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On Moral Progress In A Materialist World

A commenter in my last post gave a very nice summary of the current state of thinking about moral progress among matrialists.  Obviously, by definition, materialists cannot point to a transcendent moral code by which to measure moral progress.  Indeed, it is difficult for them to account for moral progress at all because if materialism is correct, the “is” in a society defines the “ought.”  The commenter took a stab at it nevertheless and came up with this: 

In terms of progress: I would say that progress is measured by the increase or decrease of the sphere of human recognition. We today recognize the humanity of African-Americans — a recognition that was denied to their ancestors. It is the contrast between the present and the past, not between the present and an imagined future, that indicates whether or not progress has occurred.  Although such recognition still has some ways to go, as measures go, it’s not a bad one.

In response I would like to pose two questions:

1.  On what basis do you say that the recognition of the humanity of African-Americans is “progress” unless you have held up the previous nonrecognition and the present recognition to a code and deterermined the former was bad (i.e., did not meet the code) and the latter is good (i.e., does meet the code)?  In other words, when you say we have “progressed” it is just another way of saying that the previous state of affairs was bad and the present state of affairs is good.  But how can you know this unless there is a code that transcends time and place by which both states of affairs can be measured.  Certainly to say that things were previously one way and now they are another is not the same as saying there has been progress.  Change is not the same as progress. 

 2.  Increasingly in our society pornography is viewed as an affirmatively good thing.  Perhaps that is even the majority view today, so let us assume for the sake of argument that the majority of people in America think pornography is a good thing.  Does the fact that the majority of people believe pornography is a good thing in fact make the exploitation and objectification of women for the sexual gratification of men good?  Would you say that there has been moral progress because now our society recognizes that the exploitation and objectification of women for the sexual gratification of men is good wheras before we believed that was bad?

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263 Responses to On Moral Progress In A Materialist World

  1. I would add an additional observation. It it materialist thinkers like Peter Singer that are seeking to disqualify vast numbers of human beings from being recognized. If anything the proliferation of materialist philosophy has been a regress even by this standard. The disabled, the elderly, the unborn, the “defective”, the mentally disabled, and so on, are all in the sites of explicit materialists like Singer (who is a scary but very well thought out and careful thinking materialist, the problem is with his premises not with the conclusions her draws relative to the premises). Currently the trend among utilitarian “moral” philosophers like Singer is to drive towards pushing people out of the sphere of being a human being (under the guise of “personhood theory”) rather than including them more.

    This shouldn’t really be surprising though. Something about bad roots leading to bad fruit comes to mind here.

    But historically this direction isn’t surprising. It was Christians who led the drive to end slavery (and even that took a long time and happened only in steps) and it was Christians who led much of the civil rights movements. Sadly there were Christians on the other side of the fence in all these things, just as there were Christians on both sides of the question of the divine right of kings vs rule by the people. But such is the nature of human beings.

    So even assuming the truth of the premise of the original comment, it would appear materialism is more trouble than it is worth in terms of human “recognition”.

    But as Barry astutely notes, even the premise itself is problematic.

    No doubt someone will disagree with Singer’s conclusions (good IMO) and say not all materialists agree with them. No doubt this is true. But I would wager that Peter Singer has thought about the implications of his materialism much more carefully and thoroughly than the person who disagrees with him that is also a materialist.

  2. I’ve given one answer to (1) in the previous topic, but feel free to post responses here.

    For what it’s worth, I’m not a materialist. A materialist is committed to saying that there is single correct metaphysics — one in which everything is “matter,” whatever that is — and that anything that exists, can be understood in terms of matter.

    In other words, materialists have the problem of how to explain things that aren’t particles (e.g. minds, values, numbers) in terms of things that are particles. I think that there are such huge problems with this approach that it’s not even worth defending.

    But that’s in part because I’m deeply skeptical of their being any single correct metaphysics — whether monistic or dualistic, material or spiritual.

    My aim here is therefore not to defend any particular metaphysical views, but to see how far we can go in keeping what’s of value in the Judeo-Christian-Enlightenment legacy within a conception of humans as animals.

    Maybe we can’t go as far as I’d like to — maybe we’ll see that such a conception requires us to give up on too much that’s valuable to us — or maybe we’ll see — and this is my suspicion — that what must be given up in order to accommodate this conception isn’t worth having.

    To that extent my explorations here are a continuation of my earlier work on Nietzsche. Nietzsche thought that once we see humans as animals and nothing more, then much of the Judeo-Christian-Enlightenment legacy was ‘unnatural’ and should be rejected.

    I think that Nietzsche was right about humans as animals, and wrong about the harmfulness of the ideals of the Enlightenment. So what I’ve been doing since then is trying to see if there’s a way to have my cake and eat it, too, or if I’m just squaring the circle.

    I suspect that most patrons will argue that I’m squaring the circle, and that there’s no way to defend the ideals of the Enlightenment, based as they are on the dignity of persons, together with a conception of humans as animals. No person could be only an animal, they might say. Well, maybe. But I suspect otherwise, and I look forward to continuing the discussion.

  3. Jason, I’ve read Singer’s Rethinking Life and Death, Practical Ethics, and most of Writings on an Ethical Life. If you want to talk about Singer, I’m ready to go!

  4. Peter Singer sees nothing wrong with, and little reason to bar, sex with animals so long as the animal doesn’t really mind.

    Your thoughts, Carl Sachs? May as well start with the fun aspects of Singer.

  5. BarryA,

    “If materialism is correct, the “is” in a society defines the “ought.”

    This is precisely wrong. The is/ought distinction was first raised seriously by David Hume, who seems to have been an atheist. It’s true that atheist “philosopher” Ayn Rand claimed to have “solved” the problem (or rather dismissed it) with her own vesion of materialism, but Rand was an idiot.

  6. barrya: “materialists cannot point to a transcendent moral code by which to measure moral progress”

    Not trying to be a crank but, what objectively verifiable “transcendent moral code” can non-materialists point to?

  7. ellazim,

    It is very possible that all of what Zoroaster taught was in fact correct. I have not had the opportunity to study the subject in detail, but it would not be surprising if God revealed truth to multiple sources.

    You say,
    “To speak of an eternal code is divisive and it would be more constructive to emphasise those points upon which most of us can agree.”

    You do, I hope, recognize that the above statement is divisive. If most of us agree on a point, that agreement divides most of us from those who do not agree with that point. No matter how you cut it, any morality with any content at all will inevitably be “divisive” to some people. Your criterion above seems to be majority rule (“most of us”), and the whole point of BarryA’s post is that majority rule has changed, and he is asking the question of whether that change is good. Should Martin Luther King Jr. and others have protested the majority view of segregation? Should William Wilberforce and others have protested the majority view of slavery? If so, then your rule above fails.

    You give another rule:
    “On the basis that I respect all human beings as equal to myself. I can only do what in my heart I know is right. I believe we should treat others as we wish to be treated.”

    I agree with that rule. But of course part of that rule is derived from the Declaration of Independence, and part of it comes from the recorded words of Jesus. Similar sentiments have occurred in other religions, and again it would not be surprising if God revealed truth to other people than Jesus. Certainly traditional Christianity would posit that God revealed truth to Moses and the prophets, but also to the Magi, who may have been Zoroastrian.

    One point that has been made repeatedly is that at least some Darwinists interpret the moral implications of Darwinist theory as beng that the Golden Rule is not how we got here and should not be how we live our lives. Nietzsche is one example. Are you willing to be “divisive” and argue that Nietzsche got it all wrong? If so, would it matter if you lived in a society where Nietzsche was in the majority (there apparently was one once, you know)? Is the Golden Rule transcendant? If so, we have the basis for a transcendent moral code.

    You say,
    “. . . if the materialists are right then all religious moral standards were created by men and are therefore relative by your criterium.”

    But that begs the question of whether the materialists are right. Perhaps they are not.

    Finally, you say, responding to BarryA’s comments on pornography,
    “Accepting your “fact” strictly for the sake of the argument I would say there is a difference between adults voluntarily participating in sexual activity and being coerced and manipulated. I will always support prosecuting those who exploit any other person for their own gain. I’m just like you, I don’t want the government or the academics or the media to tell me what is right or how to behave and I am not about to dictate other’s activities.”

    This is somewhat incoherent. Can one engage in sexual activity voluntarily after manipulation? Is it too much manipulation to show someone skin, or to omit pertinent details on the assumption that the other person already knows them, when in fact she/he doesn’t? What about the fact that oxytocin is released during female orgasm, and has the effect of bonding to the person one is physically close to at the time? Can the “Fatal Attraction” scenario be anticipated? if so, should it be avoided?

    Most importantly, you do not “want the government or the academics or the media to tell me what is right or how to behave”, but you “upport prosecuting those who exploit any other person for their own gain.” Isn’t that having the government tell others how to behave? Isn’t enforcing the Golden Rule in fact enforcing morality? If so, do you not at least sometimes want the government to tell you what is right and how to behave? And do you not want the academics or the media to pile on in those instances?

  8. “what objectively verifiable ‘transcendent moral code’ can non-materialists point to?”

    The code would be the same for everyone, atheists, theists, whatever. That little feeing you get when faced with a moral choice. This is right. That is wrong. I should help him, though it hurts me. I shouldn’t cheat. I shouldn’t lie. I shouldn’t steal. I should stay faithful to my wife.

    The difference is that the theist can say that this code is built-in, wired in the design. Written on our hearts, if you will. But the atheist has no intellectual basis for the code’s existence, and certainly no basis for obeying it.

    There either is a God–a giver of the code–or the code is a by-product of evolution, one we can cast off now that we are smart enough to have a choice in the matter.

    God exists, or right and wrong do not exist. Very few atheists are honest enough to admit that, though. Singer is one of the few.

  9. getawitness: ‘If materialism is correct, the “is” in a society defines the “ought.’

    “This is precisely wrong. The is/ought distinction was first raised seriously by David Hume, who seems to have been an atheist.”

    You are mistaken. Hume’s view affirms Barry A’s claim. Hume believed that a moral “wrong” was merely something that repulses us. In other words, the “ought” (one shouldn’t murder) was merely an illusion for the “is” (I don’t like murder). He reduced morals to cultural preference, which is exactly what Barry A is saying. If materialism is true, then moral values are simply a matter of cultural and personal preference. If a materialist is to be consistent, he can only say, “I don’t like x.” He cannot say, “X is wrong.”

    mike1962: “what objectively verifiable “transcendent moral code” can non-materialists point to?”

    The Moral Law may not be empirically verifiable, but it is rationally verifiable:
    1) Certain things are really wrong only if there is an objective Moral Law.
    2) Certain things are really wrong.
    3) Therefore, there is an objective Moral Law.

  10. Carl Sachs is a Darwinist but not a materialist. He’s a philosopher—biologists, in my experience, tend to be materialists par excellence, whereas physicists (at least those who have thought about the matter) tend to be mathematical realists (Platonists). That is, the physicist may be an atheist just as much as atheism’s high priests in biology (Darwin must be upheld at all costs or atheism is in deep trouble!), but the physicist does recognize an abstract realm of eternal verities that could be no other way.

    This abstract Platonic realm is independent of the particles and forces that the physicist studies, but his primary tool—mathematics—lies square in that abstract realm. The very fact that the physicist studies other possible worlds means that he believes mathematics to be necessary and the laws of physics to be contingent.

    This comes through in the popular writings of physicists like Paul Davies and Roger Penrose. It’s the Peircean realm of logic, esthetics, ethics—it’s the Natural Law of the theologian—it’s where the fundamental categories that underlie language reside. The verities of this realm are discovered, not invented.

    We may find here Plato’s God—and Spinoza’s and Einstein’s—but certainly not Abraham’s God. This is a realm of being—of eternal truths that lie outside of time and space. Abraham’s God is an Agent, a Creator, and a King. He is the Hebrew God of History. He is not God until he enters time.

    Thus I see three realms—an abstract realm of timeless truths, a temporal realm of consciousness and agency, and a contingent, material world instantiated via both of the above. It’s there in the spirit and soul and body of Scripture if you do the study.

    Any worthwhile theodicy must temper God as transcendent Agent with limitations from the realm of timeless truths. Granting agency and freedom, for example, entails the risk of failure as decreed in the realm of timeless truths. Even God cannot make it otherwise.

    The Deists were reductionists who tried to reduce God to the realm of eternal being which, if they were right, would make us all agnostics. The atheist charges on further through faith.

    Now depending on where you are philosophically you will find much of this foolish. If you’re a straight Dawkinsian Darwinist you see only the particles, if you’re a Platonic atheist you see further, and if you’re an old fashioned Judeo-Christian you’ll be ridiculed.

  11. Hume’s view is that the “ought” cannot in any sense be derived from the “is.” A twentieth-century derivative of this view is expressed by (among other views) existentialism, which views morality as something profoundly chosen. The existentialist chooses morality because the material universe provides no guidance on that score.

    It’s true that there are debates within materialism about this. With respect to evolution, this sort of informs the debates between Dawkins and Richard Lewontin (Lewontin being on the side of choice).

    As for your “rational” verification of Moral Law, it would be nice if it were that simple. But that’s a terribly formed syllogism.

  12. What can we say regarding these issues in the context of developing Intelligent Design as an objective empirical science?

    As BarryA notes in 1, empirical observation finds almost universal use of right/wrong, good/bad, progress, ought to etc. among human beings. This in turn reflects the existence of a near universal moral code. There appears no basis for a requirement for such a code by the four forces of nature. Similarly, the universality of this observation appears beyond chance occurence.

    Consequently, should I not infer that this evidence for a moral factor in human beings, can be attributed to Intelligent Design?

    This could be used to infer at least a similar degree of moral character in the Intelligent Designer.

    Beyond that I would refer to revealed religions for characteristics of the Designer.

    Per BarryA’s 2, there is still the observation of the use of good/bad, oppression etc regarding pornography which indicates the existence of a moral code separate from biological processes and reactions. While the widespread availability of pornography may be influencing the majority’s perceptions, this is not universal. It further indicates a moral code underlying training or nurture.

    Without a designed moral basis, materialistic evolution can only say what is. Beyond that any moral construct is a tool for increased “fitness” of one individual or group over another. e.g., the “sacred duty” of Stalin, Mao or the Communist party to destroy places of worship and incarcerate believers.

    Thus Richard Dawkins’ appeal to “Delusion”, religion as evil, and other moral terms and constructs is based on the foundations of morality in society. These infer ID, and are evidence against the very materialism that he advocates.

    Per Carl Sachs’ effort to “see how far we can go in keeping what’s of value in the Judeo- Christian-Enlightenment legacy within a conception of humans as animals.”

    Does ID provide basis for considering humans as animals? Rather I would see very substantial differences in communication and in moral awareness that argue for very distinct differences between humans and animals, and thus for ID rather than materialistic naturalism.

  13. From Hume:

    “Those who affirm that virtue is nothing but a conformity to reason; that there are eternal fitnesses and unfitnesses of things, which are the same to every rational being that considers them; that the immutable measures of right and wrong impose an obligation, not only on human creatures, but also on the Deity himself: All these systems concur in the opinion, that morality, like truth, is discern’d merely by ideas, and by their juxta-position and comparison. In order, therefore, to judge of these systems, we need only consider, whether it be possible, from reason alone, to distinguish betwixt moral good and evil, or whether there must concur some other principles to enable us to make that distinction,

    If morality had naturally no influence on human passions and actions, `twere in vain to take such pains to inculcate it; and nothing wou’d be more fruitless than that multitude of rules and precepts, with which all moralists abound. Philosophy is commonly divided into speculative and practical; and as morality is always comprehended under the latter division, `tis supposed to influence our passions and actions, and to go beyond the calm and indolent judgments of the understanding. And this is confirm’d by common experience, which informs us, that men are often govern’d by their duties, and are deter’d from some actions by the opinion of injustice, and impell’d to others by that of obligation.

    Since morals, therefore, have an influence on the actions and affections, it follows, that they cannot be deriv’d from reason; and that because reason alone, as we have already prov’d, can never have any such influence. Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality. therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.”

    And later:

    “I cannot forbear adding to these reasonings an observation, which may, perhaps, be found of some importance. In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. 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. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention wou’d subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv’d by reason.”

    A Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, “Of Morals”

  14. The difference is that the theist can say that this code is built-in, wired in the design. Written on our hearts, if you will. But the atheist has no intellectual basis for the code’s existence, and certainly no basis for obeying it.

    Not so. Firstly, the existence of a moral code could be the result of social evolution – it has evolved (mimetically) so that societies that use the code do better than those that don’t. Anarchist states don’t tend to last very long.

    This then shows us one reason for why a materialist may want to obey a moral code – they want to live in a “good” society, and are aware that morals are set by society as a way of letting everyone live together.

    Obviously this is only a sketch of the arguments one could use, and there may be other, better, arguments. But I hope it acts as an existence proof, at the very least.

    It doesn’t necessarily follow that any one society’s moral code is perfect for functioning of the society – as always reality tends to get in the way.

  15. I think I see what BarryA means. It’s true that, for Hume, any morality has to derive (ultimately) or be concocted from our sense impressions. But the is/ought distinction Hume makes means that no morality, no ought, follows rationally from any condition or set of such conditions.

    Since people are announcing their positions on this thread, I’ll declare myself a Christian and an evolutionist. Some people will find that contradictory.

  16. Sorry, but has this Blog given up posting any articles actually related to ID?

    Seems to be turning into a Christian theology Blog…

  17. “But I hope it acts as an existence proof, at the very least.”

    That is the traditionally suggested pathway, but that never really convinced me. Very un-Darwinian, this altruism and faithfulness to spouses is.

    And why should you, personally, obey any of it? The honest atheist must admit that there is no basis for obeying this vestige of evolution.

    Have fun, but don’t get caught!

  18. getawitness: “Hume’s view is that the ‘ought’ cannot in any sense be derived from the ‘is.’”

    Exactly. I agree, at least for the materialist. A materialist can never argue from the “is” (morals are an accidental by-product of nature), to the “ought” (therefore certain things are wrong). That is why I reject the materialist position that morals are merely a by-product of nature. Because it is evident that certain things are really wrong. So what exactly is your objection to Barry A’s claim?

    getawitness: “As for your “rational” verification of Moral Law, it would be nice if it were that simple. But that’s a terribly formed syllogism.”

    Oh really? Which premise do you disagree with?

  19. Clumsy Brute,

    I love your name, by the way.

    “That is why I reject the materialist position that morals are merely a by-product of nature.”

    I’d say it’s a materialist position, not the> materialist position. The existentialist, as I mentioned above, is one alternate version. (But then, I’m not a materialist.)

    “Oh really? Which premise do you disagree with?”

    I can’t even get to the premises because the terms are so woolly: not just the one-size-fits-all euphemism (“certain things”) but also “really,” “wrong” and “objective.” I’m guessing that “really” will be a point of great contention in any argument you might have on the issue.

  20. Two question for gitawitness: Was Jesus a product of evolution? and What do you base your acceptance of evolution on and is that Darwinian Evolution? (or evolution meaning some modification of kinds, but still within that “Kind” i.e. its still a horse, a dog, a considerably deformed fruit fly, but still a fruit fly etc. – thanks

  21. getawitness give me a break. Is it really (I hope that word didn’t through you off; it means “truly” or “the way things actually are”) true that all you can do is quibble, nitpick and pettifog in response to Brute’s syllogism?

    Truth is, you got caught with your pants down. You averred that the syllogism is terrible, but when called to back up your claim you could not even begin to deliver the goods. Pathetic.

  22. alan, I knew I shouldn’t have stated my position outright. I’m not going to get into a defense or extended exposition of my beliefs. I don’t see how that will be productive or lead to anything other than a set of people badgering me to give up what they perceive as my inconsistencies one way or the other. No thank you.

  23. BarryA, I just checked. This whole time I haven’t been wearing pants. :-)

    For a syllogism to be well-formed, the terms must be agreed on. I don’t think the syllogism works for materialists (and perhaps for others too) because the premises are loaded with words on which the disputants will disagree. If the premises were that obvious, we could all go home.

  24. I think that one immediate implication of darwinism is that it may be unethical to help the weak, because they may reproduce and pass on that weakness. But with design, you might presume more easily that not only does that person have intrinsic worth (if there is a soul) but that their genes may still have positive value, front-loading type value. Could Mary have had a genetic disorder and still given birth to Jesus? I think so.

  25. OK getawitness, let’s see if we can make the syllogism more precise by using the classic example of evil.

    The holocaust was “truly evil.” By “truly evil” I mean that even if in the opinion of any person or group of persons or an entire society, the holocaust was good, it would still be evil. Indeed, if everyone in the world thought the holocaust was good, they would all be wrong, and the holocaust would still be truly evil. Now the syllogism:

    An action can be truly evil only if a transcendent moral code exists.
    The holocaust was truly evil.
    Therefore, a transcendent moral code exists.

    Given his premises the materialist can never say the holocaust was “truly evil” in the way I’ve defined “truly evil” above. The best he can do is say something to the effect that most people think the holocaust was evil and he agrees with them. In other words, the materialist can never say that holocaust was evil in any absolute sense. All he can say is that he personally does not prefer holocausts.

    Since we know beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt that the holocaust was in fact truly evil, the materialist’s position is shown to be false. Now we can, as you say, all go home. The syllogism is unanswerable.

  26. getawitness,

    “I love your name, by the way.”

    Haha. Thanks.

    “I’d say it’s a materialist position, not the> materialist position. The existentialist, as I mentioned above, is one alternate version.”

    I’d say they are one in the same. Jean-Paul Sartre really got to the core of the issue when he said, “Existence precedes essence.” The materialist and the existentialist share the same metaphysical assumption that humans (and the world) are NOT the product of a purposeful goal-directed process. In other words, in the materialists’ view there is no “way things are SUPPOSED to be.” There is only the way things are. And you, Hume, Sartre, Barry A, and I all agree that one cannot get an “ought” from that metaphysical assumption. However, one CAN get an “ought” from the opposite metaphysical assumption. If essence precedes existence, then we can get an “ought.” If there is in fact a “way things are SUPPOSED to be,” then we can rightfully say that certain things ought not be. I think it is evident that certain things ought not be. Therefore I conclude that the materialist/existentialist metaphysic is false.

    “I can’t even get to the premises because the terms are so woolly.”

    My apologies. Let me be more clear. By “objective” I mean it is independent of our beliefs/preferences. For example, slavery is wrong whether there is a law against it or not , whether I believe it or not, and whether I like it or not. It is wrong independently of my beliefs/preferences. So:
    1) Slavery is objectively wrong only if there is an objective Moral Law.
    2) Slavery is objectively wrong.
    3) Therefore, there is an objective Moral Law.

    Now, which premise do you disagree with? ;-)

  27. BarryA,

    A good reformulation, though I would say that most materialists would deny the first premise. I have a hard time trying to figure out the form of that first premise, by the way: it is an O-proposition (particular affirmative) or an I-proposition (particular negative)?

    The question “How would you answer the Nazi?” is always interesting. But of course, as I’ve said before, the materialist and the non-materialist are both in the same pickle as far as what to do. The materialist is not, I think, reduced to saying “that he personally does not prefer holocausts” any more than the Christian must say that he will fight any holocaust currently ongoing. You’re conflating materialism with solipsism. There are holocausts going on now about which you and I are doing nothing. If they are absolute evil, should we not quit our computers right now? The answer to moral questions, for the Christian as much as for the materialist, remains “it depends.”

  28. clumsy brute,
    say there is an objective moral law. how would we know it? What if there are ten codes of moral law and we have some reason to believe that one of them is “the” objective law, how would we know that other than by reference to how it makes us feel and with reference to our upbringing and culture?

  29. Clumsy Brute,

    I think BarryA’s syllogism was better formed. All I have to say about yours is that the Bible clearly does not view slavery as objectively wrong, so it better not be your source for an objective Moral Law.

  30. getawitness says, “I would say that most materialists would deny the first premise.”

    And they would be wrong.

    Given my definition of “truly evil” the first premise is self-evidently true.

  31. In terms of progress: I would say that progress is measured by the increase or decrease of the sphere of human recognition.

    You mean like to those in the womb? /sarc

  32. Carl Sach — But that’s in part because I’m deeply skeptical of their being any single correct metaphysics — whether monistic or dualistic, material or spiritual.

    It seems more sensible to be skeptical of a claim that there would be multiple correct metaphysics.

  33. BTW getawitness, your next paragraph is a classic red herring. A prudential debate about what to do about evil has nothing to do with whether an even is in fact truly evil, which was what we were talking about.

    Red herrings are a rhetorical device for directing the discussion away from the main point when you are beaten on the main point.

    I take it that by employing this red herring, you are as much as admitting that you have been soundly thrashed. Thank you. ;-)

    I really do enjoy debating you.

  34. Actually BarryA, as I think about it, there may be an equivocation on the term “evil.” That is, in the major premise, “evil” refers to the kind of moral understanding of the premise itself (self-evident to those who accept it). But many people who don’t hold to the major premise would agree with the minor premise where “evil” refers to (nearly) universal human repugnance, offensiveness — that is, our emotional disgust at the fact of the holocaust. These two senses of “evil” should be distinguished.

  35. 35

    BarryA said:

    Given my definition of “truly evil” the first premise is self-evidently true.

    It’s not that easy, unfortunately. We have to consider instances when acts of mass homicide/genocide are not objectively wrong, as in the Old Testament.

  36. BarryA, I’ll grant that the paragraph is exactly germane, but it’s not a red herring either. If it’s a red herring, why do I keep hearing the contrary argument? It anticipates a common form of objection. In fact, I have seen plenty of debates about morality in which the materialist (or relativist, etc.) is told that without a transcendent moral law he has no reason for making moral judgments. I’ve even seen that claim made at UD, several times.

  37. Some of the rationalizations on this thread are not to be believed. I can just picture some of you dialoguing with Moses:

    “I am open to truth, but I am having serious epistemological problems with “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery.” Your simplistic notion of unfaithfulness leaves me wondering if you appreciate the complexities involved in relating my conception of consciousness with the real world. Further, you appear not to be familiar with Kant’s categorical imperative. Indeed, as a theist, I am sensitive to the transcendental aspects of morality, but I also believe in an evolving moral code that reflects the environmental changes that impact human behavior. Although, I may appear to be a subjectivist, I renounce the mindless moral relativism that so many in that camp subscribe to. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that there is a subjective element involved in every objective act. If you could just be a little more explicit with your terms, I might be able to process your points and translate them into some kind of behavioral code. Besides, I’m in love with my best friend’s wife.”

  38. getawitness: “the Bible clearly does not view slavery as objectively wrong, so it better not be your source for an objective Moral Law.”

    First, the Bible is not my source for the objective Moral Law, but it was a good guess at my personal religious beliefs. It was also, however, a poor attempt to dodge Barry A’s and mine argument for the existence of a Moral Law. You have only responded that “materialists would deny the first premise.” But you’ve also admitted that you are not a materialist. So do you believe in a Moral Law or not? What is your response to our arguemnt?

    Secondly, to comment on your Bible statement, can you back up the claim that the Bible does not view slavery as objectively wrong? It seems to me that because the Bible is silent on the slavery issue, it does not follow that it teaches slavery is okay. A document which records historic accounts of slavery, genocide, etc. cannot be said to support those events merely for recording them. But on a side note, I don’t want to get into a long discussion about the Bible since it is irrelevant to our discussion. I’m more interested in your response on whether you believe in an objective Moral Law or not.

  39. Short answer: I believe in a moral law but find the notion of “objective” law incoherent.

  40. The Bible is not “silent” on slavery; it talks about it all the time. There are even instructions on how to sell your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7). Slavery of Hebrews is wrong, but slavery of others is OK (Leviticus 25:44-46). Etc. etc.

    During the abolition debates, a whole new way of reading the Bible had to emerge: one which stressed broad moral principles over the “objective laws” of the Bible. And a good thing too!

  41. Stanton, no we don’t. My syllogism is limited to consideration of one and only one event — the holocaust. Was the holocaust evil? Without a doubt. Was it evil without regard to whether any particular person or group of persons subjectively believed it to be evil? Again, without a doubt. Both of these statements are true, but they can be true ONLY if there is a transcendant moral code. Therefore, a transcendant moral code exists.

    Any attempt to get around this conclusion rapidly devolves into quibbling and pettifogging of the sort we have already seen.

  42. There is a link between ID and law. Not only does Michael Behe’s work help to make it clear that life is unlikely to have appeared by purely natural means, but it also makes us more mindful of the great value of life. This value is the basis of revealed moral law.

    Hume complained about “vulgar” moralizing that typically begins by invoking an “is” but proceeds to conclusions that have no clear relation to this “is.” This objection poses no difficulty with regard to revealed law, where the connection to the value of life is obvious.

  43. 43

    Sorry, but trying to limit the terms of your syllogism won’t allow you to squirm out of logical discourse. Do you have certain knowledge for example, that God didn’t cause the holocaust? We have documentary historical evidence of similar acts ascribed to God in the past, don’t we? If God caused the holocaust to happen, then it’s not objectively evil, is it?

  44. 44

    One more thing: saying “the holocaust was objectively evil, so we know that God didn’t cause it” doesn’t answer the question, unless you can prove the basis of the claim.

  45. BarryA, What you call “quibbling and pettifogging” is the stuff of argument. You’re a lawyer; quibbling and pettifogging is your bread and butter. :-) And I still think the syllogism equivocates on “evil” (see 37 above).

    StephenB, my best friend is unmarried.

  46. allanius,

    “There is a link between ID and law.”

    Very likely. I have been arguing here for some time that ID must be seen as a perspective with spiritual implications. In this I’m closer to Dembski and Behe than is (for example) DaveScot.

  47. And why should you, personally, obey any of it? The honest atheist must admit that there is no basis for obeying this vestige of evolution.

    Indeed. And some very prominent ones do (e.g. this Dawkins guy who seems unpopular around here).

    There seems to be an opinion around UD that evolutionary biology should be prescriptive about morality. But for that argument to have any weight, one has to explain why the naturalistic fallacy (which is not to be confused with the naturistic fallacy) isn’t a fallacy.

    Bob

  48. Collin: “What if there are ten codes of moral law and we have some reason to believe that one of them is “the” objective law, how would we know that other than by reference to how it makes us feel and with reference to our upbringing and culture?”

    That’s a great question. I have not researched enough in Natural Law theory to come to an informed conclusion on how we come to know it. But I would say that there is a common law that transcends all cultures. And I think our quarrels are evidence of this fact (read the opening chapters of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity). Two cultures could not quarrel (each claiming they have been wronged somehow and each justifying their own actions) if they did not agree on some objective rules or laws. If each basketball team made up their own rules, no one could call a foul on their opponent. The only way they can call a foul is because there is an objective set of rules that both teams are aware of and agree upon. If each culture made up its own morality then no one could call a “foul” on another culture. We could not say, for example, that suicide bombing is wrong. Doing so presupposes some objective laws or rules that is independent of cultural preferences. And when a “foul” is called no culture says, “To hell with your standard.” They almost always attempt to justify their actions and argue that their behavior is somehow justified due to exceptional circumstances. “Yes, suicide bombing is wrong, but these people are desperate. It is their only option.”

