The Dissident

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Ontology of a Secular Morality

Written over two days and finished at Great Bear Coffee on August 8th while listening to “Blink 182” station on Pandora and drinking a Cafe Americano.

uhgoiuI recently drove up to a 4 way stop with no stop signs and no properly functioning traffic lights. It was obvious that, for some reason, there was something wrong with the traffic lights. The boulevard I was on was heavily populated, so I wondered if any sense of value driven morals would kick in once cars pulled up to the intersection, or would mass chaos ensue. I pulled off to an adjacent parking lot that was perpendicular to the intersection so that I could see how people would react to the poorly defined expectations of what one ought to do at the intersection. I mean, what does the car traveling south owe to the car wanting to go east bound through the intersection? Who is obligated to stop? And if you’re feeling rushed, why not roll through the intersection since, technically, you are not breaking the law since the traffic lights are not enforcing the rules? Perhaps, most importantly, what’s the impetus and ontological reason for acting morally in this situation? This is critical given this real life situation reveals desires, values and expectations of society that will manifest into a moral context in which right and wrong become objectively true.

As I observed the intersection for around 20 minutes, it appeared that civility prevailed and people displayed typical evolutionary and cultural traits of respect and consideration for the group. But this should not surprise us. We are in situations every day where the opportunity to cause someone’s loss will in turn be our gain. Yet more times than not, mutual respect wins out. The evolutionary and cultural trait of mutual respect is seen in every country and observed in remote tribes. Sure some defect and live duplicitous lives of greed with complete lack of regard for other people, but this is the exception and not the rule. Furthermore, just about all societies have done their due diligence to set up norms to punish and deter the defectors who choose to live duplicitous lives. But what is the basis of these “norms”? Is it a divine commander in the sky? Is it relative to the context you’re in so what is considered cruel in one place is a virtue in another? This pushes the conversation towards to the root of the matter: the ontological basis of morality. I believe, however, that it is clearly evident that objective moral facts can be known.

gtfuytcFirst of all, we are surrounded by physical relationships [that can be known empirically]. Physical relationships are objective realities that encompass how things physically relate to each other. Physical systems can be reduced to properties that can be understood objectively. Take for example the scariness of a tiger: a tiger is scary to a person (because of the horrible harm it can do) but not to Superman, even though it’s the very same tiger, and none of its intrinsic qualities shave changed. Thus the tiger’s scariness is relative, but still real. It is not a product of anyone’s opinions, it is not a cultural construct, but a physical property about tigers and people. Thus the scariness of an enraged tiger is not a property of the tiger alone but a property of the entire tiger-person relationship. This scariness is also not simply subjective. Our emotional experience of fear is subjective, but the ability of the tiger to harm us is an objective fact of the world. The tiger “ought” to scare you.

Second of all, it’s important to note that there is a neurobiological and social aspect to the statement: the tiger ought to scare you. Stimuli in the brain, specifically norepinephrine in the amygdala, engage the receptors that indicate fear, anxiety and stress. So yes, science can help us to understand what situations trigger panic or joy for the sake of our well-being. Science, based on neurological responses in our brain, can say: you ought to be afraid of tigers. Contrasted to panic, dopamine and oxytocin within the brain help us to understand feelings of bonding and happiness. Thanks to fMRI imaging, we are quickly learning how the brain reacts to ethical dilemmas and situations to either panic or bliss. Science can tell us that engaging with a wild tiger or forcing women to wear burqas does not transmit dopamine in our brains. All this to say, evolution has created neural pathways in our brains to provide indicators of how should feel in certain situations that might not be advantageous. This is a physical relationship that helps us understand our relationship between us and tigers.

jkhbouThe social aspect is not so apparent in the tiger analogy, but is nevertheless a physical relationship that provides objective imperatives. If, for instance, you are working with a group of around 10 people, is there an objective moral duty that you should have within the group? The answer is yes, if your goal is to provide a net positive contribution to the group. Virtues such as respect, trust and cooperation play into the physical system of human relationships. Therefore, it objectively behooves those who demonstrate trust and cooperation. For those who defect by demonstrating selfishness and dishonesty, however, will inevitably be ostracized. Before moving on to my next point, I want to reiterate: the ontology of morals has an objective basis due to the physical relationships around us that invariably cultivate moral pretexts in which to act.

