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Lies Sam Harris Tells Himself

I watched the video of atheist Sam Harris trying to prove that science can form a basis for morality (posted by Dr. Dembski below), and it got me to thinking.  Everyone knows the moral law. It is, as Budziszewski writes, that which we can’t not know. Therefore, like everyone else, Mr. Harris knows that his moral impulses are not arbitrary, that they are grounded on something both necessary and objective. But his atheistic metaphysical premises lead to the inescapable conclusion that just the opposite is true, because if his premises are correct, he is compelled to believe that his moral impulses are contingent and subjective, that they are mere accidental byproducts of the interaction of chance and mechanical law.

If one’s premises lead to a conclusion that one knows to be untrue, one has a choice. One can either reject those premises and try to find better ones more congruent with the facts, or one can cling to those premises in the teeth of the facts. If one chooses the latter option, it will become necessary to tell lies to oneself in an effort to reduce the dissonance that must inevitably result from that choice. Here we see Mr. Harris tenaciously clinging to premises that have been falsified by his own experience and telling himself (and everyone else who will listen) whoppers to reduce his dissonance. Let’s consider the obvious lies Mr. Harris tells himself.

Harris’ lies all revolve around the is/ought dichotomy, so let me set some background. In 1739 David Hume first described the is-ought dichotomy in A Treatise of Human Nature. In a nutshell Hume said that prescriptive statements cannot be derived from descriptive statements. In other words, a description of the way a thing “is” cannot form the basis for a statement about how that thing “ought” to be, and for nearly three hundred years Hume’s is/ought dichotomy has been almost universally recognized as true by those who think about such matters.

 The is/ought dichotomy has important implications for science and it limits. Science is concerned with descriptions of how the world “is.” Therefore, most people acknowledge that science has nothing to say about how the world “ought” to be.

But not Harris. No, he says: “It is often thought that there is no description of the way the world is that can tell us how the world ought to be. But I think this is quite clearly untrue.” Note that he says the “is/ought” dichotomy is not “probably untrue,” or “perhaps untrue,” it is “plainly untrue.”

WOW! Stop the presses! Sam Harris has overturned three hundred years of settled metaphysics in only two sentences.

But of course he has not. An assertion is not an argument. (I know, all you Monty Python fans are asserting, “Yes it is!”) The burden of demonstration is on Harris to support his statement with logic, and to his credit he gives it a go. But, as we shall see, he falls woefully short.

Harris’ argument is not new or original. It is a version of “utilitarianism,” which posits that an action’s morality is determined by its “utility,” and its “utility” is in turn determined by whether the action results in a net increase in happiness or pleasure among sentient beings. In other words, an action that increases net happiness is “good” and one that decreases net happiness is “bad.” Harris substitutes the term “human flourishing” for “happiness,” but in all other respects his argument is the same.

Utilitarianism has a kind of first blush plausibility, but one does not have to think about it very long before it comes off the rails in at least two important respects. First, we know for a certain fact that some acts ought to be suppressed no matter how pleasurable they may be for the person who commits them. For example, utilitarianism would lead to the conclusion that if it can be demonstrated that a pedophile’s pleasure from molesting children is greater than the suffering he causes, then, for that pedophile, molesting children should be considered “good.” Any system that might possibly lead to such a conclusion is obviously worthless.

Secondly, and at a more fundamental level, we see that Harris has not really solved the is/ought problem at all. Let’s look at his argument again. His says the methods of science can be used to show us how to increase human flourishing, and when they are used in this way net happiness is increased, and that is “good.” Problem solved.

 But is it? No, Harris has made the exact same error Hume recognized nearly three hundred years ago. Hume wrote that he was often surprised to find that writers would talk about the world as it “is” and from there switch to statements about how the world “ought” to be without trying to connect the former with the latter. Hume observed:

This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

In the exact same way Harris has smuggled an “ought” into his argument through use of an “unspoken premise.” Harris’s argument can be broken down as follows:

 1. Science can show us that which can increase human flourishing.

2. Therefore, science can show us what is “good.”

But wait a minute. Isn’t there an unspoken premise that precedes premise 1? Yes there is. If we express the unspoken premise, Harris’ argument turns into the following:

 1. We ought to increase human flourishing.

2. Science can show us that which can increase human flourishing.

 3. Therefore, science can show us what is “good.”

Can Harris’ unspoken premise (i.e., the new premise 1) be demonstrated scientifically? No, it cannot be. Harris’ unspoken premise runs headlong into Phillip Johnson’s famous “grand sez who.” Who says that human flourishing ought to be increased?

The Sudanese government has committed or at least allowed genocide in the Darfur region. Apparently those in charge in Sudan believe it is “good” to decrease human flourishing among millions. I (and doubtless you) say they are wrong. But can “science” arbitrate between the Sudanese government leaders’ opinion and ours? No. Unless there is an objective moral standard that transcends both the Sudanese leaders’ opinion and our opinion, there can be only “those with power” and “those without power.”

Fortunately, there is such a standard, and that standard says, “Thou shall not kill.” Therefore, we can know for a certain fact that the genocide in Darfur is evil, no matter who may disagree with us.

Not so Sam Harris. He says, genocide decreases human flourishing and is therefore wrong. The Sudanese leaders say, “why should we care about the flourishing of our enemies?” To which Sam Harris says . . . [crickets] . . .

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155 Responses to Lies Sam Harris Tells Himself

  1. The moral argument is really, really poor. I agree that moral nihilism is the only way out, and it is the only way in which to view morality (yes, even so-called theistic objective morality).

    The reason being? Well, everybody doesn’t “know the moral law.” Homosexuals don’t know the moral “law”. Psychopaths don’t know the moral “law”. Islamic terrorists don’t know the moral “law”. In order to use CS Lewis’ first premise that “everybody just knows it”, you seriously have to tell me that Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler actually KNEW what they were doing! Besides being absolutely preposterous, there is no truth value to derive from any “moral” claim, thus it’s unknowable to find a truth with regard to morality.

    I find it funny because I was reading Craig’s defense of objective morals, and basically the entire article was an appeal to, “you wouldn’t want this to be true, would you?” That is so lame. Not to mention, he wrapped up with, “we Christians just know it’s true, so there.” Sorry pal, that doesn’t work in debate.

    With regards to Harris, yes, I actually criticized him on his Facebook page at least twice during his lecture. I find it rather odd that he wanted to distance himself from the is/ought fallacy, so I’m surprised to find out he actually doesn’t really know how it works. The bottom line is though that most of humans want to see the betterment of other humans (note the word “most”, doesn’t make it objective in any sense). Science can clear up answers as to how to achieve human well-being and I think that was the overarching goal of Harris’ lecture. I agree with him on that, beside the fact that he presupposes human well-being as an objective moral value.

  2. Everyone knows the moral law.

    That is VERY misleading. If phrased right, it would go something like: Most everyone knows some for of moral law.

    Therefore, like everyone else, Mr. Harris knows that his moral impulses are not arbitrary, that they are grounded on something both necessary and objective.

    Again, I don’t know if that is true. How do you know that morality is ‘grounded’ in something objective. If we got a panel of 100 moral questions and gave it to 100 different people from all around the world, I would bet that the majority of 100 answers would differ from each other. Sure, there’s be overlap, but they would certainly not be identical.

    So, why would morality both be grounded in something objective and be different from person to person?

    Sadly, on these facts hinge the whole post. So rather than asserting these things to be the truth, they have to be compellingly shown to be the truth.

  3. 3

    Eric080 [in 1] and hrun8015 [in 2] are both fools. I am sorry I must use such harsh terms, but it is quite literally true that Eric080 and hrun8015 are fools.

    Let me demonstrate with the paradigm of evil we use so often.

    Consider the following statement: It was evil for the Nazis to kill six million Jews for no other reason than that they were Jewish.

    This statement is objectively true (no hrun8015. It does not vary from person to person). If we assembled hrun8015’s 100 panelists and all 100 of them disagreed with the statement, then all 100 of them would be wrong. If Hitler, as Eric080 suggests, did not know what he was doing was wrong, then he does not deserve to be blamed for doing it. Yet Hitler is the paradigm of evil for a reason. He was blameworthy for the evil he perpetrated.

    Nor does Eric080 believe what he says. Neither he (nor anyone else) is truly a moral nihilist. How do I know? Simple. Let us suppose that I went to Eric080’s house, tied him to a post, and gave him 39 lashes with a bullwhip. Does anyone believe Eric080 would be morally indifferent to that act? Of course not. He would say, “It’s not fair!” which is another way of saying the act transgresses the moral code he knows in his heart.

    At the end of the day, perhaps the best argument for the objective moral law is the lunacy resorted to by those who deny it.

  4. I am sorry I must use such harsh terms, but it is quite literally true that Eric080 and hrun8015 are fools.

    You assert something to be true. Cou get challenged. You assert the same to be true again.

    You example for Hitler doesn’t fly! I specifically talked about 100 different questions. There may well be some questions that everybody agrees on… but certainly not everybody will agree on EVERY moral question.

    Take, for example, ‘lying is morally wrong’. Some people believe this to be true. Others don’t. Are YOU, Barry Arrington, certain about this one way or another? It clearly is a moral question, so there has to be a true moral answer.

    The rest of your post is simply rhetoric. It clearly shows that you are not attempting to engage the argument that was made.

    To state it again for you as clearly as possibly:

    If you sample to answers by a LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE to a LARGE AMOUNT of moral questions, you will get a LARGE AMOUNT of different answers. That runs counter to your premise of both your origal post and of your claim that I am a fool (I might very well be one, but not because of the reason you assert).

  5. I see the point of the previous two posters who question Arrington’s bold claims that “Everyone knows the moral law” and that “like everyone else, Mr. Harris knows that his moral impulses are not arbitrary, that they are grounded on something both necessary and objective.” There is not 100% agreement among everyone about the details of what is right or wrong, good or evil.

    However, Harris does assert that science “can tell us how the world ought to be.” His ‘ought’ implies that science can supply not just a compass for good for Harris, but a compass that has relevance to everyone. And as Arrington pointed out, Harris’s ‘ought’ is built on an unspoken premise that human flourishing (whatever that means) ought to occur. Thus, Harris’s entire argument rests on the pre-existence of a moral law that everyone knows is true.

    So where Harris thinks science is providing a foundation, in fact what he proposes for science is merely to provide a plank to connect certain areas of reality (those observable by science) to an existing structure, on whose foundation he has shed no light.

  6. 6

    I, too, disagree with Barry Arrington’s claim that “Everyone knows the moral law.” and the implicit claim within it that there is one and only one (the) moral law.

    I am certainly willing to be convinced otherwise, however. If this moral law that everyone knows does, in fact, exist, please simply state it here.

  7. There are no transcendental absolute morals, and believing such doesn’t lead to moral nihilism.

    I’m discussing similar things over in the worldviews thread – see the posts around 200 and following if interested.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....views-only

  8. P.S. Post 7 is obviously my belief, not a statement that I absolutely know there are no absolute moral beliefs.

    And I agree with another poster who asks for an example: could someone who believes in such things give a simple declarative statement of an absolute moral belief.

  9. 9

    In comment 4 hrun0815 demonstrates that the Bible is true when it states:

    “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” Proverbs 26:11

    and

    “When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, The foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest.” Proverbs 29:9

    Thank you hrun0815.

    The Bible also says:

    “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words.” Proverbs 23:9.

    Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Proverbs 26:4

    I will heed the last two warnings and cease disputing with hrun0815.

  10. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

    Matthew 5:22, KJV

  11. 11

    Mustela,

    I am certainly willing to be convinced otherwise, however. If this moral law that everyone knows does, in fact, exist, please simply state it here.

    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/aug.....ion1.htm#1

  12. So now we have at least five people who are ‘fools’ (using Barry Arrington’s term). Maybe, this view is not so foolish after all.

  13. Re #9: Or I have shown that if somebody challenges your assertions with a reasoned argument, then it is best to hide behind quotes. And, failing that, it is best to ignore the challenge. Both are preferable to engaging in an argument about the challenge. Bornagain77 has shown this tactic briliantly elsewhere as well.

  14. 14

    Clive Hayden at 11,

    Thank you for the C. S. Lewis excerpt, but it doesn’t document the moral law that everyone, supposedly, knows. Do you agree with Barry Arrington that there is such a law and that everyone knows it? If so, it should be a simple matter for you to describe it here.

