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July 26, 2012 1:19 pm

…But Atheism Does Teach That We’re Animals

avatar by Moshe Averick

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Pastor Rick Warren

Atheist blogger, Staks Rosch, was quite upset when Pastor Rick Warren, spiritual leader of the Saddleback mega-Church and author of the best-selling The Purpose Driven Life, tweeted the following on 6/20/12, just hours after the Aurora, Colorado movie-theatre shootings: “When students are taught they are no different than animals, they act like it.” Rosch was outraged that Warren seemed to be blaming the horrific murders “on the teaching of evolution in public science classes.” Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, was not friendly at all in his reaction: “So, according to Rick Warren, pastor extraordinaire, teaching scientifically-sound evolution is the reason the shooter went into that theater. Tell me again why he deserves our respect?” Dr.’s Jerry Coyne (“So much for Rick Warren…”), and P.Z Myers (“Rick Warren is a lying ghoul”), both outspoken atheistic biologists and prolific bloggers, also weighed in on the controversy. Even a Christian professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Dr. James McGrath, wrote that he was “disappointed that Rick Warren would use the occasion of the horrible tragedy in Aurora, Colorado to make an inane, stupid swipe at evolution.”

As it turns out, Rick Warren’s tweet was not about the Colorado shootings at all. On 6/22/12, Warren posted the following on Dr. Mcgrath’s Patheos blog:

“My tweet was a brief response to a question to me about SEXUAL PROMISCUITY. It had NOTHING to do with the tragedy in Colorado! I had received this email from a dad: “Pastor Rick, my daughter told me her teacher said in class “There’s nothing wrong with sex with multiple partners! Sex is a natural, innate drive, and any attempt to limit it to one, single partner is a manmade construct.” THAT is what I was commenting on. Unfortunately, you also incorrectly presumed the context.”

This perfect tempest in a teapot involving the subject of Warren’s tweet, the motive behind the mass-murders in Colorado, and the aforementioned bloggers’ sloppy fact-checking, obscures the simple underlying truth generating the tension here; namely, that whatever be the motives of the shooter, whatever Rick Warren’s true intentions, and however inadequate the journalistic integrity, atheists do teach that we are “no different than animals.”

Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, falsely accused Rick Warren

The inescapable conclusion of an atheistic worldview is that homo sapiens is to the lobster what the lobster is to the cockroach, and what the lobster is to the cockroach the cockroach is to the paramecium. We may be more intelligent than chimpanzees but then of course chimpanzees are more intelligent than other primates. Objectively, we are no more or less significant than the original bacteria or inorganic chemicals from which we all supposedly evolved. It is also quite reasonable to hypothesize that just as some primates have evolved to higher levels of sophistication and intelligence than others, some races of human beings may have evolved to higher levels of sophistication and intelligence than others. After all, Darwinian Evolution and natural selection do not stand still for political correctness. It goes much further than that.

The teacher mentioned in Warren’s response was absolutely correct when he/she said that, “Sex is a natural, innate drive, and any attempt to limit it to one, single partner is a man-made construct.” In fact, every urge and impulse we have is innate and natural. If there is no reality other than the physical, what else could they possibly be? There is nothing that is not innate and natural. This, of course, includes our natural urges and impulses to violence, cruelty, war, rape, pillage, and murder (even in movie theaters). Lest I be misunderstood, our feelings of empathy and compassion and our altruistic impulses are also innate and natural. What is self-apparently true is that, absent the divine, any system devised to regulate our behavior or emphasize one mode of human behavior over another is a man-made construct. The utilitarian/pragmatic value of any particular man-made construct over another is purely in the eyes of the beholder. There are no exceptions. “Morality” itself is nothing more than a man-made artificial construct. In the words of Dr. Joel Marks, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of New Haven:

“I have given up morality all together! [I] have been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I now believe there isn’t…I experienced  my shocking epiphany that the religious fundamentalists  are correct; without God there is  no morality…Hence  I believe there is no morality…The long and short of it is that I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and  since I am an atheist, I must  therefore embrace amorality…even though words like “sinful” and “evil” come naturally to the tongue as a description of, say, child-molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything…there are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God…I now maintain nothing  is literally right or wrong because  there is no morality…”

Dr. Joel Marks, "I have given up morality altogether!"

To be honest, I’m not really worried that Dr. Marks is going to start molesting children. Although as an honest atheistic philosopher he clearly understands there is nothing inherently immoral in such an act, it would be nearly impossible for him to overcome the social/psychological conditioning to which he was subjected growing up in the Judeo/Christian culture of the United States. Even more to the point: If he does not have the physical desires of a pedophile, what reason would he have for even attempting to overcome that conditioning? What worries me is a whole generation of children growing up who were never exposed to Judeo/Christian God-based values. What frightens me is a whole generation of children who are conditioned from childhood with the atheistic truth according to Dr. Joel Marks (and confirmed by nearly all atheistic philosophers), that “without God there is no morality.” That “atheism implies amorality” and I must therefore “embrace amorality.” These truths that I – and Dr. Marks – have stated are self-evident. I leave the reader with a chilling, matter-of-fact statement from a man who could have been one of Dr. Mark’s – or perhaps one of Charles Darwin’s – most devoted disciples:

“I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime…if a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges?”Jeffrey Dahmer

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified ‘Friendly Atheist’ Hemant Mehta as Herman Mehta.

Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi, a regular columnist for the Algemeiner Journal, and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on Amazon.com and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website. If you wish to be informed when new articles appear, send an email to moe.david@hotmail.com with the email address and the word “Subscribe” in the subject line.

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  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 15, 2012
    1:47 am
    “I would say that morality doesn’t simply exist. It’s merely a desire we have. But if we are contemplative enough, we can make it work …”
    [][][]

    That sounds like wishful thinking. (Or maybe what we used to call “contemplating your navel” …)

    At any rate, the question that leads to is: how in the world do you expect to make it work by being “contemplative enough” instead of cognitively connecting it up to reality?

    Remember that desires don’t create reality — wishing won’t make it so. You might as well just contemplate your “connection to God.”

    • Eric Dutton

      Well, I don’t mean contemplating in the sense of reflecting for the sake of reflecting. I’m basically talking about thinking. I was attempting to use similar terms for the sake of style. Maybe it was a bad choice.

      Anyway, we’re not talking about creating reality. We’re talking about making decisions. That’s how you connect morality to reality. You make decisions and act on them.

      • Decisions based on what? Instinct and emotion rather than knowledge? That would certainly be stacking the odds against yourself.

  • Computers don’t make choices, they don’t use logic, they don’t compute. And it’s true they don’t have free will.

    • Eric Dutton

      “Computers . . . don’t use logic.”

      Any computer people here wanna take this one? I mean, I could do it, but it would be better if someone with a little more tech Ethos would step up.

      • I’ve been a computer programmer since 1977. I understand that computers do not “make choices,” “use logic,” or even “compute,” any more than slide rules do. Computers are utterly insentient; they are not conscious beings, so they do not have human capabilities and cannot “make choices” or “use logic.”

        And they certainly don’t have free will, which humans do have.

        • Eric Dutton

          You can say that computer logic is different from human logic, but logic is part of computer science. There’s a whole section about it in the Wikipedia entry on logic. Computers appear in Merriam Webster’s definition of logic.

          Computers are not sentient. They don’t have will. They do employ logic.

          • People employ logic, not computers.

            It wasn’t computers that developed computer science, it was people who did it.

            Computers are built with logic gates, etc., but it is a misconception to anthropomorphize them and believe that it is the computers as such rather than their builder, programmer, and users, etc., who are actually using the logic involved.

            You don’t anthropomorphize slide rules, typewriters, and chess boards, do you? Why do it to computers just because they are fancier versions of such tools?

      • These moderation delays make it seem like trying to converse with somebody living on Pluto.

        • Eric Dutton

          At some point, we should probably just start emailing each other.

          • I haven’t given up hope that other people might be interested in the topic of whether morality should be rational, as one choice, or based on “instinct” or some “connection to God” as other choices.

          • Eric Dutton

            That’s a false dilemma. No one is arguing that morality should not be rational. That’s a gross misrepresentation of what I’m saying.

          • It is either based on rationality, or on something else like “instinct” (or a “connection to God”). You can’t have it both ways.

          • Eric Dutton

            You gave these two options:

            1. Based on instinct
            2. Rational

            That’s how you worded it.
            I can allow that what I’m arguing is based on instinct, but only insofar as it begins with instinct and is based on reason after that. It is rational.
            To say that the alternative to my model is reason is to say that I’m arguing for a non-rational model of morality, which is just wrong.
            We can want our morality to be rational all the down, but it can’t be. There will be an assumption somewhere.

          • So long as you keep saying morality has to be non-rational at root, I shall take you as meaning it can’t be rational.

          • Eric Dutton

            Then you insist on misunderstanding me.

          • What is the way to understand someone who wants to have his cake, and eat it, too? So long as you stay in that mode, you don’t seem to be making yourself “understandable” (at least from a reasonable perspective). How can a morality (or anything) be non-rational and rational as the same time and in the same respect?

      • People use logic and make computations. One of the tools they use in this activity is called an “electronic computer.” The computer, on its own, does not use logic or make computations. That is entirely up to the computer’s builders, programmers, users, etc.

      • Computers don’t use logic any more than baseballs play baseball.

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 14, 2012
    4:04 pm
    “You’re describing a being who is trapped inside of a machine with no way to take hold of the controls.”
    [][][]

    That is the determinist (i.e., anti-free will) vision of what a human being must endure.

    • Eric Dutton

      That’s strawman determinism, or poorly understood determinism. Determinism would not be something to endure. It wouldn’t be something you’re aware of.

      • Well, of course not, since determinism basically denies the existence of human awareness. Determinism is a conceptual mess that makes no sense on it own terms.

        • Eric Dutton

          No. Awareness is just fine in determinism.

          • Except for the human, conceptual kind, which they call an illusion.

          • Eric Dutton

            Will is the illusion, not awareness.

          • For humans, will and awareness are basically the same functionality. You cannot logically declare one to be an illusion and still magically keep the other.

          • Here’s a view of “determinism” that I like:

            That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call ‘free will’ is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.
            — Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 14, 2012
    1:45 am
    ‘You have to be able to apply reason to the non-objective world.’
    [][][]

    Reason can be, and ought to be, applied to everything.

    People have free will, so they do not have to apply reason to anything (if they prefer to live unreasonably) — but the capability does exist.

    Reason is certainly applicable to what you are calling “the non-objective world,” viz., the world of consciousness (of thinking, perceiving, feeling, imagining, etc.): what happens inside your head (as opposed to outside it, which is what you are calling “the objective world”).

    [][][]
    ‘You can reason all you like about non-existent things.’
    [][][]

    Just so long as you acknowledge that they are non-existent. On the subject of God, for instance, you can reason that God does not exist, but once you start believing that God does exist, you have abandoned reason (on that subject, at that time) in favor of blind faith (or magical thinking and imagination).

    • Eric Dutton

      I don’t think it’s useful to say that you’re not reasoning if you’re wrong about the existence of your subject. You can believe in God and reason about him in the same way that an atheist reasons about God. What the theist has done is make an error of reasoning. But an error in reasoning doesn’t make it non-reasoning. It just makes it poor reasoning. Columbus went to the wrong place, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t navigating. It’s like saying that the person in error isn’t even thinking…or conscious…or sentient.

      • [][]“What the theist has done is make an error of reasoning.”[][]

        Theism is NOT an “error of reasoning.” Theism is a rejection of reason in favor of blind (i.e., religious) faith.

        Columbus made a reasonable error in interpreting the New World. Making cognitive errors is a natural part of using reason. But belief in the supernatural is not a cognitive error — it is a rejection of nature and reason as such (in favor of a subjectivist belief in unreality).

        • Eric Dutton

          Theism is NOT an “error of reasoning.”
          I wasn’t being very clear here. I don’t mean that the error of reasoning was believing in God. I meant that, in their reasoning about morality, theists make an error in using a false premise in their reasoning. Reasoning with false premises is still reasoning, it’s just poor reasoning.
          But yes, the choice to believe in God is a choice to abandon reason.
          Well, I might insert some caveats along the lines of Dawkins’s 7 point scale, but this war has enough fronts as it is.

          • The beauty of free will is that you can check your premises, and throw out false ones. You are not deterministically fated to be stuck with false premises — just as you are not deterministically fated to use only true ones — you have to choose.

          • Eric Dutton

            Determinism allows that too. The differences between determinism and free will have nothing to do with what you’re able to do. Everything we do is possible by both theories.

          • If it were not for free will, nothing we do that is distinctively human would be possible.

            Determinism is a self-contradictory notion in that it wants to claim we can still be human even though being human is an illusion. That’s just another version of wanting to have their cake and eat it, too. Or of trying to believe in square circles.

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 12, 2012
    11:32 pm
    ‘The thing that makes the difference isn’t whether you believe your morality has an objective grounding. It’s whether you’re willing to apply reason.’
    [][][]

    My view is that if you aren’t applying reason to objective reality, you aren’t really applying it at all. Using “reason” subjectively as a pretense of thinking about morality in the real world is not my idea of a rational use of one’s time and energy.

    In other words, if you are not reasoning about objective reality, you are not reasoning, you’re rationalizing (i.e., pretending to reason, or fantasizing about trying to use reason).

    I don’t see any way you make your “no need for objective grounding” method work. How do you see it working? In morality first (we can get to art later, though that isn’t really relevant in this forum).

    I use the Objectivist definition: “Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” Note that it is a mental faculty and that the integrations are conceptual — all of which you might designate as “subjective,” since it doesn’t consist only of pre-existing physical objects outside the mind. But remember that I am using “subjective” in the philosophic sense you described in essence as “confusing fantasy with fact” (not as a synonym for “mental processing” per se).

    ——-The senses, concepts, logic: these are the elements of man’s rational faculty—its start, its form, its method. In essence, “follow reason” means: base knowledge on observation; form concepts according to the actual (measurable) relationships among concretes; use concepts according to the rules of logic (ultimately, the Law of Identity). Since each of these elements is based on the facts of reality, the conclusions reached by a process of reason are objective.

    ——-The alternative to reason is some form of mysticism or skepticism.

    —–Leonard Peikoff,
    —–The Ominous Parallels, 305

    • Eric Dutton

      You have to be able to apply reason to the non-objective world. Although I don’t accept your definitions of objective and subjective, I’ll use an example that you have already called subjective, a round square. If we can’t apply reason to the idea of a round square, then we can reason that a round square is impossible. That’s not called rationalizing. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t call it reason if the object of the reasoning exists but call it something else if the object does not. You can reason all you like about non-existent things. If God exists, he must either be perfectly good and powerless or omnipotent and not perfectly good. That’s reasoning about non-existent things without rationalizing. It doesn’t even assume God’s existence.
      Besides these categories don’t do any good. What good is it to say that if it turns out that we were reasoning about things that don’t exist, we weren’t reasoning at all. Besides mixing up terms, it just doesn’t do any good. We might as well say that if your theory turns out to be wrong, then you weren’t really doing science.

      I use the Objectivist definition: “Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.”

      That looks like one of those definitions that gets written after one has concocted a theory and then realized that it requires redefining a word. I don’t see what good it does except to justify Objectivism. I’d be happy to argue these points with Ayn Rand, too, if she were around.

      In essence, “follow reason” means: base knowledge on observation; form concepts according to the actual (measurable) relationships among concretes; use concepts according to the rules of logic

      That’s called empiricism.

      The alternative to reason is some form of mysticism or skepticism.

      As you’ll recall, I’m arguing FOR the use of reason. I am, however, also arguing against peculiar definitions of “reason” and other words.

      I would like to know on what you would base your morality?
      I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the strangeness of me (a person arguing for the subjectivity of morality) asking this question of you (a person arguing for the objectivity of morality).
      To say it’s based on reason misses the point. That would be like saying “I am going to build my house on construction.” Reason is the means by which you would explain, justify, explore, expand, and query your morality after you had established it. But how would you establish the ground of your morality is in the first place? At what point would you stop asking “why that?” At some point, you would arrive at a first principle that is not arrived at by reason. It would be the thing ON WHICH your reasoning about morality is based. That first principle woud be chosen according to instinct, intuition, or emotion, not reason. Or you could reason your way to a first principle based on its results, but then you would be selecting the results based on instinct, intuition, or emotion, not reason. You can reason from a non-rational beginning to a rational end, or you can reason from a non-rational end back to a rational beginning. But you can’t deduce the beginnings and ends from each other. That’s called circular reasoning.

      • [][]” At some point, you would arrive at a first principle that is not arrived at by reason.”[][]

        A “first principle” arrived at by unreasonable means is not worth a hoot. Reason is man’s only means of knowledge. Instinct and emotion are not tools of cognition, or of morality.

        [][]“But you can’t deduce the beginnings and ends from each other.”[][]

        No, you cannot. I agree with you there. A big dose of empiricism is needed for the good life.

        • Eric Dutton

          Reason is man’s only means of knowledge
          Yes, but a first principle is not knowledge.

          A big dose of empiricism is needed for the good life.
          I agree. But that’s irrelevant to what I’ve said.

          Here’s the issue:
          Let’s say you reason your way to a good first principle. What makes that first principle a reasonable first principle for morality? The only reasonable answer would be that it results in the best outcomes. What makes those outcomes good outcomes? There are two choices:
          1. Those outcomes logically follow from the first principle.
          The problem with this answer is that it’s circular. You’re arguing that the purpose is good because the results are good, and we know the results are good because they serve the purpose.
          2. We know these outcomes to be good
          The problem with this (if you want your morality to never stray from reason) is that it isn’t rational. We just know. There’s no argument for it. We could call that instinct, or intuition, or emotion. But it isn’t reason.
          Here’s an example:
          Torture is wrong because it disregard human dignity. (not a great argument, but I doesn’t have to be to illustrate the point)
          Now, do we know that torture is wrong because anything that disregards human dignity is wrong?
          Do we know that disregarding human dignity is wrong because it lead to things like torture?
          We can’t claim both. That’s a circular argument. But in either case, we are making an assumption, either that it is wrong to disregard human dignity or that it is wrong to torture. We can reason one way or the other, either from an assumption or toward an assumption.

          • Eric Dutton

            I meant to close the italics tag after “We know these outcomes to be good.”

          • [][]“… a first principle is not knowledge.”[][]

            A first principle that does not correspond to reality (i.e., does not represent knowledge) is not a reasonable first principle. (In my philosophic terminology, a non-knowledge first principle would be subjective — non-objective — and therefore invalid.)

            I think that having realistic first principles is necessarily part of that “big dose of empiricism” that life requires.

          • Eric Dutton

            A first principle, by definition, is not knowledge. It’s only knowledge if you can defend it with observation or argument. If you can, then it’s not a first principle. That’s what the “first” means.

          • Good first principles must be observable, or else you could never find them. They are at the beginning or base of knowledge rather than being derivative, but I think they still have to qualify as knowledge, else how would they be of any real use?

          • Eric Dutton

            Maybe I don’t understand what you mean by observable. How would you observe the first principle, “We must respect the dignity of other humans”?

            Whether a first principle is knowledge or not will depend on you definition of knowledge. I don’t think it’s useful to call an assumption knowledge.

          • I don’t think the “dignity” proposition is a “first principle.”

            And I agree that an assumption is not knowledge. That why I don’t buy the notion of basing morality on “instinct and assumption.”

          • Eric Dutton

            What would you offer as an example of a first principle?

          • I’ve always liked “I am, therefore I think.”

          • Eric Dutton

            What, then, is the rational justification for choosing that as the basis for morality?

          • Sorry, I got distracted and just threw out a general principle — without sticking to the subject of morality. I should have said something like: “Since man is a rational animal, the rational is the good, and the irrational is the evil.” I think the rational justification for that as a first principle is that the fundamental distinguishing characteristic of man is that man IS a rational animal.

      • [][]“I would like to know on what you would base your morality?”[][]

        My morality is based on the objective nature of man as “a rational animal.” That which promotes and sustains rational living is right and good. That which opposes, negates, or destroys rational life (individually and socially) is evil and wrong.

        • Eric Dutton

          Okay. Why? Why is something wrong only if it opposes, negates, or destroys rational life?

          • Since I want to live as a rational being, I choose a morality that supports that.

            But say you wanted to live as a religious being — then you might hold a evil whatever would oppose, negate, or destroy your “connection to God.”

            Nature has irrevocably set the basic alternative for human life: rational living vs failure to live rationally.

          • Eric Dutton

            Since I want to live as a rational being, I choose a morality that supports that.

            So is the ground of your morality the preservation of rational life, or is it satisfying your desire to live the kind of life you want to live?
            If it’s the former, then why did you answer with a new principle? If it’s the latter, you’ve just described a subjective ground for you morality: your desire for a certain kind of life.

          • [][]“Why is something wrong only if it opposes, negates, or destroys rational life?”[][]

            Because man is by nature a rational being. IF you want a beneficial (rather than a destructive) morality, you need to base it on the objective facts of human nature.

          • Eric Dutton

            If that’s true then your first principle is not that we should support rational life, it’s that we should base our morality on the fact that humans are rational animals.
            But rationality is not the only thing about us that is human. Why not base it on another objective fact of human nature? Why rationality?

          • Because rationality is the fundamentally distinguishing characteristic that most differentiates humans from other animals (and explains the most about what makes people human).

          • Anonymous

            Then why must we base our morality on that which distinguishes us from other animals? If we find that other animals are capable of reason, does that mean we have to choose another basis for our morality?

          • Anonymous

            So why must we base our morality on our differences with animals? If we find that other animals are capable of reason, does that weaken the justification for using reason as the basis.

            Furthermore, reason is not a ground; it’s a tool. From what will you reason?

          • Eric Dutton

            Sorry. Those last two were from me. I guess I wasn’t logged in anymore

  • Hello?

    • Eric Dutton

      Just a minute. I’m getting out of the shower. I’ll be right there.

      • [][]‘That doesn’t mean that we make it up as we go. But, if we’re going to be thoughtful about our morality, we’re going to find that it’s based on something that isn’t arguable because it’s an assumption.’[][]

        It sounds like you’re trying to have it both ways: make it up as you go, while claim not to be making it up as you go.

        But then, what is the crucial difference between “making it up” and “assuming it”?

        • Eric Dutton

          No. That’s what you’re trying to do. You can’t reason your way both to and from first principles without making some assumptions. You’re trying to say that it’s turtles all the way down.

          • I’m saying it’s real all the way no matter which way you go, down, up, or around — and that reason is man’s only means of knowledge. You cannot go by assumptions, instincts, or magic turtles.

          • Eric Dutton

            You don’t go by assumptions. At least, not if you’re applying reason (which we’re both arguing for). You’re either going from them or toward them. It’s like home–you’re either going from it or toward it. You don’t “home” your way anywhere.

          • I’m saying it’s real all the way no matter which way you go, down, up, or around — and that reason is man’s only means of knowledge. If you want reasonable results, you cannot go from assumptions, instincts, or magic turtles.

    • Update: Back home, so now let’s see if things work better….

  • [][]“Morality does not exist outside of the human mind…. there is no reliable test to see who is right.”[][]

    If it’s all in your head, and there is no objective reference, then why does it make any difference? What’s the use?

    Couldn’t you just as logically claim that “Medical science does not exist outside of the human mind, there is no reliable way to know if anyone is healthy or not?”

    If there is no objective reference for any moral value, why should anyone care anything one way or the other about anything? I don’t see how you can support any moral ideas absent some cognitive connection to reality.

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 9, 2012
    7:02 pm
    “Morality does not exist outside of the human mind. It does not exist as a structure in the brain. It is not measurable. It is a concept. It is a system of thought that is intended to affect our behavior. If you and I disagree about what is moral, there is no reliable test to see who is right.”
    [][][]

    It looks, Eric, like you are one of those “villainous atheists” Rabbi Averick likes to talk about, or at least you are currently playing that role.

    Your view amounts to the claim that human life means nothing in particular — and that morality is an illusion (or a con game).