But what separates moral facts from personal opinions? Moral facts consist of imperatives about what we “ought” to do. But why should I do anything? Take for example, “you ought to change the oil in your car” which means “if you knew your car was running low on oil, and you don’t want you car’s engine to seize up, then you would change the oil in your car (as long as you were able to without harm).” If you don’t want your engine seize up, then “you ought to change your oil” is objectively true. My opinion is irrelevant to it being true.

(1) You ought to be scared of tigers because they can harm you.

(2) You ought to demonstrate trust and cooperation in groups or you will be ostracized.

(3) You ought to stop at a 4 way intersection if the lights are not properly functioning because you may get hurt or hurt someone else if you carelessly speed through.

In these three examples, both my opinion and cultural factors are completely irrelevant. All three examples function within physical relationships that demonstrate how they relate to each other in an objective and empirical way.

;iuhiuBut we can go deeper and bolster moral objective facts with the concept of well-being. I suggest that it may be best to think in terms of well-being, rather in terms of right or wrong, good or evil. Well-being is like the concept of physical health: it resists definition, and yet it is indispensable. In fact, meanings of both terms seem likely to remain perpetually open to revision as we make progress in science. Today, a person can consider himself physically healthy if he is free of detectable disease, able to exercise, and destined to live in his eighties without suffering obvious decrepitude. But this standard may change. Moreover, we must occasionally experience unpleasantness – medication, surgery, etc. – in order to avoid greater suffering or death. My point is this: all sane people would prefer to have good health over bad health; and we can have consensus to what good and bad health would look like. A healthy lifestyle, thus, can be known in an objective way. [Sam Harris expands on the concept of well-being in “The Moral Landscape”]

Let’s keep unpacking well-being. Most people would describe a good life as involving: happiness, fulfillment, no stress, meaningful friendships, all basic needs are met, etc. All of these have a high degree of personal well-being. At the same time, most of us would describe the worst possible life as involving pain, isolation, war, lack of basic needs met, etc. Again, the bad life carries a low degree of well-being. Anyone who doesn’t see that the good life is preferable to the bad life is unlikely to have anything to contribute to a discussion on well-being. Must we really argue that beneficence, trust, creativity, etc., enjoyed in the context of a prosperous society are better than the horrors of civil war endured in steaming jungle filled with aggressive insects carrying dangerous pathogens?

I conclude my point on well-being by reiterating that it is critical to underscore the fact that the concept of well-being within the framework of morality can give us an objective foundation to scrutinize morals. Well-being can provide a lens to look through when it comes to common ethical conundrums that I, for instance, experienced last week. A man in a coffee shop dropped a clipped wad of cash on the floor as he stood up to leave. Through the lens of well-being, my moral duty is made clear: get the man’s attention and inform him that he dropped his cash. But what does this have to do with well-being? First, given that this has happened to me, I would want someone to inform me if I dropped a wad of cash. Second, it feels good to help someone and to know that I assuaged a potential frustration for the stranger. Lastly, I am cultivating a virtuous character – rather than duplicitousness – by quickly acting to help someone, irrespective of anyone else’s opinion or what another culture thinks. All of these foster an objective standard of well-being within my life which I can point to and say, “I ought to help this stranger.”

So what did I, as an atheist, do at the 4-way intersection that I mentioned at the beginning of this post? I proceeded slowly to the intersection and stopped, then allowed the car to my right to go because she stopped 2 seconds before me; then the car to my left gestured for me to turn, and so I did. Darwin was right, mutual respect feels really good and benefits the group.

This post in a nutshell:

Physical Relationships > Creates Moral Constraints > A Moral Context is Formed

5 Responses to Ontology of a Secular Morality

  1. iceknight366 says:

    Hey Wes! Here is my reply to your detailed thoughts on the matter.

    “All this to say, evolution has created neural pathways in our brains to provide indicators of how should feel in certain situations that might not be advantageous. This is a physical relationship that helps us understand our relationship between us and tigers.”