    Everyone calls “fouls.” Everyone protests that certain things are wrong. By doing so we are presupposing an objective Moral Law.

  49. getawitness: “I believe in a moral law but find the notion of “objective” law incoherent.”

    So then you do not believe in an OBJECTIVE moral law.

    “The Bible is not “silent” on slavery; it talks about it all the time. There are even instructions on how to sell your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7). Slavery of Hebrews is wrong, but slavery of others is OK (Leviticus 25:44-46). Etc. etc.”

    I am not an adherent to Judaism, so I do not view the Old Testament books as moral commands but as historical records of what happened to the Hebrew people.

    “During the abolition debates, a whole new way of reading the Bible had to emerge: one which stressed broad moral principles over the “objective laws” of the Bible. And a good thing too!”

    I think that “whole new way of reading the Bible” emerged with Christ and his apostles. Which explains why the people mostly responsible for the abolition of slavery were Christians.

    You rightfully believe that America improved with the abolition of slavery. But to improve means to get closer to an objective standard. Does it not?

  50. “Everyone calls “fouls.” Everyone protests that certain things are wrong. By doing so we are presupposing an objective Moral Law.”

    I don’t know if I agree with this entirely. We all call “fouls”, but this could be based on our subjective view of a given situation. I think a more compelling argument is the overwhelming objection to things such as cold-blooded murder. Even murderers often confess the act was amoral. This does not seem to be something based upon societal acceptance/influence. For example, abortion is legal, yet a great number of people object to what society has deemed “moral”, myself included. Even in the case of women who have had abortions that I personally know, neither of them think the act was a “good choice” or “moral decision” In fact, they are both ashamed of it. I realize this is a small statistical sample, however.

  51. BarryA –

    Was the holocaust evil? Without a doubt.

    How do you come to this conclusion? I agree with you, but I want to see what argument you use to get to it. IOW, how do you decide whether something is “truly evil”?

    Bob

  52. ellazimm,
    thank you for your kind and thoughtful response. Just a few quick comments.

    You may find it puzzling that various practices that are thoroughly disapproved of by the majority now once had majority approval, but I suspect that we shall just have to accept the fact, puzzling or not, which is why majority vote is not an unerring guide to morality.

    When I say that the Golden Rule is transcendent, I mean something similar to BarryA’s comment that the Holocaust was “really evil”. The Golden Rule is morally correct, whether you or I or our whole society believes in it or not. Can we know that? Not by experimental evidence. But the fact that it has stood the test of time, and has been widely recognized, suggests (although not infallibly) that in fact it is morally correct. I believe that it is in fact morally correct, according to a transcendent morality. I suspect that you do too; certainly you have stated that you try to live your life that way.

    You say,
    “Perhaps the materialists are wrong, abosolutely. I think the more open minded ones would say: show me the evidence.”

    The apparent existence of a transcendent morality is evidence that the materialists are wrong. For morality is not made up of force fields or particles or some other material entity. One can deny that evidence. But one does so at the cost of getting rid of any transcendent morality. Most materialists don’t really believe that. For they talk as if non-materialists are wrong, and should acknowledge this fact and change their beliefs, whereas if there truly is no transcendent morality, one cannot accurately say that one “should” do anything. And in the United States at least, the vast majority believes that materialists are wrong. If the majority rules on matters of morality, should materialists change their minds? ;)

    I understand the sentiment behind claiming not to be bothered by what consenting adults do as long as they stay out of your face. There are problems with this stance. If your husband/wife (I suspect you are female but cannot tell for sure from your name) decided to consent to sex acts with someone else, would it matter if you didn’t find out? Would it matter if you did find out? Would the finding out be the problem? Would it matter if the person he/she was having sex acts with was infected with HIV? With Hepatitis C? How much out of your face do they have to be? Should gays be forced back into the closet so they will stay out of everyone’s face? What about President Ahmadinejad, who said that there were no gays in Iran [at least not now ;) ]. How does one determine adulthood? Is 18 old enough? Should we make it 16, or 21, or is there some kind of “sex test” (perhaps an intelligence test or information test) that the person must pass?

    Perhaps most importantly, does the fact that consenting adults are staying out of everyone’s face make what they do right, as opposed to legal? Is everything that is not illegal automatically morally right? Or vice versa?

  53. Clumsey Brute: “1) Certain things are really wrong only if there is an objective Moral Law. 2) Certain things are really wrong. 3) Therefore, there is an objective Moral Law.”

    How do you determine what is really wrong objectively?

  54. BarryA: “Since we know beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt that the holocaust was in fact truly evil”

    Hmm, must cry foul here. How do we in fact *know* that beyond any shadow of doubt?

  55. Clumsy Brute,
    Thanks, I will look up Mere Christianity. I enjoyed Lewis’s essay, Men Without Chests. He states (paraphrased) that if you see through everything, you see nothing. And men without chests connect their brain to their loins and have no moral center to moderate the two.

  56. BarryA

    Isn’t the point of this whole thread that nothing is “self-evidently” true? What is the mechanism / route by which you have concluded the holocaust was ‘truly evil’?

    No-one is going to disagree with your conclusion (at least, I don’t imagine they are – although Stanton Rockwell’s point at 46 is pertinent), but you need to be able to justify it, please.

  57. Collin: “I enjoyed Lewis’s essay, Men Without Chests.”

    Yes, that’s a good one. I believe it is also a chapter from his book “The Abolition of Man,” which is one of the best defenses of Natural Law that I know of. I highly recommend it.

  58. Today was a great day getting out of class early! I figured I would get homework done, but wanted to see if any of the same people commenting from last night were still commenting… Not to be rude, but don’t some of you guys have jobs, or go to college (maybe I should also invoke High school or even jounior high)? Sometimes I like to immagine these athiest hard at work trying to conjure anything no matter how off topic it is! It is rather amusing! Keep posting these great articles! It gets me behind in school, but its almost worth it!

  59. 59

    Quoth Pat Robertson:

    Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It’s no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again.

  60. mike 1962,
    you say,
    “Hmm, must cry foul here. How do we in fact *know* that beyond any shadow of doubt?”

    You are suggesting that you have reason to believe that the Holocaust was not, in fact, truly evil?

  61. mike1962,

    Let me give you my “clarified” version that I wrote for getawitness:
    1) Slavery is objectively wrong only if there is an objective Moral Law.
    2) Slavery is objectively wrong.
    3) Therefore, there is an objective Moral Law.

    Now, you ask: “How do you determine what is really wrong objectively?”

    I don’t think we have to have an exhaustive epistemological account of how we come to know something before we can know it. I don’t think I need to explain how we know premise 2 for me to be justified in claiming premise 2. I don’t know HOW we know it. But it does not follow that we do not know it.

    So, do you agree that slavery is objectively wrong?

  62. Paul Giem: “You are suggesting that you have reason to believe that the Holocaust was not, in fact, truly evil?”

    No, I am not suggesting anything regarding my view. I’m asking an epistemological question.

    Clumsey Brute: “So, do you agree that slavery is objectively wrong?”

    How could I know such a thing?

  63. off topic:
    National Geographic apparently has a story about how life might have come from mars via frozen rocks or something. I may be overly cynical, but it seems like a move towards shoring up the flagging origin of life project by pushing it further into the past.

  64. Bob Oh writes:
    ‘Was the holocaust evil? Without a doubt.’ [quoting me]
    How do you come to this conclusion? I agree with you, but I want to see what argument you use to get to it. IOW, how do you decide whether something is “truly evil”?

    Mike1962 writes:
    BarryA: “Since we know beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt that the holocaust was in fact truly evil”
    Hmm, must cry foul here. How do we in fact *know* that beyond any shadow of doubt?

    Duncan writes:
    “Isn’t the point of this whole thread that nothing is “self-evidently” true? What is the mechanism / route by which you have concluded the holocaust was ‘truly evil’? No-one is going to disagree with your conclusion (at least, I don’t imagine they are – although Stanton Rockwell’s point at 46 is pertinent), but you need to be able to justify it, please.”

    All of you are asking me to “see through” a first principle. This is what C.S. Lewis said about that (as has already been alluded to earlier) in the Abolition of Man.

    “You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”

    There are certain things, as the saying goes, that you can’t not know. That the murder of millions of innocent victims is evil is one such thing. You’ve asked me to argue for a first principle. I will not for the simple reason that I cannot and neither can anyone else.

    When it comes to affirming the statement “the holocaust was evil” there are two and only two kinds of people: 1. People who know it is true and therefore affirm it without reservation; and 2. people who know it is true and, for whatever reason, refuse to affirm it without reservation. Both groups of people know it is true.

    Duncan, in particular, I must caution you. What Lewis is saying in the quote above is that if nothing is self evidently true, then nothing is true. Since we know that some things are true (setting aside useless radical Cartesian skepticism), then as a corollary we know that some things must be self-evidently true. There are first principles. Can we “demonstrate” first principles? No. But that does not make them any less true. As Brute said, we know they are true without necessarily being able to say why we know that. Blaise Pascal would say, “The heart has reasons that reason does not know.”

  65. “Jason, I’ve read Singer’s Rethinking Life and Death, Practical Ethics, and most of Writings on an Ethical Life. If you want to talk about Singer, I’m ready to go!”

    If you like. I did an interview with a guy a little while back for The Sci Phi Show (http://thesciphishow.com/?p=123). Did I misrepresent his view in your opinion in anyway ?

  66. BarryA: “When it comes to affirming the statement “the holocaust was evil” there are two and only two kinds of people: 1. People who know it is true and therefore affirm it without reservation; and 2. people who know it is true and, for whatever reason, refuse to affirm it without reservation. Both groups of people know it is true.”

    Barry, I must be frank and say I don’t buy it. It’s one of the few areas thata Lewis treads where I cannot agree. I am of the opinion that you are a Yahwist in some form. (Forgive me if that is a mistake.) Let me ask you a question: was it an evil thing for Yahweh to send the Assyrian army to inflict a slaughter on Israel, esp given that a good many innocent children would have been murdered, raped, and otherwise mistreated? I suspect the same thing in you (and me) that feels the Holocaust is “truly evil” would think the actions of the Assyrians to be truly evil. But on what basis can we claim such if Yahweh makes the rules?

  67. “My point is that some (not all obviously or there would be no new religions!) of the moral codes that we all think are worthy and valid (and their justifications) existed centuries before Jesus”

    Of course they did. This is not really a surprise though. All great moral teachers teach the same things and remind us of what is already known. It is the innovators that need to be watched out for.

    Although this reality is well known to Natural Law thinkers for centuries, and I don’t know why you think it is such a significant revelation or why you think it is much of an argument.

  68. “Not trying to be a crank but, what objectively verifiable “transcendent moral code” can non-materialists point to?”

    Actually Mike there is a long natural law tradition that points to exactly that.

    All that is required is a recognition of the design inherent in the nature of a human being to recognize that such a natural law exists and reflects a transcendent reality.

  69. The argument for objective morality is both intuitive and logical. It’s intuitive, as has been observed here already, inasmuch as everyone behaves as though good and bad are part of objective reality. The most abject materialist is often the loudest mouthed moralist—passionate as to the goodness of his amoral stance. One would think that if we don’t want there to be an objective morality, then we’d just be quiet—for why would it be good if others agree that there is neither good nor bad? Yet if we do want to believe in an objective morality then passion is in order and there’s logic, as Barry A says, in that there are certain things that you can’t not know, just as J. Budziszewski argues.

    If, say, one subscribes to mathematical realism, then why not also to natural law? Anyone else see the connection between the two?

    Also I’ve found it heartening that nihilistic statements generally defy logic. “There is no truth,” is false if true, but, “There is truth,” is true if true.

  70. Jason,

    I am quite familiar with the Natural Law tradition, but inevitably (as in all philosophical views) one runs into subjective brick walls.

    I agree that nature points to design, but I disagree that nature alone can point to any particular morality. If so, which one does it point to?

  71. Rude: “It’s intuitive, as has been observed here already, inasmuch as everyone behaves as though good and bad are part of objective reality. ”

    That’s were I think Lewis’s argument is correct: that no objective morality exists, but that (most) humans have a moral sense *at all* (regardless of the particulars) is the hint that it has a transcendent basis.

    It’s when you get to the moral particulars is where there simply is no objective criterion that all “men of reason” at all times can agree on.

  72. “Let me ask you a question: was it an evil thing for Yahweh to send the Assyrian army to inflict a slaughter on Israel, esp given that a good many innocent children would have been murdered, raped, and otherwise mistreated?”

    Actually the answer to the question is, no it was not evil. There is quite a bit of background to be gone into to understand the circumstances , have a read of http://christian-thinktank.com/qamorite.html to get a feel for some of the background that you are likely missing in judging the event reasonably.

  73. Jason writes in response to a previous comment:
    “My point is that some (not all obviously or there would be no new religions!) of the moral codes that we all think are worthy and valid (and their justifications) existed centuries before Jesus”
    Of course they did. This is not really a surprise though. All great moral teachers teach the same things and remind us of what is already known. It is the innovators that need to be watched out for.
    Although this reality is well known to Natural Law thinkers for centuries, and I don’t know why you think it is such a significant revelation or why you think it is much of an argument.

    Exactly. There is one and only one moral code. There is no “Christian Moral Code” in the sense of a moral code that is uniquely Christian. Jesus’ ethical teachings were sublime, but they were not what made his message unique. Christianity’s distinctiveness is theological, not ethical.

  74. Mike 1962,

    J. Budziszewski argues for the Ten Commandments–it’s worth the read for those predisposed positively.

    Courage is the rarest of virtues and the most valued—have you ever heard of a culture that exalts cowardice? A lie is a lie is a lie—cultures differ in how much they will tolerate—they die when that’s all they tolerate. There are the fruits of morality in the here and now. Just observe those ethnic groups that have been encouraged to seek an alternative morality. Morality matters if you haven’t given up hope for the afterlife. If you have then nothing matters—just read ?????.

  75. “I am quite familiar with the Natural Law tradition, but inevitably (as in all philosophical views) one runs into subjective brick walls.”

    I think this is mistaken. It seems akin to saying that, “Because Johnny struggles with his times tables, this means that all mathematics is hopelessly subjective and there is no right answer”. But that is obviously silly, yet it is a common enough argument in moral discussion. The fact of moral disagreement is not evidence that no moral reality exists, it is only evidence of disagreement.

    “I agree that nature points to design, but I disagree that nature alone can point to any particular morality. If so, which one does it point to?”

    Nature points in its design to the same moral reality that all of the great moral teachers have seen an understood to varying degrees of clarity.

    Do you really think it is a coincidence that all the great moral teachers (by the light of their own cultures) have tended to be broadly in agreement ? That Aristotle, Jesus, Confucius and others all teach broadly similar things in terms of right and wrong is strong evidence that they are grasping a universal moral reality.

  76. Clumsy Brute [52],

    “So then you do not believe in an OBJECTIVE moral law.”

    I don’t believe in things I find incoherent. On the other hand, I don’t exactly disbelieve them either, since I think disbelieving would posit a kind of minimal coherence to the principle.

    Here’s the thing: our notion of objectivity is itself historically contingent.

    “I think that “whole new way of reading the Bible” emerged with Christ and his apostles. Which explains why the people mostly responsible for the abolition of slavery were Christians.”

    There were Christians on both sides: plenty quoted the Bible (New Testament too) to support slavery. That’s why virtually all of the major Protestant denominations (Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists) split at the time.

    BarryA, you still have not responded to my contention [37] that your syllogism depends on an equivocation. Just a gentle reminder.

    mike1962 [69] you respond to BarryA in part,

    “Let me ask you a question: was it an evil thing for Yahweh to send the Assyrian army to inflict a slaughter on Israel, esp given that a good many innocent children would have been murdered, raped, and otherwise mistreated?”

    An excellent question! Wasn’t it Kierkegaard who asked a similar question about Abraham and Isaac? That is, if the angel had not stayed the father’s hand, it would have been right for Abraham to kill Isaac? If I recall, his answer was that God’s command trumps what we know “in our hearts,” therefore what is self-evidently evil is not so if God commands it. (It’s been about twenty years since I read Kierkegaard, so forgive me if I’m misrepresented him in any way.) So from that perspective, either God is no respecter of moral law or (as I prefer) moral law is not, in fact, objective.

  77. This is from a book review in First Things here:
    http://www.firstthings.com/art.....=aristotle

    “Spaemann notes that Aristotle “thought that anyone who said one might kill one’s mother needed correction, not argument.” Similarly, to see the personal dignity of our fellow human beings as up for grabs, as a question whose answer might go in various directions, is to need correction more than argument. To offer justification for what should be axiomatic may be the necessary work of moral theory, but it is also, as Spaemann understands, a sign of moral failing.”

    I like that: Demanding justification for self-evident axiomatic first principles is a sign of moral failing. I could not agree more.

  78. getawitness writes: “BarryA, you still have not responded to my contention [37] that your syllogism depends on an equivocation. Just a gentle reminder.”

    No it does not. I define the term “truly evil” and then I use it in exactly the same sense in both the major and minor premises. It is you who is trying to obfuscate by suggesting I am using them in a different sense.

  79. Jason Rennie,

    “Actually the answer to the question is, no it was not evil. There is quite a bit of background to be gone into to understand the circumstances”

    Interesting. I don’t believe in some phantom objectivity, and yet I think genocide is always wrong. You do believe in objective morality and think mass slaughter is always wrong — except when it’s right! Clearly your principled defense of slaughter beats my wishy-washy abhorrence of same.

    As I read somewhere else (thanks E!),

    When they came for the Assyrians, i said nothing for i was not an Assyrian.

    Who’s the relativist here?

  80. I don’t think our morality is necessarily transcendent. It could derive from our own experiential perception of what harms us or helps us. If we are killed or mugged,that harms us, so its bad. If we are in trouble and someone comes to the rescue, its good.

    Where it may become transcendent, is in our recognition that if we don’t want “harm” to be done to us, it would behoove us not to cause “harm” to other people. Our ability to feel empathy has a lot to do with whether or not we infllict “harm” upon others. Or get upset if others inflict “harm” upon others.

    During holocaust many Germans felt no empathy for Jews. This could be because the neuronal pathways responsible for empathy didn’t develop in their brains (and btw, how the hell do neuronal pathways become a feeling of empathy?), or more likely, those empathy pathways were derailed by social mechanisms, such as “Jews are not like us. We will never be Jews. Jews are scary non-people, and if we don’t do it to them, they will do it to us, and that would suck, man”

    I, myself, though normally an empathetic person, do not feel empathy in all contexts. Ex: killing cockroaches. But I could never kill a dog, my empathy mechanisms would spring up full force, causing me immense suffering.

    Another possibly transcendent aspect of morality is guilt. If we cause “harm” to others, despite empathy, then we might feel a type of pain called “guilt”. Again, some might claim that it is just a neuronal pathway activated when we do onto others what we don’t want to be done to ourselves, but again, how do neurons signalling to each other turn into any type of emotions?

    P.S. StephenB “Moses” post was hilarious. And I do not consider adultery immoral, even though it causes “harm” to one person, because that “harm” is illusory, not real, like losing a finger, or money.

    P.P.S. Porn exploits women??? Women like to have sex too, you know, and we all objectify other people, if we don’t know them too well. Hence prejudice and stereotyping. My only objection to porn is close-ups of body fluids. Gross.

  81. Jason: “The fact of moral disagreement is not evidence that no moral reality exists, it is only evidence of disagreement.”

    I didn’t assert that moral disagreement is evidence that no moral reality exists. But I do assert that moral disagreement is evidence that no direct objective standard exists available to humans generally.

    “Nature points in its design to the same moral reality that all of the great moral teachers have seen an understood to varying degrees of clarity.”

    On what basis are you deciding that a teacher is “great?” Popularity? Unpopularity? An inner spiritual witness?

    “Do you really think it is a coincidence that all the great moral teachers (by the light of their own cultures) have tended to be broadly in agreement ?”

    That’s a pretty vague statement, but would agree that most people down thru the ages would agree that life and abundance is somehow “good”, and suffering and death is generally “evil”, at least for ourselves. At any rate, I stated previously that it’s the moral particulars that differ. And the particulars seem to matter a lot to most people.

    To what natural law, and not merely a private feeling, can you conclusively point to that indicates to us that, say, first trimester abortion is “evil?” “Christian” America is pretty much equally divided on this particular (in, in my opinion, important) detail of morality.

  82. BarryA: “Demanding justification for self-evident axiomatic first principles is a sign of moral failing.”

    But the point is: not everyone agrees on what first principles are, in fact, self-evident. How can a person have a moral failing when he does not, at rock bottom, agree that your axiom is an axiom?

  83. one absolute moral code is that whatever god says is right, but that is what secularists are most afraid of and criticise religous people for because what happens when David Koresh tells people he is hearding god tell him to kill someone?

  84. mike1962,
    The evidence for the Holocaust being evil is pretty obvious to one who does not activly wish to deny it. My question was, since you do not believe that we know that beyond any shadow of doubt (otherwise you would concede the point), would you concede the point that we know that the Holocaust was evil beyond reasonable doubt, that is, doubt for which we can give a reason? Can you think of a reason why we should not believe that the Holocaust was evil? Claiming that you are only asking an epistemological question doesn’t help. I am also asking an epistemological question.

    I assume that you try to conform your view to what you believe to be best supported epistemologically, so if I ask for your view, I am asking for (I think) what you consider to be best supported epistemologically. If there is a disconnect here, please let me know, as I have no need to discuss these issues with someone who doesn’t believe what he is saying.

    I’ll repeat the question. Do you have reason to believe that the Holocaust was not, in fact, truly evil?

  85. BarryA, if you’re not equivocating, then the syllogism is pointless. (You’d probably agree with that, since you think these things are all self-evident.) The syllogism would only work argumentatively if someone like me thinks that “evil” in the sense of (nearly) universally offensive is the same thing as “evil” in the sense of “entailing a universal moral code.” Since it isn’t, I can agree with the minor premise but not with the major premise.

    Nobody is denying, by the way, the idea that the holocaust was a great evil. What is being questioned is whether anything is evil in the sense you mean. (I’m just heading off the likely charge that those on the other side of this debate are trying to minimize the evil of the holocaust.)

  86. Paul Giem,

    And so it comes: before I’ve even finished typing, someone — in this case, you — suggests that someone on the other side — in this case, mike1962 — is trying to suggest that the holocaust is not really evil. Of course it is. It does not, however, necessitate a universal moral code.

  87. Jason: “Actually the answer to the question is, no it was not evil.”

    But would you, as an eye witness to the slaughter of innocent baby’s *felt* strongly that those baby’s fate was evil? Or would you have jumped right on it, as a 21st century Christian and helped bash in the baby’s skulls? (Sorry, if this offends you, but I believe it is necessary to make my point.)

    “There is quite a bit of background to be gone into to understand the circumstances , have a read of http://christian-thinktank.com/qamorite.html to get a feel for some of the background that you are likely missing in judging the event reasonably.”

    Yes, I know all about that situation and the other ones in the Tanakh, which is different than the one I mentioned (Assyrian invasion of Israel.)

    But getting back to my question: of course, the adults were into many things you and I would undoubtably find detestable given our upbringing. But what about the “innocent” ones? What about the innocent little kids and babies who were ripped out of their mother’s wombs and had their heads bashed in against the rocks by the invaders because northern tribes of Israel had rebelled against Yahweh? (See Hosea 13:16)

    If you would have been standing in the middle of all of that, and saw an invader bashing a baby’s head against the rocks, I’m willing to bet that the same sort of feeling you get about the Holocaust would have risen up in you. You would have thought the act was evil, wouldn’t you? Your most bedrock feelings would undoubtedly have said yes.

    But, as the text states, Yahweh allowed the situation as an effect of the guilt of the adults’ rebellion. (The babies sure didn’t bring this on themselves.)

    So what is right? The feeling of evil you (like me) would have surely had on seeing an invader bash the babies heads, or Yahweh’s decision to send in the invaders to make a mess of them?

    So being a Yahwist, I would have to side with Kierkegaard and say that no moral argument, Nature Law or otherwise, can deal with a situation like this. Yahweh’s will trumps our assessment.

  88. Paul Giem: “I’ll repeat the question. Do you have reason to believe that the Holocaust was not, in fact, truly evil?”

    I readily assent that the Holocaust was evil relative to western morality, and my Baptist and Mormon upbringing. But “truly evil” assumes we know what Yahweh’s will was (assuming a Yahwist view here) regarding the situation.

    When I see a non-Christian getting cancer, my rock bottom feelings is that it is evil, and that death is evil, and that if there was anything I could do to stop it, I would. But what if it’s God’s will for that person to suffer, die and go straight to hell? What good are my innermost feelings in the situation with regards how “truly evil” it is?

    (For the record, if it would have been in my power to prevent the Holocaust, I would have. If it was in my power to create a paradise on this earth, I would do it immediately. But obviously my views and feeling are not relevant. And neither are anyone else’s either, except the Highest Power.)

  89. For what it’s worth, the Tanakh (Old Testament) uses the term “evil” to indicate a calamity of some kind.

    Undesirable things that humans in Yahweh eye’s are “abominable.”

    Bad things that happen to people, like suffering and death, are “evil.”

    When the terms are used that way, the Bible makes sense to me. And in effect, the term Barry and Jason have been using – “truly evil” – is simply too vague without further definition.

  90. Would it be helpful to understand “the Holocaust”

    as

    “Hitler’s actions and motivations in perpetuating the Holocaust”?

    Perhaps targeting the main human source of the Holocaust’s evil will help clear up some of the objections.

  91. mike1962
    The examples you gave of death and suffering are nominally natural occurrences such as cancer or HIV/AIDS. What BarryA is referring to is moral evil explicitly contrary to moral law, such as the Holocaust, directly by persons, and indirectly by evil intelligent agents.

  92. Getting back to the essence:

    BarryA, “The holocaust was “truly evil.” By “truly evil” I mean that even if in the opinion of any person or group of persons or an entire society, the holocaust was good, it would still be evil. Indeed, if everyone in the world thought the holocaust was good, they would all be wrong, and the holocaust would still be truly evil.”

    But what if Yahweh told you in a metaphysical certain way that the Holocaust was his will? Would it have been truly evil or not?

    There are a few ways to answer this, depending on one’s definition of “evil.”

    If we define evil as suffering, then the Holocaust was evil, since the victims obviously suffered. (This seems to be the definition assumed here today.)

    If we define evil as going contrary to Yahweh’s will, then it would have been evil if it was not Yahweh’s will, and would not have been evil if it had been Yahweh’s will.

    This seems patently clear to me.

  93. getawitness: “mike1962 — is trying to suggest that the holocaust is not really evil. Of course it is. It does not, however, necessitate a universal moral code.”

    What do you mean by “really evil?” By what standard are you judging that the Holocaust was “really evil?”

    “There were Christians on both sides: plenty quoted the Bible (New Testament too) to support slavery.”

    My point was that the people who were responsible for the abolition of slavery were logically acting out Christ’s teachings. They were not logically acting out the idea that morality is simply cultural preference. The pro-slavery Christians were acting inconsistent with Christ’s teachings.

  94. “Interesting. I don’t believe in some phantom objectivity, and yet I think genocide is always wrong.”

    Wrong only means something like, “I don’t like genocide” so your proclamation lacks meaning.

    “You do believe in objective morality and think mass slaughter is always wrong — except when it’s right!”

    Don’t equivocate on terms.

    That I am mature enough to think carefully about something and understand the context and reality of the situation is not a bad thing.

    “Clearly your principled defense of slaughter beats my wishy-washy abhorrence of same.”

    Easily because your “abhorrence” is based on a lack of understanding of the whole situation. Blathering on like you do from your position of profound ignorance is not really a virtue.

    “Who’s the relativist here?”

    You are. A robust and mature moral foundation will include things like just war theory and realism about the nature of the application of force, weighing consequences etc, by comparison a knee jerk revulsion without consideration of the actual situation is typical of an immature and underdeveloped moral sense.

    Its ok, you can work on it.

  95. DLH: “The examples you gave of death and suffering are nominally natural occurrences such as cancer or HIV/AIDS. What BarryA is referring to is moral evil explicitly contrary to moral law, such as the Holocaust, directly by persons, and indirectly by evil intelligent agents.”

    So then, would you considering that suffering requires an active agent to be “truly evil?”

    Anyway, see my previous post. I think that’s pretty much all I can for now.

  96. To be frank: it seems clear to me that objective morality poses a challenge or problem for “materialism” if and only if one is already in the grip of a metaphysical picture which requires that values can only be objective if they are non-natural.

    In the absence of that assumption, there is simply no reason — none at all — that objective morality poses any challenge or problem for “materialism.”

    There may be reasons for or against objectivity in morality, and there may be debates worth having about what objective morality does and does not mean. (I tend towards a deflationary account of morality as objective but fallible.)

    And there may be reasons for or against materialism in metaphysics, whatever “materialism” is. (I tend to think that materialism is utterly unworkable, but that’s as may be.)

    But since I’m not now and never have been Christian, and my interest in Christian ethics and theology only goes so far, I’ll bow out of the rest of this conversation.

  97. It might be time for everyone to step back and define what is evil and how that differs from what we find unpleasant or undesirable. And does what we find unpleasant or undesirable change with circumstances and is really relativistic.

    And if something is evil what does it apply to. Is it the act or is it what happens to someone or is it the person who is responsible for the action. We do use the expression an “evil person.” Does it only apply to humans or can it apply to animals and if it applies to animals how do we distinguish between a slug and man’s best friend.

    Supposedly the main issue in Christianity is salvation and given that, there is only one true evil, the lack of salvation. So are the other things which we are considering evil only worldly things and not really truly evil but only reflect our squeamish feelings and what makes us squeamish changes as we get more technological advanced or our environment changes.

    Then there is the question is it possible for one person to cause another person to lose salvation? And then an even more interesting question is can that person be saved?

  98. “But would you, as an eye witness to the slaughter of innocent baby’s *felt* strongly that those baby’s fate was evil?”

    I don’t generally let something as inaccurate and ephemeral as feelings guide my actions where possible.

    “Or would you have jumped right on it, as a 21st century Christian and helped bash in the baby’s skulls? (Sorry, if this offends you, but I believe it is necessary to make my point.)”

    Mike you aren’t even in the league of what it would take to insult or offend me.

    What would I have done ? No idea, i’m not in the situation.

    “But what about the “innocent” ones? What about the innocent little kids and babies who were ripped out of their mother’s wombs and had their heads bashed in against the rocks by the invaders because northern tribes of Israel had rebelled against Yahweh? (See Hosea 13:16)”

    Is this not the fault of the parents ? They are the ones who put their children in such circumstances. Plus there is assumptions in your claim underlying their fate. What do you base these assumptions on, and unless they are explicitly biblical assumptions they are invalid given the context of the claim.

