Monday, July 23, 2007

Side note on atheistic morality

G-man has chimed in on the discussion of atheistic morality, and I thank him for stopping by.
His direction is a bit diversionary, however, and that's not really his fault. Such discussions are often derailed by Christians and atheists alike and degenerate into "Who's more moral?" contests. But that's a tertiary consideration.

ChooseDoubt has let me know that he'll be responding probably some time this week. That's fine w/ me - I'm not in any hurry and I don't think he is either.

G-Man said:
Atheism is the specific belief that no god exists - or the belief that not enough evidence exists to suggest even the remotest probability of one.

Which precludes any objective morality, particularly absent being presented w/ one. Even CD hasn't attempted to present one - he's just attacked mine to try to get me to admit that the basis of my morality is either not objective or not attractive.

Which specific god or gods is in question depends on further elaboration...

If it's "atheism" we're talking about and not "agnosticism", then it doesn't matter which god, none exists in atheism.
To say otherwise supports my contention, that atheism is a Christian heresy and has borrowed a great deal of rational and moral capital from Christianity in order to turn around and attack it.

If it can be successfully argued that 'morality = what is best for the individual,'

Which it can't.
And that begs the question anyway.

there's an objective truth to the matter

Except, in an atheist universe, it would come down to the individual's preference.
And that would preclude any info about how to treat OTHERS.
And there's no reason to assume that "morality = what is best for the individual" in an atheist universe; it begs the question b/c it's one person putting that idea forward.

Now you can say that everything you like/ everything that appeals to our culture as 'good' is derived from God, and the rest is not. I think that's a dangerous way to approach the topic.

I wouldn't say what you attributed to me. However, the very *idea* that there exists a Law that's higher than any individual (whether libertarian atheist, socialist atheist, communist party member, monarch, or dictator) and higher than society in order for that law to govern society (ie, a group of individuals) requires a higher Being. Which is contrary to the atheist idea.

on what Biblical basis is dogfighting wrong?

1) We are to be ruled by love and kindness, not cruelty.
2) The book of Proverbs lets us know that Michael Vick is one sick puppy.


public defecation?

1) It's contrary to the law of the land, by which we are to live in general (Romans 13).
2) It's dangerous to others.


Public nudity?

1) It's contrary to the law of the land, by which we are to live in general (Romans 13).
2) It's dangerous to others, especially children.
3) It is immoral according to the biblical definitions of sexual immorality.


Public fornication?

See public nudity.


Threats and blackmail?

1) We are to return good for evil (Romans 12:15).
2) Our mission is the Good News of Jesus and making disciples of Him through loving appeals and mercy (Matthew 28:19-20).
3) We are not to be greedy for money or earthly power (1 Tim 6).

Look, if you want, you can bring up a few more of these ideas, but
1) I don't see what you could possibly gain from them
2) you'll find that every possible situation is spoken to either explicitly or by good and necessary inference from the Bible
3) it still doesn't get you or CD anywhere in setting forth an objective morality for an atheist universe
4) even if you succeeded in stumping ME, that means little for the Bible
5) even if you stumped the Bible (somehow), that would mean that the Bible didn't provide guidance for that one issue, whereas it does for all other important issues that have ever been brought up, and you still don't have any objective morality for your own view.

a person's actions depend more on his/her upbringing than on his/her beliefs in God.

If you read closely, I am careful to avoid discussing real actions in the real world at this point, like "who's more moral?" questions. I'm interested in BASES for morality. Philosophically speaking.

An atheist borrowing from 'Christian behavior' would be one acting according to his upbringing, which was in accordance with the social norms Christians now attribute to Christianity.

Precisely, and I believe atheism is perhaps best-described as a Christian heresy for that very reason. There's a reason why a strong atheist movement has started, survived, and flourished in the West rather than elsewhere in the world.

An atheist borrowing from 'Christian moral understanding' would be saying that morality is derived from God. That's a little counter-intuitive.

Precisely. Atheists borrow capital from Christianity in order to help form their morality, and then they turn back on Christianity to destroy it.
"Christians don't live up to the morality I hold to!" - that's straight from Dan Barker. But as an atheist has no reason to accept "the avoidance of harm to sentient life forms" as his overriding moral basis. He picked it b/c the crypto-Christian idea of "being a good boy" includes that idea in some form. He liked it and grabbed onto it. But why that idea? Why not torturing people? Why not "Sex w/ anything but hyena carcasses is morally unacceptable"? Why not "It is humanity's responsibility to eat crayons exclusively"?

