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Is Michael Ruse flogging a Dead Moral Horse?

Ruse asks us to believe that morality is subjective, a product of our genes. We only believe it is objective because our genes determine that is better for us. Let’s be frank, atheism kills morality, and any attempt to get it up and running in a godless system is futile. He writes in this article;

God is dead. Long live morality: Morality is something fashioned by natural selection. That doesn’t diminish its usefulness, or its comfort

‘God is dead, so why should I be good? The answer is that there are no grounds whatsoever for being good….Morality then is not something handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection….Morality is just a matter of emotions…So morality has to come across as something that is more than emotion. It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective.’

There a number of angles to respond to Ruse. Firstly, what is moral? It isn’t enough to say that evolution can make us moral, we have to ask what is good morality.

Why should we consider murder to be wrong at a foundational level. As Ruse notes lion’s are often multiple murders so Darwinism doesn’t help us decide. Is morality just about social cooperation? In Hobbes state of nature every man is against every man, or with Darwinian filial affections, every tribe is against every tribe in a state of nature. But that doesn’t stop tribes fighting, whether they be football supporters, Africans or Caucasians. In a state of nature how do we determine what is moral? Darwinism could lead to family or tribal cooperation in exterminating a rival tribe, but not to good morality. Morality has to transcend human emotions to be at all real.

Secondly, what of truth? A commitment to tell the truth is good morality. But if our genes have evolved to lie to us, then how can we know anything moral with confidence, or trust that what our genes are telling us really is the good? This is an argument for relativisim and confusion in ethics. Modernism opens the door to post-modernism.

Ruse would do well to read Phillip Johnson’s article Nihilism and the End of Law.

http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/JohnsonNihilism.php

“Arthur Leff had a deeper understanding of what the death of God ultimately means for man. He saw modern intellectual history as a long, losing war against the nihilism implicit in modernism’s rejection of the unevaluated evaluator who is the only conceivable source for ultimate premises. Leff rejected the nihilism implicit in modernism, but he also rejected the supernaturalism that he had identified as the only escape from nihilism.”

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38 Responses to Is Michael Ruse flogging a Dead Moral Horse?

  1. I don’t understand how atheists can claim a moral good without god?

    Mr Ruse says, ” The murder rate among lions, for instance, makes downtown Detroit look like a haven.” There is no moral code for lions!!! Where there is no code there can be no violoation!!! therefore a lion killing another lion is NOT murder!!!

    The reason it is murder when humans do it is because there is a moral code!!! And if there is a moral code there has to be a moral code giver!! If we are all moral code givers then whose morality is magisterial?

    Besides that, if evolution is the sole reason that morality exists then how horrible evolution must be to have evolved into people like Hitler, Mussolini, Jeffrey Dohmer, Charles Manson, Jack the ripper, and many more. According to Dr. Lutzer, Hitler’s killings were not murderous because he had created a legal system that made it unpunishable by law to kill Jews because it was considered in the best interest of Nazi nationalism and therefore not murder.
    (When a Nation Forgets God)

    Ruse also says, ” It is something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection. It is as much a natural human adaptation as our ears or noses or teeth or penises or vaginas. It works and it has no meaning over and above this.”

    So from an evolutionary standpoint it would make sense from a reproductive sense that rape (by the smartest, strongest, etc) would promote the species better than trying to follow this ideal of love where the least intelligent, weakest, ugliest, etc can and do reproduce. From an evoltionary perspective this cannot be ruled out as unreasonable. Hitchens actually has stated that love IS “transcendent” but god cannot be. (in a debate with Dr. Lane http://www.reasonablefaith.com) I guess the double standard is also evolutionary.

    However if you have ever met or known someone who has experienced rape, try telling them that what they are feeling is purely chemical and the perpetrator was just trying to promote the species according to his genetically based morality. See how that person responds.

    Ravi Zacharias makes a good point. In some cultures they love their neighbors and in other cultures they eat them. I wonder if Mr. Ruse has a preferrence?

    Mr. Ruse in my genetically evolved opinion is an idiot!!

  2. It’s not a dead horse. It is a horse that never existed.

    People are not moral because “something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection” tells them what to do.

    How about this: Tell Ruse’s view to people waiting through the night for their execution for refusal to do things that they know to be contrary to the moral law*.

    And then get out of the way, if they are not tied up. Remember Todd Beamer, and “Let’s roll!”

    (*the law of nations, in the Catholic tradition)

  3. wagenweg,

    Mr. Ruse in my genetically evolved opinion is an idiot!!

    You can make a point without name calling. If you continue I will put you into moderation.