    “You would have thought the act was evil, wouldn’t you? Your most bedrock feelings would undoubtedly have said yes.”

    I don’t trust feelings, but additionally what makes you claim it was not an evil act for the Assyrian invader in question ?

    “But, as the text states, Yahweh allowed the situation as an effect of the guilt of the adults’ rebellion. (The babies sure didn’t bring this on themselves.)”

    The parents brought it on their offspring by their rebellion. But you are assuming that the Assyrians are blameless for their conduct while they were being used as an instrument of judgment. What exactly do you base this claim on ?

    “So what is right? The feeling of evil you (like me) would have surely had on seeing an invader bash the babies heads, or Yahweh’s decision to send in the invaders to make a mess of them?”

    Why is it either/or ? There is no contradiction between the two that is explicit. You may have some implicit premise that makes a contradiction but you need to make it an explict premise and we can examine its reasonableness.

    “So being a Yahwist, I would have to side with Kierkegaard and say that no moral argument, Nature Law or otherwise, can deal with a situation like this. Yahweh’s will trumps our assessment.”

    You are mistaken IMO. Also, you seem to be missing the obvious point that in the end , “God kills everybody”. There are no deaths that are not caused directly by or allowed to come to pass by Him.

  99. “You do believe in objective morality and think mass slaughter is always wrong — except when it’s right!”

    Don’t equivocate on terms.

    That I am mature enough to think carefully about something and understand the context and reality of the situation is not a bad thing.

    Jason, I am struggling with this and perhaps it is because I am not as versed in Christian theology as you are. Could you perhaps take a moment and help my understand why slaughter, as practiced on the Assyrians, is not objectively evil? I struggle with the explanation that God willed it. Perhaps it is my 21st century mindset, but there is a fine line between mystic and schizophrenic. How do we know what God truly willed?

  100. Jason,

    See post #95

  101. I think that there are two objective moralities, and many subjective ones. The first objective one is the simple hedonist one that we are all born with. Pleasure is good, pain is bad. The other objective morality is the one that a transcendent being (God) reveals; a higher morality if you will. But how is that revealed, and how do we know it is objective and not subjective?

  102. Carl Sachs,

    You said, “objective morality poses a challenge or problem for “materialism” if and only if one is already in the grip of a metaphysical picture which requires that values can only be objective if they are non-natural.”

    This sounds as though you are saying, “The ‘objective morality or materialism’ dichotomy is only a problem for people who already believe the dichotomy.” That is a horrible argument. One could simply reverse this and say, “Carl, the reason you don’t think there is a dichotomy is because you already believe there is no dichotomy.”

    Many great philosophers (materialists and theists alike) have agreed on this dichotomy. It is perfectly rational. I think the burden of proof is on the new philosophers, such as yourself, who want to claim the contrary. If there is no God, then how can there be an OBJECTIVE moral law?

  103. getawitness [42,79]: “I believe in a moral law but find the notion of “objective” law incoherent…I don’t believe in things I find incoherent. On the other hand, I don’t exactly disbelieve them either, since I think disbelieving would posit a kind of minimal coherence to the principle.”

    You dance really well. That’s an unnecessarily complicated way of admitting that you do not believe in an objective Moral Law.

    I have a question for you: Is the notion “objective” objectively incoherent? Or is it just incoherent for you? ;-)

  104. —–getawitness: “I don’t believe in things I find incoherent. On the other hand, I don’t exactly disbelieve them either, since I think disbelieving would posit a kind of minimal coherence to the principle.”

    Do you believe that a thing can be true and false at the same time and under the same formal circumstances?
    If so, why? If not, why not?

  105. At the end of the day, the materialist is forced to say, “The good is the desirable, and the desirable is what I actually desire.” Dostoevsky summed it all up nicely in The Brothers Karamozov: “Without God [by which he meant God’s transcendent moral code] anything is permissible and everything is now permissible.”

  106. getawitness,

    Forget about the particulars of this or that moral code. Is not the very idea you have in your head right now of an absolute> morality, regardless of what it might be, an interesting, and perhaps, puzzling notion?

    How can a sense of the absolute exist in a collection of atoms?

    I don’t know about you, but I find it, well, attractive.

  107. DLH,

    “What BarryA is referring to is moral evil explicitly contrary to moral law, such as the Holocaust, directly by persons, and indirectly by evil intelligent agents.”

    Does that mean that evil intelligent agents can introduce new evil CSI????? Or is that CSEI?

    I’m just tryin’ to get back to the science here.

  108. “But what if Yahweh told you in a metaphysical certain way that the Holocaust was his will? Would it have been truly evil or not?”

    Is there any doubt at all that the holocaust was inline with the sovereign will of God ? That does not render the act other than one of monstrous evil and it does not get the perpetrators off the hook for their actions. That God can bring some good (and more good than evil even) from this event does not change the nature of the act itself.

    “There are a few ways to answer this, depending on one’s definition of “evil.””

    I’m pretty sure there is only one meaningful way to define evil. Evil is the absence of the good. Suffering is just one manifestation of evil. It should be obvious from evil a couple of minutes reflection that evil is not a thing, just as darkness is not a thing as such, but the absence of something else.

    “If we define evil as going contrary to Yahweh’s will, then it would have been evil if it was not Yahweh’s will, and would not have been evil if it had been Yahweh’s will.”

    That definition would be defective though. Especially in light of the usual distinction between God’s moral will and God’s sovereign will.

    Frankly that definition you put forward would apply to Allah better than God.

  109. “But what if Yahweh told you in a metaphysical certain way that the Holocaust was his will? Would it have been truly evil or not?”

    But Yahweh tells us in a metaphysical certain way that thou shalt not murder, that we shoud be merciful and compassionate, and that we should love our neighbor.

    People in the past have believed that their creator take pleasure in slaughter and the sacrifice of their children.

    Yahweh makes it clear He doesn’t.

    We have to take the reality as it is.

  110. mike1962 [109],

    Is not the very idea you have in your head right now of an absolute morality, regardless of what it might be, an interesting, and perhaps, puzzling notion?

    Well, sure. That’s partly why I’m still here. (Though I’m not sure the notion in my head is of an absolute morality. There are absolute revulsions etc.)

    Clumsy Brute [106],

    You dance really well. That’s an unnecessarily complicated way of admitting that you do not believe in an objective Moral Law.

    I have a question for you: Is the notion “objective” objectively incoherent? Or is it just incoherent for you? ;-)

    About the dancing: I used to teach at Arthur Murray Da– no, wait, that was D. James Kennedy.

    About the incoherence of objectivity: objectivity is a historical concept. To put a new wrinkle in it, I’d say that objectivity is relatively incoherent: pretty incoherent for me and those sharing convergent thought-styles (to use a term from Fleck), but likely less incoherent and maybe pretty coherent for lots of others. Objective/subject and absolute/relative are different conceptual axes.

    Carl Sachs [100], quite right. Materialism as such does not seem to require abandoning objectivity. Since I’m not a materialist myself, I’ll not say that for sure, however. I’m happy to be a non-materialist, non-objectivist, relativist Christian.

    Jason Rennie [97], to paraphrase one evil guy, Who now remembers the Assyrian genocide?

    But seriously. I’m not saying you can’t justify it, I’m just saying you can’t justify it objectively. Certainly it can’t be justified on the grounds of any “self-evident” moral standards.

    This happens all the time with Biblical morality. In fact, the first moral prohibition — “don’t eat that fruit over there” — is so far from being self-evident as to be absurd. It certainly has no relation to any moral standard ostensibly written on the heart. Well, perhaps the relation of Adam and Eve to God, if you take the story literally (I do not). But that’s not an objective standard: it’s relational.

    Another example: the flood of Noah’s time. Any child old enough to understand this will find it confusing, even repugnant. For most people, it offends our sense of right and wrong (note I did not say objective sense). “Really? God killed everbody except this one guy? And his wife and family?” No self-evident moral principle undergirds this: that’s why it has to be explained carefully, in fact tip-toeing around self-evident moral principles It can only be explained by means of theology, which Mencken memorably defined as “the explanation of the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.”

    Note also that Jesus did not explain his moral principles either objectively or logically. Instead, he told stories. “Who is my neighbor?” “There was this Samaritan…” So when you, Jason [102], say

    I don’t generally let something as inaccurate and ephemeral as feelings guide my actions where possible,

    I’m perplexed, both because I don’t think intellect works without feelings — see Damasio’s book Descartes’ Error — and because appeals to emotion are used routinely in almost all moral texts inlcuding the Bible.

  111. Barry A: Jason Rennie:

    I am generally in agreement with your well-developed theme that there is only one moral code. There is no “Christian Moral Code” that would separate it from what we all know (if we acknowledge it) as the “natural moral law.” In general, I think that is a fair statement, and I think it both frames issue and defines the debate. I would, however, humbly submit this amendment.

    Jesus did introduce something new and important. He pointed out that morality finally finds its meaning not in “what” we do, but “why” we do it. In other words, he probes the behavior for intentions, motives, and patterns, dramatizing the point that we can do the right things for the wrong reasons. In my judgment, that takes objective morality to a whole new level. In fact, it goes the materialists one better. It points out that even the natural moral law in its primitive state is not as noble as it is in its perfect state.

  112. StephenB, no argument here. That’s why I said his ethical teachings are sublime. Still, he did not teach a new ethics. He taught us a better way to understand the ethical code that was there all along.

  113. Mike1962 writes:
    I readily assent that the Holocaust was evil relative to western morality, and my Baptist and Mormon upbringing. But “truly evil” assumes we know what Yahweh’s will was (assuming a Yahwist view here) regarding the situation.

    Wrong. The argument proves too much. Under this reasoning we could never make any moral judgment, as we would always have to hold our judgment in suspension until we were able to find out Yahweh’s will in that particular situation. Was Ted Bundy evil? Well, I can’t say, because I simply can’t discount the possibility that Yahweh told him to rape and murder all those women. The argument borders on (no, it goes past the border) the absurd.

  114. BarryA [108],

    Dostoevsky may have been wrong at least in this sense: everything is permissible even with God. And society can prohibit lots of things without an objective moral code. In fact, I would say that it always has: while lots of (more or less) good moral codes have been written, an objective one has never existed.

    But by now the path is predictable: eventually we will have repeated affirmations of Paul Giem’s accusation [87] — which I had already predicted — that non-objectivists play down actual historical evils such as the holocaust and/or have no reason to behave decently. Where’s kairosfocus when you need him?

  115. “But seriously. I’m not saying you can’t justify it, I’m just saying you can’t justify it objectively. Certainly it can’t be justified on the grounds of any “self-evident” moral standards.”

    It depends what you are referring too ? The Assyrian attack on Israel. There is nothing that needs justification. Whatever use God made of the actions of the Assyrians does not change the nature of the actions.

    For the usual collection of events. The background knowledge more than puts them in a context to make them understandable. Complaints about them are about as sensible as complaining about allied bombing during WW2 being unjustified because it isn’t as if there was a war going on.

    “It certainly has no relation to any moral standard ostensibly written on the heart.”

    Of course it does. Surely you can’t be so ignorant as to need this explained to you. I will assume you are simply being obtuse.

    “No self-evident moral principle undergirds this”

    Umm … again, you are joking right.

    You seem unaware that in the end, “GOD KILLS EVERYBODY”. Seriously, it is his right to do so. I don’t see why this is difficult for people to understand.

    You are making the common mistake of assuming you are on an level playing field with the creator. Sorry, you are mistaken.

    “Note also that Jesus did not explain his moral principles either objectively or logically. Instead, he told stories. “”

    That the subtly of it is lost on you doesn’t mean it is absent.

  116. “Jesus did introduce something new and important. He pointed out that morality finally finds its meaning not in “what” we do, but “why” we do it.”

    I’m not sure that is a novel addition. It would seem to be well understood that bad motives poison a good act and no number of good motives can sanctify an evil one.

    Although Christ did take the whole moral law to a new level. I agree with you there.

  117. “an objective one has never existed.”

    Could you define what you would expect one to look like ?

    You seem to think that nobody could ever disagree even in principle with an objective moral law.

    But that is nonsense.

  118. “Complaints about them are about as sensible as complaining about allied bombing during WW2 being unjustified because it isn’t as if there was a war going on.”

    Well, I’d say at least some of them were unjustified: Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki . . .

    “GOD KILLS EVERYBODY.”

    Uh huh. That’s what I tell my kids at night: “Remember boys, God kills everybody.” That helps them a lot.

    “That the subtly of [the parable form] is lost on you doesn’t mean it is absent.”

    I take it you mean that the parables confirm what we already know to be true. But in fact the Gospels routinely attest that this is not true: not only that they are confusing but that they are designed to confuse. I’d say they are designed to complicate moral questions, not underscore them.

  119. getawitness: I would still like to know whether or not you think a thing can be true and false at the same time and under the same formal circumstances. In either case, I would like to know why. This is not a trick question, and I am not trying to corner you.

  120. “Could you define what you would expect one to look like ?”

    Well, the best moral laws I know are “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” But those are examples of non-objective laws: their principles cannot be understood at all except in relative contexts.

  121. StephenB [122], my answer is maybe. The only example I can think of is a mystery: as the creeds put it, Jesus is both fully man and fully God. His humanity is both true and, in a sense, false.

    But maybe you were thinking of a more quotidian example of violations of the Aristotelian principle of non-contradiction. I’m not sure. I understand that the “fuzzy logic” community offers some potential ways out of the principle, but I’m not familiar with that literature. My violations of the principle tend to be either mystical (as above) or poetic.

  122. BarryA: “Wrong. The argument proves too much. Under this reasoning we could never make any moral judgment, as we would always have to hold our judgment in suspension until we were able to find out Yahweh’s will in that particular situation.”

    If one is a Yahwist (for whatever reasons), and accepts the Hebrew prophets and Jesus as spokesmen for Yahweh, then it seems to me that one would be obliged to follow their instructions as a general rule, but break the established rule only when overridden by Yahweh in an obvious way, as in the case of Abraham, for example.

    “If a man sheds blood, then his blood must be shed” is a rule of morality.

    “Take your son up the mountain and kill him” is a specific overriding of that rule. Yahweh didn’t make him go thru with it, but Abraham sure didn’t know that, and was ready to do the job.

    “If a man commits adultery with another mans wife, you may, in this instance ignore the previous rule of morality, and take the adulterers out and pile stones on them.”

    And then Yahweh supercedes that rule in a certain specific instance of David and Bethsheba, where they both should have been stoned under the previous rule of morality, but were not.

    Then later, Jesus comes with a whole different Way. Instead of sending the adulterous woman off to be stoned, he forgives her, because she evidently repented and mercy winds up trumping the moral code given to Moses.

    You see, it is simply not true that “we could never make any moral judgment.” Of course we can and do all the time. There are general principles and specific guides that have been given which are normative. If and when Yahweh wants to override them he certainly seems to make it happen regardless of our level of understanding.

  123. Carl Sachs says,
    “To be frank: it seems clear to me that objective morality poses a challenge or problem for ‘materialism’ if and only if one is already in the grip of a metaphysical picture which requires that values can only be objective if they are non-natural.”

    Let me simplify: Objective morality is tough for materialism only if you’re not a materialist.

    As Clumsy Brute says, “That is a horrible argument.”

    Just what do you mean by “non-natural”? I suggest spending some time thinking about mathematical realism and what this might suggest in regard to objective morality. Most materialists, such as
    George Lakoff & Rafael E Núñez, do not like the idea, and of course you need not like it either. But you talk as though you know nothing of this, which surely isn’t so.

    An atheist can subscribe to mathematical realism—in fact I suspect that most physicists are atheists of that sort. That kind of materialist—Einstein probably would be an example—should have no problem with objective morality. But would a materialist who rejects that kind of transcendence be OK with objective morality? I say NO—he’s stuck with vague utilitarian notions that must be viewed as emergent from neuronal activity.

    Though I believe in objective morality (as explicated by natural law advocates), I have no faith in a civilization founded only on such theorizing. It’s like throwing out the Constitution of the United States and leaving everything up to the machinations of legal theorists. It’s the Hebrew Scriptures that made the difference in Western Civ. The Nazis, remember, were willing to countenance a Christianity stripped of its Jewish element (meaning the Bible), and I sense that vast hordes out there have now done just that.

    If there is a God, and if that God did reveal himself to a people as in the Bible, the fact that our educated elites now nearly unanimously pooh-pooh the whole thing is troublesome, to say the least.

  124. getawitness,

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved millions of lives, mostly Japanese lives. It probably also kept half of Japan out of Soviet hands and we know what wonderful things they did. Foresight and hindsight support this. It is only squeamishness that is critical of these events. And maybe squeamishness is the greatest killer of all.

    So how do you justify that these were evil? Using what criteria?

  125. StephenB [122], my answer is maybe.

    I appreciate your honesty and I am not going to make a big fuss about it. When I ask someone if they believe a thing can be true and false at the same time, my purpose is to discern whether he or she believes in rational discourse. In fact, some don’t. But not everyone will do me the courtesy of telling me so. When that is the case, I withdraw, because logic is the only tool I can use clarify, persuade, and establish common ground. When I find that reason in not an option, it liberates me in a strange way because I know that, under those circumstances, there is simply nothing I can say or do to change things.

  126. StevenB,

    I have learned a lot on this blog as two or more commenters square off against each other defending their positions. Often we reach a new consensus. However, it is often possible to judge the honesty of a commenter by how they respond to criticism of their comments. Do they thank you, nit pick some peripheral item, come back with interesting insight or do they ignore the explanations and criticism. Are they interested in solving the problem or delineating it more clearly and thus, making the discussion more coherent or do they throw road blocks in the way in an attempt to confuse issues. Are they reasonable or unreasonable

    Sometime I realize it is not worth responding to some comments but over a time a pattern arises with some individual’s comments.

    As you say it liberates you when you know you can answer them but they cannot answer you. Also the nonsense about objectivity is just a smoke screen. We could not be communicating here if there was not objectivity. And believe me they understand what you are saying and if they do not respond in a constructive way that is also very objective.

  127. In re: (126)

    Rude, the comparison with embodied cognitive science of mathematics is an interesting dimension to the problem, and while I’m not unaware of it, I haven’t studied it carefully. I’d be very curious to see how they get around the objections against “psychologism” raised by Frege. I’d also like to see how they explain our capacity to construct infinite sets.

    But, supposing that their theory shows that mathematics is not absolute, and not objective in a God’s-eye-point-of-view sense of objective, I still wonder: what kind of objectivity do we need?

    If mathematics is objective in the sense that it regulates how any individual calculates, then does it matter that there might not be God’s-eye-point-of-view objectivity? Must objectivity transcend all reasoners in order to count as genuine objectivity?

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how to re-imagine the concept of “objectivity” (and “transcendence” and “experience”). I don’t have much by way of concrete results yet, and even when I do, I don’t imagine that they’d be convincing to most (or any?) of the absolutists here. I just wanted to mention that in order to indicate that I’m not yet set in my ways — not entirely, anyway!

  128. Well I am sure glad to see us getting back to the science.

    What I am concerned about, is as a Christian, I know that G*D creates evil. So, that being undoubtedly true unless you are willing to say that my bible is lying.

    Given that, how can you possibly characterize evil as something that is absent good? If G*D is good, and the bible tells us so, and he is omnipresent, which the bible tells us so, then it follows that there is nowhere that G*D is not (that includes the empty black hollow in the chests of materialists, thank you CSL).

    So it seems that Jason Rennie’s arguments, while sophisticated, are founded on category errors. If it was G*D’s will that the Assyrians were to attack the Israelites, in no way could that be viewed as evil. The fact that one, were it to happen today, would view it as evil, gives the lie to the notion that we can ever know, even if it exists, an objective morality.

    If you believe in a G*D who has a will that can be thwarted by puny humans, and the absence of G*D is the presence of evil, then you worship an inferior G*D that is not the creator of the Universe and the mid-atlantic rift, much less the flacterial blagellum or the chloroplast.

    I don’t see where this discussion is going, but I am glad to see it getting back to the science.

  129. Check out:

    http://www.amazon.com/Relativi.....0801058066

    No moral progress is possible within a materialistic worldview. It is a logically self-refuting ideology.

    This is not hard to figure out, just like it’s not hard to figure out that random variation and natural selection did not create highly sophisticated biological computer programs.

  130. Off topic: Ben Stein was on Glenn Beck’s TV show tonight and discussed his upcoming movie, “Expelled”. Beck mentioned in passing that Stein was scheduled to be interviewed on Beck’s AM Radio show tomorrow (Wed. 11/04).

  131. jerry,

    Obviously Hiroshima and Nagasaki are controversial. Whether they saved more lives than they took is an unanswerable question that would require replaying history the other way. I’ll say right off that they may have saved the life of one relative of mine (an uncle by marriage) who served in the Pacific theater and who was slated for the Japan invasion force. I view the bombings as unjustified even if they did save lives, because what is unjustifiable is the mass targeting of civilians for purposes of inducing terror (a thumbnail description of terrorism itself). In other words, I’d view those bombings as exhibiting unjustifiable tactics. Objectively? No, but in ways that are arguable beyond simply “I don’t like it.”

    With regard to [129], I understand that it seems to you like I’m just being picky here for no particular reason. I don’t relish leaving that impression, but what can I do? BarryA said I was “quibbling and pettifogging” — which is pretty amusing coming from a lawyer. I can’t imagine we’ll reach agreement, so I won’t argue these points further here. But since you have (I think) questioned my honesty, I’ll say that the views on this thread are indeed my views, I have not come by them glibly, simply, or without considerable thought, and I am not being disingenuous. In fact, I was at one point a firm believer in objective morality. I first intervened on moral issues here because of the moral hijacking of the Finnish tragedy to make a cheap point about Darwinism, which still strikes me as both predictable and depressing. I erred in hoping for a more nuanced response (nullasulus was the major advocate of subtlety on that score, for which I am grateful).

    StephenB [128], I can’t figure out whether you think I am one of those who “believes in rational discourse” or not. I would say that I do. But I think also that rational discourse is not universal and that many arguments may (for a host of reasons) become incommensurable at some point. At present, among the disagreements that most tend toward incommensurability are those between traditional “objective” accounts of morality, truth, language, communication, etc. and “relativist” or “social constructionist” accounts of the same. (A good book on why this is so, albeit a difficult book and one written from the relativist perspective, is Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy by B. H. Smith. See also her more recent Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth, and the Human).

  132. If you believe in a G*D who has a will that can be thwarted by puny humans, and the absence of G*D is the presence of evil, then you worship an inferior G*D that is not the creator of the Universe…

    If God wills that we obey him, who are we “puny humans” to say that he may not allow us to do otherwise?

  133. “Well, I’d say at least some of them were unjustified: Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki . . .”

    This is where basic reading comprehension skills become important. Go back and read what I wrote.

    ““GOD KILLS EVERYBODY.”

    Uh huh.”

    Ok then. Clearly you are not interested in reasonable discourse and my guess that you were a troll would appear to be correct.

    “I’d say they are designed to complicate moral questions, not underscore them.”"

    For the blind, of course they are.

  134. “Given that, how can you possibly characterize evil as something that is absent good?”

    Because that has been the consistent understanding of Christian teachers going back to at least Augustine.

    As opposed to a dualistic understanding of good and evil like the ancient Manichean’s taught.

    All evil things are corruptions or violations of good things.

  135. but jason, the bible says that god creates good AND evil.

    so apparently you are not willing to take the bible on it’s own terms. that’s OK, you will find out someday. I for one believe G*D when he says something and don’t try to secondguess it.

    there is a reason that the bible is called the ‘bible’. hint: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. I hope you find peace.

  136. Jason,

    About my views about Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, you wrote

    This is where basic reading comprehension skills become important. Go back and read what I wrote.

    Okay. I was responding to this:

    Complaints about them are about as sensible as complaining about allied bombing during WW2 being unjustified because it isn’t as if there was a war going on.

    I’m sorry; please help my reading comprehension. What I am missing? I’m serious.

    You wrote,

    GOD KILLS EVERYBODY

    I responded skeptically to that, and that demonstrates, apparently, that I am “not interested in reasonable discourse.” My position is that the statement is not reasonable discourse. It’s reasonable, I suppose, in some narrow theological sense but not in terms of developing a morality that can lay claim to people generally. I’d wager the sentence GOD KILLS EVERYBODY would not go very far as a measure of sophistication in most philosophy or ethics classes. So who’s unreasonable: the person who says “GOD KILLS EVERYBODY” — written just so — is an example of reasonable discourse, or the person who thinks it isn’t?

  137. getawitness,

    My comments about honesty were not directed at anyone in particular but based on my observations the last two years since I have been commenting on this blog.

    I really think that the information is clear as to what would have happened if we had invaded Japan. I have the exact number somewhere on another computer of the body bags/coffins planned for the invasion. They expected around 1 million casualties but not all of these kia. My wife’s father was part of the proposed invasion force and he was stationed in the Phillipines till late 1945.

    They expected huge numbers of Japanese to be killed either by kia or suicide. The three previous events to the invasion of Japan were Iwo Jima, Guam and Okinawa and on each one the Japanese fought to the death or committed suicide. What were they going to do when their homeland was to be invaded. It was more sacred to them than the United States is to us.

    My father’s first cousin who is still alive was a supply officer and sent by the Navy to take part in negotiations for sending supplies to the Soviets to help with their invasion of Japan. They were to invade from the north in late 1945 or early 1946 and if that happened Japan would have been forever divided and Korea would never have been able to stay free. Russia still has a few islands that belonged to Japan.

    If we had invaded Japan 100 of times more civilians would have died than were killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Interesting these were the two biggest Christian centers in Japan. Nagasaki was not the original target. Kokura was but it was cloud covered so they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. I have been to both places and each is a thriving city. The Japanese are a very industrious people.

    Thucydides was the first to point out that war is the result of weakness in his history of the Peloponnesian War. It is when your opponent thinks you are weak that they invade. Certainly WWII illustrates this in spades and there is evidence of this in the world today. It may be our squeamishness that causes the next major catastrophe because no one else seems willing to fight, certainly not the Europeans. They have bought into the heaven on earth philosophy and no one fights for that because you might die.

  138. [Off topic:] ellazimm (27) “I’ll be very interested in what everyone thinks of Judgement Day. Living in England I’m going to have live vicariously regarding this one.”
    __________

    For those who didn’t get to see the program, here are my notes ;-) :

    Start: ID holds that living things are “suddenly created” and are “too complex” to have evolved.
    The Dover Trial was basically just the Scopes Trial (“Inherit the Wind”) all over again.
    The Establishment Clause requires “the separation of church and state” and “prevents the government from promoting or prohibiting any form of religion”
    8:19 Ken Miller pronounces the word “God” the way that atheists do (IMO).
    Footage from the DVD of “Unlocking the Mystery of Life”(?) is shown in grainy video, to make it look ugly.
    8:29 ACLU lawyers smile alot. Thomas More Law Center lawyers have frowns.
    8:33 Eugenie Scott is a happy person.
    Rick Santorum looks like a dork.
    8:40 Ken Miller thinks that evolution is change over time.
    8:41 ID holds that living things appear abruptly.
    Nick Matzke says that ID holds that things “poof” into existence.
    Transitional fossils are evidence against ID.
    Evolutionary theory predicts a computer-generated tree of life.
    8:48 Darwin proposed gradual evolution.
    8:57 Darwin didn’t know about genetics, but now we do, and so evolution is proven.
    8:58 Robert Pennock says that flu shots are due to evolution (not intelligent design).
    9:00 Eugenie Scott says “ID is a negative argument.”
    Note: The producers focused on Creationism for the first hour.
    The Discovery Institute “set conditions for interviews that are not consistent with normal journalistic practices”
    9:07 Mike Behe thinks that some things “could not have evolved.”
    9:12 The TTSS (which came after the bacterial flagellum) is an obvious evolutionary precursor of the flagellum.
    Really nice animations of the flagellum.
    9:17 Darwinists piled a lot of big books in front of Mike Behe in the courtroom.
    The 1st Amendment mandates the separation of church and state.
    9:27 ID is simply creationism repackaged.
    ID is like astrology — Mike Behe said so.
    9:34 Barbara Forrest uses “evolution” as a synonym for “Darwinism”
    The Wedge document looks awesome.
    I can think of a lot of bad names for Lori Lebo.
    The Discovery Institute distanced themselves from the trial when they lost.
    Judge Jones said that “ID is not science,” so the matter is settled.
    __________

    The program’s producers conveniently avoid explaining that the essence of Darwin’s theory is that all of evolution is undirected (i.e., without a goal) and purposeless — that it’s not just an innocuous theory of common descent. They likewise avoid explaining what ID really is. They stay true to the old Darwinist trick: get students nodding about change over time and common descent — before zinging them with “by the way, it’s all entirely undirected and meaningless.” (But, in this case, the producers neatly omit the last half half of the lesson.)

    They’re scared to tell the truth about both Darwinism and ID.

  139. “but jason, the bible says that god creates good AND evil.”

    Isaiah 45:7? Yeah well, the Bible also describes a “fallen” world caused by man using his own free-will, or in other words sinning. The take home point is that in this fallen world, God uses all things to work for good, and really, what else could a God do in a world in which He grants free-will? I know, I know…God messed with Pharaoh’s free will right?

  140. j,

    Thanks for the recap. I have only met a couple honest Darwinists. Two that come here occasionally have been Allen MacNeill and great_ape who hasn’t been here for quite awhile.

    It is amazing how the Darwinists are so uniformly evasive and disingenuous. For most of them it is that they do not know what they are defending but believe somehow it must be true.

    Has anyone a report on the debate last night at Cornell between Provine and Nelson?

  141. Jason Rennie at #118:

    It depends what you are referring to? The Assyrian attack on Israel. There is nothing that needs justification. Whatever use God made of the actions of the Assyrians does not change the nature of the actions.

    For the usual collection of events. The background knowledge more than puts them in a context to make them understandable. Complaints about them are about as sensible as complaining about allied bombing during WW2 being unjustified because it isn’t as if there was a war going on.
    Yes. Context. The allied bombing and the actions of the OT god when he had women and babies killed were all to prevent some supposed greater evil.

    At least with the allies it’s demonstrable, and there was no other way to do it. It’s not like they had the power to just snap their fingers and make all the bad people in Europe disappear like magic and provide food and shelter for those Left Behind eh?

    Even if one buys the reasons that apologists (Robert Turkel aka James Patrick Holding and Glen Miller) list for god had to have the ancient Isrealites kill the women and children (of whichever group the Isrealites were at war with at the time) because killing them would be a less horrible fate than starvation in the desert or being forced to be raised among those who killed off their families, all this shows is Relative Morality or Situational Ethics, not any transcendent absolute morality.

    Relative Morality being that it’s more moral to give the kids a fast death than to have them suffer a lingering death in the wilderness.

    Because of the situations it depicts, and the reasons apologists come up with to defend god’s actions, the bible is one of the best places to read if one wants examples of situational ethics.

    Jason Rennie

    “It certainly has no relation to any moral standard ostensibly written on the heart.”

