Monday, October 31, 2011

Atheists with judgmentalism issues

One of the reasons celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins says he refuses to debate Christian apologist William Lane Craig is that Craig, according to Dawkins, is "a deplorable apologist for genocide" because of Craig's explanation of the Old Testament passages on the Hebrew invasion of Canaan.

These atheists are so judgmental anymore. You'd think they believed in some absolute, universal morality or something.

87 comments:

KyCobb said...

Opposition to theocratic genocide is simply enlightened self-interest. After all, the groups most likely to be exterminated are despised minorities, such as atheists.

Lee said...

Unless you were a Soviet.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

That is simply another good example of why we should not tolerate the justification of genocide by anyone, for any reason.

Lee said...

This has been discussed before in Martin's threads. I know how it goes. But I'll say it anyway:

There is only one being in existence who holds the final word and authority to end human life. It's the same fellow who created human life, and established death as one of its attributes. He's also the same fellow who decides when each individual life needs to end.

I understand why someone who does not believe in Him would have serious objections to the genocide that was urged on King Saul by Samuel to kill all the Amalekites. But the objection is predicated on the falseness of God's word and the wickedness of his prophet.

But if God is who the Bible says He is, then there is nothing immoral about Him deciding when lives need to end. Nor is there anything immoral about having the Israelites do the work.

Might as criticize Him for inventing Death in the first place.

One Brow said...

Many atheists do believe in an absolute, universal morality.

Lee said...

It intrigues me as to how it might follow from atheism. I don't see it. God help me, Singring's position seems to make more sense.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"Genocide" is death of a race. Dawkins is prochoice on abortion. In principle, therefore, this allows for genocide, since it is always possible that every pregnant woman on earth will choose abortion. And given the absoluteness of the prochoice position, there is no principle to which Dawkins may appeal that would justify the state coercing pregnancy to term.

Or imagine this. Suppose that some strange virus kills only those within a particular ethnic group. There are three members of that group that remain alive and miraculously are immune from the disease. None of them have children. Two die of natural causes. One remains alive, but he has a fatal disease that will take his life in approximately 7 months. He chooses to have himself euthanized, a right that Dawkins defends. Since he is the last person in his race, it is technically genocide. So, apparently, Dawkins supports genocide too.

Martin Cothran said...

One Brow:

I don't disagree with you there: atheists either reject absolute ethics in accordance with their world view or they accept absolute ethics in violation of their world view.

It just depends on which kind of atheist you are: a consistent one who rejects moral claims or an inconsistent one who does not.

Singring said...

'"Genocide" is death of a race.'

I suggest you consult current international law, Francis. You will find that your definition of genocide is hopelessly inadequate.

'Dawkins is prochoice on abortion. In principle, therefore, this allows for genocide, since it is always possible that every pregnant woman on earth will choose abortion.'

First, since your definition of genocide is inadequate, this analogy is likewise inadequate.

Second, a pro-choice position does not even necessitate a pro-abortion position, so there is not even an indirect link between Dawkin's position in this respect and his position on genocide.

'So, apparently, Dawkins supports genocide too.'

Apart from the howling inanity of your arguments re abortion (if you can even call them that), I would suggest that if your first line of defense for your own or someone else's endorsement or defense of genocide is to point out that 'others support genocide too!', you better think long and hard about what that has to say about your views on morality.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

genocide: from Gk. genos "race, kind" (see genus) + -cide [which, incidentally, comes from the Latin occidere, "kill."

Not only the etymology, but the traditional and still common definition of the term is exactly how Frank used it. Why should its use as a term of art in the law make any difference to what he was saying?

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"But if God is who the Bible says He is, then there is nothing immoral about Him deciding when lives need to end. Nor is there anything immoral about having the Israelites do the work."

From my pov, that's like saying its moral for you to kill me if a little voice in your head tells you to. All the god's are fantasies, and I don't want to die at the hands of the fanatic followers of Jehovah, Allah or any other god. That's why its not a matter of morality to me, its a matter of enlightened self interest. I don't want to be murdered, raped or robbed, and most other people don't either. So it behooves us to form a society in which it is illegal to engage in such harmful activities and which punishes and removes those who do so. We don't need a vengeful God to justify a society which prohibits harmful behavior.

KyCobb said...

Francis,

If pigs had wings, they could fly. When I talk about "genocide" I'm referring to the mass murder of a group of people due to a attribute such as their race or religion. Neither Dawkins or I are referring to a woman's right to choose, or an individual harming himself. if you think that requires a different word than "genocide" feel free to invent one, but it looks to me like you are just playing word games.

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb,

What's the difference between saying "it behooves us" and "we ought"?

Singring said...

'Not only the etymology, but the traditional and still common definition of the term is exactly how Frank used it. Why should its use as a term of art in the law make any difference to what he was saying?'

Francis' definition was the 'death of a race'. Even in your narrow and inadequate etymological definition, the operative verb is 'kill', not 'death'. So genocide - even in your out of date definition, implies an intentional action of killing on the part of someone. So Francis' comparison to a pro-choice position completely fails.

According to Francis, if the last member of the Inuit 'race' died of natural causes, that would count as genocide. It's ridiculous.

'Not only the etymology, but the traditional and still common definition of the term is exactly how Frank used it.'

No. The UN has a very different and much more wide-ranging definition of genocide. So unless you want to argue that the definition used by the body of representatives from almost every nation in the world is the 'uncommon' definition, you are completely wrong. The again, it would not surprise me at all if you actually were to argue that kind of thing.

'Why should its use as a term of art in the law make any difference to what he was saying?'

Maybe because we are in the year 2011, not, say 1300? I know that Thomists just revel in debating from a level of knowledge and language circa 1250 AD, but fortunately human society has come a long way since then. And in our society today, arguing from an understanding of genocide as the 'death of a race' is so hopelessly inadequate, we might as well go and live in straw huts again and decide the guilt of the accuse by reading the guts of a cat or some such backward nonsense.

KyCobb said...

Martin,

"Ought" implies something we should do, while "behooves" is more like "would benefit", though "ought" could be used in that way, as "we ought, for our own personal benefit, to form etc." Which was my point anyway; it is to the benefit of most people to create a society in which individuals are protected from acts which violate their rights.

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb,

Is it wrong to violate people's rights?

KyCobb said...

Martin,

I don't care if its "wrong" to violate people's rights. Like most people, I don't want MY rights violated. As the Preamble to the Constitution say, We the People established it to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and ensure the blessings of liberty. I fully agree with all those goals.

Lee said...

> I don't care if its "wrong" to violate people's rights. Like most people, I don't want MY rights violated.

Should anyone else care whether your rights are violated, besides you?

> From my pov, that's like saying its moral for you to kill me if a little voice in your head tells you to.

As I understand your position, from you pov, there is nothing either moral or immoral about killing, whether it's when God tells the killer what to do, or just some voice in someone's head. You would just prefer that the killer not kill you. I understand that certain preferences can be adhered to with great passion and conviction, but when all is said and done, a preference is not a moral principle, but something different. You might prefer not to be killed, or you might prefer a glass of Stella Artois.

> All the god's are fantasies, and I don't want to die at the hands of the fanatic followers of Jehovah, Allah or any other god.

