Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Objective morality can't be supported by reality

I've recently been debating with a Christian who began commenting on the site about how he believes that people staring at the texts of the Bible and studying who wrote them is proof enough of the resurrection of Jesus, and therefore of the Christian faith. This guy is in, or is a fan of, the 'philosophical community', and spends a lot of time reading. He sent me a long-winded, and in my opinion pointless, parable written by a philosopher. I can tell that this guy spends too much time reading, and not enough time observing reality.

The topic turned to morality, and I argued that there is no such thing as objective morality, but that society has agreed on certain things which are 'right' or 'wrong' (helpful or harmful). His philosophically-educated response:

"You did very well here to demonstrate the idea of objective moral values. It is the fact that societies across history agree on certain morals that one can say that there is objective morality. So, your questions do nothing to convince me otherwise."

Have you ever observed the reality of society, or do you just read? How can anybody be so stupid to think that there is absolute morality, and in your case, that it was given to us by your Christian god? I mean, this is Ray-Comfort-level stupidity and inability to comprehend the real world!

Let me ask you a question before I begin on reality. I know you're absolutely shit at answering questions, and very good at dodging them, but I'll try anyway. Here is the question. If we all agree that drinking cyanide is bad for our health, does that mean we were given objective knowledge of health from your god? Or does it mean that we've read newspapers, we read warning labels, and we generally trust that these reports are accurate, and that drinking cyanide is lethal? In other words, was this knowledge given to us divinely, or was it formed from observing reality? Ironically, religion can and has made people drink cyanide, because religion turns off the rational thought processes in the brain, and has nothing at all to do with reality.

Now on to morality. This might seem a bit rambling, and that's because there are so many different angles that I want to attack this claim from. I'll try to keep its length within reason.

If morality was objective and given by your god, then we should all agree that the 10 commandments define morality. I've covered this in another post, but our laws are not based on the commandments, and my morality isn't either. There are only 4 of them that I'm on-board with. The others, fuck them! That's right, fuck your douche-bag of a god making blasphemy wrong! For the love of your fucking god, I will take its name in vain any time I want! Fuck the 'sabbath day', I'm using it to blaspheme right now! (I'm writing this post on a Sunday, but will delay its publication for a few days. Wait a minute! Wasn't Saturday supposed to be the sabbath day? Oh, those wacky Christians!) I don't feel bad about it at all, because this is not part of my morality. Your ogre of a god doesn't even exist!

Now if societies throughout history agree that some of these things, like murder, are wrong, does that mean that the knowledge was given to us divinely? Or, going back to the cyanide analogy, does it mean that we've observed what happens when people harm each other, and that we decided it isn't productive? Our civilisation wouldn't even be here today if we thought murder was generally acceptable, so the fact that we are here shows how we feel about it. But time and time and time again throughout history, and every single day in modern society, people decide that they have reasons for breaking this morality and killing people. Societies have murdered each other in tremendous numbers throughout history. People slay each other in the streets every day, all throughout the world. And if they feel it was justified, they all have different reasons why it was necessary in their case. Your country made a moral case for nuking two cities, and for invading another country which had not attacked it. If morality is objective, then shouldn't we not only all believe murder is wrong, but also agree on the circumstances under which it is OK? We don't see that at all.

Beyond murder and theft, which almost all people believe is generally wrong, there are so many other morals which people disagree on strongly. These are people who disagree on what is right and wrong, which shouldn't be possible under your scenario. Can't you see that? Do you need me to spoon-feed you some examples of morality issues on which people genuinely disagree? Here:

- consumption of alcohol and drugs
- prostitution
- gambling
- pedophilia
- forced marriages
- women's rights
- homosexuality
- piracy of intellectual property
- abortion
- adultery
- universal health care (look around in your country, dude!)

So all you've got for evidence of your 'objective morality' is that MOST people agree that murder and theft are wrong in MOST situations, those situations being defined differently for every person. The rest is completely up in the air. You'd have to be spending way too much time with your nose in your books to not notice the conflicts over morality which occur daily all around you! And that's why I've lost even more respect for you, your arguments, and the 'philosophical community'.

For the record, I think piracy of intellectual property is flat-out theft. Society as a whole seems to tolerate it, and some believe it's not in any way wrong. I believe there is nothing at all immoral about prostitution, but society as a whole believes there is. I also don't believe there is anything immoral about homosexuality, but your little book of myths and its loyal followers disagree, don't they? How can we have all these disagreements if morality is objective?


Anonymous said...

Admin said...

An article by William Lane Craig? Oh yeah, that's a source I'd trust.

Anyway, some quotes form the article:

"...but that in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding. We might act in precisely the same ways that we do in fact act, but in the absence of God, such actions would no longer count as good (or evil), since if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist."