    Of course it does. Surely you can’t be so ignorant as to need this explained to you. I will assume you are simply being obtuse.

    “No self-evident moral principle undergirds this”

    Umm … again, you are joking right.

    You seem unaware that in the end, “GOD KILLS EVERYBODY”. Seriously, it is his right to do so. I don’t see why this is difficult for people to understand.

    You are making the common mistake of assuming you are on an level playing field with the creator. Sorry, you are mistaken.
    So, if god is the supreme standard of morality that we have to aspire to, then what rules does he or she have to follow?

    Or, to put it another way, what would the “creator” (whoever that is–wink, wink) have to do before you could say that it’s an immoral act?

    If you say that the creator can do anything she/he wants, then morality is just relative to the desires and goals of this being.

    To put this another way:
    if the laws of morality are good because God thinks them, or if God thinks them because they are good. If they are good because God thinks them, then they are purely subjective and could have been otherwise. If God thinks them because they are good, then morality exists apart from God, and God is unnecessary to “goodness”.

    If anyone actually wants to see what so-called “materialists” think of this as opposed to just ranting against them…

  142. I just realized somthing…don’t these last several posts here all talking about the supposed lack of a moral basis in “materialism” or “darwinism” all just form a fallacy whereas people are told how bad morally evolution/athiesm is, therefore evolution is wrong?

    That’s not presenting positive evidence for your side, that’s just emotional manipulation. Of course, you’ll likely talk about the “logical consequences” of evolution. Whereas athiests can point to a lot of OT verses and a thousand years of history to throw back at you. BTW, the 10 Commandments are also in the OT. Just in case someone tries to say that the OT is under the “old law” or something like that.

    These emotional postings are useless. Why not just focus on all the supposed positive evidence for ID instead to convince people?

  143. This talk of ancient genocides is bad theology and bad morality. Aquinas would weep with frustration.

    Just … read this: http://www.vatican.va/archive/.....s1c2a3.htm

  144. Barry,

    I define the term “truly evil” and then I use it in exactly the same sense in both the major and minor premises.

    You don’t define it in any useful way. You explicitly refuse to give a definition that would allow someone to look at an act and say “that is truly evil”.

    This is how you defined it:

    The holocaust was “truly evil.” By “truly evil” I mean that even if in the opinion of any person or group of persons or an entire society, the holocaust was good, it would still be evil. Indeed, if everyone in the world thought the holocaust was good, they would all be wrong, and the holocaust would still be truly evil.

    and this is how you try to avoid giving a pragmatic definition:

    There are certain things, as the saying goes, that you can’t not know. That the murder of millions of innocent victims is evil is one such thing. You’ve asked me to argue for a first principle. I will not for the simple reason that I cannot and neither can anyone else.

    When it comes to affirming the statement “the holocaust was evil” there are two and only two kinds of people: 1. People who know it is true and therefore affirm it without reservation; and 2. people who know it is true and, for whatever reason, refuse to affirm it without reservation. Both groups of people know it is true.

    From your definition, whether people know something is “truly evil” is irrelevant: “Indeed, if everyone in the world thought the holocaust was good, they would all be wrong, and the holocaust would still be truly evil.”. So you’ve got us nowhere.

    Your syllogism can’t even get off the ground until you can define “truly evil” in a useful way. I can’t see how one can do that without appealing to some sort of transcendent moral code. That might be because I lack imagination, so I’d like to see how one does it.

    Bob

  145. Moral progress in a material world? Moral vanity is more like it.

    A wonderful example of the moral vanity of the superman is found in the popular meme that the Bible somehow condones slavery. This accusation indicates a high opinion of oneself and one’s pristine attitudes toward slavery combined with a profound ignorance of history and the fact that slavery was universal until the modern age, with the advent of labor-saving devices and cheap energy.

    It was possible for the Abolitionists to revel in their moral superiority to the slave-owning South for the simple reason that the North was industrialized and could afford to be scornful. The actual cause of the conflict was the clash between an ancient agrarian way of life that lingered (or malingered) in the South and modern capitalism, not the simple fairly tale of good and evil that the revisionists love to tell in order to make themselves seem special. It was economics, not an increase in virtue or enlightenment, that made slavery an obvious anachronism and target for reform by the mid-nineteenth century.

    To fault the Bible for not insisting on abolition, then, is like expecting it to insist, as we now do, on universal literacy, which did not become possible until the invention of the printing press. Slavery is no longer necessary or desirable in the modern capitalized world. This is why it is universally condemned. But then to flatter oneself by comparing one’s modern, enlightened attitudes regarding slavery with those of the ancient world is nothing more than moral vanity, since opposition to slavery no longer entails personal risk of any kind.

    Slavery is mentioned in the Bible for two purposes: to limit its scope and make it more humane, and to commend submission. The first purpose cannot be properly understood unless the laws governing slavery are viewed in context. Those laws represented a vast improvement in the treatment of slaves. Even the famous law, so often cited by religion-haters, that punishes the slave-owner for killing a slave by beating him, but releases him from punishment if the slave lives for a few days after the beating, was an improvement over the utter disregard for the value of the life of slaves seen in other ancient societies, including the supposedly civilized states of Athens and Rome.

    The way that this law is distorted to discredit religion also reveals the fundamental dishonesty of the superman and the will to power. The Sam Harrises of the world would have us believe that the law condones beating slaves to the point of death. It does no such thing. It condemns severe treatment of slaves by making it punishable. But a hallmark of the superman is his belief that he has transcended the religious man, and this longing for distinction compels him to twist the meaning and intent of the text in order to make his moral superiority evident.

    The Bible also mentions slavery in the context of the exhortation to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This exhortation commends submission as the route to happiness; it does not commend slavery per se. It reflects the notion that there is value in the life of the slave, that identity can be redeemed through service for its own sake and is not dependent upon the attitudes of others, and also on a realism regarding the human condition that is sadly lacking in the starry-eyed moralizing of the superman.

    Finally, the accusation that there is no mention of abolition in the Bible is simply false. True righteousness is said to be seen in the following actions: “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke; to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.” The prophets are filled with a passionate love of justice and tender concern for the oppressed. If our supermen cannot see this, then perhaps it is because they are blinded by a lesser love.

  146. All:

    I am particularly concerned over a core point, namely that evolutionary materialism has a serious problem grounding morality and so its promotion as in effect unquestionable “fact” and/or “Science” is potentially destructive in our world.

    Now, I am also concerned over a side-point. For, I could take up many of the poorly informed attempts to raise Bible and/or theological difficulties above, but plainly this is well beyond the proper focus of this blog, and IMHCO would take us further and further away from it. [Patrick and Dave et al, what is the policy on responding to such increasingly common asides and responses to them?]

    While we wait for the policy announcement, I will note to Bob, on t5he main issue, that . . .

    definitions come in at least two main flavours, and definition by apt concrete example and family resemblance thereto is a proper means of definition — and one that is actually prior to definition by genus and differentia or precising statement. For, our recognition of the reliability of such a precising statement or of progressive distinction within a broader set depend on our being able to recognise whether or not a particular instance the definition in-/ex-cludes is properly ruled in or out.

    So, when BarryA pointed to the Holocaust/ Shoah as a capital example of evil [and implying thereby that that which partakes of materially similar characteristics is also evil], he has in fact provided a valid definition.

    That brings us right back to the force of his syllogism [at no 28], and that of CB [no 10], which I will cite first:

    1) Certain things are really wrong only if there is an objective Moral Law.

    2) Certain things are really wrong [notorious case in point being supplied above].

    3) Therefore, there is an objective Moral Law.

    AND . . .

    The holocaust was “truly evil.” By “truly evil” I mean that even if in the opinion of any person or group of persons or an entire society, the holocaust was good, it would still be evil. Indeed, if everyone in the world thought the holocaust was good, they would all be wrong, and the holocaust would still be truly evil. Now the syllogism:

    [4] An action can be truly evil only if a transcendent moral code exists.

    [5] The holocaust was truly evil.

    [6] Therefore, a transcendent moral code exists.

    The significance of this recognition of an objective, transcendent moral order is deep, as e.g. Koukl shows in his introductory level essay, which it would repay us all handsomely to read. I excerpt:

    The presence of evil in the world is considered by some to be solid evidence against the existence of God. I think it proves just the opposite . . . .

    Evil can’t be real if morals are relative. Evil is real, though. That’s why people object to it. Therefore, objective moral standards must exist as well . . . .

    Atheism can’t make any sense of it. Neither can most Eastern religions. If reality is an illusion [NB: we have already had the side-debate on to what extent this is so; it is sufficiently so to be material], as they hold, then the distinction between good and evil is ultimately rendered meaningless. Something like the Judeo-Christian or Muslim idea of God must be true to adequately account for moral laws.

    Morality grounded in God explains our hunger for justice . . . . Either we live in a universe in which morality is a meaningless concept and are forever condemned to silence regarding the problem of evil, or moral rules exist and we’re beholden to a moral God who holds us accountable to His law.

    Thus, we here see a materially independent line of reasoning to the design inference proper, that also points to a transcendent intelligent, purposeful Agent as a likely cause for our evidently designed cosmos [cf my always linked through my name], a cosmos in which there is also a generally recognised moral order, one that we find binds us and which we ratify so soon as we quarrel, trying to show others wrong or hypocritical — as in much of the above.

    GEM of TKI

  147. Ellazimm – I still don’t understand how Christians living in the southern United States in my life time could lynch black people.

    Does a Christian say he follows Jesus Christ or does a Christian follow Jesus Christ?

    And what makes you so sure you wouldn’t keep quiet and let things happen to Jews/blacks/whomever if the social pressure — supported by law — was strong enough?

    Even Peter denied Christ in His hour.

  148. ellazimm,

    “I still don’t understand how Christians living in the southern United States in my life time could lynch black people.”

    This has been going on since the beginning of time and why should it stop now. I don’t mean to justify this but this behavior is not unusual and you can find pockets of this behavior today all over the world.

    Various things cause rage and hate and all people are not raised in a proper manner and when such things arise these attitudes find targets, probably even in the UK where you are.

    There is a vast underclass in the US produced by the goodwill of the do gooders and the consequences of this is a large section of the population who are full of rage. Similar pockets are all over the world and as such these will produce lots of examples of anti-social behavior. It is not hard to understand. However, attempts to correct it often end up producing even greater amounts of it.

    For example, see what the enlightened policy of de-emphasizing marriage has done in the US. If Paul’s data is meaningful at all this is the source of it and it is not due to religion but contempt for it.

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

  149. ellazimm,

    This is a repost since my comment just went into the moderation pit due to a link. So I put the link in parenthesis so it could go through.

    “I still don’t understand how Christians living in the southern United States in my life time could lynch black people.”

    This has been going on since the beginning of time and why should it stop now. I don’t mean to justify this but this behavior is not unusual and you can find pockets of this behavior today all over the world.

    Various things cause rage and hate and all people are not raised in a proper manner and when such things arise these attitudes find targets, probably even in the UK where you are.

    There is a vast underclass in the US produced by the goodwill of the do gooders and the consequences of this is a large section of the population who are full of rage. Similar pockets are all over the world and as such these will produce lots of examples of anti-social behavior. It is not hard to understand. However, attempts to correct it often end up producing even greater amounts of it.

    For example, see what the enlightened policy of de-emphasizing marriage has done in the US. If Paul’s data is meaningful at all this is the source of it and it is not due to religion but contempt for it.

    “www.city-journal.org/html/16_1_marriage_gap.html”

  150. Jerry in re #144,

    The debate between Nelson and Provine was pretty disappointing actually. They spent the night talking past each other. In usual form Provine tried to provoke Nelson by asking him about his beliefs repeatedly. They both presented what they see as the flaws of evolution but neither really debated how this supports or refutes ID.

    There were some good questions from the crowd, which was small, but for the most part neither speaker answered them. They both talked past the questions

    I thought the last question was quite interesting and would like to see what people here have to say. here is my loose summary version:

    If ID is found to be well supported then what? what do we do with the information that some things are intelligently designed for things such as developing vaccines or other biological and health issues?

  151. ellazimm,

    thanks for your thoughtful response. I can also appreciate your reluctance to absolutize morality. It is tempting, when doing so, to absolutize one’s own morality. But it is not logically necessary. The point originally was that, if there is any objective morality that truly exists, as distinct from mere human desire, then materialism is untenable, as that morality would not be constituted by material. Apparently, you find it more difficult than I do to accept the concept of an objective morality. For now, I am willing to leave it at that. Perhaps we can discuss this later, on a post that doesn’t have 150+ other comments already, and that doesn’t accumulate comments quite so rapidly, so that we can afford to put more time into our comments (I do have a “day job”).

    getawitness

    before I sign off here, I should try to correct what I think is a misunderstanding.

    You say,
    Paul Giem,

    “And so it comes: before I’ve even finished typing, someone — in this case, you — suggests that someone on the other side — in this case, mike1962 — is trying to suggest that the holocaust is not really evil. Of course it is. It does not, however, necessitate a universal moral code.

    You have misunderstood what I was doing, and why. I was not trying to suggest that mike1962 didn’t believe that the Holocaust was not really evil. I was simply trying to get him to commit one way or the other.

    We’ll discuss his response. But first, it is fair to point out that your last sentence is an assertion without a basis in fact, and against logic. If the Holocaust was really evil, as you state, then there must be some standard by which it is judged to be evil. That standard cannot be mere public opinion, as otherwise if neo-nazis or islamists take over the world, it will no longer be evil, and the term “really” will lose its meaning (or more precisely, will never have had meaning in the first place).

    But if the standard is not dependent on the brain waves of people, but exists independent of them, the standard is not material, and a material explanation of the universe fails. That fact would not necessitate a God (although it is compatible with one). It merely would falsify strict materialism. But there are some who are so wedded to materialism that they are willing to deny the objective evil of the Holocaust in order to keep their materialism. A question that could be asked was, does mike1962 believe in an objective moral code, or does he believe in materialism?

    From what I can gather, the answer is “neither”. Mike1962 notes in comment 74 “but that (most) humans have a moral sense *at all*” argues for transcendence, and he follows it up in comment 110 (to you) by saying that “the idea of an absolute morality” is interesting and puzzling, and asks, “How can a sense of the absolute exist in a collection of atoms?” I take it from this that mike1962 is not a materialist.

    But he still argues that the Holocaust may not be truly evil (comment 91):

    I readily assent that the Holocaust was evil relative to western morality, and my Baptist and Mormon upbringing. But “truly evil” assumes we know what Yahweh’s will was (assuming a Yahwist view here) regarding the situation.

    It is ironic that you seek to defend him from the charge of believing that the Holocaust was not truly evil, where he admits that he is at leat agnostic on that issue.

    His reservations on calling the Holocaust truly evil stem not from materialism, but from as he puts it in comment 90, “being a Yahwist”. If Yahweh wills something, is it truly evil? Do we have a truly objective moral code that even Yahweh cannot alter? Those are difficult philosophical questions (which i will not further address here because of space reasons). But to get to that point, we have to let mike1962 speak for himself, and not assume (as you did) that he believes that the Holocaust was really evil.

    My question was not designed to accuse. It was designed to clarify. And I think that it did clarify.

  152. The desire to save one’s self is great. But I’m not perpetrating the crimes.

    It was Christians who stopped the lynchings, and it was Chrstians who provided much of the domestic opposition to the Nazis.

    While some SS members attended church most did not, and affiliation with Christianity was an impediment to advancement in Nazi-ruled Germany.

    I live in England; I am not a citizen and I can’t vote. I’ve got to scare up the money to apply.

    You have me baffled on that one. You are not a citizen of England but you are trying to be and need money to apply?

  153. Carl Sachs:
    “I think that Nietzsche was right about humans as animals,”
    There is no difference between this and stating that materialist definition of humans you yourself described. IOW, humans are mere animals = all is mere matter.

    You will no doubt say, “not so”. But you must provide the evidence. How is it not so?

    And further, if it is not so then how do you define animal? Defined as being other than complex organizations of matter in motion?

  154. So, when BarryA pointed to the Holocaust/ Shoah as a capital example of evil [and implying thereby that that which partakes of materially similar characteristics is also evil], he has in fact provided a valid definition.

    Not a useful one according to the quote you found from somewhere:

    For, our recognition of the reliability of such a precising statement or of progressive distinction within a broader set depend on our being able to recognise whether or not a particular instance the definition in-/ex-cludes is properly ruled in or out. (emphasis mine)

    Barry was unable to show how one could decide whether an action is “truly evil”, so the “definition” isn’t reliable.

    Bob

  155. Paul Giem [159] : “we have to let mike1962 speak for himself”

    The crux of my view exists in post 95. But I will elaborate:

    We cannot properly deal with a term such as “truly evil” until we define what evil is. I come from Yahwist perspective, and reject any notion of a transcendent, platonic-like evil, apart from the suffering of consciousness.

    The Bible doesn’t seem to deal with squishy transcendent philosophical concepts in this matter. Where ever you find the Hebrew RAH and it’s variants it indicates suffering, loss, death, etc., circumstances that are unpleasant to experience. There is no notion of some kind of platonic evil aside from conscious sufferings.

    Aside from suffering, there is the matter of Yahweh’s will. Yahweh, being the most powerful entity, has the power to enforce his will. Anything running contrary to that could be plausibly described as evil, in my opinion, but that’s not consistent with Biblical usage.

    So was the Holocaust evil? It surely was with respect to the experiential, Biblical definition. The victims suffered. Since suffering by definition is an evil thing, they suffered evil.

    But was it Yahweh’s will? Sometime Yahweh employs RAH, “evil”, to achieve his ends. This is clear from several Biblical proofs. It’s just another way of saying that Yahweh makes unpleasant things to happen to people because of rebellion, etc. I don’t know if the Holocaust was his will. He certainly allowed it to happen. But beyond that I do not know.

    So is there a transcendent platonic-like evil? I don’t know what that means, so I have to plead ignorance. And I don’t think anyone else knows either.

    Did the Holocaust victims suffer evil? Yes they did. Was it repugnant to me? Yes it is. Would I have prevented it if I could have? Yes I would have, unless Yahweh made it absolutely clear to me to mind my own business.

  156. Carl Sachs in 131 — don’t want to leave the impression that I’m impressed by George Lakoff’s embodied mathematics — just wanted to say that his book is the first I know of by a linguist who shows any awareness whatever of the relevance of mathematical realism to his field. He’s against it, of course, and his materialist math may impress some but I doubt any physicist will favor it.

    The innatism championed by Noam Chomsky and his followers has been challenged by neuroscientists who see no evidence of biological hardwiring (of a “language organ” somewhere in the brain). Well I suggest that if the physicists are right then language — like mathematics — is discovered and not invented, the child’s mind is a receptor for understanding and not neurologically preprogrammed.

  157. I must be coming somewhat late to this “materialist ideology” (or at least Uncommon Descent)–it seems that “materialism” is being used as s synonym for “atheism” and for “amorialism” of some sort. But that makes no sense at all. Think of the ancient Stoics–those moralists were generally materialists: materialist pantheists. (To this one could also add Spinoza.) So materialists can even believe in God. Therefore,

    Materialism does NOT necessarily EQUAL atheism.

    Added to that, most contemporary atheists (as well as evolutionists, many of whom are not atheists) also believe in energy (ever heard of E=MC2?), and so aren’t materialists. Therefore,

    Atheism does NOT necessarily EQUAL materialism.

    “Materialists are atheists and can’t have an ethics” is simply false, and has been for thousands of years.

  158. To deny objective truth is also deny reason. That is because truth is a destination, and reason is the vehicle that facilitates the journey. If there is no journey to make, what good is the vehicle? In one way or another, skeptics on this blog have been suggesting, in metaphysical and epistemological terms, either that we have no place to go, or else there is no way of getting there. There minds are intolerably open, and I think it is a phenomenon unique in the history of thought. In my judgment, modern philosophy has warped their minds. As G. K. Chesterton said, “the purpose of opening the mind is to close it on something solid (truth).

    Yesterday, Barry A spent a good deal of time developing a logical argument, the purpose of which was to prove to our critics that objective morality really exists. During that period, I had asked a blogger this question:: “Can a thing be true and false at the same time.” The answer followed, “I am not sure.” So there you have it. We invest the whole day crafting a delicately constructed syllogism only to have someone waffle on the law of non-contradiction, the foundation upon which syllogisms are built. This, people, is our problem. Anti-intellectualism disavows the very self-evident truths that make dialogue possible in the first place.

  159. StephenB,

    As I suspected, your question was a set-up to dismiss me as irrational. As I suggested, by this dismissal you also dismiss all Christians (if Jesus is both fully God and fully Man, he violates the law of non-contradiction) as well as fuzzy logic scientists. Now you also say that all those who question “objective truth” deny reason is to dismiss the entire skeptical tradition of philosophy. Here again, as you explained above, you are coming up with a rationale for not talking with people.

    As for syllogisms, they are a fine form of reasoning; syllogisms are great in very limited cases. The syllogism has been acknowledged as limited pretty much from the get-go. The particular syllogism BarryA constructed was, as Bob O’H maintained, poorly defined, and also, as I have suggested, depends on a fundamental equivocation on the meaning of “truly evil.”

    You conclude that I deny reason because I answered your parlor trick question in Christian terms? Give me a break.

  160. getawitness, I grant your point that no Christian can believe in the law of noncontradiction absolutely, because, as you point out, it does not bind God. Your point came to mind with respect to the old saw: “Can God think of something He can’t do?” The answer, of course, is “Yes, and He can do it too.” ;-)

    How about this question: Setting aside questions of whether the Deity is bound by our categories, do you agree that a statement cannot be at the same time true and false under the same formal circumstances?

  161. Hi BarryA.

    I’m not sure down what dimly-lit rhetorical cul-de-sac you think you’re leading me, but I’m keeping one hand on my wallet. :-)

    My answer to your question with the stipulations you provided is Yes. But (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) I have mentioned that fuzzy logic, by my limited understanding, makes some claims along these lines. So I’m not going to say with certainty that there are no exceptions. I’ve already mentioned mystical and poetic language, which can live with — indeed, which is enlivened by — such exceptions. Within the rather narrow purview of propositional language in this world, therefore, I would say Yes.

    Now: should I prepare for a beatin’?

  162. getawitness, no, I’ll take your “yes” as meaning “yes.” If you had said “no” I would not have beaten you. I would have just ignored you from now on.

  163. Thanks. Whew! [wipes brow]

  164. Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous!

    “I grant your point that no Christian can believe in the law of non contradiction absolutely, because, as you point out, it does not bind God.”

    What is this? So now God can contradict himself?

    Asks the foolish man: “So if God is all powerful can He create an unmovable rock ? But if the rock is unmovable, then God can’t be all powerful, can He ?”

    Answers the wise man: “Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.”

    CS Lewis: A Grief Observed

  165. ellazimm:
    “I still don’t understand how Christians living in the southern United States in my life time could lynch black people.

    I don’t understand how some Christians I know can look me in the eye and say they think that all homosexuals should be lined up against a wall and shot.

    I don’t understand why the school board members in Dover seemingly (I accept the qualification) lied after swearing on the Bible to tell the whole truth.

    I don’t understand why Christian Germans sanctioned the Holocaust.

    I don’t understand how… ”

    Boy that’s a lot you don’t understand!

    There are easy however obvious answers to this.
    All of your points are to the actual actions of professing Xians.

    All of your points assume that all professing Xians are real Xians. But nothing is more evident in the teachings of Christ than there will be hypocrites, ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ and false christs and false ‘brethren’ who claim Christianity.

    So what do you do with the actual teachings of Christ – which btw, are all based on the ancient Hebrew scriptures?

    Do as you would be done by. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies, bless them that curse you…? Or on the negative commands of the moral law – Do not steal, do no murder, do no rape, do not give false witness etc.?

    The question is not whether someone can act contrary to the moral law they claim to believe in. The subject is whether there is a moral law or not.

    Scripture never tries to prove the transcendent Moral Law. It always takes it for granted. Just as you yourself do here in supposing that there really is a real right and a real wrong.

    No objective moral values clearly means no transcendent moral law and vice versa.

    There is no escape from this. Either there is an ultimate rule by all other sub-rules are measured or there is no valid basis for any rules at all.

    If matter is all there is then morality is indeed, “an illusion fostered upon us by our genes to get us to cooperate” – all for mere survival’s sake.

    But this can never be argued upon logical grounds since arguing on logical grounds also assumes a transcendent rule of logic.

    Materialism can never explain the existence of logical absolutes.
    Only theism can. Even deism can’t since it pretends the deity may have no personality.

    You cannot make morality a mere collective cultural agreement for upon what basis of right or wrong would you base your judgment of who is giving the right moral value?

    The very possibility of moral debate is evidence of an external rule to which all must refer. Each side claiming to be closer than the other to that external rule they must necessarily assume exists. Otherwise no moral debate is even possible. All moral debate assumes an ultimate rule of measure to which some values come closer than others.

    To deny that rule is to abandon all reference points. Survival advantages are materialist Darwinism’s only reference point.

    And why should we survive? By what rule do we claim survival to be of True, Real import?

    Whenever you say anything like, “you’re wrong to have done that” you’re automatically referring to some external rule of measure by which you have judged an action – not just your own personal feelings. And you must also assume the other party also knows that external rule. Otherwise why mention it? They will merely say, “who cares what you think is wrong or not! I disagree.”

    Smack an atheist relativist in the face and he will squeal, “by what right…?!”, just as quickly as a theist. But upon what rule of true right and wrong does he claim this? One he really does assume exists in spite of his logically absurd denials!

    If it’s all merely my opinion and will vs yours then how can any moral conclusion be attained that bears any true value?

    There has never been a civilization, outside of demonic worship cultures, that has ever condoned child rape or murder for ex.. If morality is to judged on mere collective consensus this rule can be changed on a whim!

    All of the ancient written dictates of moral law agree with a certain standard of moral conduct. All. Egyptian, Babylonian, Chinese, Hebrew etc.

    Where does this idea of proper and improper conduct come from anyway? Matter has no morals. Rocks are not moral. Nature has no mind, it does not dictate conduct.

    Only a mind can conceive of right and wrong – only a mind with will and purpose. A mind that prefers one course over another based on the product of the highest good under the circumstances. Benevolence – seeking the highest good – is sum of the absolute moral Law. Love is another term for it. But unselfish good willing love. Not some funny way of feeling.

    I really suggest you read CS Lewis’ “Abolition of Man” or at least the laymen oriented “Mere Christianity”.

  166. In an earlier post I said the following and no one answered it.

    “It might be time for everyone to step back and define what is evil and how that differs from what we find unpleasant or undesirable. And does what we find unpleasant or undesirable change with circumstances and is really relativistic.

    And if something is evil what does it apply to. Is it the act or is it what happens to someone or is it the person who is responsible for the action. We do use the expression an “evil person.” Does it only apply to humans or can it apply to animals and if it applies to animals how do we distinguish between a slug and man’s best friend.

    Supposedly the main issue in Christianity is salvation and given that, there is only one true evil, the lack of salvation. So are the other things which we are considering evil only worldly things and not really truly evil but only reflect our squeamish feelings and what makes us squeamish changes as we get more technological advanced or our environment changes.”

    Would the holocaust be any different if the victims were not some speciific group? Would it have been different if the perpetrators were not so systematic? Was the holocaust more evil than anything Tamerlane or Stalin did and why?

    I could go on but are what we are reading on this thread just the venting of people’s feelings and what is personally repugnant to them?

  167. Borne asks: “What is this? So now God can contradict himself?”

    Well, if God says He is ONE GOD in the Shema, is it a contradiction for him to say that He exists in three persons?

    If God is immanent in his creation how can he also be transcendant over his creation?

    God says He has absolute (not probablistic but absolute) foreknowledge that I will do X. Do I have a choice about whether to do X? God says I do. How can that be?

    Can singularity both exist and not exist at the same time?

    Can transendance both exist and not exist at the same time?

    Can free will both exist and not exist at the same time?

    All I’m saying (and I think all getawitness is saying) is God is too big to put in the box of our categories.

  168. Borne [172],

    I said I wasn’t going to keep talking about this, but your post is irresistible.

    There is no escape from this. Either there is an ultimate rule by all other sub-rules are measured or there is no valid basis for any rules at all.

    Let me explain why I don’t think this is so. As an analogy, I’ll take the concept of “rule” literally to mean a physical measure. Throughout the history of the world and measurement, there have been no absolute physical measures of length, time, volume, etc. We have always used relatively stable local measures: measures that are not perfect but “good enough.” Houses, roads, maps — indeed, all of human civilization is built on such relatively stable, “good enough” measures. Until the last century most people didn’t even use a nearly-universal system (the metric system) — and the metric system itself uses not an absolute measure but a specific, relatively stable measure (for example, a certain bar under certain heat and other conditions in Paris for the metre) as a standard. People get along just fine in the physical world without ultimate rules. Now, are there some really precise, really stable rules? Well, yeah. But there’s no such thing as an actual absolute standard.

    In part IV of the Discourse on Method, Descartes looks at geometry as a rule: he takes the absence of actual absolute rules, but the presence of the idea of such rules, to be proof positive of God:

    I was disposed straightway to search for other truths and when I had represented to myself the object of the geometers, which I conceived to be a continuous body or a space indefinitely extended in length, breadth, and height or depth, divisible into divers parts which admit of different figures and sizes, and of being moved or transposed in all manner of ways (for all this the geometers suppose to be in the object they contemplate), I went over some of their simplest demonstrations. And, in the first place, I observed, that the great certitude which by common consent is accorded to these demonstrations, is founded solely upon this, that they are clearly conceived in accordance with the rules I have already laid down In the next place, I perceived that there was nothing at all in these demonstrations which could assure me of the existence of their object: thus, for example, supposing a triangle to be given, I distinctly perceived that its three angles were necessarily equal to two right angles, but I did not on that account perceive anything which could assure me that any triangle existed: while, on the contrary, recurring to the examination of the idea of a Perfect Being, I found that the existence of the Being was comprised in the idea in the same way that the equality of its three angles to two right angles is comprised in the idea of a triangle, or as in the idea of a sphere, the equidistance of all points on its surface from the center, or even still more clearly; and that consequently it is at least as certain that God, who is this Perfect Being, is, or exists, as any demonstration of geometry can be.

    That’s as good an expression of an ontological proof for God as I know, and it comes close to what I think you want to say. But I think that what you say points toward the longing for such rules, which is pretty widespread, rather than their existence.

    So when you say “To deny that rule is to abandon all reference points,” I say no. To deny that rule is to acknowledge that all reference points are relative, contingent, historical etc. God trumps such local contingencies of course, but the Gospel is, as Paul said, “Foolishness to Greeks” — that is, illogical.

    One final point: you write,

    “There has never been a civilization, outside of demonic worship cultures, that has ever condoned child rape or murder for ex[ample].”

    The ancient Greeks, inventors of the very logic you hold so dear, condoned and practiced pederasty of young boys and of male and female slaves including children, which I would classify as child rape. They also practiced leaving unwanted babies to die in the public square, which I would classify as child murder. So, no.

