my blog post on why I'm an atheist got my attention and prompted me to make a response. I'll get back to social issues when this is done.


A supposed "philosopher" who challenged me on my post Why I'm An Atheist, wrote a follow up to my follow up, and in it he claims again, that's he's refuted me and that I'm ignorant of science and philosophy. The exact opposite is true and I can easily show why. His arguments are so bad, they are laughable. And I don't mean this to be facetious, I mean this with all seriousness. He makes so many common argumentative mistakes and factual errors that I cannot take him seriously that he has a degree in philosophy and science. If he does have a degree, he should get a refund, because he apparently learned no serious critical thinking skills because of it. His arguments are on the caliber of the same old tired internet apologist, like the many wannabe William Lane Craig clones out there. Only he's at the low end of the spectrum.

The supposed philosopher's pen name is Sacerdotus and he accuses me of nothing more than ad hominem attacks. This is false, and a common misunderstanding of what an ad hominem attack is. An ad hominem attack is when you attack your opponent instead of attacking their arguments. I attacked his arguments, quite successfully, in addition to attacking his character. So I made no ad hominem attacks because I addressed his sad excuses for an argument, quite successfully. The reason why I call him stupid in most post (aside from being accurate, is because he calls atheism stupid. I'm giving him a taste of his own medicine, and he calls it an ad hominem! The irony.

I'm going to refute his attempt at refuting my refutation to show how he still just doesn't get it, and is making the same mistakes over and over. His words will appear in block quotes. In the beginning of his post he writes,

As Socrates said, "When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser."  Well, we now see the loser show his/her face via ad hominem, so to speak.  He even calls me "gay," which shows he clearly is the losing party.

I called him gay because he is gay, not because it is a slander, and he's a Catholic who defends the church. I find that relevant. If you're going to defend a church that for centuries tried to destroy your existence, that is telling and relevant. If he's not actually gay, then I apologize.

Notice how his replies are just a restatement of his/her previous errors already refuted and how he/she avoids addressing my refutation directly.  I will once again re-refute his/her nonsense and show how they are false when vetted against science, philosophy, and theology just as I have before.  

The point is he didn't actually refute my original arguments. And so what I did was I just explained them further with more insight into why his responses didn't refute them. My arguments mostly went right over his head because they're too sophisticated for him, despite his supposed (and apparently useless) degree in philosophy. My arguments are the culmination of years and years debating theism and they are not entry-level arguments. They rely on a deep understanding of science and philosophy, like a deep understanding of special relativity, which Sacerdotus clearly doesn't have because he doesn't understand at all what special relativity implies for our understanding of time and causality.

So let me refute his attempt at a rebuttal one by one to show (very easily) how his arguments all completely fail. This will be done over several parts throughout this week. Starting with my first argument:

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Why I'm An Atheist - 13 Reasons & Arguments For Atheism



More than three years ago I wrote a post entitled Why I'm An Atheist, where I briefly explained some of the reasons why I don't believe in god. That post, which was long over due at the time, needs an update. With each passing year I get much better at understanding the arguments for and against the existence of god, and since that post came out I've created several new arguments of my own. Rather than write it in essay form, which I did in the original post, I'll instead outline the main reasons and arguments briefly, one by one. So here we go.

I'm an atheist because....

1) The traditional notion of god isn't coherent


In order to even consider the possibility that a god exists, we first need a coherent concept of god. The traditional notion of god in classical theism is that of a timeless, changeless, immaterial mind, who also must be infinitely good, infinitely wise, and can do anything logically possible. There are some variations on this concept, but almost all traditional or classical theistic gods have these basic characteristics. The problem is that a timeless, changeless being by definition cannot do anything; it's necessarily causally impotent and nonfunctional. Change requires time, and time requires change. This is logically certain. And to create something, one must do something. Doing requires a change, regardless of whether that change is mental or physical. A being that cannot do anything cannot be omnipotent. As a result, the traditional notion of god is self contradictory. The theist's only resort here is special pleading. That's why I like to get all theists to agree beforehand that god is not beyond logic. That is, god cannot do the logically impossible or be the logically impossible. Once a theist agrees with this, they've cut themselves off from special pleading as an option. Some theists think god is atemporal before creating the universe, and temporal after creating the universe. But it isn't logically possible to exist timelessly and then suddenly jolt yourself into time out of your own will, because your will was timeless and frozen. It couldn't change into the state to want to change.

Given the necessary rules of logic the traditional attributes of god are incoherent:

P1. It is logically impossible to do something without doing something.
P2. It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).
P3. It is logically impossible for change to exist without time.
C. As such, a timeless, changeless being cannot do anything.

The failure of theists to come up with a coherent description of god is enough by itself to warrant atheism, but there's many more reasons to think no gods exist.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Only God can provide an adequate rational foundation for morality and unalienable human rights."


What are rights? Where do they come from?

Claiming rights is very popular. We all claim rights. But on what basis can we do this? A popular view is the idea that "Only God can provide an adequate rational foundation for morality and unalienable human rights." Is this the case? Well, as an atheist, I'm deeply skeptical of these kinds of claims. So let me explore this idea and go over some of the problems I think arise when one tries to ground morality and rights in a deity.

What are rights?

First off, what is a right? Years ago when I studied philosophy I took an introductory course on ethics. I still have my textbook from the class, Human Conduct: Problems of Ethicsby John Hospers. While flipping through it I came across the chapter on human rights. Since human rights are so often talked about with such passion and argument, it's important to know what we mean when we claim a right.

A right, Hospers describes, can be said to be a justified claim to something, in the form of an entitlement. It is to "claim a certain amount of moral space in which others may not trespass." (192) If one has a right, others have an obligation or duty or respect that right. If one has a right to life, and others do not have a duty to refrain from killing you, that right mean little to nothing, and may even be self-contradictory. Rights are not merely privileges. Privileges can be revoked at any time. If I let you borrow my car to run errands, that is a privilege which I can revoke when I want. You don't have a right to use my car when I don't want you to. (This is related to notions of property rights.)

Where do they come from?

This all seems fine and dandy, but it still gives us no notion of where rights come from. Enter the theists who claims that rights are endowed to us by our creator. But what exactly does that explain? Did god implant a "right" within us? If so, what is the ontology of that right? Some theists claim that god gave humans an immortal soul and that it is this that gives us our rights. But how does a soul (whatever that is) give us our rights? If cockroaches have souls would that mean it would be immoral for us to kill them? Would a soul-less person (should one exist) be any less worthy of rights than one with a soul, all other things being equal? The theist might say that it's our soul that gives us sentience—the capacity to suffer, and rationality—the ability to think, deliberate, weigh evidence and alternatives, and decide what actions to take, and that it's these combined traits, unique to human beings, that provides us the rights we have.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why Is Debating Morality With Theists So Fun? (Hint: Because They're Wrong)


Like Christopher Hitchens, I'm in love with debate, and debating morality with theists is probably one of my favorite debate topics. The reason why I enjoy that debate so much is because I know they're simply wrong on about it. Case in point, theists must simply assert that god is identical to "the good" or moral perfection itself but cannot justify whether god's goodness comes logically prior to any attributes that might constitute god's goodness or not.

Now perhaps I might not be writing here anything that I haven't already done before on numerous other posts, but since the moral debate is one atheists will find themselves confronted with time and time again, it might be worth repeating. When a theists asserts that god is identical to moral perfection he or she isn't doing anything other than playing word games. I can simply define the word "God" as being a synonym of goodness, but I certainly haven't demonstrated that an actual being exists that is ontologically identical with goodness, let alone been able to conflate that being to the deity of a particular religion. All I've done is played words games with you and claimed victory (ha ha!). But it's a premature calculation.

Seriously though, for any theist who does this, the next trick up their sleeve (if they see you're not convinced) is going to be something like, "It is impossible for God to be evil or command something evil, like rape, because God's intrinsic nature is that of moral perfection. God is necessarily morally perfect." The theist here is trying to get all philosophical on your ass: God is necessarily perfect because he can't be any other way. But I still find it hard to palate the idea of how the theist can know or can determine what a perfect moral being is without appealing to some standard that exists independently of such a being. Otherwise, if the being itself is what determines moral perfection, then is it not the case that one can appeal to the logic that what ever that being does or commands is perfectly moral by definition, no matter what that is? How do we determine that god is morally perfect? If god is simply just being defined as such, then following this line of reasoning allows Islamic fundamentalists to stone to death adulterers and jail/execute blasphemers - hardly something we in the West would consider moral.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cognitive Acrobatics On Slavery & Killing Naughty Kids, Once Again



The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism.

