Friday, July 13, 2007

Atheistic Morality 2

ChooseDoubt has responded to the Atheistic Morality topic.
Here is his post.

I have begun a blogalogue with theist blogger Rhology on the subject of morality. Both blogs will carry the full text of the conversation. Do we need a god to be moral? Let's find out. Rhology opens things up with the first post.

(then quotes my first post)

Posted by ChooseDoubt, Friday, July 13, 2007

Hi Rhology,

First of all thanks for agreeing to this blogalogue and thanks for your opener. I think you are right to keep things focussed and not introduce too many topics at this point. In order to maintain that focus I intend to introduce no new topics within my opening response. Anyway, let's get down to business.

I don't want to dwell on my recent job loss as this topic goes way beyond that simple example but I do want to address one point which I think you have failed to understand in earlier discussion. I'm going to do this with a thought experiment.

Let's imagine that I take you to a room which has a glass window on one wall. Through the window you can see into another room which has a table in it. You have no means by which to enter this second room. On the table are two pies and the question that is put to you is which one has the best flavour?

I think we can agree that your task is a difficult one. In fact, being asked to judge the flavour of the pies I suspect we can agree that even to state your own simple preference you would require relevant experience.

Let's keep in mind that your argument is that all value judgements are equally valid without a god. Now, a door opens into the second room and another man walks in. He tastes each pie and is asked the same question. Is your value judgement as valid as his? I would say it is not for the simple reason that, regardless of whether I or anyone else would share the same preference as our second man, he has fulfilled the relevant criteria required for an assessment – he has actually tasted the pies. The point being that we all innately recognise that there are valid and invalid ways to evaluate reality. My job was dependent upon my performance and relevant criteria had been contractually set to use in the evaluation of my performance. Since my work was with technology, not one of these criteria related to my lack of ability to believe Bronze Age myth. For that reason my ex-boss' value judgement, which used only criteria outside of that contractually set, was as invalid as would be your evaluation of the best tasting pie. In both cases no god is required to differentiate between valid and invalid judgements. In fact, to suggest that without a god all value judgements are equal is really to say that you consider humans to be lacking the intellectual capacity to differentiate between valid methods of assessment and invalid ones. How's the pie?

But let's move on to more interesting territory. Your essential point is that without a god then all morality comes down to simple preference. I think you would need to define what properties of this god make it uniquely valid as an external validator of "preference" above any other external validator? Why not use a measurement of suffering or happiness as an external validator instead? Let's put the two external validators to the test in another thought experiment.

Abhishek works as a doctor in the emergency ward of a local hospital. He was raised in the Hindu religion but he's quite modern and he lives in a loving relationship with his long term girlfriend, Savdeep, and they have a young daughter. Unfortunately Savdeep was a child bride many years ago before she left India and gained her freedom. There has been no divorce. One day Abhishek goes off to work to save some lives and earn some money to keep his family. What should we do?

According to the Bible the moral choice is clear. Abhishek has many other gods before the god of the Bible. That's one of the Ten Commandments violated for a start. Technically he's also committing adultery, as is Savdeep, which is another violation of the Ten Commandments, not to mention Leviticus 20:10 which is very clear on this matter:

"20:10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."

OK, we can stop there – the moral choice is clear when we are using God and his word as our moral compass. It's clear that we must kill Abhishek and Savdeep. The result of this will be two immediate deaths, possible other deaths in the emergency ward, an orphaned child and great suffering to friends and other family of the couple.

How about if instead we think in terms of suffering and happiness as our external validators? Well, here the choice is clear also. Let's leave Abhishek alone and let him get on with his life, helping people. Let's be happy that Savdeep escaped a life of abuse and servitude and has now found herself in a loving relationship – there's simply no need to interfere.

We don't need a god as an external validator of our moral choices. Instead we can use real world, case specific information to make such choices. You are arguing that without god all morality comes down to simple preference as though it is a bad thing. It's a great thing. We get to choose that which we prefer, that which improves life. From your side however you claim God has the absolute moral authority and yet you are still picking which of his moral guidance's you follow by simple preference. If you are not doing that then I must assume that as per Leviticus 15:19-24 that you keep your wife away from everyone else and do not share the bed with her for seven days when she menstruates and that you follow literally every other piece of "advice" offered by your God in your Bible?

What I'm getting at is that if you are going to claim that God is necessary for morality then you are going to have to stick to what God says. I have no doubt that you follow some of the guidance whilst ignoring a great deal. Basically, your argument is in tatters even before we've gone on to examine whether you are relying for your moral certainty from a fictional character or whether in fact there is a god and it just doesn't happen to be the one you are subscribing to.

Beyond all of that we then have the issue that in claiming God is necessary for morality would you then be of the opinion that without your belief in a god you would begin raping, murdering and stealing with no personal capacity to differentiate what you currently consider to be right from wrong? I expect that is at least partly true because right now it is very probable that you do only consider some actions wrong based solely on your religious faith – homosexuality may be a good example – but I would be surprised if you are of the opinion that without God you would immediately sink into the previously mentioned abusive behaviours.

So in closing, yes I absolutely agree that without God moral choices boil down to preference. It's a fallacy to assume that preference is automatically going to result in an abusive, antisocial lifestyle and furthermore I have no doubt that you pick and choose from God's morality anyway – by simple preference. All I can suggest is that you adapt your strategy to one based solely on preference instead of allowing the prejudices and insanities of more ignorant times to influence your interactions with the people you share this planet with.



PS. I'm leaving an evolutionary understanding of morality until a little later. There is a great deal to say about it and it would be good if we cleared the board a little first.

1 comment:

Lucian said...

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