  169. getawitness: That law of non-contradiction does not apply to the Son of God. God is both fully human and fully divine. There is nothing in the hypostatic union that violates the law of non-contradiction. There is a difference between a paradox and a contradiction. I am both animal and human. Your example proves nothing except that you think there are exceptions to a law you now claim to believe in, sort of.

    My question to you was not a Christian trick, nor was it a parlor trick. Your anti-religious bias is showing. Either you believe it or you don’t. You told me maybe, and you gave Barry A a conditional yes. Was that damage control? There is no room in a syllogism for maybe, so what am I supposed to think.

    Now let me give you a little history so you will get the context. I have interacted with subjectivists on this blog who cannot follow an argument from beginning to end. Each time a logical conclusion is called for, they fall back on some vague condition that amounts to a change of definition in the middle of the discussion. Other times they will choose terms that are calculated to give them wiggle room if they need to shift the ground when an inconvenient conclusion seems inevitable. It was my impression that you were doing that, so my purpose for asking the question was to find out if believe in the laws of logic.

    Perhaps, I vented my frustration in the wrong way. If so, I apologize. When I asked the question, I promised that I was not trying to corner you, and I meant it. But you didn’t answer the question, you said maybe. That frustrated me more, so I felt that a follow up would not be unfair. There are certain things that all of us must assume in order to have a rational discussion, including the following: We have reason; we live in a rational universe; our rationality corresponds to the rational universe; we can attain real knowledge through reason. To deny any one of the four is to forfeit the battle even before we enter the arena. I have debated people who do not believe in even one of these principles, so nothing ever gets settled.

    Modern philosophy has been very destructive to the human mind, because it has caused many to deny obvious truths. Design in nature is one of those things. It would not bother me a bit if I shocked a few people out of the unnecessary skepticism that was brought on by Kant and company. No, I am not simplistic. I understand epistemological concerns. Nor am I a dogmatist. But I tend to hold people accountable and I don’t mind if they hold me accountable. Perhaps I have been presumptuous. If so, I am willing to begin again, and I hope that you will take this correspondence as an attempt at bridge building. I do no one any good if I make enemies unnecessarily and I hope I have not made one here.

  170. Borne [172] “Smack an atheist relativist in the face and he will squeal, “by what right…?!”, just as quickly as a theist. But upon what rule of true right and wrong does he claim this? One he really does assume exists in spite of his logically absurd denials!”

    He probably objects on the basis that he feels pain and doesn’t like it. Like we all immediately do. Only by abstract thought and chains of reasoning do we come up with an idea of absolute right and wrong. None of that matters when someone is assaulting you. Your inner animal simply objects, just like a dog would.

  171. Borne [172] “All of the ancient written dictates of moral law agree with a certain standard of moral conduct. All. Egyptian, Babylonian, Chinese, Hebrew etc.”

    In all these cultures slavery was an accepted norm. The Law of Moses allows for it, albeit, with humane strictures. I ask you: Is slavery right or wrong?

    If we accept the Torah as Yahweh’s revealed will, and Yahweh says it’s OK to own slaves, provided they be cared for within certain parameters, then what relavance is any particular person’s emotional attitude with regards to answering the right or wrong of it? (Except, perhaps, an application of the Golden Rule – If I wouldn’t want to be a slave, then I should not own a slave. Love your neighbor as yourself, etc. However, keep in mind that the Torah has the injunction to love your neight as self, and also provides for owning slaves.)

    I like what Lewis said, in effect, in the Abolition of Man, that while societies have disagreed about whether you may have one wife or several, they have always agreed that you may not have any woman you feel like having.

    The point is, not that any *particular* mortality is the Right One, but the fact that humans have morality at all is the clue that there is “real meaning” beyond the collision of atoms. (And the meaning comes from consciousness, itself, IMO. Machines, however sophisticated, could never have this sort of discussion.)

  172. My first sentence in #176 was written too hastiy.

    What I should have written was this: The hypostatic union which unites Christ’s divine nature with his human nature does not violate the law of non-contradiction.

  173. StephenB,

    I won’t quarrel with you on Christology except to say that paradox is a kind of contradiction with a lid on it. The various early teachings (Arianism, Docetism, etc.) stumbled on the issue of non-contradiction. But anyway, one last. You write:

    Now let me give you a little history so you will get the context. I have interacted with subjectivists on this blog who cannot follow an argument from beginning to end. Each time a logical conclusion is called for, they fall back on some vague condition that amounts to a change of definition in the middle of the discussion. Other times they will choose terms that are calculated to give them wiggle room if they need to shift the ground when an inconvenient conclusion seems inevitable. It was my impression that you were doing that, so my purpose for asking the question was to find out if believe in the laws of logic.

    First, I’m not a subjectivist, I’m a relativist. :-)

    Seriously, though, I think this account is very instructive. The way you tell the story, when people disagree with you and you can’t come to terms, it’s because they are being unreasonable. How about maybe they may have a point? What if they weren’t changing a definition to get wiggle room but either clarifying what was meant in the first place or coming to a more interesting and nuanced understanding? What if you simply understand things differently? What if it’s your reasons that need to change and not theirs? The entire narrative here presents you, with a lock on rationality, faced with all these unreasonable people who insist on disagreeing with you! No wonder you’re annoyed!

    I’ve referred before to the work of B.H. Smith. Her book Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy does the best job I know of showing why relativist accounts are treated as “unreasonable” in precisely the ways you demonstrate, and why those accusations of unreasonableness are both problematic and predictable. To crudely summarize her claim, when a relativist refuses to answer a question on the terms of the objectivist, that refusal is not necessarily a refusal of rationality, but only a refusal of a certain account of rationality as the objectivist understands it — which is precisely the point at issue. Anyway, it’s a much better book than that suggests. I’m not trying to palm off the consequences of our disagreement onto some authority, though I can anticipate being accused of that. I’m just saying that playing out that disagreement probably requires a much longer forum than we have here — and as we’ve already seen, playing out disagreements extensively runs the risk of seeming evasive or squirrelly.

  174. All:

    It seems the thread has come down to basics. What is a definition? Can A be true and false at the same time, and in the same sense of A? When we fell “unfaired” and quarrel, are we doing nothing more than the Gazelle bleating in the teeth of the hungry lion?

    And more.

    We need to think soberly about where the evolutionary materialism anchored secularist responses above are pointing. (In short, to the incoherence of evolutionary materialism as it is unable to ground the reliability of our minds and thus has no objective basis for morals.)

    I note to Bob [re 162] that definition by key example in 150 is prior to definition by statements or by taxonomy. For, we must test to see that the relevant statements or taxonomic procedures refer accurately, and reliably! So, if you cannot recognise the holocaust as an instance of evil, that is sobering.

    And, simple recognition is all that is required for the syllogisms I excerpted in 150 above to work, thank you. That is if one case of evil is recognisable, evil exists.

    The consequences follow.

    Further to this, kindly note again what I said [note that I gave no citation, I simply highlighted a point]:

    definitions come in at least two main flavours, and definition by apt concrete example and family resemblance thereto is a proper means of definition — and one that is actually prior to definition by genus and differentia or precising statement. For, our recognition of the reliability of such a precising statement or of progressive distinction within a broader set depend on our being able to recognise whether or not a particular instance the [stated or taxonomic] definition in-/ex-cludes is properly ruled in or out.

    For telling instance, there is no general stated definition of life that includes all cases of life and excludes all cases of non-life. But we can have a science of biology based on recognising instances of life and family resemblance thereto.

    On the question “is slavery wrong,” this is a case in point: what do we mean by slavery?

    In the relevant cultural senses, owing money on a house is in the ANE type setting that is the world of reference for the OT, a form of/ tantamount to “slavery.” So is indentured servitude [which is what the OT laws regulating and ameliorating -- as opposed to instituting -- by and large set out to manage]. Also, in the ancient world, surrendering liberty was often a desperate means of survival and protection by coming into a wealthy person’s household, in the teeth of the very real prospect of starvation.

    Further to this, as say Mal 2:16 states about Divorce [and Jesus' remarks in Matt 19 etc], there is a principle in the OT law, that God will regulate and ameliorate [then reform -- cf NT teachings on promoting manumission and avoiding enslavement] what is already existing in the context of the hardness of men’s hearts as opposed to what is the truly good. This principle plainly extends to slavery — read Paul’s letter to Philemon.

    So, we need to look very closely at terms and contexts before answering such a question in light of our own cultural memories of new world plantation chattel slavery. For, under certain circumstances, certain forms of slavery may have been — and God forbid (I am a descendant of slaves and indentured servants!), may yet be — the lesser of evils.

    But, let us note: the lesser of evils is an evil, so the basic point still obtains: evil manifestly exists and can be recognised through concrete instances.

    But, there is no doubt that mass murder of alleged sub-humans by a master race was and remains unequivocally evil, thus, we are right back at the force of the propositions in the syllogisms already excerpted.

    Nor should we allow side-tracks to become red herrings, pulling us away from its force:

    [4] An action can be truly evil only if a transcendent moral code exists.

    [5] The holocaust was truly evil.

    [6] Therefore, a transcendent moral code exists.

    So now, what worldview best makes sense of a world in which there is an objective moral order? Why?

    GEM of TKI

  175. —–getawitness, You wrote, “To crudely summarize her claim, when a relativist refuses to answer a question on the terms of the objectivist, that refusal is not necessarily a refusal of rationality, but only a refusal of a certain account of rationality as the objectivist understands it — which is precisely the point at issue. Anyway, it’s a much better book than that suggests. I’m not trying to palm off the consequences of our disagreement onto some authority, though I can anticipate being accused of that. I’m just saying that playing out that disagreement probably requires a much longer forum than we have here — and as we’ve already seen, playing out disagreements extensively runs the risk of seeming evasive or squirrelly.”

    Let’s put the much-abused term “Theistic Evolution to the test. Let’s find out whether I am being truly rational or, as you say, merely acting as if I have a “lock on rationality.”

    Theistic evolution once referred to a process in which God directed an evolutionary process in some way. If nothing else, he planted the seeds of development, even if he did not intervene to direct the process. There was some semblance of purpose and design. There was no conflict between Christianity and this brand of evolution, because everyone understood that God had something in mind. Things were unfolding “according to his plan.”

    Today, a different group has co-opted that term. Many, for example claim to be Theistic evolutionists, but they don’t mean the same thing at all. When this new group used the term, they refer to a synthesis of neo-Darwinism and Christianity. Well, this new formula rules a few things out. To be a true Darwinist, a Christian must hold that the evolutionary process was completely random and undirected. That, of course, rules out not only a directed process; it also rules out a “programmed process.” God can neither plant the seed nor supervise the process. Further, it cannot unfold according to his “plan,” because the process cannot be purposeful. Further, it rules out the prospect of design in nature.

    Thus, to be a Christian Darwinist is to believe 1) God revealed himself in scripture and 2) God hid himself in nature. But wait. According to the Christian scriptures, God revealed himself in nature. That means that to be a Christian is to believe that God revealed himself both in the Bible and in nature. It also means that design is not only detectable, it is, as it says in Scripture, “evident.” Clearly, then, something has to give. Either God’s word must be compromised, or else Darwinist must be disavowed. A Christian can’t embrace Darwin and remain true to the Gospel.

    But Christian Darwinists call themselves theistic evolutionists knowing that most observers will interpret that to mean guided evolution even though they subscribe to an unguided evolution. How sweet it is to have both worlds. To fellow believers they call on God; to their professional peers they call on Darwin. Further, there can be no doubt that their real sympathies lie with Darwin. When it comes time to debate, they always side with Darwinists and against intelligent design. Truly, they want a quiet God and a loud Darwin.

    I have made a logical case that Darwinism is not consistent with Christianity and that those who try to integrate the two are being disingenuous. Am I, as you put it, merely giving an “objectivists account of rationality?” I say I am giving rationality and all this talk about objectivist rationality if a lot of nonsense. If I am wrong, how can I be refuted without violating the rule of reason?

  176. GAW

    Re 181:

    when a relativist refuses to answer a question on the terms of the objectivist, that refusal is not necessarily a refusal of rationality, but only a refusal of a certain account of rationality as the objectivist understands it — which is precisely the point at issue

    Not at all. So soon as the relativist affirms something to be or not to be, s/he directly entails that truth is that which says of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not. And, that falsity fails at this bar.

    For instance, observe in the above statement: when a relativist refuses to answer a question . . .

    Does this not plainly affirm to be so, a certain frequently encountered state of affairs in the cosmos that is accessible to reasonable tests of warrant, and that we may thus properly infer is so or is not so?

    That is, the very opening statement presumes that truth is, in the classical sense just described. In short, what is really happening here is, unfortunately a turnabout accusation rhetorical fallacy/tactic, in the guise of a position on truth. [If inadvertent, it is a mere error in reasoning; if willful, it is a tactic.]

    Putting it more bluntly: WHEN IT IS NOT CONVENIENT TO ANSWER, a relativist will in certain cases refuse to answer to a question on the objective state of affairs in the cosmos, projecting to the objectivist interlocutor, the accusation that s/he is imposing a particular “objectivist” account of truth or warrant or rationality.

    But, to make even that accusation, the relativist is inherently assuming precisely the same account of truth or warrant or rationality. In short we see here selective hyper-skepticism, which as an intellectual double-standard, is always self-referentially incoherent.

    A more profitable approach would be to follow Josiah Royce, and examine the claim, error exists.

    To try to deny this is to instantiate it, so it is undenaiably true — i.e we see here a well-warranted case of truth. So for good reason, we see that at least one instance of truth exists, so truth exists. [And IMHCO, we may meet the Truth Himself, as I and millions of others have . . . . we are not locked up to despair!]

    Of course, we may be mistaken about particular truth claims, but that is not an excuse for resorting to relativistic rhetorical errors or games [however dressed up], but to being humble but persistent in the path of warrant so that we can be reasonably but open-mindedly confident in the truth claims we affirm.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: I argue here that the redemptive, monotheistic Trinitarian concept of God is most definitely not incoherent but in fact answers to one of the most intractable problems in all of philosophy: the question of the one and the many in our cosmos; including the problem of morality.

  177. StephenB,

    “Either God’s word must be compromised, or else Darwinist must be disavowed. A Christian can’t embrace Darwin and remain true to the Gospel.”

    For this to be true, there would have to be agreement on what it means to be a Christian and in particular on the role of scripture for the Christian. Christianity is (obviously) historically much more diverse than this. So while it may be true that a person can’t embrace Darwin and be your kind of Christian, a historical approach to the subject will recognize the diversity of views held by those who call themselves Christians.

    I actually think “Darwinism,” which is a term I don’t usually use, is also more divese than this. And I’d also point to Alan MacNeill’s points about God being in control of perceived randomness. But anyway: the argument fails for reasons that have little to do with relativism.

  178. Sorry, but you are wrong, in fact. To not believe the word of God is to not be a Christian. You are playing with words to avoid the obvious. But let’s put that aside for the moment (only for the moment).

    If you are going to be that open minded about what it means to be a Christian, why can’t you be that open minded about what it means to be a scientist. After all, ID insists that it is science; your says it is not. Are you now ready to admit that you are just imposing your brand of “objectivist” rationality on the subject?

  179. Savoring the wisdom emergent in this thread Isaiah 55:8 comes to mind—“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”

    The laws of the Torah are for Israel, and until Israel is found living in the land keeping those laws we should not expect to see the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:3—“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”

    Nevertheless the Hebrew Scriptures influenced the development of Western Civilization—perhaps most profoundly in the rise of the United States—at least that’s the premise in David Gelernter’s Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion (Doubleday, 2007). No one argues that any nation has or should instantiate the Torah completely and thus replace Israel. But that does not mean we cannot savor its wisdom.

    Joseph found himself in a prison in Egypt (Genesis 39:20f.), yet there was no provision for prison revealed at Sinai. Rather there is restitution, cities of refuge, and indentured servitude of limited duration which, by the way, no one says we should adopt. But spend some time investigating the conditions in America’s prisons where various misfits and low IQs are thrown together with incorrigibles and … and then considering the course a Torah rejecting Western Civilization took in the 20th century the Torah doesn’t look so bad after all. To the degree we have reverenced the biblical text our civilization has been moderated, and to the degree we have spurned it horrors have been unleashed upon the world.

  180. A voice from the peanut gallery says:

    It may be that being a Christian requires that one believe in “the word of God”, but that still leaves wide open the question as to what “the word of God” is and who decides what counts.

    If one considers the beginning of John, it seems that “the word of God” is the person of Jesus Christ. So one who believes in Jesus — that he was the Christ, conquered death, etc. — is someone who believes in the word of God.

    For those interested in the history of Christian theology, I cannot recommend highly enough one of the few books I’ve read on the topic: The Domestication of Transcendence by William Placher.

  181. 181

    StephenB said

    Sorry, but you are wrong, in fact. To not believe the word of God is to not be a Christian. You are playing with words to avoid the obvious. But let’s put that aside for the moment (only for the moment).

    I speak only for myself, but I’m not about to allow a guy commenting on a blog to dictate to me what constitutes “true” Christianity. Martin Luther, in an angry letter to the Pope, stated unequivocally that individuals must be free to interpret scripture for themselves. As a Christian, I have a duty to make a rigorous and honest attempt to discern and understand what God has said, and I suspect that my own interpretation might be very different from yours.

  182. Stanton Rockwell and
    getawitness:

    Well, if you think that the Bible is unclear on design in nature, then by all means believe anything you want to believe and be a Christian. Let’s go ahead and say even when the meaning is obvious and not open to interpretation, that you can just say words mean anything you want them to mean.

    By the way, since we are dispensing with all definitions, why can’t we spread the wealth around a little bit. If you can be a non-Design Christian (an oxymoron if there ever was one) why can’t I be a design Darwinist. Why can’t I say I am a Darwinist, but I want to do a little ID research.

  183. Stanton Rockwell:

    Since, in your words, you “have a duty to make a rigorous and honest attempt to discern and understand what God has said,” I ask you plainly: In your honest judgment, do you believe that the Bible teaches that there is design in nature?

  184. 184

    StephenB said,

    Why can’t I say I am a Darwinist, but I want to do a little ID research.

    You can, or conversely, you can say you are an ID adherent and do a little Darwinist research. Just do some research, and let the results speak for themselves.

  185. 185

    Since, in your words, you “have a duty to make a rigorous and honest attempt to discern and understand what God has said,” I ask you plainly: In your honest judgment, do you believe that the Bible teaches that there is design in nature?

    What I believe the Bible says about design in nature doesn’t absolve me from attempting to prove it in scientific terms, if I hope to see ID accepted as science (and I do).

  186. Stanton Rockwell: “What I believe the Bible says about design in nature doesn’t absolve me from attempting to prove it in scientific terms, if I hope to see ID accepted as science (and I do).”

    In other words, you will not give me a straight answer to a straight question. I ask you again: Do you believe that the Bible teaches that there is design in nature.

  187. ellazimm — I’m not saying any culture has condoned immoral behaviour

    Individuals regardless of culture have done immoral things, but cultures certainly can and have condoned immoral behavior.

    And I think it should be obvious that immoral behavior would be greater in a culture that condones it.

    Hence, culture matters.

  188. 188

    StephenB,

    I’m sorry for not realizing that you needed a literal answer. I am a Christian, and as such I believe that God created the heavens and the earth, and their past and present occupants, as the Bible says.

  189. Stanton Rockwell, “I’m sorry for not realizing that you needed a literal answer. I am a Christian, and as such I believe that God created the heavens and the earth, and their past and present
    In your own words, you have a duty to discern and understand. It doesn’t get any more basic than this. Do you believe that the Bible teaches that there is design in nature?

  190. 190

    StephenB, I’m not sure why you cut off the part where I said, “…as the Bible says.” Do you have a point? The Bible is an inanimate object and as such doesn’t “teach” anything. People read the Bible and try to teach others what they’ve learned from that reading. People are fallible, and your exegesis may (and most likely does) differ from mine. I’m not prepared to promote you, or Luther, or Augustine, or Calvin, or any other fallible human to the position of Final Arbiter in Biblical interpretation.

    Of course I believe that there is design in nature, and that God is the ultimate source of it, and that the Bible concurs in that belief. Again, do you have a point?

  191. StephenB [187], you may be right theologically, but you are wrong historically. In fact, any social identity is going to be diverse. Christians can’t even agree on what the Bible is. Anywyay, I’m not going to argue theology with you.

    As for your other point, I don’t think I’ve argued here that ID is not science. So, I’m not sure what you’re responding to. As a general principle, I do think that definitions of science change over time and for different communities. In fact, I view definitions as pragmatic rather than propositional: I tend to transform (implicitly or explicitly) phrases of the form A is really B into the form It’s useful to think of A as B under circumstances C.

    Sorry: that’s probably an overlong answer.

  192. BarryA:

    “Well, if God says He is ONE GOD in the Shema, is it a contradiction for him to say that He exists in three persons?”
    This is an ages old question that has been answered adequately over & over again.
    Of course it isn’t a contradiction!
    You are 3 parts in entity yourself – body soul spirit – which one is the ONE you?

    “If God is immanent in his creation how can he also be transcendant over his creation?”
    Why should he not be since transcendence itself implies the possibility of both.

    “God says He has absolute (not probablistic but absolute) foreknowledge that I will do X. Do I have a choice about whether to do X? God says I do. How can that be?”
    Where does God say this?

    “Can singularity both exist and not exist at the same time?”
    Can God? The question is irrelevant.

    “Can transendance both exist and not exist at the same time?” Same answer.
    “Can free will both exist and not exist at the same time?” Not unless you have 2 differing definitions of free will – define your terms of reference.

    I see your questions as being precisely in the category Lewis describes i.e.
    confusions as to modes of existence that you see as having some vital contradictory elemet but that in fact do not.
    You’re basically repeating, in slightly more sophisticated terms, the question- “Is yellow square or round?”
    So again – “Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.”

    I don’t see this as being difficult.

    “All I’m saying (and I think all getawitness is saying) is God is too big to put in the box of our categories.”
    Certainly! But God cannot contradict himself. And we are referencing the God of Christianity the scriptures say as much.

    That is, and indeed must be, a natural law of all beings.
    Would you say something like, “God could make 1+1=6.7″?
    Based upon your answers it seems like you would go that far.
    I certainly hope not.

    Whatever… “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”?

  193. Fair enough. Yes, my point is that, on this matter at least, there is no problem of interpretation, that the Bible clearly teaches that there is design in nature. Therefore, your point about my “dictating” to others about “true Christianity is irrelevant. I wasn’t dictating anything; I was simply alluding to what we now both agree to be a fact. It required a great deal of effort to get you to admit that it was indeed a fact.

    So, you ask, why I am fussing about all this? Because I had been arguing that one cannot reconcile Christianity with Darwinism. Christianity teaches that design is evident; Darwinism teaches that design is an illusion. Some on this blog have tried to argue that the two world views can be reconciled, I am showing that this is a false assertion. Jumping right in the middle of this dialogue, you made a comment that did not take into account the overall context of what was being discussed.

    I know that this subject matter is not spot on to the theme of the thread, but I was offering it as an example of how one can use logic to prove a point. getawitness had been suggesting in other contexts that I was using “objectivist rationality” I was trying to show that I was just using logic. This was my example of an inescapable conclusion that must be reached given the evidence.

    The subject matter is important, though. Because many so called Christian/Darwinists (Ken Miller, for example) insist that they are not ideologues when rule out design in nature and, under the circumstances, claim that ID cannot be real science. As proof of their “disinterested” stance, they point out that they are “devout Christians.” Well, if they are so devout, why do they not accept the obvious teaching in THEIR Bible and admit that there is indeed design in nature? If they don’t really believe their Bible, that’s fine. But if they don’t believe what their faith teaches, then why do they keep alluding to it as if they did? Either they are irrational, uninformed, or insincere. Is there a fourth alternative?

  194. getawitness: Perhaps I took too much for granted. I assumed that you were a Darwinist, and, by extension, agreed with the Darwinist community that ID is not science. So are you a design/neoDarwinist; non-design/Darwinist or what? Is it possible to be a design/Darwinist?

  195. Stanton Rockwell: Sorry, post #202 was for you. I forgot to put in your quote, “Of course I believe that there is design in nature, and that God is the ultimate source of it, and that the Bible concurs in that belief. Again, do you have a point?”

  196. getawitness:

    As I pointed out to SR, there is no dispute about the fact that the Bible teaches that there is design in nature. It is not historically contingent, nor is it subject to anyone’s interpretation or perspective. The only alternative is to deconstruct the text and revise it according to the meaning a reader wishes to impose on it. You are not one of those deconstructionits are you?

  197. StephenB [203], I’m not sure how I’d classify myself, or whether I want to. I think ID reasonably fits with what was at one time the socially dominant definition of science. It seems clear that ID does not, however, fit with current dominant models of what counts as science.
    Now, there are a number of different ways to specify what science is. One is to say “science is as science does,” that is, what science accepts as science is science — which would make acceptance into the community the pudding that provides the proof. Another has to do with various behaviors such as those associated with the Mertonian norms. Another has to do with definitions of the scientific method (which currently seem to exclude references to non-natural causes). I think everybody agrees that ID is not science in terms of embodying most of the current socially dominant standards. (That’s an implied message in No Free Lunch). What’s at stake is whether those standards are going to change — or, since I think they change all the time, whether they’re going to return to some older definitions.

    I frankly don’t know. I think if ID promoters want to get one kind of definition changed — say, the definition that excludes reference to non-material causes — they would be best served by working within the other definitions (say, the Mertonian norms of universalism, communitarianism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism). Frankly, I’d like to see them try. That’s what makes the story I’ve come across in the other thread so disturbing, since it suggests a number of violations of those Mertonian norms and thus a black mark on ID’s credibility. If what I have heard is true.

  198. StephenB [205], I have no problem with saying that the Bible talks about design in nature all the time. In fact, I have no problem saying that design is all around us! But I’m not sure how this applies to science.

    I think, by the way, that you don’t understand deconstruction. I’m not a deconstructionist myself, but deconstructionsts and I would agree both that all texts are subject to interpretation and that deconstruction is not aobut “revis[ing a text] according to the meaning a reader wishes to impose on it.”

  199. —getawitness: ” I think, by the way, that you don’t understand deconstruction. I’m not a deconstructionist myself, but deconstructionsts and I would agree both that all texts are subject to interpretation and that deconstruction is not aobut “revis[ing a text] according to the meaning a reader wishes to impose on it.”

    Wait a minute! Aren’t you imposing your objectivist rationality on me. My understanding of deconstruction is different than yours. Deconstruction does not, by definition, require revision, but is open to it. But even if that was not the case, your subjectivism will not allow you to hold me accountable to an objective definition. The next thing you know you will be appealing to the law of non-contradiction. We will make a logician out of you yet.

  200. StephenB, that’s a pretty good riff, actually. Touché.

  201. getawitness: “StephenB [205], I have no problem with saying that the Bible talks about design in nature all the time. In fact, I have no problem saying that design is all around us! But I’m not sure how this applies to science.”

    Well, you’re right, it doesn’t apply to science. But it does apply to Christian/Darwinists who say that their Christianity (design in nature) is compatible with their science (no design in nature).

  202. —getawitness: “StephenB, that’s a pretty good riff, actually. Touché.”

    In spite of it all, your sense of humor always comes through. That is why you are so resilient and probably always will be.

  203. Borne, you are missing my point in your [201].

    Trinity: Your analogy to of my body/soul/spirit to the trinity is not apt. My body is not a separate and distinct person from my soul and spirit; my soul is not a separate and distinct person from my body and soul; and my spirit is not a separate and distinct person from my body and soul in the same way that each of the three persons of the Trinity are separate and distinct persons.

    To suggest that you can understand the Trinity is human terms is utter nonsense. It is a great mystery and as Christians we must approach it with humility as well as reverence.

    Immanent/Transcendent: Can a painter become part of his painting? I don’t see how, but it is clear that if the universe is considered to be God’s painting, he became part of it. This simply cannot be accounted for in human terms. It is another great mystery.

    Free Will: If you are a hyper-Calvinist who believes God created some people for the purpose of damning them, I suppose you can get away with not believing in free will. I think the tenor of the Bible as a whole, including the numerous exhortations to good and eschew evil (which exhortations would be useless, indeed cruel, if there were no choice in the matter) does not teach this.

    Can God make 1 plus 1 equal 6.7 you ask. I don’t see how. On the other hand, I was not there when He created the heavens and the earth and all the morning stars sang and the angels shouted for joy. Translation: I do not presume to know what God can and cannot do to accomplish His purposes.

  204. kairosfocus, [re 182] as always, your comments are greatly welcomed and edifying.

  205. 205

    StephenB, I reject the idea of young-earth creationism outright, thus I’m left with (A) the physical evidence and (B)belief in God as the source of the “D” in “ID.” From that position, one must consider the possibility that “descent with modification” is a possible method for design. God works in wondrous ways his miracles to perform, and I’m not about to try and fence Him in.

  206. —-”StephenB, I reject the idea of young-earth creationism outright, thus I’m left with (A) the physical evidence and (B)belief in God as the source of the “D” in “ID.” From that position, one must consider the possibility that “descent with modification” is a possible method for design. God works in wondrous ways his miracles to perform, and I’m not about to try and fence Him in.”

    No argument here. I am not even sure if we have a disagreement at this point.

  207. Barry A:

    I submit that we need not fully understand an issue to resolve it. A paradox is an “apparent” contradiction that can be reconciled; contradictions cannot be logically reconciled. That is the difference.

    We “resolve” two natures in Christ by unifying them into “one” divine person. We “resolve” “three persons in on God by unifying them in one Divine nature. We resolve Transcendence and immanence by recognizing God’s capacity to be both “above” and “in” nature.

    That is why the Son of God, could remain at the right hand of the Father while offering up his life on earth. The second person of the Trinity did not leave heaven when he became man, because the three persons in God are inseperable.

    These propositions do not violate the law of non-contradiction because they are resolved, but not necessarily fully understood. We need not concede the law of contradiction on the grounds that some mysteries are not fully understood.

  208. StephenB: “No argument here. I am not even sure if we have a disagreement at this point.”

    Ken Ham says if you don’t agree with his interpretation of Genesis (i.e., if you’re not a YEC) you can’t be a Christian. How is his assertion different from the position you have been arguing for?

  209. StephenB “We “resolve” two natures in Christ by unifying them into “one” divine person. We “resolve” “three persons in on God by unifying them in one Divine nature. We resolve Transcendence and immanence by recognizing God’s capacity to be both “above” and “in” nature.”

    Every one of these is a linguistic dodge to try to escape the apparent contradiction.

    I disagree with you. I do not believe we can EVER resolve the matters we have been discussing (the Trinity, the hypostatic union, immanent/transcendence, free will/predistination) in human categories. We can come up with more or less apt analogies (as Borne took a stab at), but all of the analogies fail in the end. These truths are profound mysteries that are accepted by the faithful by faith. At the end of the day, despite your best efforts, you will fail to put God in a box.