  15. Barry, would you please provide, in a simple declarative statement, an absolute moral belief.

  16. 16

    Mustela,

    Look at the Appendix to the Abolition of Man.

  17. “WOW! Stop the presses! Sam Harris has overturned three hundred years of settled metaphysics in only two sentences.”

    So it’s okay to challenge the consensus??? Maybe there is something “new” about this atheism after all. :D

    “For example, utilitarianism would lead to the conclusion that if it can be demonstrated that a pedophile’s pleasure from molesting children is greater than the suffering he causes, then, for that pedophile, molesting children should be considered “good.” Any system that might possibly lead to such a conclusion is obviously worthless.”

    Utilitarianism as presented by Harris seems to have three main problems:

    1. First, what kind of happiness are we aiming for anyway? Utility can come in many forms, whether it be excitement, relief, euphoria, satisfaction (which in turn can be anything from enjoying a lobster dinner to the kind mentioned in this post regarding pedophiles), etc.

    Harris approach even if it were true is still incomplete because who’s to say which type of happiness is the greatest of them all? You would still get moral conflicts between those who say that a rush of adrenaline from an (otherwise) illegal street race is more important than the wonder you sense from seeing a piece of art.

    2. Building more upon the subjectivity highlighted in that first point, utility-based ethics is virtually impossible to implement. Are we supposed to run an MRI every time people have conflicting goals for the same resources before we decided who has the moral high ground?

    Besides, everyone has a slightly different reaction to the same things, so everyone’s “morality” would differ just as much as their utility does. Which brings us right back to where we started from: whose morals (or happiness) make the most sense? Once someone gains happiness from something, you still have to rationalize it with something that doesn’t involve utility at all (which obviously leads us to reject the requests a pedophile may have towards a child regardless of whatever “utility” they’d get), otherwise you beg the question.

    3. As Arrington pointed out in this post, utilitarianism leads to conclusions that I highly doubt most people would be willing to except. Robert Nozick’s “Utility Monster” seems to become more relevant as the years go by.

    So there’s my 2 cents on why utilitarianism is futile for answering moral questions. I can’t emphasize enough though how much it begs the question. In the end utilitarianism can’t justify which actions are the most moral because it has no way of justifying itself as proper for the task to begin with.

  18. Matthew 22:36-40
    “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    and as in Luke 10:

    On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
    “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
    He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
    “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
    But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
    In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
    “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
    The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

    Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

  19. 18 is for Aleta

  20. Re the request for an absolute moral belief, how about this: It’s wrong always and everywhere for anyone to torture a child.

    Re the debate about whether we can agree on what constitutes the moral law, I think the point is that unless there is a transcendent moral authority there simply is no moral law. Morality, in this case, is an illusion, and subjectivism or nihilism are the only appropriate options. If such an authority (e.g. God) does exist, however, we still may not know what the moral law is, but we at least can be confident that there’s an adequate foundation for one.

  21. 21

    Clive Hayden at 16,

    “Look at the Appendix to the Abolition of Man.”

    I’m not trying to be deliberately obtuse, but I still don’t see any support for Barry Arrington’s claim that “Everyone knows the moral law.”

    Since you seem to be agreeing with Barry Arrington, you must know the moral law. Instead of quoting Lewis, please state it, in your own words.

  22. With regard to the discussion of utilitarianism and happiness, no system of ethics grounded in evolution, reason or human subjectivity can offer any grounds for not believing that I should always place my happiness above the happiness of others, or that I should care about other people’s happiness at all.

    In other words, the fundamental question is what is the moral reason why I should not be selfish? Why, if it serves my interests, should I not diminish the happiness of others in order to promote my own?

    Only if there’s an objective, transcendent moral authority can an answer to those questions be anything other than “There is no reason.”

  23. 23

    Mustela,

    I’m not trying to be deliberately obtuse, but I still don’t see any support for Barry Arrington’s claim that “Everyone knows the moral law.”

    It’s supported by the historical and cultural evidence that Lewis gathered. But read what he said right before that collection of examples:

    “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.”

  24. 24

    Dick at 22,

    “In other words, the fundamental question is what is the moral reason why I should not be selfish? Why, if it serves my interests, should I not diminish the happiness of others in order to promote my own?”

    The obvious answer is that such behavior is not in your long-term best interest in a social context.

    “Only if there’s an objective, transcendent moral authority can an answer to those questions be anything other than ‘There is no reason.’”

    That’s an explanation of why you personally would prefer for an objective morality to exist, but it isn’t an argument in support of such a thing actually existing. Maybe, in fact, there is no reason.

  25. 25

    Clive Hayden at 23,

    I’ll repeat my request then: Since you seem to be agreeing with Barry Arrington, you must know the moral law. Instead of quoting Lewis, please state it, in your own words.

  26. Mustela (24) writes that “The obvious answer [to why I shouldn't live selfishly] is that such behavior is not in your long-term best interest in a social context.”

    Two replies: First, there’s no way anyone can know it to be true that it’s not in my interest to selfish, and second, even if it were true that selfishness is socially counterproductive that doesn’t make it morally wrong.

    Mustela also responds to my claim that the fact that w/o a transcendent moral authority there’s no reason why anyone should not be selfish by saying that, “That’s an explanation of why you personally would prefer for an objective morality to exist, but it isn’t an argument in support of such a thing actually existing. Maybe, in fact, there is no reason.”

    But no one is arguing that such an authority does exist. The discussion here is about whether the existence of such an authority is necessary for morality to be anything more than a mere illusion.

  27. to bornagain: No, “loving the Lord God” of the Bible is not an absolute moral law. It’s a religious belief which billions of people don’t accept, and there is certainly no reason why everyone would assent to that being true.

    I’ll also point out that there are things that would be universally condemned, but that doesn’t mean that they represent an absolute truth in the transcendental sense – it may very well mean (this is what I would think) that it represents something that goes against some aspect of our basic human nature. Human beings in general (there are pathological exceptions) have a inborn sense of learning about right and wrong from their culture. Some morals are culture specific, but there appear to be some universal moral ideas that appear in all cultures that are based on mankind’s fundamental nature. The fact that they are universal doesn’t mean they are transcendent.

    And not believing that morals are transcendent doesn’t lead to moral nihilism because, I repeat, a sense of our moral nature is part of our human nature. This is how human beings are. Having the sense of how “I ought to behave” is a necessary part of being a social animal, and has evolved (if I dare use the e-word) right along with our physical and other cognitive abilities.

  28. Mustela @ 25

    “Instead of quoting Lewis, please state it, in your own words.”

    How about this instead? “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you”

    I believe you said earlier that some people do not know right from wrong. This is nonsense. If you think a psychopath can’t tell right from wrong, wrong him and see if he can’t.

    Barry is right. Anyone who argues against the existence of a moral law is a fool. And to those who say I’m being rude or cruel, by what standard? Ha.

    Once again, we see that the rejection of reason is at the bottom of the insanity. It’s hilarious, well, it’s tragic actually, to see people argue against the existence of a moral law and make moral judgments as they do it!!! And I’m supposed to take this seriously? Y’all probably think obama care will lower costs, too…

  29. Barry is right. Anyone who argues against the existence of a moral law is a fool. And to those who say I’m being rude or cruel, by what standard?

    And that’s the point. Some will say that you are being rude and cruel and others will say you are not. And each side will think they are right.

    How odd, maybe there is no such thing as ‘the moral law’ after all?

  30. —Mustela Nivalis: “I, too, disagree with Barry Arrington’s claim that “Everyone knows the moral law.” and the implicit claim within it that there is one and only one (the) moral law.

    —”I am certainly willing to be convinced otherwise, however. If this moral law that everyone knows does, in fact, exist, please simply state it here.”

    Your first paragraph covers totally different subject matter than your second paragraph. Asking someone about the substance of the moral law is not at all the same question as asking for proof that all men know about it.

    In any case, everyone does indeed know about the moral law in at least a basic way, but that knowledge must be developed through education, moral training, and action in order to grow into a fully formed conscience. Even that basic undeveloped knowledge, however, can be compromised, though not totally eliminated, through secular education, perverse training, brainwashing, and bad behavior.

    Thus, those who understand the moral law most profoundly are those who have followed the light of their conscience to the best of their ability and strenthened their character by acting morally even in circumstances that exacted a price. Those who do not know it as well as they should typically resist knowing more because, more often than not, they fear the inconveniece that following it may cause. Still, the light of conscience is never totally extinguished. Each one of us, even the most brutal terrorist, knows the moral law very well when he/she wakes up at three o clock in the morning when the defenses down and feels that horrible sense of foreboding. Everyone who denies, flouts or runs from the moral law has those private moments of fear and regret, and they typically keep them private. Indeed, those who appear on this site to dispute the moral law are running from it, hoping not to be caught. The two most common ways of running from the truth about the natural moral law are to put up irrational arguments against it and ignore rational arguments in its defense.

  31. tgpeeler writes, “Barry is right. Anyone who argues against the existence of a moral law is a fool.”

    I don’t think anyone here is arguing that both a moral sense and certain common moral standards don’t exist. We are arguing that they are not absolute transcendent moral standards.

    Stephen writes, “Thus, those who understand the moral law most profoundly are those who have followed the light of their conscience to the best of their ability and strenthened their character by acting morally even in circumstances that exacted a price.”

    I believe I am such a person. In addition, I have studied many of the great works about moral precepts, and in my day job I have dedicated myself daily to teaching morality and character to school children. But I don’t believe in God, nor in transcendent moral truths. I have exercised and developed my moral character all my life without needing a belief in an transcendent source of morality to justify it.

  32. On a related topic, bad news for those of you who believe and hope that moral choices are made by a soul or spirit that transcends the physical brain:

    Neuroscientists Influence People’s Moral Judgments by Disrupting Specific Brain Region

    A quote from one of the researchers, Liane Young:

    You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior. To be able to apply (a magnetic field) to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing.

  33. In any case, everyone does indeed know about the moral law in at least a basic way

    Stephen, you are simply asserting again what is under question.

    I know A moral law. It is mine. I could bet a signification chunk of money that knowbody exactly knows my moral law and that nobody exactly shares my moral law.

    Does that mean I know the moral law or do I not?

  34. Moral law that everyone knows: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    Done.

    As I’ve quoted on other posts, Dr. Ravi Zacharias has said on many occassions:

    “In some cultures they love their neighbors, in other cultures they eat them. Which would you prefer?”

    If moral law is so abritrary then why do those folks who believe it to be arbitrary argue so adamantly agains those who don’t believe the way they do?

    Just askin’…

  35. Aleta you state:

    No, “loving the Lord God” of the Bible is not an absolute moral law. It’s a religious belief which billions of people don’t accept, and there is certainly no reason why everyone would assent to that being true.

    And again with no absolute truth to judge by, as you readily admit that you believe in no absolute truths, how in the world do you know what you said was true. How in the world can you have faith that anything you say is true when you deny the existence of transcendent truth in the first place.

    Until you realize this basic fact you will continue to chase your tail in a circle. Myself, I not going to even try to show you that moral truths exist until you accept the foundation premise that standards of truth exist.

  36. Moral law that everyone knows: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    So then all wars fought by the US on foreign soil are morally wrong?

    Locking up drug users/sellers is morally wrong?

    Lying to children about Santa Clause is morally wrong?

    I don’t know if your exactly actually holds water. It seems more of a moral law that most people accept in many circumstances. But that’s about as far as I would go with that.

  37. Yes, the Golden Rule is pretty universal. That doesn’t mean it’s transcendent. It’s a most reasonable rule for utilitarian reasons, and it’s very reasonable that it is a fundamental part of our biological social nature.

    However, in all cultures there is a dividing line (a grey blur more than a line) as to whom this prescription should be applied. There are always people, it seems, who one culture feels is outside the circle, and therefore can be treated less morally, or even amorally

  38. hrun @ 29

    “How odd, maybe there is no such thing as ‘the moral law’ after all?”