- Christopher Hitchens


This quote from Hitchens shows why I could never be a Christian. (And I've seriously tried to consider what it would be like.) As soon as I were to adopt any belief in god, I'd immediately be fraught with massive cognitive dissonance. Even the idea of a jovial god of pure love and peace wouldn't fare any less problematic. And considering my deep philosophical nature, trying to reconcile the existence of a god with the facts I'm aware of would drive me insane. Belief in god can only work if you don't think, or if you surrender your mind and adopt the mentality that whatever god does is perfect by definition, thereby alleviating you from the stinging questions of suffering and evil. But I just can't surrender my mind to anyone; I'm a thinker.

I've been debating this harebrained Jehovah's Witness recently, whose church is arguably a cult. JoHos are fundamentalists who take the Bible more or less literally. In addition to prohibitions on smoking and drinking, they believe we all descended from Adam and Eve roughly in the last 6-10,000 years, that Noah actually literally put two of every animal (including dinosaurs?) on a boat, and that every other miraculous claim in the Bible is true.

When debating Biblical morality over on Unreasonable Faith, it just amazes me what kind of cognitive acrobatics fundamentalists like JoHos have to do to keep composure. Consider this dialogue:

JoHo: God wills something because He is good. 
Me: I already refuted that and your response was that being loving compassionate and fair is good because god is loving compassionate and fair, and god is good because he is loving compassionate and fair. It's a circular argument. 
JoHo: You're conflating moral ontology with moral semantics. Our concern is with moral ontology, that is to say, the foundation in reality of moral values. Our concern is not with moral semantics, that is to say, the meaning of moral terms. We have a clear understanding of moral vocabulary like “good,” “evil,” right,” and so on, without reference to God. Thus, it is informative to learn that “God is essentially good.” 
Me: I know perfectly well the difference between moral ontology, moral semantics and moral epistemology. You're just cutting and pasting other people's arguments without even reading my responses to you because you know you will have to make a circular argument to get out of the Euthyphro dilemma.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Is God good because he is loving, compassionate and fair, or is being loving, compassionate and fair good because God is good?"


I recently asked a theist who was asserting the moral argument on a blog an alternate version of the Euthyphro dilemma. I asked him, "Is God good because he is loving, compassionate and fair, or is being loving, compassionate and fair good because God is good?" And he responded saying:

Being loving, compassionate and fair is good because God is loving, compassionate and fair. It is because God is that way that these qualities count as virtues in the first place. Essentially, God is good the same way water is wet, diamonds are hard and stars are blazing hot. So if we think of God’s goodness in terms of His possessing certain virtues rather than fulfilling certain duties, we have a more exalted and more adequate concept of God.

Interestingly, earlier this same theist said that god "is essentially loving, just, kind. etc." Do you notice a circular argument here? According to this theist, being loving compassionate and fair is good because god is loving compassionate and fair, and god is good because he is loving compassionate and fair. The problem the theist faces here is obvious, although some theists obviously still don't get it. To say something is good because god has those qualities, and god is good because he has those qualities is a circular argument; the theist has failed to explain why those qualities are good, or why god is good for that matter. Nothing can simply just be good without a reason, there must be a reason why something is good or bad. The theist who is aware of this often will just assert that god is good, and will be forced to make a circular argument in doing so. To avoid circularity, they must justify virtues like love, compassion, and fairness by showing their positive intentions and effects. And in doing so, they will show that that the goodness of these virtues are independent of god. But that's exactly what they must avoid in order to hold to the notion that god is the source of all goodness.

And by saying, "It is because God is that way that these qualities count as virtues in the first place," is just a bold face assertion. It doesn't demonstrate that “good” or "virtue" cannot exist independently of god. Even if goodness is an essential property of god, it is a property that can apply to other things independently of god’s existence. Just think of how being hot is an essential property of fire – fire must be hot, it cannot be cold. But “hot” can apply to many other things independently of fire. For example, microwaves cause things to be hot and so does friction. The Euthyphro dilemma stands as a defeater to anyone defending the position that god is the source of goodness or morality.

To Ought, Or Not To Ought?


Arguing morality with a theist, you will almost always inevitably be accused of not having an objective foundation for your moral values, or you will be accused of not being able to provide an objective foundation for moral duties. Some theists think that if we just adopt the divine command theory of ethics, we'll all be provided with an adequate foundation for what is objectively right and wrong. But the problem I've always had with it, is why should I believe something be objectively right or wrong, or a duty for that matter, if it is merely commanded by god? I see no reason to think that god merely issuing a command makes it right, especially when considering that all the religions in the world contain within them bizarre commandments that obviously reflect the ignorance of the people living at the time they were written down. If I am to remain true to being a critical thinker, I must critically examine every such moral command with the knowledge we have of the world and assess whether or not it is designed to achieve some moral goodness or emphasize some kind of moral virtue.

And why think that all of life's moral dilemmas can be answered by a single book? For example, does Christianity give us objective moral answers on everything? Like what is justice? And how do we best build and sustain a just society? What's the best way we can handle healthcare? Immigration? The economy? Civil rights? How we should best conduct ourselves when it comes to war? Jesus said, “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Essentially, that means submit to your earthly masters as you would to god, even if they are cruel tyrants. That's hardly the kind of advice I would want to live by and it obviously doesn't make for building and sustaining a just society.

Moral obligations can stem from one's self in adherence to principles, in addition to our various social contracts. They say you cannot get an ought from an is, but how can you even derive an ought without knowing what is? Why ought I do my laundry if it is not the case that my clothes are dirty? Why ought I fix the leak in my kitchen sink if it is not the case that my kitchen sink is leaking? We all intuitively do what we ought to do from assessing the situation for what is all the time. Some theists think that moral obligations can only stem from competent authorities, such as god. But does that also mean that every German in the Wehrmacht was morally obligated to carry out the commands of Adolph Hitler, in the same fashion Jesus envisioned of - rendering unto Hitler the things that are Hitler's? What commands take precedence: Jesus' command to submit to your earthly master's will, or Jesus' command to not kill and turn the other cheek? Christians have to make a calculation in situations like this, and they have to weigh the moral severity and outcome of each and use the same basic moral calculations we all make when confronted with a moral dilemma. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Yes Dr. Craig, You're Still An Apologist For Genocide


I love pressuring Christians to justify the numerous genocides that god commands in the Bible. They will usually respond with things like, "The Canaanites were wicked and deserving of God's judgement." Or they'll say, "You have no objective moral foundation to call out genocide." Oh right, like being an atheist somehow prevents me from censuring the mass slaughter of ethnic groups, and somehow only theism gives people the ability of condemning it. Sure. Remember, it's the theist here that's defending genocide. Only religion it seems could make a rational person defend mass genocide in this day and age.

So, when it comes to the apologist extraordinaire William Lane Craig, I paid extra close attention to his attempt at justifying genocide when he was called out on it in a debate a few years ago during his 2011 UK tour. His justification was a shocking spectacle into the mind of an apologist trying ever so hard to make sense of mass slaughter. And his numerous other podcasts and written justifications for it just seem to add insult to injury to him.

On a recent Q and A, he attempts once again to explain why the Canaanite conquest was justified. Craig says that a lot of the criticism against him is just heated emotional rhetoric lacking intellectual substance, and that none of it refutes the moral argument for god. Speaking of substance, Craig's justification boils down to this: "God has the moral right to issue such commands and that He wronged no one in doing so." In other words, god can do whatever he wants; he's the boss. If he wants you to commit genocide for him, then so be it. He has the right to do so because he makes the rules. 

This is basically the best Craig has come up with, and it's sad. But he also warns, "If it is the case that God could not have issued the commands in question, that goes no distance toward proving atheism or undermining the moral argument for God; it at most implies a liberal doctrine of biblical inspiration, such that inspiration does not imply inerrancy." So even if we're right that no such commands were ever issued by a perfect god, according to Craig, god and the moral argument are still intact.

Let's examine this.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

If I Were A Christian, What Kind Of Christian Would I Be?


An interesting thought experiment recently occurred to me. If I were a Christian, what kind of Christian would I be? The idea popped into my head while recently debating a few different Christians on several fronts. Now mind you, I don't think I could ever actually be a Christian, certainly not without actual evidence that it's true. But if I somehow converted, what possible kind of Christianity could I embrace, given my life-long atheism?

Well first, there's the idea of denomination. What denomination would I pick? I was raised in a culturally Catholic environment, but I dislike the Catholic Church so much, that I don't think I could ever call myself a Catholic. The same is pretty much true of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is pretty much just another form of Catholicism. I actually think that Protestantism would appeal to me more, and there are over 40,000 varieties of it. I do like the openness of the Episcopal Church, but it does resemble Catholicism a bit too much. It could be said that the Episcopal Church, which is just the American branch of the Church of England, is Catholicism lite.