If Jehovah is a fantasy, then so is any *other* claim to knowing the essence of morality, including any objection to theocratic morality. How do you know that it wasn't in the Israelites' enlightened self-interest to commit the aforementioned genocide against the Amalekites?

> We the People established it to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and ensure the blessings of liberty. I fully agree with all those goals.

So would you agree with these principles if they happened to work for everyone else's good but your own? And conversely, would you agree with them if they *only* worked out for your best interest but harmed everyone else's?

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Should anyone else care whether your rights are violated, besides you?"

Not particularly; but they should care if their own rights are violated. That led to the obvious conclusion by our forefathers that we should band together and protect everyone's rights. Pretty smart of them.


"So would you agree with these principles if they happened to work for everyone else's good but your own? And conversely, would you agree with them if they *only* worked out for your best interest but harmed everyone else's?"

Perhaps you could give an example of how the principles in the preamble of the Constitution could harm everyone but me, because I can't see it. The whole point of the Constitution is that We the People would agree to protect everyone's rights. Conversely, I might disagree with those principles if I was a serial rapist, but there's no reason for We the People to put a rapist's interest ahead of their interest in not being raped.

Lee said...

> Not particularly; but they should care if their own rights are violated. That led to the obvious conclusion by our forefathers that we should band together and protect everyone's rights. Pretty smart of them.

Well, that's how they addressed the issue. But since (as you say) there is no such thing as morality, we have no standard to judge that decision by. Some folks throughout history have come to the obvious conclusion that they should band together and protect their own rights by squashing others. Since that must have worked for at least some of them, then we have no cause to criticize, right?

> Perhaps you could give an example of how the principles in the preamble of the Constitution could harm everyone but me, because I can't see it.

It's a hypothetical. In reality, though, there are rights that benefit some more than others. People who are happy with the status quo and have no reason to complain might not be bothered if those unhappy with it are put in prison for expressing their beliefs. Those with property presumably benefit more from laws protecting property than those without property, right? All I'm doing is making a reductio ad absurdum.

> Conversely, I might disagree with those principles if I was a serial rapist, but there's no reason for We the People to put a rapist's interest ahead of their interest in not being raped.

What if We the People liked it so long as they raped people we didn't like?

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Some folks throughout history have come to the obvious conclusion that they should band together and protect their own rights by squashing others. Since that must have worked for at least some of them, then we have no cause to criticize, right?"

You can criticize the dead for not living up to our standards if you want to. They don't care, because they are dead. I think the future will criticize us for taking so long to recognize the rights of LGBT people, and you won't care what they say after you're dead, either.

"People who are happy with the status quo and have no reason to complain might not be bothered if those unhappy with it are put in prison for expressing their beliefs."

They should care, because if someone else's speech can be suppressed, so can theirs. Fortunately, the forefathers also had the wisdom to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

"What if We the People liked it so long as they raped people we didn't like?"

That's where the 14th Amendment to the Constitution comes into play. Once upon a time, We the People liked slavery as long as only black people could be enslaved, and God liked it to. Then the people of the North started deciding slavery was bad, and God changed his mind and gave them victory over the Southerners who thought God still liked slavery. And after the Civil War the Constitution was amended so that everyone was entitled to equal protection of the law. So it's unconstitutional to allow some people to be raped but not others.

Lee said...

> You can criticize the dead for not living up to our standards if you want to. They don't care, because they are dead. I think the future will criticize us for taking so long to recognize the rights of LGBT people, and you won't care what they say after you're dead, either.

Any particular reason why we *should* care what "the future" thinks? If there is no moral standard to judge us by, what difference does it make as long as we get what we want now?

> They should care, because if someone else's speech can be suppressed, so can theirs.

I don't think your reasoning is very sound here. Suppressing someone's speech does not necessarily mean someone will suppress yours or mine later. Nor does *not* suppressing someone's speech means ours will not be suppressed in the future. It depends on the circumstances. The Jews had their speech suppressed in 1930s Europe, but to my knowledge they had not suppressed anyone's before that. Whites in the Deep South for years oppressed blacks, but to my knowledge they have not reaped anything like what they sowed. Unless you count Affirmative Action.

> Fortunately, the forefathers also had the wisdom to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

But it's a "living Constitution", right? It doesn't matter what the forefathers wrote, that's all stuff written by a bunch of old dead white men who owned slaves. The times change and we can interpret the Constitution to fit in with modern reality. Right? Since there is no moral standard to judge by, what's wrong with interpreting the First Amendment as meaning freedom of speech means freedom to please the state with your speech?

> So it's unconstitutional to allow some people to be raped but not others.

That's true today, perhaps. Maybe tomorrow it will be okay to rape whites. And who's to say it's wrong? All you can say is you might find it inconvenient at some point.

You seem to want it both ways, KyCobb. You want to be able to cast moral opprobrium at things you don't like, while denying that moral opprobrium exists.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

'Why should its use as a term of art in the law make any difference to what he was saying?'

Maybe because we are in the year 2011, not, say 1300? I know that Thomists just revel in debating from a level of knowledge and language circa 1250 AD, but fortunately human society has come a long way since then.


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, circa 2011: "The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group."

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb:

Like most people, I don't want MY rights violated.

Does it "behoove" me to care about what you want? If so, why?

Singring said...

'The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, circa 2011: "The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group."'

I see that post by post, in an elegant salami tactic, your definition of 'genocide' is creeping toward what the actual, current international definition is. Now it includes the 'planned' extermination of a racial, political or ethnic group. We are getting there.

I suggest you consult the "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide" which was "Adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948." [See Article 2 for def] to get the actual, current definition of genocide:

"Article 2
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

As you can see, intent is an essential component in adjucating genocide.

Maybe you could inform Francis so that he doesn't call genocide the 'death of a race' in future exchanges.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

The future will have to take care of itself, because we can't control it. Over the last few centuries, the trend in the West has been towards greater recognition of the humanity and rights of others, but I suppose that could change.
I was too subtle in my discussion about God changing his mind about slavery, so I will explain. You and Martin want to think that God provides absolute standards of morality, but history shows that people interpret what God wants to coincide with what they want. Fifty years ago, miscegenation was a sin. 150 years ago, God approved of slavery. 400 years ago, we were executing witches. Today an open homosexual is an ordained bishop. There is no absolute standard of morality, and there never will be.

KyCobb said...

Martin,

Lee asked me that same question. My response was,
"Not particularly; but they should care if their own rights are violated. That led to the obvious conclusion by our forefathers that we should band together and protect everyone's rights. Pretty smart of them."

Lee said...

> The future will have to take care of itself, because we can't control it.

We can't even control the present. As Thomas Sowell says, we can't dictate results, we can only initiate processes.

> Over the last few centuries, the trend in the West has been towards greater recognition of the humanity and rights of others, but I suppose that could change.

That's debatable. It depends on whether you see government's proper role as an impartial enforcer of equality under the law, or a social-justice deus ex machina that we send into the fray to right every conceivable wrong in the cosmos.

> You and Martin want to think that God provides absolute standards of morality, but history shows that people interpret what God wants to coincide with what they want.