    You’re hilarious, really. Let me make it perfectly clear for you once and for all. Let’s say we’re having this conversation face to face and I decide that I’ve had enough of your b.s. so I pull out my Para-Ordnance .45 caliber P14 and put a 235 grain hollow point through your head. Just because. It makes me feel better. I’m the stronger (and fitter) obviously, since I’m still here and you’re not. So what’s the big deal? By the way, I’ll then take whatever you had and do whatever I want to with it because I can. Still gonna quibble with me? Go ahead. Make an argument.

  39. hrun @ 29

    “How odd, maybe there is no such thing as ‘the moral law’ after all?”

    You’re hilarious, really. Let me make it perfectly clear for you once and for all. Let’s say we’re having this conversation face to face and I decide that I’ve had enough of your b.s. so I pull out my Para-Ordnance .45 caliber P14 and put a 235 grain hollow point through your head. Just because. It makes me feel better. I’m the stronger (and fitter) obviously, since I’m still here and you’re not. So what’s the big deal? By the way, I’ll then take whatever you had and do whatever I want to with it because I can. Still gonna quibble with me? Go ahead. Make an argument.

  40. —”hrun0815: “Does that mean I know the moral law or do I not?”

    You show evidence of knowing the moral law right here, right now. As it stands, you are defending what you believe to be the truth in the face of counter arguments. Why do you care enough to do that? Because, in your judgment, you perceive that an injustice has been done in the sense that advocates of objective morality may influence onlookers to their point of view, which you believe to be wrong. You think, therefore, that advocates of objective morality SHOULD be challenged. That ought-to feeling is a subjective moral instinct that apprehends an objective component of the natural moral law, namely the component of justice and fairness that defines the moral behavior proper to human nature, which is, itself, an objective reality.

  41. Aleta @ 36

    That doesn’t mean it’s transcendent.”

    Here’s what makes it transcendent. Let’s say I decide to, for no reason whatsoever, just because I feel like it, and because I can, and maybe because I’m bored with ridiculous arguments, although, as I said, I don’t even need a reason, to smack you around. Really. Broken stuff kind of smack around. That would be wrong. It would be wrong in Houston and it would be wrong on the moon. So we see that it is wrong is not related to space. It would also be wrong yesterday and it would also be wrong tomorrow (I’ll let you reason that part out on your own). So we see that it is wrong is not related to time. Hmmm. The event occurs IN space and time but it is wrong based on a moral law that is outside of, or one might say, I dunno, transcends space and time. Maybe, hell, who knows, one could then say it’s transcendent? Just a thought. Of course, I realize that this argument requires for you to believe that my hypothetical actions in this revolting thought experiment are actually “WRONG.”

  42. One of the logical fallacies that the ‘there is no moral law’ crowd makes is confusing the existence of a moral law with actually knowing what it is in all times and all places. In other words, in all circumstances. All of us could be put in situations in which all choices could seem wrong and may in fact be wrong. This doesn’t prove that the moral law doesn’t exist. it only shows that we have an imperfect apprehension of it.

    Of course, the naturalist philosophy denies the moral law because it cannot coherently account for it. What does physics, the only explanatory tool for the naturalist, have to say about why it’s wrong murder millions of people? Obviously, nothing. Yet it IS wrong to murder millions. Hmmm. I think this is what Columbo would call a clue.

  43. 43

    “To regret religion is to regret Western civilization.”

    I recommend reading this interesting article on neo-atheism (by an atheist) referencing Sam Harris:

    http://www.city-journal.org/ht.....to_be.html

    A short excerpt on Harris:

    “Harris tells us, for example, that “we must find our way to a time when faith, without evidence, disgraces anyone who would claim it. Given the present state of the world, there appears to be no other future worth wanting.” I am glad that I am old enough that I shall not see the future of reason as laid down by Harris; but I am puzzled by the status of the compulsion in the first sentence that I have quoted. Is Harris writing of a historical inevitability? Of a categorical imperative? Or is he merely making a legislative proposal? This is who-will-rid-me-of-this-troublesome-priest language, ambiguous no doubt, but not open to a generous interpretation.

    It becomes even more sinister when considered in conjunction with the following sentences, quite possibly the most disgraceful that I have read in a book by a man posing as a rationalist: “The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.”

    Let us leave aside the metaphysical problems that these three sentences raise. For Harris, the most important question about genocide would seem to be: “Who is genociding whom?” To adapt Dostoyevsky slightly, starting from universal reason, I arrive at universal madness.”

    How Harris has any credibility whatsoever after a statement like that is beyond me (second paragraph). Is that where Harris’s “basis” gets us?

  44. tgpeeler:

    One of the logical fallacies that the ‘there is no moral law’ crowd makes is confusing the existence of a moral law with actually knowing what it is in all times and all places. In other words, in all circumstances.

    So, it is objective, but dependent on specific circumstances, and not easily discernible vis-à-vis those specific circumstances? Gotcha.

  45. 45

    I hate to intrude on the conversation about moral law, but Barry stated something about lies that has been on my mind as of late.

    “If one’s premises lead to a conclusion that one knows to be untrue, one has a choice. One can either reject those premises and try to find better ones more congruent with the facts, or one can cling to those premises in the teeth of the facts.”

    This of course works in the opposite as well. If one believes their premises to be true (and in fact goes to some length to establish and substantiate them) and yet they lead to a conclusion that one must ideologically suppress, then that is where the lies can begin as well.

    I say the lies “can” begin, but they do not have to – at least not those that are actually spoken. The lie can just as easily be to outright ignore the conclusion of your premises. One can hide from the conclusion, or as is most common, skillfully change the subject in the hopes that those who are predisposed to the lie will not follow. And most often, they do not.

    It is odd though, one might think that such tactics are reserved for those people who are less educated on a topic, or perhaps those who fear what is true. However, it seems quite clear the opposite is just as demonstrable. The rhetorical tactic of blatantly ignoring the conclusions of one’s own premises seems to be quite comfortable in the hands of those who are highly educated and claim (not only to be unafraid of the truth) but seeking it instead.

    It genuinely serves the same purpose.

  46. Is it morally wrong to kill and maim non-combatant civilians in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? I think it is. Do those of you who believe in these transcendental moral laws believe so also?

  47. You’re hilarious, really. Let me make it perfectly clear for you once and for all. Let’s say we’re having this conversation face to face and I decide that I’ve had enough of your b.s. so I pull out my Para-Ordnance .45 caliber P14 and put a 235 grain hollow point through your head. Just because. It makes me feel better. I’m the stronger (and fitter) obviously, since I’m still here and you’re not. So what’s the big deal? By the way, I’ll then take whatever you had and do whatever I want to with it because I can. Still gonna quibble with me? Go ahead. Make an argument.

    Yes, that is all good and fine. But if you were to read the posts, then you would see that you actually did not address the argument at hand.

    It is not a question of whether or not you can find a moral question that you and I agree on. It is the question of whether there is such a thing as either a universal or transcendent moral law AND if everybody knows there is such a law.

    All you did was rephrase Barry’s Hitler argument. And that, likewise, failed to address the question at hand.

  48. I’ve made the same point: your next to last paragraph is well-stated.

  49. efren @ 43

    “So, it is objective, but dependent on specific circumstances, and not easily discernible vis-à-vis those specific circumstances? Gotcha”

    Who said anything about dependent on circumstances?That the right choice may be difficult to make does not negate that there is a right choice.

  50. Is it morally wrong to kill and maim non-combatant civilians in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? I think it is. Do those of you who believe in these transcendental moral laws believe so also?

    Hmm, so you qualified your question. I would say, yes, it is wrong. That’s what my internal moral compass tells me.

    Of course, there are other answers. Some would say that even killing civilians is not wrong, if it increases the likelihood of winning the war. Or if it increases the chances of also killing insurgents.

    But how about this question: Is ANY killing in the Iraq or Afghanistan war wrong? This is clearly another moral question.

    Is there A answers? Are there many?

  51. tgpeeler:

    Who said anything about dependent on circumstances?

    You did when you said ,i.”actually knowing what it [moral law]is in all times and all places. But, fine, let me grant for a moment that it is objective. If it is difficult to determine what the right choice is then your “objective” moral law is too obtuse to be a practical guide for living.

  52. Aleta @ 43

    “Is it morally wrong to kill and maim non-combatant civilians in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? I think it is. Do those of you who believe in these transcendental moral laws believe so also?”

    Well, du-uh. Of course it is. Well, I can say that it is. You cannot. You can only wave your hands around and say it’s “not appropriate” or it doesn’t “maximize utility” or whatever. But you CANNOT say that it is WRONG to kill innocents while conducting a war. You also CANNOT even say that it is wrong to fight a war, ANY war, ever.

  53. Actually, my answer to the larger issue, for me, is yes.

    This a good example of a real moral situation. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding whether a particular war, or particular actions within a war, are moral, and I think each person has to look at all those factors as best her can and make his or her own moral choice. My choice is that both wars are unjustified and immoral, and that we should get out as soon as we can.

    One of the dilemmas here is that the damage was done by getting into the wars in the first place, so just suddenly leaving would cause suffering and death also. But on balance, and in general, I think engaging in war (at least the ones that characterized the last 50 years) is an immoral act.

  54. If treat others as you would like to be treated is too obtuse for you then good like with the rest of your life. It should be quite interesting. Regards…

  55. tg says, “Well, du-uh. Of course it is. Well, I can say that it is. You cannot. You can only wave your hands around and say it’s “not appropriate” or it doesn’t “maximize utility” or whatever. But you CANNOT say that it is WRONG to kill innocents while conducting a war. You also CANNOT even say that it is wrong to fight a war, ANY war, ever.”

    Hell if I can’t. I’m not beholden to your mistaken notions about existence of some imaginary world of “absolute moral truths.”

  56. —efren ts to tgpeeler: “So, it is objective, but dependent on specific circumstances, and not easily discernible vis-à-vis those specific circumstances? Gotcha”

    The objective moral law is the standard which never changes and which everyone knows; the way in which it is applied is always changing and contingent on circumstances. Thus, Thou Shalt Not Murder is an absolute moral imperative accessible to everyone, but there are circumstances in which killing as an act of self defense, either privately or in war, does not violate the law. Thus, the difficulty is in understanding the relationship between the law and its application, not the law itself.

    What can we say, though, about those who claim to be moral even as they reject moral principles–as of they could be that which they don’t believe in. Remarkable!

  57. “My choice is that both wars are unjustified and immoral”

    Are you insane? Why would I or anyone else really care about “your choice?” It has no force. You represent it as merely your preference. You make no claim to truth, that it IS actually immoral to kill and maim innocents. What a feeble and pathetic cop-out. Real people on both sides are DYING and being physically, mentally, morally, and emotionally maimed for life, and all you can say is: well, it’s my choice that it’s immoral. That’s it? That’s your defense? That’s pretty despicable from where I sit. No, really, it is.

  58. If treat others as you would like to be treated is too obtuse for you…

    To you I say exactly what I said to wagenweg:

    So then all wars fought by the US on foreign soil are morally wrong?

    Locking up drug users/sellers is morally wrong?

    Lying to children about Santa Clause is morally wrong?

    I don’t know if your view exactly actually holds water. It seems more of a moral law that most people accept in many circumstances. But that’s about as far as I would go with that.

  59. hrun @ 46

    “It is not a question of whether or not you can find a moral question that you and I agree on. It is the question of whether there is such a thing as either a universal or transcendent moral law AND if everybody knows there is such a law.”

    Last effort to shine a light. There either is a transcendent moral law or there is not. This is undeniably true. So to prove one side all one has to do is falsify the other. To prove that THERE IS a moral law I need only cite one example of something that any sane, normal human being would know, KNOW, (because it’s written on your heart) is wrong. So when I, as a professor, give you, as a student, an F on a paper you slaved over for hours, because I didn’t like the color of your binder, you’d be ok with that? Right? Of course you wouldn’t. You would KNOW that you’ve been wronged. Therefore, there IS a moral law.

    Now, to the second part of your statement that everybody must know about it. Ha. The witness of your own heart, and the experience of everyone you’ve ever interacted with your entire life, that’s not enough for you? Well, I suppose you could go around smacking people in the face until you found someone who thanked you for it instead of being angry but what would that prove? That it’s ok to run around smacking people? Again, the standard is pretty simple for the moral law. Would you like to be treated that way? No? Then don’t treat someone else that way. Poof. No more crime, no more wars. I’ve got to go. Y’all have a nice time figuring this out. Good luck to you.