10 comments:

G-man said...

Ah, some airtime for myself, I see. Please don't let this sidetrack you from your other obligations.

In my own defense, I only turned to the 'Who's more moral?' issue toward the end of my comment.

I also avoided outlining my own moral understanding because it saved space and because I assumed that if you were curious you'd ask for further elaboration.

The idea of objective morality is that it doesn't vary among the variables of the individual, place, or time. The trouble with arguing against subjective opinion as morality (and it is certainly difficult) is that there is a set of phenomena out there: [Those actions that benefit the individual].

If somebody says "The term 'morality' describes that set of actions," then what can you do? The difference between you and I and that sort of person is that we believe that there is another set of phenomena *better* described using the term 'morality.' That is the base from which we must argue.

But again, basic act utilitarianism is an objective approach. It says [That set of actions that promote happiness and disperse unhappiness] is the phenomena best described by the word 'morality.'

We can't argue that their use of the word is 'wrong,' because there is no intrinsic use for words. All we can say is 'You can call it whatever you want. This set of phenomena we are describing, however, still exists.'

At the risk of making this extremely long, I'll elaborate. BDI theory explains that humans act according to the formula Beliefs + Desires --> Intentional action.

A desire is an attitude with regards to a state of affairs. An agent desires that a state of affairs be made or kept true.

A belief is an attitude about a proposition (A belief that X is true is the attitude that X accurately describes reality).

An intentional action results. If you desire the state of affairs where 'My thirst is quenched' is true, you will act according to your beliefs. If you believe that 'filling this glass with water and drinking it will fulfill my desire' is true, then you will act accordingly.

So far so good. Value exists in how we approach states of affairs. States of affairs have value as means to ends, or as ends in themselves.

The second important set of concepts is that desires can be evaluated as 'good' or 'bad.' Desires, by the way, are objective entities. "I desire to eat ice cream" is true in the real world and exists in the firings of neurons in my brain. Just as other things can be evaluated based on their ability to fulfill desires - a 'good' pencil is one that writes - a 'good' desire is one that tends to fulfill other desires.

A desire to know truth, then, is a good desire, as that desire tends to fulfill others. For example, if I desire that the state of affairs where 'I have quenched my thirst' is true, my desire is best fulfilled when I actually have true beliefs. So, just as a pencil can be either good or bad based on its tendency to fulfill or thwart other desires, we can evaluate such desires in the community in general.

In utilitarian fashion, a 'good' desire is one that tends to fulfill the desires of other people. A 'bad' desire is one that tends to thwart the desires of other people. Which desires are good and bad, then, can be discovered through scientific, objective study of the world - and such analysis is the farthest thing from objective opinion.

Again, I believe that this set of phenomena - the values of human beings, and that actions are good/bad based on their fulfillment of other humans' values - is best described by the term 'morality.' You don't have to agree to using that term, but the phenomena still exist.

-----

I'm pretty sure that will spark enough discussion, but I'll comment on the rest of the post anyway.

"Atheism" is derived from 'A' and 'Theos.' No 'theos' is specified. So, the user of the term must be specific instead. You know as well as I that when I say 'God,' I could mean a plethora of things. Thus, saying the universe is 'without God,' I may mean any one of a plethora of things.

The belief that no gods exist whatsoever can be described by the word 'atheism,' but is probably better described by the term 'secularist' or 'materialist' or 'naturalist.'

"...and has borrowed a great deal of rational and moral capital from Christianity in order to turn around and attack it."
_I'm still confused by what you mean here, Rhoblogy. The reason I turned to 'Who's more moral?' is because you brought this up. Let me reiterate:

1. Atheists don't borrow from 'Christian behavior.' This is the 'Who's more moral?' question, and the answer is 'neither.'

2. Atheists don't borrow from Christian moral theory, because that is counter-intuitive.

So... what exactly DO they borrow???

"it begs the question b/c it's one person putting that idea forward."
_Consensus isn't required to establish truth. The set of phenomena called [That set of actions that benefit the individual] exists in the real world. What you choose to call it is irrelevant. To those who would prefer to call it 'morality,' I say that the set of actions I described above - well, more specifically, the set of desires - is better described by that term, while 'what benefits the individual' should simply be called 'what benefits the individual.'