So you don't see a difference between a standard and someone's interpretation of it. To apply the same reasoning to the law, e.g., when a judge misinterprets a law, it means the written law itself no longer exists as a standard. I guess it follows from there that there is no such thing as misinterpretation. And I guess maybe you see that as good news. Unless it affects you, I mean.

Singring said...

'So you don't see a difference between a standard and someone's interpretation of it.'

What good is a standard (assuming there is one) when nobody agrees what it is?

30,000 Christian denominations and counting...

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"You seem to want it both ways, KyCobb. You want to be able to cast moral opprobrium at things you don't like, while denying that moral opprobrium exists."

I don't believe I did that. My view is that as a practical matter, the best way for most individuals to ensure that their own rights are protected is to join together as a society and protect everyone's rights. That was the founding father's vision, and it has worked spectacularly well. The exception they made in the case of Africans eventually resulted in a massive amount of death and misery in the Civil War, and they corrected that error afterwards. In societies which insist that God has absolute rules, and those who violate them are enemies of God who must be punished, the inevitable result is a power struggle between those who claim to talk for God, and the targeting of one group after another by those who claim to be godly but who are actually motivated by a lust for absolute power. That isn't "wrong" in an absolute sense, since there is no absolute to say what is "right" or "wrong", but most people are better off in a society like America rather than one like Iran.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"That's debatable. It depends on whether you see government's proper role as an impartial enforcer of equality under the law, or a social-justice deus ex machina that we send into the fray to right every conceivable wrong in the cosmos."

Nice strawman there.

" To apply the same reasoning to the law, e.g., when a judge misinterprets a law, it means the written law itself no longer exists as a standard."

Apples and oranges. With religion there is no standard, there is only the interpretation of works written by numerous different people across the millenia in different languages for different reasons. With laws, lawmakers actually exist and we have a well established legislative and judicial system to correct legal interpretations.

Lee said...

> I don't believe I did that. My view is that as a practical matter, the best way for most individuals to ensure that their own rights are protected is to join together as a society and protect everyone's rights.

Hold on. Freeze that. That! is a moral standard. The words "best" and "rights" betray your ostensible position. You extolled the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, but you forget that they believed their rights were God-given and inalienable.

E.g., "...the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them...."

When someone has a right, it implies that another person has an obligation to respect that right. But such obligations only exist if there is a moral standard to judge their actions by. Otherwise, the "obligation" is simply something someone ought to observe until something better comes along.

> Nice strawman there.

What so straw-manny about it? The question of whether the West is moving, as you say, in the direction of more human rights depends on what a human right is. There are different opinions about that.

> Apples and oranges.

No analogy is perfect, but here it serves the purpose.

> With laws, lawmakers actually exist and we have a well established legislative and judicial system to correct legal interpretations.

And their numerous contradictions are are more solid than religious standards, exactly, how?

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"The laws of nature and nature's god" Not Jehovah. Not the god of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Thomas Jefferson didn't believe in a personal god who stepped into history and performed miracles. The founding fathers were children of the Enlightenment; that's why there is nary a reference to God to be found in the Constitution, and it explicitly forbids religious requirements to hold office.

"When someone has a right, it implies that another person has an obligation to respect that right. But such obligations only exist if there is a moral standard to judge their actions by."

And that standard always reflects, not some imaginary absolute created by a silent, invisible God, but the consensus of the society at the time. That's why God keeps changing his mind about witches, slavery, the Divine Right of Kings, race-mixing and homosexuality, because his "mind" is merely what believers themselves think is moral.

"And their numerous contradictions are more solid than religious standards, exactly, how?"

How many christian sects are there now, 30,000? Each with its own interpretation of the Bible. Differing interpretations of law get resolved in court. Every case is eventually resolved. You don't like your church's ruling? Start your own church.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"The question of whether the West is moving, as you say, in the direction of more human rights depends on what a human right is. There are different opinions about that."

Within our society, people haven't been quite as fickle as to what human rights are as you imply. We are operating under basically the same Constitution and Bill of Rights for over two centuries. The primary question has been who qualifies to enjoy the rights we want for ourselves. That category has gradually expanded to include non-whites and women, and now the current debate is centered on the LGBT community.

One Brow said...

Lee said...
It intrigues me as to how it might follow from atheism.

An atheist can believe in an absolute morality without it following from atheism. For example, Daniel Fincke of Camels with Hammers spends a moderate percentage of his blogs posts defending one version.

One Brow said...

Francis J. Beckwith said...
"Genocide" is death of a race.

No, genocide is the deliberate attempt to exterminate a race, or at least closely related genotype. Handing out blankets inhfected with smallpox was genocide, Mt. Vesuvius was not.

... this allows for genocide, since it is always possible that every pregnant woman on earth will choose abortion.

Since no one women would be acting to exterminate a closely related genotype, there would be no genocide.

He chooses to have himself euthanized, a right that Dawkins defends. Since he is the last person in his race, it is technically genocide.

Only if the intent is to remove his genotype, as opposed to honor his medical requests.

One Brow said...

Martin Cothran said...
I don't disagree with you there: atheists either reject absolute ethics in accordance with their world view or they accept absolute ethics in violation of their world view.

There is nothing in the world view of atheists that denies there can be objective morality. Feel free to try to prove otherwise. It would be good to see you try to take on a serious argument for a change.

One Brow said...

Morals always come from arbitrary decisions about values, and these decisions may be objective or not, but are still basically arbitrary. Natural law requires the arbitrary determination of purposes. Biblical literalism requires arbitrary to devotion to a particular source. Telling atheists that their standards are arbitrary is not a surprise to us, but rather tells us we are just like theists in that regard.

Lee said...

> Thomas Jefferson didn't believe in a personal god who stepped into history and performed miracles.

As a Deist, he's still closer to me than he is to somebody who believes "all the gods are fantasies."

> The founding fathers were children of the Enlightenment; that's why there is nary a reference to God to be found in the Constitution...

Which is why I quoted the Declaration of Independence. If we're going to a) talk about rights and b) extol the founding fathers and c) pretend that rights are important even if morality is fleeting, well, I think it matters what the men who wrote those rights into the Constitution thought rights were. I think it's clear that their conception of rights is not the same as yours, but more like mine. Maybe they weren't as wise as you think?

> ..and it explicitly forbids religious requirements to hold office.

I'm not sure what that has to do with the discussion.

> And that standard always reflects, not some imaginary absolute created by a silent, invisible God, but the consensus of the society at the time.

Well, that's obviously not what the author of the D of I thought.

If consensus makes right, then human sacrifice is right if you're a pre-Columbian Mayan or an ancient Canaanite. BTW, your position here contradicts your second post in this thread, that, quote, "...we should not tolerate the justification of genocide by anyone, for any reason." You just said the consensus of society decides what is right. So if the consensus of ancient Hebrew society was that it was good to kill all the Amalekites, then their consensus says genocide can be justified and and that they were in fact wrong not to finish the job. That was certainly Samuel's take. He grabbed a sword and hacked the captive Amalekite King Agag to pieces in King Saul's own court.

> That's why God keeps changing his mind about witches, slavery, the Divine Right of Kings, race-mixing and homosexuality, because his "mind" is merely what believers themselves think is moral.