  60. tg writes, “Last effort to shine a light. There either is a transcendent moral law or there is not. This is undeniably true. So to prove one side all one has to do is falsify the other. To prove that THERE IS a moral law I need only cite one example of something that any sane, normal human being would know, KNOW, (because it’s written on your heart) is wrong.”

    Nope – the fact that you can think of something that all sane, normal people would think is wrong is no proof whatsoever that therefore some transcendent moral law exists. All you’ve found is that there so some commonalities among all sane, normal people. Where that commonality comes from is a different problem than finding that the commonality exists.

  61. To prove that THERE IS a moral law I need only cite one example of something that any sane, normal human being would know, KNOW, (because it’s written on your heart) is wrong.

    Thank you, professor tgpeeler, for attempting to shine a light. But I am sorry. Your logic is flawed. A single moral law that is know by every sane person could simply be inbred by biology into humans. So, finding such a moral law does not mean that there is such a thing as ‘the moral law’ that ‘every human knows exists’.

  62. The witness of your own heart, and the experience of everyone you’ve ever interacted with your entire life, that’s not enough for you?

    Well… no. Not enough. I have friends that lie to their kids all the time (and they think they are morally right). And I have friends that a scrupulously honest to their kids all the time (and they think they are morally right).

    Likewise, the views on killing in war diverge.

    How about the morality of torture?

    Tax evasion?

    So, no. Neither my heart nor my environment are enough the answer that question.

  63. Everyone knowing the moral law and everyone admitting to knowing the moral law are two entirely different things.

    Not admitting to knowing the moral law because one would really rather not have their actions impeded by it does not equate with not knowing the moral law.

    Everyone knows the moral law.

  64. Re #62: And yet again another assertion of the OP without any supporting evidence.

    Brent, how do you answer the fact that there might be a single moral question where some people come down on either side? And, in some cases, vehemently fight for that view?

    Are you arguing that one of those sides actually KNOWS the moral law, but doesn’t admit it, because they don’t want their actions impeded by it?

    Is that REALLY your argument?

  65. tgpeeler @ 38

    You’re hilarious, really. Let me make it perfectly clear for you once and for all. Let’s say we’re having this conversation face to face and I decide that I’ve had enough of your b.s. so I pull out my Para-Ordnance .45 caliber P14 and put a 235 grain hollow point through your head. Just because. It makes me feel better. I’m the stronger (and fitter) obviously, since I’m still here and you’re not. So what’s the big deal? By the way, I’ll then take whatever you had and do whatever I want to with it because I can. Still gonna quibble with me? Go ahead. Make an argument.

    It’s quite simple. The rest of us who can get along fine together would decide it’s not a good idea to have someone around who shoots people on a whim. So we’d have you put away for everyone’s good. Or maybe we’d just take one of those .45 hollowpoints, load it in a DeLisle silenced carbine, give it to someone who knows how to use it and – bingo! – you’d never hear it coming. Now who’s the fittest?

    All joking aside, how about another moral conundrum? Imagine that after Western troops finally withdraw from Afghanistan the Taliban return with a vengeance. They topple the government, establish martial law and decide to eliminate all opposition once and for all.

    They round up all the men of military age and all the young boys who might become the next generation of enemies, march them out to some remote part of the country and begin mass executions. To forestall any vendettas from the distaff side of the population, they bump off the wives and mothers as well. The youngs girls are spared and handed out to the Taliban men as “wives”.

    Can you imagine the howls of outrage from around the world once these atrocities became widely-known. Wouldn’t there be near universal agreement that this was a crime against humanity that cried out for vengeance? Would anything be more likely to trigger yet another invasion of Afghanistan by righteous Western armies determined to avenge the victims?

    Now go and read in the Old Testament all about how God dealt with Sodom and Gomorrah, the Midianites and the Amalekites to name but a few. Then tell us all about objective – or should it be objectionable – morality.

  66. Sorry to chime in late here. I want to comment on this:

    “Therefore, like everyone else, Mr. Harris knows that his moral impulses are not arbitrary, that they are grounded on something both necessary and objective.”

    Like hrun0815, I am not sure that this is true. I suppose that this (not knowing this is true) makes me a fool, by Barry Arrington’s estimation, but that’s not something that particularly worries me.

    I think there’s an answer to the Nazi conundrum Barry raises in [3], but first can I’d lik to consider a different one. How about this?

    It’s always evil to kill your child just because somebody tells you to.

    Now I can’t imagine a situation in which I would violate that. In other words, it offends my internal moral compass at the deepest level.

    Is such a statement part of what you would call moral law?

  67. Seversky,

    Now go and read in the Old Testament all about how God dealt with Sodom and Gomorrah, the Midianites and the Amalekites to name but a few. Then tell us all about objective – or should it be objectionable – morality.

    Why should anyone care what your arbitrary and subjective standard is for morality? This isn’t really wrong, for there is no such thing as really wrong in your stance, it’s just something you don’t like, like mustard or spam. And don’t appeal to the moral conclusion of us all getting along as being really right either, that’s just as subjective as you preferring blue shirts instead of red. When you see, I mean really, honestly, see subjectivity applied to morality, you see it doesn’t belong being applied to morality in any way. It’s funny to me that you reject objective morality and then act as if things in scripture were objectively wrong. You’ve thrown your only weapon away already.

  68. Now I can’t imagine a situation in which I would violate that. In other words, it offends my internal moral compass at the deepest level.

    But the thing to remember is that this is not necessarily always true for everybody. For example, there is the story of a Jewish mother who suffocated her coughing child to ensure that Nazis didn’t find her and a whole group of other hiding Jews. Did she act morally, because she protected a whole group of people? Or was is immoral because she killed a child (her own in particular)?

  69. Hi Clive. Can you give an example of an transcendent moral truth?

    So far we have the golden rule, and love the Christian God. Any others?

  70. Mustela,

    I’ll repeat my request then: Since you seem to be agreeing with Barry Arrington, you must know the moral law. Instead of quoting Lewis, please state it, in your own words.

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

    Do you not perceive its rationality?

  71. Okay, well, I didn’t read all of these comments, but I got the gist of them. Saying “torturing babies is wrong” seems right to me. Notice the “to me”! I don’t think John Wayne Gacy would agree with me! His capacity to empathize is neurologically “deficient” using evolutionary standards. He can be clinically diagnosed with a social disorder. Therefore, it seems to me that Gacy didn’t “know” what he was doing was wrong, like CS Lewis so inanely suggests.

    The example I used to distinguish subjective versus objective on Harris’ page goes something like this:

    If I see a “red” car and interpret its color, that is a subjective experience because it is limited to those who can see colors. A colorblind person cannot interpret this in any way–His abilities are disabled. However, what we can test is that this car is reflecting waves of a certain wavelength; that is OBJECTIVE fact. It exists apart from human interpretation. Apart from my interpretation, that car is going to reflect light waves that fall within the red range.

    I can only say to the person saying “baby torture is WRONG” is objective fact is this: Prove it. Test it. This claim about reality all depends on a definition of what constitutes wrong. Since the perception of the word wrong is flexible and subject to individual interpretation by different people with different priorities, you can never get a statement like this to be proven. To anybody.

    This is the point of moral nihilism. There are no true or false moral claims. You cannot assign a truth value to the statement “one ought to be kind.” You can assign a truth value that “one ought to be kind in order to fit in most societies”. That may be capable of being demonstrated. However, just because it can be demonstrated, you can’t assign an objective moral value to being nice just because it allows most people to fit into most societies.

    I have a conscience. This conscience comes from evolution. The feeling to “love your neighbor as yourself”, so to speak, comes from the evolutionary skill to empathize with other humans. If somebody happens to sacrifice themselves, it’s just an offshoot of this. It doesn’t, as Lewis claims, disprove that survival is at the center of every action we take. The empathy that most people share for other humans outweighs the occasional evolutionary “mishap”, if you want to define sacrifice in those evolutionary terms.

  72. Re #67: It’s always puzzling to me. The dichotomy always seems to be:

    Either there is an absolute (transcendent) moral law or there is no morality.

    A third option is (at least by most Christians who favor an absolute morality) never even considered.

  73. Eric,

    I have a conscience. This conscience comes from evolution. The feeling to “love your neighbor as yourself”, so to speak, comes from the evolutionary skill to empathize with other humans.

    Empathy relies on morality, it doesn’t create it. If you don’t know moral tenets in your own shoes, you won’t know it by stepping into another’s shoes, nor will you have any impetus to empathize without morality. I know that evolutionary psychology nonsense hangs all morality on empathy, but a moment’s reflection will reveal that empathy relies on morality, and not vice versa. If I don’t know the rules of a game, it doesn’t matter what position I’m playing, I still won’t know how to play. Morality is always the premise, not the conclusion, it has no contingency.

  74. Re #73: Empathy does not rely on morality. It could be as simple as feeling yourself what is happening to others (stuff that was actually shown in monkey research). Empathy does only require you to share somebody else’ emotions.

    You could thus have perfect empathy, yet be completely amoral.

  75. I agree, hrum. The best argument for the theists is that, “objective morality exists, so get over it. You’re a fool if you deny it.”

    Oh yeah? Well, I say objective morality doesn’t exist, so get over it. You’re a fool if you deny it. I win :)

    Using that reasoning, I can say anything I want to and justify it.

  76. Re #75: You failed to quote the bible, call yourself wise and the other person a fool.

    But you did get the gist of it.

  77. First off, Clive, regarding the Old Testament, shifting the blame back on the moral subjectivist or moral nihilist does not take away the claim that if it is granted that objective moral standards do exist (and this includes empathy, kindness, not killing each other, etc.), God has violated his own standard. “Thou shalt not kill.” “Moses, declare war on that other tribe. What? You didn’t commit a complete genocide? Go finish off their cattle and enslave the children.” See why this is hypocritical? Your “objective” morality is “whatever Yahweh tells me to believe.” And again, why I should I follow Yahweh? There is no objective reason why I should; if I don’t care if I burn forever, then denying him really holds no value to me.

    There is a difference though between a voluntary act that involves yourself and/or consenting people (like eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles over Honey Nut Cheerios, liking red shirts versus blue shirts, or even something like BDSM or homosexuality) and one that treads on other peoples’ toes. Morality is designed as a resolution to those types of conflicts. It becomes a battle of wills. Considering this, we act in our interest. Evolution tells me not to punch some random person in the face; but even discarding evolution due to the is/ought fallacy, it is still rational not to punch somebody in the face because they will more than likely retaliate and punch me back. I don’t want that! I’ll feel bad! Therefore, I won’t do it. Simple as that, doesn’t need to be any deeper either.

    In the case of a drowning person, I feel an obligation to save that person. It doesn’t come from God, it comes from my value system within (selected by evolution). Again, the evolutionary “mishap” (if I were to kill myself in the process) does not outweigh the benefits it gives to the survival of the human species.

    Nothing works without an evolutionary mindset, which is why I’m less than surprised that William Lane Craig doesn’t “get it”. He once said that Claudia Schiffer is more beautiful than Madeline Albright because humans have objective standards of asethics. He said from an evolutionary mindset, Schiffer would have to be more attractive because she is closer to peak child-bearing age. Uh…..No, sir, no. She is more attractive because during puberty, she produced more estrogen and the facial and bodily features she inherited are more attractive towards child-rearing. Child-bearing age has something to do with it, but estrogen production would be the most important factor. I think Jane Seymour (who I think is 59) is more attractive than many people my age, but it’s because of her inherited features that subconsciously tell me she would be a good partner, it doesn’t have everything to do with her age. This is the kind of mistaken thinking you get when you don’t have a clue about evolutionary theory or don’t take the time to seriously study it.

  78. hrun [68],

    But the thing to remember is that this is not necessarily always true for everybody.

    Of course. That’s why I said it violated my internal moral compass. I make no claims for the objectivity of that compass.

    Again, can Barry (or Clive, or anybody else who defends “objective” moral law) tell me whether my statement in 66 is part of moral law? Let me repeat it here:

    It’s always evil to kill your child just because somebody tells you to.

  79. Clive [73],

    Empathy relies on morality, it doesn’t create it.

    Maybe, maybe not. But as Barry Arrington notes in the post, “An assertion is not an argument.”