Alright... so if public acts of defecation, nudity and fornication were done responsibly and children were kept indoors, and our nation adjusted its laws, they would be good actions? I mean, you'll need to elaborate on "the biblical definitions of sexual immorality" in this case.

Regarding threats: "We are to return good for evil" begs the question. I'm wondering whether threats are evil. What is eternal punishment if it isn't a threat? Love and mercy doesn't really seem to factor into that equation too well. Finally, threats don't necessarily involve greed.

1) The reason I bring this up is this: the Bible is your sole source of morality, yet there are things you probably consider moral/immoral which are not detailed in scripture.

2) It has nothing to say, for instance, about euthanasia. It does not adequately describe the difference between killing and murder, and what we can do in times of war. It makes no effort to condemn slavery.

Worst of all, it doesn't solve the Euthyphro dilemma. It doesn't say *why* things are good or evil.

"There's a reason why a strong atheist movement has started, survived, and flourished in the West rather than elsewhere in the world."
_I'd attribute that to the freedom of religion, humane governments, value placed on rational thinking, and the absence of theocracies, actually.

Anyway, the social norms attributed to Christianity today are vastly different than the ones attributed to Christianity elsewhere and at other times. Unless I'm mistaken, a great number of Christians (a majority, even?) feel that sex outside of marriage is permissible. Christians nowadays are appalled by slavery, polygamy, young teens marrying old adults, and the idea that women be denied the right to vote or to preach. Yet - this sort of thing was permissible not long ago at all, and Christians thanked God for giving them such a moral code.

In short, 'Christian behavior' is nothing more than current norms attributed to Christianity. As you said, even Hammurabi borrowed his code from Christianity, because *everything* you view as good in this day and age did. *shrug* It's an invincible stance.

chooseDoubt said...

No offence intended to G-man here but I'd like to keep his debate with Rhology on this subject separate to my own with the exception of picking up on his accurate critique of some foundational aspects of the first exchange.

G-man said...

No worries - this is a tangent. I felt obliged to go into some detail. Since I happen to disagree with both CD and Rhoblogy, I guess my comments made further conversation necessary.

Rhology said...

hi G-man,

Oh, no problem to have you here. But yes, we'll do our best to keep this separate from the convo w/ CD so as not to confuse the two.

Who's more moral?

I'd like to stay away from it b/c it is impossible to come to any conclusion on and it's irrelevant to my argument anyway. I'll only defend if attacked on that count; I won't attack on that count.

As for your own moral understanding, I didn't ask, 'tis true. I assumed you were an atheist, but that was not good for me to do. Are you an atheist? If not, what is a brief summary of your metaphysical worldview?

basic act utilitarianism is an objective approach. It says [That set of actions that promote happiness and disperse unhappiness] is the phenomena best described by the word 'morality.'

OK, as far as that goes, it's objective. But the gross and obvious subjectivity comes in the middle of the definition - what is "best"? Utilitarianism can't tell you. If it is "promoting happiness," it would need to be able to explain why happiness is the goal and not, say, robbing others, using lotion, or sex w/ hyena carcasses.

We can't argue that their use of the word is 'wrong,' because there is no intrinsic use for words.

From your perspective I agree 100%, which is another excellent reason to reject naturalism.
But from the Christian perspective that statement cannot be sustained b/c reason is real, logic is real, and the statement is self-refuting.

So far so good.

With you so far.

In utilitarian fashion, a 'good' desire is one that tends to fulfill the desires of other people. A 'bad' desire is one that tends to thwart the desires of other people.

3 problems:
1) There is no reason to label "good" as "that (which) tends to fulfill the desires of other people." Same for "bad."
2) You still have the problem of HOW best to fulfill the desires of other people.
3) People's desires are often contradictory and impossible to fulfill, not only fully but sometimes even to the bare minimum extent.

Which desires are good and bad, then, can be discovered through scientific, objective study of the world - and such analysis is the farthest thing from objective opinion.

You cut me off at the pass! :-) Well done. But it seems you agree w/ my position: HUMANS themselves are not "objective" especially when it comes to their desires and life goals. Such a study would be impossible, as you said.

============2ND SECTION=============

1. Atheists don't borrow from 'Christian behavior.' This is the 'Who's more moral?' question, and the answer is 'neither.'