I guess we have that on your authority. If the Bible was your authority, you wouldn't know whether God changed His mind, since the final words written into the Bible were written some two thousand years ago. If God has changed His mind since then, He hasn't communicated it to us. Unless you know something I don't. Mormons disagree, of course.

> How many christian sects are there now, 30,000? Each with its own interpretation of the Bible. Differing interpretations of law get resolved in court.

And get overturned on appeal. And again. And re-legislated. And depending on the country you live in, ignored by the next despot. Or the next Supreme Court. You can probably find 30,000 permutations in there somewhere.

Lee said...

Anyhow, you don't have to worry about those confused conservatives taking over the White House and speaking as if God is on their side on policy issues. The Obama White House is already doing that anyway...

http://news.yahoo.com/obama-presses-republicans-bridge-scheme-151914720.html

Lee said...

> An atheist can believe in an absolute morality without it following from atheism. For example, Daniel Fincke of Camels with Hammers spends a moderate percentage of his blogs posts defending one version.

Looks like an interesting web site. What's really interesting is that his take on Coyne and scientists who take on religious philosophy does not sound unsimilar to Martin's.

Would you happen to know how he believes absolute morality can possibly exist without a God, or how he can know this without faith?

Lee said...

> Within our society, people haven't been quite as fickle as to what human rights are as you imply.

I think people are plenty fickle. Guilty as charged.

> We are operating under basically the same Constitution and Bill of Rights for over two centuries.

It depends on what you mean by "same". Nominally the same, I will grant you. But haven't you and I had some disagreement before about whether the Constitution should be strictly interpreted or whether we should interpret it freely as the times change? If memory serves, you came down on the side that believes the interpretations should change. So if staying the same implies change, then once again you can have it both ways.

> The primary question has been who qualifies to enjoy the rights we want for ourselves. That category has gradually expanded to include non-whites and women, and now the current debate is centered on the LGBT community.

And depending on whose opinion you want to consult, the "rights" that are being pushed aren't rights at all, but only obligations imposed on those not in the preferred group. We've talked about this before, too. I think I got you to admit that the Founding Fathers would be aghast to discover their words twisted into the shape of approval of gay marriage, but that was only because they reflected the bigotries of their time.

If true, then one minute we're praising their wisdom, and the next we're dismissing them as hopelessly backward and saying in essence that today they would be incompetent to interpret their own words.

Once again, both sides against the middle.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"I think it's clear that their conception of rights is not the same as yours, but more like mine. Maybe they weren't as wise as you think?"

I disagree. "Nature and nature's god" is not a clear reference to a personal deity, but simply the natural order of things, which is more like my conception. And the Constitution, which is the foundational document of our current government, is crystal clear that its provisions are derived from the consent of self-governing people.

"your position here contradicts your second post in this thread, that, quote, "...we should not tolerate the justification of genocide by anyone, for any reason." You just said the consensus of society decides what is right. So if the consensus of ancient Hebrew society was that it was good to kill all the Amalekites, then their consensus says genocide can be justified and and that they were in fact wrong not to finish the job."

We should not consent to anyone engaging in genocide now. We cannot either grant or deny consent to an action taken thousands of years ago. It either happened or it didn't, and the perpetrators are beyond our reach. We should continued persecuting participants in the Holocaust for as long as any are left alive, and any other participants in genocides such as in Bosnia or Rwanda. In the ancient past, such mass slaughter wasn't seen the way we see it today, and there is nothing we can do to change that past.

"I guess we have that on your authority. If the Bible was your authority, you wouldn't know whether God changed His mind, since the final words written into the Bible were written some two thousand years ago. If God has changed His mind since then, He hasn't communicated it to us."

Not on my authority. Fifty years ago, Jerry Falwell said biblical authority condemned miscegenation, then twenty years after that he said it didn't. Lots of christians claim to talk to God and he tells them one thing or another, which often contradicts something God supposedly told another Christian. Either God is very chatty and mercurial, or a whole lot of Christians are projecting.

KyCobb said...

"But haven't you and I had some disagreement before about whether the Constitution should be strictly interpreted or whether we should interpret it freely as the times change? If memory serves, you came down on the side that believes the interpretations should change."

Let me be clear about my position. The legal principles in the Constitution do not change. The culture does change, so because the social prejudices and cultural blindspots of the people who ratified the Constitution and amended it in the 18th and 19th centuries are not incorporated into the Constitution, the way those enduring legal principles are applied can change. I doubt that any of the men who wrote the 14th Amendment ever thought about its applicability to same sex marriage; I would challenge you to find anything written by them about that subject. That doesn't mean that homosexuals aren't entitled to equal protection of the law; there are no words in the Constitution exempting homosexuals from equal protection. The best example of what I'm talking about is in regards to segregation. In the 19th century, "separate but equal" seemed like a reasonable standard to people who could not conceive of negros being their social equals, but by the mid-twentieth century, we recognized that despite the social prejudices of the 19th century, "separate but equal" was inherently unequal and unconstitutional, and so Plessy v. Ferguson was reversed in Brown v. Bd of Education.

Lee said...

>I disagree. "Nature and nature's god" is not a clear reference to a personal deity, but simply the natural order of things, which is more like my conception.

Oh come on.

"... that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." Just a figure of speech? "Creator"? You think maybe Jefferson was just talking about the Big Bang?

> And the Constitution, which is the foundational document of our current government, is crystal clear that its provisions are derived from the consent of self-governing people.

The Constitution talks about "rights". My inquiry here is to see if we can determine what the Framers thought "rights" are.

Jefferson speaks of "unalienable rights" as if they are permanent and unchanging.

> "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Does that really sound like consensus-driven morality to you?

Of course all men believe they own these rights. But many think that though they have them, they're not so sure the other guy has them. Sometimes such men build a consensus, and then the other guy's rights are poof! gone.

If rights aren't permanent and unalienable, then they don't really mean anything, do they? They're just another way of saying "privilege".

But if they are permanent and unalienable (like the man said), there goes your theory about consensus-driven morality.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Of course all men believe they own these rights. But many think that though they have them, they're not so sure the other guy has them. Sometimes such men build a consensus, and then the other guy's rights are poof! gone.

If rights aren't permanent and unalienable, then they don't really mean anything, do they? They're just another way of saying "privilege".

But if they are permanent and unalienable (like the man said), there goes your theory about consensus-driven morality."

Jefferson's words were an aspiration that we are still striving to achieve and that even he, a slaveowner, fell far short of living up to. His behavior if engaged in today would be considered beyond the pale of human decency (fathered children by a woman he kept captive as his personal slave) and would land him a long term in prison. By the standards of his time, it was a minor scandal which didn't even keep him out of the White House.

Also Jefferson was a scientist who had little use for much of the Bible. If he knew then what we know now, he certainly wouldn't be a creationist, and would probably be an atheist.

Lee said...

Still trying to figure out how the ideas you expressed about a morality that is driven by consensus resonates in all this...

> Jefferson's words were an aspiration that we are still striving to achieve and that even he, a slaveowner, fell far short of living up to.