  80. STephenB

    The objective moral law is the standard which never changes and which everyone knows; the way in which it is applied is always changing and contingent on circumstances. Thus, Thou Shalt Not Murder is an absolute moral imperative accessible to everyone, but there are circumstances in which killing as an act of self defense, either privately or in war, does not violate the law. Thus, the difficulty is in understanding the relationship between the law and its application, not the law itself.

    That is pretty darn feeble. even for you. A moral code that says murder is wrong, but provides no guidance by which an adherent can determine whether a killing is moral or not, isn’t worth a tinker’s damn.

    Now, the New International Version of The Bible says that “thou shalt not murder (Ex 20:13). However, the King James Version says “thou shalt not kill.” So, if I want to discern this objective moral code, I guess I should trash the KJV and read the NIV?

  81. —-”efren ts: A moral code that says murder is wrong, but provides no guidance by which an adherent can determine whether a killing is moral or not, isn’t worth a tinker’s damn.”

    You are obviously incapable of understanding the difference between murder, which is immoral, and self defense, which is not. Perhaps you have become a slave to some kind of vice that clouds your judgment. A man who does not conform his behavior to the moral code, after all, will soon find a moral code that conforms to his behavior.

    —”Now, the New International Version of The Bible says that “thou shalt not murder (Ex 20:13). However, the King James Version says “thou shalt not kill.” So, if I want to discern this objective moral code, I guess I should trash the KJV and read the NIV?”

    No, you should rise above your moral illiteracy and ask more relevant questions, such as, “Which translation is correct and why?”

  82. Re #82: Really? To determine what is morally right and wrong we have simply to discern which translation of the bible is correct?

    So how about tax evasion? And lying to your child about Santa? Or fighting a war on foreign soil? Does it say anything about those in the ‘correct’ translation?

    (At least at first the argument was just that every man knows THE moral law. Now we learn that THE moral law is hidden in the correct translation of the bible. The assertions without a shred of prove are getting thicker by the minute.)

  83. Barry Arrington:Nor does Eric080 believe what he says. Neither he (nor anyone else) is truly a moral nihilist. How do I know? Simple. Let us suppose that I went to Eric080’s house, tied him to a post, and gave him 39 lashes with a bullwhip. Does anyone believe Eric080 would be morally indifferent to that act? Of course not. He would say, “It’s not fair!” which is another way of saying the act transgresses the moral code he knows in his heart.

    One can determine/demonstrate in real-life, right here in this very thread, that moral relativists don’t actually believe that falsehoods they willingly and knowingly assert.

    For, after all, you (rightly) called these two fellows “fools” … and we all know they will object that it is somehow *wrong* for you to have done so, and that the rest of us have the obligation and duty to condemn your act.

  84. For, after all, you (rightly) called these two fellows “fools” … and we all know they will object that it is somehow *wrong* for you to have done so, and that the rest of us have the obligation and duty to condemn your act.

    And yet, some do condemn the act… and others don’t. How, aeehhh … relativistic.

    Anyway, Ilion, be our guest. Demonstrate away that they don’t believe the ‘falsehoods they willingly and knowingly assert.’ I’m waiting with baited breath.

  85. Barry Arrington (stating Harris’ hidden premise):1. We ought to increase human flourishing.

    There is another difficulty. ‘Science!‘ can’t even begin to tell us what the term “flourish” means in this hidden premise.

  86. And yet, some do condemn the act… and others don’t. How, aeehhh … relativistic.

    Actually, this statement is just evidence pf your *choice* to not reason properly. It is not that you cannot reason, but that you will not.

    … I’m waiting with baited breath.

    No you’re not. You are a fool … which assertion is a moral claim; to call you a ‘fool’ is not to call you ‘stupid,’ it is to call you fundamentally/intellectually dishonest.

  87. Ilion, you have to try hard here: As far as I can tell, nobody is saying that there are no morals. People are simply saying that the is no universal or transcendent moral law. And this thread has shown ample evidence that there isn’t such a law.

    Now, you, just like Barry, can keep on calling people fools. You can stop responding, like Barry. You can simply continue making assertions without any facts. But it won’t change the matter.

    Anyway, I’m going to bed to get some rest. And I will think about all the moral judgments and decisions I made today– specifically, how others will come to completely different judgments and make different decisions.

    By the way, maybe you know the answer to one of these questions:

    Is it morally right or wrong to fight a war on foreign soil?

    Is it right or wrong to lie to a child about Santa?

    Is it right or wrong to torture somebody?

    I’m sure you’ll know the answers (as do I).

  88. Ilion, you have to try hard here…

    Do I now? On what is this assertion of oughtness grounded?

  89. 90

    If there exists any sort of reasoned conclusion to be had, I believe one moral imperative must be recognized by any participant in this discussion, and that is the absolute necessity for intellectual honesty amongst ourselves, and the commitment to follow the logic where it leads. If one denies this notion, the conversation cannot even get off the ground. By refusing to acknowledge the necessary moral duty to seek after truth, and engage in an honest discussion, we doom ourselves to futility from the start. Just as we cannot argue from axioms without the self-evident tools of reason, we cannot reach an honest determination of truth by denying the necessity for intellectual sincerity.

    But by you even arguing here you attempt to convince us that your position is valid, a position that you believe you’ve honestly reasoned to, and is “true” in the sense that there is no transcendent morality. If your proposition is true, then it is not in the least bit wrong for me to deceive others by appealing to an objective moral law, because this is merely my subjective opinion on the matter – in which case, why waste your time convincing me otherwise? Intellectual commitments like these cannot be reduced to preference, such as what color shirts I like to wear. You would not attempt to debate if you believed your position indefensible – the truth value is implied.

    We can use Harris’s notion that the aforementioned moral concepts are realized in a utilitarian manner, but by robbing morality of its objective basis, you reduce it to brute facts in terms of efficiency. All Harris can say is that it is inefficient to be untruthful and dishonest, or to lie, or to cheat and steal. He could just as easily reverse his position. Either way, he has taken from morality its imperative nature, and all we’re left with is brute facts. In a likewise fashion, morality is also reduced to a wish-washy sentiment/preference: “The taking of innocent life disgusts me, though I cannot tell you why.” For the argument to be sound, it must be based on something, not just mere preference. The disgust we feel for such atrocities is a natural reaction inherent in our being, due to the recognition of the Natural Moral Law.

    The moderns exasperate themselves trying to convince the common man that Right and Wrong, good and evil – both intentionality and the corresponding act associated with the moral in question – are figments of his imagination – mere instinctual impulses derived from evolution to serve some utilitarian function. You say that morality, far from being exterior to man, is a social stigma or some group-think phenomena (as if a group decision is not merely the aggregate of individual decision). But in doing this you’re essentially asking average Joe to deny his intellect and abandon his humanity.

  90. StephenB:

    You are obviously incapable of understanding the difference between murder, which is immoral, and self defense, which is not.

    So, are you saying that self-defense is the only legitimate for killing?

    No, you should rise above your moral illiteracy and ask more relevant questions, such as, “Which translation is correct and why?”

    Okay, which translation is correct and why?

  91. 92

    Aleta,

    You said, “I have exercised and developed my moral character all my life without needing a belief in an transcendent source of morality to justify it.”

    I would just like to point out that your belief or disbelief in a transcendent reality makes little difference to yourself as a moral being. If, for example, there is a God and you have a soul, then you have that soul and that transcendent source of conscience regardless of whether you happen to believe in it.

    The earth went round the sun just the same, no matter what people believed.

    In these discussions one gets the impression that until one believes in God you live without, but of course He sends his rain upon the just and the unjust, and Her Holy Spirit emanates and fills the whole universe, even including atheists!

    There is no escape…from the magnanimity of God.

  92. semi-off topic
    I watched a documentary that premiered on the History channel last night about the Shroud Of Turin. It airs again Saturday:

    The Real Face of Jesus?:
    Saturday, Apr 3, 8/7c

    http://www.history.com/shows/t.....s/episodes

    I was rather surprised at the unbiased presentation of the evidence and recommend watching it.

  93. Barry: “If we express the unspoken premise, Harris’ argument turns into the following:

    1. We ought to increase human flourishing.
    2. Science can show us that which can increase human flourishing.
    3. Therefore, science can show us what is “good.”

    Can Harris’ unspoken premise (i.e., the new premise 1) be demonstrated scientifically? No, it cannot be.”

    Okay, call #1 an axiom, a very easy, obvious, simple to figure out axiom. What is the problem with it? If we wanted to build a bridge over a river, we’d use science to figure out how to build the bridge. Science doesn’t tell us we want to build a bridge. That’s a desire we generate ourselves and we use science to accomplish this desire. Nobody would say that, “We want to build a bridge” was a lie Sam Harris was telling himself.

    Harris gets into some of this, starting at 1:30 “Values are a certain kind of fact. They are facts about the well-being of conscious creatures. Why is it that we don’t have ethical obligations towards rocks? Why don’t we feel compassion for rocks? It’s because we don’t think rocks can suffer and if we’re more concerned about our fellow primates than we are about insects, as indeed we are, it’s because we think they’re exposed to a greater range of potential happiness and suffering. But the crucial thing to notice here is that this is a factual claim, this is something we could be right or wrong about. If we’ve misconstrued the relationship between biological complexity and the possiblities of experience, well then we could be wrong about the inner lives of insects. There’s no notion, no version., of human morality and human values that I’ve ever come across that’s not at some point reducible to a concern about consciouis experience and its possible changes. Even if you get your values from religion, even if you think that good and evil ultimately relate to conditions after death, either to an eternity of happiness with God or an eternity of suffering in Hell, you are still concerned about consciousness and its changes and to say that such changes can persist after death is itself a factual claim, which of course, may or may not be true.” And, of course, such factual questions are best answered with science.

    Science is a tool we use to figure out how the world works. It’s up to us to figure out what part of the world we want to understand and in this case, making humans flourish is one of those parts, and science is a tool that helps us do it.

    Barry: “Harris substitutes the term “human flourishing” for “happiness,” but in all other respects his argument is the same.”

    It’s very different! For instance, you say, “we know for a certain fact that some acts ought to be suppressed no matter how pleasurable they may be for the person who commits them. For example, utilitarianism would lead to the conclusion that if it can be demonstrated that a pedophile’s pleasure from molesting children is greater than the suffering he causes, then, for that pedophile, molesting children should be considered “good.” Any system that might possibly lead to such a conclusion is obviously worthless.”

    But a system that leads to human flourishing doesn’t lead to that conclusion because the molested children are not flourishing. You’ve probably seen a few of them in the news lately. One I saw last weekend was a deaf man in his sixties, still suffering from his childhood molestation. He and his daughter were both choking back the tears and that’s not flourishing. The fact that his molestor was happy just means that the molestor had bad morals.

    Barry: “Fortunately, there is such a standard, and that standard says, “Thou shall not kill.” Therefore, we can know for a certain fact that the genocide in Darfur is evil, no matter who may disagree with us.”

    We know that genocide is evil because the murdered people utterly cease to flourish.

  94. Do I now? On what is this assertion of oughtness grounded?

    I’ll say it one last time: Just because I don’t think there is A moral law that EVERY man knows, that does not mean that I don’t have morals and want or expect others to share them.

    Yet again, in this case, you clearly don’t share mine. Otherwise, you’d try and prove the point you raised earlier and you’d try to present an argument. However, you prefer to be cryptic. In your moral judgment, that’s okay. In mine, it is not.

  95. In message 11, Clive recommends http://www.columbia.edu/cu/aug.....ition4.htm as a statement of the moral law that everybody is supposed to know.

    Ok, let’s look at a few of its examples:

    Under “The Law of General Beneficence”

    (a) NEGATIVE

    “I have not slain men.” “Do not murder.” Terrify not men..” “I have not brought misery upon my fellows.” “Slander not.”

    Does anybody want to be slain, murdered, terrified, made miserable or slandered?

    (b) POSITIVE

    “Man is to be preserved as much as possible.” Shades of Harris’s Human flourishing!
    “‘Speak kindness … show good will.”, “Do to men what you wish men to do to you”
    Who would want anything else? Ditto for the rest of Lewis’s commandments.

    There are things people don’t want to happen to themselves or their friends, so they pass laws against those things and declare them immoral. Then they spend their time thinking up reasons why those laws and moral commandments don’t apply to their enemies.