    The appeal to “instinct” is like taking an appeal to the Supernatural and trying to internalize it. Is that what you meant by magical? But “revelation by instinct” is a cognitive and normative failure, just like “Revelation from God.”

    A healthy relationship to reality requires and objective approach, whether were are talking medicine, engineering, or morality.

    Would you say that architecture does not exist outside the human mind, so that there is no right or wrong way to choose the materials to construct a skyscraper? Do you think there is no reliable test to see if oatmeal would make a better construction material than reinforced concrete?

    Or do you only wish to insist that there is no reliable test for the propriety of bayoneting babies when you don’t approve of their parents religion? Or for having all their first-born slaughtered? Or how about for forcing people to support birth controls against their religious beliefs?

    Are there no objective limits?

    • Eric Dutton

      Villainous atheist? Look, you have tied your understanding of morality to objectivity. If it’s not objective, it’s not morality, by your theory. Arguing for objective morality might win a popularity contest, but it doesn’t make sense once you start looking at how real human beings actually use and understand morality. I can argue that if we’re not talking about objective criteria for abstract paintings, then we’re not talking about art. But that would just be naive. Sure, it would make us feel more confident when we expressed opinions about the legitimacy of a Jackson Pollack, and it might be easier for us to imagine that we could defend our judgments against critics easier. But once those critics emerged, we would be in the same debates, except that we would be moored by our certainty in the objectivity of our assumptions. That’s one of the reasons I reject the assumption of the objectivity of morality. It leads to dogma. It leads to the end of rational argument and the beginning of partisanship.

      “Would you say that architecture does not exist outside the human mind, so that there is no right or wrong way to choose the materials to construct a skyscraper?”

      No. No, I wouldn’t. Why would you think I would? Do you think that morality and architecture are the same type of subject? Do you really want me answer the question about oatmeal and concrete? Should I just assume that you’re not willing to take me seriously? Because if I’m wasting my time, if there’s really nothing going on between us but antagonism, I’ll start looking elsewhere for stimulating debate.

      “Are there no objective limits.”

      Objective? No. But so what? You’ve already seen what I think of the objectivity of morality. I think it’s wish-fulfillment. And I think it’s unnecessary for a healthy and vigorous morality.
      This is a dead-end. My concept of morality does not lead to tyranny. It only leads there when you walk a strawman down it’s roads.

      • Eric Dutton

        …its roads.

        • [][]“If it’s not objective, it’s not morality, by your theory.”[][]

          Not exactly.

          I think there is plenty of non-objective morality around. I just think it’s causing a lot of trouble that could be avoided if people were willing to be more objectively grounded about their choices and actions.

          I think people tend to keep too much to their “subjective” lives of wishing and magical thinking — instead of becoming more solidly grounded in the cold, hard facts of reality. There is a real, objective world out there — and it doesn’t care if we wish it were different (e.g., if we wish that there were a Supernatural God, and/or that we had “better instincts”).

          • Eric Dutton

            I agree with everything you’ve said except for your equating subjectivity with wishful and magical thinking.
            What you’re describing is when people confuse the subjective with the objective. For example, Richard Muller once said that fake diamonds are “objectively more beautiful” than real diamonds because they are more colorful. People confuse the subjective with the objective when they make the mistake of thinking that their criteria are objectively appropriate just because they have arbitrarily chosen something objectively measurable as their criteria. How many wavelengths of light each crystal reflects is objective. What makes a crystal more beautiful is not.
            I think it would be good if people could be more objectively grounded about their morality, but they can’t. The best we can do is use reason to work through the consequences of our beliefs about morality. But that doesn’t mean that our beliefs about morality are objectively grounded. If we work through the logical consequences of our beliefs and find the conclusions horrifying, then we have to either adjust our beliefs or give up on reason. We check our instincts to see if our morality is working. But we don’t have anything better than that. The thing that makes the difference isn’t whether you believe your morality has an objective grounding. It’s whether you’re willing to apply reason. You can claim to have an objective grounding, but once you start describing that objective grounding, you’ll probably find that it’s insufficient, unreliable, or grounded in something subjective. That doesn’t mean that we make it up as we go. But, if we’re going to be thoughtful about our morality, we’re going to find that it’s based on something that isn’t arguable because it’s an assumption.
            We should base our morality on the wisdom of the ancients.
            Why?
            We should base it on that which leads to the most happiness for the greatest number.
            Why?
            We should base it on the dignity of individuals.
            Why?
            We should base it on the golden rule.
            Why?
            At some point, the answer is, “Because it seems right and it leads us to the least horrifying conclusions.” That’s all we get. It’s reason applied to emotion and instinct. And it works well if you’re willing to be reasonable. It doesn’t work well if you’re not willing.
            If anything, a belief in the subjectivity of morality demands greater vigilance of reason than a belief in the objectivity of morality. You CAN decide that the subjectivity of morality means that you can just let loose and not worry about morality, but then you’re not being very vigilant about being reasonable. THAT belief leads us to places that we don’t want to go. And the belief that morality is, nay MUST, be objective requires us to make some very difficult (I would argue impossible) arguments before we can satisfy that criteria.

          • [][]‘What you’re describing is when people confuse the subjective with the objective.’[][]

            Okay, I think I have to agree with that as a good general description.

            Morality is a philosophic issue, and on a philosophic view I think the basic meaning of “subjectivity” is the wish to substitute feelings and fantasies for the real world.

            [][]‘People confuse the subjective with the objective when they make the mistake of thinking that their criteria are objectively appropriate just because they have arbitrarily chosen something objectively measurable as their criteria.’[][]

            That’s one aspect of it. But the larger issue is the mistake of thinking that objectively impossible stuff, e.g., the supernatural, is magically possible.

            [][]‘I think it would be good if people could be more objectively grounded about their morality, but they can’t. The best we can do is use reason to work through the consequences of our beliefs about morality.’[][]

            The consequences where? In your head (your subjective fantasies) or out in the real, objective world? If not objectively out in the real world, then how do you imagine that reason is going to apply? How could that work?

      • stater of the obvious

        I warned you.

        • If you can’t take the heat, the obvious thing to do is stay out of the kitchen.

        • Eric Dutton

          I don’t mind a good semantics battle. That’s kind of sad, maybe.

          • I don’t think it’s really semantics, but maybe that’s just splitting hairs.

          • Eric Dutton

            Well, it’s not just semantics. That would be dull, indeed. But that is a major front in this war of wits were having.

          • If it’s there at all, semantics is a very minor front. I think we’re talking about what we can understand about reality — which is what it is regardless of the linguistic expressions involved in a discussion.

          • Eric Dutton

            Reality is what it is. But a lot of our disagreements are about the proper use of words.
            The ways we use words can have huge consequences. The words themselves can affect how we think. That’s why I don’t like perfect synonyms, or words with too many meanings. Think about the mess that’s exacerbated by the confusion about the word “faith” meaning “trust” and “faith” meaning “belief”.
            Our thinking does affect how we use the words, but it also works the other way around.

          • We need to talk about the stuff we are referring to when we use particular words.

            And using words is how we have to do it.

          • Eric Dutton

            I agree. That’s exactly why I don’t like synonyms and words with too many meanings.

      • [][]‘Arguing for objective morality might win a popularity contest, but it doesn’t make sense once you start looking at how real human beings actually use and understand morality.’[][]

        Can you give specific examples of how it “does make sense” to handle morality as you “actually use and understand morality”? You’ve got me confused.

        • Eric Dutton

          When it comes to specific cases, I suspect that your justifications for moral behaviors and mine would sound very similar, or at least they wouldn’t need to be different.
          Theists believe in the objectivity of morality. They believe that if all humans died, God’s law would remain. While we’re here, we can agree with God’s law, or we can disagree with it, but it simply IS and always will be. Now, I imagine you would say that their morality is not objective because it is based on a fictional being. But that doesn’t change the fact that their understanding of morality is still an understanding of an objective morality. You believe in the objectivity of morality. So do they. Your disagreement with them is not about who is being objective, but about who is right.
          What real objective foundation for morality could there be? The reasons for choosing any “objective” foundation for your morality are going to be arbitrary. But I say more about that in my comment above.

          • [][]{‘Theists believe in the objectivity of morality.’}[][]

            No, they don’t. They believe that morality comes from a supernatural source. That is fantasy, not objectivity.

            Of course, they can call it “objectivity,” just like they can call a tail a leg. But dogs still don’t have five legs, and the supernatural is still eternally unreal.

            [][]{‘They believe that if all humans died, God’s law would remain.’}[][]

            That’s the fantasy, not the reality. Wishing/believing doesn’t make it so.

            [][]{‘While we’re here, we can agree with God’s law, or we can disagree with it, but it simply IS and always will be. Now, I imagine you would say that their morality is not objective because it is based on a fictional being.’}[][]

            Fiction is, indeed, not fact.

            Still, they could simply assume that “God’s Law” is really real.

            [][]{‘But that doesn’t change the fact that their understanding of morality is still an understanding of an objective morality.’}[][]

            No exactly. That’s like claim that “understanding your height as ten feet” magically makes you ten feet tall. Theistic claims to objectivity are as bogus as a con artist’s claim that his ponzi scheme is financially sound.

          • Eric Dutton

            If you believe that morality has a source that is not dependent on the mind (whether you believe that source to be supernatural or not), then you believe that morality is objective. You believe that it can be discovered. You are confusing discussion of morality with discussion of its source.

            The appropriate word here is “wrong”, or “non-empirical”, or “irrational”, not “non-objective”.

          • No, if you believe the source of morality to be supernatural, you believe that the source of morality is subjective or non-objective — not objective — since the supernatural is only imaginary.

            To think that the source of morality is OBJECTIVE, you need to think that the source is 100% NATURAL, at least.

          • Eric Dutton

            That would only be true if they believed that the object of their belief was imaginary. No one does that. That’s why you would say they are wrong, not non-objective.

      • [][]“Do you think that morality and architecture are the same type of subject?”[][]

        Yes, they are — in the sense that whether you want to build a good building or a good life, you need to be realistic about the possibilities. And that means understanding the objective reality of the material you are working with. In the case of morality, we need to have a reasonable understanding of the objective facts of human nature.

        [][]“… the objectivity of morality. I think it’s wish-fulfillment. And I think it’s unnecessary for a healthy and vigorous morality.”[][]

        I don’t see how you could have “a healthy and vigorous morality” if you keep it only in your head and don’t ground it in the objective facts of real life.

        In my view, a non-objective morality amounts to wish-fulfillment, since if you don’t base you morality on the actual facts of life, what have you got left besides wishes and magical thinking?

        • Eric Dutton

          There’s a difference between “exists in X” and “is based on X”. I would base my arguments about morality on the facts of life. But that doesn’t mean that morality exists in the facts of life. The subjectivity of morality doesn’t mean that morality isn’t a useful concept in the real world. Our judgements about beauty are based on objective reality (color, size, shape, texture), but beauty doesn’t exist outside of our minds.

          • http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/subjectivism

            This reference come the closest to what I learned in philosophy class in college (some 40 years ago):

            Noun

            subjectivism

            1. (metaphysics) The doctrine that reality is created or shaped by the mind.
            2. (epistemology) The doctrine that knowledge is based in feelings or intuition
            3. (ethics) The doctrine that values and moral principles come from attitudes, convention, whim, or preference.

            [][][]
            Eric Dutton
            August 13, 2012
            1:58 am
            ‘The subjectivity of morality doesn’t mean that morality isn’t a useful concept in the real world.’
            [][][]

            Your use of “subjectivity” here appears to mean “a result of mental processing,” without getting into whether that processing is “objective” in the sense of observing reality outside of mental contents — or “subjective” in the sense of creating reality from feelings or whims.

          • Eric Dutton

            I am not talking about subjectivISM.

            I said that morality is USEFUL in the real world, not that it CREATES the real world.

            I’m claiming that theories of morality will, at some point, have to hinge on a non-rational principle, one that is based on intuition or emotion, not that ALL KNOWLEDGE is based on feelings and intuition.

            The third Wiktionary definition is closer to what I’m claiming, but it’s a very poor definition of what I’m talking about. Morality begins with a first principle that is not rational. Yes. But the morality doesn’t COME FROM attitudes, whims, and the like ex nihilo. The first principle does. Morality comes from the reasoning process that hangs on that first principle. 99% of morality can be reason. One percent must be assumption.

          • I’m not exactly clear on your position, Eric. Are you saying that morality must be based on an unreasonable assumption? (An arbitrary, baseless assumption?)

            Why couldn’t it be a reasonable assumption? Or why does it have to be an “assumption” at all — why couldn’t it be logical first principle (or axiom) arrived at by the use of our human reasoning capability?

          • Eric Dutton

            why couldn’t it be logical first principle (or axiom) arrived at by the use of our human reasoning capability?

            You could do that. But then you would have to take your justification for your principle as an axiom. An axiom is basically an assumption. It might be a self-evident one, but if someone questions your axiom, you can’t defend your axiom without resorting to another axiom.
            I think it’s important to recognize this. The theists want an immutable source for morality. They want morality to exist even if minds don’t. To say that morality needs to be objectively grounded or it doesn’t work is to open up a God-shaped hole in moral reasoning. It think a better answer, and a more reasonable one, is to acknowledge that in order to argue morality, one has to make some assumptions that can’t be defended with logic. But then you point out that this does not weaken morality. Because human beings have a drive toward morality that you can count on, not in each given case, but on balance. You can’t use logic to say that our instincts about morality are rational. Why should the be. Biology doesn’t tell us what ought to be, only what is. One of the things that “is” is that we want morality, and that some things seem moral to us and some don’t. Not because we reasoned our way to those conclusions but because we are drawn to some actions and repulsed by others. Then we make associations, that is, use reason, to derive the morality of other actions where our instincts aren’t as compelling.
            It’s not a perfect system but then we don’t see perfect morality in the world. The world looks like it operating on system more like what I’m describing than one where morality is discoverable in the same way that the Pythagorean theorem is.
            We don’t need God in order to embrace morality, but neither do we need theist-like models of morality where morality simply exists and we just need to be contemplative enough to discover it.
            I would say that morality doesn’t simply exist. It’s merely a desire we have. But if we are contemplative enough, we can make it work beautifully, if not always perfectly.

      • [][]“… I’ll start looking elsewhere for stimulating debate.”[][]

        It is definitely not as stimulating as it could be, what with messages taking a day or more to show up from the limbo of “moderation.”

        • Eric Dutton

          I quite agree with that. The threading doesn’t help either. Although, at this point, one could argue that we’re hijacking this thread, so I’ll just be glad that we haven’t been shut down.

      • [][]“Do you really want me answer the question about oatmeal and concrete?”[][]

        The question was an exaggerated attempt at making a serious point.

        If you can objectively understand that some materials are suitable for construction, while others are not, they why can you not also objective understand the morality (wrong in this case) of selling somebody unsuitable construction materials to build a house? Why do you think that it is “only in your head” as to whether it is right or wrong?

        • Eric Dutton

          Because morality and construction are different kinds of issues. I want to build a bridge that won’t collapse. Well, if I don’t want it to collapse, then I use materials that can take the kind of stress that the bridge will have to endure. The foundation for that decision about materials is the purpose of the bridge. We’ve given ourselves that foundation in advance, so it’s an easy question. What is the foundation of moral decision-making? That’s what I’m saying is not objective.

          • [][]‘What is the foundation of moral decision-making? That’s what I’m saying is not objective.’[][]

            It doesn’t have to be objective.

            But IF you want a life that won’t collapse, lived according to moral principles that can take the kind of stress humans have to endure in life, then you need a morality based on the objective facts of human nature.

            You don’t have to have such a life, if you don’t wish to. But philosophical objectivity as the basis of moral concepts is the only way you can get it. IF you want it.

          • “Emotion and instinct” will not do the job.

          • Eric Dutton

            Emotion and instinct only have one small job to do. The rest is reason. To deny this is to believe in magic.

          • So you are explaining to me that if I don’t want to base my morality on instinct and emotion, then my only possible alternative is an irrational belief in magic?

            Well, I look at the alternatives differently. I think that trying to rely on “emotion and instinct” is equivalent to trying to rely on magic — so that the real alternative to faith in the magic of instinct is the use of reason (all the way down — and all the way up).

            Now I think of “existence”, “consciousness”, and “identity” (“non-contradiction”) as primary axioms. Could it be that that is what you are thinking of as “instinct”?

            If not, what “instinct” do you have in mind?

          • Eric Dutton

            It doesn’t have to be objective.
            But, furthermore, that grounding isn’t even rational. That isn’t to say irrational, but rather non-rational.

          • Okay, so you have a non-rational belief in instincts (or a belief in non-rational instincts) but that doesn’t answer the question of: what instincts are you talking about? What are they? How do they work? How do you know?

          • Eric Dutton

            Now I think of “existence”, “consciousness”, and “identity” (“non-contradiction”) as primary axioms. Could it be that that is what you are thinking of as “instinct”?

            I think that’s pretty close. I think you might me able to talk about our instincts as the closest thing we have to a grounding for our axioms.
            I feel the need to point out (because, you know, that’s what we do) that “existence” and the like are nouns, not axioms. An axiom has to be proposition.

          • Eric Dutton

            The belief in instinct is not non-rational. Beliefs are either rational or irrational. There is lots of evidence on which to base a belief in instinct. The choice to make instinct the ground for your morality is non-rational. But, then, there is no rational ground for morality. There are understandable grounds, there are counter-intuitive grounds, but no purely rational grounds.
            Examples?
            Revulsion at the sight or thought of murder, rape, incest, and torture. Maybe our revulsion comes from our understanding of the consequences of those actions, or maybe it comes from empathy. But these are still based on the instincts of revulsion and empathy.
            You might be able to talk about reasons for those instincts, but if I ask “why?” a few times, you’ll eventually have to answer (not out of mere frustration, but out of cognitive dissonance), “Because what the hell is wrong with you if you believe otherwise!” That’s not reason. It’s not logic. It’s not an argument. That’s the instinct I’m talking about. But it works as a grounding for morality as long as we’re willing to go all the way down to the truly inarguable ground before we have that outburst.
            After that, reason rules. Or it should.

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 9, 2012
    12:00 pm
    “I would much prefer to think I had free will, but I wouldn’t change my behavior one way or another if I found out I didn’t.”[][]

    In other words, if you didn’t have any ability to change your behavior, you wouldn’t change your behavior.

    And, just to note this: Free will is not a preference or a choice for humans any more than breathing is. It is an inescapable fact of human nature.

    • Eric Dutton

      Determinism allows people to change their behavior. Determinism doesn’t say you can’t break a habit, for instance. The question it raises is, for any choice you have made, and given the exact same circumstances, could you have chosen otherwise? That’s not the same as asking if it is possible to conceive that you could have done otherwise. We always appear to have free will. A complicated robot might appear to have free will. But it doesn’t. Determinism asks if we are just very, very complicated machines. Conscious does not refute determinism. Neither does self-reflection and indecision. To believe that determinism is OBVIOUSLY wrong and so easily refuted is to misunderstand it.

      • It’s determinism that refutes determinism.

        If the contents of your thinking are determined by forces outside your control, then you can have no clue about whether they are true or not. Indeed, you could not even have any reasonable concept of anything such as truth, or right and wrong.

        Ideas are not true just because they are in your head. Discovering truth required volition checking of your ideas against objective reality — precisely what determinism claims to be impossible.

        • Eric Dutton

          “Discovering truth required volition checking of your ideas against objective reality — precisely what determinism claims to be impossible.”

          But that’s just not the case. Determinism doesn’t mean you can’t discover truth. The determinist could say that brains would naturally evolve toward truth-discovering since that is useful. That wouldn’t require will. That’s like saying atheism would mean you don’t exist because you were never created. Atheism isn’t self-refuting because of the existence problem. You have to assume that atheists have never thought about an extremely obvious issue in order to make that argument.

          • [][]‘Determinism doesn’t mean you can’t discover truth.’[][]

            Determinism means not only that you can’t discover truth, but that there is no such thing as truth, or true propositions and false propositions. There are, according to that determinist, only meaningless propositions people make not of their own free will.

            You cannot reasonably claim that a theory is true if you haven’t actually thought about the facts involved, but instead are merely mouthing the words as a cognitively empty vessel, like a robot programmed to make certain sounds with no understanding.

            [][]‘The determinist could say that brains would naturally evolve toward truth-discovering since that is useful. That wouldn’t require will.’[][]

            Actually, it would — in the sense that choosing to say “that is true” or “that is false” about something is an act of free will, and that you cannot be taken seriously if you claim you have no control over what you say.

          • Eric Dutton

            Determinists don’t say you don’t have control. You do have control. But your decisions are determined by your previous experiences and the state of the universe you’re in. A being with perfect knowledge of the universe and your state of mind would be able to predict with 100% accuracy what you will do in the future–what you will choose to do. You wouldn’t feel forced to do any of it. But you would be entirely predictable to a mind with perfect knowledge. That’s what determinism claims. It doesn’t claim that we lack the abilities we all take for granted. The only possible test for this theory would have to involve a time machine.

          • []“You do have control. But your decisions are determined by your previous experiences and the state of the universe you’re in.”[]

            You don’t have control if your decisions are pre-determined entirely by your previous experiences and the state of the universe you’re in.

            Your description of “determinism” boils down to saying, “You do have control. But you don’t have any control.” Determinism means that volition and truth are an illusion. That is, determinism is not a reasonable theory.

          • Eric Dutton

            No, it boils down to something closer to, “You FEEL like you have control. You have the illusion of control, but you don’t have control.”
            Determinism doesn’t propose that you will ever bump up against determinism. It’s not a force that resists your will. It creates the illusion of will.

          • Precisely. Determinism claims that volition and truth are an illusion. That is, determinism is not a reasonable theory.

            Determinism makes no sense — on its own terms, because it claims that “making sense” is an illusion.

          • Eric Dutton

            No. Not truth. Where did you get that?

      • [][]“Determinism allows people to change their behavior.”[][]

        No, it doesn’t. The whole point of determinism is to claim that it is some outside force that changes people’s behavior, that they cannot do so by means of their own free will.

        [][]“Determinism asks if we are just very, very complicated machines.”[][]

        Which just goes to show the “self-refutational” nature of determinism — since we could never have invented or be able to understand machines without our volitional conscious capabilities.

        [][]“Conscious[ness] does not refute determinism.”[][]

        Human consciousness does, since it has a significant volitional/conceptual component.

        • Eric Dutton

          “The whole point of determinism is to claim that it is some outside force that changes people’s behavior.”
          It is both outside and inside forces. Everything that you might say we are doing freely (moving, thinking, reflecting, inventing, learning, innovating), determinism would say you are doing, just not freely.
          Determinism doesn’t constrain behavior–physical or mental. It’s just an explanation about where behaviors come from. Even it’s explanations are similar to free will explanations. Determinism simply rejects the ghost in the machine.

          “Which just goes to show the “self-refutational” nature of determinism — since we could never have invented or be able to understand machines without our volitional conscious capabilities.”

          That simply does follow from determinism.

          Human consciousness does [refute determinism], since it has a significant volitional/conceptual component.

          That’s a circular argument. To assume that consciousness has a volitional component is to assume free will, which is the thing we are debating.
          Also, there’s nothing about conceptualization that is problematic for determinism.

          • [][]‘Everything that you might say we are doing freely (moving, thinking, reflecting, inventing, learning, innovating), determinism would say you are doing, just not freely.’[][]

            That would include the determinist saying that “determinism can explain how humans behave.” But that means his statement is cognitively detached from reality, since he did not say it because he had thought about the issue and come to a certain conclusion based on the logic of the evidence. He, according to his belief in determinism, is just mouthing a string of words because some “ghostly force in the machine” (or inside and outside the machine) has made him say it — without his ever having had the slightest chance to decide what he would say if he had any free choice in the matter.

            Thus does “determinism” render the “theory of determinism,” along with every other theory known to man, null and void — if you try to take it seriously. It’s like trying to take a square circle seriously.