    “(1) You ought to be scared of tigers because they can harm you.

    (2) You ought to demonstrate trust and cooperation in groups or you will be ostracized.

    (3) You ought to stop at a 4 way intersection if the lights are not properly functioning because you may get hurt or hurt someone else if you carelessly speed through.”

    I wanted to say a couple things about these points.

    1) It seems to me that the jump from what has survival value, or what is best for human flourishing as I believe you stated previously, etc… to “moral value” is arbitrary. It seems to me that this step has been presupposed without any justification. Why equate human survival value with moral value? I certainly don’t share any intuition that those things are identical. It seems it has just been defined that way. Indeed, I’m sure we could come up with counter examples in which our moral values stand in stark contrast to what would be best for survival at the time! But if that’s the case, than it follows that the two are not identical. But if the two are not identical than survival value is not moral value. But if the two are not identical than they are not identical via the law of identity. (That last sentence was just for jokes as I couldn’t pass on it’s almost poetic repetitive nature :P)

    “Before moving on to my next point, I want to reiterate: the ontology of morals has an objective basis due to the physical relationships around us that invariably cultivate moral pretexts in which to act.”

    2) Although what is beneficial for human survival, or flourishing, etc… is detached from human opinion, it’s still arbitrary. Why is that? As the renown evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould has said, If you rewind the tape of evolution and play it again a very different sent of moral values and duties may have evolved. Thus, the one’s we just happened to of acquired seems entirely arbitrary when viewed in this light. Moreover, why think that our moral values which we have evolved are any better than the one’s which a lion has evolved? Why shouldn’t we rape our many “spouses” whenever we want? To say that ours are the special “right” one’s is speciesism: having a bias of one’s own species. Thus, it seems to me that on Atheism, when the male Great White Shark forcibly copulates with the female, this has no more moral significance then when a man lay with his wife. Again, as pointed out in 1) why call this “moral” in the first place?

    3) There isn’t anything about homosapiens to make us think that this morality is objectively true. The illusion of morality has survival value, that’s all. It seems to me that on this view we are just ape-like creatures on this planet who are beset with delusions of moral grandeur! It is fairly common to observe within the animal kingdom acts of altruistic, or even self-sacrificial behavior. That’s not the question. The question is, why think that these acts are really good? You might recall that over lunch I questioned why this should be considered moral value? It seems to me all this is is prudential value. Sure, if you want to grow a healthy corn crop you should water it regularly, make sure you use the right fertilizer, protect it from insects, etc… But there isn’t anything morally good about doing so. There isn’t a moral aspect to it at all. And illustrated in my next point, why are we obligated to grow a healthy corn crop?

    4) There is no moral obligation on this view. Why should I follow evolution? Why do I have any obligation to propagate our species? Who or what obligates me to look out for what’s best for my species or what has the highest flourishing? Why not look out for self-interest? It seems to me that you can’t read morality out of the evolutionary or social process because we have no obligation to do those things unless you just presuppose that we do. But surely that’s question begging! For the only reason one would think we have an obligation to look out for human flourishing is because one already believes we should look out for human flourishing. On this view there is a clash between what our “moral conscious” tells us to do and what prudence tells us to do.

    5) I think this argument confuses moral value with moral duty. Moral values are concerned with whether something is good or bad. A value is akin to a virtue or state of affairs. This would be things like having the qualities of fairness, kindness, justice, etc… Moral duties have to do with obligations and prohibitions. A duty, or obligation, describes a particular action. Something like, “creaturely flourishing” is not a value, like being fair, just, kind, etc… It’s just a category mistake to try and define values as that which produces human flourishing. If anything, conducive to human flourishing is a duty rather than a value.

    It is here where we usually encounter circular reasoning. For one might ask, “What is this duty to be conducive to human flourishing based on?” It seems to me the naturalist or atheist will respond by saying that it is based on the values of being kind, loving, honest, fair, etc… (as it should; our moral duties should be extensions of our moral values, not the other way around. Indeed, it wouldn’t even make sense to state it in a retro-defining way). But then we might ask, “Where do these values like love, fairness, kindness, etc… come from? The skeptic will likely say, “From human flourishing!” or the fact that we should (as in duty) do what is conducive to human flourishing. This is question begging, arguing in a circle.