The evangelical churches bother me a lot, especially because they're so fundamentalist. And I'm not crazy about Baptists. In fact, pretty much all the Calvinist denominations sicken me. So it seems to me that if I were somehow a Christian, I'd have to be non-denominational. I'd essentially have to have my own theology, and interpret Christianity my own way.

Being a scientifically literate person, I'd of course have to keep what we know about cosmology and biology into my theology. So I'd be a Ken Miller/Francis Collins type of theist. I'd believe in a god who simply created the universe, then stepped back and let it all happen according to the natural laws, and who then stepped in when the time was right. I'd probably also be spending my time trying to convince other Christians as to the truth of evolution and big bang cosmology. But, I'd have a problem with this because evolution is so necessarily cruel that I cannot imagine any all-loving god deliberately choosing this as his desired way to bring about human beings. So I'd have a theological problem here: I would not logically be able to believe in an all-loving god. My god would have to be capable of cruelty that is not necessary for any reason at least through his indifference to animal suffering. That would actually fit into the character of the angry Old Testament god.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Theist Responds To "How To Destroy Any Theist Making The Moral Argument For God"


A rather ill-informed and logically impaired theist responded to a recently post I made where I showed the proper use of the Euthyphro Dilemma against the moral argument for god. As I wrote in the post, you absolutely must respond to the most common objection that theists will give - that it's a false dilemma and that god is good.

I wrote, "If God is the standard of goodness, by what means can we know this to be true? So we can ask, why is God good?

The theist responds, "Because He is... Good, The only Good is, God(YHWH: The Father and The Son and The Holy Spirit)"

He obviously is not aware of this thing in logic known as circular reasoning. "God is good because he is good" is a textbook example of circular reasoning. We hear this all the time as atheists dealing with logically impaired fundies. They'll say, "The Bible is true because the Bible says it's true." Same circular logic. You can't prove the Bible is true using the Bible, you can't define a word using the same word, and you can't demonstrate god is good by saying god is good, because then the word "good" becomes meaningless, something this theist apparently didn't register when I wrote it. It gets annoying dealing with so many bad arguments for god it's not even funny.

But I continued...

Monday, July 8, 2013

How To Destroy Any Theist Making The Moral Argument For God


I just debated a very incompetent opponent on debate.org over whether the moral argument for god is sound. I hit him with the very well known Euthyphro Dilemma to see if he could handle it—and apparently he couldn't because he almost completely ignored it.

Now when making the Euthyphro, you absolutely must preempt the most common response that theists are going to use—that god is good. If you cover that before they make it, as I have below, then you leave your opponent no room to get out of it, and they're logically backed into a corner.

So the following passage from my debate below is how to do that properly, in case any theist pulls the moral debate on you:

One counter argument to the moral argument is called the Euthyphro Dilemma. It was posed by Socrates 2,400 years ago. It asks, “Is something moral because God commands it, or does God command it because it is moral?” 
The person who believes objective morality is founded in God here has two options. If something is moral because God commands it, then morality is arbitrarily decided by God. God could command that we murder our children or own slaves and it would be good – merely because God said so. The actual commands would be meaningless and we’d have no way to gauge whether something is morally good or not except on whether it was commanded by God. This would be a “might makes right” ideology.

In the other option, God is merely a messenger who alerts us to what is right or wrong independently to whether God exists or not. Morality is not decided by God, God is simply the enforcer of what is naturally right or wrong.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Philosophy & The City



The other day I went to a philosophy Meetup group in Manhattan to mingle with other philosophy-lovers. It always guarantees good conversation, especially when enhanced with strong drink. The topic was "The Big Three - Socrates, Plato and Aristotle". It lead to some interesting conversations about the Euthyphro Dilemma - my favorite one-liner and I think the single most useful bit of philosophy that the ancient wisdom of the Greeks have left us.

What amazes me however when conversing with philosophically minded people in a big, secular, liberal city like New York, is how deeply permeated moral nihilism is. With this one guy I was talking to on morality, I simply asked him what would be morally good. He responded by saying "I don't know. I couldn't tell you that." I pressed further asking him to just give me his opinion of what would be morally right, and again he said, "It's what anyone does, there's no such thing as right or wrong."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Meta-ethics: Moral Realism Vs. Divine Command Theory


Meta-ethics is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the metaphysical, epistemological, semantic and psychological presuppositions and commitments of moral theory and practice. It can be nicely described visually in the following chart:



I personally lean heavily towards moral realism and so my ethical theories fall under cognitivism. The divine command theory of ethics, which in some ways is the antithesis of moral realism, also falls under cognitivism, but is actually sub-categorized under subjectivism, despite its claims to be universal. Let me quickly compare and contrast the two.

Cognitivism is the thesis that moral statements are propositions in that they express beliefs that are either true or false. Let's define moral realism and ethical naturalism along with subjectivism and divine command theory.

Moral Realism:
  • Moral realism is the claim that there are objective moral facts.
  • Ethical naturalism states that moral facts are knowable through and reducible to non-moral facts about the universe and can be determined or understood through empirical observation. 
Subjectivism:
  • Moral subjectivism states that moral facts exist but they are dependent on subjective minds. 
  • Divine command theory states that moral facts are determined by the commandments of god.
Each of these theories has their pros and cons, as do all ethical theories. Let me highlight some of them for each.

Ethical naturalism:
  • Pro: Provides an objective foundation for morality
  • Con: Needs to solve the Is/Ought dilemma and the open question argument
Divine command theory:
  • Pro: Tries to establish moral facts without the problem of moral realism (Is/Ought and the open question argument)
  • Con: Epistemic problem (who can know for sure what god's commands are?), the Euthyphro dilemma, and god's existence is not observable. 

Moral Realism

OK. So now that we've defined each ethical theory and outlined some of their pros and cons we can compare and contrast the two. Under the ethical naturalism branch of moral realism, in order for a moral to truly be objective, it must be based off of facts that are independent of anyone's opinion. So no one's opinion, whether it come from a human mind, the mind of an advanced species of extra-terrestrial alien life, or god's mind, can determine an objective moral fact independently of the motives and consequences of the moral in question. Morality is founded in nature itself, in the real experiences that affect conscious beings, and where our intentions and the effects of our moral actions hold the objective foundation.

When it comes the is Is/Ought dilemma we do have to grant an extra premise to come to the conclusion that an action is moral. For example, consider the following syllogism:

P: Torture is harmful
C: Therefore, torture is wrong

The premise states a fact about the action of torture that it is indeed harmful. That is the non-moral fact that the conclusion is founded on. But how can we conclude that something is morally wrong just because it is harmful? To address the Is/Ought dilemma, we must rationally justify the conclusion by positing another premise. In this case, to conclude that torture is wrong because it is harmful, we must grant that harming someone is wrong. This goes without saying, but you can reach the conclusion that harming someone is wrong by knowing whether or not that person consented to being harmed and whether it will negatively affect them. So now consider the following addition:

P1: Torture is harmful
P2: Harming someone is wrong 
C: Therefore, torture is wrong

The open question argument says that moral facts cannot be reduced to natural properties (i.e. torture is harmful) because any attempt to conclude morality with a set of observable natural properties will always be an open question. So for example consider the syllogism:

P1: If X is good, then the question "Is it true that X is good?" is meaningless.
P2: The question "Is it true that X is good?" is not meaningless (i.e. it is an open question).
C: X is not (analytically equivalent to) good.

The objective morality found in ethical naturalism is not necessarily known a priori, it requires meaningful analysis. The open question argument assumes that "X is good" is knowable by definition. So for example, let's replace "X" with "kindness". 

P1: If kindness is good, then the question "Is it true that kindness is good?" is meaningless. 

I disagree. We cannot know if kindness is good without a meaningful analysis of its intentions and effects. Therefore the first premise of the open question argument might be analytically equivalent to good, and asking whether it is good can be meaningful. 

Divine Command Theory

Now let's turn to divine command theory. According to the theory, god, existing outside time and space reveals to us his moral commandments that determine what is morally right and wrong. Although this theory is classified under subjectivism, proponents claim that it provides a clear objective foundation for moral values and duties that bypasses the Is/Ought dilemma and the open argument dilemma. But it does have several of its own problems. Let's examine them.