          • Eric Dutton

            This is circular. You’re basically saying that there must be free will because when determinists explain their theory, they’re using free will.
            Determinists know about logic. It’s not a problem. Computers use logic. They have no will.
            There is no ghost in determinism. You’re describing a being who is trapped inside of a machine with no way to take hold of the controls. That’s not what determinists are describing.

          • []“You’re basically saying that there must be free will because when determinists explain their theory, they’re using free will.”[]

            Correct.

            I am saying that — and it is true.

            []“Computers use logic.”

            Not exactly. Computers use logic in the same way hammers use nails: i.e, they don’t. It is humans that use logic, and computers are one of the tools they apply to the task.

          • Eric Dutton

            No. It’s a tidy example of a circular argument.
            It’s the same kind of argument as “I know that God exists because the Bible says so, and I know that the Bible is correct because God inspired the Bible.”
            You’re telling me that the reason you know it’s true is because it’s true.

          • What exactly is supposed to be circular about saying, “I know that people use hammers to build things with nails because I’ve done it myself (and also seen others do it) — and a hammer cannot hammer nails by itself”?

            And the same point holds for slide rules and computers: they are tools used by humans. They are not independently acting life forms.

          • Eric Dutton

            What’s wrong with it is that it’s categorically different from the kind of debate we’re having. We are both watching people build things with hammers. We’re arguing about whether the act of hammering is the product of free will or of a string of cause and effect. You are trying to take the fact that people swing hammers as evidence that they’re doing it freely. But if you’re doing that, you are assuming free will. If we are arguing whether free will exists and you assume free will in your explanation of phenomena, then you are, by definition, making a circular argument.
            The hammer falls. You say it fell because of A; I say B. I ask, “What makes you think A explains the hammering?” And you say, “Because the hammer fell.” That’s not an explanation. That’s using your conclusion as a premise.

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 9, 2012
    12:00 pm
    “I don’t really care one way or the other about the free-will/determinism debate. It doesn’t seem to matter much which one is correct. It doesn’t need to affect our morality”
    [][][]

    Human conceptual, volitional consciousness (aka free will) is what makes morality both possible and necessary.

    If we had no capacity to make choices of our own free will, the concept of morality would be meaningless (and nobody would ever have thought of it).

    The subject only comes up because it is necessary for us to make choices of our own free will. Our actions are not all forced or pre-determined by circumstances beyond our control.

    Choices must be made. Some of them must be moral choices.

    • Eric Dutton

      There’s nothing about what we do, what we appear to do, or what we think about that proves the determinist wrong. My main problem with determinism is that it’s unfalsifiable. I don’t agree with the determinists, but I think it’s a bit of a strawman to say, “Look, people make choices, so determinism is wrong.” If that’s all it took, it wouldn’t have survived more than as long as it has. But I don’t lean on my incredulity alone. The determinist is not stumped by morality. A determinist would likely tell us that all of our percep…, I mean, experiences of choice are actually illusions created after the fact in the same way that our brains fill in gaps in our memories.
      The deteminist explanation is not contradictory or even inconsistent with experience, once you understand it. But it is unfalsifiable. So until I’m persuaded that accepting determinism would have to change my behavior, I’m not going to worry about it.

      • [][]“A determinist would likely tell us that all of our experiences of choice are actually illusions created after the fact.”[][]

        The determinist would therefore give himself the problem that he could not logically claim that his theory was actually true — since he believes his choice to believe in determinism is an illusion.

        And if he feels like claiming that he believes in determinism without ever making any choice to do so, or thinking about it one way or the other, then he simply isn’t making any sense.

        In any case, there is no logical way to take any theory of determinism in human thought, belief, or choice, seriously. Such determinism cannot be reasonably argued for, or sensibly maintained.

      • [][]“There’s nothing about what we do, what we appear to do, or what we think about that proves the determinist wrong.”[][]

        Only if you don’t take into account that fact that we can think. Since we can think, our ideas are not illusions resulting from forces beyond our control.

        Since determinism denies the possibility of free will, the existence of free will and thought belies any and every theory of mental determinism.

        • Eric Dutton

          No. The determinists didn’t forget to take thought into account. That’s like saying, “Energy can’t be equal to mass times the square of the speed of light. Look at that table. It’s neither energy nor light. It’s just mass. They’re aren’t the same thing at all!”
          This is determinism 101. You can’t refute it by saying, “Look! I CHOSE to pick up this pencil. I refute it thus.” In fact, it can’t be refuted at all. THAT’s what’s wrong with it, not the fact that we have a vocabulary that assumes free will.

          • [][]‘This is determinism 101. You can’t refute it by saying, “Look! I CHOSE to pick up this pencil. I refute it thus.”’[][]

            Determinism is a dead-in-the-water notion that refutes itself by claiming to be a theory — so it leaves nothing for anybody else to refute. Basically, the determinist says, “I freely choose to theorize that I cannot freely choose anything.” Attempting to refute that would be like trying to refute a square circle.

            [][]‘In fact, it can’t be refuted at all. THAT’s what’s wrong with it, not the fact that we have a vocabulary that assumes free will.’[][]

            We necessarily have “a vocabulary that assumes free will” because free will is an fundamentally inescapable, logically undeniable part of human life. As a human being, if you are going to act like anything other than a vegetable (or maybe a wild animal), you are going to be exercising your free will.

          • Eric Dutton

            “Basically, the determinist says, “I freely choose to theorize that I cannot freely choose anything.”

            “As a human being, if you are going to act like anything other than a vegetable (or maybe a wild animal), you are going to be exercising your free will.

            Both of these things are only true if there is free will. That is the question we are debating. These are circular arguments.
            You would need to defend this proposition:
            “The appearance of free will can only be explained by the actual presence of free will.”
            But this is the assumption you are making. You keep giving me examples of choice and cognition as evidence of free will. This is like a theist offering you as evidence of the existence of God. You know you exist. You just reject God as the cause. Determinists know that choice and cognition exist. They just reject free will as the cause. If free will only exists because that’s the name we give to our ability to make choices and to think, then it’s a misnomer. It’s naming the naming the illusion rather than the reality.
            Humphrey Bogart is not alive just because I see him looking quite lively on the scree.

          • [][]‘Both of these things are only true if there is free will. That is the question we are debating.’[][]

            Absent free will, there would be no possibility of debating anything, one way or the other.

            A “deterministic debate” would be an illusion, where each side was merely making sounds under the influence of the ghostly forces of determinism, with no idea what any of the sounds they were making stood for.

            But why would anyone want to claim that he was saying or writing things without having any free choice in the matter of what he was saying or writing? To avoid responsibility?

          • Eric Dutton

            Absent free will there would be the CERTAINTY of debate. We just have no way of knowing if there is free will.

          • Other than that living as a human being is impossible without free will.

            Basically, you can’t leave home without it. Without free will, you would be a vegetable, or dead.

            You certainly could not debate anything without free will (aka volition); you could not even conceive of or imagine debate, not even of any kind.

          • Eric Dutton

            How can you possibly know that? You’re just making assertions without support.

          • I’m pointing out the logical connections among the facts and ideas involved (something a determinist wishes to claim is impossible to do, but which people actually do in real life).

          • Eric Dutton

            Determinists don’t make that claim, or any claim like that.

  • stater of the obvious

    Eric, let me help you out. Steve Stoddard, aka Lucifer, will argue semantics until the internet explodes. Unless you enjoy that sort of thing, I suggest you walk away.

    • I am not “arguing semantics,” I am arguing to get the facts straight. That’s an obvious point, but somehow you missed it.

      • stater of the obvious

        Yes, it is a fact that free will means exactly what you have defined it to mean and nothing else. Therefore, anyone who uses the term free will with a different intended meaning is wrong.

        • If you have ideas, you could make arguments to support them. (Instead of considering your views to be the obvious and inarguable truth.)

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 7, 2012
    8:21 am
    “… if I hallucinate, I perceive an apple that isn’t there.”
    [][][]

    No. You don’t.

    An hallucination is NOT a perception. Just like fiction is NOT non-fiction.

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 7, 2012
    10:01 am

    It is, according to Merriam-Webster:

    3a : characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind : phenomenal

    [][][]

    And what is “phenomenal” supposed to mean in this context?

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 6, 2012
    4:27 pm
    “Also, if I am colorblind, then my subjective experience is different from a person who is not colorblind.”
    [][][]

    If you mean that in the sense that your “subjective experience” of a 300 lb weight (assuming you can’t lift it) is different from the “subjective experience” of a person who can lift it, I suppose I’ll have to agree. Different people have different capabilities and experiences.

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 8, 2012
    10:46 pm
    “You have to understand the difference between free choice and determined choice.”
    [][][]

    And what is that difference supposed to be? If you are not making a choice of your own free will, but are somehow being forced to do something against your will, how can you reasonably interpret that as HAVING A CHOICE?

    How is a “determined choice” logically different from a “square circle”?

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 8, 2012
    12:19 pm
    “One could consider the consequences of committing the crime before making a decision, but that’s a cost-benefit analysis, which a computer could do. That wouldn’t require free will.”
    [][][]

    Actually, “considering consequences” and “making a decision” would be impossible without free will (aka volition). Rationality depends on free will, and we wouldn’t be human without it.

    We are, of course, human (“a rational animal” as Aristotle said) — so naturally we do have free will.

    • Eric Dutton

      Well, I’m not asserting that we have no free will, but “considering consequences” and “making a decision” don’t require free will. People who argue for determinism accept that we do complicated things with our minds all the time. They just argue that we only think we could have “decided” or “considered” otherwise.

      • [][]“People who argue for determinism accept that we do complicated things with our minds all the time. They just argue that we only think we could have “decided” or “considered” otherwise.”[][]

        Not exactly. On their determinist theory, they only “think” they “argue for determinism.” By the rules of determinism, actual argumentation is not possible (since it requires free will).

        • Eric Dutton

          “On their determinist theory, they only “think” they “argue for determinism.” By the rules of determinism, actual argumentation is not possible (since it requires free will).”

          Both determinism and the theory of free will can account for ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING humans do. Neither one has any trouble with any conceivable behavior or thought. Everything we are capable of fits nicely into either model. There is not a single practical example that refutes determinism. I don’t say this just because no one has found one yet. I say it because it’s implicit in the theory. To think otherwise is to misunderstand determinism.

          • [][]“Both determinism and the theory of free will can account for ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING humans do.”[][]

            I don’t agree with that. While free will can explain some things that people do, the “theory of determinism” can explain absolutely nothing that humans choose to do.

            Determinism basically claims that explanations are impossible — and we should at least apply its own standard to itself. (Reciting a formula like a robot computer does not constitute either explaining or understanding anything.)

          • Eric Dutton

            What I’m saying is that there are no observable (or imaginable) phenomena that would fit one theory but not the other.

          • That’s what “determinism” says.

            But that’s not how real life works. In real life, humans have volitional consciousness (aka free will). You cannot escape it (and stay conscious).

          • Eric Dutton

            No. Both theories take all of human experience as a given. Both attempt to explain where the appearance of will comes from. Free will says that there is both the appearance and the reality of will. Determinism says that there is only the illusion of will.
            Determinism doesn’t make predictions (which is one of its problems) except in thought experiments. But then, neither does free will.
            There is no possible way to test these theories. You have to talk about reliving the same moment of decision twice. But that’s impossible, especially under the conditions required for a proper test.

      • [][]‘… “considering consequences” and “making a decision” don’t require free will.’[][]

        Of course they do. How could you do such thing without the ability to choose what to consider and what to decide — and on what principles and facts?

        The human mind works by means of volition (aka free will). You cannot do anything distinctively human without it.

        • Eric Dutton

          For the answer to this question, see the theory of determinism.

          • Since the theory of determinism is bogus (self-contradictory and self-negating), it hardly qualifies as an answer. Throw it out along with the supernatural.

          • Eric Dutton

            You don’t have to accept determinism, but you do have to understand the questions it’s raising in order to understand how one can choose without will. A computer can make a choice, but it doesn’t have free will. Either we have free will or we are running a program that responds to new input. Either way, we’re making choices–free choices, or determined choices.
            I don’t really care one way or the other about the free-will/determinism debate. It doesn’t seem to matter much which one is correct. It doesn’t need to affect our morality. It doesn’t need to affect our justice system. It doesn’t need to affect the way we treat each other. The people who think that accepting determinism would lead to relinquishing responsibility are making the same kind of assumption as are those who say that without God, there can be no morality. It just doesn’t follow.
            I would much prefer to think I had free will, but I wouldn’t change my behavior one way or anther if I found out I didn’t.

          • []“… one can choose without will.”[]

            Have you ever tried it?

            To choose is to exercise your free will.

            Free will (the ability to use your conceptual faculty) is what makes choices possible. Among known animal species, it’s something unique to human evolution, as far as I know.

            []“A computer can make a choice, but it doesn’t have free will.”[]

            Not only do computers not make choices, they don’t even compute.

            Computers cannot make choices because they are not even conscious at all, let alone having conceptual consciousness. Absent human programmers, computers would be unable to operate (they wouldn’t even exist). Choices and computations are human activities.

          • Computers are tools for humans to use for making computations. Computers have no more ability to choose than do slide rules.

  • Rabbi Averick writes, “What is self-apparently true is that, absent the divine, any system devised to regulate our behavior or emphasize one mode of human behavior over another is a man-made construct.”

    Since “absent the divine” is the natural state of affairs, human can only rely on human observation of reality to find out what is going on (and what should be going on, where there is any choice in the matter).

    • Since “absent the divine” is the natural state of affairs, humans can only rely on human observation of reality to find out what is going on (and what should be going on, where there is any choice in the matter).

  • stater of the obvious
    • RexTugwell

      So why don’t we just empty the prisons. After all, if morality is just bio-chemical, Bernie Madoff and Charles Manson were just following a deterministic path that was not within their control. Survival of the fittest don’t you know? Isn’t it cruel to incarcerate someone for a lifetime merely because he was following the law of natural selection? Yes morality is desirable if followed but it doesn’t have to be; especially if you don’t get caught.

      • Eric Dutton

        That would only make sense if you subscribe to a retribution theory of justice. By any other theory, it still makes sense to punish criminals.

        Restoration
        Rehabilitation
        Deterrence
        Incapacitation

        None of those depend on free-will for their justification.

        • stater of the obvious

          To be fair, deterrence does.

          • Eric Dutton

            Well, I think you can understand deterrence from a deterministic perspective. Deterrence depends on choice, not free will. One could consider the consequences of committing the crime before making a decision, but that’s a cost-benefit analysis, which a computer could do. That wouldn’t require free will.
            The reason I say that retribution is the only one that depends on free will is because the others are focused on the outcome of the punishment. That is, it doesn’t matter if there is free will or not; it only matters that the punishment results in, say, deterrence of crime. Retribution is focused on serving the principles held by the punishers. That is, even if the punishment results in no benefit for society, we punish because people should suffer appropriate consequences for their choices.

          • [][]” Deterrence depends on choice, not free will.”[][]

            How is that supposed to mean anything other than ” Deterrence depends on free will, not free will”?

            What kind of sense is that supposed to make?

            If you don’t have free will, how do you have any choice about anything?

          • stater of the obvious

            Good point.

          • Eric Dutton

            You have to understand the difference between free choice and determined choice.

            You seem to believe there are a TREMENDOUS number of exact synonyms in the English language. It’s making it very difficult to make important distinctions that you’ll recognize.

          • “Determined choice” is a contradiction in terms.

      • RexTugwell

        Eric, I agree with you but from a purely materialistic worldview, non of the things you mention above should fit in with a Darwinian view of humans. We don’t jail lions for eating antelope alive do we? Atheists say we’re nothing more than brute beasts in the final analysis but we all act like humans are a creation apart with intellect, free will and an objective moral duty to do good

        • Eric Dutton

          I don’t know of any atheists who would argue that we SHOULD apply any understanding of Darwin’s theory to our ethics. Darwin’s theory tells how things work, not how things OUGHT to be. To extend Darwinian theory into the realm of ethics is to misunderstand both Darwin and ethics.

        • Rob Thomas

          Except that cooperation increases chances for individual survival. Society is large scale cooperation and laws enable society to function.

          • Rational, voluntary cooperation is good. Forced “cooperation” is not good, and is a major drawback of most of the world’s social-political systems.

            The proper purpose of laws and government is to protect individual rights — not to force people into involuntary servitude (which is what most governments, unfortunately, mostly do).

        • We all act like humans because we all are, quite naturally, humans. We couldn’t reasonably act like anything else.

          If you wish to think of us as “created by nature,” fine. But trying to sneak in the supernatural notion of “Creation, by God!” is illegitimate (unreasonable, and really almost unnatural).

      • If you believe there is no free will, then just as some people can’t help committing crimes, some people can’t help putting other people in jail. The prisons, on your view, aren’t empty because it is “bio-chemically determined” for them to be populated. Just as it is “bio-chemically determined” for you to believe in God even though there is no such thing.

        • Eric Dutton

          goodold_lucifer,

          Is this addressed to me or to Rex . . . or to someone else? This threading system is a train wreck. I’m confused because I don’t think that Rex is a determinist, and I’m neither a determinist nor a theist. Or is this a response to a for-the-sake-of-the-argument comment?

          • That was a reply to Rex when he posted this:

            ][][][
            RexTugwell
            August 8, 2012
            5:46 am
            “So why don’t we just empty the prisons. After all, if morality is just bio-chemical, Bernie Madoff and Charles Manson were just following a deterministic path that was not within their control.”
            ][][][

            I was pointing out one of the contradictions to arguing that people might be “just following a deterministic path,” so prisons should be emptied.

  • {}From Eric: “Subjective” means, “according to Merriam-Webster:

    3a : characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind …”

    Philosophically, though, reality absolutely is what it is. It does not have different characteristics depending on who is perceiving it, or whether it is being perceived at all.

    Perception does not determine the characteristics of the things perceived (any more than slipping on a banana peel creates the banana peel).

    And remember that hallucinations are not perceptions.

    Also, Kant’s “phenomenal world” is fantastic, not a philosophically accurate description of how consciousness works.

    • Eric Dutton

      You haven’t made your case for the meaning of perception well enough to “remind” me of what it means. I still think you misunderstand how the word is commonly used when discussing objectivity vs. subjectivity. I even showed you a definition that supports my usage.
      You seem to misunderstand what I’m arguing. I am not arguing that observing something changes it. I am not arguing that perceiving something creates a new reality. I am arguing that morality is not an objective reality that we can perceive. It is simply part of what it means to be human. If there were no conscious beings, there would be no morality. It would not be lying in wait for more conscious beings to come along. If there were no conscious beings, love would not exist.
      Apples exist whether someone perceives them or not. Morality does not. But it is just as real as love. We don’t need gods or a magical notion of the objectivity of morality to believe in morality.

      • [][]“We don’t need gods or a magical notion of the objectivity of morality to believe in morality.”[][]

        If you believe there is nothing objective in the world about morality, what is it, then, that you are claiming when you claim to “believe in morality”?

        Something unreal?

        In fact, the objectivity involve in both morality and love does not mean that those things have to be physical objects you could buy at the store, or find laying around in the countryside. It means they are real aspects of the conscious processing people do because they are born to deal with reality — or die trying (or even evading the responsibility of trying).

        A code of values is something real — not unreal or unnatural.

        • Eric Dutton

          I agree with you about everything you’ve said here except that I don’t accept that “subjective” means “doesn’t exist.” I’m having trouble figuring out what you think the word “subjective” means. In your mind, is there any legitimate use of the word?
          I’ll go back to M-W dictionary:
          Objective means (among other things) “having reality independent of the mind (objective reality)”
          Compare that to Subjective:
          “characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind.”
          I get the impression that you believe that “objective” is a synonym for “real” and that “subjective” is a synonym for “not real”.
          I am saying that morality belongs to the category of the subjective because it is dependent on the mind for its existence. And “existence” is not a synonym for “objectively real”. A code of values is something real, but not objectively real. Just because a great many of us share the same subjective experiences, that doesn’t turn those experiences into objective reality. Animals evolve in such a way that they have a lot of the same subjective experiences. That’s because they have similar minds responding in similar ways to the same objective reality.
          An apple falling at 10 mph is an objective reality. The memory of the apple falling is not an objective reality. The brain reacting to the apple falling is objective. The changes in the state of the brain which serve the purpose of recording that memory are objective. But the memory itself is subjective. It requires a mind to experience it. The fact that the apple fell outlives the memory of the apple falling. Two people witness the same objective reality and have different memories of that event. If one of them is “right” about what happened, that doesn’t make one experience objective and the other subjective.
          I do believe that there is SOMEthing objective ABOUT morality. I believe that our DNA makes us social creature. As social creatures, we have a drive to treat others as we would be treated. It’s not a perfect drive. We have other drives that conflict, but that do not destroy, that drive. Morality is the system we invent to formalize the ideas that are conjured when we experience that drive. It also provides a foundation from which we can use our reason to extrapolate right and wrong actions for situations we haven’t even experienced yet.
          All of that is about ideas and experience (as distinct from occurrence). Once the minds go away, all of those ideas about the world vanish. They don’t stay with the world. They are subjective. But they are still important, effective, and real.

          • [][]‘I’ll go back to M-W dictionary:
            Objective means (among other things) “having reality independent of the mind (objective reality)”
            Compare that to Subjective:
            “characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind.”’
            [][]

            I think there is still some reasonable validity to my point that there is only one reality, the one independent of the mind which we are able to perceive and think about. I think the formulation “reality as perceived” is incorrect and misleading.

            There are not two differing realities: “reality independent” vs “reality as perceived.” Philosophically, I side with Aristotle, as against Plato and Kant.

            [][]‘I get the impression that you believe that “objective” is a synonym for “real” and that “subjective” is a synonym for “not real”.’[][]

            In the Platonic-Kantian sense of philosophic subjectivism — of “Forms” and “Categories” — yes, I do believe that “Platonic Forms” and the “Noumenal-Phenomenal Dichotomy” are not real. They are imaginary, like the “Supernatural.”

            [][]‘I am saying that morality belongs to the category of the subjective because it is dependent on the mind for its existence.’[][]

            I think that is a misleading and confusing usage. In that sense, a book or a car is “subjective” because it is dependent on the mind for its existence. I get the impression that you are basically using “subjective” as a synonym for man-made or consciously processed.

            Morality, in particular, is an objective necessity of human life. It is necessary because of the facts of human nature — quite independently of what anyone (or everyone) thinks about it.

            Morality is not “subjective” in the sense of colorblindness or a preference for vanilla over chocolate.

            Of course, people do have the free choice to mistreat morality as a “subjective phenomenon,” by acting according to whims or commandments instead of on a factual basis of what is required for rational living. That kind of “subjectivity” does exist. It is simply a mistake: the non-objective, magical-thinking approach to morality.

          • [][]“Just because a great many of us share the same subjective experiences, that doesn’t turn those experiences into objective reality.”[][]

            I agree. Objective reality is “experience-independent”. Reality is not a subjective creation.

      • [][]“I still think you misunderstand how the word is commonly used when discussing objectivity vs. subjectivity. I even showed you a definition that supports my usage.”[][]

        Since I showed you a definition that supports my usage, doesn’t that mean it is you who misunderstands how the words are used?

        Or could there be a way to resolve the disagreement by means other than conflicting definitional references?

        I think you misunderstand, and you think I misunderstand. Is this an unheard of dilemma, or what? Or is there some common objective standard to work with?

        • Eric Dutton

          No. You showed me a definition from a dictionary. But the definition you offered was not even talking about the same usage. In fact, it was even hovering over a definition that WAS in the exact context we are discussing, and it supported my position.
          Words change all the time. But when you’re comparing the objective and the subjective, if you aren’t accepting the meanings I’m offering, or at least something close to them, then you’re ignoring ages of philosophy and starting over from scratch. That’s fine if it leads you somewhere new and useful, but in this case, it looks like you’re saying that that history doesn’t even exist. Even when it’s in the very dictionaries you’re quoting.

          • [][]“… a definition that WAS in the exact context we are discussing, and it supported my position.”[][]

            Okay, if it did, then I still don’t understand the connection to “a magical notion of the objectivity of morality.” How is that supported?

