Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The canon within the canon, ethical relativism, and ther problem of evil

Yes, for me the sacrificial love of Christ is the canon within the canon. If that's cherry picking, so be it!
Ron: It appears to me that debate about moral realism (or objectivism) vs. moral relativism to be fruitless. I think everyone at heart knows that moral values really exist and aren't just subjective constructions. Otherwise, atheists wouldn't point out all the bad events in Christian history. Why would Dawkins point out the moral evils of Christians if he didn't believe that morality was something absolute and not just a cultural or biological product?
VR: Precisely. And if relativism is where naturalism leads, it lets the air out of the argument from evil. I've often wondered why the argument from evil is often thought to be somehow stronger than your average argument. It points to an explanatory gap in the theist's understanding of the world, but there are plenty of arguments that point out explanatory gaps for naturalism.
What I come up with is that, on the face of things, it allows the atheist to hang on to his or her moral purity. It presumably lets you call evil evil, and not have to fit it into some broader pattern in which it is good in some sense. But if this comes from a naturalist, and if Lewis is right that naturalism is going to lead logically to some kind of moral subjectivism, then it seems to me that that advantage disappears. You can't say of the Amalekite massacre that it is really, truly, honest to goodness evil.

19 comments:

SteveK said...

The AFE doesn't do anything to disprove God even if it proved what it set out to do. The best it can do is make God out to be a moral relativist, but then nothing really changes does it? The dead are still judged and the gates of Heaven and Hell remain open.

John W. Loftus said...

I used this same argument when I was a Christian. Now I see how lame it is, and I've tried and tried to show why it is lame to no avail. The good news is that if I don't get frustrated in the attempt I can learn better how to argue my case, and I like that.

I argue that no one gets their morals from the Bible because of the canon within the canon. Christians cherry-pick from it. But lo and behold, we all have morals...shared morals (even a relativist can and will argue genocide is evil). And the reason why Biblical genocide is horrible to us today is the same reason we think Hitler was evil. No let's say I cannot specify where we get our morals. Neither can you. But we share these morals anyway, and we think genocide is evil. So, based upon these shared morals, and without being asked for a complete justification of where we got them, I can argue that Biblical genocide is wrong.

As an analogy, take the scientific method. Can you tell me what it is, and can you provide a complete justification of it? As far as I know no one has done so. And yet we have a general idea of what it is. It's that general idea that we can use to debunk false claims, just like I do when it comes to general notions of our shared morality when compared to the morality in the Bible.

But beyond that, the problem of evil is an internal one for the theist:

1)God commands a morality.
2)God does not do as he says.

That's the problem. And I can indeed be a relativist in arguing these things are inconsistent, even if I cannot offer a complete justification for morality, and even if you will maintain that God can do whatever he wants because what he does is always good. Enough for now.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic said goes...there are plenty of arguments that point out explanatory gaps for naturalism.

Like the attempt to throw out red herrings that an atheist must have a complete justification for morality when it comes to making her case from evil against God, so also is this attempt. It does not answer the problem of evil to turn around and say....yeah, but you have a problem too. I mean really, what if I said the same thing in reverse. What if I said, yeah, I have some problems explaining the gaps in a complete justification of naturalism, but you have a problem with evil. You wouldn't let me get away with that as any answer at all. So why should I let you off the hook when it comes to your particular problem with evil?

John W. Loftus said...

One last thing (for now). Vic's point is that I think naturalism is true even though I cannot close all of the gaps, and if I can't do that, I shouldn't fault him for not being able to explain why God purportedly commanded genocide or allows so much suffering.

Is there parity here? I think not, for many reasons I share on my blog every week. I'm not the one who must also justify miracles, theories about incarnation and the Trinity. Nor am I asked to justify the atonement, or the five stages of gospel canonization via uninspired people leading to the claim the NT is inspired (oral, various compositions, four gospels, transmission, and canonization), and so forth and so forth. But you do! And you must do this BEFORE getting to the problem of the Amlekites. You shouldn't even come to that problem because there are so many previous stoppers to your belief. But if these previous stoppers don't stop you dead in your tracks, you are faced with an inspired book which allows slavery, human sacrifice, and commands genocide, witch and honor killings.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

Mr Loftus,

No; you need not justify these things. Rather, you need to justify:

- Sapience arising from nonsapience (which I grant is not a very serious problem given the results from the "new synthesis").