"If God does not exist, then it is difficult to see any reason to think that human beings are special or that their morality is objectively true."


"Moreover, on the atheistic view there is no divine lawgiver."


"If there is no God, then any ground for regarding the herd morality evolved by homo sapiens as objectively true seems to have been removed."


"After all, what is so special about human beings?"


"They are just accidental by-products of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time."


(continued in next comment)

Admin said...

"Some action, say, incest, may not be biologically or socially advantageous and so in the course of human evolution has become taboo; but there is on the atheistic view nothing really wrong about committing incest."

Perhaps. but also remember that your god created incest by only making 2 people to begin with. They were forced to have incestuous sex in order to obey the order to multiply. (Big point scored for me!)

"But if man has no immaterial aspect to his being (call it soul or mind or what have you), then he is not qualitatively different from other animal species."


"That means that an atrocity like the Holocaust was really morally indifferent. You may think that it was wrong, but your opinion has no more validity than that of the Nazi war criminal who thought it was good."

Yes. Does that bother you, Bill?

"And could anything be more obvious than that objective moral values do exist?"

Yes, absolutely.

"There is no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world."

Yes, I can see the physical world, and it is not merely a concept.

"Thus, the existence of objective moral values serves to demonstrate the existence of God."

Ummm... when exactly did you establish the existence of those objective morals?

OK, I'm stopping here. It is clear that Craig is not making any kind of evidence-backed argument to support objective morality. He is merely saying how terrible he thinks it would be if there wasn't, and asking us how we could stand to live in a society like that. This is pure philosophical trash, with no evidence at all presented.

And right here, he uses what I believe is the most shameful tactic and most serious failure that religious people can use:

"It follows that moral obligations and right and wrong necessitate God's existence."

Admin said...

I know that the first commenter is the same guy I wrote the post about.

I've gotta ask you, are you ever going to bring any evidence to support your claims? Trying to use that link to support your case or convince me otherwise was just a fail, and quite pathetic, as he didn't present any evidence either, except for his own wishful thinking. I know you don't want to live in a world without your god, but that doesn't make it true. Perhaps you should observe reality for a while. I know you just like to sit around and think esoteric thoughts, but there is a world out there. You and I genuinely don't agree on morals, and that is a fact which makes objective morality difficult to argue for.

Admin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ray Yaegle said...

This is really neither here nor there, but this post reminded me of the metaphor of the Kantian coin-sorter.

Universal judgments made based solely on their 'correctness'(ok, so we have over-simplified Kant) will always be subjective (leaving reality out of it, because Atheists and Orthodox Christians agree: people are generally self-serving a-holes) because the of the coin-sorting machine's underlying assumptions (be they based on religion, natural selection, hedonism, or simply personal preference).

1) coin sorter cannot account for different currencies and cultural contexts
2) coin sorter only sorts based on a set definition of value, but the meanings of 'valuable' and 'moral' are, themselves, objective.
3) coin sorter cannot give me a separate compartment for my pocket lint, buttons, and old gum

I don't especially think this metaphor is helpful to the discussion, but it made me think of this scenario so I thought I'd share anyways.

Basically, the pluralism of the world means it's time to stop throwing the proverbial monkey-dung of objective morality back and forth. Objective morality can't really be supported by ANYTHING (except for God, and that's still phrased around specific epistemes and ethnic heritage).

Unknown said...

"piracy" of "intellectual property"

thanks for the belly laugh

Admin said...

Sandi, so you're not against piracy of intellectual property, or you just don't know what the words mean?

If it's the first one, then I suppose it supports subjective morality.

Unknown said...

what amuses me is the concept of "intellectual property". Its an absurdity. I think is comes down to "make something" rather that "think something." I mean would you tell all the engineers at NASA that they infringed on Goddards "intellectual property"
building the Space Shuttle?

Admin said...

The problem comes when what you "make" is intangible, such as music, movies, text, etc. Businesses also can apply for patents for things their intellectual property, which is what gives them an incentive to think of these things. If we're all free to just copy everyone's ideas, artwork, etc, then there is much less incentive for people to make them. This is part of free-market capitalism, and I think you have to be bordering on communism to think that people don't have a right to profit from their ideas and to not have those ideas stolen by vultures.

As an example, my friend owns a company that he began with his wife, and they work very hard (I mean, insane hours) to put out a product. The product is in print form, meaning the physical product is only paper, but it's the intellectual property (ie. what's ON the paper) which has value. Anybody with access to a scanner and printer could easily make their own copies, and even sell them. That would mean my friend would not be making the profit he is entitled to and has worked for. That would not be right, because he deserves that profit for putting all the work into it for years. To make your own copy of it is stealing. That's my morality.