Really, this depends on whether Jefferson's words, or rather his deeds, were congruent with the "consensus" of the time. If it was the consensus of the time for wealthy men in his position to say one thing about unalienable rights, and to do another thing with a slave who can't fight back, then there was nothing for Jefferson to "live up to", was there? He might have even gotten a few knowing winks from Washington and Madison, for all we know. By the standards of his time, perhaps hypocrisy was a perfectly moral behavior. And if it was, then what was wrong with that?

Shouldn't respect for the uniqueness of cultural heritage be extended even to our own?

> If he knew then what we know now, he certainly wouldn't be a creationist, and would probably be an atheist.

So, to summarize: Jefferson would have omitted the words "God" and "Creator" from the Declaration of Independence if only he had known better.

Well, but he didn't omit those words. I wonder how the D of I would read if Jefferson had taken your advice. How about...

> "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal [if that is the consensus of society], that they are endowed by [a huge explosion that happpened twelve billion years ago] with certain unalienable Rights [until the consensus says they are after all quite alienable], that among these are [tentatively] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Lee said...

> Fifty years ago, Jerry Falwell said biblical authority condemned miscegenation, then twenty years after that he said it didn't.

You present that as evidence that God changed His mind? Really!?

I don't know of anyone, not even any Southern Baptists, who have ever mistaken the late Rev. Falwell for God.

> Lots of christians claim to talk to God and he tells them one thing or another, which often contradicts something God supposedly told another Christian. Either God is very chatty and mercurial, or a whole lot of Christians are projecting.

I would go with the latter. We are human, after all.

One Brow said...

Lee said...
Would you happen to know how he believes absolute morality can possibly exist without a God, or how he can know this without faith?

He's got a *lot* of posts on his take on morality, and I have barely begun to scratch the surface of them.

You could call any decision to take an inductive inference as a truth "faith", so I'm not sure what you mean by "without faith"? If I assume my cell phone will still be in my pocket next time I reach for it, is that faith as you mean it?

One Brow said...

Lee said...
I would go with the latter. We are human, after all.

The Biblical authors were human. Why don't you think they were projecting? Can you answer that in a way that does not rely on you projecting?

Lee said...

> Let me be clear about my position. The legal principles in the Constitution do not change.

In a world without absolutes, what died and made "legal principles" an immutable rule? Everything else is consensus-driven, why not legal principles?

Sounds to me like the principles are such that, whenever they give you what you want, they are eternal, and when they don't, they're not.

> The culture does change, so because the social prejudices and cultural blindspots...

How do we know that you aren't the one blinded by social prejudices and cultural blindspots?

> That doesn't mean that homosexuals aren't entitled to equal protection of the law;

What does "entitled" mean in a world where consensus drives morality?

> there are no words in the Constitution exempting homosexuals from equal protection.

Ah, a loophole! Loopholes are moral, right? Just checking.

> ...but by the mid-twentieth century, we recognized that despite the social prejudices of the 19th century, "separate but equal" was inherently unequal and unconstitutional...

Who's to say they were the ones who were prejudiced, and not you?

I marvel at your ability to claim morality is relative, all the while speak as if somehow we are righting past moral wrongs.

Lee said...

> He's got a *lot* of posts on his take on morality, and I have barely begun to scratch the surface of them.

Fair enough. It seems to me that I spoke with one such individual on these very comment sheets awhile back, and though I think he was wrong, he was certainly quite articulate and thoughtful. I'll have to write it down as something I must investigate.

> You could call any decision to take an inductive inference as a truth "faith", so I'm not sure what you mean by "without faith"? If I assume my cell phone will still be in my pocket next time I reach for it, is that faith as you mean it?

Good point, and I've used it many times. Even atheists have to have faith, don't they? In this case, it's faith in a consistent universe, faith that something outside one's own consciousness exists with a set of rules and constraints separate from our subjective imaginings.

> The Biblical authors were human. Why don't you think they were projecting? Can you answer that in a way that does not rely on you projecting?

I have to answer in Biblical terms. The Bible says faith in God is a gift from God, and that it will seem like foolishness to a non-believer. Once one has accepted the faith, one can indeed marvel at the consistency of the message, and in particular at the clues that the Bible could not have been written by man on his own. Not man as I know him: arrogant, ignorant, full of braggadocio, smug... you name it.

The idea that God Himself is humble, that He wants to serve his creatures; that his apostles and prophets and evangelists, humble in origin, were some of the most despised and persecuted people in history (and were told they deserved and should expect little else); that God Himself works in subtle and mysterious ways rather than grand displays...

But I am already convinced, have already been blessed by His gift of faith, through no deserving of my own, but only His love. If there were something I could say to you to make you see it too, I would. But I can't. Faith is not mine to give.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"By the standards of his time, perhaps hypocrisy was a perfectly moral behavior. And if it was, then what was wrong with that?"

It obviously was pretty much accepted, since despite those words about inalienable rights, the white men in the 18th and early 19th century didn't think they applied to Africans. So by your standard of absolute morality, shouldn't we simply condemn the founding fathers as a bunch of evil hypocrites worthy of nothing but our contempt?

"So, to summarize: Jefferson would have omitted the words "God" and "Creator" from the Declaration of Independence if only he had known better."

I didn't say that. "Nature and Nature's God" is a sufficient euphemism. He didn't use the christian terms you would have used such as "Jehovah" or "Jesus Christ". Nature did create us through the evolutionary process with a desire to live as we choose, and Jefferson's words reflect that as well as the language of the 18th century could, while theists such as yourself can read what you want to into the words as well.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"In a world without absolutes, what died and made "legal principles" an immutable rule? Everything else is consensus-driven, why not legal principles?

Sounds to me like the principles are such that, whenever they give you what you want, they are eternal, and when they don't, they're not."

Lee, if the US was a pure democracy, you would be correct. However, we have a written Constitution with legal principles in it which cannot be changed by simple majority vote. Everyone, even homosexuals, are entitled to equal protection of the law because that is what the Constitution says. If the 14th Amendment were repealed, then noone would be entitled to equal protection. I'm not talking about morality, but rather the law.

"Who's to say they were the ones who were prejudiced, and not you?"

Perhaps you could clarify who I might be prejudiced against, since I'm saying everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law.

One Brow said...

Lee said...
In this case, it's faith in a consistent universe, faith that something outside one's own consciousness exists with a set of rules and constraints separate from our subjective imaginings.

Using that definiiton, I acknowledge that pretty much all atheists have faith.

Do you feel this definition is all that is meant when it is claim that people are saved by faith, and not works? Because is that is all that is meant, I'm just as saved as you are. If not, then we'll need to be very careful about distinguishing two different uses of the word.

I have to answer in Biblical terms. The Bible says faith in God is a gift from God, and that it will seem like foolishness to a non-believer.

Biblical writers projecting their own doubts?

Once one has accepted the faith, one can indeed marvel at the consistency of the message, and in particular at the clues that the Bible could not have been written by man on his own.

Is that a consistency and exterior knowledge within the text, or one you project onto the text? I say this as a person who used to accept the same claims of consitency and knowledge, but no longer does.

The idea that God Himself is humble,

You'll find many ideaqs similar to those you listed in Buddhism, for example. They are common in human-created materials.