- That something exists rather than nothing at all.

- Any reason for me to behave in a manner other than complete self-interest (I do not mean "morality" in the strong sense: only a reason why I should ever behave altruistically when my genes give me a choice).

- The apparently-instinctive belief so many humans have that nature is not "all" -- note that I speak not specifically of theism, but spiritism, or any other form of super- or supranaturalism. Humans seem to have a strong sense that there is something more, and naturalism must explain that sense rationally.

And other stuff.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

Victor,

I completely concur with your "canon within the canon," though I would put it differently. I'm a strong believer in the "genre" approach to Scripture, and the Gospels and Acts are the among the very few books in the Bible that I take as being "historical" in the modern sense -- especially Luke and Acts, where the author takes trouble to tell his reader that he's done his research.

All books of Scripture (I would say) are true, but not all of Scripture is factual. It is an important distinction, and failing to understand and make it makes some Christians look like scientifically ignorant buffoons.

For example, it matters not one bit whether God made the Universe, up through the first humans, in seven days or several gigayears; what matters is that the Universe is an artifact and not an accident. It does not matter whether the ur-sin was eating a piece of fruit; what matters is that humanity Fell, through our own freely-willed choices. Etc.

John W. Loftus said...

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...No; you need not justify these things. Rather, you need to justify:

My point exactly. I'll deal with my problems. You deal with yours. I cannot esacpe my problems by pointing out yours. So don't do this with me.

SL: That something exists rather than nothing at all.

How exactly is this my problem alone? Why is an eternal God who never learned anything exempt from this here?

SL: All books of Scripture (I would say) are true, but not all of Scripture is factual.

There you go with arbitrary criteria again. How did you learn these things were not factual in the first place?...through science and a deeper study into the historical records of the time. Before we learned these things (through quite a battle which cost many lives in the Inquisition) most Christians did believe everything in the Bible was factual.

SL: Any reason for me to behave in a manner other than complete self-interest. .

Why yes of course! Just do a thought experiment with me. This is easy. Pretend that God does not exist, hypothetically speaking, okay? Now tell me you would go out and kill, rape and steal. Be honest and do not lie. Now tell me why you wouldn't, and that would be why I don't. If you need help read through this.

You will no doubt argue that I'm being inconsistent somewhere, but where? It simply falls on deaf ears to ask me to provide some kind of ultimate justification for my morals before I can behave morally, in the same sense as it does to ask a scientist to provide a full justification for the scientific method before he does science. I have argued that you do not gain your morals from the Bible. I have argued that there is no reason for us to think God's commands are good. So I throw this same problem back at you. YOU have no justification for your morals either! If you do, then you'll be the first one to effectively argue for this, in my opinion.

SL: And other stuff.

And other answers. That's enough for now.

Cheers to you. Nothing personal.

Ron said...

john w. loftus,

"No let's say I cannot specify where we get our morals. Neither can you. But we share these morals anyway, and we think genocide is evil."

But we can and do specify where we get our morals. They indwell in us because we were all made in the very image of God. That's why we have this "shared" moral sense that goes beyond just being Americans or liberals or whatever. The fact that the relativist will argue that certain things are wrong is evidence for moral realism. I have a feeling that a true relativist would not see any value in arguing, besides to just gain power over other people.

"But beyond that, the problem of evil is an internal one for the theist:

1)God commands a morality.
2)God does not do as he says."

Doesn't this strike anyone as a little simplistic? First, God does "command morality," so to speak. He commands goodness, justice, love because those are His attributes. Does God not do what He says? Remember now, that our perspectives are finite. Giving a 1 year old a vaccine will appear evil to that child because he does not know that the temporary pain is for his future long-term benefit.