I'm not doing a good job of explaining.
I don't mean they borrow from Christian behavior b/c Christians are more moral. It's b/c only ChristianITY has any objective basis for any morality at all. And it just so happens to be the morality that God the Creator instated as a spark in the hearts of humans, so it corresponds at a deep level. For example, the vast majority of men would rather treat a child in such a way as to help that child grow, as opposed to pounding a sharpened stick thru their eye. On naturalism there is no reason to pick one or the other, but on Christianity there is ample reason.

what exactly DO they borrow???

Anytime an atheist says "Morality is _____", they have done so, unless the _____ is "completely up to your personal preference."

The set of phenomena called [That set of actions that benefit the individual] exists in the real world.

"Benefit" is questionable.
So is "individual." On what level? Which individual? What about society? How big is "society"?

so if public acts of defecation, nudity and fornication were done responsibly and children were kept indoors, and our nation adjusted its laws, they would be good actions?

Defecation - I said it is also dangerous to people. But this is not an "evil" like murder.
Nudity - no.
Fornication - Fornication cannot be done "responsibly", so no. And it's against God's law beyond that.

you'll need to elaborate on "the biblical definitions of sexual immorality" in this case.

Sure thing. The biblical definition of licit sex is between husband and wife within marriage, that does not hurt either party and that is consensual. All other sexual activity is excluded.

I'm wondering whether threats are evil.

Well, you asked ME, a believer in the Bible. Threats are evil, yes.

What is eternal punishment if it isn't a threat?

It is a threat in the sense that "You will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if you murder someone in cold blood in the US and you are caught by the proper authorities" is a threat. Since it's a proper authority making the "threat", it is not evil.

Love and mercy doesn't really seem to factor into that equation too well.

Could you elucidate?

the Bible is your sole source of morality, yet there are things you probably consider moral/immoral which are not detailed in scripture.

If I said that, I apologise. The Bible is my sole FINAL source of morality and truth, but it is not the only one. Yet all secondary sources will be tested in the light of the Bible. Hope that clears it up.

It has nothing to say, for instance, about euthanasia.

It has a lot to say, actually.
It proscribes throwing people away just b/c they are no longer useful to society. It prescribes (as opposed to "proscribes") taking care of family members whenever possible. It forbids murder. It exhorts us to live until our moment of death (which is God's bailiwick) and to minister to people until then.

It does not adequately describe the difference between killing and murder

It's in the words themselves. Murder is the deliberate taking of innocent human life.
Killing in a just war is permitted. In the course of the proper authorities enforcing the law. In self-defense.
See here for some primary-source docs from Aquinas on Just War.

it doesn't solve the Euthyphro dilemma. It doesn't say *why* things are good or evil.

I can't stress strongly enough how wrong you are here. This is the big kahuna.
God is the source of good, thus what is in harmony w/ His nature is good. That which breaks His law is bad.
It is **naturalism** that cannot solve that dilemma, and that's one huge reason I've rejected it.

a great number of Christians (a majority, even?) feel that sex outside of marriage is permissible.

So what? Just b/c they get it wrong doesn't mean anythg.

slavery, polygamy, young teens marrying old adults, and the idea that women be denied the right to vote or to preach.

You're right, but...
-Slavery done in a specific way is not necessarily morally wrong.
-Polygamy is condemned in the Scripture, though not as strongly as other things, and that for a reason.
-Young teens & old adults - I don't care.
-Women vote - any SYSTEM of gov't is amoral. But if you're asking about women's WORTH, Genesis & Galatians among other places make it very clear that women are equal in nature to men.
-Women preach - women's equality does not automatically mean exact equivalency of ROLE. Women bear children, breastfeed. Men can't. Why? God made 'em both that way. Men are stronger physically. Why? God made 'em that way to protect, to work, etc. Men preach in churches and lead churches. Why? God gives reasons but I'm tired of typing.

even Hammurabi borrowed his code from Christianity,

Not necessarily CONSCIOUSLY. But the idea that there is ANY absolute moral stand is from the God of the Bible.

Chris Severn said...

It's b/c only ChristianITY has any objective basis for any morality at all.
You seem to be hung up on the need for an objective basis for morality. You think that anything without an objective basis is deficient... We're not doing a very good job of showing you the beauty of a subjective basis... It makes things more interesting, and more ambiguous sure, but it seems to give better results than blind obedience to 2000 year old teachings.

