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Child Rape in a Materialist World

Here are the facts concerning the Roman Polanski case:  Polanski gave a Quaalude to a 13 year-old child; instructed her to get naked and enter a Jacuzzi; refused to take her home when she asked; performed oral sex on her as she asked him to stop; raped her (no, not the “statutory” kind, the “forcible” kind); and sodomized her.  In a plea bargain Polanski pled to unlawful sex with a minor.

As is common knowledge, Polanski has his defenders because he has made some terrific movies.  For example, critic Tom Shales says:  “There is, apparently, more to this crime than it would seem, and it may sound like a hollow defense, but in Hollywood I am not sure a 13-year-old is really a 13-year-old.”

Here’s today’s question:  “Is it wrong in all times and at all places (even Hollywood) for a 44 year-old man to drug, rape and sodomize a 13 year-old girl?”

For our materialist friends who answer “yes” to the question (as I hope you will), I have a follow-up question:  “How can you know that you are right and Polanski’s defenders are wrong?”

 UPDATE:

At first the materialists dodged my second (and much more important) question.  But then a brave soul who calls himself “camanintx” took up for the materialists the gauntlet I had thrown down, and we had the following exchange:

 

Barry:  How can you know that you are right and Polanski’s defenders are wrong?”

 

camanintx:  Because the society in which I and Polanski (at the time) live in define it as such. Had Polanski lived in 6th century Arabia, he probably would have been treated differently, no?

 

Barry:   Let’s assume for the sake of argument that drugging, raping and sodomizing a young girl was considered moral behavior in Arabia between the years 501 and 600 AD [I by no means concede that, but will accept it arguendo].  On the basis of your response, camanintx, I assume you would say that the fact that it was considered moral behavior in the society in which it occurred, is in fact determinative of the morality of the behavior, and therefore if Polanski had done what he did in that place and time it would have been moral. Is that what you are saying?

 camanintx:  Since morality is a subjective term, yes, that is exactly what I am saying.

 Thank you, camanintx, for that enlightening exchange.  Nietzsche would have been very proud of you for not flinching away from the nihilistic conclusions compelled by your premises.  You have truly gone “beyond good and evil.”  Roman Polanski was not immoral, must unlucky.  Cruel fate dictated that by the merest whim of fickle chance he happened to live in a society that, for whatever reason, condemns drugging, raping and sodomizing young girls.  If he had lived in a different society, what he did would not have been wrong.  Fortunately for the rest of us, your views remain in the minority (at least for now), and for that reason moral progress remains possible. 

 I invite our readers to evaluate camanintx’s views in light of our own very recent history in this country.  I grew up in the 1960’s in a state of the old Confederacy, and as I was growing up I heard about the condition of black people in earlier times.  Even as late as 1955, it was taken for granted in the southern United States that black people are inferior to white people and therefore have no claim to equal rights under the law.  They were turned away from the polls, made to sit in the back of public busses, and segregated into inferior schools, among a host of other indignities too numerous to catalogue here.  Now, the majority of the people in the South at the time considered this state of affairs to be altogether moral. 

 Think about that.  Under camanintx’s view the “is” of a society defines the “ought” of that society.  I assume camanintx is not a racist and that he personally believes that the conditions under which black people were forced to live in say, 1955 Alabama, were intolerable.  But if he had lived in Alabama in 1955 on what grounds could he have pressed for a change to the status quo?  He would have been in a quandary, because his premises compel him to affirm – as he did in response to my query – that the present state of affairs for a society DEFINES morality in that society. 

 Therefore, according to camanintx, if he had lived in Alabama in 1955, his logic would have compelled him to affirm that racial hatred and intolerance is fine and dandy, morally speaking.  The only thing he could have said is, “While I cannot say racial hatred and intolerance is in any sense “immoral,” I personally do not prefer it, and therefore we should change our laws and behavior to eliminate those blights on our land.”  To which, the all-too-easy response from a southern racist would have been:  “I prefer the status quo, and who is to say that your personal preference is better than mine.”  At this point camanintx would have been struck silent, because there is no answer to the southern racist’s rejoinder. 

 Which brings us back full circle to Roman Polanski.  Has anyone considered the irony of the materialists’ defense of Polanski’s actions?  Both of Polanski’s parents were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps.  His mother died at Auschwitz.  Never let us forget that the Nazis came to power in a fair election, and the people of Germany never revolted against their polices.  The “final solution” was perfectly lawful in the sense that it did not violate the internal laws of the nation in which it occurred.  Therefore, camanintx’s logic compels the conclusion that the “is” of the final solution defined the “ought” of the matter, and Polanski’s mother’s death at the hands of the Nazis was in no sense “immoral.”  The irony is that Polanski’s defenders are bringing to bear the same moral relativism that led to the death of Polanski’s mother.

 Sadly, I believe we are losing this battle.  Views like camanintx’s would have been almost literally unthinkable 30 or even 20 years ago.  Now they are commonplace.  How long before they are the majority?  The other day I saw a bumper sticker:  “So many Christians, so few lions.”  I am afraid; for myself, yes, but even more so for my children and grandchildren, whom, I fear, will grow up in a society where every last vestige of the Judeo-Christian ethic will have been jettisoned from our institutions.  That bumper sticker was unthinkable 30 years ago.  What will be “thinkable” 30 years hence that is unthinkable now?  We are going to find out, aren’t we?

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252 Responses to Child Rape in a Materialist World

  1. Even if the legal age of consent was 13, rape is still rape and a violation of the victim’s right to liberty. I don’t see how anyone could defend Polanski of the young woman was 20, never mind 13!

  2. This blog seems to have an obsession with asking the same question over and over, just phrased differently.

    How many times can you ask an atheist “where do you get your ethical guidelines if you have no ultimate moral framework (ie the Abrahamic god)to hang them on??” before you get tired of it and move on.

    BGOG is no longer with us. Everyone who comes to UD does so voluntarily. If you don’t like the subject of a post, don’t read it. Go to another site that has posts more to your liking. It is rude for a dinner guest to tell his host that the food is odious. It is just as rude to come into UD’s house and tell the posters their posts are unworthy for discussion. You can criticize the merits of the post to your heart’s content; that is valid argument. But you may not call into question the validity of posting on a particular subject. UD’s moderation policy is amended as follows: “Comments that do not attempt to add to a discussion but instead condemn the entire discussion (examples: “You post on this subject too often.” or “What does this have to do with science?”) will be deleted, and the commenter is subject to being placed in the moderation queue or banned.

  3. BGOG, sorry to see you go but why couldn’t you just answer the question?

    Nobody was asking you to explain or justify your answer.

  4. I hope we can all agree to “yes” as well.
    How can any of us know we’re right? What causes us all to come to that conclusion? Here is a list of things that my brain runs through which leads me to say “whoa, the dude was way wrong”

    1. US laws are very clear on this. He broke laws. I think it’s sick how people are defending him and wanting to let him off the hook.

    2. Empathy. I have a daughter, a mother, a wife and a sister, etc. Something like this would have ruined their lives, so it’s easy to assume this made the 13 year old’s life very hard. (not to mention how her parents must have felt)

    3. Logic. His actions had negative consequences toward himself and a non-developed human. (a child)

  5. Well, since StephenB tells me I am a materialist (Thanks, Steve, for liberating me!), allow me to answer.
    As Todd said, it is demonstrably wrong because, by acting without consent, he violated her liberty. It is made worse by the fact that the girl was so young. But the wrong stands regardless of the persons age.

    As a member of civil society, I have no problem at all with Polanski being prosecuted according to the law. His status as a gifted movie director should not exempt him from getting the same exact punishment as Warren Jeffs.

  6. 6

    BGOG (now shown the door): The obsession is not with us but with the materialists who are perfectly serious in their moral outrage and indignation, though not at pedophilia or sexual slavery it seems, but at challenges to Darwinism, abortion, homosexuality, etc. Such outrage, however, begs a justification. People have no right be outraged over matters of taste, as in, “Oh, you like Camembert but that’s really gross; discriminating cheese-lovers prefer Gorgonzola.” Thus when Dawkins goes on about how gentle a soul he is and that it’s morally preferable to be good without God holding a gun to our heads, he has still not provided a justification for how he decides moral questions. Do such decisions derive from our evolutionary programming in our hunter gatherer pasts? What’s the evidence there? Who knows what our ancestors really thought and did? Is morality simply something we make up? Is it an illusion, as E. O. Wilson claims, fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate? If so, why not cheer Polanski on when he has the wisdom to see through the illusion and sample the choice flesh of a 13-year old?

  7. Dr. Dembski:

    he obsession is not with us but with the materialists who are perfectly serious in their moral outrage and indignation, though not at pedophilia or sexual slavery it seems

    I suppose now that this will be my coda, but, say what?

    I have followed the ongoing discussion, spread now over 4 blog posts, and I never saw any of the materialists supporting sexual slavery or pedophilia (which wasn’t brought up until now). There presumed support for sexual slavery was a position imputed to them by Barry because he didn’t accept the answer they provided because it wasn’t one of the rather limited set of options provided with the original question.

  8. Lets say I’m a atheist materialist that favors property rights. No god, I just like my stuff. The first and foremost property is one’s own body. Violations to that right (and particularly minors who are less able to defend their right) should be prosecuted.

    I suppose this blog argues all legal codes ever evolved from the Old Testament? You should really take a look at Editor: SNIP. your warped interpretation of the Old Testament is not the subject of this post.

  9. I have a daughter, and plenty of instincts to protect her, I also like living in communities where I feel that I and my family are safe (it would be a bad survival tactic to do otherwise). I wouldn’t want someone to force themselves on my daughter, and thanks to an ability to feel empathy I don’t want to see that happen to anyone else.

    The result is a belief that it is wrong for people to force sexual acts on unwilling participants.

    Given that the Bible has this piece of advice . . . Editors: Your warped interpretation of the Bible is not the subject of this post.

  10. Quaggy,

    and I never saw any of the materialists supporting sexual slavery or pedophilia

    From Barry,

    For example, critic Tom Shales says: “There is, apparently, more to this crime than it would seem, and it may sound like a hollow defense, but in Hollywood I am not sure a 13-year-old is really a 13-year-old.”

    So basically just leave it in the malleable, subjective gray area right? Avoid taking an absolute stance to maintain the image of being “moderate” at the cost of leaving the atrocity at hand up in the air. That couldn’t possibly be considered defending or supporting these acts could it?

    I believe Dr. Dembski was referring to the logically conclusive consequences of those who adopt the materialist mindset in general, including those who acknowledge and exercise moral relativity to extremes in order to remain justified within their own set ever-changing, superficially-defined, and often times popularity-based moral standards.

    Take it from Tom Shales or Whoopy Goldberg on that one.

  11. 11

    quaggy, you don’t seem to understand the question, so I will explain it to you one more time. The issue is NOT whether materialist defend the rape of 13 year-old girls. As I have shown, some of them do and some of them do not. The issue is this: For the materialist that does not defend the rape of 13 year old girls, on what GROUNDS do you oppose it? Do you oppose it on grounds of personal preference? [see Dr. Dembski's post above.] Or do you appeal to a moral order outside yourself? If the latter, what is the basis of that moral order? This last question is the real issue.

  12. And what is the biblical view of this .

    Editor’s note: We will not allow you to change the subject toward your warped interpretation of scripture. If you have a comment germane to the post, by all means submit it. Do not attempt to change the subject.

  13. I think atheists and theists are pretty much in the same boat here. SNIP. “I know you are but what am I” arguments are not germane. If you have any response to the actual question posed by the post, please submit it.

  14. Monastyrski,

    There is a difference between acknowledging absolute moral standards exist and knowing what those standards are.

  15. Monastyrski,

    The standards don’t evolve.

    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/aug.....ition2.htm

    Indeed, if they did, you couldn’t say that anything done in the past can be judged unless you use the same standard. How can you overtake Jones if you’re walking in the opposite direction? If there is not at the core an unchanging morality then there can be no progress, only change, for progress has to have an unchanging element, otherwise there can be no progression, only change. If an acorn turns into an oak that is progress, if it turns into a beech that is mere change. If your standards do not stay static, you cannot judge anything that used a different standard.

  16. BarryA:

    The issue is NOT whether materialist defend the rape of 13 year-old girls. As I have shown, some of them do and some of them do not.

    I assume that you are referring to the quote by Tom Shales personal attack on editors deleted. One more quaggy, and you will be outa here.

    For the materialist that does not defend the rape of 13 year old girls, on what GROUNDS do you oppose it?

    I already answered that question. I oppose it on the grounds that it is a clear violation of the girl’s liberty, exacerbated by the fact that she was of an age where she was incapable of making rational decisions regarding liberty.

    Or do you appeal to a moral order outside yourself? If the latter, what is the basis of that moral order? This last question is the real issue.

    Well, I answered that also, although I was way too parsimonious in my answer. As a deist, I tend to follow the example of the great deist, Enlightenment thinkers that preceded me. So long as an individual or group of individuals act in accord to their conscience and don’t impede the liberty of any other individual or group of individuals (call it a tacitly cooperative), civil society works.

    I will certainly grant that organized religion has played a significant role in the inculcation of these rules of civil society (even while often erring on the side of restricting individual liberty). As a deist, I believe that they were basically derived, over history, through individual’s mostly unsuccessful (and occasionally successful) attempts to live in concert with each other. It is a strictly utlitarian view. I do not accept that these rules were handed down by any supreme being. Indeed, SNIP, I do not find organized religion or its written guides in any way uniquely authoritative.

  17. Here’s today’s question: “Is it wrong in all times and at all places (even Hollywood) for a 44 year-old man to drug, rape and sodomize a 13 year-old girl?”

    I struggle to think of extenuating circumstances. I guess it depends on what happens if he doesn’t. Imagine a scenario if an evil tyrant will nuke New York if doesn’t.

    “How can you know that you are right and Polanski’s defenders are wrong?”

    At the risk of following BGOG, this is essentially the same question you have asked many times before. I am very surprised at William Dembski’s comment #5. He must be aware that there is a strong and respectable philosophical tradition which justifies ethics on purely materialist principles – Hume is probably the most famous exponent. All sides in this debate (the fundamental grounds for morality) find it very difficult to articulate their positions – even professional philosophers. It has been the subject of thousands of learned papers and hundreds of learned books and still there is no agreement.

    In practice we cope by appealing to common grounds such as fairness and compassion. If we tried to solve ethical problems by agreeing the fundamentals of morality then no ethical disputes would ever get settled. To expect scientists such as Dawkins to give philosophical underpinnings for their statements about right and wrong is unreasonable. I accept that Polanksi did wrong. It is interesting to ask what is mean’t by this and what further justification might be required. But that is an academic debate.

  18. quaggy,

    “Indeed, as hdx demonstrated in his now purged post, I do not find organized religion or its written guides in any way uniquely authoritative.”

    Of course a Deist wouldn’t, because you reject a personal God, but, for those who don’t, it is obviously authoritative, even when it claims that there is such a thing as general revelation regarding morality, your conscience, and the fact that you have guilt when you violate them.

    To everyone else:

    I would really like to hear the answer to Barry’s question without the sideshow “Well how do you know the Bible is right?” change of subject. Let’s keep the subject on track. I will just start deleting posts that don’t stay on topic. I won’t edit them, I will delete them wholesale. So stay on topic please.

  19. I am a follower of Yeshua, and a libertarian.

    It seems some of my fellow brothers in the faith don’t seem to grasp the idea of liberty as pertaining to property rights, and you’ve done a good job of digging your own hole here.

    Her property was being violated and polluted. Her liberty was being revoked. She was being held prisoner.

    There is no need for morals to justify why this act against the girl is bad. Her personal right to liberty, and her personal property rights are enough. Now one could argue these rights come from God, sure, but everyone, materialist or otherwise knows that what is theirs, is theirs and others do not have a right to it. And that is enough. Morality is not necessary in this instance for the rape of this girl to be wrong.

    Nice try Ipod, but on what grounds do you contend her property rights should be respected? Is it merely your personal preference that property rights should be respected? Or do you appeal to a code [the source of the code is not material for the moment] that transcends your personal preferences that says “property rights should be respected”?

  20. Todd,

    There is a difference between acknowledging absolute moral standards exist and knowing what those standards are.

    But if you don’t know what they are, how do you decide what’s right?

    My answer is that most people have a natural moral compass that helps them decide, and there seems to be considerable overlap between the compasses of different people from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds. Yet we also see historical trends, or cultural evolution, in moral standards. Mostly away from “might makes right”.

    According to you, this probably reflects a better understanding of the absolute objective standards, and that’s fine, but I happen to disagree.

  21. Monastyrski,

    “According to you, this probably reflects a better understanding of the absolute objective standards, and that’s fine, but I happen to disagree.”

    Of course it does. How can you call something “better” unless you have a fixed ideal of what is “best”?

  22. SNIP. Quaggy ignored the warning above and is no longer with us.

  23. God’s iPod,

    “Her personal right to liberty, and her personal property rights are enough.”

    Without invoking morality, can you say that rights “shouldn’t” be violated?

  24. SNIP. Todd, a guest on this site, attacked and insulted his host. He is no longer with us. Really people, how many of you are going to be banned before you figure out that the editors will not allow personal attacks or changing the subject of this post? Is the point that difficult to grasp?

  25. Quaggy,

    Who determines the girl’s liberty? Why should she have it?

    I don’t trust my conscience, therefore I’ll use my liberty to kill whom I’d like. Show I’m wrong and you’re right.

  26. Brent,

    A right to liberty is derived from the axiom “I own me” (as it applies to human interaction).

    What makes something an “axiom”? Your personal preference?

  27. SNIP. Long-time poster God’s iPod is no longer with us.

  28. todd,

    “I own me” is in the indicative mood, how can that become the imperative mood to “I should have rights”? How do you get an ought from an is?

  29. May I remind you that Mohamed SNIP. As I indicated in my post, I know you would like to change the subject away from your own ethically impoverished wouldview, but this post is not about Muhammad. Do try to keep up Kyrilluk.

  30. I’m done with this thread, seeing as the editors delete entirely unoffensive and relevant portions of many posts.

    Editors: There you have it folks. Monastyrski was unable to defend his worldview. Instead, when confronted with the poverty of his ethic, he rightly perceived that his only chance to win the argument was to change the subject of the argument to something other than the fact that his ethic rests on nothingness. When the editors refused to allow him that option, he took his ball and went home. Typical.

  31. God’s iPOD,

    If you want to attack materialists, there’s better fodder for the fire than this example. I suggest you just delete this entire thread and pretend it never happened, it makes us look like uneducated fools.

    Some Christians are uneducated, that doesn’t mean that they are fools. And there is nothing wrong with challenging each other. But Barry’s topic is perfectly reasonable, if you don’t like, don’t post here. I don’t want to have to moderate you, but I will. If you cannot explain how “basic rights” “should” (morally) be protected without morality, don’t attack Barry for pointing that out; for it is a valid point. In the end you have to invoke morality to establish that people have rights, and that those rights shouldn’t be violated, there is no way around it. If this means that you’re being educated, then so be it. I wouldn’t be so quick to impugn a fellow believer because they ask hard questions; that, to me, is uncharitable, and makes you look worse than Barry’s response could ever do.

  32. —-Quaggy: “I already answered that question. I oppose it on the grounds that it is a clear violation of the girl’s liberty, exacerbated by the fact that she was of an age where she was incapable of making rational decisions regarding liberty.”

    You are begging the question. Why does the girl deserve to be free?

    [Or do you appeal to a moral order outside yourself? If the latter, what is the basis of that moral order? This last question is the real issue].

    —- Well, I answered that also, although I was way too parsimonious in my answer. As a deist, I tend to follow the example of the great deist, Enlightenment thinkers that preceded me. So long as an individual or group of individuals act in accord to their conscience and don’t impede the liberty of any other individual or group of individuals (call it a tacitly cooperative), civil society works.”

    You are begging the question again. How do you know whether the conscience in question is a well-formed conscience that can be trusted? Is there such a thing as a malformed conscience? According to what standard should it be formed? Does habitually bad behavior compromise its capacity to provide moral instruction? What kind of liberty are you talking about, moral liberty or license? Does the act of abortion compromise someone’s liberty?

    —-“I will certainly grant that organized religion has played a significant role in the inculcation of these rules of civil society (even while often erring on the side of restricting individual liberty). As a deist, I believe that they were basically derived, over history, through individual’s mostly unsuccessful (and occasionally successful) attempts to live in concert with each other. It is a strictly utlitarian view. I do not accept that these rules were handed down by any supreme being. Indeed, as hdx demonstrated in his now purged post, I do not find organized religion or its written guides in any way uniquely authoritative.”

    You have yet to define liberty. Is it the right to do anything you please provided you personally don’t believe you have hurt anyone? If so, then how do you know whether or not you have hurt someone? Would you not have to assume something about that person’s nature to make that calculation?

    Or, is freedom the right to do what you ought to do? That is a different kind of liberty. Which kind are you talking about?

    —-”So long as an individual or group of individuals act in accord to their conscience and don’t impede the liberty of any other individual or group of individuals (call it a tacitly cooperative), civil society works.”

    How do you know if a society is well ordered or if it is working?

  33. 33
    William J. Murray

    God’s Ipod said: “It’s not a “nice try” it’s a correct understanding of the most basic of rights, something you clearly fail to grasp.”

    What you are doing here is hiding the problem. If your answer to “what is your moral basis” is “it is a violation of a basic right”, then you’ve simply transferred the question to “what is your basis for stating what basic rights are?”

    You and others are not supplying the foundation from which one can make (or attempt to make) truthful statements about what is moral or, after you transfer the problem to that of having a right violated, what establishes a “right”?

    Where does the right to not having your personal property violated come from? Where does the right to liberty come from? If immoral behavior is defined as violations of basic rights, what gives us these basic rights?

    You think you’re answering the question, but you’re just saying “it’s immoral” using different terms, and not answering the question.

  34. Mr Arrington,

    My answers are “yes”,and axioms such as the Golden Rule and Todd’s “I own myself.”

    Thank you for asking.

  35. 35
    William J. Murray

    This is the basic incoherency of materialism; in so many areas, they take what theists or idealists have created, assume the benefits thereof (such as modern science, such as a common morality and ethic), and then dismiss with prejuduce the foundation upon which they stand, denying such a foundation is even required and arguing that “as long as it works” no such basis is necessary.

  36. SNIP, DNA_Jock is no longer with us.

  37. 4

    Fross @ 4 wrote:

    Here is a list of things that my brain runs through which leads me to say “whoa, the dude was way wrong”

    1. US laws are very clear on this. He broke laws. I think it’s sick how people are defending him and wanting to let him off the hook.

    Would it still be wrong if there were no laws against it or if there were laws explicitly for it?

    What if there were scientific bases for rape and pedophilia?

    2. Empathy. I have a daughter, a mother, a wife and a sister, etc. Something like this would have ruined their lives, so it’s easy to assume this made the 13 year old’s life very hard. (not to mention how her parents must have felt)

    Others have empathy for Polanski and his years of exile from the U.S. Why are they wrong?

    3. Logic. His actions had negative consequences toward himself and a non-developed human. (a child)

    Not according to the victim.

    Besides the Rind, Tromovich, & Bauserman meta-analysis (in additon to other work) shows that your view is the non-scientific one. Why do you persist in unscientific beliefs derived ultimately from superstitious mumbo-jumbo?

  38. I fully support the administrators and moderators for keeping this thread on track and sending to the showers all those who refuse to confront the issue. Sooner or later, deniers and equivocators must be brought face to face with their inability to debate the issue on its merits.

    BarryA’s question persists: “How can you know that you are right and Polanski’s defenders are wrong?”

  39. I have a daughter, and plenty of instincts to protect her, I also like living in communities where I feel that I and my family are safe (it would be a bad survival tactic to do otherwise). I wouldn’t want someone to force themselves on my daughter, and thanks to an ability to feel empathy I don’t want to see that happen to anyone else.

    The result is a belief that it is wrong for people to force sexual acts on unwilling participants.

    EDITOR: Yes, we understand that you believe Polanski was wrong. That is not the important question. You say Polanski was wrong. Shales says he was not wrong. You dodged the important question — the all powerful “sez who” question. Who are you to say that your position is right and Shales is wrong? Do you have an answer to that question?

  40. 40

    At 34 Nakashima writes: My answers are “yes”,and axioms such as the Golden Rule and Todd’s “I own myself.”

    The Golden Rule says “You should treat others the way you want to be treated.”

    Another way of saying “I own myself” is “I have a right not to be violated in my person and you should respect that right.”

    Now let us bring it back to the original question.

    You say that Polanski violated the following moral principles:

    1. Polanski would not want to be drugged and raped. Therefore, he should not drug and rape others.

    2. Polanski failed to respect the girl’s right not to be violated in her person.

    But Mr. Shales believes that Polanski did nothing wrong. Either your are right or he is right. You cannot both be right.

    Now it seems to me that you cannot appeal to your personal preferences to establish that you are right and that Shales is wrong for the simple reason that your personal preferences are entitled to no more deference that his.

    Do you say that you right and Shales is wrong? If so, do you contend that the two moral axioms to which you appeal transcend your personal preferences and are biinding in all times and places? If not, then on what basis do you say that you are right and Shales is wrong?

  41. #21

    How can you call something “better” unless you have a fixed ideal of what is “best”?

    Easily. Van Gogh was a better painter than I am. But I have no ideal of best painter.

    EDITOR: But you have an idea of the “good.” Otherwise, your statement would be meaningless.

  42. Mark Frank,

    Easily. Van Gogh was a better painter than I am. But I have no ideal of best painter.

    This, of course, is not true. And secondly, are you saying that your preference in painting is also a preference in morality?

  43. For our materialist friends who answer “yes” to the question (as I hope you will), I have a follow-up question: “How can you know that you are right and Polanski’s defenders are wrong?”

    Because the society in which I and Polanski (at the time) live in define it as such. Had Polanski lived in 6th century Arabia, he probably would have been treated differently, no?