So while it would be evil for any human to kill the Amlekites, it is a different story for God. God is not a temporal being. All time to him is an ever-present Now. While we are stuck knowing human limitations and evil, God is totally above all that. He sees the whole tapestry of human history. While we play at discovering things, he knows fully. When we look that morality, at beauty, etc. we see through a glass darkly. We don't usually see the end at which morality is pointing to.

Since all our true moral sensibilities derive from God and that without this anchor arguing amongst ourselves is meaningless, to judge Him for what appears to be a moral deficit in a point in history is a high form of pride.

John W. Loftus said...

Ron said...But we can and do specify where we get our morals. They indwell in us because we were all made in the very image of God. That's why we have this "shared" moral sense that goes beyond just being Americans or liberals or whatever.

That, my friend, is a faith statement. Besides, even if this is the case we no longer need the Bible. The hypothesis to be tested now becomes whether there is evidence that we are indeed made in God's image vs the hypothesis that our shared sense of morals comes from our evolving sense of morals based upon our humanity.

The fact that the relativist will argue that certain things are wrong is evidence for moral realism.

How so? I see it based in our shared sense of humanity.

I have a feeling that a true relativist would not see any value in arguing, besides to just gain power over other people.

Even if our arguments are nothing but Wittgensteinian word games, we still play the games. And you would certainly want a world where there is peace and security if you had a daughter.

Doesn't this strike anyone as a little simplistic?

No, why?

Giving a 1 year old a vaccine will appear evil to that child because he does not know that the temporary pain is for his future long-term benefit.

And if God cares he would make sure the child didn't get sick in the first place.

All time to him is an ever-present Now.

Theologians disagree, and for good reason. Whom should I believe here?

Edward T. Babinski said...

VIC: "You can't say of the Amalekite massacre that it is really, truly, honest to goodness evil."

ED: Of course it's not "evil," because God tells us that massacring men, women and children is sometimes very very good, even an obligation (and in fact if you don't "drench your sword in blood" in such cases then you're "cursed" as it says in Jeremiah). So who are you going to listen to, your human conscience and instincts socially evolved over the past two millennia, or an iron age holy book? Obviously the latter.

Jason Pratt said...

That remark would have almost made sense, Ed--if Victor had been trying to claim that the Amalekite massacre wasn't evil.

I realize the whole 'reading for context' thing is annoying and time-consuming. It's more fun (and fundamentalistic) to just pick a phrase and make a convenient guess about what it means and then write a comment on it. The end result is that people who _were_ paying attention to the conversation, though, are not likely to be impressed by your ability to properly apply to the contextual meaning of a subsequent scattershot reference, even if they've never heard of it themselves and even if you happen to be correct in your application of it.

I do however think it's amusing that you consider your human conscience and instincts to be evolutionarily superior in development to iron age conscience and instincts of two millennia ago, especially since in other discussions you have an established track-record of instantly latching onto the extremely obvious observation that wars and even programmatic genocides still occur on a regular basis today. Doesn't seem to have been much evolutionary development _there_; and it can hardly be argued that overtly atheistic/secular/anti-Christian societies in the 20th century tallied up much credit on the humanitarian side of the sheet (quite obviously the reverse; and quite obviously still going on today in many of the remnants and heirs of those societies.) Plus, if it wasn't for some of that "drench the sword or be cursed" attitude, you'd certainly be enslaved today to a real military dictatorship (and not even a Christian one either, nor possibly a religious one at all) instead of to whatever it is we have (which despite rhetorical appeal is certainly not in the same class.) Seems like Ken Burns had something to say on that recently.

Your evolutionarily superior human conscience and instincts look quite miraculously developed in _that_ context! {g} So, the fundamentally non-rational/amoral natural reactions governing and constituting your behaviors have managed to arrive (thanks to random copy errors) at a superior level of rationality and morality in you, have they? Naturally (I use that term loosely) this is something to be plausibly expected... for some people.