Anyway, when you say "only Christianity" above, you are comparing to Atheism only right ?
For instance, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, all have the same basis for an objective morality as Christianity does don't you agree ? If you don't agree, is it due to any other reason than "Christianity is the real religion, the others are false religions" ?

Rhology said...

Chris,

You're asking some good questions, and I appreciate that.

You seem to be hung up on the need for an objective basis for morality.

I guess that's fair to say, yes. My overriding point is and has been that, in an atheist universe, any morality is purely based on personal or at best societal preference. There is no great cosmic OUGHT. That bothers me. One reason it bothers me is b/c the statement "Hitler was evil" takes the same value as "I don't like vanilla ice cream." That should bother anyone.

You think that anything without an objective basis is deficient...

Among other ways, it is deficient in the vanilla vs Hitler way I just said.

beauty of a subjective basis.

There's a whole lot of ugliness too.

it seems to give better results than blind obedience to 2000 year old teachings.

That's very debatable but I've never even brought up that point. Rather my atheist opponents have, for reasons I can only guess at.
At least in these teachings (some of which are at least 6000 yrs old BTW) I can know that mass murder is worse than disliking vanilla ice cream.

"only Christianity" above, you are comparing to Atheism only right ?

In one sense, yes, I was clumsy.
I should have said "theism". Good catch.
I'm mostly dealing w/ the philosophical/epistemological structure of the worldviews, so I should include Judaism and Islam in on "my" side.
Not Buddhism or Hinduism, though.

G-man said...

I'm beginning to understand what you mean by atheists 'borrowing' morality from Christians. More on that later.

Regarding basic utilitarianism: The basic premise is that the end goal of all human action is 'happiness.' For that simple reason, those actions which best achieve happiness for the most people can be seen, objectively, as 'good.' As for why 'happiness' is the goal in humans, well, that seems to be the sum of evolutionary developments.

You seem to recognize the objectivity of that ethical system, so I can move on.

Back to desire utilitarianism:

1) There is a reason to label certain objective entities as 'good' or as 'bad.' Those are the value words which people apply to things that fulfill or thwart their desires - 'bad' food, for instance.

Whichever language we use, the values we apply to entities like that remain the same.

2) How to fulfill the desires of other people isn't the point. The point is to learn which desires have a global tendency to fulfill the desires of others. One very obvious example is an aversion to killing. It is unquestionably true that a person who hates killing will be more likely to fulfill the desires of others than someone who loves killing.

3) Again, the goal is not for me to fulfill the desires of others. It is for me to possess a set of desires (call them character qualities) which make me the sort of person who will tend to act in ways which fulfill the desires of others. Note the difference?


============2ND SECTION============



"It's b/c only ChristianITY has any objective basis for any morality at all."
_What happened to what you said about basic utilitarianism?

"For example, the vast majority of men would rather treat a child in such a way as to help that child grow, as opposed to pounding a sharpened stick thru their eye."
_See, this is where I'm beginning to understand what you're trying to say.

You're making a CS Lewis-esque point... that humans 'feel' that there is a 'good and bad' out there and that certain actions are right and others are wrong - as if there is a 'standard.'

Well that feeling, quite simply, is there for evolutionary reasons. Genes were selected, it seems, when they promoted cooperation and the success of the community. That is why, in humans as in a wide variety of other animals, males would rather help than harm the young of their own species.

You'll also notice that human feelings of right and wrong apply most strongly to our own species, and then appear to trail away on a gradient from species that look or act most like us (which we treat better) to species that look or act less like us (which we often treat abysmally).

You'll also note that the less a human looks or acts like the typical human, the less people will tend to treat them the same. Do you think this tendency is better explained by God's good decision to make it so, or by an evolutionary tendency to favor one's own species over others?

Moving right along:
If children were kept inside, what, more specifically, would make public nudity 'wrong?' And how nude must a person be to be immorally nude in public?

And what about public sex between married couples? How does that violate God's laws?

What sort of threat is evil, and why?

"Murder is the deliberate taking of innocent human life."
_What sort of human, according to your worldview, is 'innocent?' When you've answered that, could you please elaborate on how warfare is not 'the deliberate taking of innocent human life?'

"That which breaks His law is bad."
_Why exactly is that bad? Why is God's law more important than, say, yours or mine? What makes God's nature more good than, say, yours or mine?


"It is **naturalism** that cannot solve that dilemma, and that's one huge reason I've rejected it."
_Hmm, desire utilitarianism essentially answers the question by saying 'what is good is what is good for us.'