    EDITOR: Let’s assume for the sake of argument that drugging, raping and sodomizing a young girl was considered moral behavior in Arabia between the years 501 and 600 AD [I by no means concede that, but will accept it arguendo]. On the basis of your response, camanintx, I assume you would say that the fact that it was considered moral behavior in the society in which it occurred, is in fact determinative of the morality of the behavior, and therefore if Polanski had done what he did in that place and time it would have been moral. Is that what you are saying?

  44. —-Nakashima: “My answers are “yes”,and axioms such as the Golden Rule and Todd’s “I own myself.”

    How do those noble but ambiguous standards help you when they come into conflict with one another? Does your composite formulation allow you to take a definitive position on abortion and/or pornography?

  45. “Is it wrong in all times and at all places (even Hollywood) for a 44 year-old man to drug, rape and sodomize a 13 year-old girl?”

    Of course, but what do Kevin Ogle, Jeff Hannah, John Bonine, Steven Haney, Roy Long and Marshal Seymour think about it?

  46. #42

    Mark Frank,

    Me:


    Van Gogh was a better painter than I am. But I have no ideal of best painter.

    Clive:

    This, of course, is not true.

    I am deeply flattered – but really I am not that good. Or are you referring to your knowledge of what is going on in my mind?

    And secondly, are you saying that your preference in painting is also a preference in morality?

    I didn’t realise you were confining the range to morally better. However, the same concept can easily be extended to moral matters. I think we would all agree that Clive Hayden is a better person than Pol Pot. But can you tell me your ideal of the best person?

  47. Mark,

    I think we would all agree that Clive Hayden is a better person than Pol Pot. But can you tell me your ideal of the best person?

    That’s easy. That would be Jesus. The bigger point here is that being closer to something, entails that the something be fixed. If the standard isn’t fixed, we cannot claim that something is closer to it. You can only get closer to the train station as long as it is not as mobile as the train. To say that something is better than something else means that it is in a proximity closer to that which is best.

  48. Clive Hayden, #21

    How can you call something “better” unless you have a fixed ideal of what is “best”?

    Why does one need an objective standard to measure relative properties?

  49. camanintx,

    The measuring stick cannot also be relative, otherwise you can do no measuring.

  50. EDITOR: Is that what you are saying?
    Since morality is a subjective term, yes, that is exactly what I am saying.

    Even if we assume for the sake of argument that drugging, raping and sodomizing a young girl Is wrong in all times and at all places (even Hollywood), just because something is universal does not make it objective.

  51. —-Mark Frank: “Easily. Van Gogh was a better painter than I am. But I have no ideal of best painter.”

    Surely you understand that “good,” “better,” and “best” are all measurements against the apprehended ideal that differentiates one from the other.

  52. Clive Hayden, #49

    camanintx,

    The measuring stick cannot also be relative, otherwise you can do no measuring.

    Would you need a ruler to tell me if one object is longer than another?

  53. —Clive Hayden: “The measuring stick cannot also be relative, otherwise you can do no measuring.”

    It is remarkable that postmodernist critics cannot perceive this.

  54. camanintx,

    Even if we assume for the sake of argument that drugging, raping and sodomizing a young girl Is wrong in all times and at all places (even Hollywood), just because something is universal does not make it objective.

    Sure it does. What other criteria would you need for objectivity than absolutism?

  55. How long is long, camanintix?

  56. Editors comment on my comment #41

    EDITOR: But you have an idea of the “good.” Otherwise, your statement would be meaningless.

    Barry I think in the past you have quoted Wittgenstein so I presume you are familiar with the Philosophical Investigations. Two of the many lessons to be drawn from that work are:

    * Words don’t have to refer to something to have meaning.

    * Most words and concepts don’t have a crisp set of criteria defining their meaning – but they are still meaningful. It is often better to look at them as tools in a sphere of human life.

    (It is a lot more subtle than that – but I am not about to write an essay)

    This applies to ethical language (although paradoxically I am not sure Wittgenstein would have agree). When we refer to an action as good or right we are blending an implied description of the facts of the case with an exhortation to others to do similar things and applause for the doer – plus other elements. To try and pick out the essential elements and say that is what makes it “good” is a hopeless exercise. But that doesn’t mean moral discourse is empty or purely subjective. Or that we cannot give reasons for saying that something is good. Or cannot argue the case for something being good. But don’t expect a definitive answer.

  57. camanintx,

    Now you’ve switched the objects to measuring themselves objectively, in which case they are the objective rulers by comparison, but that is not relativity by any means. Relativity is if there were no objective measurements at which to measure, by a ruler or by comparison to each other. Your bait and switch doesn’t work.

  58. angryoldfatman, #55

    How long is long, camanintix?

    Longer than short.

  59. 59
    William J. Murray

    Everything is relative and subject to equivocation until its your daughter.

    Materialists throw out the golden rule as if it is an objective standard. What if my golden rule is “might makes right”? What makes one golden rule more moral than the other?

  60. Clive Hayden, #54

    What other criteria would you need for objectivity than absolutism?

    If everyone in the world preferred blond hair and blue eyes over black hair and brown eyes, would you be arguing that an objective standard of beauty exists?

  61. camanintx,

    If everyone in the world preferred blond hair and blue eyes over black hair and brown eyes, would you be arguing that an objective standard of beauty exists?

    This is personal preference once again, which, leads me to ask, are you saying that morality is a matter of personal preference like preferring blonds?

  62. Clive Hayden, #57

    camanintx,

    Now you’ve switched the objects to measuring themselves objectively, in which case they are the objective rulers by comparison, but that is not relativity by any means. Relativity is if there were no objective measurements at which to measure, by a ruler or by comparison to each other. Your bait and switch doesn’t work.

    You do realize that the “inch” measured by your ruler is an arbitrary standard, don’t you? When I say that one object is 3 inches and another is 4 inches, I am still making relative measurements to an arbitrary standard.

  63. Clive Hayden, #61

    This is personal preference once again, which, leads me to ask, are you saying that morality is a matter of personal preference like preferring blonds?

    Since history is replete with examples of people who held different moral standards, I would think that was obvious.

  64. camanintx,

    You do realize that the “inch” measured by your ruler is an arbitrary standard, don’t you? When I say that one object is 3 inches and another is 4 inches, I am still making relative measurements to an arbitrary standard.

    The inch or metric system is arbitrarily defined, but the actual physical measurement that it is employing is objective.

  65. —-camanintx: “Would you need a ruler to tell me if one object is longer than another?”

    You are misapplying Clive’s metaphor of “measuring stick.”

    Do you not understand, for example, that only if perfect health is held up as the “measuring stick,” or “standard,” can we speak of varying degrees of health, such as poor, fair, good, better, and best.

    Similarly, if there is no objective standard of virtue, then there is no way to distinguish between heroicly good behavior and radically bad behavior.

  66. Clive Hayden, #64

    The inch or metric system is arbitrarily defined, but the actual physical measurement that it is employing is objective.

    Measuring anything involves making a relative comparison to an arbitrary standard. While a given property of an object may be objective, comparing it to another is a purely subjective action.

  67. StephenB, #65

    Similarly, if there is no objective standard of virtue, then there is no way to distinguish between heroicly good behavior and radically bad behavior.

    If we each define our own standard of virtue, wouldn’t we also be able to make our own determination of what is heroic and what is bad?

  68. camanintx,

    Since history is replete with examples of people who held different moral standards, I would think that was obvious.

    Okay, I see. I didn’t want to just assume that you held the position that morality and immorality is only a matter personal preference. So thanks for clarifying.

    I don’t agree, of course, that morality and immorality are personal preferences, and you don’t have history on your side either:

    The following illustrations of the Natural Law are collected from such sources as come readily to the hand of one who is not a professional historian. The list makes no pretence of completeness. It will be noticed that writers such as Locke and Hooker, who wrote within the Christian tradition, are quoted side by side with the New Testament. This would, of course, be absurd if I were trying to collect independent testimonies to the Tao. But (1) I am not trying to prove its validity by the argument from common consent. Its validity cannot be deduced. For those who do not perceive its rationality, even universal consent could not prove it. (2) The idea of collecting independent testimonies presupposes that ‘civilizations’ have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful. It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history. It is at least arguable that every civilization we find has been derived from another civilization and, in the last resort, from a single centre—’carried’ like an infectious disease or like the Apostolical succession.
    I. The Law of General Beneficence
    (a) NEGATIVE

    ‘I have not slain men.’ (Ancient Egyptian. From the Confession of the Righteous Soul, ‘Book of the Dead’, v. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics [= ERE], vol. v, p. 478)

    ‘Do not murder.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:13)

    ‘Terrify not men or God will terrify thee.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Precepts of Ptahhetep. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, p. i3}n)

    ‘In Nastrond (= Hell) I saw… murderers.’ (Old Norse. Volospá 38, 39)

    ‘I have not brought misery upon my fellows. I have not made the beginning of every day laborious in the sight of him who worked for me.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

    ‘I have not been grasping.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Ibid.) ‘Who meditates oppression, his dwelling is overturned.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

    ‘He who is cruel and calumnious has the character of a cat.’ (Hindu. Laws of Manu. Janet, Histoire de la Science Politique, vol. i, p. 6)

    ‘Slander not.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

    ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:16)

    ‘Utter not a word by which anyone could be wounded.’ (Hindu. Janet, p. 7)

    ‘Has he … driven an honest man from his family? broken up a well cemented clan?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins from incantation tablets. ERE v. 446)

    ‘I have not caused hunger. I have not caused weeping.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 478)

    ‘Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects of Confucius, trans. A. Waley, xv. 23; cf. xii. 2)

    ‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:17)

    ‘He whose heart is in the smallest degree set upon goodness will dislike no one.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, iv. 4)
    (b) POSITIVE

    ‘Nature urges that a man should wish human society to exist and should wish to enter it.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Officiis, i. iv)

    ‘By the fundamental Law of Nature Man [is] to be preserved as much as possible.’ (Locke, Treatises of Civil Govt. ii. 3)

    ‘When the people have multiplied, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Enrich them. Jan Ch’iu said, When one has enriched them, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Instruct them.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, xiii. 9)

    ‘Speak kindness … show good will.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

    ‘Men were brought into existence for the sake of men that they might do one another good.’ (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. vii)

    ‘Man is man’s delight.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 47)

    ‘He who is asked for alms should always give.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 7)

    ‘What good man regards any misfortune as no concern of his?’ (Roman. Juvenal xv. 140)

    ‘I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.’ (Roman. Terence, Heaut. Tim.)

    ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:18)

    ‘Love the stranger as thyself.’ (Ancient Jewish. Ibid. 33, 34)

    ‘Do to men what you wish men to do to you.’ (Christian. Matthew 7:12)
    2. The Law of Special Beneficence

    ‘It is upon the trunk that a gentleman works. When that is firmly set up, the Way grows. And surely proper behaviour to parents and elder brothers is the trunk of goodness.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 2)

    ‘Brothers shall fight and be each others’ bane.’ (Old Norse. Account of the Evil Age before the World’s end, Volospá 45)

    ‘Has he insulted his elder sister?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446)

    ‘You will see them take care of their kindred [and] the children of their friends … never reproaching them in the least.’ (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE v. 437)

    ‘Love thy wife studiously. Gladden her heart all thy life long.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481)

    ‘Nothing can ever change the claims of kinship for a right thinking man.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2600)

    ‘Did not Socrates love his own children, though he did so as a free man and as one not forgetting that the gods have the first claim on our friendship?’ (Greek, Epictetus, iii. 24)

    ‘Natural affection is a thing right and according to Nature.’ (Greek. Ibid. i. xi)

    ‘I ought not to be unfeeling like a statue but should fulfil both my natural and artificial relations, as a worshipper, a son, a brother, a father, and a citizen.’ (Greek. Ibid. 111. ii)

    ‘This first I rede thee: be blameless to thy kindred. Take no vengeance even though they do thee wrong.’ (Old Norse. Sigdrifumál, 22)

    ‘Is it only the sons of Atreus who love their wives? For every good man, who is right-minded, loves and cherishes his own.’ (Greek. Homer, Iliad, ix. 340)

    ‘The union and fellowship of men will be best preserved if each receives from us the more kindness in proportion as he is more closely connected with us.’ (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. xvi)

    ‘Part of us is claimed by our country, part by our parents, part by our friends.’ (Roman. Ibid. i. vii)

    ‘If a ruler … compassed the salvation of the whole state, surely you would call him Good? The Master said, It would no longer be a matter of “Good”. He would without doubt be a Divine Sage.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, vi. 28)

    ‘Has it escaped you that, in the eyes of gods and good men, your native land deserves from you more honour, worship, and reverence than your mother and father and all your ancestors? That you should give a softer answer to its anger than to a father’s anger? That if you cannot persuade it to alter its mind you must obey it in all quietness, whether it binds you or beats you or sends you to a war where you may get wounds or death?’ (Greek. Plato, Crito, 51, a, b)

    ‘If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith.’ (Christian. I Timothy 5:8)

    ‘Put them in mind to obey magistrates.’… ‘I exhort that prayers be made for kings and all that are in authority.’ (Christian. Titus 3:1 and I Timothy 2:1, 2)
    3. Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors

    ‘Your father is an image of the Lord of Creation, your mother an image of the Earth. For him who fails to honour them, every work of piety is in vain. This is the first duty.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 9)

    ‘Has he despised Father and Mother?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446)

    ‘I was a staff by my Father’s side … I went in and out at his command.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 481)

    ‘Honour thy Father and thy Mother.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:12)

    ‘To care for parents.’ (Greek. List of duties in Epictetus, in. vii)

    ‘Children, old men, the poor, and the sick, should be considered as the lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

    ‘Rise up before the hoary head and honour the old man.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:32)

    ‘I tended the old man, I gave him my staff.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481)

    ‘You will see them take care … of old men.’ (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE v. 437)

    ‘I have not taken away the oblations of the blessed dead.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

    ‘When proper respect towards the dead is shown at the end and continued after they are far away, the moral force (tê) of a people has reached its highest point.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 9)
    4. Duties to Children and Posterity

    ‘Children, the old, the poor, etc. should be considered as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

    ‘To marry and to beget children.’ (Greek. List of duties. Epictetus, in. vii)

    ‘Can you conceive an Epicurean commonwealth? . . . What will happen? Whence is the population to be kept up? Who will educate them? Who will be Director of Adolescents? Who will be Director of Physical Training? What will be taught?’ (Greek. Ibid.)

    ‘Nature produces a special love of offspring’ and ‘To live according to Nature is the supreme good.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv, and De Legibus, i. xxi)

    ‘The second of these achievements is no less glorious than the first; for while the first did good on one occasion, the second will continue to benefit the state for ever.’ (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. xxii)

    ‘Great reverence is owed to a child.’ (Roman. Juvenal, xiv. 47)

    ‘The Master said, Respect the young.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, ix. 22)

    ‘The killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people, is the saddest part… and we feel it very sorely.’ (Redskin. Account of the Battle of Wounded Knee. ERE v. 432)
    5. The Law of Justice
    (a) SEXUAL JUSTICE

    ‘Has he approached his neighbour’s wife?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446)

    ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:14)

    ‘I saw in Nastrond (= Hell)… beguilers of others’ wives.’ (Old Norse. Volospá 38, 39)
    (b) HONESTY

    ‘Has he drawn false boundaries?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446)

    ‘To wrong, to rob, to cause to be robbed.’ (Babylonian. Ibid.)

    ‘I have not stolen.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

    ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:15)

    ‘Choose loss rather than shameful gains.’ (Greek. Chilon Fr. 10. Diels)

    ‘Justice is the settled and permanent intention of rendering to each man his rights.’ (Roman. Justinian, Institutions, I. i)

    ‘If the native made a “find” of any kind (e.g., a honey tree) and marked it, it was thereafter safe for him, as far as his own tribesmen were concerned, no matter how long he left it.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 441)

    ‘The first point of justice is that none should do any mischief to another unless he has first been attacked by the other’s wrongdoing. The second is that a man should treat common property as common property, and private property as his own. There is no such thing as private property by nature, but things have become private either through prior occupation (as when men of old came into empty territory) or by conquest, or law, or agreement, or stipulation, or casting lots.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii)
    (c) JUSTICE IN COURT, &C.

    ‘Whoso takes no bribe … well pleasing is this to Samas.’ (Babylonian. ERE v. 445)

    ‘I have not traduced the slave to him who is set over him.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

    ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:16)

    ‘Regard him whom thou knowest like him whom thou knowest not.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 482)

    ‘Do no unrighteousness in judgement. You must not consider the fact that one party is poor nor the fact that the other is a great man.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:15)
    6. The Law of Good Faith and Veracity

    ‘A sacrifice is obliterated by a lie and the merit of alms by an act of fraud.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 6)

    ‘Whose mouth, full of lying, avails not before thee: thou burnest their utterance.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

    ‘With his mouth was he full of Yea, in his heart full of Nay? (Babylonian. ERE v. 446)

    ‘I have not spoken falsehood.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

    ‘I sought no trickery, nor swore false oaths.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2738)

    ‘The Master said, Be of unwavering good faith.’ (Ancient

    Chinese. Analects, viii. 13)

    ‘In Nastrond (= Hell) I saw the perjurers.’ (Old Norse. Volospá 39)

    ‘Hateful to me as are the gates of Hades is that man who says one thing, and hides another in his heart.’ (Greek. Homer. Iliad, ix. 312)

    ‘The foundation of justice is good faith.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i.vii)

    ‘[The gentleman] must learn to be faithful to his superiors and to keep promises.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 8)

    ‘Anything is better than treachery.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 124)
    H2>7. The Law of Mercy

    ‘The poor and the sick should be regarded as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

    ‘Whoso makes intercession for the weak, well pleasing is this to Samas.’ (Babylonian. ERE v. 445)

    ‘Has he failed to set a prisoner free?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446)

    ‘I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, a ferry boat to the boatless.’

    (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 446)

    ‘One should never strike a woman; not even with a flower.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

    ‘There, Thor, you got disgrace, when you beat women.’ (Old Norse. Hárbarthsljóth 38)

    ‘In the Dalebura tribe a woman, a cripple from birth, was carried about by the tribes-people in turn until her death at the age of sixty-six.’… ‘They never desert the sick.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 443)

    ‘You will see them take care of… widows, orphans, and old men, never reproaching them.’ (Redskin. ERE v. 439)

    ‘Nature confesses that she has given to the human race the tenderest hearts, by giving us the power to weep. This is the best part of us.’ (Roman. Juvenal, xv. 131)

    ‘They said that he had been the mildest and gentlest of the kings of the world.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Praise of the hero in Beowulf, 3180)

    ‘When thou cuttest down thine harvest… and hast forgot a sheaf… thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.’ (Ancient Jewish. Deuteronomy 24:19)
    8. The Law of Magnanimity
    (a)

    ‘There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii)

    ‘Men always knew that when force and injury was offered they might be defenders of themselves; they knew that howsoever men may seek their own commodity, yet if this were done with injury unto others it was not to be suffered, but by all men and by all good means to be withstood.’ (English. Hooker, Laws of Eccl. Polity, I. ix. 4)

    ‘To take no notice of a violent attack is to strengthen the heart of the enemy. Vigour is valiant, but cowardice is vile.’ (Ancient Egyptian. The Pharaoh Senusert III, cit. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, p. 161)

    ‘They came to the fields of joy, the fresh turf of the Fortunate Woods and the dwellings of the Blessed . . . here was the company of those who had suffered wounds fighting for their fatherland.’ (Roman. Virgil, Aeneid, vi. 638-9, 660)

    ‘Courage has got to be harder, heart the stouter, spirit the sterner, as our strength weakens. Here lies our lord, cut to pieces, out best man in the dust. If anyone thinks of leaving this battle, he can howl forever.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Maldon, 312)

    ‘Praise and imitate that man to whom, while life is pleasing, death is not grievous.’ (Stoic. Seneca, Ep. liv)

    ‘The Master said, Love learning and if attacked be ready to die for the Good Way.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, viii. 13)
    (b)

    ‘Death is to be chosen before slavery and base deeds.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i, xxiii)

    ‘Death is better for every man than life with shame.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2890)

    ‘Nature and Reason command that nothing uncomely, nothing effeminate, nothing lascivious be done or thought.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv)

    ‘We must not listen to those who advise us “being men to think human thoughts, and being mortal to think mortal thoughts,” but must put on immortality as much as is possible and strain every nerve to live according to that best part of us, which, being small in bulk, yet much more in its power and honour surpasses all else.’ (Ancient Greek. Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 1177 B)

    ‘The soul then ought to conduct the body, and the spirit of our minds the soul. This is therefore the first Law, whereby the highest power of the mind requireth obedience at the hands of all the rest.’ (Hooker, op. cit. i. viii. 6)

    ‘Let him not desire to die, let him not desire to live, let him wait for his time … let him patiently bear hard words, entirely abstaining from bodily pleasures.’ (Ancient Indian. Laws of Manu. ERE ii. 98)

    ‘He who is unmoved, who has restrained his senses … is said to be devoted. As a flame in a windless place that flickers not, so is the devoted.’ (Ancient Indian. Bhagavad gita. ERE ii 90)
    (c)

    ‘Is not the love of Wisdom a practice of death?’ (Ancient Greek. Plato, Phadeo, 81 A)

    ‘I know that I hung on the gallows for nine nights, wounded with the spear as a sacrifice to Odin, myself offered to Myself.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál, I. 10 in Corpus Poeticum Boreale; stanza 139 in Hildebrand’s Lieder der Älteren Edda. 1922)

    ‘Verily, verily I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it.’ (Christian. John 12:24,25)

    C. S. Lewis, Appendix to The Abolition of Man.

  69. SNIP. Riddick, both sides must stay on topic.

  70. Mr Arrington,

    Yes, I do beleive something close to this set of axioms is universally good for all humanity at all times. Tom Shales is wrong.

    Thank you for letting me say that.

    Then you agree that there is a moral code that transcends personal preferences or opinions. Good for you.

  71. Clive Hayden, #68

    C. S. Lewis, Appendix to The Abolition of Man.

    Other than showing that many people share some of the same philosophies, how does this list prove an objective standard?

  72. SNIP. Please stay on topic.

  73. —camanintx: “If we each define our own standard of virtue, wouldn’t we also be able to make our own determination of what is heroic and what is bad?”

    Of course. You make one determination, I make another, Mark makes another, and so on. So, by what standard, do you adjudicate all the differences between the various perceptions of morality and virtue? Don’t forget that someone’s definition of morality will be codified into law and everyone else must conform to it under the threat of state sanctioned punishment. How do you decide whose standard or moral code, among all those proposed, rates that privilege?

  74. —riddick @69: “C. S. Lewis again! Do you guys read anything else?

    —”Here’s a view you may not be familiar with, from Steve McVey’s blog————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–”(and on it goes).

    You just invested 878 words without even approaching the question that was being asked.

  75. StephenB, #73

    So, by what standard, do you adjudicate all the differences between the various perceptions of morality and virtue? Don’t forget that someone’s definition of morality will be codified into law and everyone else must conform to it under the threat of state sanctioned punishment. How do you decide whose standard or moral code, among all those proposed, rates that privilege?

    Isn’t that the whole purpose of society, to make decisions about what rules everyone should follow? If there were some objective standard that everyone agreed on, why would we need legislators to argue about what is right or wrong or courts to resolve these disputes?

  76. I think I agree with Nakashima and I would add that, in the absence of life on earth, it is not clear to me if morality would exist – this implies that ‘objective’ morality does not exist, at least in the sense of morality being some transcendent thing imposed on the universe, but it does not imply that in the absence of an imposed morality therefore ‘anything goes’.

    As I made clear earlier I see plenty of reasons to act in ways that you would regard as moral, but I do not see the need for a deistic father figure to have dictated them to me in order to perceive their value to me, my relatives, and the wider community.

    As to how I can absolutely ‘know’ that some things are wrong or right, well I don’t think any honest person can, at least in the widest sense of the word know – How do I know for sure that I’m not actually just a body plugged into the Matrix? Religion doesn’t help me with the issue of morality for the same reasons – if a godly voice announced something to humanity from the sky I would still be left wondering if in fact the alien invasion might have started. (but then perhaps I have watched to many episodes of Stargate)

    Having been educated in several religions I find many of their lessons morally valuable, but others rather dubious, at least with respect to the interpretations I was given. I have also been exposed to plenty of valuable secular morals, and come across some very dubious secular reasoning as well. I have found no way of ‘knowing’ which of these are objective or just the whim of a popular religious leader or philosopher.

    Was Polanski wrong? Yes, that is what my beliefs tell me.

  77. —-camanintx: “Other than showing that many people share some of the same philosophies, how does this list prove an objective standard?”

    Because it describes the objective laws of behavior appropriate to our human nature, which is also an objective reality.

  78. camanintx @ 58 wrote:

    angryoldfatman: How long is long, camanintix?

    Longer than short.

    Still doesn’t tell me how long long is. Completely useless for measurement, which the word Clyde used to make the analogy.

    I’m glad that you’ve implicitly confessed that there is no “real” good or evil, merely social conventions and personal preferences. It makes it much easier to accept the philosophy of “might makes right”, which is the only philosophy found in nature. Only the fit survive, and the survivors are the only ones who are fit. All others are eliminated. Adapt or die.

    If a 40-something year old man wants to rape, or even murder and dismember a child, there is nothing really and truly wrong with that, is there camanintix?

    There is only the brute force power of the state or some other group (parents, vigilantes, what-have-you) and/or his fear of that power that trumps his power over the child, correct?

  79. StephenB, #77

    —-camanintx: “Other than showing that many people share some of the same philosophies, how does this list prove an objective standard?”

    Because it describes the objective laws of behavior appropriate to our human nature, which is also an objective reality.

    Sorry, but saying it doesn’t make it so. This list fails to explain the multitudes of people who don’t share these standards or those who professed to but acted differently.

  80. angryoldfatman, #78

    If a 40-something year old man wants to rape, or even murder and dismember a child, there is nothing really and truly wrong with that, is there camanintix?

    I don’t know what society you live in but I certainly hope it is not mine.

  81. camanintx @ 80 wrote:

    I don’t know what society you live in but I certainly hope it is not mine.

    Why do you look to society for everything, camanintix? Can’t you think for yourself?