    But of course, where does the obligation for this duty come from on atheism? Nowhere. There is no obligation to do things which are conducive to human flourishing. It is only if we have a transcendent source who obligates us. To conclude I want to share a quote from a remarkable article that appeared in the Duke Law Journal by Arthur Allen Leff called, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law” Dr. Leff’s difficultly is that he wants to find a foundation for moral values and duties, in this case for the law, that would be independent of human opinion, it would be objective and it would be in the world, and he can’t find one. He says, “Any attempt to ground values in the world is open to the playground bully’s retort, ‘who sez?’”

    “All I can say is this: It looks as if we are all we have. . . . Only if ethics is something unspeakable by us (that is, something transcendent), could law be unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things now stand, everything is up for grabs.
    Nevertheless:
    Napalming babies is bad.
    Starving the poor is wicked.
    Buying and selling each other is depraved. . . .
    There is in the world such a thing as evil.
    (All together now:) Sez who?

    God help us.”

    -Arthur Allen Leff, (Professor at Yale Law School) “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law” Duke Law Journal 1979 no. 6, p.1249

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  2. In my conversations with Christians, this inevitably comes up. Our atheist group was having a pizza party and a religious man was drawn to us like a moth to the flame, his first question was “Where do you get your morals from?” – where indeed.

    As you describe Wes, we clearly get them from the same place. The question is: Is there a moral framework that exists outside of the human experience? If there is a God, would it be bound to the same moral values and duties? Do you follow moral laws due to your commitment to the deity that prescribed them, or for the general well being of conscious creatures? Is this divine command where the morals change at the whim of the god(s)? If you didn’t know why you should change the oil in the car, if you had no understanding of how an engine worked or what would happen if you didn’t bother putting oil in it, and you just claimed that you had a “feeling” it was a good thing to do (or a ghost told you to do it) – this would be closer to the religious explanation of moral values.

    I find myself in the subjective / consequentialist camp. I agree that there is a consensus of things we aught to do, but this is due to a shared sense of empathy and understanding the consequences of our actions. I believe that we do things for the greater good of the tribe which means we also must break the moral code in order to protect the majority. We aught not to kill, unless we need to protect ourselves or families from marauders. We aught not to steal, unless our lives depended upon stealing food or money. At what point would a judge understand your predicament and weigh your potential consequences with the crimes committed?

    We all agree to a unspoken social contract while living with others. We take into account hundreds, possibly thousands of factors into each moral judgement within a fraction of time to act. I think the most prevalent idea is “What would I want done to (for) me?”. There are a bunch of tests one could take which reveal how you would respond to moral challenges. Here is a great episode on Brain Games which does a little testing in the real world – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQieDD1FZog

    Getting back to the religious angle… Christians will tell me that I have the same moral conscience that they do, but the difference is that they can justify it. So you essentially invent a God to attribute the morals to and call it a day? This is not a justification, it is a rationalization. I can demonstrate situational ethics, but a Christian can’t demonstrate a God nor the morals attributed to it. I will always ask a Christian to provide an objective moral truth that was revealed in their Bible that would have been considered unknowable without that revelation. Something like “Thou shalt not own another human being as property” would have been amazing. But instead what we find is a trail of slavery and genocide prescribed by the very God they claim to get their morals from. You can understand why I would see this as perplexing.

    The other language they use is that morals are “written on their hearts”. Look, I was a Christian too, I understand that this is a poetic way of claiming to have a conscience, but what are you really saying? Sometimes you feel guilty about stuff? Congrats, you are not a psychopath! And with 1-5% of the population being psychopaths which mean they don’t feel guilty about anything – why would a God create that? Why have a objective moral standard which is not shared by the entire human race? Isn’t that essentially injecting evil into the world?