Faith is not mine to give.

I have faith, as you just defined it.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

KyCobb writes: "Neither Dawkins or I are referring to a woman's right to choose, or an individual harming himself."

Doesn't matter. My question is one of principle. You simply cannot say, "Didn't mean that." On arguments about principles your willful desire for the principle not to apply is an interesting psychological fact about you, but it does not count against the argument.

What you are also conceding-by the way-is that genocide is not intrinsically wrong. If it is intrinsically wrong, then contingent facts are not relevant to assessing its wrongness. If, for example, a race or religion were to commit mass suicide--and it has been done, by the way!--it would not be less wrong because the victims turned out to be the perpetrators as well. The wrongness of the act--if it is intrinsically wrong--simply cannot turn on whether the victims chose to accept the same bad reason for the act that if a third party had believed it would seem obvious to you.

The problem here--with you and Singring in particular--is that your objections are visceral and not well-thought out. You can't seem to rise above the voluntarism and nominalism that imperils your universal judgments. A moral philosophy that turns on willfulness and the denial of natures simply cannot explain the wrongness of genocide, since genocide requires a race of humans and killing that is intrinsically wrong.

Singring said...

'On arguments about principles your willful desire for the principle not to apply is an interesting psychological fact about you, but it does not count against the argument.'

Of course it is - if we are talking about genocide as it is defined today by the UN, where intent is one of the key determinants. Naturally, this hard to explain to someone who thinks that genocide is the 'death of a race'. A definition so ridiculous it would turn the death of the last Inuit from old age into an incident of 'genocide'.

'The problem here--with you and Singring in particular--is that your objections are visceral and not well-thought out.'

This from the guy who is not even familiar with current international law and the definition of genocide when he pontificates about it.

KyCobb said...

Francis,

"My question is one of principle."

In principle, there is a difference between harm done to one or more people by another, and "harm" done to one or more people by themselves. If the last of the Mohicans decides to commit suicide, as far as I'm concerned that's his business. My objection isn't to the disappearance of a race, ethnicity or religion; its the murder of individuals. Noone should be killed simply because he is Jewish or Armenian, for example. I'm not interested in a debate about semantics; if you think a different word applies than "genocide", then make one up.

"The problem here--with you and Singring in particular--is that your objections are visceral and not well-thought out."

I of course disagree, since my pov agrees with the foundational principles of this republic, which is that individuals agreed to form a self-governing society in which everyone's individual rights would be protected.

Lee said...

> Lee, if the US was a pure democracy, you would be correct. However, we have a written Constitution with legal principles in it which cannot be changed by simple majority vote. Everyone, even homosexuals, are entitled to equal protection of the law because that is what the Constitution says. If the 14th Amendment were repealed, then noone would be entitled to equal protection. I'm not talking about morality, but rather the law.

So your argument is that there are no absolute moral principles except the absolute principle of legal principles, and this is because America is not a pure democracy.

Clear as mud.

> Everyone, even homosexuals, are entitled to equal protection of the law because that is what the Constitution says. If the 14th Amendment were repealed, then noone would be entitled to equal protection. I'm not talking about morality, but rather the law.

So if we're *not* talking about morality, then it would not be immoral to deny them equal protection, would it? Just (in your view) illegal.

One Brow said...

Francis J. Beckwith said...
What you are also conceding-by the way-is that genocide is not intrinsically wrong. If it is intrinsically wrong, then contingent facts are not relevant to assessing its wrongness.

When genocide is understood as the attack of people due to their cultural identity (such as attacking Iriquios because you want to reduce the number of Iriquiosw), of course it is wrong. You can re-define a term any number of ways, but you're much more likely to receive a rejection of that redefiniton than an accceptance of your position.

If the last Iriquois decides to kill himself because he hates all Iriquois and want to remove his hertiage from the planet, I agree that is wrong. Wanting to sommit suicide from depression, disease, etc. is not genocide.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"So if we're *not* talking about morality, then it would not be immoral to deny them equal protection, would it? Just (in your view) illegal."

You got it! See, I was clearer than mud.

Lee said...

So if it's not immoral to deny gays equal rights, why are you so worked up about it?

KyCobb said...

Lee,

I guess I haven't been clear after all. I call it enlightened self-interest. Most people want their rights protected, and that is likeliest to occur in a society like ours, in which we agree to protect everyone's rights. When one belongs to a despised minority, as I do, protecting the rights of other despised minorities is the same thing as protecting my own.

Lee said...

I think you settled the issue: since this is not a question of morality, therefore, nobody is obligated to extend what you think are "rights" to anyone. There are only practical considerations to consider, not moral ones. We (that is, the collective "we") do what we're forced to do, until we have the upper hand.

Your view, not mine.

If you are a despised minority, I really do think your best bet is to embrace and evangelize for the sort of rights Jefferson wrote about: God-given, permanent, unchanging.

I think that would be in your "enlightened self-interest."

What defines morality is the willingness to behave in a way that is not in one's self-interest at all (at least in this world) if it's the right thing to do. So I extend (for example) a recognition of the rights of blacks and women not because I think there's something in it for me, but because God has bestowed these rights on them, same as me, and He obligates me to treat them with respect.

Otherwise, your rights will diminish as soon as enough people find it in their own enlightened self-interest to diminish them.

Your faith in the "Golden Rule of Human Rights", as applied and judged by man, is just that, a faith. And an unwarranted one, at that.

Singring said...

'So I extend (for example) a recognition of the rights of blacks and women not because I think there's something in it for me, but because God has bestowed these rights on them, same as me, and He obligates me to treat them with respect.'

So if it wasn't for God ordering you to do so, you wouldn't treat women and blacks with respect?

I don't think that needs any further elaboration.

'Otherwise, your rights will diminish as soon as enough people find it in their own enlightened self-interest to diminish them.'

Indeed. And apparently you would be one of those people.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"I think you settled the issue: since this is not a question of morality, therefore, nobody is obligated to extend what you think are "rights" to anyone. There are only practical considerations to consider, not moral ones. We (that is, the collective "we") do what we're forced to do, until we have the upper hand.

Your view, not mine."

That's pretty obviously not my view, so I have to assume you haven't read anything I've written on this thread for comprehension, since you omitted the "enlightened" part before "self-interest."

"So I extend (for example) a recognition of the rights of blacks and women not because I think there's something in it for me, but because God has bestowed these rights on them, same as me, and He obligates me to treat them with respect."

But not homosexuals,or presumably, atheists. The problem with your approach is that lots of people use their interpretation of godly morality not to protect the rights of other people, but to strip them of those rights, and that includes women and minority races.

"Your faith in the "Golden Rule of Human Rights", as applied and judged by man, is just that, a faith. And an unwarranted one, at that."

We're both putting our faith in people. I'm putting it in people continuing the traditions of our country in accordance with the clear principles of the Constitution. You're putting it in the hands of people who claim to speak for God, and in the name of God would strip away the rights of women, racial and religious minorities and homosexuals. Someday the Constitution may fall, but that's where I'm making my stand.

Lee said...

> So if it wasn't for God ordering you to do so, you wouldn't treat women and blacks with respect?

I knew you would have something to say about this. Pavlov's dog, meet Singring.