  4. A question for believers:

    Suppose that a god exists and that he commands you to behave a certain way. How do you decide whether to obey him?

  5. Dr. Ruse’s initial premiss can take him to no other alternative. Can the rest of his argument, no matter how well crafted, take him anywhere else?

  6. morality is an illusion…morality has no foundation

    It’s a bit unclear in a physicalist worldview how consciousness pops into existence in the first place to have this illusion, and even more bizarre how genes or biological simples would decide what is an illusion and what is not. Is it the genes or the molecules that compose them that “always know that we should be moral” or is it an immaterial substantial I or self?

    Have they run out of answers and now treat everything as illusions. Illusions of design, illusions of consciousness, illusions of morality…

  7. Why make excuses if no behavior is morally wrong?

    I’m totally serious in asking this question. Why bother with a legal system, jails, prisons, probation, trials, or anything else if no behavior can be considered wrong and is simply a product of our genes?

    This is ludicrous, and I’m sure that Ruse knows it.

  8. …something fashioned by natural selection…

    Natural selection does not “fashion” anything; it only throws stuff out. How can this not be obvious?

    Moral relativism is internally inconsistent and self-refuting. It is a truth claim about the nature of morality which asserts that no truth claim about the nature of morality are valid.

    Michael Ruse seems like a nice guy and is relatively eloquent, but he’s profoundly confused and muddled in his thinking.

  9. Hey Gil, you’ve probably seen this before, but if not I bet you appreciate it:

    The Real Reason American Education Has Slipped – David Barton
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4318930

  10. GilDodgen:

    Natural selection does not “fashion” anything; it only throws stuff out. How can this not be obvious?

    Sculptors don’t “fashion” anything; they only throw out marble chips. How can this not be obvious?

  11. One thing I’ve never understood: If morality really were programmed into us by evolution, then why wouldn’t the urge to do good be as strong and pleasurable (and for many) as irresistible as the sexual urge? Why wouldn’t moral behavior become literally a ‘no-brainer’? But this is not what we find at all, is it? Morality, far from being a programmed drive, is often a struggle. And it is often debated in intellectual terms. Why? If we look at the sexual drive, we don’t really find people trying to convince themselves or others that they need to get excited about this or that person/image or what have you. The drive takes care of itself, and doesn’t need such help. Not so with morality! Why?

  12. “But you are still a human with your gene-based psychology working flat out to make you think you should be moral.”

    ‘Tricksy psssychologies, always deceiving us.”No, no! psychology’s our friend, is nice to usss.”Bleh, wicked false psssychologies, trickses usss, workses extra hard to betray uss, makess us think we should be moral.’

    Just who is that psychology trying to fool, anyway?

  13. “Does this mean that you can just go out and rape and pillage, behave like an ancient Roman grabbing Sabine women?”

    No Michael, only on Tuesdays. Morality demands it.

  14. “Morality is just a matter of emotions, like liking ice cream and sex and hating toothache and marking student papers.”

    Ahh, emotions — Ruse’s bit-bucket of pleasure, pain, sorrow, joy, and anything else for which evolutionary explanations are awkward. Morality is just a matter of emotions, like music, and art, and theater, and literature, and love, and knowledge, beauty, wisdom, reverence, respect, self-control, peace, kindness, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, sacrifice, friendship…did I miss anything? There’s lot’s of room left in the bucket.

    “The trouble is that everyone would start saying this, and so very quickly there would be no morality and society would collapse and each and every one of us would suffer.”

    I wonder what trouble he means. Dislike of suffering is, “just a matter of emotions,” after all. The only thing that’ll make you want to eat a bullet faster than being burned alive is severe toothache, and yet apparently our dislike of suffering is “just a matter of emotions.” That was easy.

    “But you are still a human with your gene-based psychology working flat out to make you think you should be moral.”

    Ruse tacitly invokes a triune entity to explain his own reality of self. First there is the ‘you’ being convinced by a second, the ‘psychology’ about the need for morality. Third, there is the ‘him’, conveniently observing the exchange between the first two, analyzing and critiquing their relationship.

    “We can give up all of that nonsense about women and gay people being inferior, about fertilised ova being human beings, and about the earth being ours to exploit and destroy.”

    Why replace nonsense with more nonsense? If inferiority is nonsense, then so is equality — while issues of destruction and exploitation can be put squarely into the emotion category. And of course what atheistic moralizing would be complete without a critique of the anti-abortion position? After all, some evolutionary psychological artifacts are better than others.