    You also avoided confirming or denying my statement, though you implied that it displeases you. Why? It is a perfectly natural, logical conclusion from the given premises, isn’t it?

  82. OK. The question of “objectivity” of an ethical code, or of it “transcending” our preferences is a good one. We should however, be careful not to confuse ontological objectivity (it really truly exists outside the human/natural realm) with a more “independent”-style objectivity, ie “it would be like that whatever we thought about it”.

    Now, if the question is “how do we say Polanski was objectively wrong outside our preferences?” one response is to take the second sense of “objective”. Now I’m not personally a Kantian, so apologies to scholars, but Kant’s categorical imperative, “always act so as to treat others not only as a means but also as an End” clearly and objectively (sense 2) puts Polanski in the wrong; in no way could he be interpreted as treating the girl as an End in herself. Note that this is NOT objective in the first sense; there is no “really truly” moral code that actually exists outside the material realm, its objectivity is in a more logical sense.

    Now the comeback may be “well what if I have a different imperative? How did Kant know he had The Objective Rule?” This is where it gets tough, but as I said, the objectivity is logical. Kant saw the categorical imperative as “transcendental”, ie it had to be accepted in order to be a rational agent at all. If one broke it, one would act irrationally at some point, and thus in a sense not be a person (for which, read “rational moral agent”) at all. Thus it follows that to be a functioning person, a rational moral agent at all, one has to follow the categorical imperative. Thus it is “objective” of our feelings on this or any matter.

    Now admittedly there is a lot of weird teleology going on here, but we do have an entirely materialistic yet objective and (most would say too) strict ethical code.

  83. #47

    So many comments so quickly. It is hard to keep track.

    Mark:


    I think we would all agree that Clive Hayden is a better person than Pol Pot. But can you tell me your ideal of the best person?

    Clive

    That’s easy. That would be Jesus.

    Jesus is just a name (and indeed that person is called different things in different languages). What are the characteristics of that person that make them ideal? And what standard are you comparing them to?

  84. Late to the party, I guess, but I wanted to say this: a skeptic may say that he or she does not see a moral order in the world today. I strongly suggest to the skeptic that the real issue is not the absence of a moral order in the world but, rather, the insistence on determining for oneself what is right and what is evil.

    My own feelings, as the parent of a 13-year-old girl, are that Polanski’s actions are unconscionable. Rape, whether of a 13-year-old or a 30-year-old is always wrong.

  85. —camanintx: “Isn’t that the whole purpose of society, to make decisions about what rules everyone should follow? If there were some objective standard that everyone agreed on, why would we need legislators to argue about what is right or wrong or courts to resolve these disputes?”

    No, society cannot validly make up laws proper to human behavior any more than it can make laws proper to music. On the contrary, courts and legislators are morally obliged to follow these laws. That is what a well-ordered society is all about. If societies make up their own moral code [secular abuse], or if they recognize it but refuse to follow it [religious abuse], its members will be at war with other nations and with each other, having refused to honor the one objective morality that would keep them at peace.

    One of the natural moral laws, for example, is the “inherent dignity of the human person.” One corollary to that law is that humans have a “natural” right to live and be free. A right that isn’t natural, is worthless, since all other kinds of rights can be taken away. That fact is not something that society decided upon or created; it was discovered as inherent in the natural moral law [a self-evident truth].

    Yet many refuse to honor that law, and some even deny its validity. That is one of the major causes of societal division. It is also why the United States is split on the subject of abortion. A large number of its citizens refuse to acknowledge the inherent dignity of the infants in the womb and their moral right to live. How strange it is to hear materialists speak of the Golden Rule even as they justify the slaughtering of the most helpless among us.

  86. —camanintx: “Sorry, but saying it doesn’t make it so [objectively of natural moral law]. This list fails to explain the multitudes of people who don’t share these standards or those who professed to but acted differently.”

    What’s to explain? Some prefer not to follow it because they prefer not to follow it. That doesn’t change the objective reality of human nature or the objective reality of the laws proper to human nature. Human nature is not, as some postmodern theorists would have it, “socially constructed.” That is a lot of nonsense. The hopes, fears, and passions that I have in common with you and all other humans was not arrived at through “symbolic interaction.” Those traits are part of our common human nature. Because we have a common human nature, there is an objective moral law that guides our actions in that context. We cannot logically contrive those laws any more than we can logically determine out nature.

  87. Mark,

    Jesus is just a name (and indeed that person is called different things in different languages). What are the characteristics of that person that make them ideal? And what standard are you comparing them to?

    Jesus is just a name and indeed that person….? Is Jesus a name or a person? I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. The standard of comparison is objective morality, without it, no comparisons can be made between people or ethical systems.

    http://books.google.com/books?.....38;f=false

  88. If moral codes were not develop through a combination of biological and social evolution, how do you explain the social order, a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct, that other primates follow? Where do they get their standards from?

    There are even less intelligent animals that have a sense of a simple yet somewhat effective, moral standards too.

    If these animals standards were designed by an intelligent agent, why is it they were designed with a much more privative set of standards? What purpose does it serve to design lower animals with little to no understanding of right and wrong?

    ~GIMI

  89. —-GIMI: “There are even less intelligent animals that have a sense of a simple yet somewhat effective, moral standards too.”

    In order to absorb an ethical standard and live by it, one must be capable of reflecting on his/her own behavior in a critical way. Animals are not moral creatures; they cannot grow in virtue nor can they reflect on their behavior. Equally important, they cannot pervert their own nature by morally descending into a lower life form. Only humans can do that.

  90. You seem to skip over the question concerning primates. Also, though much less intelligent animals may not be capable of reflecting they do have a very basic set of standards. If these standards are hardwired, why were they not wired with ones closer to ours if there is an objective set of morals?

    As for Primates, you can find papers on the social standards chimps and other primates live by. Your status in a tribe of primates is based on many things including a set of moral codes, playing fair, helping others, breaking up fights, caring for in need, and more. Still their standards are a simplified and reduced version of ours.

    So, if life on earth was designed, why were other primates not designed with the same set of standards as we have?

    ~GIMI

  91. —Mark Frank: “I think we would all agree that Clive Hayden is a better person than Pol Pot. But can you tell me your ideal of the best person?”

    Yes, but those of us who subscribe to objective moral standards have rational reasons for thinking so. If pressed, I could provide a multitude of examples explaining why Clive’s behavior meets the standard of a good person while Pol Pot’s behavior does not. On the other hand, you appear to have no standard with which to make that judgment. The whole idea of this thread was to ask materialists to provide a rational justification for saying things like you just said, rather than just saying them.

  92. 92

    Clive @87,

    That chapter from Lewis hits the nail on the head!

  93. Mr BillB (and GIMI),

    Yes, that is why I specified ‘humanity’ in my response. When the praying mantis bites the head off of her lover, I’m somewhat at a loss to answer whether she acted morally, or not. Similarly with a worker bee that stings and dies.

    But I do think that the axioms of a moral system such as I sketched apply to myself and the Pope and Hillel and Osama Bin Laden equally, because we all share so much DNA.

    Just as another case to discuss (Mr Arrington feel free to snip it if it is not germane in your view), I remember reading in the abridged version of the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition a description of the behavior of certain Plains Indian tribes. At least in certain seasons, they had to move continuously across the plains after the herds. Old people slowed them down. There came a point when carrying, travises, etc having been exhausted as options, the tribe had to accept that a particular elder was keeping them back and would soon force them out of touch with the herds. Such an old person was given a place to rest, food and water for a period, and the false assurance that the tribe would be back that way soon. The parting was tearful, the elder had been on the other side of the good-bye previously in their own life. They knew the score.

    I have often thought about this description. In particular, which actors were acting morally in these dramas, and how to map a universal morality or an objective morality onto their behavior.

  94. Barry,

    Excellent post! From all the comments here, I’d say you’ve provoked some thought.

    I liked it so much, I’ve done a post of my own in response. Have a look-see http://www.mirll.blogspot.com .

  95. Is it wrong in all times and at all places (even Hollywood) for a 44 year-old man to drug, rape and sodomize a 13 year-old girl?

    Yes.

    How can you know that you are right and Polanski’s defenders are wrong?

    I use my moral sense, same as you. I would elaborate, but I don’t want to be accused of “insulting the host” or “changing the subject”…

  96. —Jordan: “I use my moral sense, same as you. I would elaborate, but I don’t want to be accused of “insulting the host” or “changing the subject”…

    If your moral sense tells you that drugging, raping, and sodomizing a 13 year old girl is always and everywhere wrong, then your conscience has just informed you about an objective moral truth. Why do you hesitate to make the point explicit?

  97. If your moral sense tells you that drugging, raping, and sodomizing a 13 year old girl is always and everywhere wrong, then your conscience has just informed you about an objective moral truth. Why do you hesitate to make the point explicit?

    It wasn’t my intention to be vague about the existence of objective moral truth. I’m totally on board with that.

  98. Nakashima @93.

    The principles involved in the natural moral law are universal and objective, but that doesn’t mean that the optimum moral action is always easy to discern. I have a moral right to defend myself against a physical attack, for example, even, if necessary, to the point of taking the life of my attacker. On the other hand, if I feel the need to take such radical action, I cannot be certain in any objective sense that it is absolutely necessary. Indeed, I can err in one of two ways. I can either underestimate the danger and lose my own life, or overestimate the danger and take another life when less force might have have been sufficient.

    The element of subjectivity is often present in the application of the objective, universal, and unchanging natural moral law. That is why it is so important to acknowledge the law as a law, and not a product of evolution [or social construction], both of which would be subject to change. In the example above, I am guided by the principle that, normally, both myself and my attacker have a natural right to life. That prevents me from being recklessly homicidal. On the other hand, I also know that my attacker forfeits that natural right to life when he seeks to take my life.

    If, yet again, I know nothing of the natural moral law, or if I don’t think I am bound to it, I cannot be moral. I can respond in only one of two ways—kill without mercy–or die like a coward.

    Similarly, if I am a head of state, I may know that the objective moral law allows me to wage a just war if it necessary to defend my country. If I know nothing of the natural moral law, I am subject either to the error passivism, which means I will allow my enemies will overrun my people without resistance, or barbarism, which means I will commit unspeakable atrocities and attack without seeking a peaceful means of resolving the conflict. Or, even if I do have a good reason for fighting, I will do it in an unjust way, meaning I may produce evils graver than the evil to be eliminated.

    What it adds up to is this: Without objective morality and the natural moral law as a guide, all is hopeless: There is no wisdom, peace, prosperity, or freedom. Those who argue against it, however unwittingly, encourage ignorance, war, poverty, and tyranny.

  99. Mark Frank

    You asked (#46) for an ideal of the best person, and Clive (#47) immediately nominated Jesus. You then wrote:

    Jesus is just a name (and indeed that person is called different things in different languages). What are the characteristics of that person that make them ideal? And what standard are you comparing them to?

    I’ll keep this brief. If you are looking for a highly readable, scholarly and unsentimental account by a Christian of the life and person of Jesus Christ, then I would recommend Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883).

    If you want a thoroughgoing examination of each of the character traits that Christians have admired in Jesus, then you might like to try Charles Edward Jefferson’s The Character of Jesus (1925), which expounds upon no less than 23 character traits.

    For my own part, though, I would urge you to read (or probably re-read) the four Gospels first, from beginning to end, and see what impression you form of the character of Jesus.

  100. Barry Arrington

    I grew up in the 1960’s in a state of the old Confederacy… Now, the majority of the people in the South at the time considered this state of affairs to be altogether moral.

    I find it striking that someone raised in the south during the civil rights era could come to the conclusion that there is an objective basis for morality. Please explain how, if slavery is objectively wrong, could people accept its practice as moral for hundreds, if not thousands, of years?

  101. On the subject of how we can know what is right and wrong, I would suggest that readers have a look at two articles by Professor John Finnis in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, entitled Aquinas’ Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy and Natural Law Theories. The articles have important implications for the question of whether we can have knowledge of universal ethical norms, without making any assumptions about God.

    According to Finnis’ account of natural law ethics (based on his interpretation of Aquinas), our practical reasoning about what is good is founded on the reconition that certain goods, such as life and health, knowledge, and harmony with other people, are intrinsically desirable – not only for onself but for anyone else. (That does not mean that everyone actually desires these goods; rather, it means that any human being is capable of desiring them in their own right.) Thus the first principles of practical reasoning direct us to actions and dispositions that promote these intrinsic goods. It is important to understand that practical reason’s first principles are undeduced – which suffices to refute the common accusation that natural law ethics attempts to deduce or infer ought from is.

    Because “the first principles, and the goods (bona) to which they direct us, are transparent, so to speak, for the flesh-and-blood persons in whom they are and can be instantiated” (I’m quoting Finnis here), Aquinas regards the Golden Rule (love your neighbor as yourself) as nothing more than a re-description of his list of first principles (intrinsic goods), each directing us to goods that can be realized as much in others as in oneself. In other words, you should love your neighbor as yourself because what’s intrinsically good for you is also intrinsically good for your neighbor, and vice versa.

    Although Aquinas clearly taught that reason can give us certain knowledge that God exists, his account of how practical reason arrives at a knowledge of right and wrong makes no explicit assumptions about God whatsoever. In other words, we does not need to decide the question of whether God exists before we can reason about right and wrong. As I read Aquinas, we can still properly be said to know what is good and bad, even if we lack a belief in God.

    It does not follow, however, that our practical reasoning about right and wrong will be unimpaired if we assert at the outset of our ethical enquiry that God does not exist. Such an assertion could prove to be pernicious in two ways.

    First, an explicit assertion of atheism at the outset of our ethical enquiry may lead us to adopt a false philosophy (such as materialism) which has the absurd entailment that we are incapable of acting ethically, insofar as it denies the possibility of libertarian freedom (the power to act otherwise, in a given situation). Once we declare ourselves to be avowed materialists, ethics becomes a pointless enterprise, as the only liberty we have is to do what we want – but in the end, our wants are determined by circumstances beyond our control, which means we are no freer than the beasts.

    Second, if our ultimate good as human beings has anything to do with knowing and loving God, then atheism will necessarily stunt us in the pursuit of that end.

    I argued above that one can know what is right and wrong without having a belief in God. Does it follow that we can be good without God? No, for three reasons.

    First, we require God for our very continuation in existence, for we are frail, contingent creatures.

    Second, we cannot know what s right and wrong unless we can think straight in the first place. We have God to thank for our ability to do that.

    Finally, God is the metaphysical ground of our libertarian freedom. For if we were created by a blind, impersonal process (commonly abbreviated as RM + NS), then there is absolutely no reason at all why we should possess this kind of freedom. Libertarian freedom could only be bestowed on us by a Personal Being.

    So to sum up:

    (1) Can we know right from wrong without having a belief in God? Yes. That includes universal norms.

    (2) In practice, will we reason reliably about right and wrong if we assume at the outset that there is no God? Probably not.

    (3) Can a materialist reason consistently about right and wrong? No. Materialism precludes the very possibility of ethical action.

    (4) Can we be good without God? No. Without God, we would not exist, we would not be able to think straight and we would not be free.

  102. camanintx,

    Do you have a conscience? I assume you’ll answer yes.

    Now, have you ever come to a point in your life where you decided to change your behaviour, even ingrained habits, after some time of reflection and pondering them—realizing that what you had been doing up to that time wasn’t quite sitting right with your own standard or morales? I believe this is a safe question to ask, for I’m sure anyone who has any degree of maturity must have done so more than once.

    Now, this is obviously the answer to your question @100. People often do what they know is wrong. Wow! It’s the message of the Bible! And, when done on a level such as slavery—a society wide injustice that pervades the whole culture—it is that much more difficult to admit, let alone even to see due to a blinding numbness, that what is is wrong. Then, to actually make a stand and to do something about it, takes that much more strength, courage, and sacrifice—even unto death.

    So, that’s how “[people could] accept its practice as moral for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

  103. vjtorley @101: Very nice!

  104. I would also like to express my gratitude for vjtorley’s links @99. I am now reading, “The Character of Jesus,” by Charles Edward Jefferson. Splendid.

  105. 105

    camanintx,

    Please explain how, if slavery is objectively wrong, could people accept its practice as moral for hundreds, if not thousands, of years?

    Because people do wrong things, if there were no objective morality, you can’t really say that slavery is wrong. In acting as if it really is wrong, and that others “should” agree, you have to know that you have to assert this on firmer ground than your own personal and private preference.

  106. First, many thanks to Barry for hammering this topic again. Keep it coming.

    I am intrigued by the comments of “vjtorley” (#101). He wrote:

    “…our practical reasoning about what is good is founded on the reconition that certain goods, such as life and health, knowledge, and harmony with other people, are intrinsically desirable – not only for onself but for anyone else … It is important to understand that practical reason’s first principles are undeduced – which suffices to refute the common accusation that natural law ethics attempts to deduce or infer ought from is.”

    As I have wrestled with these ideas, I have come in my current understanding to the conclusion that there are two knowledge categories to consider when talking about human morality — ontological and epistemological.

    The ontological part deals with the “reality” or “being” of the moral law, while the epistemic part deals with “how we know” the moral law.

    Epistemic knowledge of right and wrong is known by all of us, because it is written on our hearts as described in Romans 1. The moral law, thus written on our hearts, means that we are without excuse before our creator and judge. This law is subjective (internal/conscience) and more-or-less common to all people across time and space. People disagree over the finer details in part because of the fallen nature, due to the Adamic fall.

    Ontological knowledge of right and wrong on the other hand is the real actual existence of the moral law, existing in the mind of God himself. God neither created this law nor is subject to it (Euthyphro’s dilemma). Indeed, God is perfect in every possible way and the moral law comes out of His perfect character.

    Now, here is the trick as I see it …

    If God does not exist, actual real (ontological) moral law cannot exist. This is plainly obvious I assume. Thus all we are left with in this case is the epistemic knowledge of morality, that is subjective and written on our fallen hearts.

    Thus epistemic knowledge in helpful to us all (is this natural law?) but is insufficient because our natures are fallen and in a state disrepair (we see thru a glass dimly). Therefore we need special revelation (the Bible) to attain the ontological grounding for moral knowledge.

    What I am trying to get at here is that it seems to me that epistemic knowledge, while attainable, subjective, and mostly right for those functioning properly, is ultimately insufficient AS A GROUNDING for morality. For the materialist, this is all they have. We all have a conscience but it is scarred by the fall, leaving us floating somewhat adrift in an stormy ocean.

    So back to vjtorley … I cannot see how the materialist can get from an “is” to an “ought” because ultimately in that worldview there is no ontological basis for morals at all. Humanity can only be left with subjective claims and pragmatic solutions.

    If someone wants to help me out here and clarify my thinking, I would appreaciate that.

  107. Clive:

    Because people do wrong things, if there were no objective morality, you can’t really say that slavery is wrong. In acting as if it really is wrong, and that others “should” agree, you have to know that you have to assert this on firmer ground than your own personal and private preference.

    I still don’t understand how you know objectively that slavery is morally wrong – or to put it another way: How do you know objectively that the Christians who supported slavery were wrong and that you are right?

  108. vjtorley, #101

    According to Finnis’ account of natural law ethics (based on his interpretation of Aquinas), our practical reasoning about what is good is founded on the reconition that certain goods, such as life and health, knowledge, and harmony with other people, are intrinsically desirable – not only for onself but for anyone else.

    Brent, #102

    Now, have you ever come to a point in your life where you decided to change your behaviour, even ingrained habits, after some time of reflection and pondering them—realizing that what you had been doing up to that time wasn’t quite sitting right with your own standard or morales?

    Nzer, #106

    Epistemic knowledge of right and wrong is known by all of us, because it is written on our hearts as described in Romans 1. The moral law, thus written on our hearts, means that we are without excuse before our creator and judge. This law is subjective (internal/conscience) and more-or-less common to all people across time and space. People disagree over the finer details in part because of the fallen nature, due to the Adamic fall.

    So we agree that, regardless of the ontological nature of morality, people can have differing opinions of what is right or wrong. The question then becomes how we determine whose personal opinion matches the objective moral truth, if one exists?
    Issues like murder, rape and slavery do not help us here because they are too universal so let’s look at a different topic like gambling. If half of a society says that gambling is immoral and the other half says it is just harmless recreation, how do we decide which is objectively true?
    Many people here have pointed to religious tomes as the source of this knowledge, but if religious belief itself is subjective, then wouldn’t one’s morality be subject to which religion they believe in?

  109. I wish Barry would respond to my comment #56. Underlying his whole argument is the assumption that good and bad are properties of people or actions. Therefore they are something that we can discover or work out and ask how do we get to know their values. But actually the concepts play much more fluid and subtle roles in our lives. If the facts are known and someone asserts that an action is wrong we don’t respond by saying “how do you know it is wrong?” (with perhaps the expectation that they looked it up in the Bible?). That would be vaguely absurd. We ask something on the lines of “why do you say that?”. When someone says:

    “Polanski acted wrongly”

    They are doing a number of things, including (but not limited to).

    1)They are describing their personal dislike of his behaviour and their personal desire that others should not do this type of thing

    2) They are suggesting that others around them would have similar feelings if they understood all the facts

    3) They are making a commitment not to behave like that themselves

    4) They are asking others to commit themselves not to behave like that

    5) They are suggesting that Polankski is a suitable object for blame and retribution

    It wouldn’t make sense to respond to any of these by asking “how do you know”. It would make sense to respond by asking “why are you doing this?”. This is neither subjective nor objective because it is not that kind of action.

    Now consider this argument of Barry’s

    On the basis of your response, camanintx, I assume you would say that the fact that it was considered moral behavior in the society in which it occurred, is in fact determinative of the morality of the behavior,

    Camanintx simply responded by saying yes because morality is subjective. I would respond differently. I abhor the act whether it was done now or in a completely different society. Had I the opportunity I would seek to persuade the members of that society to abhor it as well and seek their commitment not to do it. It would be a lot harder to succeed in getting that commitment than it is now. (But not impossible. There is a widely shared core to human nature and it might be possible to relate sodomy to that shared core). So I would say his behaviour was just as wrong at that time as it is now.

    Arguments on the lines of “So Polanski was just unlucky to be born in a time when sodomy is wrong” miss the point. There is no property of wrongness which might or might not have been ascribed to his act.

    This comment is not adequate to describe the subtle and fascinating field of the foundations of ethics. But perhaps some readers will agree it is much subtler than some of the comments above suggest.

  110. camanitx — people can have differing opinions of what is right or wrong. The question then becomes how we determine whose personal opinion matches the objective moral truth,

    Bingo.

    And if you should guess wrong/choose unwisely?

  111. vjtorley, #101

    (2) In practice, will we reason reliably about right and wrong if we assume at the outset that there is no God? Probably not.

    Do you really think that morality based upon the assumption that (1) God exists and (2) the God you worship is this God, is more reliable than one based on the simple concept of reciprocity?

  112. tribune7, #109

    camanitx — people can have differing opinions of what is right or wrong. The question then becomes how we determine whose personal opinion matches the objective moral truth,

    Bingo.

    And if you should guess wrong/choose unwisely?

    Do you really want to bring Pascal’s wager into this discussion?

  113. Mark Frank @17

    Hume is probably the most famous exponent [of materialist moral codes].

    Hume came to the final conclusion that he can’t determine the certainty of anything, and decided the only meaningful thing to do is to stop thinking about it and go play cards with his friends.

    So I would say that Hume failed in his quest.

  114. cam @110

    Do you really think that morality based upon the assumption that (1) God exists and (2) the God you worship is this God, is more reliable than one based on the simple concept of reciprocity?

    Chicago has been the latest location to show us the Simple Concept of Reciprocity.

    The First Simple Concept of Reciprocity: “Do unto others because they did it to you.”

    The Second Simple Concept of Reciprocity: “Do unto others before they do it to you.”

    The Third Simple Concept of Reciprocity: “Do only unto others who cannot do it back to you.”

  115. #112

    That is the kind of comment that would get me banned were I to make it about a leading Christian.

    EDITORS: What an absurd statement. Mark, would you like some cheese with that whine?

  116. camanintx,

    So we agree that, regardless of the ontological nature of morality, people can have differing opinions of what is right or wrong.

    No, that clearly was not my point. My point, which is painfully obvious, is that people do things that, regardless of absolute morality, even they themselves believe to be wrong. Whether a thing really is, in itself, morally wrong is neither here nor there. If people do things that they themselves think are wrong, and they very clearly do, I have answered your question of how it could be seen (rationalized) as morally acceptable for people to have done for great lengths of time what we now admit is morally wrong—the key word being admit. Nothing changed in regards to absolute morality, only in our willingness to line up with it more than we previously had.

    The most succinct way to put it is that people are very good about rationalization when it comes to things they really want to do, but know are wrong.

    Have you never noticed this?

  117. camanintx (#107)

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    So we agree that, regardless of the ontological nature of morality, people can have differing opinions of what is right or wrong. The question then becomes how we determine whose personal opinion matches the objective moral truth, if one exists?

    I’d like to sketch very briefly how ethical disagreements arise in the first place. I hope that will answer your question.

    1. Failure on the part of a few people to recognize intrinsic goods.

    I have sketched an account of morality (#101) based on the objective fact that certain goods, such as life and health, knowledge, and harmony with other people, are intrinsically desirable – not only for onself but for anyone else. Now, certain seriously misguided individuals might subjectively believe that these intrinsic goods are not really good at all, but that in no way undermines the objective fact that these goods can indeed be desired by anyone for their own sake.

    The first principles of practical reason are undeduced, as I explained above. If we ask: “What kinds of actions and dispositions are right?”, the only answer that no-one could rationally quarrel with is: actions and dispositions that promote intrinsic human goods. That is our safest and surest starting point.

    2. Building one’s ethical system on a house of sand: doubtful assumptions.

    Certain ethicists have built their ethical systems on high-sounding general principles such as “the greatest good of the greatest number.” Lofty these principles may be, but they rest on shaky epistemic foundations. By contrast, the fact that intrinsic goods can be desired in their own right is indubitable.