The first problem is the epistemic problem. How can we know for sure what god's commands are? There are many competing religions each making their own truth claims, and there are many ways to interpret religious scripture. Also, texts were transcribed through many languages and many bare contradictions and signs of editing. People also claim to hear revelations from god all the time and we have no empirical way to validate any of them. 

Divine command theory proponents would all say that their religious scriptures are the only true messages of god and the others are either partly or wholly fabricated. It is possible to assess a probability factor to all religious texts based on their internal consistency, their metaphysical claims compared to current scientific knowledge, and their historicity compared to archaeological records, but all religious texts essentially fail a validity test on this standard.

Then there's the Euthyphro dilemma. A modern iteration of it asks, "Is something good because god commands it, or does god command it because it is good?" Neither the former or the latter are particularly welcoming to the theist. The former implies that good is arbitrarily determined by god, and the latter implies that good exists external to god, and god is just a mere messenger of the good. 

The most common response to avoid either horn of the dilemma is to say that god is good. The problem with that is that it fails to demonstrate that goodness cannot exist independent of god. For example, an intrinsic property of fire is hotness, but hot can exist independently of fire (i.e. microwaves, friction). Likewise, if goodness is an intrinsic property of god, that doesn't prove that goodness cannot exist independently of god. Also, if god can command something that would otherwise be wrong (i.e. to sacrifice one's first born), then the only factor determining the action's rightness or wrongness is god's commandment at that moment. That would mean that goodness is arbitrarily determined by god's commandments. 

There seems to be no way out of the Euthyphro dilemma, no matter how hard one tries.

Finally, god's existence is not observable and not verifiable. We must take his existence on at least some amount of faith. Unlike moral realism, which is based on observable and analytically verifiable facts, divine command theory might guide us towards values that are not corroborated with facts, and may even run counter to what we know benefits us. And we will be asked that we obey them essentially on faith, which we all know is fraught with problems. 

There seems to be no way to reconcile these problems when judging morals on a case-by-case basis under the divine command theory.

Now is this a totally fair and unbiased analysis of these two ethical theories? No, of course not. I admitted right from the get-go that I'm a moral realist. I've addressed the problems of moral realism and presented some arguments for divine command theory but my conclusion is that given the arguments against each theory, moral realism fairs better overall.

So in conclusion, we must all admit that every ethical theory contains its pros and cons. I certainly believe that moral realism faces challenges, but on analysis, I think its problems are more easily reconcilable than those of the divine command theory.



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*I want to give special thanks to Nykytyne2 who made the following video here that helped inspire this blog posting and whose work I based much of this posts information off of, along with the help of Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 3


The Atheist Goes to College

When I first got to college I immediately took some courses in philosophy. The philosophy of ethics really attracted me in particular. Unfortunately, at the time I was still in my late teens and was entering the beginning of a heavy party phase, and so my grades were sadly not as good as they could’ve been. However, the seed had been planted, and I began to think more deeply about questions of philosophy and ethics than ever before. I remember being in philosophy class one day and the professor asked everyone to raise their hand if they believed in god. To my amazement, almost everyone in class raised their hand. It turned out that I was one of the few, if not the only atheist in the class. Even with this newfound recognition of my minority status, I never felt any serious pressure to conform to those around me when it came to religion or god perhaps because New York is such a secular city. Even though many people in New York believe in god, they generally aren't religious about and it keep it to themselves.

College is traditionally when we truly grow, and as I started making new friends and spent time with a more diverse crowd of people, I learned that religious belief and concepts of “god” were about as diverse as people’s tastes in food and music. I learned that no two people quite believe in the same concept of god. Many friends I made who called themselves “Catholic” were really only Catholic in title. They had premarital sex, used birth control, were pro-choice, they never actually went to church, and on the outside conducted themselves almost indistinguishable from any other secular nontheist. These kinds of people are what I like to call non-religious theists. They technically believe in a god that perhaps intervened a long time ago, but they more or less accept that events that happen in the world are natural, and they aren’t at all religious about their beliefs. I don’t have that much of a problem with these kinds of theists as quite a few of them I have called friends during my life; they’re more like the benign tumors of theism. It’s only if and when they cross the line of secularism that my alarm goes off. So many of those students who raised their hands that day in philosophy class and affirmed their belief in god really just believed in some sort of vague spiritual force or energy that exists somewhere out there, or they believed in some kind of powerful anthropomorphized being they call “God”. It’s another form of relatively benign belief in the supernatural that I can live with, as long as that line of secularism is respected.

Some theists say that colleges are just atheist and secular factories designed to transform good natured god-fearing kids into godless moral relativists. I’ve argued with quite a few of these types over the years, but as I recall, there is a bit of truth to this claim. In my introduction to ethics textbook, which I still have, it does ask the reader to question the source of their morality and we had a few class exercises that challenged the idea of grounding your morals in religion. For example, if you believe that you should do what god says because otherwise he will punish you, we learned in class that in a sense it would turn morality into a mere obedience system whereby the actual “morals” themselves could be meaningless and all that would matter is what you believe god commands you. God could command you to plunder and kill, and you would be obligated to do so unless face his punishment. This was my first introduction to what I would later learn is called the Euthyphro Dilemma and it was the first time I had thought about morality in such a way. Most college students who came from religious backgrounds who were confronted with this dilemma I’m sure have had to reconsider why they believe it’s good to obey god. These kinds of courses do force the theist to reexamine their beliefs and I suppose that is why many theists think colleges exist only to churn out godless secularists. As a non believer, was never challenged in college on the metaphysical grounding of my beliefs, but I was challenged often as to why I hold certain ethical views – but that was the whole point of the class. Contrary to what many theists presume, we were never taught the idea that moral relativism was the solution to all of the world’s problems.

While cleaning my apartment I came across some old college term papers from one of my philosophy classes. There was an assignment where we had to create a mock trial whereby we were to imagine ourselves being accused like Socrates was in The Apology of blasphemy or some sort of thought crime and we were to write a transcript of the trial’s proceedings. So (naturally) I imagined myself living in a world where atheism was a crime and I was put on trial and asked to justify my lack of belief in god. In it, I explain to the prosecutor why I’m an atheist:


I myself am an Atheist, I don't think religion is evil, I understand it has many good aspects of it, but I just do not have a place for it in my life. Let us say for example I didn't live in this era and place of religious freedom. I probably wouldn't be an Atheist, but lets [sic] say I was in a time and place where Atheists faced punishment or even death. I am accused by the authority for not believing in God. My devotion to Atheism is so that I am willing to [face] whatever punishment they have for me, even death.

Pros [Prosecutor]: So you began to question the very existence of God. Was there a particular moment in your life when you began to question God, such as a traumatic event or was it a gradual process?
Me: It was a gradual process. I didn't wake up one morning and say "I don't believe in God." I guess as I got older I just didn't except the explanations religion gives you. I mean it's so vague.
Pros: So you weren't convinced from what you were taught as a child. And I’m assuming you have your own theory and beliefs of how the world was created. What is it that you believe in?
Me: Evolution.
Pros: Evolution. I see. I've heard of this theory. Something about how we humans, are descendents from Monkeys.
Me: Yes, and it was the Apes not the Monkeys.
Pros: And this is what you believe in? You are positively sure that evolution is true.
Me: From the evidence I have see, yes, and it makes a whole lot more sense to me than religion had.

It's funny how I justified the world's existence through evolution, which not only does it not address the origin of the universe, it doesn't even address the origin of life itself! At nineteen, I wasn't as knowledgeable about the cosmological arguments or any of the other ones which theism uses. (That didn't stop me from getting an A on the paper though.)


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Friday, February 15, 2013

A Case For Secular Morality: Objective Morality Without God



A Case For Secular Morality

Objective Morality Without God




It is commonly believed especially by those of religious faith that any form of secular morality is doomed to total cultural and moral relativism where morality is regarded as nothing more than a cultural byproduct and a matter of opinion. It always seemed obvious to me at least that morality was more than just a mere convention of culture and the purpose of this paper is to make the case that in the absence of god, a simple case for objective morality can be made. 




Introduction

If you’re a person living without the belief in god you may have at times been challenged that you can’t have any kind of objective foundation for your morality. This is almost always done by someone who believes in god. I’ve personally heard this accusation made over and over again and have noticed that it is one of the most popular talking points of theists. I’ve always been the kind of person who thought that the idea of total moral relativism - the idea that no objective standard can exist to measure morality, was false. To me, there clearly were better and worse morals, but many theists who I was debating with kept to the belief that without god all morality was solely a matter of opinion and relative to cultural norms.