          • Eric Dutton

            Until we can agree on the meanings of the words we’re using, I don’t think it will do much good for me to explain what I meant by “magical notion of the objectivity of morality.”
            I’m getting dizzy just thinking about the new rounds of debate that would lead to.

          • [][]‘I don’t think it will do much good for me to explain what I meant by “magical notion of the objectivity of morality.”’[][]

            In the context of Rabbi Averick’s article, that statement is the crucial one you’ve made. That’s the one that most needs to be explained.

            That looks like your pay-off pitch, with the rest of the “objectivity-subjectivity” distinction as just the set-up for it.

          • Eric Dutton

            Alright, alright. You’ve talked me into it. I’ll make a comment about this this evening, if I have time.

      • [][]“Apples exist whether someone perceives them or not.”[][]

        Okay, I agree with that.

        [][]“Morality does not.”[][]

        But this point is ambiguous.

        For instance, the altruist morality has been around through many generations of humans. It has been conceptualized, and does not depend on everybody perceiving it (or agreeing with it).

        • Eric Dutton

          Morality does not exist outside of the human mind. It does not exist as a structure in the brain. It is not measurable. It is a concept. It is a system of thought that is intended to affect our behavior. If you and I disagree about what is moral, there is no reliable test to see who is right. It is a set of assumptions built on assumptions built on instinct and systematized through reason. If I had a different set of instincts, or a drastically different set of assumptions, then there would be no hope for arguing about morality. Fortunately, the great majority of us do share a similar set of instincts and assumptions. That, combined with a certain amount of conditioning allows us to create a system of morality that we can argue about and even persuade each other about using reason. That may not sound very stable. But it doesn’t look like humanity is doing much better (or worse) with morality than we would expect from such a model.

          • Anonymous

            [][]“Morality does not exist outside of the human mind…. there is no reliable test to see who is right.”[][]

            If it’s all in your head, and there is no objective reference, then why does it make any difference? What’s the use?

            Couldn’t you just as logically claim that “Medical science does not exist outside of the human mind, there is no reliable way to know if anyone is healthy or not?”

          • Anonymous

            [][]“Instincts”[][]

            ??

            I have to ask, Eric, if you are being serious, or just trying to pull our legs?

          • Eric Dutton

            Anonymous,
            For the answers to your questions, you could read the rest of my comment or some of the other comments on this thread.
            Your first words to me here are extremely disrespectful. Yet it’s clear that you haven’t even taken the effort to figure out what’s going on in this comment thread. I have left a LOT of comments here. Do an ALT-F search for my name. Take a minute or two to inform yourself. THEN come back and engage me. If that sounds like too much effort, then you shouldn’t be taking this tone with me. Be an adult. Have some common decency. I know this is the internet, but I don’t accept that as an excuse for this kind of behavior, and I WILL call you out for it.

          • Sorry, Eric. Those two “anonymous” posts were me; I don’t know why they came out “anonymous.”

          • Why is everything still awaiting moderation after so much time?

  • stater of the obvious

    “God is the arbiter of morality, because God is the arbiter of morality. Seems pretty linear to me.”

    – Rex Tugwell (message board troll, apologist, genius)

    Rob, the problem is you’re trying to debate someone who has no concept of logic. It’s like trying to talk to someone who not only doesn’t speak your language, but doesn’t understand the concept of language. To paraphrase Mitch Hedberg, you’re playing tennis with a wall. No matter how you hit the ball, with whatever spin, it will always come back the same way and you’ll collapse long before it does.

    • RexTugwell

      “- Rex Tugwell (…genius)”

      Wow, is it that obvious, Stater? I’ve tried to tone it down a bit.

      A word of advice: when putting words between quotes, be sure that the person to whom you attribute them actually said them. Otherwise people will think you’re a liar. You’re allowed to paraphrase but you still have to get the general idea correct. Also, you don’t have to use quotation marks.

      • stater of the obvious

        That is a paraphrase of what you said.

        “The Creator is the lawgiver” because “the creator gets to make the rules”.

        A -> B because A -> B.

        At least take ownership of your idiocy.

        Alternatively, your welcome to clarify.

      • RexTugwell

        stater of the oblivious, that was unkind but expected. Now try to follow along:

        If I were to say “Congress gets to pass laws because they are the lawmakers” and left it at that, that would be incoherent. However, they are lawmakers because the Constitution confers the power to pass laws on them. That makes sense.

        Similarly, G-d AS CREATOR is lawgiver because AS CREATOR he has absolute power. Sounds like you would join a new club only to tell the founder of the club that he’s got no right to draft the charter.

        All that being said, I’m sure you agree that the Creator gets to make the rules. You just don’t like the rules. You’ve got to have the courage to be honest with yourself.

        • Evidently, Rex, you didn’t get the memo that “God AS CREATOR” is a mythological character. God has zero power of any kind — other than the psychological power of myth (which is certainly not to be sneezed at).

      • It is that obvious!

  • [][][]
    Eric Dutton
    August 6, 2012
    4:27 pm
    “For example, an apple is objectively there or not, but if I hallucinate that an apple is a mouse, then my subjective experience is different from a person who doesn’t hallucinate.
    The objective reality is that there is an apple on the table, not a mouse. The subjective realities are different.”

    [][][]

    No, Eric, there is only ONE REALITY, i.e., the real stuff.

    Remember that “to hallucinate” is an entirely different process than “to perceive.”

    There is no “subjective reality,” in the sense that the real apple somehow has miraculous competition from the imaginary mouse as to what is REALITY.

    • ayla

      What classification do you give to information, Steve? Do you consider it objective or subjective? What about love? It certainly is real. You like to have your observable, material world as the basis for your rejection of a Creator, but there is much that exists that is not material or observable.

      • Are you trying to say that you’ve never observed any information or any love? Maybe you could at least read a book . . . .

        • ayla

          The book is only paper and ink, Steve, the information exists immaterially, independent of the book. And love exists likewise, immaterially; what you might have observed is the expression of love. The point is, basing all your conclusions about existence on the physical external world omits the very real realm of the immaterial, the unseen.

          • [][]“The book is only paper and ink, Steve, the information exists immaterially, independent of the book.”[][]

            I understand that the information exists independently of the book — or else how would anyone be able to figure out what to write in the book.

            But I don’t see how you can think “the information exists immaterially”? If there were no material world, there would be nothing to have any information about.

            Perhaps you are thinking about conscious processing as being “immaterial,” since it is a process not a physical object like a rock (or an unthinking person).

            So “information” is a mental process/product that is necessarily based on the interactions of material objects (people and stuff), but is not a separate “material object” per se somehow on its own.

            I think of “immaterial” as being “separate from the material world” — like a God, for instance — not as something necessarily dependent on the material world — like information.

            So we just need to be clear that information is natural and objective, not supernatural and subjective.

          • [][]“And love exists likewise, immaterially; what you might have observed is the expression of love.”[][]

            I take a different view on several grounds.

            For one thing, only material beings (like people) can love something.

            For another thing, I don’t see how “love without expression” could be anything other than a fraud or fake. (My view is that somebody who claims to “love” something or somebody, but never does anything about is just “talking through his hat.” I don’t buy such baseless claims.)

          • Just curious, but where did ayla go?

          • Eric Dutton

            A thing being dependent on material beings does not make that thing material. Being dependent on the objective world does not make something objective.
            You wrote, “So we just need to be clear that information is natural and objective, not supernatural and subjective.”
            But I think that you’ve missed the natural and subjective.

          • Eric Dutton

            I’m not sure. We may have bored ayla into submission.

          • Darn.

          • “Being dependent on the objective world does not make something objective.”

            I think that such dependence/correspondence is precisely what does make ideas objective.

            (Naturally, it doesn’t make ideas into physical objects, like rocks or butterflies, but there’s more to reality than objects per se. There are also processes and relationships out there.)

      • [][]“What classification do you give to information, Steve? Do you consider it objective or subjective?”[][]

        Information is necessarily objective. Otherwise, it is fantasy, or disinformation, or some other form of subjective pretense at being “information.”

    • Eric Dutton

      Exactly. There is only one reality. That’s the objective stuff we’re talking about. Subjectivity is our perception of reality. When we’re talking about what’s really there, we’re talking about objectivity. When we’re talking about what we perceive, we’re talking about subjectivity. And, yes, we can perceive things that are really there (the apple, for example) but our experience of it is subjective. You failed to address the point about colorblindness. There is no competition between objective reality and subjective reality. And nothing I’ve said implies that there is. There is only competition between our understanding of which is which.
      Color is subjective. There is no objective reality of color. There is and objective reality of wavelengths of light, but color is all about perception. That doesn’t mean that color doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.

      “Remember that ‘to hallucinate,’ is an entirely different process than ‘to perceive.’

      Yes. It is. It is different in the same way that ‘to eat’ is a different process than ‘to taste.’ I think you’re getting your categories confused.

      • You can eat an apple and taste it at the same time, as part of the same process. But you are confused if you think that you can perceive an apple and hallucinate an apple at the same time as part of the same process.

        Certainly, it is not clear what position you are trying to take on the issue of objectivity vs. subjectivity.

      • [][]“Subjectivity is our perception of reality.”[][]!!

        No. PERCEPTION is our perception of reality. Subjectivity is the belief that wishing can magically change what you perceive into what it really isn’t.

        From: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/subjective

        Definition of subjective
        adjective

        1. based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions

        • “Perception of reality” isn’t part of the definition of “subjectivity.”

          • Another update:

            Note that “perception of reality” is redundant, since there isn’t anything else to perceive (and fantasizing about unnatural things is not perception).

          • Eric Dutton

            It is, according to Merriam-Webster:

            3a : characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind : phenomenal — compare objective 1b

          • Differing dictionaries are an interesting problem.

        • Eric Dutton

          Read the rest of the definition at that link.

          • Eric Dutton

            “Note that ‘perception of reality’ is redundant, since there isn’t anything else to perceive”

            No. I can perceive an apple that is there, but if I hallucinate, I perceive and apple that isn’t there. One is “reality,” one is not.

          • [][]“… if I hallucinate, I perceive an apple that isn’t there.”[][]

            Absolutely not.

            An hallucination is NOT a perception. Just like fiction is NOT non-fiction.

        • Eric Dutton

          From your own link:
          “Contrasted with objective.
          dependent on the mind or on an individual’s perception for its existence.”

          • Exactly. That’s the fallacy of subjectivism: the mistaken notion that reality is mind-dependent, that perception can create reality.

            That’s what ‘subjectivism’ means, and that’s why it’s wrong.

          • Eric Dutton

            I have never implied that reality is mind-dependent. You’re talking about subjectiveISM. I have not defended subjectivism. There is a difference between a belief that there are real subjective experiences and a belief in subjectivism. You’ve made claims that are inconsistent with an understanding of what it means for an experience to be subjective. That’s what I’m talking about. I have no interest in discussing subjectivism. I reject it, at least in any practical application.

          • [][]“You’re talking about subjectiveISM.”[][]

            I have to admit to that.

            That’s what I though you meant by saying that “hallucination” qualified as “perception.” I still don’t see any other reasonable way to interpret that qualification.

      • [][]“You failed to address the point about colorblindness.”[][]

        When someone perceives something via a particular wavelength of light, that wavelength does not change depending on what that person, or any other person, calls it. It is the same wavelength no matter who perceives it (or even if nobody perceives it). It is what it is.

        It is objectively real; it does not subjectively change according to what anybody says or feels about it.

      • [][]“There is no objective reality of color.”[][]

        That’s like claiming that when you slip on a banana peel, there is no objective reality to your slip (or maybe the banana peel, or the ground, or the pain of hitting the ground). Or something. What part of the event are you claiming didn’t really happen, or wasn’t really there?

        “Color” is part of an interaction between your eyes and light. Why do you insist that that part of the process doesn’t really exist?

    • Eric Dutton

      By the way. Let me just point out that I’m not arguing for two different realities. When I say “subjective reality,” I’m talking about our experience of objective reality, which is all we have. We can make inferences about objective reality–pretty solid ones, at that–but we can’t assume that what we perceive is what is. I’m sure you could come up with obvious examples of this just as easily as I could.

      • [][]“… we can’t assume that what we perceive is what is.”[[]]

        It is absolutely certain that whatever you perceive “is what is,” since there is nothing else to perceive except “what is.”

        If you are claiming that you can perceive things that don’t exist, you are claiming to have magical, supernatural powers. As an atheist, I don’t believe that you do have such powers.

        • Eric Dutton

          Your are conflating the perception and the thing being observed. An apple is the thing being observed. But if I hallucinate, I might perceive a mouse.

          • Hallucination, Eric, is not perception.

            You can only perceive actual stuff. You cannot perceive that which isn’t there. Your subjective fantasies cannot produce mice.

          • Subjective fantasies cannot even produce God, let alone mice.

  • RexTugwell

    All this talk of morality vs. immorality really boils down to whether G-d exists or not. For if there is a Creator then He is the lawgiver. No creator, no objective law. It’s as simple as that. I submit that most self-proclaimed atheists really do believe in G-d but for whatever reason have decided to reject him. Note I have not said disbelieve in him but reject him. The following atheists quoted below sum up what I’m saying rather nicely:

    Thomas Nagel
    I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

    Aldous Huxley
    “For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust.”

    Michael Shermer
    Socially, when I moved from theism to atheism, and science as a worldview, I guess, to be honest, I just liked the people in science, and the scientists, and their books, and just the lifestyle, and the way of living. I liked that better than the religious books, the religious people I was hanging out with— just socially. It just felt more comfortable for me. In reality I think most of us arrive at most of our beliefs for non-rational reasons, and then we justify them with these reasons after the fact.

    There are of course other reasons people reject G-d: absent or abusive fathers, anger toward G-d for sufferings endured, etc. but atheists need to look deep within themselves and ask why they really do reject their Creator. More times than not, it’s not for intellectual reasons IMHO.

    • [][]“All this talk of morality vs. immorality really boils down to whether G-d exists or not. For if there is a Creator then He is the lawgiver. No creator, no objective law. It’s as simple as that.”[][]

      God is a figment of the imagination, but objective reality is not a figment of anyone’s imagination: it is what actually exists. Therefore, objective morality is the correct choice for dealing with objective reality, and religion is best left to the imaginary world where theistic fantasies roam. Notions like “Creation, by God!” and “Supernatural Law” are entirely subjective, the the sense of not being logically derived from perception of reality.

      • RexTugwell

        And who is the arbiter of objective morality Steve?

        Objective means something is objectively right (e.g. feeding the poor) even if 100% of people think it’s wrong and something is objectively wrong (e.g. homosexuality) even if 100% of people think it’s right.

        Because the law of the Creator is written on our hearts, atheists will not be able to claim ignorance when standing before the Judge. Sorry to burst your bubble.

        • The concept of objectivity means that such a question as “Who is the arbiter of objective morality?” is wrong.

          Nobody “decides.” Nature does not decide—it merely is; man does not decide, in issues of knowledge, he merely observes that which is. When it comes to applying his knowledge, man decides what he chooses to do, according to what he has learned, remembering that the basic principle of rational action in all aspects of human existence, is: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” This means that man does not create reality and can achieve his values only by making his decisions consonant with the facts of reality.

    • Rob Thomas

      “For if there is a Creator then He is the lawgiver. ”

      Why?

      • RexTugwell

        Why not? The Creator gets to make the rules. One may not like the rules but they’re there for our own well-being.

        • Why not, indeed? It is your fantasy, after all.

        • Rob Thomas

          Oh, I see.

          “The Creator is the lawgiver” because…. “the creator gets to make the rules”!

          Thanks for clearing that up.

          What must it be like to live in such a möbius loop of illogic.

        • RexTugwell

          Seems pretty linear to me

      • Why not? When your approach is subjectivist, you can imagine whatever you feel like. God is fiction, after all, so He can be the Lawgiver if that’s the way they want the story to go.

  • Rob Thomas

    “For morality to have any objective significance (we all agree that it can have subjective significance) and actual reality, its source cannot be rooted in subjectivity or arbitrary decision making. It must reflect an actual,absolute, eternal standard. that is what we mean when we say it’s source must be God.”

    Your standard is God’s definition of morality. My standard is that which alleviates or prevents human suffering. Hence, you consider homosexuality immoral, and I consider discrimination against homosexuals immoral. Once the subjective term “morality” is defined, the morality of actions can then be objectively determined. Of course, objective, secular morality is based on evidence, so your aversion is not surprising.

    • So long as you treat “morality” as a subjective term, you are going to come up short of reality. Since reality is objective, morality needs to be approached objectively, or you are not going to be dealing with the real world. “Subjective morality,” whether religious or secular, is never going to be adequate for living in the real world. For that, objective morality is necessary.

    • Anonymous

      Rob,

      Your definition needs a little fine tuning in my opinion. If you give a man a drug that painlessly kills him in his sleep, he’ll never suffer again. I’ve not only alleviated human suffering for this man, I’ve entirely eliminated any chance he will ever suffer again.

      For an athlete to achieve world class status, he must subject him/herself to quite a bit of suffering. People suffer for causes all the time. You have not DEFINED morality, you have only stated one mode of behavior that might be part of a larger moral system.

      I would ask that you give a DEFINITION of morality.

      You say that my standard is “Gds definition of morality”. Your point has some validity. It is really the basis for what philosophers and theologians call THE Euthyphro Dilemma. A comprehensive elaboration is beyond the scope of this forum. Please read the chapter in my book “Euthyphro, a Philosophical Dinosaur”

      • Rob Thomas

        Okay… Morality = that which alleviates or prevents human suffering OR HARM. Killing someone in their sleep = harm. Phew! That was tough. I guess if you lack empathy and the slightest ability to reason, you need Leviticus to spell out every possible situation for you.

        “Please read the chapter in my book “Euthyphro, a Philosophical Dinosaur”

        Let me guess. Morality = that which strengthens our relationship with God. Am I close? You see, there is nothing in your inane ramblings that I haven’t heard time and time again. You’re right. That definition is TOTALLY less arbitrary than defining morality as that which strengthens my relationship with my pet turtle.

      • A moral code is a system of teleological measurement which grades the choices and actions open to man, according to the degree to which they achieve or frustrate the code’s standard of value. The standard is the end, to which man’s actions are the means.

        A moral code is a set of abstract principles; to practice it, an individual must translate it into the appropriate concretes—he must choose the particular goals and values which he is to pursue. This requires that he define his particular hierarchy of values, in the order of their importance, and that he act accordingly.

        http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html

    • Note that Rabbi Averick throws out real world objectivity and substitutes his notion of “Supernatural Subjectivity” in place of it — and tries to pretend that it is still miraculously something “objectively absolute”.

  • Emma

    “But Atheism Does Teach That We’re Animals”

    So does biology. We are animals. Kingdom “Animalia.”

    • Atheism does not “teach that we’re animals.” It is biology (not atheism) that teaches it.

      Atheism teaches nothing — not even that there is no God.

      • Update:

        Atheism is not an academic discipline, or an ideology, teaching, or worldview. Atheism is merely a lack of belief in the supernatural. It is a negative only; there is nothing positive about atheism. It basically says nothing at all.

        I was tempted to say that atheism merely teaches that humans don’t have a “connection to God,” but that is not actually true. Atheism does not teach that — and, indeed, many people do have a “connection to God,” the same way some people have a “connection to Batman” or a “connection to Winnie-the-Pooh.”

        • Christoph

          O.K., let’s assume for argument’s sake that atheism does not teach anything. What are all these atheists doing that populate the countless atheist blogs? They don’t teach that God does not exist? They say that they do not believe in God in many fancy ways, some of which sound suspiciously like teaching. Why do they want everybody to know that they don’t believe in God? Reminds me of those religious people who go round telling everybody that they do believe in God, …without being asked. Les extrêmes se touchent.

          “There is nothing positive about atheism.”
          That really says it all.

          • stater of the obvious

            Those “fancy ways” are what educated people like to call “logic” and “reason”.

            Pointing out the absurdity “Baffled Scientist X /= Myth Y True” is teaching about logic, not atheism.

    • Moshe AVerick

      Emma,

      Don’t quite get your point. We certainly have things in common with all other animals. The question is whether or not that is all we are.

      • Rabbi, if your question is whether or not humans have specifically human attributes which distinguish them from all other animals, the answer is, “Yes, we do.” Humans are “a rational animal.” Nothing else has the human conceptual capacity.

        “Animal” is the genus of the definition. “Rational” is the differentia.

        But this is entirely — 100% — natural.

        So if your question is whether or not there is some supernatural component to human nature, the answer is clearly, “No, there is nothing supernatural about anybody.”

    • Moshe AVerick

      Emma,

      Don’t quite get your point. We certainly have things in common with all other animals. The question is whether or not that is all we are.

      • Sholom

        What, in your opinion would make us “more” than animals? Are you referring to a soul? Why would something supernatural, such as a soul be the only thing that differentiates us from animals? What about our ability to use language, or our rational minds?

        • Moshe Averick

          Sholom,

          I think you have zeroed in on a very important point. Spoken language, (in fact all types of communication between people), is a spiritual faculty. The information that passes from my head to another’s when I speak to him cannot be measured by any material means at all. The information has no weight, no mass, no molecular formula, it cannot be seen, touched or smelled. It exists in time, but not space. It is a non-material/spiritual reality. The sounds we make when we speak are completely arbitrary, the sounds mean nothing at all. That is why it sounds like complete gibberish when we hear a foreign language. In fact, it is gibberish. Somehow non-material information is attached to the arbitrary, intrinsically meaningless sounds that we make with our mouths.

          • [][]“The sounds we make when we speak are completely arbitrary, the sounds mean nothing at all.”[][]

            That might be true if you don’t know what you are talking about, or aren’t being honest in what you say.

            But there are actual people who can really, objectively convey information when they speak.

          • [][]“The information that passes from my head to another’s when I speak to him cannot be measured by any material means at all.”[][]

            That is a very unrealistic view to take on the matter, Rabbi.

            For instance, if you said, “The cup is on the table,” then the person you were speaking to could look at the table to see if you were passing him information or if you were merely making sounds without conveying actual information.

            Information is certainly measurable in the real world.

          • Sholom

            Rabbi,
            When Dolphins use sonar to communicate, is that a spiritual reality?

            How about chimps. Do they communicate spiritually or physically?

            Since the information we receive in communication is non material, when we do brain scans of people receiving information in the form of sounds or images, should we see the brain states change in any material way?

  • [][][]
    Moshe Averick
    August 3, 2012
    6:36 pm
    “… studying science….. In reality it is not noble, meaningful, or significant at all.”
    [][][]

    At least, Rabbi Averick, you are providing a fairly good example of the religious mindset of rejecting reality (nature and the human mind) as insignificant. That is a profound problem with theism: blind faith instead of rationality.

    In principle, Rabbi, you are rejecting the only solid ground you have to stand on.

  • Morality is not “what we please” — morality is the code we choose. The options are choosing rationally or some other way (i.e., irrationally). Religion is one of the irrational options (because it is not an objective approach).

    • Update:

      Morality is not only not “what we please,” it is also not “what commands we obey” (or “what orders we follow”).

      Morality is a code of values to guide us in life — a code accepted by choice. It is neither whims nor commands.

    • Eric Dutton

      I didn’t DEFINE morality as “what we please.” That would make anything we please morality. I wouldn’t claim, for example, that coffee is morality. Maybe a clearer way to say is that we want morality. Morality is a code we choose. I can accept that. But we choose it because we want morality. It’s what we please.
      Here’s what I think it is:
      I think that one of the reasons we choose religion is that we want morality to be easier. We want a system that is suppose to answer all of the question we might ever have about morality. We want this for ourselves, but also for other people. We want to know what to expect from other people, and we want to know that we can easily convince them that they’re doing something wrong, if need be. If morality comes from a single being, and that being is always around somewhere, and that being left us a set of instructions, then morality seems more predictable, more discoverable, and more teachable. But if morality is messy, if it’s an inclination we have that’s based on our social nature, and if its reliability and predictability is only based on our ability to systematize those inclinations by applying our reason to them, then morality becomes more complex and less reliable. The problem is that the reliability and predictability of religion’s morality is an illusion. It just doesn’t work the way we want it to.