    3. Disagreements over the precise list of intrinsic goods, and their scope.

    Natural law theorists have had differing opinions as to precisely which goods deserve to be called intrinsic goods. These disagreements seldom have any practical significance, just as scientific disagreements on the classification of a few organisms has little effect on taxonomy as a whole. Nevertheless, it may occasionally happen that natural law theorist A believe that action X subverts an intrinsic good, while theorist B (whose list of goods is different) disagrees.

    How do we resolve ethical disputes between experts like A and B? Answer: through vigorous debate, in which each side has the opportunity to critique the other side’s underlying assumptions, as well as their ethical logic. Apart from the absence of experimentation, how different is this from the way scientists resolve their own scholarly disputes?

    4. Disagreements as to whether a particular course of action will indeed promote (or alternatively, subvert) a basic human good.

    We are not always sure of the effects of our “here-and-now” choices. The future is highly uncertain. Hence this kind of ethical disagreement between moral agents, and even between ethical thinkers, is entirely appropriate.

    To resolve disputes of this sort, one needs a wealth of life-experience, and one also has to be a keen student of human nature.

    In a related vein, I would ask: does the fact that scientists cannot agree on the merits of geo-engineering mean that there can be no science of geology? Surely not. So why should the existence of ethical disagreements entail that there can be no objective science of right and wrong?

    You then wrote:

    If half of a society says that gambling is immoral and the other half says it is just harmless recreation, how do we decide which is objectively true?

    Here’s a good way.

    (a) Ask gambling opponents to specify precisely which intrinsic human good gambling undermines.

    (b) Ask gambling supporters to specify precisely which intrinsic human good gambling promotes.

    (c) Ask gambling opponents to set out a logical argument showing that gambling is immoral, based on rationally indubitable premises of the sort described above.

    (d) Ask gambling supporters to set out a logical argument, because on factually coeffeients, showing that gambling is perfectly moral.

    (e) Give supporters and opponents an open forum where they can exchange views and debate one another vigorously, preferably for a period of decades to come.

  118. —-camanintx: “So we agree that, regardless of the ontological nature of morality, people can have differing opinions of what is right or wrong.”

    No one who is proposing the existence of an objective moral code believes that or has even come close to saying anything like that.

  119. vjtorley, #116

    How do we resolve ethical disputes between experts like A and B? Answer: through vigorous debate, in which each side has the opportunity to critique the other side’s underlying assumptions, as well as their ethical logic.

    Even assuming that we have an objective morality based on the fact that certain goods, such as life and health, knowledge, and harmony with other people, are intrinsically desirable, how is this objective reality revealed? If the arguments on each side are based on a person’s personal preference as to what constitutes “intrinsic goods”, how is this any different than saying that morality itself is subjective?

    part from the absence of experimentation, how different is this from the way scientists resolve their own scholarly disputes?

    When discussing objective properties such as length and mass, don’t scientists assign units to these properties against which they can be measured? Doesn’t this allow us to conclusively state that one object is longer or heavier than another? If morality exists objectively, would you please tell me what units we assign to it and how we go about measuring them?

  120. —-camanintx: “If half of a society says that gambling is immoral and the other half says it is just harmless recreation, how do we decide which is objectively true?”

    There is no moral law concerning gambling or most other activities that might fall under the category of “games.” .In itself, it is neither a moral nor an immoral act. What matters is how, why, and under what conditions it is done. If a gambler becomes addicted, neglects his duties, fails to care for his or others’ needs, resorts to cheating, establishes institutions that harm others, uses others callously as a source for profit, or acts irresponsibly with large sums of money, it is wrong. If, on the other hand, a gambler approaches it like a game and uses due proportion, it is no more wrong that spending the same amount of money attending a sporting event.

    The moral law, then, covers the behavior that informs the gambling, not the gambling itself. The natural moral law is based on reason, and for that reason, is always reasonable. We do, after all, live in a rational universe, part of which contains a rational and objective moral law. The materialists say that we do not live in a rational universe and that there is no rational moral law —that is the problem.

  121. Brent, #115

    No, that clearly was not my point. My point, which is painfully obvious, is that people do things that, regardless of absolute morality, even they themselves believe to be wrong.

    StephenB, #117

    No one who is proposing the existence of an objective moral code believes that or has even come close to saying anything like that.

    Are you seriously suggesting that slave owners knew that slavery was wrong but engaged in it anyway? I suggest you go back and brush up on your history.

  122. StephenB, #119

    The natural moral law is based on reason, and for that reason, is always reasonable. We do, after all, live in a rational universe, part of which contains a rational and objective moral law. The materialists say that we do not live in a rational universe and that there is no rational moral law —that is the problem.

    I am not questioning the utility of reason to create a rational moral law, just the objectivity of the first principles upon which it is based. As vjtorley explained in #116 above, perfectly valid moral codes can be derived from simple first principles. But how can we say that these principles are objective when we have no way of measuring them? How is his first principle of “intrinsic goods” any less subjective than my first principle of reciprocity?

  123. camanintx,

    Are you seriously suggesting that slave owners knew that slavery was wrong but engaged in it anyway?

    Yes… at least those who weren’t too numbed by the fact that it was so normal. That’s the way, unfortunately, it goes. We like to think what is normative is good. It sure makes life easier, what with the not having to stand up against your peers and condemning their lifestyle and all. Rationalization is a powerful thing.

    Let me ask you a question: Are you seriously suggesting that when people know (or believe) that something is wrong they always freely admit it and stop doing it? Are you naive enough to take everyone at their word? If so, maybe I could be your car mechanic!

  124. Another question, camanintx: Can you think of anything that is generally true about people’s behavior in the world today—the things people do—that are wrong? Things that are widely accepted but you believe are wrong?

    Homosexuality? Drinking? White lies? Pornography? Anything?

  125. 125

    So we agree that, regardless of the ontological nature of morality, people can have differing opinions of what is right or wrong. The question then becomes how we determine whose personal opinion matches the objective moral truth, if one exists?

    The objective answer you’re looking for will prove unsatisfactory. Whose opinion matches moral truth? God’s. The problem is that different people will give you conflicting information and tell you that it’s God’s moral truth. That can be frustrating.

    It takes effort to take the next step and try to figure out who’s telling the truth. For a certainty, not everyone is. That effort weeds out those who never really wanted to know in the first place, as well as those who prefer the lie because it suits them. (I.e., if someone wants to do X, they find a church that tells them X is okay and then stop looking.)

    The result is that our own inclinations and desires determine what we look for and what we find. That’s going to sound a like a lot of hocus-pocus to some people, but it’s the truth.

  126. 126

    BillB,

    The issue of slavery cannot be used to illustrate subjective morality unless we’re willing to say that slavery really wasn’t wrong unless we arbitrarily deem it so, but others can, just as validly, disagree, given these grounds. If morality is subjective, then no one can be faulted for owning slaves.

  127. Brent

    Let me ask you a question: Are you seriously suggesting that when people know (or believe) that something is wrong they always freely admit it and stop doing it? Are you naive enough to take everyone at their word? If so, maybe I could be your car mechanic!

    Just as we cannot make ourselves believe a lie, I don’t think we can make ourselves act in a way we personally feel is wrong. That is why people have to rationalize their actions before they commit them. Since people are perfectly capable of rationalizing just about anything, how can we say there is an objective standard to measure it against?

    Another question, camanintx: Can you think of anything that is generally true about people’s behavior in the world today—the things people do—that are wrong? Things that are widely accepted but you believe are wrong?

    Whether I agree with what other people think about what is right or wrong is not the question, but rather does an objective standard exist that both can be compared to.

  128. 128

    camanintx,

    Just as we cannot make ourselves believe a lie, I don’t think we can make ourselves act in a way we personally feel is wrong.

    Really? No one has ever done anything that they thought they shouldn’t have done?

    That is why people have to rationalize their actions before they commit them.

    No, the opposite is true. People try to rationalize what they’ve done after they’ve done it because they knew it was wrong to do. If something was done that was right, it would need no rationalization.

  129. ScottAndrews, #125

    The objective answer you’re looking for will prove unsatisfactory. Whose opinion matches moral truth? God’s.

    How does one determine God’s opinion on moral truth?

  130. Clive Hayden, #126

    If morality is subjective, then no one can be faulted for owning slaves.

    Just because an individual’s concept of morality may be subjective doesn’t mean that society as a whole cannot establish rules for everyone to follow.

  131. Clive Hayden, #128

    People try to rationalize what they’ve done after they’ve done it because they knew it was wrong to do. If something was done that was right, it would need no rationalization.

    Your argument only makes sense if you believe that people’s knowledge of right and wrong is fixed and unchanging. All one has to do is look at issues such as interracial marriage and abortion to see that this is not the case.

  132. 132

    camanintx:

    How does one determine God’s opinion on moral truth?

    You’ll have to read the rest of my previous comment. I try to avoid explicitly talking religion on the internet, so perhaps it was a mistake for me to go as far as I did when I’ll go no further.

    But the question you’ve asked is obviously only relevant for people who believe in God to start with. I’m not sure how anyone else could even try to answer it. (That’s not some I’m-so-serene nonsense, I’m just being logical.)

    I understand – the basis of your morality is being questioned, and in return you’re challenging the basis of those who question yours. That’s reasonable. If everyone is happy with what they believe, I call that a stalemate. I’m not giving an inch, but I can’t take one by force, either.

  133. caminintx

    Your argument only makes sense if you believe that people’s knowledge of right and wrong is fixed and unchanging. All one has to do is look at issues such as interracial marriage and abortion to see that this is not the case.

    The issue of interracial marriage and that of abortion are not in the same moral category. I’m not even sure the issue of interracial really is a moral question at all. But abortion certainly is because it involves the termination of life.
    Your example doesn’t fit Clive’s point at all.

    It seems to me that the question of the origins of human morality is in roughly the same category as the origins of human rationality. First and foremost that which we call morals must also be rational and any argument we make to defend a moral position or moral choice will itself need to be rational. But that presents a real problem for the materialist (or philosophical naturalist — for purposes here, they are the same). As Dr. Alvin Plantinga has pointed out in his evolutionary argument against naturalism (or materialism if you prefer), a materialist who is also a Darwinist can not provide an explanation for their own rationality. The best course of action for the materialist is to be either agnostic toward the question (we just don’t know – its inscrutable) or reject it (the notion that materialistic evolution produced our rationaity) outright.

    I think the morals question is in the same epistemic boat here. If Plantinga is right (and I know of no one who has successfully refuted his argument), then materialism coupled with Darwinian evolution gives no basis for having confidence in our rationality. Why then ought we think it would give us a basis for confidence in our moral sense? I can’t see how one is really all that different from the other.

  134. —-camanintx? “Are you seriously suggesting that slave owners knew that slavery was wrong but engaged in it anyway?”

    Of course. Everyone knows that slavery is wrong, and those who once tried to justify it also knew it wrong, just as all rational people today who are familiar with the savage nature of abortion know that it, too, is wrong. In the case of the old South, slave owners, those who were rational, knew that slavery was evil, but some may have felt that it was a lesser of two evils. Still, they knew that slavery was wrong. The human capacity for finding phony excuses for immoral behavior is almost unlimited. The same people who fume at the old south for putting up phony pretexts for defending slavery put up those same phony pretexts for defending abortion.

  135. 135

    Excellent post, Barry.

    Francis Schaeffer pretty much predicted what you are also predicting, some 30 or more years ago in 1) Back To Freedom And Dignity, and 2) Whatever Happened To The Human Race?

  136. 136

    Of course. Everyone knows that slavery is wrong

    I’m going to differ, to a degree. The word “conscience” literally means “with knowledge.” Our conscience, the voice of right and wrong within us, is informed by knowledge. Teach a person from childhood that slavery is normal, and his conscience responds accordingly, trained by that knowledge.

    But there’s more to it than learned knowledge. One man might beat his slaves, while another is repulsed by such cruel behavior. Did the former know it was wrong? I imagine so, but maybe he was just heartless and never thought about the suffering he caused.

    I agree 100% that there is an objective moral standard, but an individual’s knowledge may not encompass every aspect of it. People don’t always know right from wrong.

  137. —-Scott Andrews: “I agree 100% that there is an objective moral standard, but an individual’s knowledge may not encompass every aspect of it. People don’t always know right from wrong.”

    A conscience is a faculty that can be sensitized or deadened depending on its environment. As they use to say about minds, a conscience is a terrible thing to waste.

    Anyone who is rational, knows the basic moral law, but rationality can be compromised in a number of ways. Imagine some child who has been raised by an psychotic Islamic terrorist, or a neurotic radical atheist, an unsparingly rigid Christian, or, for that matter, an unreasonably lenient Christian. That child’s rationality has been compromised from living in an unnaturally ideolistic environment. We know this by virtue of the deprogramming that sometimes occurs after the fact.

    Or, imagine someone who is addicted to drugs, alchohol, or pornography—or anything. That person’s intellect and conscience has been adversely affected in a serious way, but not necessarily to the point of no return. Many of those who publically defend pornograpy, for example, are already addicted to it. That includes executives, judges, and legislators. Misery loves company. The bottom line is this: Good habits quicken the conscience; bad habits can kill it.

    On the other hand, any normal person, whose conscience has not been deadened by bad behavior, or whose intellect has not been warped via materialistic brainwashing, gets it. To be sure, they don’t get it all, that is why the consience is supposted to be informed by the natural moral law, which is already written there in some form and which needs to be further developed through moral training.

  138. The problem in using slavery in this discussion is that the word is used to signify a great variety of situations. It’s easy to oversimplify and think that all slaves were treated as poorly as Africans were by the British and the colonists. As we all know (I hope), such was not the case. Indeed, Paul pleads with Philemon to take back Onesimus. I can’t imagine Paul would have done this had Phiemon had a history of treating Onesimus badly.

  139. # 137 should read “ideological” not [idea(o)listic.

  140. —riddick: “The problem in using slavery in this discussion is that the word is used to signify a great variety of situations. It’s easy to oversimplify and think that all slaves were treated as poorly as Africans were by the British and the colonists. As we all know (I hope), such was not the case.”

    A very good point and also very true.

  141. “a materialist who is also a Darwinist can not provide an explanation for their own rationality.”

    DonaldM, lets pretend you are correct. So now tell me, how can you provide an explanation for your rationality?

    As for morals, as I mentioned before, it has been observed that other primates have a code of ethics they apply. Also, In present and past history we have seen many different people and cultures operate by very different sets of morals than we do today. Though it appears that they have changed over time, there are particular groups who promote standards with the same confidence and veracity as some on this blog, that most of us would disagree with.

    Though I believe there is no definitive answer concerning where the standards most people operate by today originated, in my opinion the evidence does suggest we have a core set that is hard wired in our brains. Since all situations do not easily fall into the basic set evolved over time, history clearly shows that we have expanded upon them through reasoning and influences of the popular culture of that a particular time. Though I believe we never will never all agree on certain moral questions, I feel it important to keep a dialog open, ad continue to refine our conclusions.

    Those here who have claimed that people in the past did not believed things like slavery were morally correct, I must disagree with you. I cannot speak for those people, but can for myself. Though in the most extreme situations we might agree on many things, I am sure we would strongly disagree on others you might consider morals wrong. For you to claim that you know I am lying to you or myself about these matters and to assert that you know your standards are the correct ones, is dishonest and rude.

    ~GIMI

  142. camanitx — people can have differing opinions of what is right or wrong. The question then becomes how we determine whose personal opinion matches the objective moral truth, . . .Bingo. And if you should guess wrong/choose unwisely? . . .Do you really want to bring Pascal’s wager into this discussion?

    Don’t answer a question with a question.

    And don’t assume I was even considering Pascal’s wager since I wasn’t. Pascal’s wager involves playin it safe, not seeking truth.

  143. stephenb@~120

    There is no moral law concerning gambling or most other activities that might fall under the category of “games.” .In itself, it is neither a moral nor an immoral act.

    That’s what I thought, but after a bit of googling today I discovered that there is an absolute moral law – gambling is wrong.
    So far this law has been revealed to most followers of the Muslim faith, and not so much to Christians and atheists etc. But it is absolute and it is objective so I guess we are all stuck with it.
    Not only is this view endorsed by a bona-fida giver of objective law (called Allah btw), but it’s also backed up by the full force of reason:

    1) Monetary gain should be the result of good honest toil. Humans are meant to work hard for a living.
    2) gambling is a tool of Satan.

    (Those are the offical ones. I would also add that Russian Roulette is a form of Gambling that frequently kills people. Also, investing in stock and shares etc. is a form of Gambling and without that Capitalists societies would be in a bit of a pickle. ok scratch that last one)

  144. 144

    I sincerely hope I don’t get put on moderation for this, but it seems unfair for the materialists to be subjected to intense probing (and a very valid line of inquiry it is) while not allowing discussion of the Old Testament and how it may have influenced some of the historical acts which most of the Christians here honestly admit were wrong.

  145. 145

    Even though I’m probably the most liberal believer here and often see both sides, and even though some of the materialists honestly think they are trying, in all these four topics I have not seen one really good answer, nor do they seem to understand that their answers are incomplete.

    But what might help here is if the nonmaterialists could explain in a bit more detail why and how their moral standards work.

    Also, Clive says that Jesus is his standard. But Jesus taught self-sacrifice. Is it wrong if we fail to come up to that highest standard, such as laying down our lives for our friends or giving the thief our coat after he has stolen our cloak, even though we have committed no obvious act of wrong?

  146. [There is no moral law against gambling as such, only against the behaviors and attitudes that inform it.]

    —-steve-h. “That’s what I thought, but after a bit of googling today I discovered that there is an absolute moral law – gambling is wrong.”

    I can’t wait to hear you arguments.

    —-“So far this law has been revealed to most followers of the Muslim faith, and not so much to Christians and atheists etc. But it is absolute and it is objective so I guess we are all stuck with it. Not only is this view endorsed by a bona-fida giver of objective law (called Allah btw), but it’s also backed up by the full force of reason:”

    Let us hope you can provide your reasons.

    —-“1) Monetary gain should be the result of good honest toil. Humans are meant to work hard for a living.
    2) gambling is a tool of Satan.”

    Failed attempts at wit will not suffice for a reasoned argument.

    —-“(Those are the offical ones. I would also add that Russian Roulette is a form of Gambling that frequently kills people. Also, investing in stock and shares etc. is a form of Gambling and without that Capitalists societies would be in a bit of a pickle. ok scratch that last one.”

    You may want to go back to the beginning and try again.

  147. Monetary gain should be the result of good honest toil. Humans are meant to work hard for a living.
    2) gambling is a tool of Satan.”

    Failed attempts at wit will not suffice for a reasoned argument.

    with all due respect, google “Koran” and “gambling”. I didn’t make these arguments up for a laugh. These are real objective truths as revealed by a prophet channelling an ultimate law-giver.

    You may want to go back to the beginning and try again.

    Ditto

  148. 148

    avocationist,

    Valid questions. The Old and New Testaments on morality are a bit complicated, but there is a formula, which follows from a realization that nobody can perfectly keep any moral code. This is the lesson of the Old Testament in a nutshell.

    If you notice from the very beginning in Genesis, there was really only one moral code – “do not eat the fruit.” That code was broken. So it appears that the OT moral code is written (not necessarily comes into existence) once a moral law is broken. Thus, as time passes, and as human society develops, more and more intricate moral codes are written and dispersed. It would appear at first glance that such a code would be unfair, because how would someone know not to kill unless it was first written? Well, the problem with this assumption is that it does not take into account that right and wrong seem to be already written on the conscience. Thus, when Cain slay Abel, (the first murder), he really did know that he did wrong. As such, the consequence was just.

    But the Biblical standard that comes from the New Testament is more than simply following a moral code, but also involves faith. Faith is more than simply belief, but trusting that the words written are true, and acting according to conscience and the word. For the Christian then, it seems that if one believes that Jesus is whom he claimed to be (which is pretty much a prerequisite for legitimately claiming to be a Christian – according to the scriptures, at least), merely following a moral code is great, but it does not lead one into grace with God. It doesn’t do so, because the moral code is not able to make a person perfect. God’s moral perfection is always above a human’s moral ideal. We can never attain it.

    So for the Christian, what is termed ‘righteosness’ is imparted to the believer through faith. This does not mean that there is no moral code involved. It simply means that the Christian is constantly reminded that his/her moral weakness is supplanted by Christ’s moral perfection through faith, as the basis for his/her relationship with God. It is with a relationship with God where moral uprightness comes. So according to scripture, a non-believer can never attain moral uprightness, because he/she is missing the relational aspect of grace through faith. This is the scriptural view.

    However, from a human perspective, a non-believer is just as capable of following the moral dictates of society and conscience as is a believer. The Christian perspective though, is that justification does not come from merely following the moral dictates of society and conscience, because they are imperfect. Justification only comes throug faith.

    So I think the question as to whether one should do as Jesus did is rather besides the point. I personally find that quaint little statement a bit unrealistic. None of us can do what Jesus did. Should we ask the proverbial question wwjd, whenever we are faced with a moral decision? It’s hard to say. I know that given any situation, I would probably not do exactly what Jesus would do. I think anyone who fails to admit this of themselves is also not thinking realistically about their own moral weaknesses. Certainly the standard is that we should do the sacrificial acts as Jesus would. We should not, however, condemn ourselves for our failure to do them – rather, we should seek grace and forgiveness. This is the Christian standard on morality – a recognition first that we are sinners, and incapable of moral perfection, and a recognition that God is morally perfect, and that only through Him can we be justified.

    So should we follow the moral code of the Old Testament? Well, quite fankly, I like shellfish, and I don’t think I’m condemned for eating them. Much of the OT moral code was for a particular time and place, and not necessarily intended as a code for all time, all cultures and all places. There are particular codes in the OT, however, which seem to be more universal – such as the Ten Commandments – which BTW, mention acknowledging God as part of any moral code. In light of this entire thread’s discussion, that seems to make sense. Without God’s standard for morality, there can be no morality – only a desire within us for a particular kind of order (which is not the same as morality) – which can vary from one generation to another, and from one culture to another. From that sort of relative basis for morality, we can justify all sorts of atrocities, which most of us would now find repugnant.

  149. —-avocationist: “I sincerely hope I don’t get put on moderation for this, but it seems unfair for the materialists to be subjected to intense probing (and a very valid line of inquiry it is) while not allowing discussion of the Old Testament and how it may have influenced some of the historical acts which most of the Christians here honestly admit were wrong.”

    Cheer up. Materialist/Darwinists come here primarily to scrutinize ID and escape scrutiny. They are seldom required to play defense. This thread shows how easily they loose their poise when asked to do so. It should happen more often.

    —–“Even though I’m probably the most liberal believer here and often see both sides, and even though some of the materialists honestly think they are trying, in all these four topics I have not seen one really good answer, nor do they seem to understand that their answers are incomplete.”

    Their answers are incomplete because their arguments are non-existent.

    —–“But what might help here is if the nonmaterialists could explain in a bit more detail why and how their moral standards work.”

    In other words, it might help if materialists would go back on offense and advocates of the natural moral law would go back on defense.

    —–Also, Clive says that Jesus is his standard. But Jesus taught self-sacrifice. Is it wrong if we fail to come up to that highest standard, such as laying down our lives for our friends or giving the thief our coat after he has stolen our cloak, even though we have committed no obvious act of wrong.

    You are confusing the minimum demands of the natural moral law with the heavy demands of Christian virtue:

    It is a giant leap from You should not commit murder to —Love your enemies and bless them that persecute you—- or, from You should not commit adultery to— Eradicate lust from the human heart.

  150. 150

    Canuckian Yankee,

    Well, you are discussing salvation, which is a bit different. You seem to say that one’s moral behavior is separate from grace. I don’t really agree, being liberal and all that, because I think of grace as something that each person may be receptive to in greater or lesser degree, but that no one is exempt from it entirely. I surely think that grace informs one’s conscience. I don’t think a person follows a moral code, or is even capable of wanting to do so, apart from grace.

    If righteousness is imparted through faith, that indicates to me a real and organic process of soul purification. Your understanding seems legalistic to me. But perhaps we agree after all – you say moral uprightness comes from a relationship with God, which is about the same thing.

    So long as we understand that this relationship involves real change and growth in the person.

    I don’t think it’s true that a nonbeliever cannot be righteous, because I happen to believe that many people have a relationship to God of which they are not consciously aware. But that is a great subtlety.

    I am however, greatly saddened by your conclusion that emulating Jesus’ behavior is beside the point or is impossible. Or that you find his statements quaint and unrealistic. I am probably not a Christian by your standards, but I take his teachings to heart. He said we would do all things he did and more! And, he said to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, despite that I think he clearly taught that the Father was greater than himself.

    I agree we cannot condemn ourselves for failing to live up to those highest standards – but we should keep them in sight and know that a few of us will indeed do them – as some have done.

  151. camanintx

    Thank you for your post. You ask:

    If the arguments on each side are based on a person’s personal preference as to what constitutes “intrinsic goods”, how is this any different than saying that morality itself is subjective?

    Intrinsic goods are not a matter of personal preference. They are simply goods that are capable of being desired by any human being, for their own sake. I don’t know of anything more objective than the fact that health is a good thing. Moral philosophers may have slightly different lists of these goods, but that is because one philosopher’s definition of a given good may be broader than another philosopher’s, so that good A in one scheme encompasses goods B + C in another.

    Objective does not imply “measurable,” by the way. Many perefctly real things in our world are not measurable.

    Finally, if your “principle of reciprocity” means the Golden Rule, then I have already shown that this Rule is a corollary of the recognition of intrinsic human goods.

  152. 152

    Stephen B

    “In other words, it might help if materialists would go back on offense and advocates of the natural moral law would go back on defense.”

    Not at all. Although I had only gone through about half this thread when I wrote that, I just thought that it would be right to clarify how morality is embedded in reality without reference to scripture but with reference to a universe created by God.

  153. vjtorely wrote (#117):

    “The first principles of practical reason are undeduced, as I explained above. If we ask: “What kinds of actions and dispositions are right?”, the only answer that no-one could rationally quarrel with is: actions and dispositions that promote intrinsic human goods. That is our safest and surest starting point.”

    Ok, so why don’t you take, for example, homosexuality. Queers may well believe that certain behaviors that they partake in are morally ok. Christians (+ observant Jews and Muslims) on the other hand would strongly disagree, and instead assert that such behavior is morally detestable.