We live in a world of cultural and religious pluralism, and a climate of political correction persuades us to tread cautiously on the topic of other people’s beliefs. Nowhere is this more evident than in the public schools and universities. As a result of this, many argue that a culture of moral relativism has grown where everyone is forced to respect one another’s values and beliefs because to judge or criticize them would be deemed offensive. Political correction therefore coerces us into thinking that every system of ethics is all equally valid and no better or worse than any other, just different. What this constraint does, is it prevents people from engaging in the kind of moral discourse that is necessary to have a complete understanding of ethics.

After having studied philosophy, I began digging into the arguments made for and against objective morality. And over the years I have come to the conclusion that an objective standard for morality exists just as an objective standard for truth exists. My primary goals in this paper will be to (1) define morality and its natural foundations; and (2) provide an objective standard for moral values. I will not be trying to provide a comprehensive philosophy of ethics or to make a case for any specific moral or ethical philosophies. Instead, I will focus on making the case for how without god we are not doomed to total socio-cultural moral relativism.


A Case for Secular Morality

Part I


1. What is morality?

Imagine a universe devoid of all life. In this universe there are stars shining, quasars pulsating, and septillions of rocks smashing into each other, but not a single specimen of life anywhere to experience it. Such a universe would also be a universe devoid of all morality. For if planets collide, stars explode, and back holes devour entire worlds and there is no life to be affected by these events, there isn't a moral component to this universe. So therefore we can say that at some very basic and fundamental level, morality has to concern living things. Living things must exist, because life can respond physically and emotionally where it can either benefit or suffer at the result of actions that happen to it. And the higher the level of sentiment of the creature, that is to say, the more conscious it is to respond and be aware of its environment, the more sensitive it will be to external actions that affect it. Therefore, it would logically follow that if morality depends on life, the more sensitive and consciously aware a living being is, the greater the moral concern should be with regards to actions that affect them.

So a very broad definition of morality can be the distinction between right and wrong as it relates to conscious beings, with right actions being those that intend to positively affect conscious beings, and wrong actions being those that intend to negatively affect conscious beings when it cannot be avoided. When we call something morally wrong, what are we actually saying? We are saying that someone is intentionally negatively affecting another conscious being or that someone is unnecessarily causing harm, suffering, pain, or death to another conscious being. I say unnecessarily because it is very important. Living things must compete with one another over finite resources. If you and I are both trying to get the same parking spot, and I get it and you don’t, I will have technically caused harm in your life. But, since there is a finite amount of everything, we must all compete at some level and this means in order to conduct our lives regularly, we must do necessary harm to one another. Killing someone in self defense when there is no other alternative is another example of a necessary harm. Necessary harm is not born out of evil intention, it’s more like an inconvenience and is not intended to harm beyond what is reasonable. In order for an action to be morally wrong, it must be deliberate and intended to cause harm when there is no threat to yourself. An action that is the result of good intentions that accidentally causes harm is not morally wrong, since we cannot always know the consequences of all our actions. For example, if I offer you some food that I cooked and you eat it and have an allergic reaction and become seriously ill, my intentions were good despite the harmful consequences. So the consequences of our actions cannot be the only thing we consider for evaluating morality, our intentions are just as important.

There was a lot of controversy among theists surrounding the release of Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values that among other things he just defines morally “good” to mean "that which supports well-being" and is in effect guilty of some kind of wordplay[i]. Well first, many theists define the word “good” in moral terms simply to mean that which is obedient to god’s commandments. In other words, the actual morals themselves may mean nothing; the only thing that matters is whether god commanded it, even if it deliberately increases suffering. This is itself a kind of wordplay to make morality compliant with divine command theory. Second, I would actually disagree here slightly with Sam Harris' definition of “good” as that which supports well-being. Rather, I say a better definition of good and evil in moral terms would be the one I provided above, that good morals are actions that intend to positively affect conscious beings, and evil morals are actions that intend to negatively affect conscious beings when it cannot be avoided. This way, good morals result in the well-being and flourishing of conscious life, but good and evil are not to be confused with the flourishing itself, as some critics have tried to conflate.


1.1. What is morality founded on?

Given a definition of morality that concerns what positively and negatively affects conscious beings, what is secular morality founded on? Under a secular and naturalist view, there is nothing transcendent that exists outside this universe that is intelligent and that has control over things that happen in our universe. Ontologically, morality is not grounded in the existence of any spiritual beings, and to the naturalist this very idea seems ridiculous. If the theist thinks objective moral values are founded on the existence of god, he has to explain how moral values and actions like love, kindness, fairness, and generosity would not positively affect beings in a universe with no god, or how these actions would somehow be different. Imagine if there were two identical universes with the same exact laws of physics existing side by side. One universe is created by an omniscient god, and the other came into being naturally. In these two universes, moral values and actions like love, kindness, fairness, and generosity would have the same exact affect towards living things and that of course includes human beings. Therefore, morality is founded in nature itself, in real experiences that affect conscious beings, and where our intentions and the effects of moral actions hold the objective foundation.

So what is it about the idea that god must exist in order for there to be objective “good” and “bad” morals? I see no such need. The theist who says that without god all morality is subjective or just a behavioral pattern conducive to a species’ well-being, is in a way saying that it’s only a matter of opinion or only relative to a particular species. My goal here is to give a fair establishment for an objective foundation and standard of ethics that are not subject to anyone’s opinion. However, our morality is relative to our species. No one is going to argue that our ethical codes of conduct apply to how animals treat each other; they’re only relevant to how human beings treat other human beings and animals. So yes our morals are relative to our species and there’s no reason to think that they must apply to every living being in order to be objective. Even Christians will agree that the 10 Commandments do not apply to animals.

One might say that morality is relative to culture and the time in history. I've spoken with many atheists who believe that right and wrong morals do not even exist, and that all morality is just something that cultures make up. I couldn’t disagree any more. Imagine a culture that decides murder, rape and stealing are good and allows anyone to commit these acts anytime they want. Picture a war-torn third world country employing this, where gangs of young men go around stealing, raping and killing anything they want. There is no way that you can tell me that these moral values wouldn't increase the level of suffering and misery amongst its people. And you cannot say that this society’s moral values would be just as good as ours or anyone else’s. That would be an epic failure of truth over political correction.

If you take the position that your morals are just a product of your environment and are therefore not any better or worse than anyone else’s, and if you’re challenged to justify your moral values, are you actually going to say that they’re justified because “everyone else around me thinks so” or “because my religion says so”? I highly doubt it. In order to justify any set of morals rationally, you have to make a case demonstrating why they’re good, productive or beneficial to conscious beings and whether or not they seek to avoid unnecessary misery. When doing so, we will be able to establish to what degree they increase human welfare and well-being, or decrease suffering and misery. Therefore, there exists an objective standard that can determine any moral code against any other.

Another criticism I have of Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape is that it is not possible with science alone to determine moral values - that requires some degree of philosophy. Philosophy is needed to complete any system of ethics, but those ethics need to be informed by the latest and most accurate data science can give us. Science gives us the “is” because it’s descriptive, and philosophy gives us the “ought” because it’s prescriptive. David Hume’s is/ought dilemma is much understood. It’s not that we can’t derive an ought from an is, we just have to rationally justify it when we do. I think I've made that case by noting that since morality can only exist when living conscious beings exist, morality is axiomatically tied into the well-being of conscious life, and so logically, the greater the consciousness of the beings, the greater the severity of moral concern. From this we can derive that we ought to concern ourselves with the welfare of conscious beings (especially us) since we are capable of moral responsibility.

When I began studying philosophy and ethics I remember one of the first criticisms we were taught regarding the foundation of morality, was how precarious a divine command system operates using a punishment/reward basis to do what’s right. The theist thinks to himself that he ought to do what god says because god will punish him if he doesn’t. In other words, god’s ability to reward and punish gives the theist the basis for what we ought to do. This is more or less how most theists see the “is/ought” problem resolved especially in Islam and Catholicism, while other theists say that god is very paradigm of goodness, and so this “is” statement necessitates that we obey his commands.

The divine command system of ethics is problematic for many reasons I don’t have the space to fully critique here, but it is worth mentioning that moral commandments that are issued by god may not appeal to what is in our best well-being at all, and indeed many actually increase unnecessary harm. The belief that it’s a good idea that one should do what god says or else they’ll face the consequences also diminishes the principle of the morals themselves. Furthermore, if reason takes us towards moral truths that conflict with what is believed to be commanded by god, how is the theist to decide what’s best? If the theist is expected to choose revelation over reason, and purposely do what will knowingly result in more harm, less well-being, and a reversal of moral progress because he thinks it will make god happy and offer him reward in the afterlife, then we really should question why we ought to do such a thing. If in the end all the theist is worrying about is avoiding punishment and seeking reward in the afterlife, morality then becomes a mere game where people are only looking out for the pursuance of pleasure, and goodness itself cannot be founded in god.