      • Eric, I think you’ve set up a false alternative that is really only variations of the same error of subjectivity — while ignoring the better option of objectivity. Your idea of “a single god vs. social inclinations” comes down supernaturalist subjectivity vs. emotionalist subjectivity.

        I think you’re right that many people find the “Single Commander” version of “morality” to appear to be a safe haven from self-responsibility and objectivity. Everybody needs morality: it’s part of being human. But not everybody is willing to take the responsibility of meeting that need through rational thought about the objective values of being human.

        • Eric Dutton

          I don’t believe that subjectivity is an error. The wish for moral objectivity is understandable, but belief in its existence is, I believe, the error. It is also an error to believe that subjectivity means that absolutely anything goes,–that if morality is subjective, we lose the ability to say that anything is right or wrong. We might occasionally come to an impasse in a debate because we have a fundamental disagreement about morality, but that is no different from what happens among theists. It fine to say that God or the Bible is the final authority on morality, but it get’s us nowhere if we disagree about what those authorities want–and this happens all the time.
          The idea that giving up the idea of God means giving up morality is just not supported by reality. We don’t see atheists acting immorally more often that we see theists acting immorally. We don’t see secular countries spiraling into a wasteland of adultery and crime.
          Theists make the assumption that morality was invented by God. The conclusion belief that without God there is no morality is simply a deduction from that assumption. But it ignores what’s actually happening in the world. It reality doesn’t bear out the conclusion of that argument, it’s time to reexamine that assumption.

          • Objectivity is the principle that reality exists independently of what people feel or think about it. Subjectivity is the principle that facts don’t matter and that feelings are magically more significant than facts.

            Thus, subjectivity is the wrong approach to morality, and objectivity is the way to handle it.

            Objectivity means that life and death matter, while subjectivity means anything goes (that nothing matters but feelings — whether the feeling that God is commanding you, or the feeling that nobody cares, etc.).

          • Eric Dutton

            goodold_lucifer,
            For some reason, there is no “reply” button under your comment, so I’m replying to my own.

            Those are some pretty weak definitions of objectivity and subjectivity. If I defined subjectivity as the principle that tuna fish is smelly, then I could also say that subjectivity is the wrong approach to morality.
            Here’s how I’m using the words:
            Objectivity refers to reality as it is.
            Subjectivity refers to reality as it is perceived.
            Either way, life and death matter. The only difference is why they matter.

          • [][]“Objectivity refers to reality as it is.
            Subjectivity refers to reality as it is perceived.”
            [][]

            By that definition, “subjectivity” and “objectivity” are precisely the same thing — since reality can only be what it is, and there is nothing else to perceive.

          • Eric Dutton

            goodold_lucifer,

            It wouldn’t mean they are the same. For example, an apple is objectively there or not, but if I hallucinate that an apple is a mouse, then my subjective experience is different from a person who doesn’t hallucinate.
            The objective reality is that there is an apple on the table, not a mouse. The subjective realities are different.
            Also, if I am colorblind, then my subjective experience is different from a person who is not colorblind. That is a reality that isn’t really objective. Most people aren’t colorblind, but that doesn’t make the apple objectively red.

          • As the point in sometimes put: there is only one reality. There is nowhere else to be.

          • [][]“Theists make the assumption that morality was invented by God…. it’s time to reexamine that assumption.”[][]

            Since God is a fictional character, there are no valid assumptions about anything He has done or ever could do. There is no reasonable need to “reexamine that assumption” about anything related to the supernatural.

            The supernatural is unreal, period.

          • Eric Dutton

            I’m afraid there was some poor typing on my part, which obscured my meaning. I was trying to point out that if we make actual observations about moral behavior and religious belief, we don’t see any correlation between the two. The theists who try to say that the natural conclusion of atheism is amorality have to ignore what’s actually happening in the world.
            How does that relate to the points you were making in the comment above? Well, honestly, I don’t think it does. It was getting late and I wasn’t operating at 100%, as my typing skills attest.
            I still stand by the points I was making, but not their relevance to our discussion. I think I was thinking about some of the other comments here. A lot of people seems to think that atheists who insist on being moral are doing it wrong, and if they truly understood atheism as well as the theists who hate it so much, they would be horrible people.

  • RexTugwell

    There is something that needs to be thrown into the mix of atheism, theism, morality and amorality. It is the belief among theists that the Creator has infused into the very heart of man His law. It is this inborn knowledge that keeps atheists and theists alike from killing and raping, torturing and defrauding their fellow brethren – even without some explicit revelation of prohibition. The difference is that the theist can account for this innate sense of good and justice. The atheist on the other hand has no point of reference except some nebulous Darwinian explanation. According to the nonbeliever we are after all, as the title of the current piece points out, animals. Ontologically we’re no different from chimps that screech in the trees and fling excrement at each other. We’re just more “evolved”.

    Because of this “law written on our hearts”, the idea of a moral atheist makes perfect sense to a theist. And an atheist should be indignant if he is told he’s immoral or amoral because he doesn’t believe in G-d. His disbelief has no bearing on the innermost law inscribed into his soul. He can deny it but it’s there. Of course, we all can and do go against that law to some degree.

    Which brings us to the following conclusion: the theist who acts immorally, is doing so contrary to his worldview while the atheist who acts morally is acting contrary to his.

    The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” Richard Dawkins

    • Sholom

      Rex,
      You’re making the same mistake as Rabbi Averick. You’re simply defining morality as that which is God given. And then using your own, made up definition, concluding that atheists can’t account for morality.

      • Moshe Averick

        Sholom,

        Any type of value system, whether it is manufacturing electronics or evaluating a baseball pitcher, involves comparisons to a standard. In order to call a piece of electronics “high quality” you must first set up a standard to which you will compare the equipment in question. The standard can be either arbitrary or based on some particular goal you have in mind. The standard is therefore either arbitrary or subjective.

        The same applies to human moral systems. If you call someone immoral, it means you are comparing them to a standard. Individuals/societies set standards of behavior based on what they consider to be worthwhile end-goals. The source of this standard is the feelings of a particular individual or the collective feelings of a society regarding what works best for them at a particular point in time; i.e. the moral evaluations are purely subjective. If a different individual/societiy has different end-goals they will have different standards of behavior. There is no escape from the fact that the particular goals that a society sets for itself are based on subjective feelings.

        If my subjectively decided upon goal is to build many big buildings, then it may be objectively true that the more highly trained architects I produce the better I will accomplish that goal, but then the goal itself is purely subjective.

        For morality to have any objective significance (we all agree that it can have subjective significance) and actual reality, its source cannot be rooted in subjectivity or arbitrary decision making. It must reflect an actual,absolute, eternal standard. that is what we mean when we say it’s source must be God.

        • [][]“For morality to have any objective significance …, its source cannot be rooted in subjectivity or arbitrary decision making.”[][]

          Okay, Rabbi, that is correct. Your problem is that God is the ultimate in subjectivity — being utterly and completely disconnected from the actual physical world we live in and are conscious of.

          [][]“It must reflect an actual,absolute, eternal standard. That is what we mean when we say it’s source must be God.”[][]

          Your belief that morality must have an unnatural source to be applicable to the natural world is rather like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s not a reasonable fit.

          Logically, morality must reflect the objective facts of reality — not the subjective fantasies of theists.

        • [][]“If you call someone immoral, it means you are comparing them to a standard.”[][]

          Correct.

          [][]“Individuals/societies set standards of behavior based on what they consider to be worthwhile end-goals. The source of this standard is the feelings of a particular individual or the collective feelings of a society regarding what works best for them at a particular point in time; i.e. the moral evaluations are purely subjective.”[][]

          Incorrect.

          Moral evaluations do not work well unless they are made objectively, i.e., by applying reason to the real world. Religion is way off track.

        • Stater of the obvious

          You are defining “objective”, “actual”, “absolute” (do you have any more adjective?) morality as God’s opinion of morality. That’s no different than defining morality in some other “arbitrary” way.

        • Sholom

          Rabbi, you said…
          In order to call a piece of electronics “high quality” you must first set up a standard to which you will compare the equipment in question

          Right. And since electronics standards change over time and between cultures (i.e. they are a human endevour-like morality-so there will never be a truly objective standard of electronics quality) then an atheist can never evaluate the quality of any piece of electronics.

          • Moshe Averick

            Sholom,

            I don’t quite get your point. Anyone (believer or atheist) can evaluate the electronics as long as they set up a subjective or arbitrary standard by which to evaluate the electronics. Anyone can evaluate behavior as long as they set up a subjective and/or arbitrary standard by which to judge the behavior.

            There are many ways by which a person might set up standards for electronics. it might be what transmits the purest signal without distortion, it might be that the person doesn’t care that much about distortion, only if he can sell what he produces. Depending on the goal, you’ll set up the standard. The same with morality. Depending on your goal you will set up standards of behavior that will get you where you want to go. If you decide you want to go somewhere else you’ll revise your standards.

            If I have not understood what you said, please explain.

          • Sholom

            Rabbi,

            Applying your logic regarding morality to electronics, if there isn’t an eternal, God given standard of electronics, then no piece of electronics is “objectively” better than any other piece of electronics.

            Furthermore, there is no such thing as “real” quality electronics, and there is no point in devoting any time or effort to developing better electronics, because it’s all just a matter of personal opinion.

      • Moshe Averick

        Sholom,
        Regarding animal communication: It’s harder to speak about animals because I haven’t spent a lot of time investigating the issue of animal communication, however, it would seem that communication between higher animals such as dolphins and chimpanzees – while it is clear that the content of the communication is much less sophisticated to say the least – is non-material/spiritual in the same way as human communication. Unless there is an actual physical/chemical/molecular connection being used to cause the effect it is clearly in the category of spiritual.

        Regarding brain scans: Our argument is not about the existence of the material/physical world, our argument is about the reality of a non-material/spiritual world. Your example of brain scans is exactly to the point. Communication is the clearest and most pervasive example of a non-material reality affecting the physical world. If I were to reveal an embarassing secret about a person at a gathering of all his friends and family and monitors were hooked up to his brain, blood chemistry, heart rate etc, at the moment I revealed the secret the monitors would go haywire. What was the cause of all the physcial changes in his body? Did I inject him with a chemical or gas? It was the non-material information that affected his physical body. The soul and the body interact and affect each other.The spiritual and physical interact and affect each other.

        Regarding morality and electronics:

        “then no piece of electronics is “objectively” better than any other piece of electronics.”

        You are correct, there is no such thing as “inherently” good electronics. It all depends on the goals you have set for yourself. If your goal is to sell shlocky goods to unsuspecting people you will have one standard, if your goal is to sell equipment that NASA can use in the space shuttle you will have a different standard. The goals themselves are purely subjective; once you have subjectively decided on your goal, within those paradigms you can “objectively” decide if the electronics are good.

        “and there is no point in devoting any time or effort to developing better electronics, because it’s all just a matter of personal opinion.”

        Again you are correct. There is no INHERENT reason to develop electronics at all. If you have set certain goals for yourself, for example if you want to listen to CD’s then you will have no choice but to develop certain levels of electronics. But no one has to listen to CD’s in the first place if they have no desire to do so.
        The only reason to develop electronics at all is because you have some need for it. In the context of your subjective needs, of course there are objectively different levels of electronics.

        Morality is exactly the same. First you decide what you want from your life, or what you want society to achieve; those goals are purely subjective in an atheistic universe. Then you go ahead and formulate standards of behavior that will help you achieve these goals. If you have decided that you want to be a powerful dictator you will develop standards one way, if you want people to love each other, you will develop other standards. If “quality of life” is your goal, then you may want to kill deformed, retarded, and handicapped babies at birth (like Plato and ARistotle took for granted), if you have different goals the behavior required will be different.

        Rabbi,

        Applying your logic regarding morality to electronics, if there isn’t an eternal, God given standard of electronics, then no piece of electronics is “objectively” better than any other piece of electronics.

        Furthermore, there is no such thing as “real” quality electronics, and there is no point in devoting any time or effort to developing better electronics, because it’s all just a matter of personal opinion.

    • Hi, Rex.

      []“It is the belief among theists that the Creator has infused into the very heart of man His law.”[]

      We can certainly grant that theists believe in a “Creator and His Law.” After all, that’s what makes them theists. But a key point is that their theistic beliefs have no basis in reality. “Creation, by God!” is a fantasy; “Creator Infused Law” is an imaginary shortcut (or short circuit) to morality.

      []“It is this inborn knowledge that keeps atheists and theists alike from killing and raping, torturing and defrauding their fellow brethren – even without some explicit revelation of prohibition.”[]

      You’re wrong on at least two points here, Rex. For one thing, there is no such thing as “inborn/innate knowledge.” For another thing, there is no such thing as “supernaturally revealed knowledge.”

      []“The difference is that the theist can account for this innate sense of good and justice.”[]

      Since God is a fictional character, there is no way for any believer/theist to account for anything in nature — though they can certainly play it deuces wild at making up accounts of the supernatural.

      Note that the concepts of “good” and “justice” have actual application in the real world, but are senseless in terms of “Supernatural Beings” or “Supernatural Law.”

      []“The atheist on the other hand has no point of reference except some nebulous Darwinian explanation. According to the nonbeliever we are after all, as the title of the current piece points out, animals.”[]

      If theists wish to deny the facts of human biology, that is clearly consistent with their overall denial of nature as objectively worth paying attention to. It does, after all, take a great exercise of blind faith to pretend they can see no actual difference between chimps (or bacteria) and people.

    • Christoph

      “The theist who acts immorally, is doing so contrary to his worldview while the atheist who acts morally is acting contrary to his.”
      Rex, I like this!

      • Stater of the obvious

        That’s because you’re a dumbass.

      • RexTugwell

        Cristoph, I can’t take credit for that.

        Stater of the obvious, what’s may not be so obvious is that your comment shows your small-mindedness and/or your implicit agreement with what I wrote since you haven’t offered any counter argument.

        • stater of the obvious

          Only actual arguments require counter-arguments.

          • RexTugwell

            Exactly

        • stater of the obvious

          “Without religion good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things. But to get a good person to do a bad thing takes religion.”

          By your standards this is an irrefutable argument.

    • ‘”The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” Richard Dawkins

      That’s a bit anthropomorphized, but Dawkins is onto something with that idea.

      If you think in terms of the large mass of the universe, there is only a very small segment where existence makes a difference, viz., living things. People can design things, but there is no design or purpose to the universe per se.

      (Certainly on the atomic level, there is no such thing as good or evil or caring one way or the other.)

  • Sholom

    Rabbi Averick,

    Your argument is nothing but one big tautology:
    You are defining morality as that which comes from God. And then stating that based on your own definition, atheism implies there is no morality. Well of course!

    In fact you seem to believe that anything “real” must come from God:

    Atheism implies…

    – There is no “Right” and “Wrong”, because…”Right” and “Wrong” come from God.

    – There is no “meaning”, because…”meaning” comes from God.

    – We’re “really no different” than animals, because…”real differences” come from God.

    – There is no “real reason” to do anything, because…”real reasons” come from God.

    – Nothing is any “better” or “worse” than anything else, because…

    You’re missing the part of the argument where you explain why you’ve chosen to redefine all of these terms.

    • Rabbi Averick’s methodology is to substitute a fantasy of God (the unnatural) for the actual world we live in (nature) as what we need to pay attention to in order to live. Definitely not a good idea.

      • Moshe Averick

        Lucifer,
        In fact, the atheist constantly lives with comforting fantasies. Any time you act as if anything you do has objective significance you are living a fantasy. The atheist needs to create a purpose for his life. It doesn’t matter what tickles your fancy, no matter what you come up with, it is a product of your own imagination.

        • [][]“Any time you act as if anything you do has objective significance you are living a fantasy.”[][]

          Is it really your firm belief that this blog does not actually exist, but is only a figment of your imagination?

          Are you the Solipsist Rabbi?

        • [][][]
          Moshe Averick
          August 3, 2012
          6:31 pm

          “The atheist needs to create a purpose for his life.”
          [][][]

          So does the theist — that’s why the theist invents “God.” To be a theist seems to mean to believe that “God” can magically give purpose to your life — so that you do not have to take personal responsibility.

          Atheists don’t take that particular way to avoid personal responsibility, though some of them take other routes to avoid it, e.g., Communism.

          But since atheists do not put their eggs in the “God Fantasy” basket, they do leave themselves the possibility of choosing rational moral values. There are some who do — and some who join the theists in not being rational about morality.

        • Stater of the obvious

          Yep. Meaning is subjective, whether God exists or not. You’re welcome to define “meaning” as doing that which (you think) God wants if it “tickles your fancy”. But that definition is just as arbitrary as raising one’s children, fighting poverty and disease, you know, purposes that amoral atheists dream up.

      • Moshe Averick

        Lucifer,

        Ps.- If we’re all dreaming up subjective purposes for our lives and existence, the “Gd fantasy” is as good as any other. If it pleases an individual, why not? It is no more or less real than any other system. Richard Dawkins’ fantasy is that there is actually something noble and meaningful about devoting one’s life to studying science. If it turns you on, why not? In reality it is not noble, meaningful, or significant at all. It only means you know about science. If it helps you achieve an abritrary end-goal that you have set for yourself, then it is simply being practical. If God does not exist, all of us (including you) have no choice but to manufacture a fantasy that keeps us going.

        • [][]“If God does not exist, all of us (including you) have no choice but to manufacture a fantasy that keeps us going.”[][]

          Your view, Rabbi Averick, boils down to claiming that if God doesn’t exist, nothing does.

          But nature absolutely, inescapably DOES exist. It is the Unnatural God that is the fantasy, not the natural world.

          The real world actually does exist; it is NOT a fantasy.

          What alternate universe are you trying to live in where God is real and reality isn’t?

        • [][][]“‘… the “God fantasy” is as good as any other. If it pleases an individual, why not?”‘[][][]

          If you are into killing first born children, it might seem to you as if “it pleases me” has to be the standard of morality.

          Some other people, though, have more regard for the objective value of human life.

        • [][][]“‘… the “God fantasy” is as good as any other. If it pleases an individual, why not?”‘[][][]

          If you are into killing first born children, it might seem to you as if “it pleases me” has to be the standard of morality.

          Some other people, though, have more regard for the objective value of human life.

  • [][][]
    Moshe Averick
    July 31, 2012
    12:19 am
    “I need to know your definition of morality.”
    [][][]

    Morality is a code of values to guide your choices and actions (a code accepted by choice). That which sustains and furthers the life of humans as rational beings is the good; that which negates, opposes, or destroys life for humans as rational beings is the evil.

    Note the debt we owe to Aristotle for the definition of man as “a rational animal.”

    People need morality because they do not automatically (or emotionally) know what to do.

    Morality needs to be based on the objective facts of human life, so “Commandments From God” are not meaningful or helpful (because God is a subjective belief, not a real being).

  • Stater of the obvious

    Kudos do Dylan Walker for taking the time to write what people with brains and jobs don’t have time to:

    “You are creating a false dichotomy.

    I mean you believe in god, so god is telling you what you can and can’t do right? Well what if you decide you don’t care what god says? How is that any different than an atheist choosing do do whatever he wants?

    There is no difference, by the definition you are using EVERYONE is only accountable to themselves, whether theist or atheist we all have to choose to treat people well or poorly. Inventing a deity who tells you what to do changes nothing.

    So maybe the deity punishes you for not doing the “right” thing, but society can punish you for it or not, if you as a theist decide you can live with something then what is the difference?

    Lastly, this is irrelevant to whether a god actually exists or not. The fact that you don’t like the possible results of god not existing does nothing to demonstrate that one does.

    And seriously, I can’t disagree with you because atheistic philosophers agree with you?

    An argument from authority? Seriously? You might want to read up on philosophy a bit more yourself.

    I know quite a few atheists who disagree with you, but I guess you don’t count them as “serious philosophers” so they don’t count. What a waste of time.”

    • []“An argument from authority? Seriously?”[]

      It’s more like an “argument from absurdity.”

    • [][]“… so god is telling you what you can and can’t do right? Well what if you decide you don’t care what god says? How is that any different than an atheist choosing to do whatever he wants?”[][]

      It isn’t different: it is a subjectivist approach to choices and actions in every case where both theists and atheists merely follow their feelings (instead of objectively judging moral issues).

    • Moshe Averick

      Stater of the Obvious,

      Let’s assume for the moment you are correct, then the obvious conclusion is that moral values are objectively meaningless and insignificant for believers even if God exists. If God doesnt exist they certainly have no objective significance.

      I never claimed that what I wrote above demonstrated the existence of God. I only wrote the obvious, without God, “morality” is nothing more than an arbitrary word with which we label our personal preferences to somehow give them more weight and significance.

      You can disagree all you want, but please explain to me what is the flaw in Joel Marks’ reasoning( which of course includes the very long list of atheistic philosophers who agree with him.)

      I think it would be helpful to you to read the chapter in my book about the Euthyphro Dilemma of Plato.

      • Stater of the obvious

        “the obvious conclusion is that moral values are objectively meaningless and insignificant for believers even if God exists. If God doesnt exist they certainly have no objective significance.”

        Ding, ding, ding!

        “I never claimed that what I wrote above demonstrated the existence of God. I only wrote the obvious, without God, “morality” is nothing more than an arbitrary word with which we label our personal preferences to somehow give them more weight and significance.”

        Uh huh… and since morality remains subjective even if God does exist, then what in God’s name is your point?

  • [][]“Belief in God is certainly no guarantee of moral sainthood, however it provides the only rational and philosophical basis for immutable, absolute moral values.”[][]

    The idea of tying moral values to “belief in God,” means making moral values entirely subjective and arbitrary — since that is what “belief in God” is.

    God is not an objective part of nature, but rather a fictional character based on wishful thinking, i.e., subjective feelings.

    Taking “belief in God” to a logical conclusion would mean that the believers are free to do whatever they feel like in this world (plunder, slavery, whatever) because this world is NOT TRANSCENDENT, therefore, not morally relevant.

    Theism provides no basis for moral values in any meaningful, reasonable way. Theism is “not-of-this-world,” not logically connected to life in this world, not useful or helpful for actual life. Since there is nothing “transcendent to and infinitely greater than” actual real life in this world, belief in “Divine Morality” is nothing more than a rationalization to do whatever a believer feels like doing.

    That is, there is no objective value to “Commandments From God.” If you want to take morality seriously, you need to get real. On the other hand, if all you want is a “connection to God,” then say to hell with this world and go where you think God is (in all His Unnatural Holiness): somewhere beyond physical life, beyond space and time, beyond all rational thought.

  • Rob Thomas

    “A. What would prevent someone who physically desires sex with children to refrain? and B. What would stop society from accepting pedophilia as “normal” at some time in the future?”

    A. Social and legal repercussions.

    B. Empathy coupled with the understanding that pedophilia is harmful to children.

    Any other questions?

    • Anonymous

      Rob,

      “A. Social and legal repercussions.”
      In other words, they might be afraid of going to jail. That is very effective, but it has nothing to do with morality.

      “B. Empathy coupled with the understanding that pedophilia is harmful to children.”

      In other words, personal preference. According to your reasoning if somebody was by nature less empathic than you or if somebody did not feel it was harmful (for example, we teach children from when they are young to enjoy sex at any age) then it would be perfectly all right. You also fail to see that societies constantly change their views on different types of social mores. The whole Roman empire felt it was perfectly all right to have people kill each other for entertainment. If you feel there is some absolute inherent reason that would stop society from changing you are simply blind to human nature and mankind’s history in my opinion.

      • Rob Thomas

        The question contained the word “prevent” not “morality”, so God knows what you’re talking about.

        You’re correct. If a society is comprised of people who don’t recognize or care that PTSD, or having one’s head cut off, constitute harm, then there is nothing keeping that society from accepting pedophilia.

        Good point.

  • Rob Thomas

    Dear Mr. Averick,

    If believing in God prevents you from molesting children, please continue to do so.