  210. BTW, my view is backed by scripture. Look at the last few verses of I Cor. 13.

  211. BarryA, “I do not believe we can EVER resolve the matters we have been discussing (the Trinity, the hypostatic union)”

    Often one can resolve an issue by rejecting it as valid in the first place.

  212. Barry A:

    Ken Ham has a whole system of fundamentalist beliefs that hardly can be called uncontroversial. So I don’t think it is fair to use that example.
    There are, however, a great many things in the Bible that are not controversial or subject to various theological perspectives. One of them is the teaching of design in nature. How controversial is the following:
    “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

    Does it sound like St. Paul is equivocating here? This doesn’t require any interpretation, nor can any reasonable person propose that it means anything different than it means.

    So, let’s compare your example with mine:

    . Can a reasonable person suggest that Scripture require us to believe that the world was made in seven days? Of course not.

    On the other hand, Can a reasonable person suggest that the Bible requires us to acknowledge design in nature? Yes, indeed. What is it about “they are without excuse” that doesn’t resonate here?

    If there is no line to be drawn between Christian and non-Christian, then what is the point of calling oneself of anyone else a Christian? We can be either too demanding or not demanding enough. Surely a definition requires us to draw the line somewhere. The only question is, where should that line be drawn? Most people would say Kan Ham’s line in unreasonable. Are you suggesting that my line is equally unreasonable? Believing in design is a pretty minimal requirement for being a Christian. Or, are you saying that anyone can believe anything they like and still call themselves Christians without being challenged? If so, I don’t agree, unless, you can provide me with another perspective.

    Ken Miller has hurt the ID movement a hundred times more than Dawkins could ever hope to, because Miller peddles his Darwinism as a Christian friendly world view, when it is no such thing.. His religion says there is design—his science says there is no design. Further, he militates against ID on the grounds that design, for him and EVERYONE ELSE is and must remain undetectable, while his claimed religion says that design is inescapable. He is the one who is always carrying on about how devout he is, not me. I say hold him accountable..Do you say, let it go?

    With regard to our other discussion on the law of non-contradiction, we will just have to agree to disagree. The passages in 1:13 Corinthians tell us that we can understand very little of any of these mysteries. I concur. But I don’t think that our limited perception of the universe changes that fact that it is a rational universe, nor do I think that the laws of rationality can be compromised by our ignorance. But I am still open to changing my mind. I am not being recalcitrant or contentious for the fun of it. On the contrary, I am a sucker for a good argument.

  213. StephenB, Ken Ham consigns people to Hell if they are not YEC’s. You consign people to Hell if they are not direct interventionists. I’m not ready to consign, say, Stephen Barr to Hell for believing the things he writes here:

    http://www.firstthings.com/art.....rticle=238

    I think Barr is wrong — demonstrably wrong — but I am unwilling to break fellowship with him.

  214. StephenB, You’ll not be surprised that I’m with BarryA here. Specifically on the issue of the paradox, I think if paradoxes remain paradoxes, they cannot be logically reconciled. As I said before, I think Paul is talking about this when he says the gospel is “foolishness to Greeks.”

    On another issues, have you read Richard Foster’s book Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith? Foster is most well known for Celebration of Discipline. Foster’s a lot more orthodox than I am, but even he acknowledges the rich diversity of belief and practice. I’d say that what he calls the “contemplative” and “incarnational” traditions both affirm the continuing mystery of the paradox.

  215. StephenB, you keep mentioning C.S. Lewis. I am quite certain Lewis never averred that one can grasp say, the Trinity, through pure reason. If I’m wrong I would be happy to be enlightened. In my understanding Lewis believed one can approach — but never fully grasp — these mysteries by analogy.

  216. BarryA:
    “…my soul is not a separate and distinct person from my body and soul; … in the same way that each of the three persons of the Trinity are separate and distinct persons.”
    No but the analogy is as good as we can get to. Your spirit is a distinct entity from your body. Using the word person only changes the level of abstraction in the analogy. I think you know this. Besides my point is not to analyze that which cannot be analyzed.

    My point is not make God a self contradiction or claim that he may contradict that which is not contradictable.

    “I do not presume to know what God can and cannot do to accomplish His purposes.” I can’t disagree on that but there are things which naturally impossible for God but that have no relationship to his omniscience or omnipotence.

    My whole point there was to take notice that God is the most reasonable and therefore the most admirable being there is or ever could be.
    We must therefore be careful not ask nonsense questions about him or make him look clownish by claiming the intrinsically unreasonable concerning him.

  217. getawitness:

    “People get along just fine in the physical world without ultimate rules. Now, are there some really precise, really stable rules? Well, yeah. But there’s no such thing as an actual absolute standard.”

    1. You’re comparing apples & oranges here.
    Physical measurements as an analogy to moral value measurements are only useful until you need a Real measure rather than a subjective one. Subjective rules are all you are offering.

    All human invented units of measure – time, temperature, distance, weight etc. – are subjective and arbitrary.
    There is no absolute mile. No absolute meter. They are arbitrarily fixed units for practical use only and could be changed at whim.
    Not so with morals. You can’t make murder ‘right’ overnight on a personal whim. But that’s exactly what you could do if there were no moral Base Law.

    Standard units of heat or temperature measurements, for example, are based on someone’s looking for a way to describe heat or energy characteristics. So they used the freezing point of water as a reference point.
    All those measurements are useful to human needs but are always changeable. Temperature could be measured by assigning some arbitrary unit to human body heat rather than H2O freezing temperatures. No absolutes are involved because there is no need for one. Arbitrarily fixed values of unit measure will do as long as there is consensus. Again, not so with morals.

    Moral values cannot be measured like this. It is in fact impossible to invent a new moral value.
    You must assume there exists a True Right and a True Wrong from point zero to even conceptualize from.

    If you don’t then all else is relative and ultimately non-true, amoral.
    What is your foundation for determining moral values? Is there a moral inch or gallon?

    “Is it true?”, is the ultimate question here. But if there are no ultimate, absolute truths then there are no ‘true’ truths at all.

    This is something atheist philosophers understood centuries ago! Where do you think relativism came from?!! Why do you think we live in this post-modern mentality that says, “if it’s true for you that’s fine, but it isn’t true for me.” or “if you wish to believe in God then it’s true for you, but not for me.” ?
    That may well apply to tastes in ice cream but listen man, for morals – if it’s true it’s true for everyone period. If rape is wrong it’s wrong for all, always.

    Relativism must itself be relative – thus it abolishes itself as having any real meaning.

    But morality, if arbitrary (that is not based on some ultimate transcendent rule), is utterly irrelevant and no authority can be given to one rule over another. Indeed, there is no rule possible.
    Where did this idea of right and wrong come from? Why can’t we get rid of it?
    Why are you using it here if it’s all subjective since, if that’s true, then nothing can be proven!

    “I say no. To deny that rule is to acknowledge that all reference points are relative, contingent, historical etc.”
    You shoot your own argument here. If all reference points are relative then all things can be reference points.
    They are all arbitrary. But if everything can be a reference point then there is no reference point at all.

    “The ancient Greeks, inventors of the very logic you hold so dear, condoned and practiced pederasty of young boys and of male and female slaves including children, which I would classify as child rape. They also practiced leaving unwanted babies to die in the public square, which I would classify as child murder. So, no.”
    Are u saying all ancient Greeks practiced this? I hope not. Here, once again, you have appealed to an external moral standard that you believe is true. You have implied that child rape and murder are inherently wrong!

    The first part of your statement is utterly ludicrous. The Greeks did not and could not invent logic!
    What have you been smoking? I hope it was ‘good’. Perhaps you were thinking rather of the ancient Geeks? ;-)

    Logic is not something one may invent! And mere matter cannot be logical. Logic is a faculty only of mind. Think about that.

    Did logic not exist before the Greeks? Come on that was a dumb thing to say!

    All you are saying is that some cultures deviated from the ultimate rule – again to which you are in fact alluding in your statement by your implied condemnation of child rape and abandon! Or is child rape really inherently (objectively) wrong? If that is not an absolute objective wrong then why would you condemn the Greeks that practiced this for it?!! They simply made cultural, collective decisions different from, but by no means (under the relativist scheme) worse than, yours.
    Can you see that?

    For obvious reasons of selfishness Greeks, Canaanites, Canadians, Americans, Sodomites or who ever else you may wish to cite, deviated from the intuitively known external rule. Anyone can do this. “We have all gone astray. Everyone turning unto his own way”. But condemning the mentioned practices as evil still requires that you refer to some external Moral Law.
    That you have clearly done all while denying it! Amazing.

    You cannot argue against an external objective moral law without assuming one in your very argument – as you have done in this response!

    This is not difficult. Think it through again.
    This time ask yourself whether you haven’t some selfish personal reason for not wanting there to be an ultimate moral rule of Right and Wrong.

  218. mike1962:
    “None of that matters when someone is assaulting you. Your inner animal simply objects, just like a dog would.”
    I have to disagree strongly once again. Why does ‘your inner animal’ object to being stricken? Upon pain alone? No.
    A dog would not wish to sue one in a court of justice by referring to some law now would he?
    (Not unless dogs have some understanding of right and wrong and I’m not going to get into that thicket!)

    What about after the assault when the pain is gone? Just forget it right? No inherent (objective, real) wrong was done? A lot of atheists/relativists claim this but none act like it’s true in real life.
    And if they did they would be sent to the ‘funny farm’.

    What if the assault was on your property? Indeed, why would you assume the right to private property as a true right? Upon what basis?

    If no pain followed the assault would you still find grounds to object? Why? Other than mere personal feelings. Would you claim the assault was intrinsically wrong?

    Pain will cause a natural reaction, but you certainly cannot object to the assault based on temporary reactions of matter at work in the body, sending signals to the brain as a result of some exterior force alone can you, right?
    If a branch falls off a tree and lands on your head you will experience pain but you would feel no sense of blame against the branch.

    You might get angry and kick or swear at the branch. Why? Because you want to place blame for your pain somewhere even though you know logically that a branch can’t strike of it’s own volition – it has none!

    Are we to base moral rules upon feelings? That’s what pain is – physical nerves reacting to abnormal pressure.

    Why is it ‘good’ for soldiers, firemen police etc. to risk their lives for the ‘good’ of others? Or is it?
    Who decides the ‘good’ of others and upon what foundation? What exactly is this ‘good’ and ‘evil’ we intuitively understand?

    Maybe it’s just irrelevant huh? After all, ‘no objective rule’ means all rules are subjective. Your view vs mine and winner take all? Is that it?

    Show me a nation that ever approved and encouraged cowardice or condemned bravery in general. There are none. Why? It could save billions of lives from the pains of war.
    Why should one man risk his life for another? Under the relativistic view there is no reason at all and doing so could never be considered either good or evil.

    I really think you’re fishing in all this. Your points are hardly valid with regards to objective values.
    You haven’t thought this through deeply enough if you can’t see these things.

  219. —Barry A: “StephenB, Ken Ham consigns people to Hell if they are not YEC’s. You consign people to Hell if they are not direct interventionists. I’m not ready to consign, say, Stephen Barr to Hell for believing the things he writes here:”

    No. I wouldn’t dream of consigning anyone to hell for any reason. How would I know how well they measure up to God’s standards for salvation? I only hope I can meet that standard, and I am not at all sure that I do. Why would you say such a thing?

    I don’t even think a person has to be a Christian to be saved if he or she follows the light that God gives them, provided that they do indeed follow it as far as they can. I believe that because I believe if they keep following, they will end up in the right place. So, frankly, I don’t know where you are getting this stuff about condemnation.

    My point has nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with public relations. I’ll try to express it a little differently. The Bible is incompatible with neo-Darwinism. Darwinists who pretend to believe in the Bible are being disingenuous, insofar as they reject the Bibles teaching on design. Although they don’t believe this obvious teaching of their publicly declared faith, they act as if they were devout believers of that faith to create the illusion that, as believers, they couldn’t possibly be Darwinist ideologues. Further, and get this, they say there is no conflict between their faith and their science. Further, they assure other Christians that they too can do the same without any problem at all. Further, they know for sure there is no design in nature and they will do all they can to stop ID.

    Therefore, it seems fair to me that we ask them this question: “Mr. Darwinist, you claim to be a Christian, but the Christian Bible teaches design. You have stated publicly that there is no design in the universe, so why do you pretend that there is no real conflict between your faith and your science.” What’s wrong with asking that question and why do you think I am condemning someone to hell for asking it?

    You seem to misunderstand my second point as well. I have never suggested that we can probe the mystery of the Trinity or even conceive it through unaided reason. Once it has been given to us through revelation, however, it seems fair to say we know a little bit about it, or at least that we have aquired an infinitesimal bit of knowledge illuminated by faith. You language suggests that since we can know almost nothing that we can know nothing at all. I have no idea how small the portion would be, but to know a little bit about God is to know a lot. A Christian who comes to know Christ, for example, knows something of the other two persons of the Trinity.
    Inasmuch as I have never mentioned C.S. Lewis, I don’t know where you are getting that either. But I do agree with the idea that we can approach these mysteries by analogy. In any case, I don’t get why any of this compromises the law of non-contradiction.

  220. Borne writes: “God is the most reasonable and therefore the most admirable being there is or ever could be. We must therefore be careful not ask nonsense questions about him or make him look clownish by claiming the intrinsically unreasonable concerning him.”

    That’s exactly right Borne. The flip side of that is to admit that not only do we now comprehend God in his totality, it is, in principle, impossible for us to comprehend God in his totality.

    This is not to say that just because we cannot know everything about God it follows that we can know nothing about Him. That is a non sequitur. We see Him as “through a glass darkly” but we still see Him.

  221. StephenB, “My point has nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with public relations.”

    I stand corrected. I had no idea where you were going with all this. It certainly seemed like you were trying to say that believing in NDE is incompatible with being a Christian.

    I take it now that you are saying that believing in NDE is incompatible with your interpretation of the Bible. You believe the Bible cleary states that the Creator created in a direct interventionist way and that anyone who believes otherwise does not believe what the Bible says. This is like Ken Ham saying that the Bible clearly states that the Creator created on or about October 23, 4004 BC a little before breakfast, and anyone who believes otherwise does not believe what the Bible says.

    Now that I understand what you’re saying, let me respond by suggesting that God doesn’t need a PR firm.

    As Phil Johnson says, our job is to make sure that the other side does not get away with lying about the theological implications of NDE. Don’t ever let them get away with a “God helped evolution over the humps” sort of theistic evolution. If they say that chance and necessity are responsible for the diversity and complexity of life, make sure everyone understand that leaves absolutely no room for agency, including agency from God.

    I think it is a mistake to push our interpretation of the Bible off as compatible with this or that scientific theory while others or not.

  222. I”take it now that you are saying that believing in NDE is incompatible with your interpretation of the Bible. You believe the Bible cleary states that the Creator created in a direct interventionist way and that anyone who believes otherwise does not believe what the Bible says. This is like Ken Ham saying that the Bible clearly states that the Creator created on or about October 23, 4004 BC a little before breakfast, and anyone who believes otherwise does not believe what the Bible says.”

    Barry A: Please. I said one thing and one thing only. The Bible says that design is DETECTABLE in nature. No more, no less. I said it is incompatible with any Darwinian model that says it ISN’T DETECTABLE. In other words, the Bible is ID period. Design can be front loaded or back loaded. Ken Hams notion about the dates involved is SPECULATION. My contention about DESIGN is FACT. Ken Ham could be and probably is wrong about is YEC. You can debate all night about NDE or anything else. There is no debate about the fact that the Bible teaches that design is detectable. That is not an interpretation of anything. Please stop making that comparison of my fact when Ken Ham’s speculation.

  223. Barry A:

    A Clarification that I hope will help. I am probably wearing out my welcome, but I at least want to be understood.

    Let me offer an analogy. According to the Bible, God created the earth. HOW God created the earth is a matter for speculation, interpretation, and perspective. But it is a FACT that the Bible teaches God did indeed create the earth. There is nothing to interpret or speculate about that teaching. Any scientific theory that denies that God created the earth is incompatible with the Bible.

    Now. According to the Bible, design is detectable in nature. Whether that design signifies a guided evolution, front loaded or back loaded design, or any other possibility associated with design is a matter for interpretation, speculation, or perspective. But with regard to the teaching of design detection, there is no debate. It simply does. Just as it simply does teach that God created the earth.
    We are talking about two facts. God created the earth and design is detectable in nature. There is nothing to interpret, speculate, or guess about whether or not these are facts. They can be answered yes or no. I am not talking about a how, why, when, where, or how question. I am talking about a yes or no question.

  224. H’mm:

    Let’s see if I make it past the mod pile this time around!

    1] Barry, 213:

    Thanks.

    BTW, in 182, I have a link on the issue of trinitarian monotheism that may be helpful.

    2] Steve B:

    Powerful points. I hope GAW et al heed them.

    3] GAW, 206: Now, there are a number of different ways to specify what science is . . . . I think everybody agrees that ID is not science in terms of embodying most of the current socially dominant standards . . . What’s at stake is whether those standards are going to change — or, since I think they change all the time, whether they’re going to return to some older definitions.

    There’s a name for what is underneath this discussion: If it succeed, none dare call it treason.

    For, what you are acknowledging is:

    [1] the “definition”/ demarcation of Science/non-science — a notoriously ill-defined border — evolves across time [e.g. circa 1500 - 1650, astrology was "science" (cf. here Kepler) but now it is not];

    [2] currently, the institutionally dominant view — bluntly, thanks to the dominance of atheists — boils down to: that which is a “scientific” explanation must only make reference to entities acceptable to the evolutionary materialist account of the origin of the cosmos from hydrogen to humans;

    [3] historically, the definition of science was more or less along the lines of my Concise oxford, circa 1990, and sci method is as in my Mom’s Webster’s 7th Collegiate, circa 1965:

    science: a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena, esp. concerned with the material and functions of the physical universe. [Concise Oxford, 1990 -- and yes, they used the "z" Virginia!]

    scientific method: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge ["the body of truth, information and principles acquired by mankind"] involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. [Webster's 7th Collegiate, 1965]

    Just observe the relevant dates: the current “consensus” is far more recent than say Judge Jones pretended in his ruling.

    Worse, it is question-begging, and not coincidentally just happens to exclude the third of the long-known possible causes of observed phenomena: agency. Chance — okay. mechanical necessity via natural regularities, okay. But, agency [on matters of origin] — no way!

    Sorry, I think for excellent reason, the alleged consensus is a pseudo-consensus even now, and I think it is plainly question-begging in the service of worldview and ideological agendas. Especially, it prematurely forecloses options on what would otherwise be very reasonable, empirically anchored possible explanations.

    I ‘ent buyin dat “pig in a poke”! [I'se does think it is a squallin' cat in the bag, not a squealin' pig.]

    GEM of TKI

  225. StephenB, if all you are saying is that the Bible teaches that God created the heavens and the earth and that this fact is manifest to all men, you will get no argument from me. Romans 1 and Psalm 19 are clear enough on that point.

    But I don’t think you can get from there to “someone who believes in Darwinism can’t be a Christian.” But you assure me that is not your point.

    I think we agree mostly. But there is one point about which you seem to be sure and I am not so sure.

    You seem to be saying that a belief that chance and necessity (i.e., NDE) are sufficient to account for the complexity and diversity of life is incompatible with the scriptures’ statement that God’s work is manifest in his creation. In other words, God’s direct intervention (in whatever way) is manifest.

    I tend to agree with you, but I’m not absolutely certain. I’m not Catholic, but the Catholics (especially the Thomists) have some interesting things to say about this. In 2004 a commission headed by the current pope wrote Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, which states:

    “Many neo-Darwinian scientists, as well as some of their critics, have concluded that if evolution is a radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation, then there can be no place in it for divine providential causality . . . But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence. Divine causality and created causality radically differ in kind and not only in degree. Thus, even the outcome of a purely contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan. According to St. Thomas Aquinas: ‘The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow, but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity, happens infallibly and of necessity; and that happens from contingency, which the divine providence conceives to happen from contingency.’ In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science.”

    In the article I linked above Stephen Barr writes:

    “Even within the neo-Darwinian framework, there are many ways that one could see evidence of that “finality” (the directedness of the universe and life) to which John Paul II refers. The possibility of an evolutionary process that could produce the marvelously intricate forms we see presupposes the existence of a universe whose structure, matter, processes, and laws are of a special character. This is the lesson of the many “anthropic coincidences” that have been identified by physicists and chemists. It is also quite likely, as suggested by the eminent neo-Darwinian biologist Simon Conway Morris, that certain evolutionary endpoints (or “solutions”) are built into the rules of physics and chemistry, so that the “random variations” keep ending up at the same destinations, somewhat as meandering rivers always find the sea. In his book Life’s Solution, Morris adduces much impressive evidence of such evolutionary tropisms. And, of course, we must never forget that each of us has spiritual powers of intellect, rationality, and freedom that cannot be accounted for by mere biology, whether as conceived by neo-Darwinians or their Intelligent Design critics.”

    On this view it is the existence of a universe where NDE could occur that manifests God’s creation, and one could believe life arose though true contingency (i.e., NDE, a form of created causality). Nevertheless, this belief would not be inconsistent with a belief that the universe as a whole was created in such a way that this created causality could play out (divine causality). They would say that the “manifestness” spoken of in Romans 1 and Psalm 19 is seen at a “higher level” than the complexity of life, which could have arisen though natural forces.

    I don’t think I agree with Barr, but his views can’t be dismissed so easily. But in any event (and Barr would agree with this), the issue must be decided by evaluation of the data, not on theological grounds.

  226. Borne [227]

    Borne: “If no pain followed the assault would you still find grounds to object? Why? Other than mere personal feelings. Would you claim the assault was intrinsically wrong?”

    This shows that we have imagination and insight with fear with respect to a future assault to ourselves or
    someone we care about. Is there a need to invoke a transcendent morality to explain that.

    “If a branch falls off a tree and lands on your head you will experience pain but you would feel no sense of blame against the branch.”

    You might blame God, if you were so disposed. Many people have, I’m sure. I certainly have in my life. “Why me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” Etc. But does it demonstrate a transcendent morality beyond the fact that we don’t like to suffer? “Are we to base moral rules upon feelings?”

    I can only give my opinion, which I’ve stated a couple of times here already, that our ideas of “good” and “evil” generally flow from our experiential knowledge of suffering. Beyond that it’s specific proscriptions handed down by Yahweh through his prophets. And they may or may not make sense to us.

    “Why is it ‘good’ for soldiers, firemen police etc. to risk their lives for the ‘good’ of others? Or is it? Who decides the ‘good’ of others and upon what foundation? What exactly is this ‘good’ and ‘evil’ we intuitively understand?”

    I think that question is an utterly subjective one, that people try to argue various ways using their reason. Altruism is not a very consistent idea among humans, in my experience. But in any specific case, does an explanation beyond a manifestation of the pack mentality obtain here?

    And if were so obvious, why are we discussing it? Because it’s not obvious.

    “Maybe it’s just irrelevant huh? After all, ‘no objective rule’ means all rules are subjective. Your view vs mine and winner take all? Is that it?”

    Some people do think like that. All I can say is that, I don’t like to suffer, I don’t like other people to
    suffer (unless they attack me), and I believe, for other reasons, that Yahweh is God, and so I try to obey his will.

    “Show me a nation that ever approved and encouraged cowardice or condemned bravery in general. There are none. Why? It could save billions of lives from the pains of war. Why should one man risk his life for another? Under the relativistic view there is no reason at all and doing so could never be considered either good or evil.”

    Does any explanation beyond a manifestation of the pack mentality obtain here?

    This whole question, I think, depends on what one assumes. If we are the product of blind chance, then of course our sense of a transcendent morality is an illusion, and if we are the product of a transcendent creator, then our
    sense of morality is at least from a transcendent source, if not transcendent. So I would concede this: if Yahweh really created humans and dogs, then in a sense, all morality, even dog morality, is transcendent. But I don’t think you can point to a particular moral code to demonstrate transcendence. You have to establish transcendce for other reasons first before morality has any non-illusory meaning. I think the real clue is, not any particular morality, or the idea of a transcendent *morality*, but that humans can think in terms of “transcendence” about anything. Dogs can’t do it. Machines can’t do it. But man can, and it doesn’t fit into
    Nature at all.

  227. kairosfocus:

    Your comments about science on #233 fulfill a desperate need.

  228. Barry A:

    I read the points by Stephen Barr. He basically makes the same points as Ken Miller, albeit with a little more eloquence and a little less arrogance. Here are the problems I have with it.

    Yes, God can use contingency when he cares to. The issue here, though, is a) how often, if ever does he do it and b) how does he apply it. Miller/Barr would have us believe that we can confidently apply this principle to biological organisms that, as they would have it, only appear to be designed. As “believers,” It saves them from the infamy of being accused of subscribing to an “undirected” process. Well, this approach may seem to render neo-Darwinism plausible, but I don’t think is does, nor do I think that is what Aquinas had in mind. I am convinced that Aquinas would agree with ID theorists that those things that appear designed are often, though not always designed.. It is more likely, in my judgment, that Aquinas would say that God creates through contingency when snowflakes and moon craters FORM—not when a DNA molecule is DESIGNED. Besides, they conveniently leave out Aquinas’ other (derived from Aristotle) views on causality—in #3

    Also, keep in mind Aquinas is the very same one who argued that we can prove the existence of God through the use of unaided reason. What does that prove? Well, it proves that, for Aquinas, design can be detected in nature, because it is God’s designs that allow for the proofs. So how logical is it for Miller/Barr to try to use him to prove that design is NOT detectable in nature, when Aquinas is Mr. design himself. When you think about it the Miller/Barr scheme is anti-Catholic and downright schizophrenic—God reveals himself in Scripture; God hides himself in nature. It makes no sense. (Hence my harping on design in another context).

    Further, I question their premise here. What they are saying is that a “Catholic” understanding of causality requires us to focus on two factors, necessity and contingency. Well, yes in part, but that is not the whole story. That would be the liberal catholic way of looking at things. The catholic tent is also big enough to include, in fact, does include, the notion of Aristotle’s four- fold causality (efficient, material, formal, and final.) True enough, enlightenment thinkers decided to dispense with formal and final causes, and so would Miller/Barr prefer to keep them off the table. Obviously, they don’t want to revisit any idea, scientific or otherwise, that would challenge their paradigm and point to intelligent design. But not so fast! Function and teleology are still in play as far as I am concerned.

    Further, I resent this notion that the Miller/Barr contingent (I couldn’t resist) speaks for Catholics. Since I am Catholic, I will speak for myself, thank you. Besides Cardinal Schonborn is also on board with ID.. Indeed, he has been raising the issue lately about “where we come from and where are we going?” Why would he be using language like this if he was not hearkening back to something like a teleological way of approaching science? And by the way, who do you suspect turned this daring thinker loose? Why, none other the Pope Benedict XVI. Although he is less conspicuous about it, there is no doubt that he is open to ID at some level. Does the Miller/Barr connection allow for Popes to weigh in on the “catholic understanding of causality?

    Finally, there can be no doubt that this matter must be settled scientifically. However, some of us have become paranoid about discussing themes that direct our attention to the intersection of religion and science, which is precisely where ID resides. In fact, theological paradigms have provided the thought stimulators for both sides. Just about everyone who would presume to closethe door on ID appeals to a theological construct to get the ball rolling. Some bring up the problem of theodicy (God is too good to have designed such a terrible universe) and others clumsily and selectively invoke Aquinas’ notions about God’s providence (described above). Our theological and philosophical paradigms are equally useful to us. (Transcendent/immanent, mind/brain, Creator/creature, revelation/nature, form/matter etc.).

  229. A few notes:

    It seems the issues on objectivity of morality and on the discernibility of design in nature require a remark or two.

    1] Mike1962, 235: we have imagination and insight with fear with respect to a future assault to ourselves or someone we care about. Is there a need to invoke a transcendent morality to explain that.

    First, why do we care at all, and why do we expect that others will respect that caring — apart from that we got enough force to back it up to scare off an attack? [As in, what happens when you can only cower in your apartment as you hear the classic 4 am knock on the next door over . . . y'know, as the old SMERSH and NKVD [later, KGB] officers used to say: you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs.]

    In short, slowy, out of the mists, there arises a very familiar monster: might makes “right.” The very opposite of morality — and one of the main roots of the destructive Darwinism (as “science” based worldview)-driven tyrannies of the past 100 years!

    Putting that another way, evolutionary materialism reduces us to being particularly clever animals, so it reduces morality to a sophisticated form of the classic law of the jungle.

    2] Enter, stage left . . .

    To see where — and who — that traces back to, here is Darwin, in a letter to one William Graham dated July 3, 1881:

    I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago, of being overwhelmed by the Turk, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world. [Hitler -- and note his fascination with how high German culture was -- is but a step away here, and to get to Stalin or Mao, substitute classes for races or tribes or nations -- not forgetting what Stalin tried to do to say the Chechins.]

    And, if you wish to say that CD was mistaken for the selection in question is plainly intelligent so artificial, look again.

    For, on the evo mat view, what we do is the natural result of what we are — apes jumped up through random variation and natural selection and in races/tribes/nations that serve as competing gene pools.

    So it is the same “natural selection” in the end. (BTW: Maybe, that is part of why examples of artificial selection keep on cropping up as examples of NS in the lit?)

    In short, and as C S Lewis pointed out, animals fight, we quarrel — which requires a common acknowledgement of morality and duty to the right.

    Evo Mat cannot tell the difference between the two and collapses the latter into the former, thence leads to massive undermining of public morality. Rummel’s 212 million democide deaths are the result.

    3] Stephen B, 236:

    Thanks.

    4] Stephen B, 237: I am convinced that Aquinas would agree with ID theorists that those things that appear designed are often, though not always designed.. It is more likely, in my judgment, that Aquinas would say that God creates through contingency when snowflakes and moon craters FORM—not when a DNA molecule is DESIGNED.

    Of course, it is a matter of common-sense that we infer from the appearance to the credible presence of design in every day life. Indeed, no-one reading this thread takes the lucky noise hyp seriously [cf. my always linked] as the best and default explanation for the posts in the thread.

    So, we can go on to construct an explanatory filter — specification [esp. by functionality based on configuration] plus complexity [sufficiently large configuration spaces to make hitting such islands or archipelagos by chance maximally unlikely] — which in EVERY case where we know the causal process directly, it detects design accurately. [Of course, we cheerfully accept many cases where it rejects design because the relevant probabilistic resources are not exhausted.]

    Now, extend to cases where we for good reason infer that we were not around to directly observe. The EF rules: design, for origin of life, for the origin of body-plan level biodiversity, and also for many subsystems in life that are irreducibly complex. It, or reasonable extensions thereof, rules that the existence of an observed cosmos that is life habitable is similarly designed for that purpose.

    Why — apart from worldview level a priori assumptions and associated selective [thus inherently inconsistent] hyper-skepticism to reject unwelcome implications, do we see the rejection of the filter’s results in these cases?