The dilemma would thus ask 'Is what is good for us good because it is good, or is what is good good because it is good for us?'

Clearly it's a pretty silly question. (Remember that 'what is good for us' has already been defined). So yeah, a naturalistic ethical system can solve the Euthyphro dilemma.

"Men are stronger physically. Why?"
_Presumably so that all over God's good earth they can rape women; so that women can rarely walk dark streets without being afraid, and so that men can trade them and treat them like possessions.

Oh, right! So that men can protect women! Because it wouldn't make any sense for women to be able to protect themselves like men can...

Phew, long response. I've overwhelmed myself with the conversations I've started in the blogosphere. I'm not as dedicated a blogger as some others. Hopefully there's some food for thought in what I wrote.

Rhology said...

G-man,

those actions which best achieve happiness for the most people can be seen, objectively, as 'good.'

As I said above, though, what makes people "happy" is highly transient and totally subjective. The definition of "most" is highly fluid, and "most" is impossible to achieve anyway.

You seem to recognize the objectivity of that ethical system

I did? Well, only in that it has "happiness" as the goal.

There is a reason to label certain objective entities as 'good' or as 'bad.' Those are the value words which people apply to things that fulfill or thwart their desires - 'bad' food, for instance.

But what about a "bad" action? Murdering 1000 people? Sex w/ hyena carcasses? Washing your hands? Taking a "morning-after" pill? Helping an old lady across the street? Donating £10,000,000 to World Vision?

the values we apply to entities like that remain the same.

Since everyone assigns "good" and "bad" to different things, inconsistently between them, how could that be true?
Does everyone assign "good" or "bad" equally to the statement: It is objectively worthy of the death penalty everywhere and at all times to hold to a utilitarian ethic?


======2nd section==========

What happened to what you said about basic utilitarianism?

Touché. I should have said, "It's b/c only ChristianITY has a wholly objective basis for its morality."

that humans 'feel' that there is a 'good and bad' out there and that certain actions are right and others are wrong - as if there is a 'standard.'

Well, kind of. That's not the main point but it's part of it.

Well that feeling, quite simply, is there for evolutionary reasons.

This is where the tired "Hitler" argument comes in handy, b/c your statement doesn't work for him.

You'll also note that the less a human looks or acts like the typical human, the less people will tend to treat them the same. Do you think this tendency is better explained by God's good decision to make it so, or by an evolutionary tendency to favor one's own species over others?

It's 'explainable' in either context, so we'll have to look elsewhere to confirm our propositions.

And what about public sex between married couples? How does that violate God's laws?

The very fact that it's PUBLIC violates the intimate covenant to keep the marital act between a married couple.

What sort of threat is evil, and why?

Well, I was discussing above how the threat of Hell is issued by the proper authority.
So one way we could know is if the threat were not issued by a proper authority. That's one more way than any naturalistic system can provide for knowing a threat is "evil".

What sort of human, according to your worldview, is 'innocent?'

Biblically, no one is, but I'm using "innocent" in the context of abortion. Innocent, here, means "not having committed a capital offense", especially when we're talking about murder.

warfare is not 'the deliberate taking of innocent human life?'

Some war is just and some is not.
An almost certainly just war: WW2
A maybe just war: The Crusades
A probably not just war: the Spanish-American War

If it IS a just war, then the combatants on the wrong side are not innocent - they are accomplices in a crime. They're trying to kill the good guys and further the commission of that crime.

Why exactly is that (breaking God's law) bad?

From an atheist's POV, nothing is ultimately bad, so I can see why you'd ask that.
But God's Law is that which defines good and evil, which separates them. His Law flows out of His character, and He is wholly good. Those who break His Law will be punished.
To know ultimate good and evil, there's either that way or there's no way.

Why is God's law more important than, say, yours or mine?

B/c we are subjects of the King.
B/c He is wholly good and we're pretty dastardly.
B/c His Law defines what is good and evil and ours is transient and pitiful.

What makes God's nature more good than, say, yours or mine?

He is the very definition of good. You or I are not.


desire utilitarianism essentially answers the question by saying 'what is good is what is good for us.'

But you're begging the question when you use "good for us." How do you know what is "good for us"?

Remember that 'what is good for us' has already been defined

Where?