    So, given your reasoning, how do you determine which if these is right and which is wrong?

  154. vjtorley also wrote in #117:

    Nevertheless, it may occasionally happen that natural law theorist A believe that action X subverts an intrinsic good, while theorist B (whose list of goods is different) disagrees.

    How do we resolve ethical disputes between experts like A and B? Answer: through vigorous debate, in which each side has the opportunity to critique the other side’s underlying assumptions, as well as their ethical logic. Apart from the absence of experimentation, how different is this from the way scientists resolve their own scholarly disputes?

    I cannot see how this argument could ever fly because we all begin with basic axioms that force us logically to arrive at totally different destinations.

    Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that God exists, and as per my previous post, that He decries homosexuality. How is argumentation, vigorous debate, or anything else you have suggested going to show clearly that God detests homosexual behavior and that it is a moral abomination?

    It sounds to me like you have fallen into a modernist interpretation where we believe that if we can begin with human reason alone, we can reason from here to there and answer all these questions in the process.

    I suggest that if there is no God, there can be no “special revelation” to provide us with a foundation for morality, thus objective moral values cannot exist, period.

    As for science — sure, if the moral law was something that we could measure or weigh. But is appears not to be like that.

  155. 155

    avocationist,

    My response was concerned with justification, not necessarily salvation. Justification from a Christian perspective is not found in following the moral code, because the moral code is imperfect. God’s character is what is perfect. If we want to be justified by following any moral code, we should have the character of God. This is what I find unrealistic, because none of us has God’s character perfectly. Christian morality is much more than simply the following of a moral code, because it is tied with an individual’s relationship with God first, and also with his/her fellow humans.

    You asked how a non-materialist moral standard might work. I think in my answer I pointed out that a Christian moral standard works because it starts internally – it is concerned with a relationship with God, and not simply with the outward appearance of morality as following some moral code. The Christian is aware that God is always watching. The Christian is concerned with his/her relationship with God first, and with his/her relationship with others in conjuction with God – I think Francis Schaeffer and others posited that it is the vertical relationship between God and the individual that is primary, and the horizontal relationship between humans and other humans (or possibly also with other animals) that is secondary. The horizontal relationship is primary because the individual knows that the lawgiver is constantly aware of his/her behavior. It’s not really legalistic, because he/she is also aware that grace is the real basis of the relationship, not law.

    But here is an important point. Our vertical relationship with God cannot be right if our horizontal relationships are not also right.

    When I mentioned about “What would Jesus do?” perhaps I could have clarified this better – what I meant is that the phrase seems to be popular today, and as such, it seems to be a bit besides the point of the Christian relationship with God. I would prefer something like “What has Jesus done?” This seems to be more in keeping with what Christian morality is about. The standard has already been kept – it’s not a future “what if,” but a past “already done.”

    I think the whole point of morality is found in relationship – not in anything else. God desires relationship with us on certain terms. We can’t meet nor keep those terms, so God met the terms Himself. This is what is meant by grace, and is the point that makes Christianity what it is. Morality has no connection apart from an understanding of this relationship. It is a feeble attempt when one approaches morality apart from God’s character and person. It can’t be done. History has pretty much proven to us that human morality lacks a standard defining the limits. Legally, the Nazi attrocity was valid, yet we all seem to sense that it was far beyond any human standard of morality. Does that standard come from society? or is it somehow written in our hearts? I think the latter.

    So justification is tied to morality, and starts internally – not externally and legalistically. We can justify many unjust practices according to our moral code or law, but this only demonstrates that our moral code or law that is in our civil laws is imperfect. Something more than a code is required.

    If you look at the history of the slave trade in England, and the legislation that made it illegal, the lawmakers – such as Wilberforce and others, had to look to something outside English law. They had to appeal to the populace’s sense of morality beyond what was then written in the law. It was a sense of moral outrage that led to the legislation, rather than merely a sense that it violated English law. This moral outrage was an internal “written on the heart” sort of appeal, which recognized that there was something in the English moral law that was unjust – it violated the horizontal relationship necessary for the vertical relationship with God.

    So it is the moral outrage that seems to make a society understand when its own moral code violates a higher sense of morality. People understood that the horizontal relationship between fellow humans was askew, and this affected their own vertical relationship with the God who watches and judges. When we eventually evolve into a society whose populace no longer appeals to a vertical relationship, where the moral standard seems to derive, then the moral outrage over injustices allowed by the current moral code, will no longer exist. As such, there will not be the self-corrective component in moral law that exists in societies today – the relationship of human beings to a law-giver.

    So it’s not simply the moral law of God that brings about morality, but the vertical relationship that happens between God and believers, which brings about human morality. It’s a part of design. It’s not a vertical relationship that is exclusive to Christians – and that is why it’s not an issue of salvation, but of justification. Justification comes when I can say I have God’s approval for my actions – not when I can simply say I have followed the moral law that currently exists in my society.

    Some might say that a Jihadist can claim to have God’s approval for a suicide bombing. However, Jihadist’s are not appealing to God’s character – because according to Islamic teaching, God is merciful. Jihadits often mention God as merciful just before sending someone out on a suicide mission – so appearently the words are said, despite the opposite deed being done. Suicide bombing would then appear to violate God’s character, even from an Islamic perspective. No, a Jihadist is merely appealing to a human made moral code, which allows an attrocity.

    So when we begin to see the moral outrage coming from those of the Islamic faith – in recognition of the moral necessity of the horizontal relationship they must have with all human beings, thus condemning suicide bombings, we will see God’s morality – a sense of justice and wrighting an unjust moral wrong – in operation.

  156. NZer @ 154

    I suggest that if there is no God, there can be no “special revelation” to provide us with a foundation for morality, thus objective moral values cannot exist, period.

    I would go further.

    Even if there is a God in what way are His moral prescriptions any more “objective” than yours or mine?

    What exactly is meant by “objective” in this context anyway?

  157. Mr StephenB,

    If, yet again, I know nothing of the natural moral law, or if I don’t think I am bound to it, I cannot be moral. I can respond in only one of two ways—kill without mercy–or die like a coward.

    I realize that the conversation has moved on, but I am still puzzling over this statement of yours. I fail to see how ignorance or denial of natural moral law forces someone into either of these positions.

  158. —Steve-h: with all due respect, google “Koran” and “gambling”. I didn’t make these arguments up for a laugh. These are real objective truths as revealed by a prophet channelling an ultimate law-giver.

    The whole point is that the natural moral law does not depend on Divine revelation. It can be apprehended without any religious faith at all. Googling the Koran and “gambling”, then, is irrelevant, especially since Islam doesn’t does not accept the “inherent dignity of the human person,” which is a staple of the natural moral law. So, you are barking up the wrong tree. As I said, the natural moral law is less concerned about gambling and more concerned about the behaviors and attitudes that are likely to inform it.

  159. —Nakashima: “I realize that the conversation has moved on, but I am still puzzling over this statement of yours. I fail to see how ignorance or denial of natural moral law forces someone into either of these positions.”

    My only point was that if one is trying to defend his life from an deadly attacker, the defender with a moral code will face a more complicated situation and consider more altruistic options than a defender with no morals at all, whose main concern is likely to be either fight or flight.

  160. camanintx,

    Whether I agree with what other people think about what is right or wrong is not the question…

    No, it very clearly was the question. So, what is the answer?

    Just as we cannot make ourselves believe a lie, I don’t think we can make ourselves act in a way we personally feel is wrong. That is why people have to rationalize their actions before they commit them. Since people are perfectly capable of rationalizing just about anything, how can we say there is an objective standard to measure it against?

    Clive already called you on your blatant naivety. I would say, in fact, you are being a hypocrite right there, i.e., doing something that you know is wrong… lying. Are you telling me that you have never done anything wrong that you knew was wrong even before you did it? If you answer “no”, do you think that I or anyone on this planet will believe another word that proceeds from your mouth?

    That is beside the point of simple self refutation. You say that people have to rationalize first before they do a thing, which is admitting that people do things they know are wrong.

    You say, “Since people are perfectly capable of rationalizing just about anything, how can we say there is an objective standard to measure it against?” So, when we have rationalized something it becomes alright? If your child rationalizes why he/she did something you told them not to, do you forgo punishing them and say, “Well, since you didn’t know it was wrong…?”

  161. #159

    This still continues!

    My only point was that if one is trying to defend his life from an deadly attacker, the defender with a moral code will face a more complicated situation and consider more altruistic options than a defender with no morals at all, whose main concern is likely to be either fight or flight.

    I don’t understand why you insist that someone who has not “apprehended the moral law” (which includes apparently devote Muslims) lacks a moral code or will be less inclined to consider altruistic options. You can have strong feelings about how you ought to act even you think it is just a matter of opinion. I can have strong feelings about what art should be preserved even though it is widely accepted that what is good art is a matter of opinion.

  162. CanuckianYankee,

    I guess I misunderstood, thinking that justification was another term for salvation.
    Of course, following a moral code cannot bring true morality, especially if you believe that the consequences of not following it will be dire. The only true morality is one in which you prefer the good as part of your own character, and wouldn’t gain any pleasure from taking advantage of others or oppressing them in any way. And even though we may not have the perfect character of God, it is nonetheless the extent to which we are able to internalize that character that we become good. While we are in the stage of knowing God is watching, we are yet not spiritually mature.

    It seems to me that people have a natural tendency to take more care of their relationship with God than with their fellow man, and even though it might be primary, unless it is quickly followed by love and forgiveness and compassion toward one’s fellow man then progress stops. The success of one’s relationship with God or Grace is absolutely reflected in one’s treatment of one’s fellow man. And this is said several different ways in the New Testament.

    And basically, it is a matter of love, learning to love. So that means it is grace which opens our souls and our understanding, so that we are able to love rather than thinking others don’t really exist in the same way that we ourselves do.

    I guess that there are several fairly decent arguments from reason for at least some morality, but the highest ideals such as reached by a saintly person, really only make sense in the context of a reality that includes a spiritual realm in which all beings are united with God and one another in a real way.

  163. My but we do have a real quandary here. Relative morality, social morality, apologetic morality, absolute morality, and much more.
    Using social morality (the law) as a standard for a moment we must come to the conclusion that Polanski is guilty of breaking a social compact. Even in Hollywood it was illegal for a 44 year old man to drug, rape and sodomize a 13 year old girl. For that he must be punished despite his fame and fortune and despite the fact that he evaded the law for 30 years or so.

    Social morality and “ultimate” morality must be separated, just for a moment, to clarify the situation. I went to the bank on Wednesday afternoon and discovered it to be closed. I inquired of an acquaintance why the bank closed on Wednesday at noon and was surprised at the answer. They close because that was the time the slave market used to open. (I live in a former slave state.) He also opined that the reason for that closing was probably not even remembered by most people. The banks, and other business, did it simply because they had always done it. It is neither right or wrong; moral or immoral. It’s just done.

    I read an account one time, written by an anthropologist about his experiences in a remote tribe somewhere. Sorry, but I do not remember the specifics. He entered a village and began to study the language and customs and no one seemed to mind that he was there. They were neither friendly nor hostile and they would speak to him if he asked a question but no one volunteered anything unless he asked a question. One day he befriended an older woman and began to assist her in her chores and eventually he took up residence in her home with only the intention of helping her. When he moved in the villagers entirely changed their attitude towards him. The villagers knew that a young man would move into a house with an older woman only if he were her son. To them the woman became his mother. That gave him an identity to the villagers where he had previously had no identity and they could simply not relate to him because they did not know who he was. The story went on from there. That situation carried on for a year or more and he continued his study of their culture until one day some of the elders approached him in a solemn manner and suggested to him that his mother was getting too old and infirm and it was now time to take her “for a walk.” After a period of confusion he finally realized that the elders now expected him to take her into the jungle and kill her! Needless to say, he was shocked, but he was assured that this was the only thing open to him. He further realized that his “mother” expected the same of him.

    To those villagers that was the way it had always been done and to do otherwise was unthinkable.

    We on the other hand do exactly the opposite. We dote on our mothers and care for them and protect them and prolong their lives as long as possible. We expend huge resources in medical care and time and effort and to do otherwise would be unthinkable.

    I do not know where the ultimate morality exists but as a matter of fact it must exist. If there is no ultimate morality there can be no right or wrong and just attempting to “fit in” cannot be a rational solution or condition. It is not rational to believe that everything is flexible and that we may measure it with a rubber yardstick of our own choosing. If that were rational we could have no law or social order of any kind. Everyone could just produce their own yardstick and declare that they would recognize no other as being legitimate; and they would be right! Moreover, any society could get together and do the same and declare that it was legitimate. That is what the slave states did. They liked the idea of free labor and rationalized their way into accepting slavery as the natural order of things. The tribe living in the jungle had done the same thing, probably a long time ago. They did not like the responsibility of taking care of the old and infirm so they simply killed them. Eventually they were able to simply declare that they had always done that and the problem disappeared. That did not make it right or moral.

    We must stake out right and wrong or there can be no law and no order. Do it today and tomorrow it will come back to bite us in very unpleasant ways. Today we have abortion and tomorrow we will kill babies until their second birthday. It is a slippery slope and it is all downhill.

    Oh; what to do?

    The military offers a possible solution as an example. I believe they call it “topping” or something like that. The objective is to train leaders to step back from the action on a regular basis and look at the larger picture rather than developing a tunnel vision of a tiny piece of the action. By stepping back and looking around they get a more strategic view and prevent the enemy from flanking their position or taking other offensive measures. In matters of morality the same sort of stepping back would serve us well. Ultimately, morality is just an extension of common sense because we all know how we want to be treated and we know that others are just like ourselves. If you do not want to be kidnapped, perhaps it might be wise not to kidnap others. That’s not too complicated.

  164. Brent, 102:

    People often do what they know is wrong. Wow! It’s the message of the Bible! And, when done on a level such as slavery—a society wide injustice that pervades the whole culture—it is that much more difficult to admit, let alone even to see due to a blinding numbness, that what is is wrong. Then, to actually make a stand and to do something about it, takes that much more strength, courage, and sacrifice—even unto death.

    So, that’s how “[people could] accept its practice as moral for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.”

    Excellent.

    BTW, Can I copy that phrase I just highlighted?

    And, on the wider question it is plain that the issue of whether an act X is wrong — and a lesser of evils is still wrong (for whoever posed the well if you don’t do it I will blow up NYC pseudo-dilemma) — boils down to the dilemma that unless reality is grounded in a root that inherently makes oughtness a real thing, isness trumps oughtness.

    Thus, the infamous is-ought gap and implicit or blatant radical relativism of modern and ultramodern systems of thought. In short, these systems impose today’s version of blinding numbness.

    That is why benumbed people, today, can look at a 43 YO man luring a 13 YO girl naked into a hot tub, then drugging and committing various sexual acts on her in the teeth of her protests and try to wriggle out of the plain wrongness of it.

    If we can see the moral numbness of the slave holders and racists of yore, why can we not see the same on our preferred sins of today?

    Blinding numbness, our own version, it seems.

    Let’s hope it will not endure for hundreds of years.

    And, if we do see that the act such as Mr Polanski did is wrong (and whether the victim says she got over it or not is irrelevant to whether it is wrong), then it raises the perhaps very unwelcome issue that worldviews that cannot — yes, cannot — ground oughtness as a real not a perception or a balance of power, are to extremely high probability, both incorrect and enablers of wrong. For, oughtness is by direct experience deniable on pain of absurdities as we have seen, very, very real.

    (VJT has raised a significant point, and SB too.)

    A mirror is now being held up to our civlisation, and it is not looking too pretty.

    Time for metanoia — a fundamental, morally tinged change of mindset — methinks.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: I see some pretty strong editorial stances. They leave me a bit uncomfortable in part, but I can see the point, especially after some recent threads.

  165. GEM,

    “BTW, Can I copy that phrase I just highlighted?”

    No problem.

  166. Brent

    Thanks a million.

    It’s a great summary of a key point in Eph 4:17 – 24.

    (Which is not irrelevant to the focus of this thread!)

    GEM of TKI

  167. —-Mark Frank: “I don’t understand why you insist that someone who has not “apprehended the moral law” (which includes apparently devote Muslims) lacks a moral code or will be less inclined to consider altruistic options. You can have strong feelings about how you ought to act even you think it is just a matter of opinion. I can have strong feelings about what art should be preserved even though it is widely accepted that what is good art is a matter of opinion.”

    I suspect that most people, including atheists, have some kind of moral code. The challenge, though, is this: Is the person conformed to the code, or is the code conformed to the person.

    The natural moral law makes basic minimum demands on human behavior, far less taxing, by the way, than the advanced moral law associated with Christian morality. In both cases, however, the law sets a standard and, quite often, the individual must exert himself to meet those demands, requiring in some cases costly behavioral and attitudinal changes. In this case, there is a recognizable gap between where the person is and where he ought to be. Thus, someone recognizes that he angers too easily, or obsesses over sexual matters, or resents someone else’s success, or gossips, or misrepresents himself in a business situation.

    He recognizes these gaps only because the objective moral code is there putting the searchlight on his behavior. Coming face to face with his own inadequacies, he sets out to make changes, yet he quickly discovers that he cannot easily make those changes without a whole lot of help [don’t ask me from where (you will be scandalized). Even at that, he falls down, gets back up, falls down again, gets back up, and finds out very quickly in his futile attempts to be good how bad he is, how bad he really is. (This means that he is actually starting to become good).

    Even at that, he later discovers that morality doesn’t end with the natural moral law, it just starts there. What a person does, while important, is not nearly as important as WHY he does it. The natural moral law, while true, is incomplete; it cannot probe intentions. It doesn’t say a thing about inordinate pride, consuming lust, habitual laziness, hateful anger, obsessive greed, hateful envy, and all the other dispositions that cause us to misbehave in the first place. That is where the real work starts—getting at the root.

    So, in the face of this challenge, what kind of moral code will the atheist typically contrive for himself? Will it be one that shows him where he is with respect to where he ought to be? Not likely. He doesn’t think that there is any “ought to be.” Will it be one that challenges him to change his behavior and pay all the costs associated with those changes? More likely, he will form a code that allows him to stay pretty much as he is, one that plays to his strengths and conveniently ignores his weaknesses. Will he put the searchlight on his intentions? Why should he? He hasn’t even approached the behavior issue in any realistic way. Will he stumble, fall, and get back up in his attempt to be good. Not likely, because he doesn’t believe that there is any such thing a “good.” Why should one go on such a difficult journey, especially without any spiritual help, when he can formulate a morality that will allow him to simply stay home, rest easy, and build the code around his present attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. Better yet, no one will ever call him a hypocrite because he refuses to acknowledge the moral gap that makes hypocrisy possible.

  168. Absolutely! (my answer to the original question for the record). Absolute moral values are discovered, much like mathematical facts. They could careless about what we think about them – they just are.

  169. The list at 68 demonstrates what I stated earlier, that our conscience, our voice of right and wrong, is based largely on the knowledge which informs it.
    The Hebrews and Egyptians both recognized the immorality of adultery. But for the Hebrews, the greatest moral imperative was to worship only the God of their forefathers, the God of the Bible. The Egyptians, while having a sense of right and wrong, lived their lives unaware of the most important moral law.

    Many of the Hebrew laws showed what was right or wrong in what otherwise could have been gray areas. How could an uninformed conscience ever know that a man should provide offspring for his deceased brother?

    Didn’t Saul persecute Christians with a clean conscience until he learned that it was wrong?

    At least according to the scriptures, the conscience does not contain a complete, built-in understanding of all that is right and wrong. Most people seem hardwired to know that it’s wrong to cause suffering. But the conscience is dependent on accurate knowledge. Otherwise, why would God tell Adam not to eat from the tree?

  170. NZer (#153, 154)

    You asked me about how human reason can determine whether homosexuality is right or wrong.

    Ok, so why don’t you take, for example, homosexuality. Queers may well believe that certain behaviors that they partake in are morally ok. Christians (+ observant Jews and Muslims) on the other hand would strongly disagree, and instead assert that such behavior is morally detestable.

    So, given your reasoning, how do you determine which if these is right and which is wrong?

    You might want to have a look at what Professor John Finnis has written on the subject, since he is far better versed in natural law theory than I. Here are two links:

    “The Wrong of Homosexuality” by John Finnis at
    http://books.google.com/books?.....38;f=false

    “Reason, Faith and Homosexual Acts” by John Finnis at http://www.catholicsocialscien....._61-70.pdf (the meat of his argument starts at the bottom of page 63).

    Now if you want my argument (based on how I read Finnis), then here it is. In what follows, the term “by nature” simply means “essentially,” and hence “necessarily.”

    1. Marriage is by nature an exclusive and permanent commitment.

    2. Marriage is by nature an institution dedicated to realizing the intrinsic human good of friendship.

    3. Same-sex friendships are not by nature exclusive and permanent commitments (even if a few same-sex couples happen to have such a commitment towards each other).

    4. Therefore same-sex friendships cannot be marriages.

    5. Since marriage is by nature an institution dedicated to friendship, marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

    6. Sexual intercourse between a married couple is a physical realization of their marital friendship, if and only if it signifies an exclusive and permanent commitment on their part.

    7. Non-marital friendships are not by nature exclusive and permanent. (Hence marital friendship is essentially different from other kinds of friendship.)

    8. Sexual intercourse between a couple who are not married cannot signify an exclusive and permanent commitment, because no such commitment exists in their case.

    9. Therefore sexual intercourse between a couple who are not married cannot be a physical realization of the kind of friendship they possess.

    10. Therefore sexual intercourse between a couple who are not married cannot be an act expressing their friendship, as such.

    11. Sexual intercourse is by nature an intimate act between two people.

    12. An intimate act, by nature, can only be good if it expresses the intrinsic human good of friendship.

    13. Since sexual intercourse between a couple who are not married is not an act expressing their friendship, as such, then it cannot be a good act, as such.

    14. Sexual intercourse between a couple who are not married is therefore a wrong act.

    15. Same-sex couples can never be married.

    16. Therefore acts of sexual intercourse between same-sex couples are wrong acts.

    Note that the foregoing is an argument establishing the wrongfulness of homosexual acts as such. It is not intended to show that all homosexuals are bad people. Only God can see into our hearts.

    I’ll leave you with a quote from Finnis:

    The relationship of same-sex couples can never be marriage. The easiest way to see this is to ask oneself why same-sex sex acts should be restricted to couples rather than three-somes, four-somes, etc., or rather than couples or other groups whose membership rotates at agreed intervals. Nothing in the “gay ideology” can, or even seriously tries, to explain or defend the exclusiveness or permanence of same-sex partnerships or their limitation to couples. The practice and experience of homosexual relationships is dramatic confirmation that, once one departs from the institution of marriage as a committed, exclusive and permanent sexual relationship between a woman and a man, there are no solid grounds for making one’s sexual relationships even imitate real marriage. As careful large-scale studies have shown, and “anecdotal” historical testimony amply confirms, there are practically no homosexual couples, even long-term couples, to whom sexual exclusivity as a principle, and real mutual commitment to it in practice, make any sense.

  171. —Scott Andrews: “But the conscience is dependent on accurate knowledge. Otherwise, why would God tell Adam not to eat from the tree?”

    We seem to agree at a level of about 99%.

    We agree that the human conscience requires moral instruction for development.

    We agree that it must be formed according to the natural moral law.

    We also agree that a conscience uninformed by the natural moral law cannot come to moral maturity.

    I submit, however, that the uninstructed conscience is not a blank slate, that humans have an inborn instinct about right and wrong, that the natural moral law, is already written on the human heart, a voice that calls out to love and do the right thing, though its understanding of morality is crude and undeveloped. I submit further, that if that “law” is not already there, no amount of instruction can create it, either through socialization, moral instruction, environmental training, or any other means.

    What I understand you to be saying is that the conscience must not only be informed by the natural moral law to come to maturity, but that it must also be INTRODUCED to the natural moral law and, without that introduction, it will provide no guidance whatsoever.

    Is that where we differ? Or, do we differ at all?

  172. 172

    We seem to agree at a level of about 99%

    I submit, however, that the uninstructed conscience is not a blank slate, that humans have an inborn instinct about right and wrong

    Okay, call it 100%.

  173. Scott Andrews

    I would just like to say that I agree with your comment:

    At least according to the scriptures, the conscience does not contain a complete, built-in understanding of all that is right and wrong.

    I would never maintain that natural law encompasses morality in its entirety. To cite your example: Saul’s persecution of the Christians certainly violated their natural rights insofar as cruelty was involved; but in trying to stop Christianity, Saul was also opposing the supernatural order, and on matters pertaining to the supernatural, reason alone cannot tell us what is right and wrong; reason must be informed by faith, which is a gift from God.

    Saul was privileged to receive that gift, which is why we now call him St. Paul. Christians must never be judgemental towards those who have not yet received the gift of supernatural faith.

  174. 174

    avocationist,

    “It seems to me that people have a natural tendency to take more care of their relationship with God than with their fellow man, and even though it might be primary, unless it is quickly followed by love and forgiveness and compassion toward one’s fellow man then progress stops.”

    Yes, I agree. One’s relationship with another must be right before one can have a right relationship with God. So if one is mistreating another, one’s relationship with God is askew. Also, one’s relationship with another is intended to be a reflection of God’s character (though imperfect). Therefore, love, commitment, honesty, integrity must be reflected in the horizontal relationship. It’s not simply based in keeping the quota of moral law. Nor is it some sort of contract obligation. You mentioned spiritual maturity – I think that comes when one’s good deeds towards others is no longer seen as an obligation, but as a desire – regardless of the outcome.

  175. Re #170 through to #173

    I may well be banned for this but I think it is worth it. Mostly I comment on UD because I find it interesting to hear other views, but when I read this series of comments I was shaken.

    vjtorley – I believe you to be a reasonable and pleasant person but this kind of reasoning sounds like the Taliban. It would be so easy to substitute Sharia law for Moral Law or Natural Law or whatever.