    You know when I first realized that Chesterton was greatly overrated? I was reading something by him once when he triumphantly claimed that every society in the world has laws against theft and murder and gave this as evidence of an absolute moral law! And I thought to myself, either Chesterton knows a land where the people want to be robbed and murdered, or he’s not half as smart as he thinks he is.

  96. So which is it, thou shalt not kill, or that shalt not murder.

    And how do you know when killing is not murder. Clearcut self-defense is one thing – killing people, even combatants, is another. What the absolute moral law here, and what’s the evidence that everyone knows it?

  97. “And how do you know when killing is not murder. Clearcut self-defense is one thing – killing people, even combatants, is another. What the absolute moral law here, and what’s the evidence that everyone knows it?”

    Good question – and there’s one I’d like to know the answer to as well. That is, what is the status of executions? I think many of those of us in Europe (and probably Canada) would think them immoral, whereas those in the US wouldn’t.

    To my mind, it’s clearly immoral to kill someone who’s caged and not a danger to anyone at that point. It’s not self defence, it’s revenge. Why can’t those in the US who support the death penalty see that it’s immoral?

  98. Aleta “Hell if I can’t. I’m not beholden to your mistaken notions about existence of some imaginary world of “absolute moral truths.”

    Hee hee. And for some reason I am supposed to care about “your” imaginary world of moral truth? I guess I am since you seem pretty exercised about it. I’m sorry for pointing out how irrational your view is. I think what you mean to say is that there is a moral law for you but it’s different from mine. But that’s another question than does one exist. Regards.

  99. @pelagius: Regarding Matthew 5:22,

    But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

  100. I’d like to return to Barry’s point in [3] above. He asks us to consider this statement:

    It was evil for the Nazis to kill six million Jews for no other reason than that they were Jewish.

    He notes that “this is objectively true.” I’ll grant that it’s true (I’ll withhold on “objectively”). How about this statement:

    It was evil for the ancient Israelites to kill all the Amelakites for no other reason than that what some of their ancestors did.

    The relevant passage is 1 Sam 15:1-3, when Samuel advocates genocide:

    Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ”

    Barry, if the first statement is objectively true, is the second? Samuel’s advice seems worthy of Hitler. And if the second statement is true, then Samuel (or the god he claims to speak for) is a genocidal maniac.

  101. tgpeeler writes:

    Hee hee. And for some reason I am supposed to care about “your” imaginary world of moral truth?

    No more than we are supposed to care about yours. Cheers.

  102. No, I don’t expect you to care about what I think unless you want to – who and what we choose to care about is an individual choice.

    And yes, to some extent I’m sure our moral worlds are different – everyone’s is. There is a certain commonality that underlies all of humanity, there are other moral ideas that are obviously cultural (a woman exposing her ankle in some cultures, for instance) and there are some that are different as a part of people having different upbringings, philosophies, experiences, values, etc.

    It is obvious that people have strong disagreements about certain moral situations. That’s because moral choices are difficult and are a reflection of individual people’s perspectives, and those vary.

  103. —Aleta: “So which is it, thou shalt not kill, or that shalt not murder.”

    Thou shalt not murder.

    —”And how do you know when killing is not murder. Clearcut self-defense is one thing – killing people, even combatants, is another.”

    You really are serious aren’t you?

    [A] If a killing cannot be morally justified, it is murder. Among other reasons, a killing can be morally justified if a potential victim cannot save his/her own life without using deadly force. Of course moral relativists, like yourself, often kill just for the hell of it because they admit of no objective standard to shape their behavior. They specialize at coming up with phony reasons to kill babies—and kill them they do—by the millions.

    [B] Google “Just War Theory” and get back to me. [It's based on the natural moral law, which if course you are not up on because you don't believe in it and therefore do not educate yourself on its finer points]

  104. —Aleta: “That’s because moral choices are difficult and are a reflection of individual people’s perspectives, and those vary.”

    Did it ever occur to you that it is impossible to make a moral choice without a moral standard based on objective truth, under which circumstances you can only make a preferred choice based on your own selfish instincts?

  105. StephenB @103,

    [A] If a killing cannot be morally justified, it is murder.

    This is the most terrifying thing I have ever read.

    Your subjective acceptance of someone else’s absolute moral code is your justification for killing someone.

    A decision this serious and you won’t accept all the responsiblity for making it yourself.

  106. When I wrote, “And how do you know when killing is not murder. Clearcut self-defense is one thing – killing people, even combatants, is another.”

    Stephen replied, “You really are serious aren’t you?”

    Then, after repeating the clearcut self defense concept, Stephen writes,
    “Of course moral relativists, like yourself, often kill just for the hell of it because they admit of no objective standard to shape their behavior.”

    I think I’ll just let that statement stand and let readers make their own judgments about it.

    And last, Stephen writes, “Google “Just War Theory” and get back to me. [It's based on the natural moral law, which if course you are not up on because you don't believe in it and therefore do not educate yourself on its finer points]”

    I see. Moral absolutes are so clear that everyone knows them, but I have to Google to find out what they are.

    How about you just summarize: is it moral for our nation to be over in Afghanistan inflicting collateral death and suffering on non-combatants and deliberately trying to kill others; and if a young person were asked to go, would they or would they not be justified in thinking it would be immoral to do so.

    What’s your answer to that question, and why. If your so well-educated and understand the finer points, and believe there is an objective and transcendent moral law which answers this question, then tell us what it is and explain how it applies to the situation.

    At the very least, tell us whether you think that war is just, or not. Where do you stand on that?

  107. Aleta you state/ask:

    “is it moral for our nation to be over in Afghanistan inflicting collateral death and suffering on non-combatants and deliberately trying to kill others; and if a young person were asked to go, would they or would they not be justified in thinking it would be immoral to do so. (?)

    And to what foundational moral standard do appeal to say that it is wrong to wage war? Just Because humans won’t “flourish”? Because genes won’t “propagate”? And to what moral foundation do you appeal to say that either of those options are good or evil? Just because your genes tell you that they are good or evil? And exactly why should I trust your genes superior to mine when my genes tell me you are preventing me from “flourishing”?

    Cruel Logic – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qd1LPRJLnI

    video plot: A brilliant serial killer videotapes his debates with college faculty victims. The topic: His moral right to kill them. Written and directed by Brian Godawa.

  108. Stephen also writes, “Did it ever occur to you that it is impossible to make a moral choice without a moral standard based on objective truth, under which circumstances you can only make a preferred choice based on your own selfish instincts?”

    Of course that has occurred to me. It’s the standard argument being made by all the moral absolutists here: if you don’t believe in moral absolutes then you have no basis for morality at all. I think that is wrong, and that’s what I’m discussing.

    And no, my choices are not based on my own “selfish instincts.” I am much more than selfish instincts, and my sense of morality encompasses my full humanity, which includes, among other things, care and compassion for others.

  109. Sorry if this is interrupting. StephenB writes:

    “Of course moral relativists, like yourself, often kill just for the hell of it because they admit of no objective standard to shape their behavior.”

    It might be worth pointing out that world history is replete with killing, cruelty, and brutality of all sorts inflicted in the name of “objective” morality.

    (Aleta let that stand; I couldn’t. There’s more wrong with it than its astonishing arrogance and presumption.)

  110. If you guys tied me up to a post and tortured me…..I would not like it because I am feeling pain! I don’t like pain. Therefore, I would not want to be tied up to a post and tortured. The torturer, however, may get a kick out of it and like seeing the suffering of others. Even though his opinion is not in the majority, you can’t tell me he’s objectively wrong. His reality is governed by different rules.

    The idea of something being objective means it exists apart from human interpretation. Morality is ALWAYS based on human opinion. If I were plopped in ancient Rome and grew up with slavery all around me, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between “slavery is right” and “slavery is wrong.” I’ve been conditioned to believe slavery is fine because it was happening all around me. This is more of a moral relativist assertion, but a moral relativist says moral truths can exist in certain contexts. A moral nihilist says moral truths do not exist at all, so there is a difference.

    I am not opposed to people having subjective morals and I am not opposed to war against dictators or locking psychopaths in prison (because I don’t want me to be killed or others to be killed! Not because of some objective moral law).

    I understand the difference between people understanding objective morality versus there actually being an objective morality, as somebody above pointed out. However, this isn’t what CS Lewis is claiming; he is saying that EVERYBODY “just knows” the “moral law.” Meaning everybody thinks homosexuality is bad…..Uh, I don’t. I’m sure many homosexuals don’t either. God hates foreskins…Uh, I don’t hate foreskins and see no reason to chop them off. God is supposedly a benevolent dictator, but a dictator nonetheless….Uh, I don’t think that’s moral because I value individual freedom. Am I lying to myself? Am I plainly misguided? Am I in rebellion against God (who, if I believed he were to exist, I think I would rebel)? I just think these are simple ideas that make sense to me and they are incompatible with Jewish tribal culture. I don’t think coveting is bad, it strives people to do things and move the economy along (and as a libertarian, that’s a good thing!).

  111. The reason we’re defending our position, HouseStreeRoom, is because we do agree upon basic rules before entering a debate, whereas it would be pointless otherwise.

    But, nothing is stopping you from being dishonest. Dishonesty is only frowned upon by people who are actually looking for truth and answers. Since I assume we all value honesty here, then this is the agreement we come to before the debate begins. Simple as that, no need for objectivity at all :)

    The key here to understand is that morals only apply to values. If you value survival, then certain things may be moral to you which allow for survival to be more prevalent. Just as if you value sight, you may want to wear glasses. If you merely state “one ought to wear glasses”, this is baseless. Why should somebody with deficient sight wear glasses? This may seem obvious to some of us, but that is only because we presuppose and reflect our subjective value on to being able to see. Objectively, there is nothing wrong with not wearing glasses if you “need” them. It depends on the goal being accomplished.

  112. But eric to what standard of morality are you appealing to make all these judgments about morality in the first place?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQOgPMbnsQE

    And eric just how well has the world faired under the moral relativism that you promote:

    Matthew 7:15-17
    “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are savage wolves. You will know them by their fruit. Grapes aren’t gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit.”

    From Darwin To Hitler – Richard Weikart – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_5EwYpLD6A

    Stalin’s Brutal Faith
    http://www.icr.org/index.php?m.....038;ID=276

    The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression:
    Excerpt: Essentially a body count of communism’s victims in the 20th century, the book draws heavily from recently opened Soviet archives. The verdict: communism was responsible for between 85 million and 100 million, non-war related, deaths in the century. (of note: this estimate is viewed as very conservative by many, with some more realistic estimates passing 200 million dead) (Of Note: Atheistic Communism is defined as Dialectic Materialism)
    http://www.amazon.com/Black-Bo.....0674076087

    Atheist Atrocities Frightening Stats About Atheists
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP1KpNEeRYU

    Lives Saved By Christianity
    Excerpt: here is an article, detailing how Christianity improved the status of women and saved millions of people in ancient Rome from death by female infanticide and from the plagues which periodically swept the Roman Empire:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-337994

    How Darwin’s Theory Changed the World

    Rejection of Judeo-Christian values

    Excerpt: Weikart explains how accepting Darwinist dogma shifted society’s thinking on human life: “Before Darwinism burst onto the scene in the mid-nineteenth century, the idea of the sanctity of human life was dominant in European thought and law (though, as with all ethical principles, not always followed in practice). Judeo-Christian ethics proscribed the killing of innocent human life, and the Christian churches explicitly forbade murder, infanticide, abortion, and even suicide.
    “The sanctity of human life became enshrined in classical liberal human rights ideology as ‘the right to life,’ which according to John Locke and the United States Declaration of Independence, was one of the supreme rights of every individual” (p. 75).
    Only in the late nineteenth and especially the early twentieth century did significant debate erupt over issues relating to the sanctity of human life, especially infanticide, euthanasia, abortion, and suicide. It was no mere coincidence that these contentious issues emerged at the same time that Darwinism was gaining in influence. Darwinism played an important role in this debate, for it altered many people’s conceptions of the importance and value of human life, as well as the significance of death” (ibid.).

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

  113. 114
    William J. Murray

    Without transcendant, objective moral law, all other versions of morality boil down to the same thing; might makes right.