> I don't think that needs any further elaboration.

You mean, other than that you are willing to always assume the worst possible interpretation of what I (or anyone you disagree with) said.

Well, that's fine with me, because it illustrates my point. Go ahead and assume the absolute worst about me.

Because, whether it's me or not, there is *someone* out there who will follow KyCobb's logic to its bitter conclusion, and come away believing that morality is a mere convention, and that therefore he is free to indulge his most base and depraved impulses.

And, to parry the next feeble ploy, no, I'm not saying you have to believe in an absolute moral code to behave in a moral manner; it only means there is no reason to do so.

> Indeed. And apparently you would be one of those people.

If not me, someone. In the meantime, why don't you ask yourself how someone who doesn't even believe in an absolute moral code adopt such a holier-than-thou attitude?

Lee said...

> That's pretty obviously not my view, so I have to assume you haven't read anything I've written on this thread for comprehension, since you omitted the "enlightened" part before "self-interest."

All I did was remove the question-begging epithet. The word "enlightened" in this context, can mean anything you want it to mean. And therefore, it means nothing.

> But not homosexuals,or presumably, atheists.

I also left out Kirghiz-Americans, baseball fans, gravediggers, and cat lovers.

> The problem with your approach is that lots of people use their interpretation of godly morality not to protect the rights of other people, but to strip them of those rights, and that includes women and minority races.

I just want to know why you believe anyone is obligated to respect rights, when they are mere conventions, not endowed by our Creator. Why is nothing absolute, except the obligation to respect someone else's rights?

> You're putting it in the hands of people who claim to speak for God, and in the name of God would strip away the rights of women, racial and religious minorities and homosexuals.

Now who's having trouble with reading comprehension.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"if we are talking about genocide as it is defined today by the UN"

Bingo.

So, if the UN "defined" genocide as pulling flowers, then that would become genocide? Of course not. We come to know things by their natures. Genocide is what it is regardless of what a powerful political body says it is. If you think that the latter is the way we know things, then you are conceding that genocide is not intrinsically wrong. For intrinsic wrongness does not depend on how some political institutions define it, since we can actually know what genocide is and test whether the political institutions are correct on how they describe it.

Again, nominalism and voluntarism in full bloom.

But then again, if I were a materialist that denied final and formal causality and thus intrinsic goodness, your position is really the only possible option. But since I already know that some acts are intrinsically wrong and some ends are intrinsic to the nature of things (e.g., knowledge is better than ignorance), I know that nominalism is false.

One Brow said...

Francis J. Beckwith said...
But since I already know that some acts are intrinsically wrong and some ends are intrinsic to the nature of things (e.g., knowledge is better than ignorance), I know that nominalism is false.

Thak you for explaining how your arbitrary determination of the natural purpose of something, and therefore morality concerning it, is so much superior to a direct, arbitrary determinaiton.
After all, we don't want to base morality on arbitrary determinations or rightness, when we have arbitrary determinations of purpose to use instead.

Singring said...

'Well, that's fine with me, because it illustrates my point. Go ahead and assume the absolute worst about me. '

Lee, isn't it you who keeps making these 'your view - not mine' allegations?

If you object to my assumption - tell me where I'm wrong - if God commended you to treat blacks and women with disrespect - would you do that?

If not, why not?

Explain to me where I got it wrong.

'And, to parry the next feeble ploy, no, I'm not saying you have to believe in an absolute moral code to behave in a moral manner; it only means there is no reason to do so.'

You mean there is no *objective* reason to do so. There can be plenty of subjective reasons. Maybe your subjective impulse would be to treat women and blacks with disrespect and only God's commands keep you from doing so. Maybe your subjective impulses would lead you to treate blacks and women with respect.

Which do you think it would be - and why?

'If not me, someone.'

I agree. That's why, as a society, we come to a consensus about how we should treat people and what we should do to keep people from violating those rules. That code is called tha law. It use to be the law that you could treat women and blacks as disrespectfully as you liked. After a long and hard period of deliberation, that consensus changed and now we lock up people who do those things.

That's how society works. It doesn't work by people suddenly going 'Durh! I was reading this here Bible all wrong - turns out God doesn't like slavery'.

'In the meantime, why don't you ask yourself how someone who doesn't even believe in an absolute moral code adopt such a holier-than-thou attitude?'

What part of my attitude is 'holier than though' when I openly stand for relative morals? Are you embarassed by the consequences of your moral code?

Singring said...

'We come to know things by their natures.'

How do we figure out what the 'nature' of genocide is?

Tomato, tomato, Francis.

I choose my moral standard arbitrarily, you pick the 'nature' of things arbitrarily and then derive your moral code from those 'natures'.

'Genocide is what it is regardless of what a powerful political body says it is.'

So the nature of genocide is the 'death of a race'? Really?

'If you think that the latter is the way we know things, then you are conceding that genocide is not intrinsically wrong.'

You say this as if I was resisting to concede this. I don't. Genocide is not 'instrinsically' wrong.

Genocide is almost always wrong by my subjectively chosen utilitarian moral standards - but it is not absolutely, 'intrinsically' wrong and I never claimed as much.

Are you arguing that genocide is intrinsically wrong? Yes or no?

'But then again, if I were a materialist that denied final and formal causality and thus intrinsic goodness, your position is really the only possible option.'

How does final and formal causality (assuming for a moment these concepts of causality are true) inform you about 'intrinsic goodness'? For example, what is the rule that states that acting toward a formal or final cause is 'good' and not 'evil'?

'But since I already know that some acts are intrinsically wrong and some ends are intrinsic to the nature of things (e.g., knowledge is better than ignorance), I know that nominalism is false.'

...and you know the intrinsic nature of things how? Do they come to you at night, in your dreams? Do you read them on the back of a cornflake box? Do you get them from listening to Hank Williams Jr. albums backwards?

Clue me in on the incredible fount of all these things you *know*, Francis.

Enlighten us.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"I just want to know why you believe anyone is obligated to respect rights, when they are mere conventions, not endowed by our Creator. Why is nothing absolute, except the obligation to respect someone else's rights?"

I feel like we are going around in circles. Because the Constitution of the U.S. requires you to respect other people's rights. If you don't want to respect them because that's the best way to protect your own rights, then you can be compelled to respect them by the government of the United States.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the Yale professor show to Craig that God was not necessary for morality? Thus meaning there was no logical incoherence with nontheism and moral realism?

Lee said...

> Didn't the Yale professor show to Craig that God was not necessary for morality? Thus meaning there was no logical incoherence with nontheism and moral realism?

It depends on what you mean when you use the term 'morality', and on the nature of that morality.

If you mean simply a set of rules that society as a whole adopts for the sake of order and an instinctive sense of justice, then morality can plausibly exist on its own.

This renders morality to be a matter of opinion. It's simply a mental state multiplied by four billion or so. Morality is therefore constantly in a state of metamorphosis, and when the last human dies, morality is dead too. I.e., there are no eternal values.

What this secular vision of morality does, however, is it loses its moral authority. Morality consists of things we *ought* *to* *do* because it's right. But when what is right is simply a matter of opinion, ultimately, there is not right or wrong. People might instinctively think there is, but we can see behind the curtain and know it is sinking sand.