    At the end of the day, what Christians are claiming and what the rest of us are discussing seem to be two different things. I am open to being convinced that there are objective morals, it is possible that I am just too dense to understand it. But we are light years away from demonstrating that there is a God or that these moral values require a God – and further yet, your God in particular.

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  3. Wes Fornes says:

    I am confused by what you’re presuming about my points, so I will have to ‘read into’ your reply, and will hopefully come close to your critique. In the passages you critiqued of mine, nowhere do I reference survival. Evolution, however, has predisposed us with certain innate qualities that make our species more fit than most species. The capacity and capability of your frontal-orbital cortex, for instance, is much different than, say, a dog. Your empathic and reasoning capability is far superior which allows you to utilize a theory of mind – a mind that reasons with such complexity that it can navigate right/wrong while considering not only oneself, but the states of others. But you focused so much on the evolutionary points, that you failed to realize that ‘nurture’ is even more important when it comes to the formulation of morals. While there is a strong evolutionary component of trust that a baby has with his/her mother a priori, there is also a strong disposition to selfishness that is, hopefully, addressed and deterred through the nurturing process. I have noticed that Christian apologetics jumps on evolution with ferocity, which usually manifests with injecting Social Darwinism. Survival of the fittest [coined by Herbert Spencer] was not Darwin’s quest. But Christians have perpetuated that myth to blame Darwin for inspiring Nazism, eugenics and racism.

    I’d rather dismiss “survival value” and focus on what can empirically understood: innate qualities that create the viability for doing and understanding what one “ought” to do. But again, the person who is born with much less capacity for compassion will hopefully grow up in an environment that will seek to foster love and compassion.

    My focus is less on evolutionary theory and more on the reality of physical relationships (systems) that we have no choice to be caught in. This is why I am not sure why you make the comment of me saying that moral value is arbitrary. The anger that rises in me when I see someone being manipulated or the feeling of disgust I feel when I see someone being exploited is not arbitrary. [Just like the sentiments explained in my tiger analogy]
    You stated: “Why equate human survival value with moral value?” Again, I care about what we can test and verify through DNA and our understanding of genetics that shows the propensities and dispositions that we have. So I’m not sure where this correlation is being made between survival with moral value?

    You state: “There isn’t anything about homosapiens to make us think that this morality is objectively true. The illusion of morality has survival value, that’s all. It seems to me that on this view we are just ape-like creatures on this planet who are beset with delusions of moral grandeur! It is fairly common to observe within the animal kingdom acts of altruistic, or even self-sacrificial behavior. That’s not the question. The question is, why think that these acts are really good? You might recall that over lunch I questioned why this should be considered moral value? It seems to me all this is is prudential value. Sure, if you want to grow a healthy corn crop you should water it regularly, make sure you use the right fertilizer, protect it from insects, etc… But there isn’t anything morally good about doing so. There isn’t a moral aspect to it at all. And illustrated in my next point, why are we obligated to grow a healthy corn crop?”

    Again, I can defend objective morality without mentioning evolution. I am not sure why you – much like William Lane Craig – love to take the debate down this path? I developed my thesis from the position of physical systems without any need or contingency of survival or evolutionary ethics.

    You state: “The question is, why think that these acts are really good?” While this is the wrong question to ask, I will answer the question with an answer [empirically] which will give the best approximation for understanding “why think these acts are morally good?” while the Christian will depend on a divine commander in the sky that promotes relative ethics. I’m still waiting for God to provide The Answer to whether homosexuality is right or wrong. Like you have heard me say, the Holy Spirit speaks differently to most churches in Mississippi compared to the New England states with a majority thinking more progressively. Honestly, I’m not interested in The Truth because there is no Truth. What we do have are approximations that shed light on our capacity for progress. I’m sure that a cursory look at history will provide you with the numerous examples of humanity’s progress.

    Your question is a misleading question because it presupposes that “good” has a property. While “good” is a ‘good enough’ linguistic placeholder for what one thinks is a worthy pursuit, it nevertheless is meaningless. See G.E. Moore’s open question. Which is why in the blog I shift to well-being rather than excavating the question of “what is good.” I use the term “good” simply because most people know what I’m getting at.