    IOW, if enough people consider X to be a good moral rule to enforce, and the have the power to enforce it, then it happens. If a single person can pay an army and orders them to enforce a moral rule, then he has the right to do it, because there is no moral law or right that exists outside of the might of the one or the group wishing to enforce it.

    So, there are only two possibilities for the existence of moral law; that which is objective and transcendant, or might-makes-right.

    Yet, everyone knows that might-makes-right is an immoral means of establishing rights and moral rules.

    Every argument for non-objective rules – every one of them – depends entirely upon a consensus for enforcement, which is a form of might, or the tyranny of the majority. If Hitler had been able to sway the world and Nazism had been victorious, then by their argument the historical exterminiation of the Jews would have been a moral achievement.

    You can’t have it both ways; you can’t hide on the fence. It is either might-makes-right (and yes, a persuasive argument is still a form of might), or objective moral law exists that no consensus vote or agreement can change.

    Since we know might-makes-right to be an immoral adjudicator, we are necessarily left with objective, transcendent moral law.

  114. 115

    Dick at 26,

    “Mustela (24) writes that ‘The obvious answer [to why I shouldn't live selfishly] is that such behavior is not in your long-term best interest in a social context.’

    Two replies: First, there’s no way anyone can know it to be true that it’s not in my interest to selfish, and second, even if it were true that selfishness is socially counterproductive that doesn’t make it morally wrong.”

    I didn’t claim it was morally wrong. You asked why, in the absence of objective moral law, you shouldn’t live selfishly. I gave one example of why you might want to be seen as a cooperative member of your social group.

    “Mustela also responds to my claim that the fact that w/o a transcendent moral authority there’s no reason why anyone should not be selfish by saying that, ‘That’s an explanation of why you personally would prefer for an objective morality to exist, but it isn’t an argument in support of such a thing actually existing. Maybe, in fact, there is no reason.’

    But no one is arguing that such an authority does exist.”

    Actually, that’s exactly what Barry Arrington, Clive Hayden, StephenB, and others here are arguing.

    “The discussion here is about whether the existence of such an authority is necessary for morality to be anything more than a mere illusion.”

    No, the discussion is about whether anyone can support Barry Arrington’s original claim that “Everyone knows the moral law.” Thus far, no one has.

  115. Aleta:
    And no, my choices are not based on my own “selfish instincts.” I am much more than selfish instincts, and my sense of morality encompasses my full humanity, which includes, among other things, care and compassion for others.

    You see, Aleta, this is where you are different than Stephen. Without his objective moral code (Oh, Stephen? KJV? NIV? Which version and why?), he would be a complete sociopath and probably a criminal. There, but for the grace of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, go you.

  116. 117

    Clive Hayden at 70,

    “Mustela,

    ‘I’ll repeat my request then: Since you seem to be agreeing with Barry Arrington, you must know the moral law. Instead of quoting Lewis, please state it, in your own words.’

    [Lewis quote elided]”

    When I claim to know something, say Newton’s second law, when challenged to prove it I can simply say “F = ma”. I don’t need to provide vague references to physics texts.

    You are supporting Barry Arrington’s claim that “Everyone knows the moral law.” Since you are a member of the set “everyone”, that implies that you know the moral law. Please demonstrate your knowledge by articulating, in your own words, the moral law that everyone knows.

  117. to efren at 114:

    Ah, now I get it: the moral absolutists need a objective transcendental moral in order to keep from being a nihilist psychopath: without someone telling them to be good they’ll be evil.

    I, however, who base my morality on the complexities of both my own humanity and the collective experience of mankind, am able to be moral by taking the responsibility to make informed choices, and therefore run no risk of becoming a pyschopath.

    I think my way is better.

  118. The question at hand is not whether gray areas exist or whether fair-minded people will disagree on moral questions. Is issue is also not whether theists believe in moral absolutes; of course all these things are true. The issue is that Harris’ argument depends on viewing morality as absolute.

    His view is:
    1) that all religion is completely negative—in a universal, absolute sense. He’s definitively not saying that Shia Islam bad, but progressive North American Methodism is just fine. For him all religion at all times, in all cultures and contexts is completely bad, and should be universally rejected.
    2) directed primarily at those who disagree with him (as all moral arguments are). The point of his “should” is that there is a universal principle that all people know or should know, and to which those of us who are recalcitrant should submit.

    Consider the alternative: when he says “religion is bad and should be rejected,” what does he mean? Is he expressing mere idiosyncratic opinion—the way I might if I were to say “roasted peppers are bad and should be rejected”? I think not.

    Ironically, it would be hard for the typical religious person whom he relentlessly criticizes to be more fundamentalist or more morally absolute than Harris. Those of you who are against moral absolutes need to direct your objections first to him and see where your argument goes.

    At a minimum, if moral absolutes are to be rejected, Harris’ argument crumbles into dust. Agree?

  119. SteveB [117], you’re not the same person as StephenB, correct? Just asking.

    Your point about Harris is a fair one. The question of the existence of objective morality is, however, a central part of this thread. Barry wrote in the original post,

    Everyone knows the moral law. It is, as Budziszewski writes, that which we can’t not know. Therefore, like everyone else, Mr. Harris knows that his moral impulses are not arbitrary, that they are grounded on something both necessary and objective.

    Those who disputed the existence of objective morality were called “fools” by Barry. So although your attempt to bring the question back to Harris’s consistency is, I think, reasonable, the original post ties that question to the existence of objective morality. It didn’t have to — and if it hadn’t, I would have been more sympathetic to it — but it did.

  120. Bornagain, I am not appealing to any standard of morality. I am appealing to basic, logical truths. As a moral nihilist, when I say no moral claims can be proven, I mean NO moral claims can be proven, tested, or falsified. That is all.

  121. SteveB, I agree with the overall theme of Harris’ presentation. If humans have a COMMON morality and value human well-being, then science can clear up answers as how to achieve human well-being. I object to his portrayal of human well-being as being objectively good, but that doesn’t take away from the argument that religion poisons human well-being.

  122. And BornAgain, if you seriously expect me to take the time to read all of that, you’re missing the point. I’ve listened to CS Lewis and WLC and both are just so wrong on this. Making a moral judgment is different from believing that your moral judgment is undeniable, immutable truth applicable to every human being on the planet, with or without evolutionary “useful” moral capacity.

  123. Oh, and theists, if you expect to scare moral relativists/nihilists out of their beliefs, I suggest you just not bother. Saying, “you wouldn’t want this to be true, would you?” does not take away from the truth of the matter.

    Just because watching a video of Hitler may make me uncomfortable does not mean that he is objectively wrong. There is no standard that applies to everybody.

    Do you ever think why exactly your misconception of a morally nihilistic world is so “scary”? It’s because you evolved to value your survival and happen to at the same time think that moral nihilism leads to murderous rampages by everybody in society. You evolved to want to live. Your misconception of moral nihilism leads you to believe that the end result is not living. Therefore, you are bothered by the idea. That’s not what moral nihilism entails necessarily.

  124. Composer:
    Correct—not the same person.

    For what its worth, while I may agree with at least some of the broad outlines of his position, I think Barry’s tone hurts rather than helps his argument. But on to matters of substance.

    the original post ties that question to the existence of objective morality.

    Indeed it does. Question: if morality is not known and expected to be universally known, isn’t Harris just making a “red pepper” argument (see 117), which by definition is superficial & non-authoritative, and can be easily dismissed by those who might disagree with it?

  125. —William J. Murray: …”Without transcendant, objective moral law, all other versions of morality boil down to the same thing; might makes right.”

    That is exactly right. Moral relativism always degenerates into tyranny—every time—without exception. Without the objective moral law as the ultimate arbiter between disputed claims for rights, power always makes the decision.

  126. –efen ts: “And no, my choices are not based on my own “selfish instincts.” I am much more than selfish instincts, and my sense of morality encompasses my full humanity, which includes, among other things, care and compassion for others.”

    Does that care and compassion extend to unborn babies?

  127. SteveB [123], I believe that moral judgments are based neither in some preexisting objective morality nor in mere opinion (the upshot, I think, of your “red pepper” comparison). Morality, in my view, is social, collective: we make arguments for particular moralities, but unlike arguments about taste, those arguments don’t appeal only to personal idiosyncracies.

  128. “Without the objective moral law as the ultimate arbiter between disputed claims for rights, power always makes the decision.”

    Bring back the divine right of kings! Now that was objective morality, given by God through the ages.

  129. Yes, and to men, women, and children in Afghanistan. Are you going to answer my question about the war?

    From above:

    “How about you just summarize: is it moral for our nation to be over in Afghanistan inflicting collateral death and suffering on non-combatants and deliberately trying to kill others; and if a young person were asked to go, would they or would they not be justified in thinking it would be immoral to do so.

    What’s your answer to that question, and why. If [you] believe there is an objective and transcendent moral law which answers this question, then tell us what it is and explain how it applies to the situation.

    At the very least, tell us whether you think that war is just, or not. Where do you stand on that?

  130. STephenB:

    Does that care and compassion extend to unborn babies?

    You really need to pay closer attention. That was a quote from Aleta, not my words.

    You should ask him/her. And you would be smart to do so because I would just sing Monty Python to you.

  131. Steve, power makes the decisions anyway. Always has and always will. You don’t think God’s might “makes right”? It kind of does by definition.

  132. Composer:

    OK. There are now two issues on the table: The first is the more significant, and is still unanswered; Harris can’t make his argument without an appeal to universal morality–something he clearly does. Most of the folks on your side of the aisle agree with Harris’ argument while simultaneously rejecting the means by which he makes it. I guess I see this as a problem: you can’t have it both ways.

    Second,

    Morality, in my view, is social, collective: we make arguments for particular moralities, but unlike arguments about taste, those arguments don’t appeal only to personal idiosyncracies

    What is “social and collective” but the sum of multiple personal opinions? (I’m pretty sure you’d readily agree that a group of people who come together to agree on a particular moral question doesn’t necessarily make them “right”). All that does is take us from “I like chocolate and you like strawberry” to “We like chocolate but you like strawberry.” If you were a strawberry fan, would that be enough to convince you to change your position? I’m guessing probably not.

  133. SteveB, Harris does assume that people ought to increase human flourishing — he’s not making a syllogism but an enthymeme.

    However, I don’t see how he appeals to objective morality. It may be an appeal to a sense of self-interest combined with an evolved sense of empathy. That is, the assumption might be put as “reader, you probably agree that we ought to increase human flourishing.” Nothing objective about that.

  134. SteveB, you ask:

    What is “social and collective” but the sum of multiple personal opinions?

    Well, I think it would be more than that: it would be the sum of personal opinions, collectively enforced habits, daily rituals, political and material interests, loves and hatreds, perceptual biases, ideological assumptions, etc.

    But I don’t see why that’s a deal-breaker, any more than the converse:

    What is “objective” but the idealization of a particular socially derived morality?

    Riddle me that.

  135. 136
    William J. Murray

    Eric 130 states: “Steve, power makes the decisions anyway. Always has and always will. You don’t think God’s might “makes right”? It kind of does by definition.”

    Who said anything about god? I said that moral law must either be objective and transcendent, or they are ultimately based on might makes right.

    IOW, whether or not there is a god involved, without an appeal to a transcendent and objective moral law, all other arguments are just window-dressing around “might makes right” to make it more palatable.

    Might-makes-right is immoral; it’s the opposite of the very idea of rights and morals. Rights and morals are supposed to prevent us from descending into might-makes-right tyranny and abuse, not facilitate that evil.

  136. OK. let’s assume for the sake of argument that we agree on the value of human flourishing. As it stands, Sam and I have very different perspectives on how best to accomplish this end. Given the fact that there’s “nothing objective” about his moral views, it would follow that:
    1) I am completely free to reject his opinions about how to bring about human flourishing should I choose to do so, and
    2) He (or any other “nothing objective” proponent) has no basis to criticize me for doing so.

  137. Composer:
    The previous comment (135) was in response to 132… a couple comments got in while I was still writing.

  138. SteveB [135],

    Interesting comment.

    Point #1 is true whether or not there’s objective morality. You’re still free to reject another’s views.

    Point #2 is false, in that the person who disagrees with you can appeal to your interests, sympathies, shared personal history, values, and so forth to convince you that his or her view is worth sharing. Moreover, the objectivist who claims to have an objective morality — but whose objective morality differs from yours — will make precisely the same (non-objective) appeals. What else can they do?