    I hear the ghost of that old “dumb Ox” [not!] laughing!

    GEM of TKI

  230. kairosfocus:

    When Miller and Barr hopefully get to heaven, Aquinas will be waiting there to pour a bucket of Gatoraide on them.

  231. 231

    I’m showing up very late for this thread and haven’t gone through all 239 comments, so hopefully I’m not treading over old territory, but materialism also leads to an ends justfies the means mentality, which is highly immoral. For example, a Darwinist on my blog has become so obsessed with me that he’s paranoid about who I am and coming up with all kinds of weird trials for me to “prove” myself to him.

    This is where the morality comes in, however. Because the end result is so important to him, he thought nothing of asking me to violate copyright law in order to pass some arcane test, and even defended it in comments that I’ve had to moderate because of his ever increasing tones of hostility and paranoia.

    FWIW, the commenter is Olegt here. Is he on moderation here as well?

    Also, off-topic, but does someone here know how to link my name to my blog when I post? Thanks to anyone who can help.

  232. —-Professor Smith writes “……but materialism also leads to an ends justfies the means mentality, which is highly immoral. For example, a Darwinist on my blog has become so obsessed with me that he’s paranoid about who I am and coming up with all kinds of weird trials for me to “prove” myself to him.”

    Many on this blog are on record saying that they do not believe in objective/absolute reality or, by extension, objective/absolute morality. In effect, they make it up as they go along. This whole mess was set up over four hundred years ago. If philosophy had not abandoned reason/realism, and supplanted it with skepticism/subjectivism, there would have been no intellectual void for the materialist/Darwinists to fill.

    As I have tried to point out, we must return to something like a neo-Thomistic world view, under which good science and objective morality may flourish. Or, perhaps the success of ID scientists will clear the way for a philosophical revolution. I don’t care which happens first as long as we get our sanity back. The investigator must stop intruding on the investigation, and the philosopher must stop confusing one with the other. Meanwhile, we can explain to all those who will listen that we are rational (or can be), that we live in a rational universe, and that there is a correspondence between the two.

    That is another way of saying that we are noble, but humble creatures–we are not Gods. We must respect “the laws of nature and nature’s God.”. As our founding fathers pointed out, this is a self-evident truth, and the only way to miss it is to be educated out of it. There are only three kinds of people in the world; the well- educated, the uneducated, and the badly educated. If I must choose between one of the last two, I will choose the uneducated person every time. That is because, unlike the badly educated person, the uneducated person is educable.

  233. Stephen, I take it, from (241), that you refuse to accept my attempt to distinguish between objectivity and absoluteness. I don’t expect to convince you, but would you be willing to clarify your criticisms of this distinction?

    And for what little it may be worth, I actually think that virtue ethics is the best approach to thinking about ethics. In that respect I’ve learned a lot from Alastair MacIntyre and from Iris Murdoch (who I find vastly underrated). But MacIntyre clearly doesn’t think that neo-Thomism approach to ethics and politics requires teleological biology. So he’s an interesting figure for you, and I’m curious as to what you think of him.

  234. kairosfocus, just a note to say I want to respond to your recent posts but have been very busy. I’ll try to post something later tonight or tomorrow. You’ll not be surprised to find that I find your posts unconvincing. Perhaps you’ll not be surprised, either, to discover that I don’t attribute that resistance the factors you adduce. :-)

  235. —-Carl, “Stephen, I take it, from (241), that you refuse to accept my attempt to distinguish between objectivity and absoluteness. I don’t expect to convince you, but would you be willing to clarify your criticisms of this distinction?

    With all due respect, I was well aware of the distinction before you brought it up. Beyond that, I don’t understand why you are asking the question. If you will clarify, I will answer. For the most part, subjectivists are relativists. If you want me to grant that there are exceptions, then, by all means, it is granted.

    As I recall (I don’t know the reponse #) your idea of objective transcends the individual, but it stops at the community—that’s not far enought to qualify for my interpetation of “objective.” In my judgment, it should extend all the way to a “natural moral law” written on every human heart (The Ten Commandments) So, my reservations would be about that, not about a distinction that we both agree is real.

    In terms of “virtue ethics,” I think it is great. It’s about as good as a morality can be short acknowledging a universal morality that binds the conscience. It is certainly better than any de-ontological model alone. On the other hand, I think we need both an objective morality that transcends the community, and some semblance of virtue ethics to instill the right kinds of habits. To me, one without the other is incomplete.

  236. One quick note:

    Only “rules” that come from a “legitimate” authority would be superior to virtue ethics. In other words, God and the natural moral law would be examples of legitimate authorities. Obviously, no one is bound to “obey” authority that is not legitimate.

  237. StephenB,

    This may not relate to moral progress in a materialistic world but I have some comments on Miller and Barr.

    I am not sure Miller and Barr are in the same camp for the same reasons or may actually not be in the same camp. Miller should have a long time ago dismissed himself from the debate. He has tremendous financial interests in the debate so a person of good ethics should have excused himself as one who is not disinterested.

    Barr is apparently espousing the theistic evolutionist rationale that Hunter does such a good job of describing but as evident below is not 100% committed. The theistic evolutionist’s God is more powerful than the tinkering God of ID to a lot of people and this has a lot of appeal with traditional religious thinkers. What is unusual about Barr and not Miller is that he does lay out the possibility that neo Darwinism may be wrong. He says in his First Things article

    “I personally am not at all sure that the neo-Darwinian framework is a sufficient one for biology. But if it turns out to be so, it would in no way invalidate what Pope Benedict has said: ‘We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.’”

    Separate but related – A recent review of Behe’s EOE by a prominent evolutionary biologist is meant to support the theistic evolutionist view point. Joan Roughgarden, previously John Roughgarden, is a well respected biologist at Stanford and has recently written this review in a journal titled the Christian Century. See

    “www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=3777″

    In it she says:

    “(Discovering that the emergence of higher organisms coincides with anomalous bursts of directed mutation would support the ID position without falsifying Darwinism, because Darwinism takes no position on what causes the variations on which natural selection acts.)”

    I wonder how many of the biology community would sign up for that. She also seems to think that Behe could modify what ID means and seems to be trying to steer him into the theistic evolution camp. Some of what Behe says in the EOE may be consistent with that assumption.

    As I said none of this is related very directly to moral progress in a materialistic world but is related to what Miller and Barr think. Whatever Miller contributes must be discounted since he is forever compromised by the financial aspects of this debate while Barr is apparently not. Can you imagine that Miller would allow Roughgarden’s comment about the source of variation in his textbooks. Maybe someone should ask him that the next time he shows up for a debate or presentation.

  238. Jerry:
    I think you made a valid point with Barr.

    I have met many respectable christians who believe in God that don’t like the title creationist or IDer. Those names have been marred- there is a negative connotation associated with them. Truth be known- every christian by definition is a creationist. Many scientists seem almost sympathetic to ID- but not under the name of ID. For example, I would consider Dr. Simon Conway Morris on par with ID with his work in convergent evolution- however, i think he considers himself a theistic evolutionist.

    I think Barr takes a phycist’s point of view on things: things can be disproven. Physics has changed dramatically with many scientific revolutions- however, biology is still lacking their’s. Biology has not had it’s world turned upside down like physics- and it is just a bit hard to believe they got it right on the first try.

    As for Miller, I am still out to lunch. I don’t know enough about him to make a valid judgement. Just because there is money to be made doesn’t invalidate his point- it just opens the possibility.

  239. Bork,

    My problem with Miller is that he is not honest, makes a ton of money by supporting neo Darwinism and then throws himself into the debate so one sidedly with a position that will ensure he continutes to make the money. I do not mind anyone making money in fact I applaud it because it is what drives a lot of our world. It is the hypocrisy I can not take because his postion in the debate supports his ability to make the money. He has the number one selling textbook for high school biology and even if he makes just $1 per book, it is probably worth a couple hundred thousand a year. It would all disappear if he looked at both sides honestly.

  240. Jerry:

    I agree that Barr is far more reasonable than Miller. My point is that he is using the same rationale as Miller, namely Aquinas’ notion of providence. As I argued, I think it is a misuse of Aquinas’ words to suggest that God creates DNA molecules through contingency. It is on those grounds that I link him to Miller. Both quote Aquinas selectively to serve their purpose, so I think, on philosophical grounds, at least, their feet should be held to the fire. I grant you all your other points about their differences. I am making a very specific point in a very limited, though very important, context.

    Here is the deal breaker for me, though. Barr insists that Darwinism is compatible with Christianity, and yet he denies Chrisitanity’s testimony on the matter. According to the Bible (St. Paul, Psalms, etc) the design in nature is “evident.” As a Darwinist, he must hold that design is an “illusion.”

    A few other notes:

    I am not reading Roughgarden in the same way that you are. She holds that natural selection can guide the evolutionary process. Natural selection cannot guide anything, because it doesn’t know where it is going?

    I think Hunter has good ideas, but I don’t accept his theme as the whole answer to Theistic evolution. I think other motives are at work. In any case, I don’t have much sympathy for “Christians” who persecute ID scientists on the grounds that a good God would not design such a world. If they don’t even go to the trouble to find out that 1) Their Bible teaches that there is design in nature and 2) that design was compromised by the fall, why should I give them the benefit of the doubt?

    Consider this: Theistic evolution did not always mean Theistic Darwinism. At one time it meant that God “planted the seed of evolution,” which is strictly a God-directed, non-Darwinian process. In other words, it WAS consistent with Christian theology. Through the years they slipped Darwin in (who needs seeds from the inside, when the environment will do it from the outside) and kept the term. Thus “directed” gradually morphed into “non-directed.” Now, “Christian” Darwinists can exploit the ambiguity by simply using the term.. On the one hand, they allow the general public to think Theistic evolution means God-directed, on the other hand, they do all they can to keep God out of the process; indeed, they will not even let his foot in the door. It doesn’t get any more duplicitous that that.

  241. StephenB,

    When I report something it does not mean I agree with it but use it to show why people believe something.

    I don’t think you have the correct reading of natural selection. The problem with natural selection is not that the process is not effective but that it does not/never had anything to work with. In other words the reason natural selection has not produced much is not because it cannot but because there has not enough variation to work with to produce much change. Once variation is robust enough to produce real novelty in the genome then the natural selection process can work to spread it throughout the population. I just believe such variation has rarely if ever appeared.

    What Roughgarden is saying is that there has been enough variation to create novelty so that the natural selection process was able to work but also there is no reason to believe this variation could not be caused by God. Which by the way is what the theistic evolution position is. They often talk about how God created the variation at the molecular level while simultaneously criticizing the ID people for saying God probably did it on a more macro or sudden basis. It is interesting because ID does not require a macro or sudden change.

    I personally disagree that there is any evidence that there every was much variation for natural selection to work on unless it was introduced by an intelligence. After if it was introduced then natural selection could take over.

    I also personally believe that there is almost no evidence in evolutionary biology for any position only strong evidence against other people’s positions. However, certain positions should have left forensic evidence and none has ever been found so I then lean toward the position that requires no forensic evidence.

  242. Sorry to come back to the relativism issue, but I thought I’d give it one last go for Borne and kairosfocus.

    Borne [226]:

    1. I only used the analogy of measure because you brought it up. Recall that you wrote:

    The very possibility of moral debate is evidence of an external rule to which all must refer. Each side claiming to be closer than the other to that external rule they must necessarily assume exists. Otherwise no moral debate is even possible.

    I mention that rules of measure are not absolute, and your response is to say that the comparison is “apples & oranges.” But to clarify a point, neither physical nor moral) measures are subjective: they’re relative. I’ve said over and over again that subjectivism and relativism are different positions, but that seems to be lost on people.

    You also write

    All human invented units of measure – time, temperature, distance, weight etc. – are subjective and arbitrary.

    There is no absolute mile. No absolute meter. They are arbitrarily fixed units for practical use only and could be changed at whim.

    Not so with morals. You can’t make murder ‘right’ overnight on a personal whim. But that’s exactly what you could do if there were no moral Base Law.

    Now that’s comparing apples and oranges! Human units of measure are, in fact, not subjective but relative. As a practical matter, a great deal of consequence would result if people were to change them on a whim: bridges and houses would fall down, for one. I’m saying that relative measures are good enough to get lots of practical work done in the world, and that this holds for moral reasoning as well as practical reasoning. Further, I believe that moral reasoning never happens any other way: that is, moral reasoning is always conducted in relative terms, and it seems to work pretty well.

    Finally you write,

    “Is it true?”, is the ultimate question here. But if there are no ultimate, absolute truths then there are no ‘true’ truths at all.

    Not really: there are, I would say, “true enough” truths, that is, truths that seem pretty stable for most people. So when you write that “Relativism must itself be relative – thus it abolishes itself as having any real meaning,” I think you’re on to something in the first statement but not in the second. In fact, the relativism of relativism means that some things are less relative (more stable, more universal) than others. Societies maintain themselves (among other ways) by deciding and maintaining a sense a sense of what those more and less relative things are.

    You write, “Are u saying all ancient Greeks practiced [child rape]?” No, but I’m saying that ancient Greek society condoned child rape in the form of pederasty. My point was a simple response to your claim [172] that “There has never been a civilization, outside of demonic worship cultures, that has ever condoned child rape or murder for ex[ample].” I simply pointed out that yes, in fact, there has been such a civilization: ancient Greece. Condoning something (in law and practice) does not mean that everybody practices it.

    kairosfocus [184]:

    what is really happening here is, unfortunately a turnabout accusation rhetorical fallacy/tactic, in the guise of a position on truth.

    Of course you’d say that. I’m tempted to create a parody kairosfocus post along the lines of a Chinese menu. Choose an item from each of the following four lists:

    Chestnuts: comparative worldview difficulty, a priori assumptions, evo mat, warrants, objectivity, the obviousness of your arguments to all who are honest, etc.

    Accusations: of selective hyperskepticism, self-refutation, question-begging, rhetorical tactics, etc.

    Citations: of Royce, Platinga, Lewis, Aristotle, and of course and always “my always linked” tome, etc.

    Laments: “Sadly,” where evolutionary materialism has taken us, the sad state of affairs today, the author’s own need to repeat points he’s made before, the moral bankruptcy of his opponents, the need to explain the debate to innocent onlookers, etc.

    Plate and serve.

    So in your response to me, you write:

    Putting it more bluntly: WHEN IT IS NOT CONVENIENT TO ANSWER, a relativist will in certain cases refuse to answer to a question on the objective state of affairs in the cosmos, projecting to the objectivist interlocutor, the accusation that s/he is imposing a particular “objectivist” account of truth or warrant or rationality.

    But, to make even that accusation, the relativist is inherently assuming precisely the same account of truth or warrant or rationality. In short we see here selective hyper-skepticism, which as an intellectual double-standard, is always self-referentially incoherent.

    Abundant presence of chestnuts? check. Accusations of rhetorical evasion? check. Citations to one of the expected sources? Check (not here, but later in the comment. Laments about the honesty (and in this case the fate) of your opponents? check.

    In fact, I don’t think you’ve even begun to understand my point, because you haven’t actually tried. You saw “relativist” and sprung into action: there’s nothing I can say because you already know there’s nothing I can contribute to the tight little house of your understanding. Let me make one thing clear, however: I am not “assuming precisely the same account [as you are] of truth or warrant or rationality.” I am assuming a different account — a relativist account — which you seem to think must be the same account if words such as truth or warrant or rationality are to be used at all.

    I’m not sure how you will respond to this: say that I’ve evaded the point? Continue lamenting the sad state of relativist reasoning? Post a note to “onlookers” advising them of how to read the whole debate in your terms? Return to the well-trodden paths charted above? I’m breathless with anticipation.

  243. GAW:

    I would further take up the Moral Progress thread again in light of your remarks of Nov 22 instant, were there any actual substance in it.

    A run through your post, however, only comes up with facile dismissal rhetoric. Sigh.

    In particular, though, since I have been specifically dismissed by GAW, onlookers, kindly cf 150, 182, 184, 238, with GAW’s remarks.

    IMHCO it is fair (but sad) comment to note that on the record of what he has just attempted, GAW has ried to ignore or dismiss what he evidently cannot address on the merits.

    It is probably worth excerpting the argument GAW so strongly objects to in 184, to show why:

    Re [GAW at] 181: when a relativist refuses to answer a question on the terms of the objectivist, that refusal is not necessarily a refusal of rationality, but only a refusal of a certain account of rationality as the objectivist understands it — which is precisely the point at issue

    Not at all. So soon as the relativist affirms something to be or not to be, s/he directly entails that truth is that which says of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not. And, that falsity fails at this bar.

    For instance, observe in the above statement: when a relativist refuses to answer a question . . .

    Does this not plainly affirm to be so, a certain frequently encountered state of affairs in the cosmos that is accessible to reasonable tests of warrant, and that we may thus properly infer is so or is not so?

    That is, the very opening statement presumes that truth is, in the classical sense just described. In short, what is really happening here is, unfortunately a turnabout accusation rhetorical fallacy/tactic, in the guise of a position on truth. [If inadvertent, it is a mere error in reasoning; if willful, it is a tactic.]

    Putting it more bluntly: WHEN IT IS NOT CONVENIENT TO ANSWER, a relativist will in certain cases refuse to answer to a question on the objective state of affairs in the cosmos, projecting to the objectivist interlocutor, the accusation that s/he is imposing a particular “objectivist” account of truth or warrant or rationality.

    But, to make even that accusation, the relativist is inherently assuming precisely the same account of truth or warrant or rationality. In short we see here selective hyper-skepticism, which as an intellectual double-standard, is always self-referentially incoherent.

    A more profitable approach would be to follow Josiah Royce, and examine the claim, error exists.

    To try to deny this is to instantiate it, so it is undenaiably true — i.e we see here a well-warranted case of truth. So for good reason, we see that at least one instance of truth exists, so truth exists. [And IMHCO, we may meet the Truth Himself, as I and millions of others have . . . . we are not locked up to despair!]

    Of course, we may be mistaken about particular truth claims, but that is not an excuse for resorting to relativistic rhetorical errors or games [however dressed up], but to being humble but persistent in the path of warrant so that we can be reasonably but open-mindedly confident in the truth claims we affirm.

    It will be immediately obvious that I have given an argument on the substance, which GAW replies to [after a considerable period] on dismissal rhetoric.

    Now, therefore, whose argument should we believe, why?

    GEM of TKI

    PS: The “always linked” is my summary of the basic overall case on the design inference as I see it, based on several years of investigation and analysis and dialogue. I invite a response on the merits, as that very page has always done. So, if GAW or any onlooker has a substantial point to make on it, s/he may post publicly or respond by email or enter into a dialogue in my own blog. You will see that in the page I acknowledge one such person’s contribution, Pixie, who I first interacted with at UD and then went on to discuss in my own blog at length. The results are in Appendix 1, point 6.

  244. kairosfocus,

    If I delayed in replying earlier it is because replying is tiring when the replies will be predictable both in their length and their characteristic gestures. Also, I have a life.

    I maintain that you have not heard what I have been saying. But let’s go to the posts of yours which you claim I have dimissed. Thank you for numbering them.

    150. I do indeed dismiss that, because the first premise of the syllogism is not self-evident in either form. That is, things can be either “really wrong” or “truly evil” without the presence of an “objective” or “transcendent” “Moral Law” or “moral code.” It’s hard to do anything but dismiss it, since none of those who have used this syllogism have done more for this proposition than simply assert it as self-evident.

    This holds also for the essay by Koukl, which offers a facile version of a moral design inference. Koukl’s essay would not work for the evolutionary materialist because it does not consider the possibility that moral laws might have evolved as beneficial adaptations. I’m not a materialist myself: his essay doesn’t work for me becuase it assumes (wrongly) that moral laws given by God must be objective.

    182. You write:

    So, we need to look very closely at terms and contexts before answering such a question in light of our own cultural memories of new world plantation chattel slavery. For, under certain circumstances, certain forms of slavery may have been — and God forbid (I am a descendant of slaves and indentured servants!), may yet be — the lesser of evils.

    But, let us note: the lesser of evils is an evil, so the basic point still obtains: evil manifestly exists and can be recognised through concrete instances.

    As far as I see, you’re making my relativist case for me! I’m not arguing against the existence of evil. I’m arguing against the view of evil as absolute or transcendent.

    184. I discussed this in 251 and, while I was generally dismissive, I noted that my account of truth or rationality is not “the same as” the classical account, contra your assertion of the opposite. And indeed, you have offered nothing but an assertion on that score: you have not demonstrated that I’m using the same account, only asserted the proposition. And you have miscontrued what I have said, as here:

    For instance, observe in the above statement: when a relativist refuses to answer a question . . .

    Does this not plainly affirm to be so, a certain frequently encountered state of affairs in the cosmos that is accessible to reasonable tests of warrant, and that we may thus properly infer is so or is not so?

    I do not assert that there are no methods for ajudicating claims, but only that such methods are not absolute. Again I think you have mistaken relativism for some form of subjectivism or “anything-goes” — a common conflation but one I’ve tried to avoid.

    238. I can’t see that you’re arguing with me there at all.

  245. kairosfocus,

    I did read your debate with Pixie on your blog. It was certainly civil on both your parts. Yet at the end, as far as I can tell, you had not conceded a single point. Instead, you told Pixie to post one last comment and followed up with several comments of your own claiming that everything of substance you said earlier stands. In other words, you were right all along (but of course!). What Pixie did was help you put in clearer terms what you knew already.

    Just out of curiosity, I’m wondering if you have ever conceded a substantive point to your opponents in a debate. Dr. Dembski has, though he is quite confident of views generally. For that he deserves respect. So have I (for example, I retracted a point about private schools a couple of weeks ago). I can’t recall an instance from you: you seem to know everything already.

  246. GAW:

    H’mm, first of all I observe again that you are repeatedly making confident claims about objective, known states of affairs in the real world.

    In short, by your actions, you again imply that you accept the reality of objective, well-warranted — thus, knowable — truth. That is fatal for any theory of truth that rejects such as a core assumption/assertion. And, if what is really meant is that worldviews are so complex that no one worldview constructed by finite, fallible, too often ill-willed creatures such as ourselves will be able to capture all truth, welcome to the club “founded” by the Apostle Paul. [Cf here Ac 17, Rom 1 - 2, Eph 4:17 - 24 and 1 Cor 1 - 2.]

    Now on particular points:

    1] Conceding points in debates . . . .

    First, FYI I have on many an occasion not only taken on board points made by others but where I have found it necessary, I have outright apologised.

    So, discussions of debates and implications on perceived/ projected attitudes are besides the point. (In general, FYI, I maintain the policy that I will only strongly affirm what is IMHCO a well-warranted point. If a point is less than well warranted, I will not affirm it, but may suggest it for discussion. Thus, for instance, in my own note and often in this blog’s context, you will for instance note that I habitually speak of functionally specific, complex information, rather than generic complex specified information. That is not an accident — the latter is far harder to discuss with benefit.)

    On the issue with Pixie, I happen to be a physicist, and I raised a rather basic and well-established statistical thermodynamics-anchored point that IMHCO, after much thought and discussion, including a long running public discussion in the blogosphere elsewhere,is a generally fatal one for evolutionary materialist scenarios for origin of life. It is no accident that one of my personal scientific heroes, the late, great Sir Fred Hoyle, raised the same point. All I did was to scale his point down physically to molecular scale. [I think he was trying to avoid having to explicitly discuss issues tied to so esoteric a field as statistical thermodynamics when he used the idea of a tornado in a junkyard forming a 747 by accident.]

    2] I maintain that you have not heard what I have been saying.

    I suspect, rather, that this statement again underscores the underlying problem faced by the radical relativist.

    For, both bolded claims (whether accurately or not!) assert to be the case certain states of affairs in the real world.

    Thus, you directly imply the existence of objective truth, thus too of truth in the sense of that which says of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not.

    3] things can be either “really wrong” or “truly evil” without the presence of an “objective” or “transcendent” “Moral Law” or “moral code.”

    If by the latter you mean that no-one here on earth has developed a known, generally accepted moral code that is comprehensive and detailed in all that it affirms and denies, then this is not exactly a novelty.

    Welcome, again, to the C1 conceptual world of Paul, cf Rom 2:6 – 8, 14 – 15, 13:8 – 10, Eph 4:17 – 24, etc.

    But if you mean — and I suspect this is more to the point — that there are no well-warranted moral principles and rules [which would be itself a claimed well-warranted moral principle . . .], then you are both affirming a claimed state of affairs in the cosmos, and are demonstrably wrong and against the general consensus of humanity on matters such as the principle of benevolent fairness commonly cited as the golden rule.

    To see the force of that, simply observe the general pattern of a human quarrel [as opposed to an animal fight].

    And, once a single moral principle stands as well warranted, the rest of the points made in 150 follow.

    So your dismissals — including those of Koukl BTW, fail.

    4] you’re making my relativist case for me! I’m not arguing against the existence of evil. I’m arguing against the view of evil as absolute or transcendent.

    Oddly, I was just reading a recent short book on Anglo-Saxon Engla-lond circa 1000, in which the reduction of the poor to slavery due to desperation in famine times came up. The fact that peasants would only reduce themselves to slavery under such or similar circumstances is telling on the point that the lesser of evils is an evil.

    So is the context in which it is discussed: the slaveholders manumitting their slaves in their wills; i.e they are trying to unburden an uneasy conscience. That is, BOTH parties directly imply that slavery is an evil, but obviously a lesser one than starving to death.

    So, now, why is it we generally recognise (1) that evil is real, (2) that it can be identified in specific circumstances with high reliability, and (3) that it is to be avoided if reasonably possible? [3 of course broaches the issue of lesser evils and the one that avoiding the possibility of certain evils may eliminate the possibility of certain goods, e.g the existence of virtue, which is inescapably based on choice.]

    5] I discussed . . . [184] in 251 and, while I was generally dismissive, I noted that my account of truth or rationality is not “the same as” the classical account, contra your assertion of the opposite. And indeed, you have offered nothing but an assertion on that score

    The core point still stands: you repeatedly affirm that certain states of affairs are recognisably and objectively so, which directly entails what I was pointing to.

    Indeed, I have therefore offered and continue to offer the DEMONSTRATION laid out in 184!

    6] I do not assert that there are no methods for ajudicating claims, but only that such methods are not absolute.

    And, what did I imply by citing Josiah Royce’s argument from the existence of error then developing its implications in outline?

    To wit:

    A more profitable approach would be to follow Josiah Royce, and examine the claim, error exists.

    To try to deny this is to instantiate it, so it is undeniably true — i.e we see here a well-warranted case of truth. So for good reason, we see that at least one instance of truth exists, so truth exists. [And IMHCO, we may meet the Truth Himself, as I and millions of others have . . . . we are not locked up to despair!]

    Of course, we may be mistaken about particular truth claims, but that is not an excuse for resorting to relativistic rhetorical errors or games [however dressed up], but to being humble but persistent in the path of warrant so that we can be reasonably but open-mindedly confident in the truth claims we affirm.

    In short, having dismissed Royce without consideration, you are saying the same thing he has said, and then fail to follow up the implications. (Unless of courswe you are so lacking in confidence in our ability to reason that you object tot he existence of well-warranted truth claims while confidently asserting certain states of affairs to be so, as I have repeatedly highlighted. That smacks of selective hyper-skepticism to me, but I guess I am just a dumb, brown-necked fundy objectivist and philosophical broad foundationalist.)

    All in all, this discussion underscores the force of the point in the original post.

    GEM of TKI

  247. PS: I think it is highly appropriate to here cite [and annotate in brackets] Locke’s discussion in section 5 of his introduction to his essay on human understanding:

    Men have reason to be well satisfied with what God hath thought fit for them, since he hath given them (as St. Peter says [NB: i.e. 2 Pet 1:2 - 4]) pana pros zoen kaieusebeian, whatsoever is necessary for the conveniences of life and information of virtue; and has put within the reach of their discovery, the comfortable provision for this life, and the way that leads to a better. How short soever their knowledge may come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secures their great concernments [Prov 1: 1 - 7], that they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties [cf Rom 1 - 2, Ac 17, etc, etc]. Men may find matter sufficient to busy their heads, and employ their hands with variety, delight, and satisfaction, if they will not boldly quarrel with their own constitution, and throw away the blessings their hands are filled with, because they are not big enough to grasp everything . . . It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant [Matt 24:42 - 51], who would not attend his business by candle light, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The Candle that is set up in us [Prov 20:27] shines bright enough for all our purposes . . . If we will disbelieve everything, because we cannot certainly know all things, we shall do muchwhat as wisely as he who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly.

    In short, the objections of modern relativism were already long since decisively answered even before they were even seriously raised, and by a Master- philosopher, in one of his best-known works, right there in the introduction.

  248. kairosfocus,

    First, let me say that this [255] is beneath you:

    I guess I am just a dumb, brown-necked fundy objectivist and philosophical broad foundationalist. (Your emphasis)

    I’ve said nothing about your intelligence, and I don’t know what “brown-necked” has to do with anything at all. You’ve said you’ve apologized on occasion; I haven’t seen it, but I’m sure you can dig one up if necessary. How about offering one to me by implying that I’ve said anything remotely racial?

    Back to the actual issues. You write that I am

    repeatedly making confident claims about objective, known states of affairs in the real world

    I’ll say again that “objective” is your term, not mine. I’m relatively confident about my claims holding up, more or less, under most circumstances. However, I make no claims to their objectivity. So when you write that I

    repeatedly affirm that certain states of affairs are recognisably and objectively so,

    you put words into my mouth — again. This affirms that I have a point when I say that you have not heard me: hence your repeated conversion of my words into your sense of their implication. Indeed, you repeatedly convert what I have said into its opposite in order to “hear” me.

    This is not surprising nor, I think, particularly distressing. It just shows that we have been talking past each other. I don’t doubt that in certain respects that may seem crucial to you, I also have not heard what you have been saying — that is, I have not been able to understand what you have been saying in terms that seem coherent or reasonable to me. What is even stranger is that I was once a believer in philosophical objectivity, so I have the same view toward positions I once held and found to be the only coherent ones possible. In other words, I do not think belief in philosophical objectivity is dumb, even though it is not a view I can hold anymore.

    We even have different ways of understanding that impasse. I tend to view the impasse as an example of how incommensurable accounts cannot be reconciled at fundamental levels. You tend to view the impasse as confirming my (and by extension the “radical relativist’s”) irrationality and/or untrustworthiness.

    256:

    In short, the objections of modern relativism were already long since decisively answered even before they were even seriously raised, and by a Master- philosopher, in one of his best-known works, right there in the introduction.

    Well, if a Master-philosopher said it in his introduction, then I give up. Why should it matter that he makes no argument but only asserts? No need to read alternative accounts by other Master philosophers (not only Nietzsche but also Wittgenstein (both early and late), C.S. Pierce, William James, John Dewey, J.L. Austin, Richard Rorty, George Lakoff), Master biologists (Ludwig Fleck, Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, etc.), and others. Hundreds of years of thought are preemptively made null by a single assertion of John Locke.