    Lastly, I do not contend that morality is illusory. I do not believe anything is illusory (or arbitrary) if I drink and drive, kill a family of three on my way home, bringing misery to countless lives. There is objective imperative that I have defended that most Christians will never understand because it threatens their worldview. Why? Because without god, I can demonstrate the misery I caused will create a net negative contribution by causing much harm by my actions by drinking and driving. I don’t need Social Darwin or evolutionary ethics to defend this claim.

    Probably the most disheartening rebuttal that the Christian incessantly states is: but why care about killing the family of three? What obligation do you have? You can do whatever you want? This is where I stop the conversation and walk away shaking my head. I will thus continue to live contently with obligations, prohibitions and values while ferociously defending them through what can be known empirically rather than with sorcery. There is an ontology to secular morals, and it can reason that killing a family of three is wrong and why it is wrong.

    I didn’t get to your last points because I had to go to the bathroom really bad, #2.

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  4. Wes Fornes says:

    I agree with most of your sentiments. You make some really valid points. I’m curious about your statement concerning your personal belief. You say: “I find myself in the subjective / consequentialist camp. I agree that there is a consensus of things we aught to do, but this is due to a shared sense of empathy and understanding the consequences of our actions.”
    So my question is this: Why can’t actions possess a subjective and consequential reality and have an objective moral standard?

    I feel that I can advance this moral imperative: I have an objective moral obligation to not steal from Starbucks. Maybe just to address potential annoying rebuttals I would add: I don’t steal from Starbucks, unless lives depended on it. Here is why it can be known objectively:

    (1) There is a physical relationship (system) I have with property owners and managers that involves an expectation that I will pay for any good I want to leave the store with. This can be objectively known.

    (2) If I choose to steal something there will be several objective indicators that my actions are wrong: (1) my brain (amygdala) will overflow with panic stimuli making the situation, perhaps thrilling, but definitely signal a reality of angst. (2) The consequence of arrest and incarceration would be a major setback to my reputation which is something that most people deeply value. Furthermore, if I get away with it, I run the risk of cultivating a life that longs for the rush of thievery. It doesn’t take a much to realize that a life of connivery will not be a life that maximizes well-being. I will have more friends and deeper relationships if I employ honesty over-and-against dishonesty.

    (3) The moral pretext is solidified: It is objectively wrong for me to steal from Starbucks [if no lives depended on me doing so] because the demonstrable consequences ensure that I my act of thievery makes no net contribution to society and will in fact will procure harm in my life.

    This conclusion is not arbitrary nor my opinion. All we have to do is visit a prison and ask the question: was it worth it?

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  5. iceknight366 says:

    “My focus is less on evolutionary theory and more on the reality of physical relationships (systems) that we have no choice to be caught in. This is why I am not sure why you make the comment of me saying that moral value is arbitrary. The anger that rises in me when I see someone being manipulated or the feeling of disgust I feel when I see someone being exploited is not arbitrary. [Just like the sentiments explained in my tiger analogy]”

    It seems to me that, ontologically speaking, surely they are. They don’t’ feel like they are, but on a atheistic worldview it’s difficult to see how they couldn’t be other than arbitrary. And notice that this argument doesn’t ride on the term “survival value”. You could interchange that with any term you want. You could put, “prudential”, “human flourishing”, “nurturing”, “genetically advantages” etc… Why think that any of those should be equated to “moral value/duty”? It seems to me that such a position is just assumed without justification. And should an argument be made via intuition, as I stated, I certainly don’t share such an intuition! So it seems to me that neither point 1 nor 2 were addressed. Now, perhaps this is due to confusion as you cautioned, but I’m not really sure how to address such confusion as it didn’t seem evident to me where you thought the confusion lied. Perhaps it will be fleshed out later!

    “Again, I can defend objective morality without mentioning evolution. I am not sure why you – much like William Lane Craig – love to take the debate down this path? I developed my thesis from the position of physical systems without any need or contingency of survival or evolutionary ethics.”