JL: {{I used this same ['lame'] argument when I was a Christian.}}

I'm still a little fuzzy on which argument it was you were talking about here, John. Some specificity on which argument you were talking about, mentioned by Victor (either directly or by Ron) in the post to which you seem to have been replying, would have been helpful (and perhaps less frustrating.)

{{I argue that no one gets their morals from the Bible because of the canon within the canon.}}

I’m trying to figure out where Victor (or Ron or anyone in the previous thread up to that point) was claiming that anyone gets their morals (per se) “from the Bible”. Not that Christians don’t have a tendency to claim this, but this didn’t seem to be a tenet of the discussion among the particular theists/Christians here. Maybe you posted to the wrong thread by accident?

{{But lo and behold, we all have morals...}}

Lo and behold, no one in the discussion was denying that.

{{...shared morals}}

Or that.

{{even a relativist can and will argue genocide is evil}}

Or that!

Now, several people have been arguing that the relativist’s argument doesn’t mean anything ethically relevant (not counting other possible ways of being relevant) unless she’s appealing to some (implicitly shared) overarching morality that is in fact objectively moral. But everyone on our side in the recent discussion was also basically agreeing (it looked to me) that since there is a shared overarching objectively moral standard, then the argument of the relativist on this topic is worth respecting (despite her own theoretical position) as an actually moral argument (and/or as an argument actually about morality and not actually about something-that-seems-kinda-like-morality-but-really-isn’t-when-we-get-down-to-brass-tacks.)

{{No[w] let's say I cannot specify where we get our morals. Neither can you.}}

Obviously we’re getting it from some kind of overarching moral standard, at least in the sense of rationally judging a situation according to that standard. And some of us are competent enough to begin making some specifications about what the characteristics of that standard have to be in order for our agreement on the topic to make any sense as such.

And I know for an established fact of experience, that you yourself are not shy of specifying at least two of those characteristics, when you’re making an ethical appeal yourself (such as near the end of the previous thread on this topic): the standard is actually moral in itself (not amoral at best, much less immoral); and the standard is rational (not irrational at best, much less non-rational or anti-rational). You enjoin us, with some frequency, to be more moral and more rational than you yourself judge us to be being; more in accord with this unspoken standard, therefore.

Whatever that standard is, it just as clearly isn’t an intrinsically atheistic standard. Otherwise you’d be enjoining us to be less specifically moral and less actively rational (thus more in accord with that standard!)

Interestingly, you didn’t bother to give an actual reason for why “Biblical genocide is horrible to us today” and for why “we think Hitler was evil”. How do you know it’s the same reason, then? And if you in fact cannot specify anything about where we get our morals, why do you think there’s a legitimate reason at all for why we consider such things horrible? (Or, maybe you don’t think or can’t say there’s any such legitimate reason at all for why we think them horrible?)

Also I find it odd that you’re willing to argue “that no one gets their morals from the Bible” and to even give a putative reason why (“because of the canon within the canon”) which implies Christians who think they’re doing so (none of whom were in the particular group you were addressing, as far as I can tell) are actually appealing to some exterior standard instead. Yet you were also willing to say that you cannot specify “where we get our morals”.

One might have supposed that in such a state of ignorance, you might be similarly agnostic about the worth of the standard or standards by which Christians appeal to a canon in the canon. Yet just as clearly you’re ready to dismiss all such attempts as mere “arbitrary” “cherry-picking”. Which means you cannot have ever done much real cherry-picking yourself, since aside from personal taste there are also other constraints involved in cherry-picking: bad cherries are poisonous enough to cause illness. A rational agent might make mistakes about which cherries are bad enough to cause illness or not (due to various levels of incompetency); but it seems strangely suspicious that such a goal being actively striven for is either not to be considered as an option, or else is to itself be dismissed as merely arbitrary! (Especially when you’re effectively trying to reject the whole tree on what seems implicitly to be a similar ground, which rejection you ideally expect us to treat as rational and perhaps even moral.)