    Sincerely,
    Rob Thomas

    • Moshe Averick

      Rob,

      I understand what you are trying to say, but you obviously have completely misunderstood what I wrote in the article. Again, what actually prevents most people from molesting children is that they have no physical lust to molest children. Men use and abuse women all the time in order to get sex because of their physical desires. I don’t mean physical violence although that happens also. The scene of the woman hysterically crying to a friend, “but he said he loved me” is a “comical” cliche that is firmly grounded in reality.

      The question is twofold: A. What would prevent someone who physically desires sex with children to refrain? and B. What would stop society from accepting pedophilia as “normal” at some time in the future? After all, societal mores are always in flux.

      For example, there was recently an attempt in an South American country by a coalition that I believe involved Planned Parenthood that was attempting to introduce legislation to lower the age of consent to 14. I have not kept up with the story so I don’t know what happened in the end, however, the idea that such an idea could even be seriously discussed is scary as far as I’m concerned. If one understands what Joel Marks and many other atheistic philosophers have written, why not? Does it seem unthinkable to you? When I was in 8th grade (1969) it was absolutely unthinkable that homosexuality would ever be acceptable in American society. (Please no idiotic homophobia accusations) I also ask you please don’t say that homosexuality is obviously different, it is not different at all. It was considered by the APA to be a psychological aberration and disorder and was looked at with disgust by most of the population. Nobody, and I mean nobody, every gave a second thought about making queer jokes. It was standard fare of every comedian. Every “knew” that there was something pathetically wrong with homosexuals. It changed. Anything can change, especially if you have already laid the philosophical groundwork by declaring that “morality is an illusion put in place by evolution to make you a social cooperator” (Michael Ruse) and that there is no such thing as right an wrong as Dr. Marks has stated.

      • Stater of the obvious

        Homosexuality does not harm other people. Pedophilia does. That’s the difference. Understanding that difference is why views of homosexuality have changed.

        • Moshe Averick

          Stater of obvious,

          You have obviously begged the question. At one time society agreed that homosexuality was inherently harmful and perverted. Psychiatrists and Psychologists agreed that it was a disorder. Just as there is something inherently wrong with someone who believes they are Abraham Lincoln (because they are NOT Abraham Lincoln) they believed there was something inherently wrong with a man who thought he was a woman (because he’s NOT a woman). If homosexuality is a reflection of some type of psychological/emotional disorder then promoting and encouraging it is by definition harmful. This is how it was viewed 50 years ago. It changed.

          At one time it was obvious to everyone that to kill an unborn child in the seventh month of pregnancy was a blatant act of murder. It changed. George Tiller is a feminist hero and martyr even though he killed thousands of late term babies. Human moral sensitivities are notoriously fickle. If you think that society could not change its attitudes towards pedophilia (let’s even grant that they would never allow brutal rapes of children but simply teach children from first grade that they should engage in sexual activity little by little. After all, many young children are afraid of going into the water when they are young, we have ways of overcoming those fears. If the Greeks could do it then so can we. Please don’t be naive.

          • Stater of the obvious

            “At one time society agreed that homosexuality was inherently harmful…”

            And now we know it’s not, while attempting to change one’s sexual orientation is.

            “Psychiatrists and Psychologists agreed that it was a disorder. Just as there is something inherently wrong with someone who believes they are Abraham Lincoln (because they are NOT Abraham Lincoln) they believed there was something inherently wrong with a man who thought he was a woman (because he’s NOT a woman).”

            Homosexuals don’t believe they are women, you ignorant idiot. Gender identity disorder is, like Schizophrenia, considered a psychological disorder.

            ” If homosexuality is a reflection of some type of psychological/emotional disorder then promoting and encouraging it is by definition harmful.”

            But since it’s not, then accepting it is not harmful.

            Fantastic “arguments”!

  • [][][]
    Moshe Averick
    July 31, 2012
    12:16 am

    “Divine morality means that our values are rooted in eternal, absolute truths and living by those values connects us to something infinitely greater than ourselves.
    [][][]

    On that view, the notion of “Divine Morality” is nothing but empty blather. There is no meaningful relationship between “Divine Morality” and real life (since there isn’t anything “infinitely greater” than real life and real people).

  • Christoph

    Eric, (July 29, 2012 4:44 pm) we are not discussing monotheism versus other theisms. Atheism means NO god. Both Buddhism and Jainism reckon with a divine world. They are not atheist. Reincarnation and karma are central to both and are the foundation of their morality. We are discussing atheism which denies any spiritual reality and therby destroys morality. The atheists on Moshe’s list know this and admit it, and I thank Moshe for pointing it out. You should criticize these atheists and engage with their arguments.
    Regarding atheists and theists: most western secular people are quite happy with their Judeo/Christian morals, although some deny their source. The question is really: when can you call somebody a Christian, or an atheist. Just putting a label on someone does not suffice. It does not really matter who brings an argument. The argument has to be valid by its own merit. It does not really matter if theists have been atheists before to understand an argument of an atheist. Some famous Christian theists, if you want to use this expression, have been atheists at some point in their lives, e.g. C.S.Lewis, and also Francis Collins and Alistair McGrath, to name just a few. Also Antony Flew’s path to deism is very interesting. If you find the atheist experience important, you may be interested what they have to say about atheism.
    I appreciate that you try to make sense of it all, to understand the world. I am working on this myself. It appears to me that of all people atheists seem least able to make sense of the world (and often sound as if they are the only ones who do). May I recommend Moshe’s book: Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist.

  • William

    Rabbi Moshe Averick uses out of context quotes and obfuscating disingenuous lies in his writing.

    He intentionally misleads and misrepresents in order to claim that others are immoral.

    What an evil little man he is.

    • Moshe Averick

      William,

      I have found that generally speaking there is an inverse proportional relationship between the viciousness of those who attack me and their intelligence and ability to articulate their points of disagreement. William is a classic case. Vicious attack/post reflects zero intelligence and zero articulation of points of disagreement.

      I consider it an honor to be insulted by someone like William. It makes me very confident that I’m on the right track.

  • Tim Riches

    It angers me to keep stumbling across example after example of religious folk who choose to dehumanize those of us who merely do not share their belief system. There is such a thing as human solidarity, you know, as other commenters have already said. Hitchens was absolutely correct to suggest that for a good person to be evil, it takes religion. How dare you?

    • Moshe Averick

      Tim,
      It seems to me you did not bother to read the article carefully. I did not dehumanize anyone. I simply took an idea to its logical conclusion, as did Joel Marks. Why don’t you blame him instead of me? In fact, what Marks said is not unique among atheistic philosophers, Michael Ruse, Jason Rosenhouse, Sartre, Freud, Peter Singer, etc. all have said the same thing.

      I don’t understand what you mean by “human solidarity.”
      Do you mean that humans naturally feel connected? That may very well be true, however it did not stop almost every civilization that ever existed from practicing infanticide and it did not prevent the Fiji Islanders from being cannibals.

      The point of the article is that if there is no accountability to a transcendent power and reality then all that remains is personal and societal preferences. It means there is no qualitative difference between those people who call themselves pro-life and those philosophers of ethics who justify “after-birth” abortions. It is simply a matter of personal preference. To assign more significance to either side is nothing more than self-decepton.

      Belief in God is certainly no guarantee of moral sainthood, however it provides the only rational and philosophical basis for immutable, absolute moral values. What those values are may be another question all together and would require a separate discussion.

      It was not Hitchens who said that for good people to be evil, it was physicist Steven Weinberg and it was a patently foolish statement. I assume that by “evil” here you mean being cruel to to other people. Darwinian Evolution inspired the likes of George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells to advocate the murder of unfit human beings to increase the fitness of our species. As non-believing philosopher David Stove has pointed out, the toughest Darwinist of all was Adolf Hitler. Islam inspired Palestinian terrorists to strap bombs on themselves and murder people in cafes.

      It is not “religion” that makes people act with cruelty, it can be any type of ideology. On the other hand religious belief can be the motivation for a person with cruel tendencies to conquer those impulses and act with kindness instead.

      However, all of this is beside the point. What are true moral values? What are they based on? Are there any first principles that have inherent truth or do I just make them up and go from there? Does a human being have inherent value or is he just a collection of “star dust” as many atheistic scientists have pointed out? Why should I care? What obligates me to act in any way other than what pleases me? Am I accountable for my behavior to anyone other than myself? (If I kill someone on a desert island and no one ever knows about it except myself, have I done anything wrong?) These are the questions that the article raises and these are the questions that must be answered. Quit being so sensitive that atheism provides no basis for answering these questions in any meaningful way. Even if you are correct that religion is not the answer, then what is the answer?

      • [][]“Belief in God is certainly no guarantee of moral sainthood, however it provides the only rational and philosophical basis for immutable, absolute moral values.”[][]

        The idea of tying moral values to “belief in God,” means making moral values entirely subjective and arbitrary — since that is what “belief in God” is.

        God is not an objective part of nature, but rather a fictional character based on wishful thinking, i.e., subjective feelings.

        Taking “belief in God” to a logical conclusion would mean that the believers are free to do whatever they feel like in this world (plunder, slavery, whatever) because this world is NOT TRANSCENDENT, therefore, not morally relevant.

        Theism provides no basis for moral values in any meaningful, reasonable way. Theism is “not-of-this-world,” not logically connected to life in this world.

      • [][]“Darwinian Evolution inspired the likes of George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells to advocate the murder of unfit human beings to increase the fitness of our species.”[][]

        Even if it did, that was nothing new — Old Testament Theism advocated the same kind of murder.

        In other words, murderers can use whatever irrational excuse they feel like (whether getting rid of “infidels” or the otherwise “unfit”).

      • [][]“… religious belief can be the motivation for a person with cruel tendencies to conquer those impulses and act with kindness instead.”[][]

        Religious belief can be the motivation for a person with cruel tendencies to indulge those impulses with even greater ferocity than then could be generated by someone acting only on his own behalf.

      • [][]<b“…atheism provides no basis for answering these questions in any meaningful way.”[][]

        Naturally not. Theism, of course, provides even less basis for answering them.

        [][]“Even if you are correct that religion is not the answer, then what is the answer?”[][]

        Rational philosophy is the discipline needed to get the right answers — based on objectively dealing with reality.

      • [][]“…atheism provides no basis for answering these questions in any meaningful way.”[][]

        Naturally not. Theism, of course, provides even less basis for answering them.

        [][]“Even if you are correct that religion is not the answer, then what is the answer?”[][]

        Rational philosophy is the discipline needed to get the right answers — based on objectively dealing with reality.

      • [][]“[R]eligious belief can be the motivation for a person with cruel tendencies to conquer those impulses and act with kindness instead.”[][]

        On the other hand religious belief can be the motivation for a person with cruel tendencies to indulge those impulses even more ferociously than if he were acting only on his own behalf.

  • Metaphysics Check

    Metaethically speaking…

    (1) It doesn’t matter if there’s a god or not in terms of ‘the source’ of morality. Morality is based on affections and sentiments. End of story.

    (1a) quick google search of moral sentimentalism and the relation to psychopathy shows that the vast majority of people (non-psychopaths) have a pretty decent sense that killing or other heinous crimes are disgusting or reprehensible.

    (2) Even if god were to exist, this does not make morality clearer. The promise of an objective morality does not unearth the objective morality simply because one prays.

    (2a) Aquinas’ writings on the conscience argue that conscience is something that is developed through experience. Since experience can corrupt us, it is an absolute canard to believe that objective morality is attainable in this life. We can try to do our best, atheist or otherwise.

    (2b) As Lacan and others have put it, there is a reversal that is also true of Dostoevsky’s statement: “If God is dead, then nothing is permitted.” Basically, this statement amounts to the fact that many religious people find themselves in quite immoral binds, which they find to be somewhat permissible through a perversion of thought and theology.

    (3) Rick Warren is a hack theologian, and anyone else who espouses beliefs in a divine command theory of morality without examining the great authors on the subject (or at LEAST Aquinas; I’m looking at you, Christians) would serve themselves to read a book and to stop promulgating a bunch of new-age-sounding tripe that allows someone with half of a brain to dismantle the sloppy argumentation. The Rabbi dances on a fine line in this article, but ultimately shows his lack of thoughtfulness with a quote from a psychopath, who, as pointed out in (1a), is excluded from a discourse on morality due to the fact that psychopaths lack the capability of moral sentiments, since again, all morality comes from sentiments.

    All the best,
    MC

    • moshe averick

      Metaphysics,

      I don’t know what your definition of a psychopath is or isn’t. Many people (Like the late C. Hitchens) avoid the entire question raised in the article by simply labeling anyone who disagrees with their version of morality as a psychopath. I don’t know if Dahmer was a psychopath or not and I don’t know if he made himself into a psychopath. The simple fact is that what he said was true. If evolution is true then we all did emerge from the slime and there is no real reason to modify our behavior to bring it within acceptable ranges. For the atheist who is not afraid to live with the true implications of his atheistic outlook, the only questions he must ask himself is whether or not he can psychologically/emotionally live with a particular value system, and if that system is not accepted by the surrounding society, is he prepared to risk getting caught and paying the price. There were many Nazi war criminals who were psychologically quite healthy. They were just evil.

      I don’t dance a fine line, I simply am careful about what I say, and what I wrote above in the article is the truth.

      • Metaphysics Check

        Do the research on what psychopathy is. There are plenty of tests and neuro-imaging to figure out whether one is a psychopath or not. This discourse of ethics, which unrightfully privileges reason over emotions. Psychopaths lack affect or emotions, and therefore cannot adequately participate in ethical discourse since they do not have the proper basis to do so. There are many studies highlighting these facts.

        I don’t like Hitchens, and I’m not one of those anti-religious idiots.

        Additionally, war criminals, if not psychopaths, could be explained through an experiential basis of conscience. Blatantly labeling such people as evil–though understandable as despicable as they are–does not ask any questions about ethics.

        Furthermore, your generalizing does not privilege any answers to questions of ethics.

        How do we determine what is right or what is wrong? On what basis? How do we justify the hermeneutics of reading religious texts?

        Also, naturalistic fallacy:

        “If evolution is true then we all did emerge from the slime and there is no real reason to modify our behavior to bring it within acceptable ranges.”

        Evolution is a descriptive state of what a human being is, it does not follow that there are any moral or lack of moral imperatives. The difference lies between prescriptive and descriptive language. Evolution is descriptive. Plenty of religious who have adopted evolution are able to reconcile theological and philosophical questions.

        While you might possess the “truth”, you seem to be ignorant of what a psychopath is and how emotions affect our ethical determinations. Additionally, you are far from being clear or emphasizing how one adequately adopts a moral position based on the existence of God or a divine command theory of ethics. How do we get to know an ethical way, given that religious people are not the only ones who choose to do good or live ethically in the world?

        • Metaphysics Check

          Additionally, there are many atheists who are quite thoughtful about ethics; I’ve met and read plenty who do not fall into the category of going along with what society states (Sartre, Simone DeBeauvoir, . How does your oversimplification that atheists simply have to examine whether or not they could psychologically deal with consequences reconcile this fact? How can you possibly prove that atheists cannot be thoughtful, ethical human beings? (Especially since you can’t prove that it’s easy to understand Divine Ethical Law 😉 )

          • Metaphysics Check

            I meant to add Peter Singer, David Hume (even if he were to be a theist, he brackets theology for his ethical system), Plato, Aristotle, etc. (Plato and Aristotle, of course, did have a monotheistic belief, but their theories of ethics were divorced from divine command theory.)

          • Metaphysics Check

            Oh, it should be said that I’m probably being horribly wrong by assuming that Plato or Aristotle are monotheists. But some religious have framed it that way, and I don’t really care one way or another, so whatever. The point is that they were not part of the Judeo-Christian tradition that you claim to be of the utmost importance for allowing people to act ethically or truly be ethical.

            I read some of your book, particularly the bits about the Euthyphro Dilemma and the excerpts on your website. (Also, I would love to pick your brain about this obsession with an ‘objective’ meaning of life, and what that might entail, and how one gets to know what his or her ‘objective’ God-given meaning is).

            Look, I’ll be honest: I’m not expecting fireworks after reading that eisegetical work of art (re: your interpretation of the Euthyphro), but I would like to know how you understand how the human subject “understands” “grasps” “knows” or “works through” what is right and wrong if God is the source of morality (is it linked to knowing one’s ‘objective’ God-given meaning of life?). I ask because I am actually curious. I just really hope, though, that it doesn’t involve “reason” or “thinking about it” or some appeal to “natural law”.

          • Moshe Averick

            Metaphysics,

            I never said that atheists aren’t thoughtful or that they do not think about values and ethics. I also never said that they don’t construct value systems, even elaborate value systems. I simply stated the obvious: None of those systems have any inherent value. They have no reality outside of the heads of those they appeal to. “Good” is nothing more than a word which you have applied to your personal preferences. In other words, the terms “moral” and “personal prefernce” are exactly the same thing and are interchangeable.

            I choose not to discuss here what the actual divine values are. It is a separate discussion, however, I make the point that unless they are there, we might as well quit fooling ourselves and stop talking about moral values as if they mean anything other than our feelings at any given time. “Morality is the custom of one’s country and the current feelings of one’s peers. Cannibalism is moral in a cannibalistic country.” Those people who advocated lynching black people felt just as right and good in their beliefs as homosexual activists feel about their advocacy of same sex marriage. Most Romans felt that watching gladiators kill each other was nothing more than great entertainment. They did not feel there was anything wrong with the Circus Maximus. To say we have “progressed” morally is nothing more than begging the question. Everybody thinks they are right.

            Divine morality means that our values are rooted in eternal, absolute truths and living by those values connects us to something infinitely greater than ourselves. As I said before, what those values are, or if we can even know what they are is a separate discussion. If you are referring to the Euthyphro Dilemma please read the chapter in my book entitled “Euthyphro: A Philosophcial Dinosaur.”

          • Moshe Averick

            Metaphysics,

            Your question about how we can know what God requires of us is THE question. It is clear to me that the only way to know what God wants of us (i.e. Divine morality) is by Divine revelation. I do not think it is possible to figure out by reason or logic. Perhaps you might get people to agree on some very general principles, so general that they would be almost useless, but it would quickly break down once any type of detail is necessary. That might not be a very satisfying answer, but it is the only one that makes any sense to me. If in fact there never was a divine revelation then we are all pretty much left in the dark and do as you see fit. Of course, I believe that God revealed the Torah to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. However, I would not expect anyone to believe that without compelling evidence.

          • Moshe Averick

            Metaphysics,

            The short answer to your question about the problem of using the Torah as the basis for morality: You are right inasmuch as there are many ways of interpreting the Torah, while it might be a good start, it will quickly devolve into serious disagreements and confusion.
            There are, in my opinion, only two possible solutions. A. Continuous revelation by Gd for every new situation
            B. The actual system used in Judaism, The Oral Torah. There is no meaningful Judaism without the Oral Torah (roughly speaking, the Talmud) I don’t know what you understand or dont understand about the Talmud or if you are Jewish. Before going further I need to get an idea what you know about this subject. It may be beyond the scope of this forum.

          • Moshe Averick

            Metaphysics,
            “Finally, I want to understand your reading of the Euthyphro Dilemma. Bracketing the problematic characterization of paganism, when you predicate God with ‘the Good’, do you then conclude that evil is the absence of Good? Which would you prefer to say: that when someone sins, their action lacks Godliness or that their action lacks Goodness?”
            -Their actions distance or weaken their connection and relationship with God’s absolute, infinite, and actual being.

            It seems that predicating “goodness” onto God only seems to show arbitrariness-that same arbitrariness that you argue comes from God dictating what is good or pious. For if we take your predication of goodness onto God, we could only say that if God’s being (and therefore God’s impact on the nature of the good) were to be otherwise, certain actions that we consider immoral now might be considered Godly or Good.
            -Read my explanation of Euthyphro again. God does not tell us to do what is “good”. God tells us what we must do to have a relationship with him. Having a relationship with God is “the good.” That is not arbitrary. Relationships are real and actual or else it is not a relationship. To form a close loving relationship with your wife does not depend on arbitrary actions, it depends on very real actions which bring you closer together.

            “Also, is this a pantheistic God? Does your God make no commands? How does predicating the Good to God solve the Euthyphro dilemma or go beyond the Euthyphro dilemma? Doesn’t predicating Good onto God or using the two interchangeably offer more serious problems than the Euthyphro?

            It seems that the Euthyphro dilemma cannot be avoided, for one of the horns states that, the Good is linked to God’s command, and therefore, the Good could be otherwise.”
            -Good is not linked to God’s commands. The only one who could possibly know what we must do to relate to the eternal, transcendent God, is God himself. He REVEALS to us (i.e. “commands us”) what we must do to have a relationship with him and what we must not do to avoid damaging that relationship.

          • Moshe Averick

            Metaphysics,

            PS – Very much enjoying the discussion

        • Moshe Averick

          Metaphysics,

          I think our positions are closer than one might think. Your point is a valid one, I did not in any way attempt to show how one can determine what God requires of us, that is obviously the million-dollar question. I’m not saying that it does not have an answer, I simply did not address the question. The first thing is to come to an agreement that any meaningful moral system must be linked to a transcendent, eternal, absolutely existing God. If you look at my article about atheism and pedophilia you will see one suggested solution to this dilemma at the end of the article: http://www.algemeiner.com/2011/08/29/a-plea-to-atheists-pedophilia-is-next-on-the-slippery-slope-let-us-turn-back-before-it-is-too-late/

          • [][]“The first thing is to come to an agreement that any meaningful moral system must be linked to a transcendent, eternal, absolutely existing God.”[][]

            Since morality is a code of values to guide one’s actions in life, the attempt to link morality to something “transcendent” sabotages the very purpose of morality.

            To be rational and realistic, morality needs to be based on the actual facts of human nature.

            The notion of tying morality to a “transcendent God” is the opposite of what morality needs to be (unless you don’t plan on being moral in this life).

          • Metaphysics Check

            Rabbi Averick, I am greatly enjoying this discussion. I hope you are too.

            The problem with a transcendental grounding for a system of morality is the access that we have to it.

            You say that atheists have no transcendental grounding–fair enough, though lets bracket those moral realists who are atheistic (yes, they exist, though I’m not sure how their positions are tenable) for the purposes of this discussion.

            So here’s the issues I take up with a transcendental grounding for ethics:

            (1) How do we know that the transcendental ground we believe in is the accurate one since possibly
            (1a) reason is incorrigible
            or
            (1b) our characters are habituated
            or
            (1c) we may have motivations or emotions that push us to act/think in ways that are out of our control

            (2) Let’s say that there is a transcendental grounding for ethics. Let’s also assume that there are communities of believers in the same general transcendental foundation. How do we reconcile the fact that many people reason differently about ethical issues, despite having a similar trascendental ground? How do we determine who is right and who is wrong? As you point out above, “good” can just be based on personal preferences among atheists, but how do we possibly address the issue that “good” is also fickle amongst religious believers? Which religious believer is correct?

            or, similarly:

            (3) Let’s say we use a religious text like the Torah for the grounding of a shared transcendental ethics. How do we approach such a semantic and hermeneutic hornet’s nest appropriately? How should one read the Torah?

            The point here is that, if God exists and grounds ethics, it is still impossible to say whether or not someone knows those objective moral truths. Thus, religious believers may also be adopting value systems that may just as well be as arbitrary as some of the atheistic value systems. As a result, any ethical agent always acts on some sort perceived “good”. What good is a transcendental or objective grounding for ethics if you can’t have access to it or if you have a multitude of competing interpretations that are all ‘based’ on the same transcendental ground? As you stated about cultural relativism, “Everybody thinks they’re right”–isn’t it the exact problem when it comes to grounding an objective ethics?

            Moral realists are doomed to the same existence of moral anti-realists when it comes to ethical reasoning. We’re all in the dark.

            —-

            Finally, I want to understand your reading of the Euthyphro Dilemma. Bracketing the problematic characterization of paganism, when you predicate God with ‘the Good’, do you then conclude that evil is the absence of Good? Which would you prefer to say: that when someone sins, their action lacks Godliness or that their action lacks Goodness?