    The key problem is this approach of working out what is right or wrong by abstract argument from a set of laws which for one reason or another you believe to be right. It could be, moral law, Sharia law, or the communist manifesto. The result is that the individual human situation and our reaction to it as humans is ignored, with disastrous results. We steel ourselves to ignore the suffering of others (in this case homosexuals) because we have worked out in theory what is right. This is what causes men to fly airliners into buildings. This is the world of the Handmaid’s Tale.

    Moral principles should be descriptive/inductive not prescriptive/deductive. We should study human situations with compassion, sensitivity and intelligence and draw our lessons from them. Start off by acknowledging that Polanksi was wrong – what he did abhorrent. Then work out what it was about his behaviour that was abhorrent (in this case rather easy). Maybe that is the basis for a law against rape. But it wasn’t the law that made it wrong.

  176. stehpenb @ ~167

    So, in the face of this challenge, what kind of moral code will the atheist typically contrive for himself? Will it be one that shows him where he is with respect to where he ought to be? Not likely. He doesn’t think that there is any “ought to be.” Will it be one that challenges him to change his behavior and pay all the costs associated with those changes? More likely, he will form a code that allows him to stay pretty much as he is, one that plays to his strengths and conveniently ignores his weaknesses. Will he put the searchlight on his intentions? Why should he? He hasn’t even approached the behavior issue in any realistic way. Will he stumble, fall, and get back up in his attempt to be good. Not likely, because he doesn’t believe that there is any such thing a “good.”

    Actually I do believe there is such a thing as a “good”, but it’s a concept, not a thing that can be weighed or counted, and it’s not absolute.

    And I don’t agree that atheists are under no pressure to reevaluate their moral positions. The greatest pressure we experience doesn’t come from philosophizing about ultimate and objective standards but from the more immediate feedback we get from everyone we meet.

    We care what people think about us. We also care about how people may react upon thinking those things about us.

    And so do you.

    Being raised in a environment where people expect certain types of behaviour changes you. Being shunned or hated by others changes you. Being killed by them changes you. The fear of those things changes you.

    I suspect that there are things in your collective closets that you don’t want people to know about. God/(The Aliens) know about those things and have forgiven you for them so you should have no problem discussing these things. But you won’t – the prospect of us all knowing about them and joking about them would scare the collective [bleep] out of you. Moral pressure comes from people.

  177. 177

    Mark Frank,

    “We steel ourselves to ignore the suffering of others (in this case homosexuals) because we have worked out in theory what is right. This is what causes men to fly airliners into buildings. This is the world of the Handmaid’s Tale.”

    I’m not certain where you are going with this. However, on the issue of homosexuality, there are quite a number of individuals in this country who have homosexual feelings, but who do not want to live a lifestyle of having sex with others of the same gender. Their feelings are ignored because of the current PC, which renders homosexuality as natural and not a choice – even though these individuals attest to the idea that it is not natural, and that it is a choice – and from their own experience. I count myself among them.

    The issue of the morality of homosexuality, and the just treatment of homosexuals are separate issues. Most Christians are appalled at the hatred stemming from Fred Phelps, and his congregation.

    There is something about the current cultural morality concerning homosexuality, which makes living the lifestyle as the only option for those who have these feelings. This is a kind of oppression in itself. If I want to be free from homosexuality because of the destructive tendency it leaves in me, then I feel I have both a moral obligation, as well as the freedom to choose something that is more compatible with my sense of morality. If that means abstinance, then that for me is a good thing.

    But I don’t pass judgment on those who believe that the homosexual lifestyle is destructive, because I have first-hand experience that it is indeed so. Others may feel otherwise, and I pass no judgment on that choice either, but neither should such people pass judgment on me because I’ve decided to go another way. My experience with the ‘gay community’ in this country, is that it stifles any desire to change. There exist many contradictions in the community – on one hand, they believe that homosexuality is inbred, yet at the same time, some of them recognize that at a particular point in their lives, they chose to be gay. I find this contradiction all the time, yet the politically correct answer is that it is not a choice.

    The problem we face is that there is a huge pro-homosexual lobby, which has succeeded in changing the cultural milieu regarding same sex relationships, and it is making inroads into the acceptance of same sex unions and marriage. Nobody seems to be asking the questions about whether homosexuality is normative and good for our society. Few dare to ask these questions because of the potential political and social fallout.

    If your morality makes you sensitive of the suffering of homosexuals – great. There has indeed been much suffering. However, I think a question you might want to ask yourself is this: Is the suffering of the homosexual necessarily the fault of a society that rejects the lifestyle, or is it more due to the incompatibility of the lifestyle to the overall social mores? I think that homosexuals suffer more because we tell them that the gay lifestyle is normal and they should embrace it, when what I find is that many gay people struggle with accepting being gay, not because of society’s disapproval, but because of the moral issues involved in the lifestyle. And if you don’t think there are moral issues involved in the homosexual lifestyle, then I don’t think you have the whole story.

    I don’t find that those who oppose homosexuality can be put in the same camp as those who fly airplanes into buildings.

  178. Editors: The thrust of this comment: “People who disagree with me are the type of people who fly airplanes into buildings.” The comment and the commenter have been deleted from this site.

  179. DELETED.

  180. vjtorley @ 151

    Intrinsic goods are not a matter of personal preference. They are simply goods that are capable of being desired by any human being, for their own sake. I don’t know of anything more objective than the fact that health is a good thing. Moral philosophers may have slightly different lists of these goods, but that is because one philosopher’s definition of a given good may be broader than another philosopher’s, so that good A in one scheme encompasses goods B + C in another.

    Where does this “good”, intrinsic or otherwise, exist except in the mind of whoever is making the judgement at the time? It sounds to me like just another attempt argue that what is a subjective value judgement must have some sort of existence in objective reality – the fallacy of reification.

  181. —-Mark Frank: “I may well be banned for this but I think it is worth it. Mostly I comment on UD because I find it interesting to hear other views, but when I read this series of comments I was shaken.
    —- “vjtorley – I believe you to be a reasonable and pleasant person but this kind of reasoning sounds like the Taliban. It would be so easy to substitute Sharia law for Moral Law or Natural Law or whatever.”

    The natural moral law is not synonymous with any religion’s perception of Divine Law. That point has been made more than once by more than one person. VJ simply provided a reasoned argument based on natural law, an argument that is not dependent on any religious perspective. He was asked an honest question and he provided an honest answer. I would have given the same answer in my own way. Would you take away his free speech rights, or mine, on the grounds that you are offended by the argument? It appears so.

    —–“The key problem is this approach of working out what is right or wrong by abstract argument from a set of laws which for one reason or another you believe to be right. It could be, moral law, Sharia law, or the communist manifesto. The result is that the individual human situation and our reaction to it as humans is ignored, with disastrous results. We steel ourselves to ignore the suffering of others (in this case homosexuals) because we have worked out in theory what is right. This is what causes men to fly airliners into buildings. This is the world of the Handmaid’s Tale.”

    This is an old charge and it is nothing short of absurd. Both the Communist Manifesto and Sharia Law disavow the natural moral law and the inherent dignity of the human person, the very essence of the natural moral law. It is an irresponsible act of the first order to characterize those three world views as moral equivalents, or to even to place them in the same sentence. It is also irresponsible, and unkind, to suggest that anyone who provides reasoned arguments against homosexual behavior is unsympathetic to their plight. Yet, that is what you implied.

    —-“Moral principles should be descriptive/inductive not prescriptive/deductive. We should study human situations with compassion, sensitivity and intelligence and draw our lessons from them. Start off by acknowledging that Polanksi was wrong – what he did abhorrent. Then work out what it was about his behaviour that was abhorrent (in this case rather easy). Maybe that is the basis for a law against rape. But it wasn’t the law that made it wrong.”
    If a moral principle is not binding, it is not a moral principle. In fact, I, with others, am proposing the common sense answer that lies between two unreasonable extremes. On the one hand, we have the tyranny of moral relativism, brought on by the very atheistic communism that you alluded to. On the other hand, we have Sharia Law, which goes to the other extreme and posits a hard, bitter, and mindless absolutism that ignores the principles of right reason. Both extremes are unreasonable, which goes a long way toward explaining why they are extreme.

    If the natural moral law happens to be compatible with Christianity and not compatible with Islam or Atheism, that is because both the natural moral law and Christianity are reasonable. To tell the truth about the natural moral law is not to lack compassion, sensitivity, or intelligence, it is to liberate slaves from the world’s two competing tyrannies—Atheistic communism and Sharia Law. Advocates of the natural moral law ask their adversaries to reason with them.. Advocates of Sharia Law and Atheistic Communism demand that their critics keep quiet or they will be punished, by force if necessary. In effect, you have told your adversaries to shut up..

  182. 182

    So Seversky,

    If someone gives you a blow to the head, do you stop to wonder whether the synapses in your brain have interpreted such an event as an actual blow to the head and take offense, or do you suggest to yourself that such a perceived blow to the head may be something entirely different than what you percieve, and that maybe you shouldn’t rush to judgment on the person who has just committed (or not) this crime against you? Your reasoning is disasterous. How are you able to make any rational judgments?

  183. —-Mark: “Moral principles should be descriptive/inductive not prescriptive/deductive. We should study human situations with compassion, sensitivity and intelligence and draw our lessons from them. Start off by acknowledging that Polanksi was wrong – what he did abhorrent. Then work out what it was about his behaviour that was abhorrent (in this case rather easy). Maybe that is the basis for a law against rape. But it wasn’t the law that made it wrong.”

    If a moral principle is not binding, it is not a moral principle. In fact, I, with others, am proposing the common sense answer that lies between two unreasonable extremes. On the one hand, we have the tyranny of moral relativism, brought on by the very atheistic communism that you alluded to. On the other hand, we have Sharia Law, which goes to the other extreme and posits a hard, bitter, and mindless absolutism that ignores the principles of right reason. Both extremes are unreasonable, which goes a long way toward explaining why they are extreme.

  184. It’s a great summary of a key point in Eph 4:17 – 24.

    Excellent reference.

    (Which is not irrelevant to the focus of this thread!)

    Not at all.

    Something I decided to edit myself on earlier was the point that those “darkened in their understanding…having lost all sensitivity…” are not excused for it. The point is that they could see if they wanted to. Who would excuse someone for bumbling through their house and breaking everything in sight because they didn’t feel like turning on the light? No excuse at all.

    There must be a hunger and thirst for righteousness or we’ll remain in the dark.

  185. #177

    CannuckianYankee

    I admire your courage and openness about your sexual inclinations and attitude towards them. Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with abstaining if you feel happier that way – just as there is nothing wrong with heterosexual abstention. Western society does indeed place quite a lot of peer pressure on people to have sex – sometimes when they might prefer not to. It would perhaps be a kinder and more fulfilling place to live if for man people if they could get away from that pressure. Surely you can find such a niche for yourself? But that doesn’t make either form of sex wrong.

    It is interesting that you argued your case from your specific situation and the pressures and discomforts you feel. You didn’t look up what was right or wrong in a book or refer to a moral law. You didn’t need to.

  186. There must be a hunger and thirst for righteousness or we’ll remain in the dark.

    If I only could understand why even Darwinists, atheists and other non-Christian people can feel that way too?

  187. To vjtorley,

    Thanks for all the comments inside your comment (#170 I think). I cannot help thinking that you are question begging in the premises of your argument. I think that you are trying to deduce a moral yardstick from within rather than from without. I simply cannot understand how that can be possible, in principle.

    The reason the homosexual movement has been able to establish itself so effectively is surely due largely to the difficulty in arguing against it, if we begin with ourselves. Without outside input (a.k.a. God), I cannot for the life of me see how we can effectively argue against it, in principle. It is of course made worse due to heterosexual relational breakdown, such that gay couples (e.g. in New Zealand) now want the freedom and rights to adopt children. And why not, since they may be more stable than many heterosexual couples.

    The point is, beginning with ourselves, we are always trying to pull ourselves up by our own boot laces. The only reasoned answer, if we eliminate God as the source of morality, is “all things are permissible”, and may he with the biggest guns win (Schaeffer said some phrase like this).

  188. How many times can you ask an atheist “where do you get your ethical guidelines if you have no ultimate moral framework (ie the Abrahamic god)to hang them on??”

    All right, BGOG didn’t attempt to answer that perennial question. (But bannination?)

    For myself I can only answer: I am not quite certain but feel like I’ve been a decent person ever since I was born.I am not prepared to write an essay on that theme even if I might have some ideas. But the essence is what the Gnostics knew even before literalist Christianity took over:

    Christian Gnostic theologian Valentinius said all that needs to be said on the subject:
    “Much that is written in Pagan books is found also in the books of God’s Church. What they share in common are the words which spring from the heart, the law that is inscribed on the heart.”

  189. I think these threads are embarrassing and insulting. Not to atheists, most of whom I’m pretty sure are secure and confident in their knowledge of morality, but to christians, who apparently cannot figure themselves what is right and wrong but need to be told by an authority figure; and who also apparently cannot figure out how to use the internet discover what some non-religious theories of morality might be. Hint: wikipedia is pretty good at that kind of thing.

  190. Genuine question: what would you do if God asked you to sacrifice your firstborn child?

  191. Mark Frank

    Just to be perfectly clear: I do not believe that homosexual acts should be criminalized. Saying that an act is immoral is one thing; saying that it should be illegal is another thing entirely. Ditto for extra-marital sex. Finnis is of the same opinion.

  192. delmot (#190)

    Genuine question: what would you do if God asked you to sacrifice your firstborn child?

    If I heard a voice from the sky ordering me to sacrifice my firstborn child, I’d assume it was either a demon or an alien, and ignore it.

  193. delmont — Genuine question: what would you do if God asked you to sacrifice your firstborn child?

    Interesting question. The entire basis of Christianity is that God sacrificed His firstborn for you and accepting that is all that’s need to be right with Him and that any additional sacrifice on your part would be a rejection of His sacrifice.

    Obedience, of course, is required but that obedience includes refraining from infanticide.

    Now what if some spiritual force asked YOU to sacrifice YOUR first born? Assuming you are an atheist, you would initially ignore it. But suppose its persistence was such that it couldn’t be? What would give you the strength to stand up to it?

    Your pride? LOL. Your love? Isn’t that just a chemical reaction created by evolution to perpetuate the species? Surely, such a material thing could be set aside for some expedient end, right?

    Frankly, the only thing you could count on ultimately in such a circumstance was faith in the goodness of God.

  194. delmot,

    Genuine question: what would you do if God asked you to sacrifice your firstborn child?

    Maybe a relevant question, but I am afraid it reverts to a question of theology; HOW do God make himself known to people, how do we know God is standing before us? A talking lamb? (Re. talking serpent.)

    Which leads to the age-old question: Biblical literalism, or not? AFAIK, that haven’t yet been settled beyond reasonable doubt. Who is willing to stand up and say “I know, I represent ultimate authority.”

    I have firm opinions on such matters but I am not in a position to tell anyone what is right or wrong. I believe that in the end, we are all left to our own conscience, maturity, understanding, wisdom et cetera. No book can substitute for that. Why not just ask your God?

    Condemning other people is easy, but what about “Thou shalt not steal”? Should I let my children starve to death if the only option was to steal food?

    Frankly, and I guess that means I will no longer be with you either, I don’t think the Polanski question as it was posed was a suitable subject for this blog. What about some ID related subject instead?

  195. —-NDer: “The point is, beginning with ourselves, we are always trying to pull ourselves up by our own boot laces. The only reasoned answer, if we eliminate God as the source of morality, is “all things are permissible”, and may he with the biggest guns win (Schaeffer said some phrase like this).”

    You are right, of course. Putting religion aside, we have only two choices:

    [A] The natural moral law

    or

    [B] Might makes right.

    Those who make up their own personal morality to serve their own personal interests will end up choosing [B]. That is why the homosexual movement is busy working with the ACLU to establish “hate crime” laws, making themselves politically “mighty” and using the power of the state to silence those who disagree with their world view. Anyone who demands an illegitimate freedom apart from the natural moral law will invariably seek to take away the legitimate freedom of others.

  196. delmot,

    “Genuine question: what would you do if God asked you to sacrifice your firstborn child?”

    He did, and I have. I sacrificed my first and second child to Him. All Christians are obligated to sacrifice everything to the Lord. Nothing is otherwise safe in our own care.

  197. Cabal,

    I said,

    “There must be a hunger and thirst for righteousness or we’ll remain in the dark.”

    You said,

    “If I only could understand why even Darwinists, atheists and other non-Christian people can feel that way too?”

    I’m talking way more than feeling, first of all. Secondly, the first concept that you’d be faced with if really hungering and thirsting for righteousness is the question of an ultimate morality—a binding morality which one is obligated to adhere to.

    Now, everyone in one sense wants to be righteous. This goes back to rationalization. If we didn’t give a whip about doing “bad” things, then why do we rationalize anything at all? But that word is in the dictionary for a reason. So, everyone has a desire to be seen righteous by his/her peers, but that is an entirely different thing than hungering and thirsting after righteousness. You speak of the former, not the latter.

  198. Cabal and delmot,

    I don’t doubt that you both have a very real sense of morality, nor that it is the same as my own (not meaning that we agree on every point). What I recognize that you don’t, however, is that the moral code within my own heart is really, truly binding. I am absolutely obligated to it; God will hold me accountable to it.

  199. Cabal (#194)

    You wrote:

    Condemning other people is easy, but what about “Thou shalt not steal”? Should I let my children starve to death if the only option was to steal food?

    Of course not. In answer to your question, here’s what the book of Deuteronomy (15:4, 15:11, 24:17-22) has to say:

    15:4
    Nay, more! since the LORD, your God, will bless you abundantly in the land he will give you to occupy as your heritage, there should be no one of you in need…

    15:11
    “The needy will never be lacking in the land; that is why I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy kinsman in your country…

    24:17
    “You shall not violate the rights of the alien or of the orphan, nor take the clothing of a widow as a pledge.
    18
    For, remember, you were once slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, ransomed you from there; that is why I command you to observe this rule.
    19
    “When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf there, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the alien, the orphan or the widow, that the LORD, your God, may bless you in all your undertakings.
    20
    When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan and the widow.
    21
    When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.
    22
    For remember that you were once slaves in Egypt; that is why I command you to observe this rule.

    And here is what St. Thomas Aquinas has to say (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 66, article 7: Article 7. “Whether it is lawful to steal through stress of need?”):

    Things which are of human right cannot derogate from natural right or Divine right. Now according to the natural order established by Divine Providence, inferior things are ordained for the purpose of succoring man’s needs by their means. Wherefore the division and appropriation of things which are based on human law, do not preclude the fact that man’s needs have to be remedied by means of these very things. Hence whatever certain people have in superabundance is due, by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor. For this reason Ambrose [Loc. cit., 2, Objection 3] says, and his words are embodied in the Decretals (Dist. xlvii, can. Sicut ii): “It is the hungry man’s bread that you withhold, the naked man’s cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man’s ransom and freedom.”

    Since, however, there are many who are in need, while it is impossible for all to be succored by means of the same thing, each one is entrusted with the stewardship of his own things, so that out of them he may come to the aid of those who are in need. Nevertheless, if the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another’s property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    I hope that answers your question.

  200. Mr Vjtorley,

    I find your summary of Finnis’ position (@170) very hard to understand. It seems to switch between axiomatic arguments and “facts on the ground” arguments as necessary, and leaps from ‘not good’ to ‘wrong’ effortlessly. It ignores the obvious problem that if you run heterosexual relations through the same process, you’ll decide that heterosexual relations “can’t” be marriage either.

    In general, the principle of exclusivity seems a difficult one to attach to marriage, given the prevalence of multiple marriage traditions in the world. Has Finnis studied the exclusivity and commitment evidenced by gay couples, men and women, in countries where these unions are accepted as marriage? Are their lengths and rates of dissolution, reasons for dissolution radicaly different from heterosexual marriage? By appealing to any such study, is Finnis engaging in an ‘is-ought’ argument? “Because most gays are promiscuous, no gays can be committed and exclusive.” What kind of logic is that?? I’m not even arguing the factual validity of the precedent, the form alone doesn’t work. It judges all particulars on the basis of their membership in a class, which is almost the definition of prejudice.

    I find points 3-4 very problematic.

  201. Re #198

    “the moral code within my own heart is really, truly binding. I am absolutely obligated to it; God will hold me accountable to it.”

    If you don’t – what happens?

  202. Ok now we’re talking about a distinction between how one knows what is right, and what is one’s incentive to act on that knowledge. I think there’s a potentially interesting discussion to be had there – perhaps religion is an effective motivating force for many people. But not for all, and also that says nothing about whether or not there is any truth behind the religous claims.

  203. Nakashima (#200)

    My summary of Finnis’ argument (#170) was, despite its 16 points, a very concise one. That explains the apparent leaps in the logic which you noticed. I should add that Finnis has been writing on natural law for decades, and while many people may disagree with his position, it is a very well thought-out one. Even if you disagree with his premises, his logic is hard to fault.

    I shall confine my comments to premises 1 to 4 of my foregoing argument:

    1. Marriage is by nature an exclusive and permanent commitment.

    2. Marriage is by nature an institution dedicated to realizing the intrinsic human good of friendship.

    3. Same-sex friendships are not by nature exclusive and permanent commitments (even if a few same-sex couples happen to have such a commitment towards each other).

    4. Therefore same-sex friendships cannot be marriages.

    Premise 1 is in no way undermined by the existence of divorce in most human societies around the world. I did not bother to state the grounds for premise 1 because it would have made my post excessively long, but I knew that someone would remark on it, and sure enough, you did.

    In brief: what’s unique about marriage is that it’s an institution which is essentially ordered towards the realization of not one but two basic human goods: friendship and procreation. That’s what marriage is for. All human societies, past and present, have an institution called marriage. And in all societies, procreation is part and parcel of the raison d’etre of marriage. I’m not talking here about the raison d’etre of this or that particular marriage, for couples who are infertile can of course marry. I’m talking about the general question of what marriage as an institution is for.

    A public commitment to the procreation and rearing of children is a commitment of the utmost gravity. While it is true that children have been raised under all sorts of circumstances, the question we are dealing with here is: what kind of commitment between those who are responsible for procreating and raising them is in the best interests of the children?

    The uncontroversial point that Finnis is making here is that an exclusive and permanent commitment between the parents of the children is the kind of commitment which offers children the best chance to flourish as human beings. Hence an institution whose raison d’etre includes procreation should be an exclusive and permanent union.

    Note A: In claiming that an exclusive and permanent union between the parents is the kind of union that is most conducive to the flourishing of children, I’m talking about human nature. I’m not making a statistical statement, of the form: 100% of the time, children are better off with both parents sticking together. I’m simply making a statement about Homo sapiens: that human children do best with a Mum and Dad who have made an exclusive and permanent commitment to one another. It’s no more controversial than the statement that human children thrive if they are loved, hugged and listened to by their parents.

    Note B: I’m talking about human beings here, not Alpha Centaurians. Sometimes I think so-called “liberal” commentators are describing the latter, and I get the strong impression that they are trying to redefine human nature because they don’t like the kind of animal we truly are.

    Note C: Saying that marriage is by nature an exclusive and permanent union does not logically entail that divorce should be legally prohibited under all circumstances – although I would argue that at the very least, divorce should be difficult to obtain. Rather, what it means that marriage is meant to be forever, and publicly understood as such. Until about 1960, everyone the world over understood that basic point. That was part of the reason why I didn’t elaborate on premise 1, in my earlier post (#170).

    Premise 2 is also crucial to the argument. Marriage is not just a child-rearing institution. As Finnis clearly realized, thinking of marriage like that dehumanizes it. Marriage is a personal union between two human beings, not two breeding machines. It is built on the bedrock of a lifelong human friendship. It is precisely within the context of that exclusive and permanent friendship between husband and wife that children flourish best.

    During my discussion of premise 1 above, you may have entertained the following objection: “What about infertile couples who are getting married? Why should they be legally required to pledge publicly that their union will be a permanent one, if they cannot have any children anyway?”

    The answer to your objection should now be readily apparent. First, the foregoing objection is extremely disrespectful and downright patronizing towards infertile couples who do wish to make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other. Should they be legally prevented from doing so, despite their best intentions, simply because through an accident of nature which is no fault of their own, they are unable to have children – even though they may both be willing to do so?

    Second, if an infertile couple don’t wish to bind themselves in an exclusive and permanent fashion, that’s absolutely fine. They don’t have to. But then, why call their union a marriage, if they don’t even possess the intention that their union be an exclusive and permanent one? What does such a “union lite” have in common with the real McCoy? Nothing, beyond the mere fact of being a friendship. Any two human beings can be friends, but we don’t call them married on that account.

    Regarding premise 3: the simple reason why same-sex friendships are not by nature exclusive and permanent is that nothing in the nature of a same-sex union could make it exclusive and permanent. Marriage, as we saw, includes the intrinsic good of procreation, as well as friendship. The procreation and rearing of children is a task which by its nature requires an exclusive and permanent union between the parents, as such a union is most conducive to the flourishing of their children.

    In the case of a same-sex couple, there is no task they are undertaking which requires such a commitment. Hence there is nothing in the nature of a same-sex friendship which requires it to be an exclusive and permanent one.

    “But,” you may object, “what if a same-sex couple wish to bind themselves in an exclusive and permanent fashion? Should they be prevented from doing so?”

    The answer is that there is nothing to prevent two people of the same sex from being friends forever, there is nothing in the nature of their friendship which requires them to form an exclusive and permanent union, even though they may wish to do so. If the law were to recognize a same-sex union as an exclusive and permanent one, it would be tantamount to creating something out of nothing.

    I might also add that it would be morally unjust to allow two people of the same sex to bind themselves in an exclusive and permanent fashion. For what if one of them changed their mind, and decided that they no longer wished to be bound in such a fashion? They would then be saddled with their partner for the rest of their life, because of a rash promise they had made, which they could no longer undo. At least with a marriage between a man and woman, there is a perfectly good objective reason why it should be exclusive and permanent: it is inherently ordered towards procreation. With a same-sex friendship there is no such inherent reason.

    Some feminists have argued in the past that “Marriage is slavery.” They were wrong of course, but there was more than a germ of truth in their statement. For marriage would indeed be tantamount to slavery if it were not by its very nature the kind of union that requires an exclusive and permanent commitment, for the proper realization of one of the intrinsic human goods it is dedicated to – namely, procreation.