1.2. Where is the objectivity in the secular case for morality?

Imagine that I’m trying to boil water to make a cup of tea, but I don’t know how. So I ask a few friends for ideas. One friend of mine thinks he knows how. He says, “Take the water, and dump a bunch of ice in it, and if it doesn’t start boiling immediately, continue adding more ice.” Another friend says, “Stare at the water intensely and using your mind, try to make it boil.” Now it doesn’t take a genius to realize that neither of these attempts will succeed in making the water boil, because the laws of physics just don’t work that way. So we can objectively say that adding ice and staring at water intensely are not good ways to make water boil. If I want to make water boil, I have to add heat. I can put the water over fire, I can put it in a microwave, or I can put something very hot in it or near it. There are many ways to make water boil, but adding ice is definitely not one of them. So we can say that objectively, there are better and worse ways to achieve the goal of getting water to boil.

Perhaps we could debate over just exactly what are the best ways to get water to boil the quickest, the easiest and the way that requires the least amount of energy. That also may differ depending on the situation. When it comes to ethical issues, I see morality in much the same way. There are objectively better and worse ways that we can practice ethics that will promote the common well-being and decrease unnecessary harm and suffering. We can debate over exactly what actions, rules and laws will best materialize this, but the fact remains that there are better and worst ways to achieve this goal that are truthful from an objective standpoint and are not merely relegated to the domain of human opinion. And even if we don't know what ethics best suite this goal, they'll always exist independently in theory waiting to be discovered and put to practice.

Imagine again that society I mentioned earlier that decides murder, rape and theft are good. The relativist would say “Who are we to judge their morals? Whatever morals they decide on are just as good as ours. It’s all relative.” Now I would say, that it is simply not a matter of opinion whether a society that embraces murder, rape and theft, is going to increase the amount of misery and suffering. If murder is “good” and allowed, people will murder out of spite or even out of fun. Families will then grieve, people might retaliate, and a never ending cycle of blood and vengeance will ensue guaranteeing misery and suffering for all involved. So I think we can make an objective case that this society’s morals are not “just as good as ours” because moral actions have effects, and we can determine whether these effects increase or decrease suffering and misery.

Now imagine someone who is not concerned with alleviating suffering and misery - imagine they actually want to create suffering and misery because it gives them pleasure. Well secular morality is not going to offer you a cosmic police officer or judge that is going to stop or punish a person like this in some life after death. All we have to do is recognize that a person who wants to harm others is going to violate the other person’s right not to be harmed, and this will increase suffering. The pleasure a sadist gets from harming someone else does not cancel out the suffering that the victim must endure. If anyone says so, they should volunteer to be the next victim of a serial killer. In all practicality, when dealing with people who want to harm others, they will have to be stopped and punished by the actions of other human beings. Even with the idea of god, a person committed to harming others is going to do so regardless in this world, and will ultimately have to be stopped by the actions of other human beings (not considering natural forces and animals).

If you were to define objective moral values as “being valid and binding, independently of human opinion” then we will only partly disagree. I would agree that something objective must be so independently of human opinion, but under the secular terms that I have presented, they are not binding to anyone by any kind of force that exists outside of man or nature. As I said earlier, there is no cosmic police officer that binds you to any particular morals. And if you think about it, neither does theism. A police officer can stop you in the midst of a crime before you actually committed it. But if god were to stop anyone from committing a sin, he’d have to violate our free will which is necessary for us to be judged. So theism cannot offer you a cosmic police officer without contradicting its own necessary standards. What about a cosmic judge? If we are bound and judged according to god’s standards, this would not necessarily say anything about whether those standards increase or decrease suffering and misery. For example, god could command that you can never eat pork for no other reason than because he says so. He can command that you can’t eat meat on Friday, and that you can’t eat fish on Tuesday. He can then change all these rules arbitrarily whenever he wants, rendering the actual rules themselves meaningless as to whether their effects produce harm or not. God could even command you to kill another group of people and take their land and possessions and punish you if you don’t do it. Thus, under this definition of objective morality, the morals themselves mean nothing except whether they are or aren't commanded by god at any given time. All this does is leave you with divine command theory.

Now what if a god uses the same standards by which I am measuring morality, and commands morals that are maximally designed to decrease suffering and misery and increase well-being and happiness in every situation? First, this would be a much better god than the one described in any religion made up so far. Second, if you are familiar with the Euthyphro Dilemma by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato in his dialogue The Euthyphro, it poses the moral question, “Is something morally good because god commands it, or does god command it because it is morally good?” In this case, god commands these morals because they are good - they positively benefit the beings affected by them. As such, god is completely irrelevant as to whether these morals are right and wrong - they are either right or wrong independently of whether god exists or not.

To make the case that objective morals must be grounded in the existence of god, you have to show how the same morals would not produce the same effects without god, given the same set of axioms. The only logical reason why we would say any moral is right or wrong, would be in assessing the motives, principles and consequences behind them. To say god’s commandments determine objective moral values reduces you into believing that “might” makes “right”, and that the actual morals themselves can be meaningless. Thus god’s existence is not necessary to ground morality or to have objective morality.

But since this is the most important distinction between theistic and atheistic disagreements on objective morality, let me expound a bit further. A common response to the Euthyphro Dilemma above by theists is to try to sneak in a third option and say that god is good. In other words, what they’re trying to say is that the “Good” Plato speaks of in The Republic, is not independent of god, “Good” is god, and since goodness flows from god, his commandments constitute what is right and wrong. This is problematic on so many levels. Let me explain.

  1. First, defining god as the source of “good” is mere theological wordplay. It doesn't demonstrate that “good” cannot exist independently of god. Even if goodness is an essential property of god, it is a property that can apply to other things independently of god’s existence. Just think of how being hot is an essential property of fire – fire must be hot, it cannot be cold. But “hot” can apply to many other things independently of fire. For example, microwaves cause things to be hot and so does friction.
  2. Second, why call something good? Epistemologically, we know in the moral sense that certain things are good because they positively benefit beings affected by them. Moral actions like love, kindness, fairness, and generosity positively benefit all beings affected by them, not just physically but emotionally as well. That’s why they're morally good. If the theist thinks objective moral values are founded on the existence of god, he has to explain how these moral actions would not positively affect beings in a universe with no god, or how these actions would somehow be different enough that their goodness could be considered subjective. All things being equal, in a godless universe the affects of morally good actions would be exactly the same. Therefore, these morals are good in and of themselves and do not require the existence or the commands of a deity to make them objectively good.
  3. The theist cannot escape the Euthyphro Dilemma no matter how hard he tries. Take for example the biblical story of Abraham who god commands to sacrifice his son (Gen 22:5-12). Most Jews, Christians and Muslims agree that it would have been immoral for Abraham to have decided on his own to sacrifice his son for god and what made it moral was solely determined by god’s command. Also in the Old Testament, god commands the Jews to exterminate the Midianite peoples (except for the young virgin girls) and he awards the Jews their property (Num 31:2-18)Most Christians at least think it would have been immoral if the Jews had decided to take upon this genocidal conquest on their own, but here again god’s commanding of it makes it moral for the Jews to physically commit these acts. What these two examples illustrate, is that if something is immoral on its own and only becomes moral if god commands it, or vice versa, then the sole factor separating the morality or immorality of the action, is god’s command. This also means that god cannot be following an absolute and non-arbitrary morality: If something is morally good because god commands it, it must also be morally good if you do it on your own, because otherwise if performing these morals on your own wouldn’t be good unless god commands it, it means you take the first horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma - that something is morally good because god commands it. One objection I've heard to this is that god himself is actually physically doing the killing vicariously through people when he commands it. But believing that god is doing the killing when he commands it to people, as deplorable as that is, still doesn't get you out of the problem of why killing (or anything else) becomes justified or morally right for people to do when god commands it. For the people who act because they believe god is commanding them, their justification for committing what would otherwise be considered immoral acts, is justified to them because they believe god gave them that authority. Hence, they are appealing to the authority - given by god's commands.