  15. The more interesting reply to Mr. Ruse’s manifest absurdities, it seems to me, is this: let us accept his contention that our “sense” of morality (you will see why I use the quote marks in a second) is simply programmed into us as just another survival strategy. Is it not also the case that our intellection–our ability to understand and to reason–is part of us for the same reason? And is it not the case that it is by our intellects that we are able to know the existence of, and reflect upon, this moral sense that we have? (For if morality is not a product of our intellects, it must be a mere sensation or feeling that directs us, the way the smell of blood directs animals.) Thus, if our intellects, fashioned and–materialists would hold–directed by nature, are able to reflect upon our moral sense and conclude that it has no objective basis other than its survival benefit, why should we not favor our intellects over our moral sense and craft whatever moral code we think will benefit us and aid in our struggle for survival? Put bluntly, why should morality (moral sense) trump intellect? That much I imagine Mr. Ruse probably agrees with. However, here’s the stumper: on the other hand, why *shouldn’t* morality (moral sense) trump intellect, and who decides, when no creature not subject to the same inescapable, biological conflict is thought to exist?

    There seems to be no rational basis whatsoever for either side–moralists or materialists–to claim superiority over the other on Ruse’s principles. It’s all just a wrestling match between two equals for dominance.

  16. Smeagol/Gollum @ #12 (loved it!):

    Gollum: Sneaky little genesss. Wicked, tricksy, false!
    Smeagol: No. Not our genes!
    Gollum: Yes, precious, false! Genes will cheat you, hurt you, LIE.
    Smeagol: Genes is our friend!
    Gollum: You don’t have any friends; nobody likes you!
    Smeagol: I’m not listening… I’m not listening…
    Gollum: You’re a liar and a thief.
    Smeagol: No!
    Gollum: *Murderer*.

  17. Clive,

    You’re right. After I hit the submit button I thought to myself that i shouldn’t have called anyone names butb there was no way for me to retrieve it and change it.

    Please accept my apology.

  18. Morality is a product of natural selection.

    Ya see it was the overly aggressive immoral type which waged war and so their numbers dwindled.

    All the while us passive folk- OK you passive folk- stayed at home living your passive lives hopefully out of the way of those- OK us- others.

    Your numbers grew as a result of your ability to stay out of harm’s (our) way.

    Then you figured out that your numbers can be used against the – OK us- others.

    (removes tongue from cheek)

  19. Pelagius atv #4

    “Suppose that a god exists and that he commands you to behave a certain way. How do you decide whether to obey him?”

    the same way you decided to ask this question. Because it is good based on a standard, God’s standard.

    the unbeliever also has to answer the same question.

    Suppose that a god does not exist and yet you behave a certain way. How do you decide how to obey/act?

  20. wagenweg:

    Because it is good based on a standard, God’s standard.

    How do you know that God’s standard is good?

    Suppose that a god does not exist and yet you behave a certain way. How do you decide how to obey/act?

    I act in a way that seems right to me, based on a combination of moral intuitions and moral reasoning.

  21. 21

    pelagius #10

    “Sculptors don’t “fashion” anything; they only throw out marble chips. How can this not be obvious?”

    What a truly profound analogy. Truly commendable.

    Now, sculptors fashion their creations by throwing out chips of marble that do not fit the form of their desired result.

    Is this what you had in mind by that which is “obvioius”?

  22. Upright Biped,

    Perhaps you missed the point.

    I’m demonstrating the absurdity of GilDodgen’s statement:

    Natural selection does not “fashion” anything; it only throws stuff out. How can this not be obvious?

    …by applying his logic to marble sculpture and showing that it leads to the absurd claim that the sculptor isn’t “fashioning” anything:

    Sculptors don’t “fashion” anything; they only throw out marble chips. How can this not be obvious?

  23. Ah, the good old objective morality debate again.

    Let’s be frank, atheism kills morality, and any attempt to get it up and running in a godless system is futile.

    Really? So you have no idea what is good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral unless an authority figure like God tells you? You have no way of working it out for yourself?

    There a number of angles to respond to Ruse. Firstly, what is moral? It isn’t enough to say that evolution can make us moral, we have to ask what is good morality.

    Actually, better questions to ask first are: what does morality do, what is its function, where does it operate, who does it affect?

    Why should we consider murder to be wrong at a foundational level. As Ruse notes lion’s are often multiple murders so Darwinism doesn’t help us decide.

    Never mind the “foundational level” – whatever that might be – what about the functional level? Why is a man killing another man murder and a lion doing the same thing not? Could there actually be, you know, reasons why it is not a good idea to allow people to go around killing each other willy-nilly? As for invoking “Darwinism” to justify any kind of moral position, that is just committing the naturalistic fallacy. Sensible people try to avoid it.