    You may reply that the moral and legal dilemma I have posed regarding the same-sex couple, who made a binding commitment but now bitterly regret it, is readily soluble in this day and age: “That’s easy. They can divorce.But if it’s legally that easy for them to separate, then obviously they never had a legally permanent union in the first place. (And that’s the sad thing: in most Western countries, the legal institution of marriage has basically been shattered by the introduction of quick, easy, no-fault divorce, available within a few weeks.)

    Now, if you think divorce should be legally available to everyone who wishes to leave a relationship, whatever reason they may have for doing so, then what you are really saying is that you don’t believe in the idea of marriage. I have already explained why I disagree with this point of view. All I will add here is that if you wish to abolish the institution of marriage as it has been traditionally understood, then you are far more intolerant than I.

    I’m sure you have one last question for me. “Why do you believe that infertile heterosexual couples are by nature capable of entering into a legally binding exclusive and permanent commitment, while same-sex couples are not?

    Here’s my answer: infertile heterosexual couples are by nature capable of performing the kind of act that generates a new human life, despite the fact that they cannot have a child. The way in which fertile and infertile heterosexual couples express their love physically is exactly the same: through an act which is by nature (yes, there’s that horrid phrase again!) procreative. Intrinsically, the act itself is a generative one, even if there happen to exist certain extrinsic circumstances (low sperm count, not enough eggs, blocked tubes etc.) which prevent the act from being generative for some couples.

    Now, I claimed in the premise 11 of my argument (#170) that the generative act is an intimate one, and in premise 12 I added that an intimate act, by its very nature, can only be morally good if it expresses the intrinsic human good of friendship. Otherwise it debases and degrades the people participating in it. This should be fairly self-evident: I don’t intend to belabor the point.

    Since an infertile couple perform the same kind of intimate act to express their love as a fertile couple, it must therefore express the same kind of friendship. Since the friendship between a husband and wife who are fertile is (as I have argued) of a most peculiar kind – i.e. exclusive and permanent – then the friendship between an infertile husband and wife must be of the same sort. In which case, it follows that an infertile heterosexual couple must be fully capable of having an exclusive and permanent love for each other, which is the kind of love that a true marriage requires.

    To sum up: infertile couples perform the same kinds of intimate sexual acts that fertile couples do (i.e. acts which are intrinsically generative); hence they must be naturally capable of the kind of exclusive and permanent love that procreative acts presuppose; hence they are fully capable of having exactly the same kind of exclusive and permanent love for each other that fertile couples do. Hence they can marry.

    What about a same-sex couple? Their case is in no way similar to that of the infertile heterosexual couple, as regards the nature of their sexual acts. The various kinds of sexual acts they perform are all intrinsically incapable of generating a new human life – unlike the case of the infertile couple, where the act they perform is still generative, even though some circumstances which are extrinsic to the act itself (e.g. a low, or zero, sperm count or egg count) may prevent the act from ever resulting in procreation.

    Since a same-sex couple can’t perform a generative act, and since procreation is the sole reason why marriage is by nature exclusive and permanent, then we have no grounds for believing that a same-sex couple are capable of having an exclusive and permanent love for each other, as there is absolutely no reason to believe that they are naturally capable of the kind of exclusive and permanent love which such a commitment presupposes, within the context of their same-sex relationship. I’m quite sure that same-sex couples truly love each other – but I would also maintain that their love is not the exclusive and permanent kind of love that a married couple have towards each other. I won’t argue this point any further; it should be obvious.

    On last question. You’re probably wondering if someone who lacked a belief in God could buy the argument I have sketched above. Short answer: yes, they could.

    Metaphysically, what the foregoing argument presupposes is that:

    (i) all human beings are capable of at least desiring (if not always realizing) the same set of intrinsic goods (such as friendship) for their own sake. Different natural law theorists have slightly different lists of these goods, but to give the reader an idea, health, procreation, play, friendship, art, and science (pursuit of knowledge) are commonly cited as examples of intrinsic human goods;

    (ii) for all human beings, all of these intrinsic goods which we share in common are conducive to our flourishing per se, even if in particular circumstances, and for particular individuals, their realization may happen to be inconvenient (here and now), inadvisable (here and now) or impossible (due to some accident or impediment);

    (iii) all human beings are constituted in such a way that they are naturally capable of realizing these goods and of satisfying the requirements for doing so – even if particular individuals, due to some misfortune or accident, may be prevented from realizing some of these goods as a result of some impediment;

    (iv) these intrinsic human goods are not in essential conflict with each other; they harmonize. Each person is a psychological unity. We may not be able to realize all of these goods in our lifetimes, but the goods are not opposed to each other per se. In practice, however, it may not be possible to devote one’s time and energy towards realizing more than a couple of them.

    In short, what statements (i) to (iv) affirm is that under the skin, we are all radically alike – and that includes homosexuals. “Different strokes for different folks,” “What might be right for you might not be right for some” – that’s all a lie. Our similarities are profound and ineradicable. We’re all human.

    Some of us suffer from accidental impairments – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – which prevent us from realizing some of the intrinsic goods we share by virtue of our common nature. Some of us have suffered accidents of misfortune during our lives. These things may scar us, but they can never take away our common humanity.

    In other words, the differences between people are merely extrinsic (as opposed to intrinsic) and hence superficial, as far as the intrinsic human goods are concerned. Ethically speaking, there are not different kinds of people; we are all the same, as far as the goods which perfect us as human beings are concerned.

    The reason why some individuals seem to be incapable of realizing one or more of these goods – or of even wanting to do so – has to do with their peculiar individual circumstances (e.g. an accident, injury or misfortune), and not their natures.

    In practice, however, it may not always be possible for us to treat or remove the impediments which block some people from realizing their full human potential. We may not always be able to understand the blockage, or we may lack the scientific know-how to treat it. (Case in point: it may be possible for scientists to grow back the brain of a so-called “human vegetable” in the year 2100, but for now, we can’t.) In such cases, we should remember that a human being with an impediment is the same kind of being as a “normal” one. And we should humbly remember that all of us are impaired to some degree or other. Nobody’s perfect.

    Could someone accept all these facts about human nature, as I have listed them, without a belief in God? I think so. Natural law does not explicitly presuppose God’s existence, as I argued above (#101).

    It would, of course, be a great mystery to a non-believer that all human beings happened to possess a common nature, such that they were all perfected by the same set of intrinsic goods, and that these intrinsic goods all happened to harmonize with one another, and that we were naturally capable (barring some extrinsic impediment) of doing whatever it took to realize them. But I suppose such a non-believer could say: “Never mind why this is so. I’ll just take that as a given fact about the world, and proceed from there when reasoning about right and wrong.”

    There have been Aristotelian atheists – such as Ayn Rand – whose metaphysical presuppositions were not so far removed from those of the hypothetical non-believer I have just described.

    Another reason why a non-believer might take the foregoing metaphysical presuppositions as a “given” is that the alternative is ethically unthinkable: either there is no such thing as “human nature” (which I take it is what Mr. Nakashima believes), or that there are fundamentally different kinds of people (e.g. heterosexuals and homosexuals), with different natures (at least from an ethical perspective). The disastrous implications of these views is that they are irreconcilable with a belief in human equality. If there are fundamentally different kinds of people, then how can they all be equal? And how can we be equal if we don’t share a common nature?

    I really do believe that Einstein is no greater, better, more valuable or more important than a so-called “cretin” or “moron.” I suspect that Darwinists do not share this belief. As far as I can tell, they are intellectual snobs. They appear to regard intellectually impaired people (at least, some of them) as morally inferior and less valuable. Come on, ‘fess up. You do, don’t you, Darwinists?

    So criticize me if you like, Mr. Nakashima, but don’t saw off the ethical branch you’re sitting on.

  204. My dear Mr Vjtorley,

    Thank you for expanding on your thoughts and communications of Finnis’ position. I apologize if you found something in my previous message, or in any of my messages, that has caused you grief, for I feel more emotion behind your words here than previously.

    As a bit of background about myself, I have said elsewhere that I adopted two children. My first marriage was infertile, so I take your example to heart. It does not offend me at all, I think it very relevant.

    Also, if you look above on this thread, you’ll see that my response to Mr. Arrington’s original questions was that I do believe heartily that we are all the same, and that there is a universal morality. I share your belief that we are radically alike, a phrase I like quite a lot. It brings to mind (to me, anyway) the kind of ‘universals’ that evolutionary psychologists seek to discover. I agree that an institution of marriage is such a universal.

    So before going to discuss your points, I just want to end this message with the thought that we are in violent ageement about our alikeness, and the alikeness of all humanity.

  205. Mr Vjtorley,

    To lighten the mood of our previous messages, may I say that I also feel 98% radically alike to most primates, somewhat less to hamsters, less to potatoes and ferns, etc. In the movie, E.T. had DNA so I open my arms of brotherhood to him as well, even if he is from Alpha Centauri.

  206. Mr Vjtorley,

    In your response, you seem to think that I have objections to premise 1 based on issues of permanence. I do not. I understand the desire for an institution of marriage even in the face of methods to dissolve it. I think the universal marriage that is aspired to is a permanent marriage.

    The same cannot be said for exclusivity. Plural marriage has been very common in history. I don’t think this point harms the argument too much, but it does introduce some issues of variation in marriage, and begins to edge towards questioning whether there is a platonic ideal of marriage that looks only like the top of a wedding cake.

    So my response to premise 1 is that I think Finnis has left out of marriage a bundle of property rights which are important parts of marriage, beyond that it is a marker of hoped for permanent emotional bonding and exclusive procreational commitment (usually for women only). In the absence of procreational rationales, these other rights and obligations, together with the desire to proclaim the emotional bond, motivate couples of all stripes to desire marriage. Further, if Finnis’ argument only analyzes monogamy, it can’t be taken as a complete analysis of the human condition.

  207. Mr Vjtorley,

    Your discussion gives a lot of space to the topic of whether a couple can have children, and whether this should ever constitute a barrier to marriage.

    You note that infertility should never considered a barrier to heterosexual couples being married. I agree. My mother died several years ago. My father is in his seventies and just married his high school sweetheart. I am extremely happy for them. Their marriage is all about the proclamation of an emotional and hoped for permanent bond, and the securing of other property rights between them. Children are not, if you will permit the term, an issue.

    Ah, but could they have children? Well, they belong to certain classes, and if the platonically ideal Man and the platonically ideal woman had platonic sex, they would have a platonically ideal Baby.

    This appeal to class membership to define an ‘intrinsic’ nature to their relationship is the deep problem of the argument. I find it very hard to square with your very ringing and striking position for the commonality of all humanity.

    Contra my father’s marriage, there are gay couples who are very ready to invest in heroic efforts to procreate using every possible assistance of madern medecine to fuse their DNA, implant a viable fetus and see it brought to term. These two men, or these two women, have an emotional bond they wish to proclaim, wish to enjoy certain property rights and obligations, and wish to procreate. Why deny their particular relationships the title of marriage on the basis of any class they belong to?

    Does Finnis adress this issue of explaining why sex and sexual prefernence classes should be given different status than skin color classes or economic classes? In Japan, there are Untouchable classes, just like India. Does Finnis explain why this caste barrier to marriage is illusory, while the sexual barrier is not?

  208. delmot,

    “Ok now we’re talking about a distinction between how one knows what is right, and what is one’s incentive to act on that knowledge. I think there’s a potentially interesting discussion to be had there – perhaps religion is an effective motivating force for many people. But not for all, and also that says nothing about whether or not there is any truth behind the religous claims.”

    And so the smoke starts. You couldn’t me more wrong. You’ve skipped the more important and logical next step in your thinking. I.E., if we can agree that there is some “moral code” in everyone’s heart, why is it there and where did it come from. I submit to you, if you stick to the most logical, conclusion the rest—the incentive—follows. I don’t follow my conscience because of some fearful expectation of judgment, I do it because I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just, simply, right. I also do it out of my love for Christ.

  209. Cabal @188,

    For myself I can only answer: I am not quite certain but feel like I’ve been a decent person ever since I was born.

    You see, the answer to your mystery is that we are here endeavoring to uncover the SOURCE of your morality. Just because you may be an atheist does not equip your heart or soul any differently.

    delmot,

    Genuine question: what would you do if God asked you to sacrifice your firstborn child?

    Well, I know what would happen to the person who listens to that command – they will fare better if they use the insanity plea.

  210. ““the moral code within my own heart is really, truly binding. I am absolutely obligated to it; God will hold me accountable to it.”

    Hoo boy. If you do it from obligation is isn’t written in your heart, and if you have no choice but to follow it, then you don’t really have free will.

  211. Mr. Nakashima

    Thank you for your recent posts. First of all, I would like to apologize if my tone sounded harsh in my previous post. I had not realized that our views on marriage as a human universal were so close, and as I had not read your earlier comments on this very long thread, I was writing under the mistaken impression that you, like many contemporary Darwinists, denied the existence of “human nature.”

    As an aside, I should mention that although many modern writers on evolution contend that Darwinism destroyed the notion of organisms having an essence or nature, in fact a Darwinist could affirm the existence of human nature, if he/she wished to do so, as Darwinists believe that evolution proceeds at a glacial pace, over millions of years. (For a Goldschmidtian saltationist, who believes that large changes can literally happen overnight, such an affirmation would be difficult, if not impossible.) A Darwinist could affirm that at any given point in time, members of the same human (or animal) species will share the same package of intrinsic goods. A Darwinist would contend, however, that over a very long period of time, human nature would change. For practical intents and purposes, a nature that changes very slowly can still be considered as an essence. (It gets tricky with chronospecies, but you can still preserve the notion of a nature if you are willing to drop the transitivity requirement. In other words, A and its descendant B, separated by 1 million years, may have the same nature; B and its decendant C may have the same nature as well; but that does not necessarily mean that A and C, separated by 2 million years, have a common nature. But I digress.)

    You wrote that you had adopted two children. That is a noble thing you have done.

    I would also like to wish your father every happiness in his new marriage. He must be a healthy man, to be tying the knot in his seventies. I’m happy for him and his wife.

    In your discussion of Finnis’ views, you mentioned polygamy. I haven’t read what Finnis has written on this topic, but I would imagine that he’d consider a polygamous union to be a deeply flawed kind of marriage, because the element of exclusivity is absent. I should add that even in societies that tolerate polygamy, it is relatively rare: typically no more than 5% of married men have more than one wife.

    It might sound like a put-down to say that a polygamous union is a flawed marriage, but I think if you asked women around the world how they would feel about sharing their husband with another woman, the overwhelming reaction, in all cultures, would be one of extreme reluctance. Only severe economic pressures in certain poor countries would make women even consider the idea of polygamy – which is why you don’t see it in affluent societies like Japan, the USA and Europe. The human heart has the same needs, the world over, and one of these needs is to be loved in an exclusive fashion.

    Regarding caste barriers: I presume you were talking about the Bunrakumin in Japan (where I happen to live). The reason why caste barriers, economic classes and skin color are impediments to marriage is that they do not prevent a couple from (a) loving each other in an exclusive and permanent fashion; or (b) procreating a child.

    With a gay couple it is different. There may be isolated cases of same-sex individuals who have had an exclusive and lifelong physical relationship, but I have yet to hear of any. The mere fact that doctors can take the DNA of two gay partners and use it to help make a new human life does not mean that gays have a generative capacity as such. (After all, doctors could do the same thing with the DNA of two children.)

    Look. I’ll put it in historical, Darwinian terms. Men and women have co-evolved, physically and psychologically, to cope with child-rearing, so we know they’re up to the task. Men and men have not co-evolved in this fashion: historically, children have been raised by a mother and a father. So there’s no reason to think two men would make suitable parents of a child. Gay adoption is a very unwise idea.

    The American College of Pediatricians has a Web site explaining why: http://www.acpeds.org/?CONTEXT.....=711636269

    I’ll quote from their article:

    Finally, research has demonstrated considerable risks to children exposed to the homosexual lifestyle. Violence between homosexual partners is two to three times more common than among married heterosexual couples. Homosexual partnerships are significantly more prone to dissolution than heterosexual marriages with the average homosexual relationship lasting only two to three years. Homosexual men and women are reported to be promiscuous, with serial sex partners, even within what are loosely-termed “committed relationships.” Individuals who practice a homosexual lifestyle are more likely than heterosexuals to experience mental illness, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies, and shortened life spans. Although some would claim that these dysfunctions are a result of societal pressures in America, the same dysfunctions exist at inordinately high levels among homosexuals in cultures where the practice is more widely accepted.

    In summary, tradition, and science agree that biological ties and dual gender parenting are protective for children. The family environment in which children are reared plays a critical role in forming a secure gender identity, positive emotional well-being, and optimal academic achievement. Decades of social science research documents that children develop optimally when reared by their two biological parents in a low conflict marriage.

    Homosexuals share a common nature with the rest of humanity. That does not imply, however, that a homosexual partnership has the same potential for exclusive and lifelong love as a marriage between a man and a woman. Gays are children of God, but a gay partnership is totally unsuitable for raising a child. Gays who want to do something for children might like to consider sponsoring a child, instead of adopting.

  212. Mr Nakashima:

    Sorry. I made a typo in my previous post. I should have written:

    The reason why caste barriers, economic classes and skin color are NOT impediments to marriage is that they do not prevent a couple from (a) loving each other in an exclusive and permanent fashion; or (b) procreating a child.

  213. avocationist,

    Hoo boy. If you do it from obligation is isn’t written in your heart, and if you have no choice but to follow it, then you don’t really have free will.

    Would you care to show how something being written on my heart and being obligated to do it are mutually exclusive. They certainly are not. Further, I didn’t say I did it because I was obligated to it, just simply that I am obligated, in that I will be held accountable in the end.

    Who said I didn’t have a choice to follow it? I think we must understand obligation differently. Do people always fulfill their obligations? I know I sometimes fail to. Am I the only one?

  214. Brent:
    if we can agree that there is some “moral code” in everyone’s heart, why is it there and where did it come from. I submit to you, if you stick to the most logical, conclusion the rest—the incentive—follows

    Well naturally I disagree. I believe there can be a rational basis for morality. For example, “do as you would be done by” seems to me to be self evident, and despite its simplicity can be a powerful moral guide. Or there is Kant’s Categorical Imperative, an even more thorough attempt to ground our moral intuitions in rationality. That does unfortunately still leave an incentive gap – why should I do what is rational? But isn’t that a problem for your explanation too? In your terms, it seems that not everyone has the moral code in their heart, even if they can understand it in their head. Why would a kind and loving god create people lacking in this way?

    Also there is the Euthyphro dilemma to consider. Is something moral becase God commands it, or does he command it because it is moral? If the former, then morality is essentially arbitrary – whatever God commands, is right. Hence my question about sacrificing your firstborn (which you cheated your way out of, I note). Alternatively, if you feel that God could not or would not command absolutely anything, then he himself must be following an external moral code.

  215. delmot,

    God is morality itself. He is good itself, and it could be no other way. Even if God were the exact opposite of what the Bible claims and most people understand Him to be, with all that would imply, He still would be good. God is the only basis for good or morality. That is why your next question, which essentially you have dodged, should be where does this mysterious moral code in our hearts come from. Just because the moral code is a rational one doesn’t mean that it didn’t have its source in God, which, I again say, is the only logical conclusion. Without that conclusion there is nothing but arbitrariness, period.

    In your terms, it seems that not everyone has the moral code in their heart, even if they can understand it in their head.

    Could you point out where I said something to that effect? I don’t believe that and don’t think I’ve said anything to lead you to that conclusion.

    And by the way, do you consider what a parent says to their child arbitrary?

  216. vjtorley @ 203

    I really do believe that Einstein is no greater, better, more valuable or more important than a so-called “cretin” or “moron.” I suspect that Darwinists do not share this belief. As far as I can tell, they are intellectual snobs. They appear to regard intellectually impaired people (at least, some of them) as morally inferior and less valuable. Come on, ‘fess up. You do, don’t you, Darwinists?

    Speaking only for myself, I have to answer with a qualified ‘no’ since it depends on what you mean by terms like “greater”, “better” or “more valuable”. By what standards are you assessing the greatness or value or worthiness of people?

    By general agreement, Einstein is regarded as one of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time. He was certainly better at science than most other people and the physics community would most probably agree that he was much more valuable to them as a scientist than a “cretin” or “moron”.

    However, if another measure of worth is the rights granted to an individual by society then did Einstein have a greater entitlement to rights within society and, if not, should he have? My answer, in both cases, would be ‘no’. Just as everyone should be equal before the law, so should every member of a civilized society have exactly the same entitlement to all basic human rights. On that measure, both Einstein and the “cretin” and “moron” were and should have been held exactly equal.

    By another measure, of course, we could get yet another answer. If the “cretin” or “moron” is fortunate enough to come from a loving home then they will almost certainly be much more valuable to their mothers, fathers, siblings and friends than some weird scientist like Einstein.

    I should note in passing, that if one of the basic human rights is held to be the right to choose your partner in life then it should apply to all, regardless of their sexual orientation. If you wish to restrict the use of the word “marriage” only to those partnerships sanctioned by religions according to their beliefs and call those sanctioned by secular society something like “civil partnerships” then, personally, I have no objection.

  217. vjtorley

    Does it not concern you that it requires a abstract 16 point argument (which you admit was over concise) to establish the wrongness of homosexuality? If someone were to present a 16 point argument to establish that Polanski was not doing anything wrong what would be your reaction?

    Would you

    1) Study the argument carefully in case you had slipped up in your calculations and not realised that in fact child rape in these circumstances was OK.

    2) Dismiss the argument as absurd as Polanski’s act was clearly wrong.

    3) Something else?

    By choosing a controversial area you leave wiggle room for complex (and in my view meaningless) arguments. But as soon as you choose a more clear cut outcome the immediate reaction to the situation supersedes any abstract deductive approach.

  218. Brent,

    Could you point out where I said something to that effect? I don’t believe that and don’t think I’ve said anything to lead you to that conclusion.

    By “your terms” i just meant the “moral code in your heart” bit. So (unless I am reading you wrong) you think that everyone does have the moral code in their hearts? Because some people sure behave as though they don’t. They seem quite happy to act in their own interests, even when they know that would be the “wrong” thing to do.

    As to the source – well I have given my answer already. I believe it’s rational to treat others as I would be treated, I believe that, generally speaking, moral actions are those which best lead to the survival and thriving of humanity. How is that arbitrary? I also believe that certain actions, e.g. not neglecting to eat, are best for my own survival. Is that arbitrary? Is my appetite proof of God?

    You are perhaps suggesting that rationality and logic need God to justify them. If so, I’m afraid I simply disagree again. I think logic just is. It doesn’t require further explanation or grounding. That argument is basically a “first cause” type argument and they don’t impress me much (fyi yes I also believe that the universe ‘just is’, or rather the big bang ‘just happened’).

  219. You were born with an appetite. It was later you came to believe that eating was good for your survival.

  220. delmot,

    Well, thank you for clearly stating your position. It makes absolutely no sense and there can be no reasoning with someone who refuses reason. Everything came from nothing. Profound… profound gobbledygook.

    You are god, and there is no other.

    It’s interesting that you think God is a “‘first cause’ type argument“, whereas your “logic just is” argument is not.

  221. Mr Frank,

    I think you’ve misrepresented Mr Vjtorley’s argument. He hasn’t argued against homosexuality per se, merely that recognition of certain gay relationships as ‘marriage’ is both wrong and definitionally impossible.

    Just as we’ve discussed marriages of infertile couples, aged couples, I’ve also been thinking of how to process arranged marriage and marriage of convenience through this argument against gay marriage. It would seem that a gay man and a lesbian woman can marry each other, but not the partners they truly love. I’m also troubled by the shading of marriage with value judgements such as flawed (raised with respect to plural marriage). if there is a scale in marriage of better and worse, where does it come from? Does it have a societal component? I wonder how much of this wonderland Finnis has explored?

  222. Mark Frank (#217)

    I quite understand your impatience with a 16-point argument. If someone asked me to explain in one sentence why I think a sexual act between a same-sex couple can never be morally justified, I’d answer: because even if act is performed by two people who love each other very deeply, the act itself is not (and cannot be) an expression of exclusive and permanent love, per se. Marital love is unique, because an act of intimacy between a married couple is capable of expressing precisely that kind of love.

    I should add that I have nothing against gay couples living together and sharing their lives together as friends. Nor do I oppose the idea of them entering into some legally recognized mutual property arrangement, if they so wish.

    In response to your comment on Roman Polanski: I would not even think of comparing what Roman Polanski did to the girl he raped with what gay couples do. Everyone with a conscience knows that violating the body of another human being is wrong, and we don’t need a 16-point argument to spell that out.

    When we are talking about a sexual act between consenting adults who happen to love each other very deeply, it takes quite a bit of a subtle argumentation to expose why such an act may nonetheless fail to be morally good. In Polanski’s case the positive elements were wholly absent, so it’s a no-brainer.

  223. #221

    Nakashima

    I think you’ve misrepresented Mr Vjtorley’s argument. He hasn’t argued against homosexuality per se, merely that recognition of certain gay relationships as ‘marriage’ is both wrong and definitionally impossible.

    I think not.

    Vjtorley

    #222

    If someone asked me to explain in one sentence why I think a sexual act between a same-sex couple can never be morally justified,

    But I am more interested in the last paragraph. I asked:

    If someone were to present a 16 point argument to establish that Polanski was not doing anything wrong what would be your reaction?

    His response appears to be that in this case that no obscure argument relating to moral law could possibly be relevant because “Everyone with a conscience knows that violating the body of another human being is wrong”. This what I mean by our reaction as human beings trumping any reference to moral law. And my conscience tells me quite strongly that there is absolutely nothing wrong with homosexual relationships per se (although of course there may things wrong with specific homosexual and heterosexual relationships). Morality should be based on human reaction or we end up with the Taliban.

  224. 224

    Brent,

    “Would you care to show how something being written on my heart and being obligated to do it are mutually exclusive.”

    They are not quite the same. One is the voice of the conscience, and the other is a conscious understanding, involving an outside belief system.