So as I've repeatedly argued, goodness and its counterpart, evil, would exist in the absence of god because they are naturally founded in the real experiences that affect conscious beings. All that is needed is the same given set of axioms that our universe contains such as the same laws of physics, and conscious life like human beings. And if you try to arbitrarily conjure up hypothetical possible words with different laws of physics where they somehow make what positively affects conscious beings in this world turn out to harm them instead, you'll have to rationally justify why god would apply the same morals that benefit us, in this other world too. The divine command theory of ethics that many theists subscribe to neglects the unnecessary harm it can cause in some situations, and it can turn morality into a mere game of seeking reward and avoiding punishment in some promised afterlife. It can also cause its adherents to fail to recognize the best reason to do what is morally right - which is for it's own sake. And finally, even if all of god’s commandments were perfectly conducive to promoting everything good for our individual and collective well-being, this morality would still exist independently to god. Objective moral values therefore, exist independently of god.

Part II


2. Objective Morals vs. Absolute Morals

Having established a definition of and objective foundation for morality, it’s important to address some common concerns regarding it. A lot is discussed contrasting objective and absolute morality. Although I make a case here for objective morals, I don’t do so for absolute morals. First let’s take a look at some definitions of moral absolutism:

Moral absolutism is an ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of other circumstances such as their consequences or the intentions behind them.

In moral philosophy, such a position maintains that actions of a specific sort are always right (or wrong) independently of any further considerations, thus rejecting the consequentialist effort to evaluate them by their outcomes.

Given these definitions, I don’t argue for moral absolutism for the following reason. To better explain, I will make use of my earlier analogy of trying to make water boil for a cup of tea. Imagine if I had a stove nearby, then the easiest and most convenient way to get the water to boil would be to put it in a pot on the stove, but if I was outside in the woods and had no stove, I might have to make a fire and boil the water that way. If all I had was a microwave and no stove, putting the water in the microwave would be the best way to boil it. So as we can see, the best way to get the water to boil depends on the given circumstances of the situation. There is no absolute rule that says I must always use one method over another no matter the situation. The same is true when it comes to morality: Different circumstances will lead to different ways to prevent unnecessary harm and increase well-being and happiness.

What this means is that morality is situationally relative and the theist who disagrees and believes in moral absolutes, I would say, hasn't really paid attention to his religion enough. For example, Christianity and Islam both have internal contradictory morals. Christians and Muslims try to explain away these contradictions, by saying god abrogates morality as he sees fit whenever it is necessary to do so. That means that a particular moral isn’t really absolute, since god can modify or command the opposite moral at anytime. When I point out the cruel and gut-wrenching morals in the Old Testament, many Christians will say that those morals were relative to those people at that time and those places mentioned, and that these morals no longer apply to anyone alive today. In other words, what they’re saying is that morality is relative to people, time and place. Most theists would also say that killing has some exceptions, at least in the case of self-defense. This means most theists are actually saying that morality is relative to people, time and place and situation. Most theists don’t really like to admit this because I think they know it makes their morality look like relativism on paper. But in truth, I rarely ever meet someone who actually believes that there is a strict absolute morality that must be followed regardless of the situation and even if it will knowingly increase suffering and harm to others.


2.1. What is moral progress?

If we can recognize that the basis for morality is concerned with what benefits and unnecessarily harms conscious beings, we are set to develop a moral code. Moral codes have changed with time, and differ from culture to culture. In almost every society it was once considered moral to practice slavery, now every society officially condemns the practice. This is an example of moral progress. Progress is the continued improvement towards a goal or destination. To have moral progress then, it is necessary to have a stated moral goal that you wish to move toward. The problem here, is that many moral philosophies have different moral goals. In Islam for example, the moral goal might be to eventually have everyone living according to Islamic law or Sharia. In Islamic morality, there is no stated goal to have everyone acting in accordance with producing the least amount of harm and producing the most amount of good. Islam, like many religions, contain within it morals that do unnecessarily produce harm and that are also considered morally good by its followers.

So given these opposed moral goals, is it possible to even have moral progress? I can only argue that from an objective standpoint, a moral goal that seeks to maximize good, and minimize harm, will be more apt at maximizing good and minimizing harm, and all opposing moral goals will not. So for example, the United State’s founding documents the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, outline individual liberty championed by such enlightenment philosophers as John Locke, because it was recognized that a society where the king, the government or the ruling class constricts the individual freedoms and liberties of its citizens, is a society that is not maximizing the well-being of its people.

So given a moral goal to maximize well-being and minimize harm and suffering, what tools can we use to aide moral progress? For one thing, we can employ the unrestricted use of reason, logic and science. We won’t always know exactly what does maximize our well-being, and we might have to try many different methods and see what works best. But given this truth, using science, along with our critical thinking faculties will help us discover the best moral codes to live by that produce our stated goal.


2.2. Will we ever have a perfect morality?

In order to have a perfect moral code given our stated moral goal, we would have to have all the knowledge of the laws of physics, biology, and know the full outcomes of every action we make. Such knowledge may always be out of our reach, and therefore any moral code will in some very basic way, be always in need of continued improvement or progress. This is why moral progress is necessary and beneficial towards a proper moral code. Moral codes that forbid any progress, or any reconsideration or reinterpretation of their morals, such as the moral philosophies of religions, are defective right from the start. This is why it would greatly increase the harm of a society if any one religion’s morals were followed in a literal fashion according to the scripture.


2.3. How do you define well-being?

“Well-being” is not as simple a concept as you might think, but we all intuitively feel that we know what is. We might say that having good health, a home, economic mobility, basic fundamental freedoms, a family, a network of loved ones, and a feeling of accomplishment constitutes general well-being and leads to happiness. But consider also that what makes us happy is not necessarily what’s good for us. For example, we might feel happy binging on fast food and shooting heroine, but we all know this is not good for us in the long term. Even the ancient Greek hedonistic philosophy of Epicurus maintained that only seeking short term pleasure should not be life’s goal because of its obvious self-destruction and neglect of the more pleasurable long term goals[ii]. In other words, it is best that pleasure is sought in moderation with long term goals in mind, that way it can last as long as possible. Also, pleasure can be obtained in seeking wisdom and in acts of compassion towards others.

Imagine living in a strict authoritarian State where you’re only allowed to do what contributes to good health and longevity. You can only eat healthy foods; smoking, alcohol and all vices are banned and everyone is required to exercise an hour a day. Failure to comply with these laws will result in severe punishment. Now in such an Orwellian state we will have no freedom to live our lives the way we want to, we won’t be able to make any lifestyle choices – the State will have made all of them for us. We can see that what may indeed be good for us, should largely be a choice we make on our own. The best governments promote well-being by allowing free access to information that the people use to make their own free choices in life.

Systems where government acts like “big brother” and forces the people to do what it thinks is best almost always fail. When one’s freedom of choice is so severely restricted, freedom ceases to exist at all. We need only to look at the contemporary example of North and South Korea to see two widely different governmental systems and their effects on the well-being of their people.

I’m not particularly worried about establishing exactly what well-being is, because in some ways it’s subjective to the individual. One man’s sense of pleasure is another man’s pain. I am more concerned with how we allow people’s ideas of their own well-being to flourish. Therefore, promoting well-being can take the form of allowing free access of information and lifestyle choice regarding the consequences it will have on one own's health and condition. If people make bad choices, they suffer the consequences themselves but they were given the freedom to do so. As long as their freedom of choice doesn't infringe on the equal freedom of others, the principle of freedom and equality are justified. To live in a society where the State or religious authorities decide what’s best for you, such as in the theocracies of the Muslim majority world, is to surrender your freedom to choose what’s best for yourself and have someone else decide for you. Considering the limitations in such a strict society, the problems with well-being are evident in the people’s desires to be free.

There is a huge difference of course with how one treats themself with how one treats others. With morality we're mostly concerned with how we treat each other, not ourselves. As such, how do we know what positively benefits others? Everyone's needs and responses are slightly different, so we can never know what benefits everyone in every situation. However, our biological similarities are enough for us to know what is most likely a benefit or a harm to other people's well-being.

So regardless of what theory of well-being you subscribe to, what allows any of them to be followed through is having the freedom to make that choice for yourself. What helps people make the right choices in life is met with having free access to the most accurate information regarding health and lifestyle options. Freedom of information and choice therefore are both necessary for overall well-being.


2.4. Who or what should have its well-being maximized?

When we consider a moral goal towards maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures, how do we decide who or what creatures should be worthy of this consideration? Well earlier, I mentioned that consciousness through the senses is an important factor when considering the ethical treatment of a living creature. Given this standard, it logically concludes that since human beings have the greatest cognitive faculties concerning consciousness, emotion, reason, empathy and compassion that we are aware of, the greatest ethical considerations should be with the treatment of human beings. And from this, through scientific inquiry we can learn to the best of our ability the same levels of consciousness in all other living things and categorize the ethical treatment of animals, fish and insects accordingly.