    As I stated in the previous paragraph, nothing about these arguments depends upon the naturalist taking an evolutionary system of moral development. All they are dependent upon is a naturalist interpretation of moral development. Now, it does seem to me that evolution is the only game in town when it comes to moral development for the Naturalist! Nevertheless, the argument isn’t dependent on that. With this in mind perhaps you would like to take another crack at addressing this point.

    “While this is the wrong question to ask, I will answer the question with an answer [empirically] which will give the best approximation for understanding “why think these acts are morally good?” while the Christian will depend on a divine commander in the sky that promotes relative ethics. I’m still waiting for God to provide The Answer to whether homosexuality is right or wrong. Like you have heard me say, the Holy Spirit speaks differently to most churches in Mississippi compared to the New England states with a majority thinking more progressively. Honestly, I’m not interested in The Truth because there is no Truth. What we do have are approximations that shed light on our capacity for progress. I’m sure that a cursory look at history will provide you with the numerous examples of humanity’s progress.”

    What about God’s commands are relative? Surely you don’t mean to rehash the Euthyphro dilemma! For that’s been answered emphatically by philosophers or religion for decades. But notice how even if true, doesn’t answer the objections that have thus been raised. That would simply put the theist in the same boat as the atheist – granted it seems to me the atheist’s boat would still be worse off. But I’m terribly confused at this claim that there is no Truth. Surely, taken post modernly your claim is self-refuting. But if we grant a more generous approach (maybe you mean in regards to religion and/or morality), surely that would lead to moral relativism and the view that killing the Jews, Gypsies and Homosexuals is no more morally significant than preferring vanilla over chocolate. We may be a personal distaste of such actions, but that’s all it is. And if that’s the price tag for atheism, I don’t think anyone should be willing to pay.

    “I use the term “good” simply because most people know what I’m getting at.” I think most people think by “good” you think “moral good”! But it’s then it seems you pull a little switcharoo and define it as “well-being”. This was my first objection, there is no justification for doing so. It seems to just be presupposed and that’s it.

    “Lastly, I do not contend that morality is illusory. I do not believe anything is illusory (or arbitrary) if I drink and drive, kill a family of three on my way home, bringing misery to countless lives. There is objective imperative that I have defended that most Christians will never understand because it threatens their worldview. Why? Because without god, I can demonstrate the misery I caused will create a net negative contribution by causing much harm by my actions by drinking and driving. I don’t need Social Darwin or evolutionary ethics to defend this claim.”

    This in no way threatens a Christian worldview. Why? Because this “net negative contribution” hasn’t been shown to be “morally good”, just assumed to be morally good. In addition, it hasn’t been shown that there is any moral obligation or duty. Why shouldn’t you drink and drive and kill a family of three? Because it creates a net negative contribution? Why should you care about creating a net negative contribution? Who, or what, obligates me to care about the net negative contribution? Because it’s bad for society? Same question. In addition, maybe for your personal taste in society. But what if someone has a different taste? Don’t you see? Everything is up for grabs. This is something even Jeffrey Dahmer understood.

    “If it all happens naturalistically, what’s the need for a God? Can’t I set my own rules? Who owns me? I own myself.”
    -Jeffrey Dahmer (Popular sexual predator and cannibal) The Monster Within, A&E Biography (1996)

    So in conclusion I must contend that neither point was addressed. I look forward to your response!

    “It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [wife-beating, child abuse] to be evil than it believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot know or reasonably believe any of these things to be evil…I firmly believe that this is bedrock and right and that anyone who does not believe it cannot have probed deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.”
    -Kai Nielsen (Atheist philosopher at Concordia university and professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Calgary) Ethics Without God (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1990), pp. 10-11

    “The existentialist, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that ‘the good’ exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men.”
    -Jean-Paul Sartre (French atheist existentialist philosopher 1905-1980) Existentialism Is a Humanism (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007), p.28, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm)

    “This need for explanation in moral theory cannot be overemphasized. . . . One of the things we want our moral theory to help us to understand is how there can even be a moral realm, and what sort of objective status it has.”
    -Shelly Kagan, (Atheist Professor of Social Thought and Ethics The Limits of Morality (Oxford: Clarendon: 1989), p. 13.

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