  249. GAW:

    I would have found your last post somewhat amusing — if it were not so sad.

    Okay, let us first of all deal with the “race” and “dummy” cards.

    Kindly, let us look again, tracking back to the underlying context in 251: (a) I explicitly spoke [using an ironic self-reference in an aside] to a certain, commonly encountered, media-, professoriate- and pundit- shaped attitude to evangelicals that may well be a factor in how many will look at the exchange. (b) For instance, let us recall Dawkins’ infamous: ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked remark, first made in I believe the NYT. (c ) In so doing, I modified the common term, “red-neck,” to account for the fact that I am of Afro- Euro Indio-Caribbean descent. (d) This was in response to an earlier dismissive comment in 251, which (e) unfortunately reasonably comes under the Dawkins-style quadrilemma — with particular reference to my descriptive term for a certain commonly encountered skeptical tactic, selective hyper-skepticism. (Observe the cited remarks by Simon Greenleaf — I am simply putting up a descriptive term.) (f) If you doubt this, kindly think about the implications of your “menu” as laid out in 251 — (h) IMHCO, fundamentalist ignoramus [or words to that effect] is the least worst option in interpretation.

    However, obviously, the remark I made in rebuttal opened the door to a red herring tracking out to a strawman, which on ignition has now clouded and distracted the discussion from substance. That is unfortunate, and for that I apologise.

    Now, on matters of some relevance to the substantial focus issue of moral progress in a materialist world, and the incidental matter of relativism:

    1] “objective” is your term, not mine. I’m relatively confident about my claims holding up, more or less, under most circumstances. However, I make no claims to their objectivity.

    As have now — as just above — repeatedly highlighted, you are again making assertions concerning claimed states of affairs in the real world, regardless of reservations about the abstract possibility of error.

    Such claims are to potentially discoverable truths about reality [as opposed to imagined projections onto it]. In short, they are claims to objective truth, regardless of attempts to deny that in almost the same breath.

    Maybe, an excerpt from F. H. Bradley’s gentle but stinging opening salvo to Kant, in his Appearance and Reality, 2nd Edn., will help clarify my point by putting in a side-light:

    The man who is ready to prove that metaphysical knowledge is impossible has . . . himself . . . perhaps unknowingly, entered the arena [of metaphysics] . . . . To say that reality is such that our knowledge cannot reach it, is to claim to know reality. (Clarendon Press, 1930), p.1]

    2] you put words into my mouth — again

    Not at all, I simply keep pointing out [by explicitly citing and highlighting your own words] that you are repeatedly making confident assertions about states of affairs in the external, real world. These are objective truth-claims.

    So, I have then repeatedly pointed out, that such claims inherently and inescapably undercut your declared relativism.

    Then, I have pointed to the implications of the implied point, that you are identifying cases of error on my part. Namely, if error exists, truth exists, and so the relativist project of collapsing truth, knowledge and morality into perceptions and tastes or preferences [whether individual, or group- based or culture- evolution- stage based etc] collapses.

    3] I tend to view the impasse as an example of how incommensurable accounts cannot be reconciled at fundamental levels.

    See what I mean? (You have again here asserted a claim about discoverable reality, indeed beyond that, a universal negative absolute claim.)

    4] Well, if a Master-philosopher said it in his introduction, then I give up. Why should it matter that he makes no argument but only asserts?

    (Of course, I first leave it as an exercise to see where objective truth claims are made in this excerpt and its immediate context. Even language itself is trying to tell you something!)

    On the substantial point, I highlighted that Locke circa 1690 anticipated the course, dynamics and fruitless result of subsequent discussion on the matter, thus anticipating and answering them, in fact decisively so. (Nor is it just assertions , save in the sense that he is making a chain of declarative mood sentences.)

    Yes, there has been much detailed, time-consuming and even in parts interesting or even insightful learned discourse — but in the end only futile and in too many cases, absurd or even tragic [e.g. Nietzsche]. Locke in effect predicted that, and told in advance just why it would be futile — echoing Solomon, Peter and Paul.

    In short: decisive.

    GEM of TKI

  250. getawitness:

    You wonder if kairosfocus has ever conceded a point or apologized for an indiscretion: Why should he? To what standard of justice are you appealing? Are you implying that there is some objective standard of courtesy to which he should conform his behavior? Maybe his standard of courtesy is relative to his situation, while your standard of courtesy is relative to yours. By what right do you impose some comprehensive standard that may go against his personal preferences?. I have cautioned you in the past about imposing your stuffy morality down someone else’s throat..

    Now, let’s get serious. You claim that certain moral values and truths work “pretty well.” According to who? You? How do you know they are working well? Do you have a reliable measuring stick? How do you know if they are working barely well, moderately well, “pretty well,” extremely well, or, for that matter—perfectly well? How are you making that calculation? Further, what happens if my measuring stick is different that yours? What if I think your truths work barely well, you think they work fairly well, and kairosfocus thinks they work perfectly well? How do we arbitrate those differences? What happens if we must pass a law that reflects one of our opinions and throws out the other two? By what criteria do we formulate the jurisprudential code that will adequately accommodate all parties, while doing violence to none?

    Do you know how civil rights were won in the United States? In the 1860’s, we still had slaves. But things were working “pretty well” for everyone else. Eventually, the chains of slavery were broken because our government decided that such abominable practices violated the “natural moral law.” In the early 1900’s, women were not allowed to vote, but things were working “pretty well” for men. Women finally won suffrage because, in the judgment of a small minority of movers and shakers, it was time to dispense with popular opinion and obey the rule of law written in the constitution, which was based on the “natural moral law.

    In the 1960’’s blacks were still being lynched and marginalized, even to the point where some could not earn a living. Martin Luther King decided he had had enough and made his famous “I have a dream” speech. In all of his public presentations, he kept alluding to the same point: It doesn’t matter if the majority is against us; we are not asking for favors; it didn’t even matter that thing’s were working “pretty well” for just about every one else. He didn’t say, “please give us a break;” this just doesn’t feel right.“ He didn’t say, “all this discrimination seems unfair to us.” He didn’t say, “why can’t we all get along.”. If he had taken that tack, blacks would still be drinking out of their own water fountains. He said this: Forget about your personal opinions, your subjective biases, and your narrow self interests. THIS ISN’T RIGHT! He gave it to us right on the chin. What we were doing as a country violated a universal standard of justice. It didn’t matter that 75% of the public disagreed. It didn’t matter what the intelligentsia believed. What mattered was this: We were violating a natural moral law that superseded the people, the elitists, even the power of the state—and it was going to have stop. They certainly would not have prevailed had they pointed out that natural rights are “true enough” or that they work “pretty well.”

  251. Stephen B:

    Thanks for taking up the pragmatism angle in the position being taken by GAW.

    You have aptly shown the sorts of problems that led pragmatism into deep trouble about 100 years ago. I think it is unlikely that neo-pragmatic revivals, whether by the late Richard Rorty or any other party, are likely to escape the sorts of problems you have highlighted while hewing to the “it works” theory of sufficiently warranting a claim to be true.

    H’mm, it’s worth clipping and commenting on a summary from Wiki on a key Rorty position, as it seems to speak fairly directly to a lot of what GAW is driving at [and before him Carl Sachs too . . .]:

    In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Rorty argues that the central problems of modern epistemology depend upon a picture of the mind as trying to faithfully represent (or “mirror”) a mind-independent external reality. If we give up this metaphor, then the entire enterprise of foundationalist epistemology is misguided. A foundationalist believes that in order to avoid the regress inherent in claiming that all beliefs are justified by other beliefs, some beliefs must be self-justifying and form the foundations to all knowledge. There were two senses of “foundationalism” criticized in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. In the philosophical sense, Rorty criticized the attempt to justify knowledge claims by tracing them to a set of foundations; more broadly, he criticized the claim of philosophy to function foundationally within a culture . . . With no privileged insight into the structure of belief and no privileged realm of truths of meaning, we have, instead, knowledge as those beliefs that pay their way. The only worthwhile description of the actual process of enquiry, Rorty claimed, was a Kuhnian account of the standard phases of the progress of discipline, oscillating through normal and abnormal science, between routine problem solving and intellectual crises. The only role left for a philosopher is to act as an intellectual gadfly, attempting to induce a revolutionary break with previous practice, a role that Rorty was happy to take on himself.

    I beg to differ, as follows:

    a] As long since noted, following Royce, there is a point of in fact universal agreement on an undeniable truth: error exists. [Cf. above for the implications of this, not least, that truth exists as that which faithfully mirrors that extra-mental reality that Rorty was plainly so suspicious of.]

    b] Thus, when we hold something to be worthy of accepting as true [sufficiently so to base serious decisions on it], we therefore need grounds for trusting it.

    c] The resulting demand for warrant [note my shift from "justification" in light of Gettier counter examples and Plantinga's work; also that I am speaking more broadly than proof in the sense of demonstration] ends in either an infinite regress or in a framework of beliefs that we hold to be plausible enough to trust without further warrant; on pain of futile infinite regress or else vicious circularity. (Of course in some cases, the very first beliefs are at that level; e.g. when you are crossing a road and see an out-of-control car careering towards you, you jump, you don’t stop to question your perceptions.)

    d] Major beliefs on important issues at this basic level are of course the foundation of one’s worldview, and can be assessed relative to evident correspondence with reality [factual adequacy], coherence, and simple but not simplistic elegance of explanation. Thus, de facto — even if one is not inclined to accept it explicitly, we ALL have foundational beliefs in our worldviews: our Faith-Points.

    e] They can also be assessed relative to comparative difficulties of other live option worldviews. That is we are not locked up to circularity and closed-mindedness. Thus, in the end, Rorty’s first objection fails.

    f] Similarly, since in a community we do in fact function based on worldviews, and tend to have dominant worldviews in given cultures, philosophical considerations are foundational (in the analytical sense) in communities that exhibit such cultures. Thus, for instance, the value of the present exercise here at UD, on the issue of moral progress in an evolutionary materialism driven, secular progressivism- dominated science and general culture. The second objection also fails.

    g] In contrast to paradigm-shift power games [cf here my remarks on the results of the Marxist version of that agenda above] and gadfly rhetorical tactics, we can therefore accept that we are finite, fallible and often in error, but certain things have passed reasonable tests of warrant and we are right to rely on them pending further evidence that allows us to refine or replace them with well-warranted improvements.

    h] This is not only so in the realm of facts and principles of science and the like, but also so on key moral principles too. (The existence of moral errors and evils also implies the parallel existence of moral truths and goods.)

    i] For crucial instance, the fact that we quarrel — as opposed to simply fighting — immediately warrants the claim that we acknowledge that we are bound by core moral principles, e.g. the classic one of bebevolent fairness that we term the Golden Rule. Here is Hooker [in his justly famous Ecclesiastical Polity], as cited by Locke on this, in Ch 2 Section 5 of his 2nd essay on civil government:

    . . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.

    j] Thus, we have here a crucial, well-warranted, generally recognised basic principle for morality, policy and law. Moral reform of a community thus becmes possible based on seeing that even though it is tot he advantage of some, and so “works” for them, something fundamental is being disregarded and so injustice must be corrected.

    k] Likewise, generally following Kant’s formulations of his categorical imperative, we can see that if a proposed policy would lead to chaos or destruction of the community, and/or [equivalently!] that it treats others as means to one’s ends, not ends in themselves, that too is immoral and should be corrected or averted.

    l] Thus, progress becomes possible in the community, but the principles on which it rests are far more friendly to theism than they are to evolutionary materialism.

    m] Indeed, it is further reasonable to observe that evolutionary materialism, on credible analytical and empirical grounds both, undermines reason and morality so it is a danger to rather than a triumph of the modern world.

    GEM of TKI

  252. kairosfocus,

    I’ve never said you’re a “fundamentalist ignoramus” — or even “words to that effect.” The famous quote of Dawkins I find repugnant. I certainly don’t think you’re stupid (as you’ve said, you’re a physicist — having a Ph.D. in physics is a sign that you’re pretty smart). Nor do I think you’re ignorant, insane, or wicked. I’d have to say the same of many in my family, and of myself a few years ago.

    What was the point of my parody? It was to humorously note the obvious: that you are repetitive and (cough cough) prolix. I’m not saying anything about your intelligence; I’m saying something about your writing. I was observing what you would call a “commonly encountered” set of patterns in your own rhetoric. Everybody has rhetorical and argumentative habits. Yours are, I think, pretty identifiable: extraordinarily long posts containing the elements I noted. I was hoping this might encourage you to say something new.

    We’re obviously not going to reach agreement about the central point: your contention that I’m caught in objectivist epistemology despite my best efforts to the contrary. I have made at least one (non-objective!) error: in using the word “cannot” without qualification. There was also something tautological about that sentence, which argued, in effect, that incommensurable accounts really are incommensurable. :-) I’ll happily grant that our language does favor objectivist accounts. How much easier it is to say what I said than to say “I tend to view the impasse as an example of how incommensurable accounts are unlikely be reconciled at what appear to be fundamental levels.” I need to maintain the “more or less” posture constantly (more or less), or else it will seem as though I’m making claims about absolute truth.

    I take it that for you all the following terms imply objective truth (including moral truth): warrant, argument, error, correction, wrong, right demonstrate, show, discover, meaning, good, bad, etc. etc. Well, if that’s so, then I’m clearly wrong. But a lot of us find objectivist accounts of truth both inadequate and incoherent (again, I realize that for you this too, like everything I say, further wraps me in the cocoon of objectivty).

    StephenB [259], I wasn’t and am not appealing to an objective standard of justice. I appealed to a community standard I hoped we could agree upon.

    As for moral standards working “pretty well,” I think I reason the way we all reason, more or less: by looking at history, context, making the best decisions I can, etc. How are different standards accounted for? Well, it depends. There are lots of people with different values that I’m not doing anything about. Sometimes I might strive for agreement; sometimes I might choose to quarrel (or fight — in fact, contra Lewis, humans sometimes fight when arguments fail).

    I admit that the idea of a univeral morality is appealing to me, and there are cases — such as the abolition of slavery, the civil right movement, and the ongoing fight for economic justice and against capitalist exploitation — where utopian impulses are powerful and guiding. I’m not opposed to using language such as “right” or “wrong” in those cases or in other cases I find morally reprehensible (such as for example the current occupation of Iraq). (Note to kairosfocus: this is not a concession, since I’ve never been opposed to using such language). The question is whether such moral action (or such moral language) entails universal moral laws in the sense implied by kairosfocus and others. And I don’t think they do.

    For example, I don’t think that the civil rights movement won by appealing to moral law. In fact, the supporters of segregation also appealed to what they perceived as universal moral law. I think it won — and I’m glad it did — by helping those outside the immediate conflict to recognize the shared humanity of those being oppressed. This was the brilliance of non-violence, a contextual tactic which Martin Luther King Jr. took from the non-Christian Gandhi. I think what happened was that lots of white folks who were indifferent to the condition of Americcan Blacks started to identify and empathize with their condition. The nonviolence of civil rights protestors, and the violent reaction of the oppressors, flashed in television screens across America and expanded how Americans in power thought of human rights. Of course all these movements are complex, but it’s awfully reductive to think that the arguments won on logical grounds: those on the side of oppression think their moral reasoning is impeccable, even self-evident.

    What made Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin work? What made Lincoln call Stowe “the little woman who started this big war”? I don’t think it was her appeal to universal moral law: John Brown tried that and failed. It was her empathetic and powerful representation of the humanity of oppressed slaves.

    This will be my last post on this thread, as I find it difficult and somewhat exhausting to keep up with you, kairosfocus, much less you and StephenB together. But let me save you some time by anticipating your inevitable followup:

    Onlookers, GAW has, sadly but predictably, decided to leave the conversation without responding except dismissively. This is confirmation of the relativist’s selective hyperskepticism and shows that my arguments are unassailable and have been correct all along.

    Feel free to expand on that with points A-H and two followups.

  253. kairosfocus: Thanks again for elaborating so well on subtle points that make big differences. The good news is that they are all being recorded for posterity. Your posts reflect the efforts of one who strives mightily to find and follow the truth, probably at some cost.

    On pragmatism/subjectivism/relativism etc. It does not surprise me that so many post-modern commentators bristle when I place those words (and others) in a unified context. “Why do you keep conflating these things,” my critics often ask me? “Do you not know the differences?” My answer and the follow up question is always the same: Yes, I know the differences very well, but do you know where they all lead? Their undue concern over the first point suggests, to me, at least, that they are trying to avoid the moral implications of the second point.

    On the one hand, the differences do matter insofar as they define which road was taken to escape the intellectual demands of right reason. A “subjective” morality that rebels against legitimate moral authority and seeks to de-legitimize it, differs somewhat from its derivative “relative ” morality that finds a convenient life ethic and is likely to change with the wind. A pragmatist world view that has settled on compromise answers differs well enough from a nihilistic world view that despairs over finding any answers at all.

    On the other hand, all these world views have something in common: Each rejects reason’s call to conform desire to truth, and chooses rather to conform truth to desire. Each fears somehow that the truth is less about setting them free and more about putting them in bondage. To that extent, they are all coming from the same place and going to the same place. Fortunately, we live in a universe that will, in the end, reward those who seek the truth, because the truth really does exist and it really is good. It didn’t have to be that way, but since it is, we ought to take advantage of it.

  254. GAW: One quick point that you may find consoling. You may feel “ganged up on” on this site, but let me assure you that I get it ten fold from my materialist (economically and metaphysically) culture. The difference is that my serious enemies (unlike you) have no sense of humor about our philosophical differences and are prepared to do anything that promises victory, including slander, intimidation, and, when all else fails, “hate crime” legislation. So, I don’t really mind mixing up on the internet. It does bother me, though, if I offend someone UNECESSARILY. If my ideas offend, that’s fine; but if I offend, that’s no so good.

    Internet communication it a blessing, but it is not without its trade offs. First, it tends to degenerate into a conflict of egos, a kind of contest to be won rather than a means of attaining truth through dialogue. Also, there is something about anonymity that invites bloggers to be a little more abusive and a little less compassionate than they would be in a face to face encounter. Worse, as you rightly point out, they seldom concede anything, possibly because they fear that they will lose credibility with onlookers or because they simply can’t believe anyone could be wiser than they are. Anyway, most of us know that we will not conquer our “foes;” our objective is to convince the uncommitted middle that our views are better than the other alternatives presented. I agree with you about one thing, though: it is a beautiful thing when someone says, “you know, you’re right; I will give you that one.”

  255. GAW (and Stephen B):

    It is probably wise to start with a cite from Mr Rorty [speaking for the liberal and radical wings of the professoriat], again courtesy that ever so humble and deeply flawed but often ever so helpful Wiki:

    . . . we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists [my NB: generally used as a offensive, usually contempt-filled smear-word] will leave college with views more like our own . . . The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students . . . When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank. . . You have to be educated in order to be . . . a participant in our conversation . . . So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours . . . . [‘Universality and Truth,’ in Robert B. Brandom (ed.), Rorty and his Critics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 21-2.]

    I trust that this is sufficient to show why I made the general aside that GAW has chosen to lead with for the second time now. The ignorant or stupid or insane or wicked jibe is real, and it is a serious underlying context whenever that smear- word or its cognates or context show up. That context, IMHCO, and as the above shows [complete with allusions to Nazism], includes the modern or ultra-modern revival of relativism and subjectivism, especially when the concept of objectivity on truth and on morals is at stake.

    Further to this, StephenB is dead right in 259, to raise the issue that a relativist [whether Rorty or GAW makes but little difference] has no grounds for complaint on diversity on morality, if s/he is consistent with his or her relativism — especially if s/he explicitly rejects objectivity. And, that brings us right back to my underlying point: the fallacy of selective hyper-skepticism is plainly at work.

    Now, on new points raised:

    1] GAW, 261: I’m not saying anything about your intelligence; I’m saying something about your writing . . . I was hoping this might encourage you to say something new.

    Not so fast. You have not to date properly engaged the issue on the merits. Whatever defects my writing may or may not have, none of your points above were substantial, but rather dismissive — indeed, grimly echoing of a certain cite I just made.

    Further to that, I note that in my experience on these issues [and onlookers can note what happened with the brief summary of Royce's point as filtered through Trueblood supra], if I am summary, it is dismissed as mere assertions not an argument. If I expand it is dismissed as prolixity. Either way I cannot win stylistically.

    Given that choice, I have generally chosen to be sufficiently detailed to be responsible, with onward links to more where that may be helpful.

    2] We’re obviously not going to reach agreement about the central point: your contention that I’m caught in objectivist epistemology despite my best efforts to the contrary

    “Agreement” is not at all a criterion of warrant.

    IMHCO, I have shown that it is objectively the case that even in trying to object to objective truth, you have managed to repeatedly instantiate objective truth-claims.

    3] I’ll happily grant that our language does favor objectivist accounts

    It is trying to tell you something. So is the Mathematics underlying the operation of the PC you are using to post here. (Namely, the algebra of propositions.)

    4] a lot of us find objectivist accounts of truth both inadequate and incoherent . . .

    That is your and their opinion. Is that opinion well-warranted or no? THAT is the real question. And, it points straight back to the issues of . . . objectivity.

    5] I appealed to a community standard I hoped we could agree upon.

    And so why is that any more to be preferred or agreed upon than any other contrary standard at any given point in space and time, say that of the Boers of South Africa, pre- 1994 or the Nazis pre- 1945, etc?

    In short, making the issues of objective morality and truth implicit does not make them irrelevant. [Onlookers, observe Mr Watson's recent notorious remarks on the evident inequality of Africans based on alleged isolated evolution, in the context of this thread's issues, again.]

    6] Sometimes I might strive for agreement; sometimes I might choose to quarrel (or fight — in fact, contra Lewis, humans sometimes fight when arguments fail).

    First, C S Lewis [and the many others who have said about the same thing] was very aware that quarrels often lead on to fights. The point is immaterial to the crucial difference between a quarrel and a fight: in quarrels, we generally assert and just as generally accept the binding nature of moral principles traceable to the concept of benevolent fairness and respect. [Hooker's summary already cited at 260 is apt.]

    And, relative to evolutionary materialist premises [which dominate the professoriat] is there a real I to think and choose in any way that is coherent,rather than driven by unconscious forces tracing to chance + necessity only, thus in the end self-referentially undermining both mind and morals?

    7] I think [the civil rights movement of the 1960's] won — and I’m glad it did — by helping those outside the immediate conflict to recognize the shared humanity of those being oppressed.

    See my points?

    8] Stephen B’s telling summary:

    This deserves to be scooped out and highlighted:

    . . . the differences [among various modernist and post-/ultra- modernist views] do matter insofar as they define which road was taken to escape the intellectual demands of right reason. A “subjective” morality that rebels against legitimate moral authority and seeks to de-legitimize it, differs somewhat from its derivative “relative ” morality that finds a convenient life ethic and is likely to change with the wind. A pragmatist world view that has settled on compromise answers differs well enough from a nihilistic world view that despairs over finding any answers at all.

    On the other hand, all these world views have something in common: Each rejects reason’s call to conform desire to truth, and chooses rather to conform truth to desire. Each fears somehow that the truth is less about setting them free and more about putting them in bondage. To that extent, they are all coming from the same place and going to the same place. Fortunately, we live in a universe that will, in the end, reward those who seek the truth, because the truth really does exist and it really is good.

    Very well said, and deserving of being the bottom-line. I only add the reference to the astonishing intellectual ancestry of the last point: Rom 2:6 – 8.

    GEM of TKI

  256. StephenB, thanks for responding. I don’t feel “ganged up on,” though kairosfocus is a crowd all by himself. :-) I just don’t think we’re getting anywhere. See KF’s last comment, to which I make the following short responses. The last, I promise! I’m not responding to the “substance,” such as it is. I just had to respond because he wants suggests I’m somehow enabling Nazis.

    First, Richard Rorty does not speak for me. There are large differences among us. Again, I have not called KF stupid or anything of the sort. Something Dawkins said once doesn’t give KF the right to play victim with everyone he disagrees. Further, I have not smeared anybody with Nazi associations (as noted below, I am so smeared by KF, but somehow that makes KF the victim — go figure).

    To KF’s points (not lettered this time but numbered; huh),

    1] to “properly” engage the issue on the merits is, in KF’s view, to engage him on his terms; since I cannot do that, it is impossible for me to engage KF in terms that he will view as on the merits. Indeed, I am convinced that no response will be accepted as “on the merits” other than “uncle.”

    2] IMHCO, KF has shown no such thing.

    3] Perhaps it is, perhaps not. There are other accounts of both language and mathematics (e.g., Brian Rotman, George Lakoff).

    4] I know, I know; I’m self-refuting. Alas.

    5] Now I’m just like apartheid and the Nazis. (Both groups, of course, claimed their own “objective” morality.) Also, I’m in bed with the racist James Watson.

    7] Whether there is a “real” self is an interesting question, though not entirely relevant. I lean against.

    8] No.

    9] “Fortunately, we live in a universe that will, in the end, reward those who seek the truth.” I’m already a Christian, thanks, and I already seek truth; it’s just not objective truth.

    Anyway, that sentence sounds like a works gospel to me, where “seek the truth” refers to intellectual good deeds. As I understand it, people receive grace for no merit of their own.

  257. Correction: my points were numbered incorrectly (7-9 should be 6-8).

    Also, Uncle.

  258. GAW, StephenB (and others):

    I see the thread continues. Also, that showing the (unfortunately highly relevant) context in which I made a remark for which I apologised for above has now become playing the victim card!

    Oh, well: GAW I have already long since apologised for making a statement that invited your inference that I was attacking you.

    I thought that would be clear enough, and that it would be further clear why I have shown how the underlying issue of almost habitual inference to ignorance, stupidity, insanity or wickedness is an unfortunately relevant factor and context in discussions of the above issues in the current climate as exemplified by Mr Rorty.

    In turn, it should be clear from the summary of and response to his views at 260, these issues are unfortunately a part of the overall context on relativism, anti- objectivist and anti- foundationalist thought and “tolerance” in today’s intellectual climate. And, that relevance holds whether or not GAW follows all that Rorty holds or the many, many profs and pundits whom he speaks for. [GAW, please help us when we face the power games of those who do push the full politically correct agenda that Mr Rorty so bluntly summarised.]

    So, maybe we can move on; now that we have heard both sides of the story?

    Now, on further points (for variety as well as ease of reference, let’s use roman numerals):

    i] to “properly” engage the issue on the merits is, in KF’s view, to engage him on his terms; since I cannot do that . . .

    Here we see the slide into subjectivism that relativism invites. I spoke to issues on the merits of fact and logic, here we see instead a clash of opinions and rhetorical tactics.

    My most basic point is that the relativist is in praxis forced to speak in terms of objective states of affairs, showing the clear self-referential incoherence of his rejection of objectivity. That is not a matter of getting GAW to cry “uncle,” it is a matter of repeatedly observed fact in this very thread. QED.

    ii] Now I’m just like apartheid and the Nazis. (Both groups, of course, claimed their own “objective” morality.) Also, I’m in bed with the racist James Watson.

    Kindly, observe my point 5 in 264.

    I addressed the claim that GAW was appealing to a community standard that he believed we would all agree on. I cited the cases of other (notoriously wrong) “community standards,” and asked on what basis then does one appeal to in (correctly!) dissenting from these. That is, the issue of dissent and reformation in light of the universality of humanity and the principles tied to the golden rule I discussed in 260, esp. points i – l, has been put back on the table.

    Instead of facing the implications and acknowledging then addressing the context, I now — sadly — see a plainly unwarranted inference to personal attack. Surely, we can do better than that.

    BTW, if memory serves, one of the Nazi defences offered at Nuremberg was that they were acting in accordance with the duly authorised Govt and associated community standards. It was overturned by making reference to the sort of Natural Law thought that Hooker as cited above, discusses; cf. also Rom 2:1 – 8, 14 – 15 & 13:8 – 10 on the roots and validity of such reasoning.

    As to Mr Watson, I pointed out that his argument was that on evo mat grounds, we have no reason to expect equality of intellectual ability across diverse isolated populations evolving. [Indeed, my wider argument [cf the Aug 20 Darwin thread] is that such a worldview undercuts the very mind much less morality and is therefore self-refuting.] So, it is unsurprising that without a Creation- in- the- image- of- God- anchored ethic [cf here Paul on Mars Hill to the Athenians, Ac 17:24 - 27 -- which I have publicly used to expose the false inference to racism from the Bible], Mr Watson opens the door again to racism. Many relativists rightly reject his racism, but again, on what basis? (BTW, if one knew what African schools were like in too many cases, one would understand some of the challenges faced by those who wish to help that continent move ahead. I am working with a Christian business family here in Montserrat, on a small school and community upliftment initiative in Kenya — and was shocked to learn the on-the-ground facts in even this relatively well-off African country! Cf. here.)

    iii] that sentence sounds like a works gospel to me, where “seek the truth” refers to intellectual good deeds. As I understand it, people receive grace for no merit of their own.

    This gets into theology, so pardon me Patrick etc for going a bit off-topic, but it is necessary to now cite and comment briefly on Rom 2:6 – 8:

    Rom 2:6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

    Here, in context, Paul is addressing “the man without the Bible,” and speaks to that inner pull to the light and the right that Locke also spoke to using the candle imagery from Prov 20:7.

    Those who – despite many a stumble, humbly keep on getting up and turning from wrong to right and false to true (i.e. are by whatever genuine light they have, penitent), God will receive with open arms. But those who turn from the light they have or should have and the right they know or should know, to habitually pursue darkness and evil, will face God’s just judgement (however, with a Divine tear in the eye). [Cf here Jn 3:19 - 21.]

    That is not arrogant putting up of “works” as a basis for claimed self-justification, but rather humble, penitent persistence in the way of the truth and the good. It is the publican who dares not come too close but beats on his breast asking forgiveness and mercy, not the proudly self-justifying one who dares to boast of his good deeds before God.

    iv] I already seek truth; it’s just not objective truth

    Again, a quote:

    Jn 3:19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

    Let us all humbly strive to attain that standard.

    GEM of TKI

  259. GAW:

    You last post amazes me. Beyond that, there is little else to say. I don’t think that there is any way I can respond to it honestly without committing great offense.

    If you wanted any tips from me about the fine art of reasoning in the abstract, I am sure you would let me know. So, I will simply move along to another thread where I look forward to interacting with you in another context.

  260. I’d like to apologize to KF and StephenB for 265 above. It was intemperate, hasty, and poorly written. I was frustrated at being misunderstood, let my frustration get the better of me, and so misread things in turn. So, KF and StephenB, please accept my apology and retraction. If I could, I’d like my final word on this thread to be 261.

  261. GAW

    Accepted. No hard feelings.

    Let us seek truth — and Him who is Truth — together.

    GEM of TKI

  262. GAW:

    By all means. Let’s start over.

  263. GAW and StephenB:

    I think we have found a reasonable basis for further discussion.

    GEM of TKI [MSc Physics, MBA]

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