{{So, based upon these shared morals, and without being asked for a complete justification of where we got them, I can argue that Biblical genocide is wrong.}}

So long as the process involves utterly denigrating and dismissing any attempt at specification by those other people you’re appealing to via a “shared morality” with them. I observe that these people are not even allowed to be applying the morality they share with you, to their interpretations of what scripture means. Except insofar as they should agree with you that genocide is wrong, of course--but that’s it! No more detail allowed to the specification! (And this is to be regarded as mere arbitrary cherry-picking whenever you aren’t in view yourself in the operation, even though we’d still be operating according to the same shared standard you happen to also share.)

I think I may call this ‘convenient’. I would not call this merely arbitrary as a strategy on your part, though. The logical math points toward a generally clear goal on your part. But I don’t think you’re going to like it very much if I say what it is. (And you won’t not-like-it for merely arbitrary cherry-picking reasons, either, I think.)


{{It's that general idea that we can use to debunk false claims}}

Actually, we (as humanity in general) currently have a bunch of specific ideas about how to debunk false claims and validate true ones (deductively, inductively and abductively). Surely you were taught those at some point.

What we tend to disagree about, is which of these particular methods (singly or in groups) should be classified as scientific methods. Though last I checked there was unanimous or near-unanimous agreement that at least one particular method should certainly count: the drawing of inferences about natural behavior from data observations gathered through reliably duplicatable experiments in similar experimental conditions. A method refined and expanded from the process of gathering observational data (e.g., pointing a telescope in a particular direction and seeing such-n-such), which is where we got the word ‘scientia’ from in the first place.

Moreover, last I checked, one of the goals of “the scientific method”, whatever method is being debateably used, is to gather at least practical (and, in most philosophies of science, hopefully true) information about the object being studied and referred to for conclusions. But if your claim about “morality” is being analogized to “the scientific method”, then either our observations of the data are to be discounted as inscrutable or merely arbitrary, or else the principle standards by which we’re supposed to be drawing conclusions about observed data are to be discounted as being either inscrutable or merely arbitrary.

I don’t think science is in quite so unenlightened (and unenlightenable?) a shape as that; and if it was, we wouldn’t be getting along very well and/or far in our science! I don’t think moral philosophy is, either; at least in principle much moreso (I would say) in practice. We get along pretty well in moral casuistry after all, otherwise we wouldn’t be here now debating the topic in a civilization but would be living in sub-barbaric savagery instead. That tells me we should expect to have some hope in understanding the principle reality by which we make and share moral agreements (not to say disagreements).

Consequently, I’m not much for moral obscurantism. It’s true, we can operate along on a shared moral STANDARD (you seemed to have been avoiding admitting there’s still a standard involved for this to work, so I thought I’d emphasize it) without coming to know much about the characteristics of that standard; just like a child can learn to fly a kite without learning anything first (or even during) about hydroaerodynamics, expressable as such. But the air is still there, and it still has definite properties that can be discovered; and the kite is still flying (with crashes to the ground or tangling in trees or even lightning stikes, notwithstanding).


{{But beyond that, the problem of evil is an internal one for the theist:}}

True, but a lot of that can be resolved by starting from more basic philosophical positions first and then working forward. I don’t blame sceptics (or anyone else) for having problems when they start at this topic instead of working their way up to it; but I do routinely make a point of reminding disputants (on any side of the aisle) that starting with the problem (as pressing as it practically is) is working very far out of order of logical progression. There are literally dozens of prior topics that a careful metaphysician would have to cover first before getting to this point. By starting here, all those other prior topics are being (at least accidentally) ignored.

Consequently, my understanding for why God gives medicine to a sick child (literally or figuratively; directly or by proxy) instead of just healing the child directly at any given time, much less instead of never letting the child get sick to start with, is going to be made in light of all those other things that (I find) ought to be logically considered first, and the results thereof.