    “Further, I didn’t say I did it because I was obligated to it, just simply that I am obligated, in that I will be held accountable in the end.”
    I like karma better, even though I think that karma is part of the setup of this universe, set up by God along with every other parameter, it is a simple matter of consequences. What I don’t like about the Christian view is that it says we are free, but if we exercise that freedom, we will be punished to an unimaginable degree. That is like having a burning building with trapped people inside, and standing at the only exit, and as each person comes up, you say that if they would like to pass, they must give every cent and worldly good to you. Naturally, most agree. But was it a gift freely given?

  225. 225

    Mark Frank,

    Morality should be based on human reaction or we end up with the Taliban.

    The Taliban are humans that have moral “reaction” themselves. Are you saying that their “human reactions” are wrong compared to yours?

  226. #225

    The point is that the Taliban are obsessed with their moral code and blind themselves to the direct appeal to human emotion of the suffering created by their rules.

    I say that they are wrong to do this. But when I do so I am not myself referring to some other moral code. I am appealing to your humanity. I may fail.

    I am making an appeal for “bottom-up” ethics as opposed to “top-down”.

  227. 227

    Mark Frank,

    I am making an appeal for “bottom-up” ethics as opposed to “top-down”.

    There is no valid “appeal to humanity” with bottom-up ethics. I reject bottom-up ethics out of hand, because they cannot differentiate between anything. Does evolution adhere to a “real” and transcendental ethic that is not also the product of it, or does evolution provide for what is right because it produces all standards? (oh wait, I forgot, you don’t even think it produces objective standards).

  228. There is no valid “appeal to humanity” with bottom-up ethics. I reject bottom-up ethics out of hand, because they cannot differentiate between anything.

    As I said I may fail. You clearly find the Taliban approach to ethics more acceptable. You are uncomfortable unless there is a book of rules where you can look up the answer as to what is right and what is wrong. It is a consequence of my approach to ethics that I cannot prove you wrong. I can only point out the consequences and inconsistencies of your approach.

    Does evolution adhere to a “real” and transcendental ethic that is not also the product of it, or does evolution provide for what is right because it produces all standards? (oh wait, I forgot, you don’t even think it produces objective standards).

    Evolution doesn’t adhere to anything, any more than continental drift or the circulation of the blood. It just a description of how we got to where we are. As a result we have feelings, consciences, weaknesses and strengths etc. But they way we got to be what we are does not entail anything about the rightness or wrongness of what we do.

  229. Brent:

    Everything came from nothing. Profound… profound gobbledygook.

    According to quantum physics, particles appear out of nothing all the time.

    It’s interesting that you think God is a “‘first cause’ type argument“, whereas your “logic just is” argument is not.

    A first cause argument argues from something that we know exists to something that we do not. But we already know logic exists. Aha but you do know God exists! Well, regardless, “logic just is” is still not a first cause argument.

  230. 230

    delmot,

    “According to quantum physics, particles appear out of nothing all the time”

    Prior to be onset of matter, what did your logic say that quantum particles did?

  231. I’m not sure that is in the domain of logic. Anyway it’s an open question. And “God did it” is no answer, merely a deferral. How did God do it? Ineffably, I guess. Which god anyway? Your god? Allah? Vishnu? Chaos? Ra? Mbomo? Damballah? etc etc.

  232. delmot,

    “According to quantum physics, particles appear out of nothing all the time”

    Not so. Although to contradict one who believes in magic is a fools game I will do so anyway. To quote William Lane Craig.

    “Virtual particles are theoretical entities and its not even clear that they exist as opposed to being merely theoretical constructs.

    However there is a much more important point to be made about this. You see, theses particles , if they are real, DO NOT COME OUT OF NOTHING because the quantum vacuum is SOMETHING. The quantum vacuum is not what most people envision when they think of a vacuum, that is absolutely nothing. On the contrary, it’s a sea of fluctuating energy, an arena of violent activity that has a rich physical structure and can be described by physical laws. These particles are thought to originate by fluctuations of energy in the vacuum.

    The quantum world is not an example of something coming into being out of nothing, or something coming into being with out a cause. The quantum vacuum and the energy locked up into the vacuum are the cause of those particles. And then we have to ask what is the origin of the whole quantum vacuum itself? Where does it come from?

    You’ve simply pushed back the issue of creation. Now you have to account for how this very active ocean of fluctuating energy came into being. If quantum physical laws operate within the domain described by quantum physics, you can’t legitimately use quantum physics to explain the origin of that domain itself. You need something transcendent that’s beyond the domain in order to explain how the entire domain came into being. Suddenly were back to the origins question.”

    Vivid

  233. Mark Frank,

    As I said I may fail. You clearly find the Taliban approach to ethics more acceptable.

    It’s funny that you would try to vilify me and say that something is “clear” when it isn’t. What is clear is that there is no standard to be found by bottom-up evolutionary ethics that can decide between your humanity and the Taliban’s humanity. I believe in objective morality so I CAN say that the Taliban is objectively wrong; you, however, cannot. If anything is “clear” it should be that there is no “objective humanity (of ethics)” that you’re appealing to by your system of bottom-up ethics even when you try to convince me or anyone else by appealing to my “humanity” that the Taliban is wrong (as if by humanity you could mean anything other than subjectivity; you can’t, not by your system).

    I don’t look up morality in any book of rules. My goodness, you assume a lot that just isn’t there. Objective morality is known in our conscience. There may be differences periodically between people, but nothing like A TOTAL difference as one would expect if morality did “evolve” from chaos.

  234. delmot,

    My real point is simply that your “logic just is” leaves us no better off, certainly, than God did it. At least there is logic and reason to lead us to the latter, however, whereas the former is simply saying in effect, “I don’t want to bother thinking about the matter anymore.” But, isn’t there this little matter of truth that we should consider?

    It’s as if you think you can sorta just slide out of acknowledging anything that you might not like. It doesn’t work that way. The truth is the truth, no matter what you believe.

  235. 235

    Objective morality is known in our conscience. There may be differences periodically between people, but nothing like A TOTAL difference as one would expect if morality did “evolve” from chaos.

    So, Clive, how do you explain the existence of sociopaths who do exhibit a “TOTAL difference”? Namely, the fact that they appear to entirely lack a conscience.

  236. 236

    BTW, I should note that some prefer to use the term “psychopath” in reference to those who lack any discernible conscience, and use “sociopath” to refer to those with Antisocial Personality Disorder, who in fact can be capable of some concern for others. In any case, whatever the terminological/diagnostic category, it’s hard to argue that there are some people for whom “conscience” is merely an intellectual concept, if they even think about it at all.

  237. Brent,

    I’m afraid I just don’t see how logic and reason lead us to God, and believe me I am very familiar with all the arguments. I don’t think I am sliding out of anything any more than you are. We both agree, I presume, that questioning has to stop somewhere, one can’t just keep asking “why?”. I just prefer to stop one step before you. You think a creator is necessary, and yet stands in no further need of explanation. I don’t think a creator is necessary, and just what we have stands in no further need of explanation.

    I doubt it will benefit either of us to continue debating those arguments, but I am interested just to know if you think they justify belief in the Judaeo-Christian god, or merely a deist kind of creator.

  238. —Mark Frank: [to Clive] “As I said I may fail. You clearly find the Taliban approach to ethics more acceptable.”

    There are always two extremes to be avoided. On the one hand, we should reject psychotic reactionaries who propound unreasonably rigid theological/cultural/and social rules at variance with human nature [Talibanism, religious ideology]. On the other hand, we should reject neurotic liberals who propound irresponsible moral relativism. which denies the very existencd of human nature [Darwinism, secularist ideology]. One extreme is just as dangerous as the other, because both lead to tyranny, as Clive clearly understands, and as you clearly do not.

    Standing like a giant colossus in the middle of these two unreasonable dogmas [and they are both dogmas] we have the reasonable natural moral law, which aligns itself perfectly with human nature. In your hysteria, you reject the middle ground, accept the neurotic extreme and reject reason as if it was the psychotic extreme. Unfortunaly, in your confusion, you drag Clive into your liberal fantasy. He proposes reason in accordance with human nature, you reject both as non-existenc, and propose instead the tyranny of moral relativism.

  239. #233

    It’s funny that you would try to vilify me and say that something is “clear” when it isn’t.

    Clive – I am sorry. I only mean’t “Taliban approach” as a colourful label for top down ethics. It was not intended to vilify you. It is, I think, clear that you find top down ethics more acceptable.

    I don’t look up morality in any book of rules. My goodness, you assume a lot that just isn’t there. Objective morality is known in our conscience. There may be differences periodically between people, but nothing like A TOTAL difference as one would expect if morality did “evolve” from chaos.

    I am confused. What is it that we know from our conscience? Rules or that specific situations are right or wrong?

    Why would you expect a total difference between consciences if they had evolved? We don’t get a total difference in other aspects of our psychology. We all evolved to meet similar pressures and there is extensive gene and cultural flow. There of course some differences in conscience between different times and places and people.

  240. Mark Frank (#223)

    You raised an interesting point in your post, concerning the reliability of conscience as a guide to morality.

    Conscience is a pretty trustworthy guide when it tells us that certain pursuits (e.g. health or the pursuit of knowledge) are inherently good. Conscience is also a reliable guide when it tells us that certain acts which clearly thwart or subvert the realization of these intrinsic goods (e.g. starving oneself to death, or taking brain-damaging chemicals with the aim of thwarting one’s ability to acquire new knowledge) or which violate the human agents seeking these goods (e.g. murder) are inherently bad.

    However, conscience is far less reliable when making the judgement that a certain act does not thwart or subvert any of the intrinsic human goods that are part and parcel of human nature. That is why we should be wary of our own subjective judgements that there is “absolutely nothing wrong” with an act (to cite your words). Judgements of this sort may often be wrong, because they fail to consider the act from all angles, with reference to the whole range of irreducibly distinct intrinsic goods that constitute our nature. Of course, we are not obliged to pursue all of these goods, but we are obliged to respect them, by doing nothing that would thwart or subvert their realization.

    As an aside, I find it amazing that certain people who readily acknowledge the difficulty of making the assessment that a human project (e.g. building a park, a factory or a wind farm) is harmless when examining its long-term ecological consequences, suddenly transform themselves into mental giants, capable of making instant snap assessments of the morality of sexual acts, on the basis of scant and often politically biased data from social scientists, which typically looks only at the short-term social consequences of human acts. Why?

    When James Hansen says we need to look not just a few decades but a few centuries ahead when pondering the long-term implications of continuing fossil fuel use, wise heads nod sagely. But when politicians vote on laws that will have radical effects on society and on people’s lifestyles, nobody even thinks of constructing detailed social models that look at the consequences of the proposed changes, 300 years down the track – or even 30 years. Instead, what they typically do is look at “progressive” country X (which is usually a lot smaller, more isolated and less prone to having social problems anyway), gleefully rub their hands and say: “See? They passed this law a few years ago, and they haven’t had any problems yet!” How shallow – and how sad.

  241. #240

    Vjtorley

    There is an important distinction between assessing the full consequences of an action – which may indeed be extremely difficult or may be quite easy – and assessing its morality.

    Your argument in #101 did not attempt to show that homosexual acts lead to unpleasant consequences. Rather argued that homosexuality was wrong itself. It may turn out that by some obscure causal chain that Polanski’s action led to a net benefit to mankind – but that doesn’t excuse him. It was still wrong.

    I am actually not sure that you, Clive and Barry (among others) have the same view of the role of conscience. For me it is just a term for my moral reaction to certain outcomes. So it is easy to understand. But for you guys – it is a way of discovering some objective moral truth.

    1) What do you discover – the moral worth of some particular event, the moral worth of some rules – both – something else?

    2) How do you know your discovery is correct?

    3) If the rules such a moral law or the Bible conflict with what your conscience tells you which wins and why?

    I am not sure you all give the same answer to these questions.

  242. Mark Frank (#241)

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. As a general comment, I’d like to make a suggestion. If you want to understand where I’m coming from, I strongly recommend that you read John Finnis’ article, Aquinas’ Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    I’ll address your remarks on conscience first. Here is what Finnis writes in section 3.1 of his article, on conscience, as understood by Aquinas:

    Conscience in Aquinas’ view is not a special power or presence within us, but is our practical intelligence at work, primarily in the form of a stock of judgments about the reasonableness (rightness) or unreasonableness (wrongness) of kinds of action (kinds of option). Since each such judgment is of the form “[It is true that] action of the kind phi is always [or generally] wrong [or: is generally to be done, etc.]” or “phi is [always] [or: generally] required [or forbidden] by reason”, it must be the case – as Aquinas stresses very forcefully – that one’s conscience is binding upon oneself even when it is utterly mistaken and directs or licenses awful misdeeds. For since it is logically impossible that one could be aware that one’s present judgment of conscience is mistaken, setting oneself against one’s own firm judgment of conscience is setting oneself against the goods of truth and reasonableness, and that cannot fail to be wrong: ST I-II q. 19 a. 5; Ver. q. 17 a. 4. The fact that, if one has formed one’s judgment corruptly, one will also be acting wrongly if one follows it (ST I-II q. 19 a. 6) does not affect the obligatoriness (for oneself) of one’s conscience. This teaching about conscience was rather novel in his day and to this day is often misrepresented or misapplied as a kind of relativism or subjectivism. But it is actually an implication of Aquinas’ clarity about the implications of regarding moral judgments as true (or false) and of thus rejecting subjectivism and relativism. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    Now for your questions.

    1) What do you discover – the moral worth of some particular event, the moral worth of some rules – both – something else?

    As the foregoing quote makes clear, conscience informs us of the moral rightness or wrongness of some kind of action.

    2) How do you know your discovery is correct?

    That’s a difficult question. On a practical level, one might answer: cultivate the virtues (discussed in section 4 of Finnis’ article) and you’ll be able to make the right judgements when the occasion demands. On a more theoretical level, you need to: (i) articulate your moral premises as clearly as possible, after making sure that they are based on principles of practical reason whose objects (basic human goods) are self-evidently desirable; (ii) clearly set out the moral reasoning by which you proceed to your practical conclusion; and (iii) check your logic, and invite others to scrutinize it as well.

    I should also add that in section 4.5 of Finnis’ article, he points out that Aquinas “holds that no human act is morally good (right, in the sense of not wrong) unless it is in line with love of self and neighbor (and thus with respect for the basic aspects of the wellbeing of each and all human beings) not only (i) in the motives or intentions with which it is chosen, and (ii) in the appropriateness of the circumstances, but also (iii) in its object (more precisely the object, or closest-in intention of the choosing person…” So there are three things we need to look at.

    3) If the rules such a moral law or the Bible conflict with what your conscience tells you which wins and why?

    As Aquinas argued (see the quote above), conscience always comes first. However, one also has a very strong moral obligation to form one’s conscience properly in the first place, so that one will make the right moral judgements. For instance, if I expose myself to thousands of hours of violent movies, knowing that doing so will desensitize me to the evil of violating another human being, then I have acted wickedly by allowing my conscience to be corrupted.

    Now I’d like to address your remarks on consequences. You write:

    There is an important distinction between assessing the full consequences of an action – which may indeed be extremely difficult or may be quite easy – and assessing its morality.

    Your argument in #101 did not attempt to show that homosexual acts lead to unpleasant consequences. Rather argued that homosexuality was wrong itself. It may turn out that by some obscure causal chain that Polanski’s action led to a net benefit to mankind – but that doesn’t excuse him. It was still wrong.

    You are quite right. The wrongfulness of an action does not stem from its consequences, but from the attitudes which underlie it. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama is of the same opinion, as I read him. In his classic, Ethics for the New Millennium (Abacus, 2000, p. 31) he states:

    In Tibetan, the term for what is considered to be of the greatest significance when determining the ethical value of an action is the individual’s kun long… [I]n the sense in which it is used here, kun long is understood as what drives or inspires our actions – both those we intend directly and those which are in a sense involuntary. It therefore denotes the individual’s overal state of heart and mind. When this is wholesome, it follows that our actions themselves will be (ethically) wholesome.

    Why then did I discuss consequences in my previous post (#240)? Although consequences do not make an action good or bad, we often need to consider the consequences of an action when forming a prudent assessment of its advisability. This is especially the case when we consider human laws, which are intended to promote what Aquinas, following Aristotle, refers to as the common good, or the public good.

    The projects of various individuals, each of which may be good in itself, may conflict with one another. Since a political community is meant to uphold social harmony, its leaders should do their utmost to minimize conflict and strife between citizens. That means they often need to look ahead, and carefully consider the short- and long-term consequences of the various projects initiated by members of the community. Prudence dictates the need for perpetual vigilance.

    Ascertaining what is good for a community therefore does require adverting to long-term consequences. For instance, the legal question of what kinds of personal expression should be tolerated is to some extent a prudential one. Ditto for behavior that has the potential to disrupt social order.

    Ascertaining what is good for an individual, on the other hand, generally does not require consideration of long-term consequences. For the moral judgement that certain kinds of acts by individuals are wrong is not based on the consequences of performing these acts, but rather on the attitudes underlying them. Consequences are important, however, when we are considering the formation of good habits in an individual – especially a child.

    I hope these remarks of mine have successfully addressed your questions. I shall sign off here, and if you wish to have the last word, you are welcome to do so, as far as I am concerned.

  243. #242

    Vjtorley

    I too will leave this discussion at this point.

    Thanks for your polite and measured comments (even though I utterly disagree)

  244. delmot,

    Sorry for the slow reply.

    “We both agree, I presume, that questioning has to stop somewhere, one can’t just keep asking “why?”.”

    Yes, the questioning should stop somewhere, but it must stop somewhere that is logical and foundational to what we are trying to understand if it is to have any meaning.

    “I just prefer to stop one step before you.”

    Preference has no standing when seeking answers. What one prefers has nothing to do with what the truth is. If we run a race and you lead me by 50 meters from, basically, start to finish, but you prefer to stop an inch short of the finish line while I prefer to stop an inch past it, who wins? Likewise, when seeking truth you must actually go all the way to the finish line or you have gained nothing at all.

    “I don’t think a creator is necessary, and just what we have stands in no further need of explanation.”

    That, however, goes against the most foundational law of nature—nothing comes from nothing. Something comes from something. We have never, ever, observed something coming from nothing—not once, ever, since we have existed. This is the reason we even bother to look for answers or even question anything at all. If things were observed to come from nothing at all then it would be futile to question anything. But, things always come from something, and to insist otherwise is to say that the laws of nature were at some point violated.

    I agree! The laws of nature were violated, in a manner of speaking anyway. To trace the causes behind time, space, matter, energy, being, and whatever else, you will quickly realize that this problem exists. We both agree, I now presume, that, even according to science, the universe had a beginning. Science and materialism is very slim on the details, however, because if everything that exists isn’t eternal, then where did everything come from? Where is the source? Nothing comes from nothing, so where did everything come from? There must be something, without question, that transcends all of what we know and observe. It is wishful thinking at best to seriously entertain any other idea since, again, it would go against everything we have ever observed.

    This transcendence must be at least equal to or greater than what we know or observe, also, or it would not be sufficient to cause it all. Therefore, not only from this transcendence do we find all matter, energy, and time, but also being, for this transcendence also caused us, living beings. Welcome to God.

    You may like to argue that this doesn’t require one Transcendence, but that would be wrong. If there were one transcendent phenomenon behind each different thing (space, matter, energy…) that makes up our universe, it would be highly unlikely that they would function together as a whole the way that they do.

    Now, another argument we see is the infamous, “Where did the creator come from? Who created the creator?” Well, we have to have a definition of God, don’t we? That is by very definition why we say “God” and not some other word. God is defined by that very quality as transcending everything; time, matter, energy, laws of physics and the universe. God created everything and stands outside of everything. So, asking the question above, that many do, is simply ignoring what “God” means when we use the term, and is why I label them ignorant.

    As to your further question about whether I think arguments justify a belief in Jesus Christ, yes, I do. I believe that the Bible clearly paints a picture of God being completely transcendent over the universe. I don’t see the same in other “versions” of God. And, in regards to Jesus himself, I see no other figure in history that can compare with Him even slightly in any claim to deity. What impresses me, personally, the most about the uniqueness of Christ, however, is that He is the only one that knew what to do about sin. He knew how to pay the penalty for it. He knew how to deal with those who needed their debt paid. He paid the debt Himself, and then forgave the debts of those (us) who needed it. I see no other “holy man” having anything to say about this. They can fish the depths of their God-made heart and conscience and share about righteous living, but how to pay for any sins committed they didn’t know (though some have contrived extremely self contradictory ways to “pay” for or have their sins cleansed).

  245. Brent,

    “Nothing can come from nothing” is not “the most foundational law of nature”, it is a hypothesis. Causality is not an observed phenomenon, rather it is surmised from observation of events. And we have only observed events for a fractional period of time over limited scales in a tiny slice of a vast and ancient universe. There is really nothing fantastic in supposing that maybe, just maybe, such a seemingly fundamental “law” might not apply for such things as the beginning of the universe and time itself.

    Even assuming for the sake of charity that “transcendence” argument is valid, it does not take you as far as you would like. A transcendent phenomenon is all it argues for – not a god, not a personality of any kind. Indeed it is curious that to justify your belief in Christ you have to jump from arguments in logic and physics to a book written by some guys a few thousand or so years ago.

  246. I mean really it comes down to “something from nothing” vs “a transcedent phenomenon, beyond space, beyond time, beyond causality, beyond justification, beyond any further questions”. The latter seems like a pretty big ask to me, ontologically speaking, and just as unsatisfactory as the former in terms of shutting down further enquiry.

  247. delmot,

    “a transcedent phenomenon, beyond space, beyond time” — It is not hard to understand the question of whether the natural universe is an isolated system. It isn’t a “big ask” to consider that it may not be isolated, especially since there are no other isolated systems.

    “beyond causality, beyond justification,” — Scientists were quite content to suppose (pre Big Bang theory) that the material universe was eternal. It seems that this is OK, only provided we are not talking about God. Selective exclusion.

    “beyond any further questions” — Hyperbole. People ask questions about God as well.

    To Brent, you wrote: “Indeed it is curious that to justify your belief in Christ you have to jump from arguments in logic and physics to a book written by some guys a few thousand or so years ago.” — What at all is curious about considering the testimony of contemporary observers regarding the pivotal events of history?

    Christianity either stands or completely falls depending on whether Jesus rose from the dead. How would it be curious to include consideration of the evidence of what the people who were there said? Do you think it more reasonable to decide such a question while excluding what they said?

  248. delmot,

    “‘Nothing can come from nothing’ is not ‘the most foundational law of nature’, it is a hypothesis. Causality is not an observed phenomenon, rather it is surmised from observation of events.

    1.) The hypothesis hasn’t been contradicted once since… forever.

    2.) Which is it? Is causality observed or isn’t it? You can try to slice this hair as many times as you like, but the conclusion will never be different. It is observed that everything has a cause, without exception. I cannot put a finer point on it for you.

    “And we have only observed events for a fractional period of time over limited scales in a tiny slice of a vast and ancient universe.”

    3.) If you are so secure in your position, why do you have to make excuses for why we haven’t (dang it) gotten a (darn it) glimpse of this (shoot) something that comes from nothing?

    “There is really nothing fantastic in supposing that maybe, just maybe, such a seemingly fundamental ‘law’ might not apply for such things as the beginning of the universe and time itself.”

    4.)Really? Not even a teeny tiny bit fantastic? You mean to tell me that you are willing to follow this “logic” into the darkness where, not only do we have no observed evidence to support it, but we have vast observable evidence that directly contradicts it? Great is thy faith.

    “Even assuming for the sake of charity that ‘transcendence’ argument is valid, it does not take you as far as you would like. A transcendent phenomenon is all it argues for – not a god, not a personality of any kind. Indeed it is curious that to justify your belief in Christ you have to jump from arguments in logic and physics to a book written by some guys a few thousand or so years ago.”

    This is nothing but good old-fashioned hand waving. Read what I wrote again, and if you have a cogent argument against it, then please make it. This simply will not do.

  249. Cross-thread summary,

    Something can come from nothing. The inanimate something is complexity and life just waiting for the sun to shine on it. It is foolish to even consider peer-reviewed, eye-witness accounts written by some guys a few thousand years ago.

  250. EricB,

    It is not hard to understand the question of whether the natural universe is an isolated system. It isn’t a “big ask” to consider that it may not be isolated, especially since there are no other isolated systems.

    It can’t be turtles all the way down.

    Scientists were quite content to suppose (pre Big Bang theory) that the material universe was eternal. It seems that this is OK, only provided we are not talking about God. Selective exclusion.

    Eternal != beyond time. (fwiw I don’t believe in an eternal universe.)

    People ask questions about God as well.

    And then people like you refuse to answer them.

    Christianity either stands or completely falls depending on whether Jesus rose from the dead.

    So what is your evidence for that? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Brent:

    “Which is it? Is causality observed or isn’t it?” I think I was pretty clear on this.

    “Not even a teeny tiny bit fantastic?” Ok maybe a little fantastic. No more fantastic than your claim though. Bascially when it comes to ultimate origins we are all in the realm of fantasy.

    suckerspawn: peer reviewed! LOL

  251. delmot,

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Your willingness to believe and to use this argument yourself shows exactly where you’re coming from. You don’t believe because you simply don’t want to, and any excuse, no matter how utterly vacuous, will be sufficient for you.

    Extraordinary claims do not require extraordinary evidence at all. Nope, not even a teeny tiny bit! They require the same evidence as anything else that seeks credibility: Credible evidence—that’s all.

    But, I’m sure that fact will not deter you from sticking your head in the sand… again.

  252. 252

    So your question for materialists is “How can you know that you are right and Polanski’s defenders are wrong?”

    You seem to imagine that this sort of question is more difficult for materialists than it is for anyone else. It’s not. Materialists have all sorts of different views on moral theory. But at least they attempt to tackle the problem.

    How do NON-MATERIALISTS know that they are right and that Polanski’s defenders are wrong? Attributing objective morality to a supernatural being amounts to identifying some supervisory authority – it tells us nothing about morality, about what makes good, good and evil, evil. You’re back at square one.

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