But even this does not get us around the concept of speciesism. Speciesism is having a bias in favor of your own species. Humans naturally care about fellow humans more than other species, horses naturally care about other horses more, and dolphins naturally care about other dolphins more etc. When we are threatened by another species, or must compete with another species, and when our survival is at stake, we will all naturally adhere to speciesism and will consider killing the another species that threatens us. For example, most people will give no second thoughts to killing a dog that seriously threatens their lives or the killing of millions of rodents that are known to be spreading harmful diseases. When a species’ very survival is threatened by another, it is justified to kill members of that other species in self defense, just as it would be justified to kill another human being in self defense.

So when we consider the well-being of conscious creatures, we must take into consideration several things. The first is the level of sentience or consciousness the species has, and second is whether or not this species is a threat to our survival and well-being. Recognizing the species’ relationship within the intricate web of the ecosystem is also necessary so that if we have to eradicate significant populations in order to ensure our survival, we do so only to a degree that is necessary without a disruption of the natural order. This means that the ethical consideration and treatment of animals will be paramount even when we eat them.


2.5. What is evil?

Evil can be scientifically defined to be a quality that lacks empathy or compassion. In every evil situation you can think of, there will be a living being demonstrating a lack of empathy or compassion towards another. The living being lacking empathy and compassion must have the ability to empathize and be compassionate and the rationale to apply it. So when a lion tears apart a zebra, it’s not being evil because the lion doesn’t have the cognitive capacity to empathize with the zebra’s plight; the lion merely acts from instinct (and hunger). Since it’s recognized that human beings have the greatest capacity for empathy and compassion that we know of, it means that when we’re wantonly cruel and lack empathy and compassion towards the beings at our mercy, we are committing an act of evil. This also concludes that human beings have the greatest capacity for evil of all known species and thus the greatest moral responsibility.


2.6. Moral Values

Defining morality and its natural foundation does not get us out of the values dilemma. That is to ask, “Why should we value human well-being, or any well-being? Why shouldn't we just look out for our own selfish interests?” A value denotes something’s worth. Moral values are the moral codes and principles that we consider worthy. Moral values are pluralistic, meaning different people hold to different sets of values that may conflict with other people’s values. For example, one society may value things like liberty, freedom, and individual rights, and another may value adherence to a certain set of strict prohibitions with no freedom to do or say otherwise.

If it’s evident that one value system leads to greater overall well-being, why should we value this system more than another? Since our biological nature is that of a social species, it’s in our best interests that the society around us is healthy. It was said that no man is an island unto himself. Individually we are usually better off if we also are better off collectively, but that's not always the case. Why should any one individual of any values system conform to values that go against their personal interests? When dealing with people like this we must appeal to reason and explain that the competing personal interests of others might harm them and prevent even their basic interests from being met. Therefore we can maximize the common interests when we all behave in such a way conducive to bringing this about, even though that may mean we have to sacrifice some of our personal interests. If an appeal to reason doesn't work, if the person is unreasonable, we will not be able to convince them that they should do what is in the common good. But simply because everyone isn’t convinced to behave in a way that supports the greater well-being doesn't mean we have failed. To say as a last resort that the selfish must behave in accordance to the common good because god commands they do, is just an appeal to authority. This may also not convince everyone to behave accordingly. So it seems that between atheism and theism, arguing why we should embrace moral values will either need to be administered with an appeal to reason or with an appeal to authority. Considering this, the non-theistic approach I dare day is more attuned with maturity.


2.7. Isn’t this just consequentialism?

For those of you who are philosophically trained, you might be thinking that all the points on morality I’ve thus far made are basically just consequentialism or utilitarianism, whereby the rightness or wrongness of an action is solely determined by its consequences. While there are strong elements of consequentialism in the case for objective moral standards I’ve made, I’m not asking you to commit yourself to any one particular theory of ethics. I like to think of ethics using the tool box analogy: no one tool is going to fix every problem, so it’s best to have an array of tools at your disposal.

Consequentialism certainly has its problems. For example, if torturing suspected terrorists could get us information that might save the lives of hundreds, thousands or millions of people, a strict consequentialist would say it is moral then to do so. And if torture is not enough, then why not torture the suspect’s family? If that’s not enough why not start killing his family members one by one until he gives up what information we need? As you can see, if you think about morality only in terms of consequences, you will be willing to do anything to anyone as long as there is a potential to benefit more. Most of us know this can lead down a slippery slope towards a possible system in which your organs are taken from you without your consent to save the lives of several people who are each in desperate need of one of them. And no one wants to live in that world.

If we were to have to violate individual liberty and well-being to save the larger number, we would feel that our individual lives mean nothing but as a means to justify someone’s end. Individual freedom and the right to life (as outlined in the Declaration of Independence) makes us feel that we are not just another brick in the wall; it means we are each unique individuals and are recognized as such. The reason America’s founding fathers are recognized to be so great, is that they knew when they inscribed America’s founding documents that the rights and dignity of the individual, which had been so thoroughly oppressed under the monarchies of Europe, was absolutely necessary to individual and collective well-being.


2.8. The Practical Application of Morality

Another popular criticism of secular morality is that different cultures practice different moral values, and when they conflict with other cultures, there is no clear way to resolve the problem. Although it’s certainly true that in practice, moral relativism exists, it’s also true that people who ground their morality in the existence of a god also disagree with others who do the same, and because of this, it’s often more difficult to reconcile disagreements when you feel that god is on your side. Religious morality sometimes doesn't appeal at all to pragmatism, reason or to rationality. Instead, its morals quite often are believed to be true simply because they are believed to have come from god[iii]. Therefore, systems of moral values that appeal to reason have the best chances of compromise when in conflict with others that disagree. The knowledge of an objective moral standard aligned with what best reduces unnecessary harm and what positively benefits the conscious beings affected by it will be available to all who are willing to use reason. Those who are beholden to ideology and divine command and are not willing to do what is most rational and what makes best moral sense, are often those who are the most religious.



Part III

3. Conclusion

It’s often hard to sum up arguments made about morality that fit sound byte formats when put on the spot. Even though I am not trying to make a complete case for a theory of ethics here, there is simply so much that could be written on the topic that I couldn't possibly detail every aspect and nuance without having to write an entire book. I hope that I have provided enough arguments that justify why moral value systems are not all equal, and that we can compare them using an objective standard bereft of any reference to god. And I hope that I’ve convinced you, if you weren't already, that grounding morality in god via a divine command theory of ethics is fraught with problems that often lead to irrational and unjustifiable morals. So let me summarize for the sound byte era, my main arguments.

  • Morality is the distinction between right and wrong as it relates to conscious beings, with right actions being those that intend to positively affect conscious beings, and wrong actions being those that intend to negatively affect conscious beings when it cannot be avoided.   
  • Morality is founded in nature itself, in the real experiences that affect conscious beings, and where our intentions and the effects of moral actions hold the objective foundation. Good morals like love, kindness, fairness and generosity would have the same exact affect towards living things without god and are therefore good in and of themselves.  
  • In order to justify any set of morals rationally, you have to make a case demonstrating why they’re good, productive or beneficial to conscious beings and whether or not they seek to avoid unnecessary misery. When doing so, we will be able to establish to what degree they increase human welfare and well-being, or decrease suffering and misery. This becomes part of the objective standard.  
  • Evil can be scientifically defined to be a quality that lacks empathy or compassion.  
  • Different circumstances will lead to different ways to prevent unnecessary harm and increase well-being and happiness, therefore moral absolutism is not the same as objective morality and is not necessary to have an objective moral standard and can even be counter.  
  • Since morality can only exist when living conscious beings exist, morality is axiomatically tied into the well-being of conscious beings, and so logically, the greater the consciousness of the beings, the greater the severity of moral concern. From this we can derive that we ought to concern ourselves with the welfare of conscious beings since we are capable of moral responsibility.  
  • The divine command theory of ethics that many theists subscribe to neglects the unnecessary harm they can cause in some situations.  
  • Moral commandments that are issued by god may not appeal to what is in our best well-being at all, indeed many actually increase unnecessary harm.  
  • If the theist is expected to choose revelation over reason, and purposely do what will knowingly result in more harm, less well-being, and a reversal of moral progress because he thinks it will make god happy and offer him reward in the afterlife, morality becomes a mere game where people are only looking out for the pursuance of pleasure, and therefore goodness itself cannot be founded in god.

References


[i] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (New York: Free Press, 2010), 12.

[ii] Epicurus, "Letter to Menoecues," 

"When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul. Of all this the beginning and the greatest good is wisdom."

[iii]  J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford University Press, 1982), 240-262

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