    Secondly, what of truth? A commitment to tell the truth is good morality.

    Again, the first question to answer is: what is truth? My answer would be the correspondence theory. There is an objective world out there. Our senses and our technologies give us limited data about it. To try and make sense of the data we construct various explanatory frameworks – make up stories, if you like – around it. The extent to which those explanations correspond to what we observe out there is the extent to which they are true.

    “Arthur Leff had a deeper understanding of what the death of God ultimately means for man. He saw modern intellectual history as a long, losing war against the nihilism implicit in modernism’s rejection of the unevaluated evaluator who is the only conceivable source for ultimate premises.”

    This is just silly. Why on Earth should an “unevaluated evaluator” be “the only conceivable source for ultimate premises”? Why hand over that sort of power to some being who may have done nothing to deserve it? Have you really not got beyond wanting to be governed by some sort of autocrat or dictator?

    Winston Churchill once said:

    Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

    I think most here would agree with that sentiment. Even so, bad as democracy might be, I doubt there are many Americans who, having fought a war to free themselves of subjection to an autocratic power, would want to go back to being ruled by the British monarch.

    In a democracy, the people elect representatives to a legislature which has a popular mandate to make the laws by which that society is to be governed. There’s no meed for a dictator to tell people what to do. Now, if that can be done for law, why not for morals?

  24. William Lane Craig (4/6) Moral Argument
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQOgPMbnsQE

  25. Seversky this video may a bit clearer for you:

    Cruel Logic
    Plot: A brilliant serial killer videotapes his debates with college faculty victims. The topic: His moral right to kill them. Writted and directed by Brian Godawa.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qd1LPRJLnI

  26. Re #24: And yet, if you ask most atheists (as well as if you ask most theists), they will tell you killing is wrong. Odd that.

    (I bet it’s due to the fact that while atheists CLAIM they do not use God’s prescriptions in order to arrive at their morality, in fact, they subconsciously do so anyway.)

  27. “…while atheists CLAIM they do not use God’s prescriptions in order to arrive at their morality, in fact, they subconsciously do so anyway.”

    I quite agree. Atheists can live essentially moral lives, but their worldview provides them with no reasons why they should. They’re participants in a moral order that their worldview did nothing to construct and does nothing to sustain. Within a godless universe – a universe where everything is either matter or reducible to matter – morality is a senseless concept. Morality prescribes “ought,” yet within a wholly material universe there can be no “ought;” there can only be “is.” On the atheistic worldview, human beings are merely unintended beings that arose from the endless, aimless becoming of matter. “Ought” (or morality) is a senseless concept within that materialistic conception of human existence. “Is” is all there can be.

    Morality is a meaningful concept only with respect to beings whose existence has inherent and ultimate meaning (or value). It is quite meaningless, for example, to speak of morality with respect to cockroaches. Within the atheistic worldview, it is equally meaningless to speak of morality with respect to human beings. Morality is meaningful only if human beings are made in the image of a moral God who endowed them with those things that matter alone could never give them, namely, the inherent value that makes morality a meaningful concept and a moral sense that allows them to know right from wrong. Although they deny his existence, atheists can be moral beings precisely because God does exist.

  28. hrun0815:

    And yet, if you ask most atheists (as well as if you ask most theists), they will tell you killing is wrong.

    But can they tell us “why” it is wrong?

  29. pelagius,

    I’m demonstrating the absurdity of GilDodgen’s statement:

    Natural selection does not “fashion” anything; it only throws stuff out. How can this not be obvious?

    …by applying his logic to marble sculpture and showing that it leads to the absurd claim that the sculptor isn’t “fashioning” anything:

    Sculptors don’t “fashion” anything; they only throw out marble chips. How can this not be obvious?

    Surely you’re joking. A sculptor has in mind a fashion, and that is what he is doing, adding a face by subtracting the chips (addition by subtraction in essence); if he arbitrarily cut away pieces with nothing in mind, we wouldn’t call him a sculptor.

  30. Re #28: Have you asked? Surely, the answer is yes they can. And, surprisingly, the answer is much different from: An all powerful deity is going to punish otherwise.

  31. I quite agree. Atheists can live essentially moral lives, but their worldview provides them with no reasons why they should.

    That might be true (I dispute it, but that is despite the point). So they live a moral live without their worldview telling them a reason. So what?