            It seems that predicating “goodness” onto God only seems to show arbitrariness–that same arbitrariness that you argue comes from God dictating what is good or pious. For if we take your predication of goodness onto God, we could only say that if God’s being (and therefore God’s impact on the nature of the good) were to be otherwise, certain actions that we consider immoral now might be considered Godly or Good.

            Also, is this a pantheistic God? Does your God make no commands? How does predicating the Good to God solve the Euthyphro dilemma or go beyond the Euthyphro dilemma? Doesn’t predicating Good onto God or using the two interchangeably offer more serious problems than the Euthyphro?

            It seems that the Euthyphro dilemma cannot be avoided, for one of the horns states that, the Good is linked to God’s command, and therefore, the Good could be otherwise.

            Have I misunderstood your reading of the Euthyphro? Please correct me if I am wrong.

            All the best,
            MC

        • [][]“… how one adequately adopts a moral position based on the existence of God or a divine command theory of ethics.”[][]

          A “divine command theory of ethics” is fundamentally a contradiction — because the moral is the chosen not the commanded. “I was only following commands” is not a reasonable theory of ethics.

          Further, the “existence of God” is meaningless for ethics — since God is not of this world, and ethics pertains to the actions of real people in the real world.

      • If you really wish to consider amniotic fluid as “slime,” then humans always do “emerge from the slime.”

        But your notion that humans are thereby rendered unable to understand morality is ludicrous.

        Humans are actually born with the rational capacity to choose between moral and immoral behavior — even though our births are related to amniotic fluid.

        • Moshe Averick

          Lucifer,

          In order for us to find common ground I need to know your definition of morality. I don’t mean describing to me actions that you think are good and actions you think are bad, I mean a definition by which we could determine which actions are moral and immoral.

          • Morality is a code of values to guides one’s choices and actions (a code accepted by choice). That which sustains and furthers the life of humans as rational beings is the good; that which negates, opposes, or destroys life for humans as rational beings is the evil.

            Note the debt we owe to Aristotle for the definition of man as “a rational animal.”

            People need morality because they do not automatically (or emotionally) know what to do.

            Morality needs to be based on the objective facts of human life, so God is not meaningful or helpful (because God is a subjective belief, not a real being).

  • I would also point out that you quote mined the hell out of Marks’ article basically making it look like he said something in line with your point of view when he did nothing of the sort.

    I don’t entirely agree with him, but his statement is not as stark as you make is sound.

    The rest of his quote:

    …Yet, as with the non-existence of God, we human beings can still discover plenty of completely-naturally-explainable internal resources for motivating certain preferences. Thus, enough of us are sufficiently averse to the molesting of children, and would likely continue to be so if fully informed, to put it on the books as prohibited and punishable by our society.

    To me your actions seem outright dishonest…but maybe I’m wrong on that.

    • Christoph

      Dylan, the point is that atheism implies amorality. Joel Marks reasons correctly. If there is no right and wrong, no sin and no evil, how could you argue against any action, e.g child molesting. Joel Marks statement is as stark as it sounds, and the fact that you don’t like this starkness does not mellow it one bit.
      Again, Joel Marks:”Thus, enough of us are sufficiently averse to the molesting of children, and would likely continue to be so if fully informed”. From this follows that as soon as ‘not enough of us’ are “sufficiently averse”, then child molesting would be o.k.
      Marks hopes that “enough of us” will remain “fully informed”. Moshe Averick, and I myself, are not hopeful that this will be the case if today’s children are taught that there is no right and wrong.
      Atheists seem to like the fruits of millennia of Judeo/Christian moral development but deny the source where they come from. When it is time to reap the fruits of atheist moral development (I know, this is a contradiction in itself) the atheists will deny the responsibility for them too.

      • Eric Dutton

        Atheism doesn’t imply that there is no right and wrong. You don’t need a god to give you permission to believe in morality. Buddhism has a system of morality, but it doesn’t claim that those morals come from gods. Jains don’t believe in gods and yet they have a system of morality. And if you read atheist criticisms of religion, they are mostly moral criticisms.
        I wouldn’t claim that child molesting is wrong because most people think so. I would continue to believe it’s wrong even if I were the only one who did believe that.
        Because we are human beings, we have are mostly averse to causing suffering in others. We find it wrong. We don’t like to see other people cheated. We also have self-interest which can overwhelm our sense of social right and wrong. But the fact that our morality fails, and fails often, seems to suggest that morality is probably a complex of motives and instincts that are just part of being human rather than being one of the main pillars of a divine design.
        And besides, I don’t see any evidence that a divine concept of morality leads to a more predictably moral culture than a secular concept of morality does. Some of the most peaceful countries on Earth are also secular. Now, maybe secularism is one of the reasons and maybe it isn’t, but it isn’t debatable that religion is one of the central reasons for the violence that exists in some of the most dangerous places on Earth. Maybe religion isn’t the REASON that child abuse is taken so lightly by the Catholic church, but it sure doesn’t seem to be motivating the church to take child abuse as seriously as it should.
        On a day-to-day basis, atheists aren’t stumbling over themselves when trying to argue whether something is right or wrong. Philosophers have had no trouble describing non-theistic systems of morality. It take religion to cement immorality

        • Christoph

          Eric, Moshe Averick’s whole argument is that atheism implies there is no right and wrong, and he has a long list of atheist writers who support him. Perhaps you could point out where you disagree with Joel Marks, just as an example. For instance: why is child molesting immoral? Why do we find causing suffering is wrong? (Interestingly you say ‘mostly’.)
          Neither Buddhism nor Jainism is atheist.
          And: if you familiarize yourself with atheist blogs and posters: my word, they are stumbling over each other.

          • Eric Dutton

            Christoph,

            Jainism does not have a God in the sense of a creator god, or a god who is in charge of morality. That’s the kind of god that’s relevant to this discussion.

            I didn’t say that Buddhism has no gods; I said that they don’t claim that morality comes from gods.

            I did say that we have a sense of morality that comes from being human. It’s a kind of natural inclination, like love. We don’t want to be harmed, and we don’t like seeing others harmed. We have protective instincts. We don’t need a religion to prescribe that.
            I said “mostly” because, as I explained, we have interests that compete with out moral inclinations. This affect atheists and thesis equally. Theists often try to deduce that atheism should lead to a degradation of morality, but we just don’t see that happen in the real world. There have been atheist tyrants. There have been theist tyrants–I’ll argue with you some other time about which one of those have been motivated by their theological philosophies–but you DO NOT see a pattern where secular countries with little belief in god are less moral than countries, secular or not, where belief in god is high.
            As for the “stumbling over each other” comment, what you’re seeing is people arguing. That just what happens when you have a bunch of people (some of whom are good thinkers and some of whom are not) arguing freely with each other. The point is that atheists have no more trouble understanding morality than theists do. We don’t have trouble saying that something is wrong.
            I have read a lot of what atheists are writing. I’ve read a lot of what theists are writing. My sense is that, when theists and atheists argue, it’s the theists who have the most slippery footing. But, frankly, I think that’s understandable. Most atheists (in the West, at least) have been Christians. We have at least a working understanding of what Christianity is. Most theists have not been atheists. They don’t know what it means to be an atheist. They have little understanding of what it’s like to be an atheist or what motivates people to become atheists. That’s why theists often assume that it’s about anger or rebellion. But, for many, many of us, it’s about making sense of and understanding the world. And part of that understanding is a moral one.

          • [][]“Moshe Averick’s whole argument is that atheism implies there is no right and wrong,…”[][]

            Rabbi Averick is wrong on that point.

            Neither theism nor atheism implies that there is no right and wrong — though theism surely comes closer to implying that (through the attempt to substitutes Commandments From God for reasonable ideas about right and wrong).

        • moshe averick

          Eric,

          Atheists certainly concoct value systems in which they label certain actions as “right” and certain actions as “wrong.” It’s just that the terms are arbitrary and artificial, they have no actual significance beyond the subjective feelings of those who choose to adhere to that system.

          • Theists subjectively concoct value systems in which they label certain actions as “right” and certain actions as “wrong.” It’s just that their supernaturalist systems are arbitrary and artificial, they have no actual significance beyond the subjective religious feelings of those who choose to adhere to that system because they feel strongly that God commands their obedience.

          • Eric Dutton

            Pretending, for the sake of argument, that what you’ve said is accurate, how is that inferior to what theists do? You have what you believe to be an objective foundation for a system of morality that has not produced superior ethics, safer communities, happier people, or more well-adjusted children. All of it is based on the shaky assumption that this system was created by a an invisible, eternal being who we’re not sure doesn’t exist.

          • Eric Dutton

            Moshe Averick,
            I want call a temporary cease-fire just to say that I appreciate the fact that you engage your critics. I respect that.

      • Eric Dutton

        (Sorry, my comment got posted early.)

        …into a system the resists improvement for millenia.

        • Moshe Averick

          Eric,

          You have begged the question. Instead of telling us the definition of morality and how you arrived at that particular definition, you have presupposed the definition.
          “superior ethics”: What is the definition of ethics? “Safer communities”: We bombed Japanese cities in WWII, making those communities unsafe. Was that immoral? If so, Why? “Well adjusted children”: What is the definition of well adjusted? Are they well adjusted if they believe in killing unborn children or does well adjusted mean that you are pro-life?

          I am the first to admit that if there is no infinite, eternal transcendent being, the whole discussion of morality is nothing more than a very bad joke. As atheistic philosopher Michael Ruse has put it “Now that you know that morality is an illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator, what’s to stop you from behaving like an ancient Roman? Well, nothing in an objective sense…morality has no foundation.”

          If God does not exist then the only thing left to do is to do as you please…whatever that may be. What else could there possibly be. Please don’t tell me that we could act according to humanistic ethics. Are you are telling me is that humanism pleases you. That certainly does not mean it pleases everyone

          • []“I am the first to admit that if there is no infinite, eternal transcendent being, the whole discussion of morality is nothing more than a very bad joke.”[]

            Any discussion of “Divine Morality” is certainly not reasonable, given that there is “no infinite, eternal transcendent being.” But in the real world, morality is a definite necessity of life. It is not a joke as you maintain it to be.

            Basically, choosing a rational morality is what makes life worth living.

          • Eric Dutton

            That’s not begging the question. I wasn’t making an argument for any definition of morality. Give my any reasonable definition you like; religion is not doing a better job providing greater morality, unless you define moral as “religious.”
            I don’t believe that WWII was a religious war, so I don’t see what it has to do with our discussion.
            You’ve brought up a very common objection to atheism: that without God, there’s nothing stopping us from being immoral.
            Well, you might have noticed that, God or no God, there IS nothing stopping us from being immoral. Immorality happens all the time. Believing in God, worshiping God, loving God–none of that seems to stop people from being immoral.
            Maybe you mean that we would have no reason to WANT to be moral. But in order for that to be at all persuasive, you would have to show me that atheists tend to be significantly less moral that theists. It isn’t enough to say that you can’t think of any reason an atheist would want to be moral. Unless atheists ARE less moral than theists, your inability to understand us doesn’t mean anything about our morality.
            You don’t have to look up murder in a book to know it’s wrong. But theists and atheists alike find it detestable. Still, there are a minority of theists and atheists who will commit murder. The same is true with adultery, molestation, theft, and any other crime immoral act you might like to name.
            To some extent, I agree with Michael Ruse. But, for some inexplicable reason, you both seem to think that if something is a product of our genes, it must not have any foundation.
            My heterosexuality is a product of my genes. I know this, and yet I find myself not feeling that my love for my girlfriend is without foundation. You are right to say we do as we please. But morality IS what we please. It is complex, but so is love. Love is something I want, but if occasionally have to do some inconvenient things in order to maintain a rewarding relationship. Morality is the same. We want it. We need it. And sometimes, we fail to do it well. Unfortunately, some of us are very bad at it, indeed.

    • moshe averick

      Dylan,

      The part that you added changes nothing at all. In fact it even strengthens my point. All he has said is that whether or not you molest children has nothing to do with moral convictions, it has to do with “personal preferences.” What most of the commenters (and most people in general) have not quite grasped is that most of us have no desire at all to molest children. The question is how would we behave if we had the physical desires of a pedophile. We see how men in general behave and react to their lust for women, how would they behave if they felt the same way about children. If that desire was there, what would prevent them from acting upon it.

      • Certainly belief in God doesn’t stop such immorality, among many other varieties.

        What sort of blind faith does it take to indulge the contradicted-by-reality feeling that theism prevents immorality??

        Especially since so much evidence points in the opposite direction, viz., that theism is a rationalization for immorality?

  • Joe Cogan

    Two points for Rabbi Averick: first, we *are* animals by definition, whether or not any sort of “God” exists, second, if a person needs a divine commandment to keep them from killing, molesting children, etc., it’s unlikely to help in the long run: that person is a sociopath.

    • moshe averick

      Joe,

      A. If God exists we may have things in common with animals, but we are something more than animals. We have a spiritual component, we have free will and are accountable for our actions. A lion is accountable to no one when he kills a zebra.

      B. One does not need to be a sociopath to be confronted with a situation where one is overwhelmed with jealousy, greed, lust, anger, betrayal, etc. accompanied by a desire or thought about committing murder. I don’t understand your statement at all.

      • Humans do have free will, but God does not exist. Free will gives humans the capability of imagining God, and even of believing in God in spite of reality.

  • Helen Pluckrose.

    I do not think there is any doubt that we are animals, is there? The other options are vegetable or mineral.

    ‘It is also quite reasonable to hypothesize that just as some primates have evolved to higher levels of sophistication and intelligence than others, some races of human beings may have evolved to higher levels of sophistication and intelligence than others.’
    This is nonsense – we are primates and have evolved higher levels of sophistication & intelligence than the other primate species. All races of homo sapiens are the same species and evolved together.
    Yes, we evolved to have empathy and compassion – we are social mammals with highly developed prefrontal cortexes.Yes, morality is a man made construct – it changes – just look at the books of the Old Testament common to Jews, Muslims and Christians – it advocates slavery, forced marriage of a raped woman to her rapist, child sexual abuse, murder and torture. Not even Jews and Christians believe this is right now – our morality has changed and become more humanist.
    Your cited atheist sounds like a psychopath and Jeffery Dahmer certainly was. We have empathy and compassion because of our frontal cortexes – we feel pleasure in helping others and pain when others feel pain and guilt when we are the cause of it. I took part in a study on this – my frontal lobe fired when I was shown images of human suffering – the psychopaths brain did not. This has nothing to do with religion or being an animal. The fact that we are animals is less relevant to morality than the fact that we are human.

    • Christoph

      Helen, you say “our morality has changed and become more humanist”. You also say that ‘morality is a man made construct’. So human beings construct morality, and then morality becomes more humanist. So what is it now? Is morality a construct or the result of evolution?
      And: How much more humanist can morality become? What are the criteria for being ‘humanist’?

    • moshe averick

      Helen,

      It seems to me you are more concerned with political correctness than scientific realities. The same way that we evolved “above” other species of primates, the inexorable process of evolution could be driving a certain group of humans to evolve to a higher level. That notion bothers you, but it is scientifically sound. New species are constantly evolving just like they evolved for millions of years. (that of course is assuming you accept the essential soundness of the theory)

      Your statements about human compassion and cruelty are a gross oversimplification.. People can harden themselves by choice and overcome their “natural” feelings of empathy. This is why the Palestinian terrorists train people to rip the heads off kittens. Just like we can overcome a natural tendency to be lazy, we can overcome and regulate our feelings of empathy and compassion. The only question is whether or not one is motivated to do so.

      • [][]“The only question is whether or not one is motivated to do so.”[][]

        To the extent that a person is motivated to be a theist, that person is less motivated to be moral in any reasonable sense of the term. Theism does imply immorality to the extent that it favors substituting “God’s Commandments” for rational moral principles.

  • [][][]
    Kingdom

    Types of Organisms

    Monera — bacteria, blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), and spirochetes
    Protista — protozoans and algae of various types
    Fungi — funguses, molds, mushrooms, yeasts, mildews, and smuts
    Plantae — mosses, ferns, woody and non-woody flowering plants
    Animalia — sponges, worms, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals
    [][][]

    Humans are animals. To believe differently is an expression of really, really blind faith (i.e., religious anti-cognition).

  • Laura

    Hey, just wanted to let you know that his name is Hemant. Not Herman or Hermant.

    • moshe averick

      Laura,

      Thanks

  • Marc Riehm

    How anyone could imagine that the bible, and in particular the old testament, is the source of any sort of positive absolute morality is beyond me.

    Yahweh’s atrocities abound, for example the story of the deluge, in which he wiped out nearly the entire human race, including of course babies and pregnant women, and the freeing of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, in which he narrowed his divine focus to firstborn Egyptian children.

    Morals are all creations of people. The bible is an (all-too) human book. And it can be (and is) interpreted in many ways by many different people, with many different results. Only the blinkered can uphold it as some kind of moral absolute.

    • EJ

      Marc,

      The Rabbi wrote an interesting piece with a point of view that raises some legitimate questions. It amazes me how uptight people seem to get over the proposition that atheism, as an extension of Darwinism, carries implications regarding the meaning of human existence, or lack thereof, as it relates to moral responsibility.

      Why is it necessary to jump in bashing the Bible? One might ask what you are basing your opinions of the Bible on anyway, other than what other people have told you. Are your opinions founded upon experiential knowledge of the Bible, or are you pronouncing it guilty based upon its misuse by the religious establishment?

      Before answering though, please consider your own comment: “Morals are all creations of people. The bible is an (all-too) human book. And it can be (and is) interpreted in many ways by many different people, with many different results. Only the blinkered can uphold it as some kind of moral absolute”.

      You have an interpretation, the Rabbi has an interpretation. You have an opinion, the Rabbi has an opinion. Why should his interpretation and opinion merit scorn and mocking any more than your own?

      • [][]“… atheism, as an extension of Darwinism,…”[][]

        Darwin did not invent (or lay the groundwork for) atheism. Where did you get that notion?

      • Joe Cogan

        “Atheism, as an extension of Darwinism”? What on earth are you talking about?

      • Marc Riehm

        Oh come on EJ, give me a break. The Rabbi’s thesis is this:
        1) By quoting one particular atheist, he implies that atheists are amoral;
        2) By quoting another, infamous atheist, he implies that atheism will lead to atrocities.

        This is spurious reasoning by example.

        Now I could do the same thing, citing specific atrocities committed by specific religious figures, in the name of religion, and then drawing general conclusions about religion.

        But with the old testament there’s no need to do that. You can just refer to very standard stories in the canonical source, and point out the implications – which are inevitably overlooked by believers – of these bizarre and unsettling stories, and nothing more needs be said.

        While one can find some very moral and profound aphorisms, passages, and stories in the bible, taken as a whole it is a hodgepodge which includes so much of the very immoral.

        • Christoph

          Moshe Averick does not claim that morality is based upon the Bible/Torah etc. The point is that morality is not possible without God.
          Without God nothing makes sense. Proof? Just read all these atheist posts here. Confused and illusory…

    • moshe averick

      Marc,

      I find it interesting that although I almost never mention the bible, (I didnt in this article either) many of the commenters immediately start ranting about Biblical corruption. For arguments sake, let’s say that you are correct. It still doesn’t change the simple fact that an atheistic worldview implies amorality. Values are whatever any particular individual or society happens to agree on at any given moment. Some societies (Fiji Islands) considered cooked human beings to be a great delicacy, others like hot dogs and hamburgers. Different strokes for different folks.

      • [][]“Values are whatever any particular individual or society happens to agree on at any given moment.”[][]

        That may be true of theistic types, but there is no reason people need to follow such an irrational course.

  • Tally Isham

    Mr. Averick, do you actually have any friends that are atheists?

    I know lots of atheists. They always seemed more interesting and moral than lots of theists I’ve met.

    Your article is an interesting one, but rings hollow as it to contrary to my experience.

    • moshe averick

      Tally,

      Perhaps you have met the wrong theists, I’ve met many extraordinarily good believers. However, all of this is beside the point. How can you possibly have a meaningful definition of morality in a purely material world? As Dr. Marks pointed out, it simply cannot be.

      • [][]“How can you possibly have a meaningful definition of morality in a purely material world?”[][]

        If by “purely material world,” you mean a world without consciousness, then of course you cannot have any definitions of anything.

        But, if by “purely material world,” you are referring to a 100% natural world, viz., the world we actually live in, then humans can have a meaningful definition of morality to the extent that they choose of think rationally about their actions — in the context of real life rather than of mystical fantasies about supernatural commandments.

  • kevobx

    The word thou, means the white man in the Bible, who is red blooded. Remember, the white mantook away the Negros birthrights, and replaced it with Esau’s culture. Salvation is grace and truth *Jeremiah 50:31 Behold, I am against thee, O thou most proud, saith the Lord God of hosts: for thy day is come, the time that I will visit thee. (1st Corinthians 15:10) *Jeremiah 50:33 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The children of Israel and the children of Judah were oppressed together: and all that took them captives held them fast; they refuse to let them go. (John 8:33)

  • vgerdj

    My current most-favorite quote: “Doesn’t P.Z. Myers make you embarrassed to be an atheist?” Not as much as Rabbi Averick makes me embarrassed to be a human being. Bill Thacker May 31, 2011 4:28 pm

  • Joel Chappelle

    Dear Rabbi,

    Dahmer was a psychopathic cannibal who was incapable of feeling guilt, empathy or remorse. To argue that his worldview is representative of all atheists is a cheap, petty and contemptible ploy meant to assign the fear and loathing of a monster onto an entire group of people. David Berkowitz, a Jewish serial killer, believes God has forgiven him for his crimes, ergo there will be no punishment. Dennis Rader, a Christian serial killer and rapist, nicknamed BTK (bind-torture-kill), was the president of his Church at the time of his arrest. Nidal Hassan, a Muslim mass murderer, killed 13 innocent, unarmed people because he believed his religious faith morally obligated him to do so. The laws human beings live by and codes we follow vary from country to country, culture to culture and village to village. The popular sentiment regarding morality in Saudi Arabia is very different than that in Israel which is very different than that in Las Vegas. Some are shared among cultures, theft and murder, for example but many are not. If God truly gave us morality, wouldn’t morality be universal among all cultures? Moreover, given that forgiveness is far more easily attainable in most mainstream religions than societies, what incentive do the faithful have to be moral? I am an atheist. I treat people with respect. I have no desire or inclination to harm anyone. I give what I can to those who have less than I do. I love my family and friends as much as any person of faith. I respect you for your dedication to leaving the world better place than you found it, even if I disagree with your method of doing it. I do good things because I like bringing happiness into other people’s lives, not because I think it will get me a reward. To give only in order to get is, in my view, immoral. But, to each his own.

    If a person’s faith helps them face the coming dark or find purpose or a sense of community, then more power to them. But when faith is wielded as a means to strip the rights or dignity of a person, or to cast judgment or aspersions, as you have done here, then it becomes a thing of great ugliness.

    Warm Regards,
    Joel

  • frog

    I find it strange that you try to slur the rational worldview by claiming that evolution implies that some races could be better than others. I recall that genetic studies have shown that race does not exist, that people look like they do because their parents look that way. We are all human, there is no more difference between the perceived races than between any people not in the one family.

    What does your objective reality of a god say about that ? Does it, surprisingly, say just the same thing as you ? What moral leadership on racism has religion given on racism that is better than showing that race is an illusion ?

    • Moshe Averick

      Frog,

      If you read what I wrote carefully you will see that I never claimed that based on evolution some “races are better than others.” I said that it would be reasonable to hypothesize such a notion. To say races do not exist makes no sense at all. The racial differences are a reflection of genetic differences. In fact, there are many differences between people from different families. Race is certainly not an illusion. The question is, how significant is it?
      .

  • “It is also quite reasonable to hypothesize that just as some primates have evolved to higher levels of sophistication and intelligence than others, some races of human beings may have evolved to higher levels of sophistication and intelligence than others.”