  139. William, I don’t know how to tell you this…..YET AGAIN….prove to me that “might makes right” is immoral. Objectively test it. Just do it. I’m here. I’ll wait. Take your time.

    REGARDLESS of what you feel, it does not make it objectively so. It is an opinion.

  140. Eric080 asks William:

    prove to me that “might makes right” is immoral.

    Do you care to defend this Eric080?

    Nazi Concentration Camps (Nuremberg Trial Film) WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT!
    http://video.google.com/videop.....501225850#

    ,,,The file entitled “Nazi Concentration Camps” was entered as evidence at the 1945 Nuremberg Trials of Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, and 22 other Nazi officials at the end of World War II. It presented a stark picture of the atrocities of the Holocaust and ensured than no one would ever doubt the meaning of the charge “crimes against humanity.”

  141. Sorry to come into this discussion so late (I’ve been fighting a bad cold). However, despite coming into this rather late, I think there is still quite a bit I can contribute to this debate.

    Indeed, having read through all of the comments so far, I find it fascinating that no one has yet presented even the briefest outline of the two dominant theories of ethical justification (usually referred to as “meta-ethics”), nor mentioned the two predominant theories of ethics formulated within those meta-ethical systems of justification, nor cited any of the proponents of these traditions (with the exception of David Hume and utilitarianism).

    Before going into them, I would first like to state that I have spent almost four decades studying and investigating the intersection between science and ethics (or “morals” if you lean more toward Latin than Greek). As a result of this experience it seems to me that referencing and exploring some of these dominant ethical traditions might help bring some clarity to this discussion.

    As an introduction to such a presentation, I would like to first respond to a few of the comments made so far:

    In comment #73 Clive Hayden wrote:

    “Morality is always the premise, not the conclusion; it has no contingency.”

    In comment #104 stephenB wrote:

    “…it is impossible to make a moral choice without a moral standard based on objective truth, under which circumstances you can only make a preferred choice based on your own selfish instincts…”

    In comment #124 stephenB wrote:

    “Moral relativism always degenerates into tyranny—every time—without exception. Without the objective moral law as the ultimate arbiter between disputed claims for rights, power always makes the decision.”

    And in comment #134 William J. Murray wrote:

    “Might-makes-right is immoral; it’s the opposite of the very idea of rights and morals. Rights and morals are supposed to prevent us from descending into might-makes-right tyranny and abuse, not facilitate that evil.”

    Long-time readers of these threads might initially be shocked by this, but I fully and emphatically agree with all of these comments. Furthermore, I would elaborate on that agreement by stating that both a logical and empirical analysis of the dominant theories of ethics, their meta-ethical justifications, and their empirical effects supports my assessment.

    Finally, I personally have come to these conclusions from a starting position that was diametrically opposed to my current understanding. That is, I once believed that:

    1) there is/are no “transcendent ethical/moral law(s)”;

    2) morality (if such a thing even exists) is entirely dependent on context (i.e. “relative” not “absolute”);

    3) that a thorough understanding of human biology and evolution can (indeed, should, or even must) provide us with everything we need to know to formulate a valid code of ethical/moral behavior; and

    4) that given the foregoing, the only valid ethical code would be one that is rooted in and ultimately derived from empirical reality, context-dependent/relativistic, and directly derived from our empirical knowledge of biology and evolution.

    I now completely reject all four of these assertions, and do so not only as a result of my much longer experience as an observer of nature (including “human nature”) but also as a person who has taken a great deal of time and care to study the various ethical traditions and the observable effects those traditions have had on the behavior of people who profess them.

    This will take a while, so I’m going to split it up into several comments. Here goes…

  142. As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is correct twice a day. Harris is right when he says that religion is bad. Of course, his solution to the problem is wrong, but that doesn’t detract from the soundness of his premise.

    http://www.thenakedgospel.com/.....a-headache

  143. the person who disagrees with you can appeal to your interests, sympathies, shared personal history, values, and so forth to convince you that his or her view is worth sharing.

    Sure, he can appeal all he wants. But the point is that none of these things is binding, which all moral arguments require.

    Even—or especially—from the perspective of his own world view, most Sam-style naturalists argue that religious ideology has evolved presumably because it provided evolutionary advantages to our ancestors at some point in the distant past—just like any other characteristic we might have. Given this, if natural selection has seen fit to preserve in me a set of values, interests and sympathies that is different than his, who is he to tell me that mine are “wrong?” The identical thoughtless, mechanistic process that gave me mine, gave him his.

    Again, without a standard to which we can both refer, such rights and wrongs are meaningless. Harris frequently preaches enough oughts & shoulds and rights & wrongs to embarrass a southern baptist, while his world view provides no basis for such sermonizing. Even in a perfect world, all science can do it explain what is. It is powerless to explain what ought to be.

    And the fact that he cannot live consistently within the confines of his own presuppositions is a very serious weakness to his whole point of view.

  144. –efren ts: “You really need to pay closer attention. That was a quote from Aleta, not my words.”

    Yes, they were, but you will both evade the question, so the distinction isn’t important.

  145. At this point it seems you are evading my question. Is the was in Afghanistan morally just? On what criteria and upon what evidence? What absolute moral values answers this question?

  146. 147
    William J. Murray

    Eric080;

    You are, of course, free to live a life based on the maxim of might-makes-right if you so choose.

  147. First, it will help in the discussion that follows to distinguish between the terms “validity” and “justification”.

    VALIDITY
    “Validity” usually refers to the outcome of a logical operation, such as the construction of a deductive syllogism or the testing of an hypothesis via the hypothetico-deductive (i.e. “scientific”) method.

    • In deductive reasoning, a conclusion is “valid” if it follows logically from its major and minor premises.

    • In inductive reasoning (and its variants, abductive reasoning and consilience), a conclusion is “valid” if it is not falsified by the preponderance of the data (“preponderance” being defined somewhat differently in the different branches of the natural sciences; in biology it is typically greater than 95% of the observed cases/data).

    JUSTIFICATION
    “Justification” refers to the method by which ethical/moral prescriptions are determined to be valid.

    • In the empirical sciences, determining if an hypothesis (i.e. a generalization about what some observable phenomenon) is) is “valid” involves either simple description (i.e. “natural history”) or experimentation (i.e. “controlled manipulation of independent variables”).

    • In meta-ethics, determining if an ethic (i.e. a statement about what a person/people ought to do) is “valid” involves examining either the internal logic of that ethical prescription or the effects of putting that ethical prescription into practice.

    Which brings us to the principle difficulty with Sam Harris’ piece. He does indeed commit what G. E. Moore called the “naturalistic fallacy”: he derives an “is” statement from an “ought” statement, which is a violation of one of the most basic principles of meta-ethics. As Hume, Moore, Rawls, and virtually all other ethicists have argued, one cannot justify an ethic by showing that it is derived from a statement about the way the world is, regardless of how empirically “valid” that “is” statement might be.

    In the context of this thread, this means that no amount of arguing that humans are “social animals” or that we are “innately altruistic” or that “our sociality predisposes us to act ethically/morally” can be used to justify an ethical prescription. Even if those descriptive statements about humans are valid (and I believe they are, at least superficially and in some, but not all, contexts), they cannot tell us what we ought to do.

    Empirical generalizations about human behavior can only tell us what we have a tendency to do, not what we ought to do. If we are indeed altruistic and cooperative (and there is a great deal of ethological evidence supporting this generalization), the most one can say about the application of these tendencies to what we ought to do is, if being altruistic and cooperative is what we ought to do, then doing so will not be as difficult as it would be if we were innately selfish and competitive.

  148. SteveB:

    Sure, he can appeal all he wants. But the point is that none of these things is binding. . .

    So? That’s the way the world is. A so-called objective moral code is binding how?

    Here’s an experiment: Imagine that I have an objective morality in which women are not considered capable of making their own decisions. This is obvious to me. You have an objective morality in which women are considered capable of making their own decisions. Try to convince me to abandon my objective morality for yours without appealing to contingent factors.

  149. Also, Stephen, I’m not evading your questions: I’m disagreeing with you, and stating what I do believe.

  150. Before going any further, it is also time to distinguish between descriptive and normative ethics
    [BTW, from this point forward I will use "ethics" inclusively to mean either "ethics" or "morals", as the two terms mostly differ in derivation, rather than meaning]:

    DESCRIPTIVE ETHICS
    “Descriptive ethics” are descriptive statements of what people in various cultures, situations, societies, etc. say are the “good” or “right” things to do.

    For example, one might observe the behavior of the Nazis and conclude that their ethics were grounded on the absolute superiority of the Aryan race, which in their view not only justified their actions, it made such things as the mass murder of the genetically “defective”, gypsies, homosexuals, Jews, and mentally ill necessary. Given the observed history of the Nazis and their racial doctrines, this would indeed be a valid generalization about their morals/ethics, but only in the descriptive sense.

    NORMATIVE ETHICS
    “Normative ethics” are normative (i.e. “law-like”) statements of what people ought to do, regardless of their particular cultures, situations, societies, etc.

    In other words, descriptive ethics are necessarily “relative” (i.e. situation-dependent), whereas normative ethics are necessarily “absolute” (i.e. situation-independent). And, as several commentators in this thread have pointed out (stephenB perhaps the most forcefully, but s/he has not been alone in this effort), there is a fundamental logical contradiction between descriptive/relativistic and normative/absolute ethics: the former can be shown to demonstrably violate what any rational person would consider to be valid ethical prescriptions. That is, asserting that “a good person is required to murder people who are genetically “defective”, gypsies, homosexuals, Jews, and mentally ill” is absolutely wrong. We all know this; indeed, even the Nazis knew this, which is why they eventually had to resort to killing technologies that would remove them from direct responsibility for their actions). So, what remains for us to determine is how to formulate our ethics in such a way that they will not only not justify the actions of the Nazis, but will require us to stop anyone from doing what they did.

  151. —Aleta: ““How about you just summarize: is it moral for our nation to be over in Afghanistan inflicting collateral death and suffering on non-combatants and deliberately trying to kill others; and if a young person were asked to go, would they or would they not be justified in thinking it would be immoral to do so.”

    —”What’s your answer to that question, and why. If [you] believe there is an objective and transcendent moral law which answers this question, then tell us what it is and explain how it applies to the situation.”

    First, understand that abortion is, always and everywhere unjust while war, under some rare circumstancees, can be just. Based on the NATURAL MORAL LAW, the conditions necessary for a just war are as follows:

    The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

    all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

    there must be serious prospects of success;

    the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

    In my judgment, the war in Afghanistan does not meet these criteria and based on that judgment, I would classify it as an unjust war. However, it is a debatable issue and someone might be able to provide good reasons for believing that it does meet that test. One cannot make a blanket statement that all wars are unjust in the same way that all abortions are unjust.

    Without the natural moral law, however, there is no guide whatsoever for judging whether a nation is unjustly waging war, as in the case of reckless aggression, or unjustly avoiding it, when it would be necesssary for the just purpose of avoiding slavery.

    These are often difficult decisions to make, which is precisely why we need the moral law–as a dependable standard for informing our response to all the hard questions. Without it, we have no guide at all, except for personal reasons, such as greed, hatred, bigotry, selfishness, irrational ambition, and, in the reverse case, cowardice.

  152. 153

    Mustela,

    You are supporting Barry Arrington’s claim that “Everyone knows the moral law.” Since you are a member of the set “everyone”, that implies that you know the moral law. Please demonstrate your knowledge by articulating, in your own words, the moral law that everyone knows.

    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/aug.....ition4.htm

  153. 154

    composer,

    Empathy relies on morality, it doesn’t create it.

    Maybe, maybe not. But as Barry Arrington notes in the post, “An assertion is not an argument.”

    But common sense is.

  154. 155

    Eric080,

    There is a difference though between a voluntary act that involves yourself and/or consenting people (like eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles over Honey Nut Cheerios, liking red shirts versus blue shirts, or even something like BDSM or homosexuality) and one that treads on other peoples’ toes. Morality is designed as a resolution to those types of conflicts.

    Morality is designed to resolve what type of cereal you should eat and what color shirt you wear? I mean, I appreciate your honesty, because subjective morality is exactly this, and nothing more.