"Men are stronger physically. Why?"
_Presumably so that all over God's good earth they can rape women; so that women can rarely walk dark streets without being afraid, and so that men can trade them and treat them like possessions.


1) That's not why God made them stronger.
2) Christianity includes the doctrine of the total depravity of all humankind. If the strength of women and men were reversed, men would be oppressed by women in similar ways.
3) So why is that ultimately morally objectionable for you?

Peace,
Rhology

G-man said...

I mentioned why it makes sense to use the words 'good' and 'bad' to describe desire-fulfilling and desire-thwarting entities. Your response seemed a little off-topic, but I hope that you understand why it makes sense to use those words to describe those particular value statements.

"Does everyone assign "good" or "bad" equally to the statement..."
_Doesn't really matter. A theory has to, among other things, define its terms. Desire utilitarianism uses the word 'good' to describe desire-fulfilling entities, and 'bad' to describe desire-thwarting entities. It makes sense to use those words because in our language that's how they tend to be used.

And of course I recognize that people apply those words to different things. It's because they have different desires. It remains true, though, that some of those desires have tendencies to fulfill others, and some have tendencies to thwart others. We can label these 'good' and 'bad' just as we can any other objective entity.

"How do you know what is "good for us?""
_You mean, how does one know? Let's say there's a certain type of flower that grows all over the world. Whenever someone sticks a flower like that behind his/her ear, all the people around him/her feel happier. They aren't hungry, they aren't depressed. They're nice to everybody else, they want peace. They're honest.

If we can encourage everybody to wear those flowers, wouldn't it be 'good for us' in the only sense that that phrase is meaningful?

The only thing people care about is their desires. Desires are the only things that drive people to action. If there were no desires, nobody would do or want anything.

If all people possess Desire X, which is one that universally tends to fulfill the desires of all the other people, that would be 'good for us.' There's simply no better way to describe it.


======2nd section==========


"That's not the main point but it's part of it."
_Go on... I'm getting closer and closer to what you mean by 'atheists borrow from Christian morality.' I can't seem to get a straight answer out of you yet.

So far, you don't mean that atheists borrow from Christian moral understanding (as that's counter-intuitive) or Christian moral behavior (as neither can be argued as 'more moral') and now we know that atheists borrow from Christian moral feelings or empathy... or that that's 'part of it.' I'm still waiting on the rest.

"This is where the tired "Hitler" argument comes in handy, b/c your statement doesn't work for him."
_Actually, it does. See, humans have feelings of empathy, compassion, value, justice etc for evolutionary reasons - they're clearly beneficial to have.

However, there are still psychological reasons for deviance.

"It's 'explainable' in either context, so we'll have to look elsewhere to confirm our propositions."
_Ok... I guess it's just circumstance that the observation that we have stronger moral feelings for things that look and act more like us (and are physically closer, for that matter), fits in nicely in an evolutionary context, but doesn't make a whole lot of sense coming from a God who values all humans equally...

"The very fact that it's PUBLIC violates the intimate covenant to keep the marital act between a married couple."
_Oh, the act is still between the married couple, and it's still pretty intimate... just public! Really, where does the Bible mandate that Biblically legal sex must be out of the public eye?

You've yet to answer the question of why a threat from an improper authority is evil.

Desire utilitarianism doesn't, as far as I know, state that a threat is evil of its own accord. Naturally, a little context would be necessary to come to a conclusion... but yeah, a naturalistic system can determine when a threat is 'evil.'

This actually transitions nicely into your concept of murder. Is someone who threatens to kill or harm you or your family someone who has committed a 'capital offense,' or would killing that person in self-defense be murder?


So, regarding just war... what about the one in which the Israelites were invading the land occupied by Og, King of Bashan, and were directly ordered by God to commit genocide and wipe out every trace of that kingdom? Just war?

How was WW2 just? I mean, do you honestly think that unless European powers responded, God would have let Hitler take over most of the Western world? Why not sit back and let God fight him, rather than wasting a generation of young men's lives?

"But God's Law is that which defines good and evil"
_Says who? And why should we accept that definition?

"His Law flows out of His character, and He is wholly good."
_But His character is the definition of good... so all you've said is that 'God's Law flows out of God's character, and God has God's character.' Isn't that a bit tautological?

"He is the very definition of good. You or I are not."
_Again, what makes him the definition of good, and why should we accept that definition? Every being has a different character. Why should one's be accepted as the definition of good?