    What a load of trash! This type of thinking was eliminated from science around 30-40 years ago and has been heavily critiqued for its unscientific basis. We (humans) have been proved by science to be essentially inseparable at a genetic level (there is very little variation, in fact there is more variation within races than between). Thus contrary to your assertion it is not reasonable to hold such racist views from a scientific perspective. Look up “Social Darwinism” and you will quickly note how unpopular this idea is in modern scientific circles. Moreover, it is also extremely unpopular to view animals as being “superior or inferior” to each other, a dog has a better sense of smell and hearing than a human, so how can we rank the dog as inferior?

    • moshe averick

      Joel,

      I don’t know if Dahmer was incapable of feeling remorse or not. However you are begging the question. I never argued that his worldview is shared by all atheists, I said that his worldview is perfectly logical and sensible. There is no ACTUAL reason to modify one’s behavior. In an atheistic world you modify behavior if it suits you. If it does not, as in Dahmer’s case, you do what you want and try not to get caught. Since all value systems are nothing more than artificial human constructs, there is no reason why I am any “better” or “worse” for adhering to one over the other. This is elementary.

    • moshe averick

      Alan,

      It was eliminated from science due to social pressure, not because it does not have any basis in truth. Any scientist who would suggest such an idea nowadays would be putting his career in danger. It is obvious that races have genetic differences or there wouldn’t be such thing as races. You don’t need to be a geneticist to know that people in Tibet are a different race than the people in Sweden. Don’t be ridiculous Alan. Whether or not one is superior, I don’t really know. However, natural selection and evolution do not stand still for anyone. To investigate whether some races are intellectually superior to others is a perfectly sensible undertaking from a Darwinian point of view.

  • Brian Westley

    “But Atheism Does Teach That We’re Animals”

    No, evolution teaches that. Atheism says nothing about it.

    • Good point. Atheism, certainly in the sense of not believing in the Judeo-Christian God, predates not only evolution, but the whole science of biology altogether.

      • Leslie Peterson

        A fool always finds a greater fool to admire him
        Boileau-Despreaux, Nicholas
        Book: L’Art poétique

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Any time you attempt to find “grounding” for morals, you ultimately run into a wall of subjectivity. This is true whether you’re attempting to sort through all of the contradictions in the Bible/Tanakh or just trying to figure it out on your own. That’s not to say that there aren’t objective ways for us to live together to maximize our individual and collective wellbeing, but equating that with morality, as most Humanists do, is a subjective judgment.

    But this discussion is also a red herring since nonbelievers as a class, statistically speaking, are far more moral than believers. Nonbelievers are very underrepresented in prison populations. And countries with high degrees of non-belief such as Japan and the Scandinavian countries have some of the lowest crime rates on Earth.

    • [][][]‘Any time you attempt to find “grounding” for morals, you ultimately run into a wall of subjectivity.’[][][]

      On the contrary, subjectivity is not so much a self-created wall, as a self-induced fog used to obscure the objective reality of the world to make room for faith in the non-objective (including supernaturalism and/or nihilistic emotionalism, or social conformity, or political obedience, etc.).

      Only a moral system rationally based on objective reality can be right and proper.

      Subjectivism, including religion, is out of the running.

      • Anonymous

        “Only a moral system rationally based on objective reality can be right and proper.”

        I agree with you on this statement, but it’s a subjective judgment. If you doubt this, try to prove it the same way you would prove the laws of gravity, chemistry, or even sociology. Hume showed that you can’t derive an ought from an is.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “Only a moral system rationally based on objective reality can be right and proper.”

        I agree with you on this statement, but it’s a subjective judgment. If you doubt this, try to prove it the same way you would prove the laws of gravity, chemistry, or even sociology. Hume showed that you can’t derive an ought from an is.

    • Roy Bailey

      Mr. Stoddard, what you state in this comment is incredibly hard to swallow. When time permits I will research this concept of non-believers are more moral.

      • I you wish to do some research, it would help if you had the right idea about what to research. In this case, it is the difference between taking an objective approach to reality vs. substituting “subjective judgment” for rational thinking.

    • EJ

      Of course, that couldn’t possibly be the case because Japan and Scandanavia have cultural histories which reinforce such collective values. No, it’s obviously because value relativism and secular humanism make people so nice and kind!

      I guess Bushido and Buddism don’t qualify as belief systems and the Vikings were were actually agnostic, right? And I know you are going to tell me that Christianity was just a hoaoror trip that left no positive impression on Japn or Scandinavia, either.

      Even if those statistics are real and your assumptions are correct, they are still only a snapshot, and don’t speak to the question of how Darwinian based atheism, in the form of secular humanism, will ultimately affect the outcome of human events in its new role as the dominant state sponsored religion.

  • A few things:
    Rick Warren made that tweet within a few hours of the shooting. A man like Warren surely would have known of the shooting by that time. Are we seriously to believe that he wrote that with no idea of how it would be interpreted? Please excuse me while I call shenanigans. Second, although you took an agonizingly long time to make your point, I believe it was something along the line of, “Atheists must have no morals, because they believe we are nothing more than animals.” How kind of you to tell me what I must believe, because sometimes I have a hard time figuring it out myself. In all seriousness, are you honestly incapable of wracking your brain for a few minutes to brainstorm at least one other method of determining right from wrong other than, “God says so.” How about your precious Golden Rule? What about, “Do whatever produces the most happiness?” Or my personal favorite, “Anything that doesn’t harm other people, or do things to them without their consent, is ok?” There are probably also others I’ve missed, but my point is this: just rejecting your own personal standard of morality doesn’t make us amoral. And you’d think that with all of the atheists in the comment thread telling you the same thing, you’d revise your thesis.

    • moshe averick

      Avery,

      I took a long time to make my point so that the careful reader would understand exactly what I was trying to say. You are not among the careful readers. You have jumped to conclusions based on a superficial reading of the material. First of all, even if you are correct about Rick Warren, which in my opinion is highly unlikely, it still changes nothing about what I said in the article.

      Secondly, I never said that atheists have no morals. I said that ATHEISM inescapably implies amorality as Dr. Joel Marks and all other atheistic philosophers have pointed out. Atheists make up all kinds of value systems; from an objective standpoint all are equally insignificant. The fact that you subjectively find value in “humanism” or “communism” does not make it good or bad, moral or immoral. It simply means that you like it. Amorality is not a function of a lack of values, it is a function of the significance of values.

      • [][]“I said that ATHEISM inescapably implies amorality …”[][]

        You can say that again! But no matter how many time you say it, it still will not be true. In fact, ATHEISM does NOT imply morality, immorality, or amorality.

        Atheism is simply a negative in regard to theism — and is empty of any other meaning or implication.

        Theism is lousy morally, but atheism doesn’t have anything to say about that.

  • Michael

    Rabbi,
    I’m interested in your perspective on why there seem to be so many atheists who appear to have a hard time recognizing that atheism by definition negates belief in an absolute system of morality.

    If I had a nickle for every time I came across an atheist arguing that atheism “only” asserts the lack of belief in a Deity, and nothing more, I would be considerably wealthier. Why do they seem incapable of recognizing the obvious logical inference with regards to (non)belief in moral absolutes?

    • I guess when Moshe’s shown to be misrepresenting the issue (…but atheism does teach that we’re animals), there are always people busily shifting the goalposts.

      Glen Davidson

    • [][]“… atheism by definition negates belief in an absolute system of morality.”[][]

      It does no such thing.

      Atheism is merely the choice not to believe in a supernatural God — it makes no statement about whether one believes in the objective reality of nature, or in nothing at all.

      But notice that it is theism that tends to negate belief in “an absolute system of morality,” in that a theistss morals tend to follow from what he feels his particular vision of God is commanding him to do at any given time. Theists are all over the map, from the Borgias to the French Kings to the Iranian mullahs, etc., etc., etc.

    • Fernando

      Michael:
      All people learn using a trial and error method that’s been called “conjecture and verfication” by Karl Popper. This method of learning produces our understanding of morality, tempered as it is with our cultural biases developed via our surroundings.

      Atheism, thus does not negate belief in absolute system of morality; an understanding of how we learn and produce morality will do that most effectively. It’s your philosophy of morality, which you’ve apparently somehow tied to your godhead, that’s tied absolute morality to a belief in a god. Deciding which god is the one with the proper morality would, I guess, be your greatest search. How’s it coming?

  • Averick and ilk:

    We have met the enemy–and it is truth.

    Atheism teaches nothing at all about humans and animals. How could it? Finding no evidence for God does absolutely nothing to the status of humans and other animals.

    It’s only the evidence that shows that humans are animals, evolutionary evidence and even the (still evolutionary, but not known to be) evidence when considered without the benefit of evolutionary theory (see Aristotle, Linnaeus).

    Moshe’s misrepresenting this, much as he does any evidence that goes contrary to his prejudices. Of course he wants to conflate evolution and atheism, it’s just not the truth at all. If he doesn’t know it, he most certainly should.

    Glen Davidson

    • Jorge

      Anyone that does not see the connection between Evolution and Atheism is one of two things (a third alternative is not possible): (1) ignorant of the facts; (2) dishonest with him(her)self and/or with others. It is essentially for this reason alone that Dawkins was absolutely correct when he said that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually-fulfilled Atheist. So which is it, Mr. Davidson, are you ignorant or dishonest?

      • EJ

        Darwin and Dawkins have been debunked sufficiently and well by many better minds than those haunting this humble abode, Jorge.

        Your rhetoric, like that of your hero, Dawkins, amounts to nothing more than intellectually-fulfilled bullying. In light of that observation, intellectually-deluded would be an equally appropriate description.

  • A specter is haunting America–the specter of religion.

    • Leslie Peterson

      Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools talk because they have to say something.
      Plato

    • Jorge

      I agree wholeheartedly: the specter of religion is indeed haunting America. Now let’s be specific: it is the specter of the religion of ATHEISM that is haunting America.

      Sadly, this specter is doing much more than merely “haunting”. It is slowly but surely destroying a nation that was made great by a Judeo-Christian foundation, principles and laws. All of this is being eroded right before our very eyes thanks to Atheistic/Humanistic ‘thinking’ and a departure from those Judeo-Christian beginnings.

  • Pluto Animus

    Rabbi D-bag strikes again.

  • You have made a fundamental inversion, Rabbi Averick.

    It is God that is a “human construct,” a fictional character, while human nature NOT a “human construct.” The “unnatural/supernatural/divine” is not part of nature, but the human rational capacity IS part of nature.

    Speaking the “God-made values” kind of language, it could be said that man’s only “moral commandment” is: Thou shalt think. But a “moral commandment” is a contradiction in terms. The moral is the chosen, not the forced; the understood, not the obeyed. The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments. (This is paraphrased from another character just as fictional as God, John Galt. The profound difference is that Galt illustrates what it means to be pro-reason instead of pro-religion — while God illustrates the opposite.)

  • Joe Koool

    As a Universalist Darwinian atheist, I would agree that morals are a manmade construction and ultimalty meaningless. I can do anything I want and not worry about punishment in an afterlife…. but understand I am a pacifist, I cannot even step on a bug or eat a hotdog without feeling some sense of sorrow and loss and existential suffering. Puppies and kittens can make me cry. I suffer when I am around suffering, I am happy when I am around happiness… and the few things that give me value as a person is helping to decrease Suffering in my little world.

    That my amoral atheistic animistic darwinian perspective, so fear me! Dont leave me alone with the children! I might feel moral atheistic outrage and feel sad if they pour salt on a poor slug.

  • Joe Koool

    If I recall correctly Norway, Sweden, Netherlands,Iceland, maybe Japan are societies that have the highest numbers of atheists… yet they have the highest score in ” Happiness” statistics. The lowest violent crime, etc. I think it was Norway that was measured to be the ” Happiest Country on Earth” I am too lazy right now to look up the exact details, but the results were undeniable. Atheistic countries have better quality-of-life statistics!

    Please, this is a VERY valid point you should consider when writing an artical about the dangers of losing Christian influence in social ethics

  • Walter Beals

    Uh… how can atheism teach anything. Atheism is merely a rejection of the positive claim of the existence of god(s).

    Now scientists may tell you that you are an animal. And guess what? They’re right?

    I didn’t bother reading the rest of your article. I’m sure based on the title, it was garbage.

    • Moshe Averick

      Walter,
      Although you state that you didn’t bother reading to the end of my article, I actually read your entire comment. In light of the fact that you didn’t say anything at all (not even enough to be called garbage), I’m curioius why you even bothered. I’m asking seriously.

      • Matt Eden

        Ah well done. Cherry pick the pithy, least interesting and substantive argument to your useless disingenuous article and reply to it while ignoring the plethora of other valid and well thought out responses.

    • Dutchboy27

      Let’s all applaud your ignorance.

  • Chris Fisher

    How convenient that he was, at that moment, tweeting about something else!

    • Moshe Averick

      Chris,

      Are you really suggesting that he was referring to the Aurora shootings and made up a cover story?

      • If he doesn’t I will.

        Rick Warren is a liar and a con man in my opinion.

        It would not surprise me in the slightest if he lied about what the post was referring too.

        It doesn’t change the fact that us being animals, does not, as you suggest, prevent us from conceiving of moral codes and following them.
        I completely reject your presuppositional assertion that morality is rooted in a belief in God, it is based upon bald assertions and nothing else.

        Also, quoting a psychopath like Dahmer to support a claim about evolution makes you look incredibly stupid. If you aren’t then maybe you could educate yourself a bit on the topic instead of repeating talking points from creationists text books.

  • Rabbi Moshe Averick,

    You seem to be saying that you truly believe that lacking a deity, “…there is nothing inherently immoral in (the act of molesting children)”.

    I find this to be a terrifying statement!

    You have asserted that you do what you think is right out of fear of your deity, out of desire to please your deity.

    You have also implied that without this deity, you will feel free to molest children, since it would no longer be “wrong”.

    I implore you Rabbi Averick, please do not stray from your faith! It is apparently the only think that prevents you from molesting children! So please, stay religious!

    I, however, am capable of feeling empathy and sympathy for others, and realize that molesting children is wrong because I can imagine how I would feel if it happened to me.

    In other words, I can measure evil without the yardstick of a deity.

    I’m just sorry to see so many religious figures are incapable of doing the same.

    • Moshe Averick

      Calladus,

      Your heart is in the right place but not your head.

      I was not the one who said that there is nothing inherently wrong with molesting children. It was atheistic philosopher Joel Marks, it is Peter Singer, it is Jean Paul Sartre,it is Michael Ruse, it is Jason Rosenhouse, it is Will Provine, and it is even Jerry Coyne; in fact it is every atheistic philospher of note.

      You seem to be in denial of a simple truth: the atheist is accountable to no one but himself. Ultimately, the only yardstick by which he measures his actions is one of two things: A. Can I live with this? and/or B. Will I get caught and end up in jail?

      If I was an atheist I would admit the obvious truth that Joel Marks (and Jeffrey Dahmer) stated. Nothing is intrinsically wrong, even child molestation. That doesn’t mean I would do it. The question is could I live with it. Probably not. However that is beside the point. I don’t have the sexual lusts of a pedophile. If I did, it would be an entirely different story, and if you did, it would also be a different story.

      • The basic point you miss, Rabbit Averick, is that no matter how many times you repeat your “immoral atheist” schtick, it will not become true. Even finding other people who you claim believe the same thing cannot magically make it come true.

        No matter how hard you keep wishing for it, you are never going to make all atheists become immoral people — or make atheism per se an “immoral worldview.”

        • Oops! I do believe you are a rabbi, Moshe, not a rabbit!

      • The notion that an atheist is only accountable to himself is absurd.

        I am personally accountable to society, the government, my friends, my family, and am responsible for the results of my actions. I can judge my own actions and know that a variety of people will hold me accountable for them if they harm others.

        Not accountable to anyone else? Give me a break.

        • Dylan,

          You have missed the point entirely. If you have chosen to gauge your actions by how others react (i.e. You will hold yourself accountable to their judgements and opinions), that is perfectly fine. It is your personal choice. If what you mean is that you will gauge your reactions by how society reacts, that is fine also. Again, it is your personal choice to hold yourself accountable to others. On the other hand if I, as an atheist choose not to care what other people/society thinks and it doesn’t bother me, that is also fine. When I say that the atheist is accountable only to himself, I simply mean that there is no “right” or “wrong” choice. Whatever I can live with is just as “right” or “wrong” as what someone else can live with.

          I don’t even see how this is an arguable point. There is no serious atheistic philosopher who would disagree.

          • Who cares what a philosopher says, even if he is an atheist. If he is wrong then he is wrong.

            Who are creating a false dichotomy.

            I mean you believe in god, so god is telling you what you can and can’t do right? Well what if you decide you don’t care what god says? How is that any different than an atheist choosing do do whatever he wants?

            There is no difference, by the definition you are using EVERYONE is only accountable to themselves, whether theist or atheist we all have to choose to treat people well or poorly. Inventing a deity who tells you what to do changes nothing.

            So maybe the deity punishes you for not doing the “right” thing, but society can punish you for it or not, if you as a theist decide you can live with something then what is the difference?

            Lastly, this is irrelevant to whether a god actually exists or not. The fact that you don’t like the possible results of god not existing does nothing to demonstrate that one does.

          • And seriously, I can’t disagree with you because atheistic philosophers agree with you?

            An argument from authority? Seriously? You might want to read up on philosophy a bit more yourself.

            I know quite a few atheists who disagree with you, but I guess you don’t count them as “serious philosophers” so they don’t count. What a waste of time.

        • EJ

          The point is not that people are accountable only to themselves, but rather that people are free to choose their actions and their behavior.

          What differences in behavior and choices arise when based upon a theistic and atheistic world views?

          What mindset does the belief that our existence is a cosmic accident, that there is no authority beyond that which we see, and that our actions here and now have no consequences beyond this lifetime generate?

          Doesn’t the belief that a Creator is responsible for our existence also imply a responsibility to seek out and learn the purposes of that Creator?

      • Jolo

        Well Rabbi Averick, if you believe that only a god keeps you from being a child molester please continue believing!

      • Steve Greene

        Moshe Averick writes, “[Atheists] seem to be in denial of a simple truth: the atheist is accountable to no one but himself.”

        But then he *immediately* contradicts his own assertion: “Ultimately, the only yardstick by which he measures his actions is one of two things: A. Can I live with this? and/or B. Will I get caught and end up in jail?”

        Dylan Walker has already well addressed the aspect under Averick’s “B”, which I won’t reiterate, except to summarize the fact that how we are held accountable by other people is indeed a part of the real world consequences of our behavior that is one aspect of the objective nature of morality independent of any assumed ontological claim for religious beliefs.

        Under Averick’s “A” are those real world consequences of our behavior that result from the world itself apart from other people, such as, for example, if you practice an unhealthy dietary lifestyle or abuse drugs, this has objective effects on your body (including your mind; especially in the case of drug abuse).

        As I mentioned in another post here, the consequences of our behavior may certainly be very complex, but this does not mean they are subjective (though some aspects of what we call “morality” are indeed subjective) or an “amoral chaos”. Those are merely misrepresentations of atheism used as a straw man argument by a lot of religious believers.

      • Rich Wilson

        “Ultimately, the only yardstick by which he measures his actions is one of two things: A. Can I live with this? and/or B. Will I get caught and end up in jail?” Er, no. Sam Harris uses the yardstick “does this increase well being and/or decrease suffering in conscience beings?” And the fact that you DON’T worry about atheists going out and molesting children I think says a lot about the reality of human morality vs. what some philosophers strain their minds to invent.

  • Steve Greene

    I always have to laugh when anti-atheist Bible believers try using their “Atheists have no morals” argument (in whatever particular rhetorical form).

    First of all, there is the simple fact that human *are* animals. We are not plants. We are not fungi. We are not primitive bacteria. We are animals. We are animals, just as elephants, mice, dolphins, salmon, lobsters, and dragonflies are animals. Apparently Moshe Averick is so utterly oblivious to modern biological science that he doesn’t know this.

    The real issue is, what kind of animals are we? Well, obviously, we are that particular species of animals known as *Homo sapiens*, or more coloquially, human beings. It is our features that make us human beings that distinguish us from other animals. (Of course, the same could be said of a particular species of dragonfly – it is the unique features of their species that distinguishes them from all other animals.) It is this obvious fact of the meanings of the words which demonstrates the spurious nature of the rhetorical trickery that Averick is engaged in.

    Second, the reason it’s so amusingly ironic to see Bible believers in particular using such rhetorical games trying to pretend atheists have no morals is because of the primitive and barbaric nature of the morality we see in the Bible itself. Just read the book of Joshua sometime, where the Bible god is portrayed as commanding the people to engage in acts of genocide (which the Bible never once even pretends to question the morality of), and not only condones but commands slavery. (The New Testament, not applicable to Averick in particular, but to Christians, teaches slaves how to behave properly toward their masters.)

  • HumanistJohn

    This is just plain dumb. You do not need any god(s) to be moral. In fact much of our moral progress throughout history has been done DESPITE religions and belief in god(s) not because of them. The farther back in time you go the more religious the world was and the more barbaric it was. As religion has been pushed further to the periphery humanity has advanced and things are a bit brighter. Don’t get me wrong there is still alot wrong with this world but people in much of the world are far better off now than they would have been had religions stranglehold not been loosened.

    • John Jordan

      Saying a person needs not God to be moral is an unprovable statement. Believers believe the living God upholds every particle & molecule in the universe by His Spirit. His Spirit also upholds the breath of life in the fleshy bodies of atheists as well as believers. Believers believe thoughts & self-awareness are integral to God’s Breath of Life. A believer believes it all. An atheist says, “Nah! I ain’t buying any of it because none of it can be proven.” But an atheist saying that God does not exist and therefore ‘morality’ is a take-it-or-leave-it subjective experience is not the same as actually living in amoral chaos without God. Sooner than later everyone discovers with absolute certainty whether or not God Himself really exists. It’s only a matter of time.

      • Jolo

        @John Jordan:
        Saying a person needs not God to be moral is an unprovable statement.

        How is this statement accurate? If you meet an atheist or an agnostic, neither of them has a god for morality, yet they can be moral, or are you saying that all atheists and agnostics are immoral?

      • Steve Greene

        You always have to wonder at the self-contradiction of the remarks made by religious believers trying to produce rational justification for beliefs of religious faith.

        AS IF he actually cares squat about “proof”, John Jordan writes, “Saying a person needs not God to be moral is an unprovable statement.”

        But then he turns right around and completely contradicts that pretension:

        “Believers believe the living God upholds every particle and molecule in the universe by His Spirit.”

        Unprovable statement.

        “His Spirit also upholds the breath of life in the fleshy bodies of atheists as well as believers.”

        Unprovable statement.

        “Believers believe thoughts and self-awareness are integral to God’s Breath of Life.”

        Unprovable statement.

        “Sooner than later everyone discovers with absolute certainty whether or not God Himself really exists. It’s only a matter of time.”

        Unprovable statement. (Circular argument, in fact.)

        Thus proving that his initial expression of concern about a statement by atheists being allegedly unprovable is, at best, incoherent.

        And then Jordan treats us to a straw man argument against atheism that’s popularly used by religious believers:

        “But an atheist saying that God does not exist and therefore ‘morality’ is a take-it-or-leave-it subjective experience is not the same as actually living in amoral chaos without God” – implying that atheism equals “amoral chaos”.

        The rhetoric a lot of religious believers use trying to attack atheism is notorious in its routine misrepresentation, as the current example demonstrates. There are real world consequences to our behavior, including the consequences imposed by other human beings in society, and including the long term consequences of how social mores evolve in adaptation to the collective outcomes of people’s behavior. These consequences may certainly be very complex, but that does not at all mean that they are subjective. (And this is also not to imply that all aspects of morality are objective, since there are indeed subjective elements involved.) The point is that it’s impossible for religious believers to criticize atheism based on false representations of what atheism is or what atheism implies.

  • zengardener

    “… atheists do teach that we are “no different than animals.””

    Not all biologists are atheists. Our biology is what makes us animals, not belief in the supernatural or lack thereof.

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