Again, not that I expect other people to be able to do the same thing who haven’t gone through the same disciplinary process. I’m just saying, there are in fact very many prior considerations to be taken into account when addressing the problem. Which means that attempts to give equally-simple answers are going to be confusing or look only ad-hoc.

So for instance, if I answer that the reason God doesn’t keep the child from getting sick in the first place, is because He’s trying to love other entities, too, I can’t see how that’s going to look anything like a satisfying (or even a merely reasonable) answer. Nevertheless, if I have to give an equally-simple answer to the question... {shrug}

That being said: from the same vantage point I’m also in a position to say that the sick-child analogy to the Amelekites is (I expect) a much better one than Ron himself may have intended. Or, putting it another way, if I was an opponent, I would have asked how the analogy was supposed to be relevant to the Amelekites; since most explications of God’s intentions there sure don’t jive with the notion that God was giving them medicine they might not like but was still hoping that they would get better eventually!


{{And I can indeed be a [moral] relativist in arguing these things [statements 1 and 2] are [logically] inconsistent}}

That’s true. Though you couldn’t be a logical relativist and still be taken very seriously as such (i.e. as a logical relativist), in arguing such a thing.

Simliarly, though, you can’t be a moral relativist and be taken very seriously as such in arguing that Event X is really morally wrong. You can be a moral relativist and argue such a thing and be taken seriously as a moral objectivist instead; but that’s not the same thing as being taken seriously as a moral relativist in accepting a conclusion from such an argument.

Which leads back to the observation that moral relativists want to be taken seriously as moral relativists when it comes time to talk about moral theory in general (especially if that means involves denying theism somehow); but want to be taken seriously as moral objectivists when it comes time to talk about a practical moral judgment they themselves care about.

The problem isn’t that the atheist is supposed to have “a complete justification for morality when it comes to making her case from evil” (against God or otherwise!) The problem is that the atheist’s own grounds, as far as they do go, don’t provide the proper grounding in principle to make that case.

The real “red herring” is the attempt to get around this problem by pretending that the opponent is asking for a lacking “complete justification”. Anyone here will doubtless agree that the problem isn’t that the atheist is lacking complete justification--which would probably explain why no one here seems to be bringing this up as a problem.

The problem is that the atheist, as an atheist, is going to end up necessarily having to appeal to an intrinsically non-moral ground of explanation for her moral judgment. Which is precisely why some (not all) atheists go the route of ethical relativism. Which in turn tanks any version of the argument from evil (per se) that requires evil to really be evil and not just be a bunch of humans asserting about what counts as evil (which may or may not change over time) or the equivalent of passing genetic gas (ick, I hate the taste of butterscotch!) Though admittedly it doesn’t tank versions of the AfE that are only concerned with logical inconsistencies in claims per se and aren’t concerned with actual evil per se.


Incidentally, I've discussed all these topics at length (much greater even than this {wry g}) several months ago at the Cadre, beginning with this post here. (Or here, in a way.) And completely without appeal to scriptural authority, either. (Which means there isn't anything in that series about the Amelekites, if that's all someone is looking for. Though we happen to have been having a most recent discussion on that, too, here. Where in the comments I express some dissatisfaction with Bill's way of dealing with the topic.

JRP

John W. Loftus said...

Jason said...Obviously we’re getting it from some kind of overarching moral standard, at least in the sense of rationally judging a situation according to that standard.

Why is this obvious? It's not only NOT obvious. I deny it.

I stopped reading there. I figure if your arguments are initially that lame there is nothing I could gain by reading further.

Lee Randolph said...

I challenge the whole premise of the problem of evil.
- god is all powerful,
- god is all knowing,
- god is perfectly good,
- god is perfectly merciful,
- the problem of evil creates a greater good
- god doesn't like to see us suffer

so a solution that is consistent will all the premises is that god would have breathed people into existence as they would have turned out if they had suffered through the 'test'.

To say that it is more important to actually do the work and suffer when the same result could be achieved in another way which avoids needless suffering is logically inconsistent with several premises.

Bill Snedden said...