It's hard to talk people into knowingly making grave sacrifices based on matters of opinion. So the purveyors of secular morality will huff and puff and behave as if their moral pronouncements actually carry authoritative weight.

But there is no authoritative weight to be had in a universe without God. One man's opinion vs. other men's opinions.

Lee said...

> I feel like we are going around in circles.

Maybe you are, Ky.

> Because the Constitution of the U.S. requires you to respect other people's rights.

If there are no absolutes, what makes the Constitution absolute?

> If you don't want to respect them because that's the best way to protect your own rights, then you can be compelled to respect them by the government of the United States.

Might makes right, eh? That's not how liberals talk when they don't hold the whip hand, is it?

Anonymous said...

I think Shelly kagan did a find job during his encounter with Craig. However, for a person to argue that there is no morality without God would have to show that all nontheistic accounts of morality fail to ground moral realism and that all future nontheistic accounts of morality fail as well.

Lee said...

> However, for a person to argue that there is no morality without God would have to show that all nontheistic accounts of morality fail to ground moral realism and that all future nontheistic accounts of morality fail as well.

What does "realism" mean when morality is merely a matter of human opinion?

I think it would be on the atheist to define "moral realism" and explain how an atheist moral code can carry any authority.

Lee said...

After all, a secular moral code would have to be based on some form of consensus, would it not? Probably some of that consensus would form around instinct, other parts of it around reason, but ultimately a sustained majority becomes convinced one way or the other and then holds that view until they change their minds again.

But if the majority opinion is always right, that fact has eluded quite a few famous speakers.

E.g.,

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
― Mark Twain

“Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”
― Leo Tolstoy, A Confession

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”
― Thomas Jefferson

“I don't imagine you will dispute the fact that at present the stupid people are in an absolutely overwhelming majority all the world over.”
― Henrik Ibsen


“When you're the only sane person, you look like the only insane person.”
― Criss Jami


“The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widely spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”
― Bertrand Russell

“The only tyrant I accept in this world is the 'still small voice' within me. And even though I have to face the prospect of being a minority of one, I humbly believe I have the courage to be in such a hopeless minority.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”
― Lord Acton

As we used to sing in Sunday School...

"On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand."

Anonymous said...

Moral realism is the position that morality is in some way real.

A nontheistic account of morality tries to ground morality in a way that does not appeal to a God.

If someone wants to use the moral argument for God's existence then they will have to show that morality exists, and that all possible accounts of nontheistic morality theories fail for grounding that morality. Until that time a person is still in the position of moral skepticism.

Lee said...

> Moral realism is the position that morality is in some way real.

You mean, as in objective?

> If someone wants to use the moral argument for God's existence then they will have to show that morality exists, and that all possible accounts of nontheistic morality theories fail for grounding that morality.

Sounds like the way you construct the proposition, that could never be done. How would we know when we have accounted for all possibilities?

> Until that time a person is still in the position of moral skepticism.

So you're saying, *probably* doesn't cut it; we require absolute certainty.

I usually don't argue from the perspective that the objective existence of morality can be proven.

All I can do is show that everybody believes that it is at some level.

Even the folks on this very board who espouse the most skepticism regarding morality act like their opponents are moral reprobates when they disagree.

But if morality is simply a matter of opinion -- i.e., there's your moral skepticism -- why does a diverging opinion mean anything more? It's just a diverging opinion, not anything to get into a moral uproar about.

In other words, the moral skeptic relies on the implicit sharing of moral absolutes whenever it is that *he* wants someone *else* to embrace *his* opinions on morality.

Whenever that happens, the moral skeptic must borrow from the worldview of the moral absolutist.

Lee said...

> An atheist can believe in an absolute morality without it following from atheism.

I know that. One flavor of thought consists of the thoughts of Ayn Rand -- so-called Objectivism.

What I want to know is how they explain why it exists. So far as I can tell, Objectivists prove that morals are objective by banging on the table when they say it is so.


> For example, Daniel Fincke of Camels with Hammers spends a moderate percentage of his blogs posts defending one version.

I took a peek at some of his stuff. He speaks of naturalism and order. I haven't yet found his explanation for why order exists, or ought to. But he uses a lot of adjectives.

I don't get the naturalism part, I confess. Let's take chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives and a card-carrying part of nature. I've watched documentary films of chimps grooming and stroking each other and in most visible ways showing us a reflection of what we call love.

In the same documentaries, I've also watched chimpanzees kill, tear apart, and eat other chimpanzees from rival gangs, or rivals in the same gang, and in most visible ways showing us a reflection of what we call hate.

But in no documentary I have ever seen, did the subject come up as to whether the chimps were behaving morally or immorally in either case.

Were the ones displaying love behaving morally? Were the ones displaying hate behaving immorally? I'd love to see someone corner a zoologist on that question. But you know what I think? I think the zoologist would resist using those terms. "Moral"? "Immoral"? They're just doing what chimps do.

So much for naturalism.

Anonymous said...

You do know that the moral argument is without any substance if the person using it does not show that morality exists and that, absolutely, no nontheistic account of morality can satisfactory ground it? It pretends to say that morality is incoherent with nontheism, but until that is argued for, it is simply an assertion. This is what Craig failed to do against Shelly Kagan, and why he lost the debate.

Anonymous said...

You do know that the moral argument is without any substance if the person using it does not show that morality exists and that, absolutely, no nontheistic account of morality can satisfactory ground it? It pretends to say that morality is incoherent with nontheism, but until that is argued for, it is simply an assertion. This is what Craig failed to do against Shelly Kagan, and why he lost the debate.

Martin Cothran said...

The moral argument assumes that the person to whom it is being made already believes in morality. It is basically a conditional argument the antecedent of which is the belief in morality.

I'm sure there are people who claim they don't believe in morality, but I highly doubt they really do. I have yet to meet a person who has never used the terms "should" or "ought."

You can no more prove morality than you can prove reason. They're things that are taken for granted.

I no more have to prove morality before I use the moral argument than I have to prove reason before using any argument.

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said...

Martin, I think I was saying the same thing or something similar, but of course, you said it better.

You can't prove morality. But you can show that, through their statements and their behaviors, that even morality deniers believe in it.

Because someone denying that it exists has given up any right to use it to argue for their other positions.

E.g., "Equal pay for equal work." That's a moral proposition implying that we should be fair. Based on the premise that morality doesn't exist, who cares about what's fair?

E.g., "Slavery/discrimination/fluoridated water/climate-change denying is wrong!" What does "wrong" mean, exactly, based on the premise that there is no "right"?

Then there are the moral relativists who want their cake and to eat it. They do not believe in eternal truths, except for the eternal truth that there are no eternal truths. It gives them a line of defense; they claim that morality depends on circumstances and "the times".

Only, for some reason, they still condemn Thomas Jefferson for owning slaves. They still blame Christians for the Inquisition and the Crusades. They still blame the Hebrews for killing the Amalekites. There are no eternal truths except that the people who embrace eternal truths are evil hypocrites.

Of course, since there is no such thing as an eternal moral code, evil hypocrisy is simply a matter of opinion.

And there goes their moral authority.