    They’re participants in a moral order that their worldview did nothing to construct and does nothing to sustain. Within a godless universe – a universe where everything is either matter or reducible to matter – morality is a senseless concept. Morality prescribes “ought,” yet within a wholly material universe there can be no “ought;” there can only be “is.” On the atheistic worldview, human beings are merely unintended beings that arose from the endless, aimless becoming of matter. “Ought” (or morality) is a senseless concept within that materialistic conception of human existence. “Is” is all there can be.

    Here we have that whole ‘ought’ vs. ‘is’ concept. Yet, again, if you ask an atheist, they will tell you that they actually DID arrive at an ought. And they claim to do so (actually, there is evidence that they do so) without the help of a deity. What a conundrum.

    Morality is a meaningful concept only with respect to beings whose existence has inherent and ultimate meaning (or value).

    Ah, you mean like a human? A fly? So morality has a meaning even to an atheist.

    It is quite meaningless, for example, to speak of morality with respect to cockroaches.

    So you are saying that the life of a cockroach to you has neither inherent or ultimate value?

    Within the atheistic worldview, it is equally meaningless to speak of morality with respect to human beings.

    Again, it’s quite funny that if you do ask theists about it, they still speak of morality with regards to humans. Again, all without any reference to a deity.

    Morality is meaningful only if human beings are made in the image of a moral God who endowed them with those things that matter alone could never give them, namely, the inherent value that makes morality a meaningful concept and a moral sense that allows them to know right from wrong.

    That is your claim. You have no evidence to support it. Yet, millions of atheists (and theists who have significantly different beliefs than you do) would actually be powerful counterevidence.

    Although they deny his existence, atheists can be moral beings precisely because God does exist.

    And this is exactly what I said. Atheists (and all those other theists) live moral lives only because of that one deity– no matter what they say or believe.

  32. @20

    I would add to Pelagius’ unanswered question; how do you know what God’s standard is?

  33. hrun0815-

    Yes I have asked.

    And as expected the answers are always subjective jibberish.

  34. Why are my comments being moderated?

    Clive Hayden:

    …if he arbitrarily cut away pieces with nothing in mind, we wouldn’t call him a sculptor.

    Selection isn’t arbitrary.

    Jim:

    Morality prescribes “ought,” yet within a wholly material universe there can be no “ought;” there can only be “is.”

    Suppose that God exists. That’s an “is”. Suppose that God wants you to behave a certain way. That’s also an “is”. How do you get an “ought” from an “is” and an “is”?

  35. pelagius (22)-

    If you don’t like what Gil said all you have to do is provide the DATA that refutes him..

  36. zeroseven (32)-

    It’s called the Bible.

  37. pelagius @ 20:
    “I act in a way that seems right to me, based on a combination of moral intuitions and moral reasoning.”

    You do what “seems” right???
    Seriously? so your answer is that you throw a dart with a blind fold on at a board of morality and hope you get it right?

    Christians go to the author of morlaity. That’s why when we go against this moral code. it’s called sin. The reason we know that God’s moral law is good is because it is evidential.

    Where did your moral intuitions come from? Were they self made? Were they genetically encoded into you? And as you have asked me, how do you know they are good?

    On a different note, YOu asked me, “How do you know that God’s standard is good?” I ask you, how do you know his standard isn’t good?

  38. Earlier I wrote:

    I act in a way that seems right to me, based on a combination of moral intuitions and moral reasoning.

    wagenweg responded:

    You do what “seems” right??? Seriously?

    Yes, and so do you. It seems to you that the Bible is the word of God, and it seems to you that you ought to follow God’s edicts.

    Let me repeat my original question:

    Suppose that a god exists and that he commands you to behave a certain way. How do you decide whether to obey him?

    wagenweg:

    so your answer is that you throw a dart with a blind fold on at a board of morality and hope you get it right?

    Not at all. My moral intuitions are not random, and neither is my moral reasoning.

    Christians go to the author of morlaity.

    Christians claim to derive their morality from a book that they believe was directly inspired by a deity they believe they should obey.

    In reality, most Christians use their own moral intuitions and reasoning to decide which parts of the Bible to obey (“thou shalt not kill”) and which to ignore (“neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee”).

    The reason we know that God’s moral law is good is because it is evidential.

    Please explain.

    Where did your moral intuitions come from?

    A combination of genes, culture, and careful reflection.

    And as you have asked me, how do you know they are good?

    I don’t know that they’re good in an absolute sense, just as you don’t know that the morality of the Bible — even if it is the word of God — is good in an absolute sense.

    On a different note, YOu asked me, “How do you know that God’s standard is good?” I ask you, how do you know his standard isn’t good?

    I don’t know whether he exists at all, much less what his standard is. How could I possibly know whether it is good, then?

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