VR Said: "But if this comes from a naturalist, and if Lewis is right that naturalism is going to lead logically to some kind of moral subjectivism..."

But what if Lewis is wrong?

Now it may indeed be the case that naturalism and moral subjectivism are consonant, but I see no reason to believe that the connection is ineluctable. Certainly no more so than any purported consonance between supernaturalism and moral subjectivism.

It seems to me that the claim being made by Lewis et al is that theism allows morality to be grounded "objectively" whereas non-theism allows no such grounding, but I can see no reason to accept such a claim. Any person claiming objective grounding for his/her moral theory must be able to point to some ultimate foundation that lies external to consciousness or will. But if moral grounding must stand external to the will, why can only "god" account for it?

For example: from what I've seen, theists will most often seek to ground morality in God's nature (so as to avoid Euthyphro's horns). Well and good, for God's nature is surely not subject to His will. But that must mean that the ground of morality lies external to consciousness/will. If that's the case, what is to prevent the non-theist from grounding morality in the nature of Existence?

It seems to me that this is one of those cases where natural/supernatural is revealed as a false dichotomy. At base, Existence must have some sort of a nature; a "way things are". Those who believe that God exists are would say that this "way things are" is "the way God is". Those who express doubt in God's existence are saying that this "way things are" is simply "the way Existence is". What's the relevant difference?

Jason Pratt said...

Just so we’re clear on how the exchange went.

JL: {{Lo and behold, we all have morals--shared morals. [...] The reason why Biblical genocide is horrible to us today is the same reason we think Hitler was evil. [...] [W]e share these morals anyway, and we think genocide is evil. So, based upon these shared morals, and without being asked for a complete justification of where we got them, I can argue that Biblical genocide is wrong.}}

JRP: {{Lo and behold, no one in the discussion was denying that [we all have morals]. Or that [we have all have shared morals]. Or that [even a relativist can and will argue genocide is evil]. [...] But everyone on our side in the recent discussion was also basically agreeing (it looked to me) that since there is a shared overarching objectively moral standard, then the argument of the relativist on this topic is worth respecting (despite her own theoretical position) as an actually moral argument.}}

JL: {{No[w] let’s say I cannot specify where we get our morals. Neither can you.}}

JRP: {{Obviously we’re getting it [per my recent agreement with the things you thought I was supposed to be disagreeing about] from some kind of overarching moral standard, at least in the sense of rationally judging a situation according to that standard.}}

JL: {{Why is this obvious? It's not only NOT obvious. I deny it. I stopped reading there. I figure if your arguments are initially that lame there is nothing I could gain by reading further.}}


So...

you’re going to stress that we all have shared morals by which we (implicitly all) judge genocide to be wrong and by which even a relativist can make a respectable moral judgment on an issue (like genocide). That is, you’re going to stress this when you think the Christian is going to deny it (even when no Christian in the conversation was denying it) in order to oppose the idea that Christians get their morals “from the Bible” and other people ought to, too (even when no Christian in the conversation was defending that).

But then when a Christian agrees with you that we all have shared morals etc., and draws the plain and obvious and frankly rather generic conclusion (without even going any further) that obviously we’re getting our morals from some common overarching (i.e. shared) moral standard, at least in the sense that we (including the relativist, as you yourself had said) are rationally judging a situation according to that standard--

--then, you not only deny that this is obviously true, you strenuously deny that we’re getting our morals from some shared standard. And, incidentally, refused to read any further.

It looks pretty obvious to me where the coherency is in this. But it isn’t in your stance about shared morality. It’s in opposing the Christian, no matter what it takes, even if that requires bouncing back and forth between denying and affirming two opposing positions.

That being the case, yes, I figure there is nothing you could gain from reading any further, either.

JRP

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

Mr Loftus,

First, of course I got all that stuff through science. I am not an anti-scientist; indeed, I am a believer that religion must incorporate, or at least accept, the results of good science. Thus, I am (for example) a huge fan of Professor Dawkins' work until he became a atheist-fundamentalist (about the time he came up with the term "brights").

I don't think the difference between "true" and "factual" is at all arbitrary. I can say that many works which are generally considered to be works of fiction -- say, Don Quixote or Great Expectations -- that nonetheless express truth, important truth that allows us to live our lives better.

I believe that Scripture does likewise.

As for your point about morality: If I did not believe in God, would I lie, rape, steal, etc.? Yes, if I believed I could get away with it, I believe that I would. I know that before I took my beliefs seriously I had a "problem" with shoplifting.

(Note that I am not saying that "Jesus saved me from shoplifting," nor that "if all shoplifters became Christians there would be no more shoplifting." I'm not that kind of Christian.)

I have argued elsewhere, and in other comments on Victor's blog, very much what you are saying: that all answers to "why is there something?" ultimately must beg the question. I openly admit that "God" does.

So does science, but I don't consider that an argument against science -- unless (as many do) scientists believe that science will provide a final answer. They are preparing in advance to beg the question, which is a very deep kind of intellectual dishonesty.

There are only three ways of answering this Ultimate Question.

One can beg the question, or declare it illegitimate (which is a fancy way of begging it).
One can accept infinite regression or circularity.
Or, one can arbitrarily declare a stopping place to the regression. Many Christians do this at "God." Many materialists do this at "The Big Bang," or "The Laws of Physics." In all cases, I consider them intellectually dishonest unless they admit that they are drawing an arbitrary and unjustified stopping-place.

Jason Pratt said...

{{In all cases, I consider them intellectually dishonest unless they admit that they are drawing an arbitrary and unjustified stopping-place.}}

Ahem. {raising eyebrow}

I would like to point out here that I don't consider "all" cases, including among my opponents, as being intellectually dishonest about drawing a non-arbitrary and even justified stopping-place, even when that place is short of where I arrive at ontologically.

JRP

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

Jason,

I would like to point out here that I don't consider "all" cases, including among my opponents, as being intellectually dishonest about drawing a non-arbitrary and even justified stopping-place, even when that place is short of where I arrive at ontologically.

Ahem yourself!

Please note that I said (and you quoted it) that I consider this intellectual dishonesty only when the person doing it does not admit that this is what they are doing. In the case of Theists, drawing a line at God is arbitrary; in the case of Atheists, drawing a line at "the Big Bang" or "the Laws of Physics" is equally arbitrary -- in that in all these cases it is legitimate to ask of this "ultimate" cause, "but wherefore that?" Thus, intellectual honesty (at least) requires admission that the line here drawn is arbitrary.

I in no way mean to suggest that drawing such a line is intellectually dishonest!

Jacob Madison said...

We do not get our morals from the Bible. In fact, the Bible even tells us that we do not get our morals from the Bible. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans says that the law is written on the hearts of the Gentiles. So our morals do not come from the Bible; they come from an instinct that God gave us when we were created. This also explains how the people before the Law had morals, or how else could God judge Sodom and Gomorrah or the people before the Great Flood. The people know what was right and wrong; it just was not written down for them.

Since we are using the Bible as a truthful reference, I would like to draw people’s attention to how the Amalekite genocide came about. The Bible says that God ordered Saul to destroy the Amalekites. The reason that God gives for destroying the Amalekites is that back when the Israelites where traveling from Egypt to the Promise land, the Amalekites tried to hinder the Israelites and tried to stop them from getting to the Promise land that God had given them. So God was displaying his justice and his wrath on the Amalekites and his faithfulness to the Israelites. So the difference here between when Hitler was trying to kill the Jews and the Amalekite genocide is that the Amalekite genocide was an order from a holy God. That is why it feels wrong for human being to commit genocide but it is not wrong for God to. For us to question a holy God is like if you woke up some morning and went downstairs to toast a piece of bread and your toaster tells you that it hates the smell of bread so it will not toast your bread. Naturally you would be infuriated that a lowly toaster, that a human being had created, would not do such a simple task as toasting a piece of bread. Thankfully God is also merciful.