"If the strength of women and men were reversed, men would be oppressed by women in similar ways."
_Ah, but it wouldn't need to be reversed. It could simply be made equal. Does God make 'male' and 'female' souls, and put them in stronger or weaker bodies? Did He want there to be a hierarchy? Did he want some souls to dominate others, and 'keep them in their place?' Just wondering.

Rhology said...

G-man,

Apologies for not posting before. I forgot about this.

A theory has to, among other things, define its terms. Desire utilitarianism uses the word 'good' to describe desire-fulfilling entities, and 'bad' to describe desire-thwarting entities. It makes sense to use those words because in our language that's how they tend to be used.

OK, that's fine, but when I question the association of "good" to "desire-fulfilling entities", I guess I'd like to know why you did it. Is it not a fair question? Why not associate the terms "good" and "what people should do ordinarily" to desire-thwarting entities?
(Hint: It's b/c you have a conscience given to you by God, who placed in you the implicit knowledge of general good and evil.)

They aren't hungry, they aren't depressed. They're nice to everybody else, they want peace. They're honest.

And the lack of an answer to the initial question leads you to beg one here. Why should I seek to fulfill these desires in myself and others?
Is it b/c that's what people generally want? Why should we care about what others want? Why should we care about what *we ourselves* want? Why not create an ethical theory that encourages us to imitate mass murderers? (These are not rhetorical questions, BTW.)


===================2nd section====================
I can't seem to get a straight answer out of you yet.

Sorry, like I told anonymous over at ChooseDoubt's place, I have yet to graduate the 10th grade.

you don't mean that atheists borrow from Christian moral understanding

Yes, I do mean that, particularly in the sense that you just automatically start w/ the idea that we should try to help people and not torture them all the time. That's a Xtian idea.
However, you don't do it explicitly nor probably intentionally. But atheism is a Christian heresy, and as such borrows a great deal from its moral framework w/o giving credit where it is due.

or Christian moral behavior

More specifically, the argument that one is superior to the other in terms of its morality based on the behavior of atheISTS and ChristianS is not an argument I'd make.

See, humans have feelings of empathy, compassion, value, justice etc for evolutionary reasons - they're clearly beneficial to have.

It is not clear that they are beneficial to have, speaking in terms of evolution. Please support that statement w/ an argument.

there are still psychological reasons for deviance.

But you can't consign them ONLY to psych reasons, as that would be begging the question. We have to find out WHY, logically speaking, we'd consign one set of behaviors to the crazies and one to the normals.

fits in nicely in an evolutionary context, but doesn't make a whole lot of sense coming from a God who values all humans equally...

This is part of the problem when atheists critique Xtianity. You often don't give any evidence that you understand Xtian doctrine. Have you never read of the Fall of man?

the act is still between the married couple, and it's still pretty intimate... just public!

By virtue of its being in public, it is no longer restricted to the couple. Many OT psgs refer to the illicitness of uncovering someone's "nakedness" either to whom you are not married or whom you should not marry (ie, your father's wife).

You've yet to answer the question of why a threat from an improper authority is evil.

B/c gratuitous violence is countermanded by God's law.

but yeah, a naturalistic system can determine when a threat is 'evil.'

You have to assume a biblical framework to do so, as we're proving even now.

Is someone who threatens to kill or harm you or your family someone who has committed a 'capital offense,' or would killing that person in self-defense be murder?

Threatens to kill/harm... that *might* be murder, depends on the context as you said.
Capital offense - **IF** the execution is carried out by the proper authorities, as prescribed biblically.
Self-defense - that is also biblically permissible, thus, not murder.

Now, how would YOU answer those questions?

what about the one in which the Israelites were invading the land occupied by Og, King of Bashan, and were directly ordered by God to commit genocide and wipe out every trace of that kingdom? Just war?

Anythg God commands is just, so yes.

How was WW2 just? I mean, do you honestly think that unless European powers responded, God would have let Hitler take over most of the Western world? Why not sit back and let God fight him, rather than wasting a generation of young men's lives?

WW2 was just or at least arguably just b/c it was undertaken as a last resort against hostile tyrannical powers for a just cause.
This whole "let God fight" is silly - God works through means, usually human means.

Says who? And why should we accept that definition?

Says God, the Creator and Lawmaker.
We accept it for a few reasons:
1) It is backed by the force of punitive consequences; the sheriff is omniscient and omnipresent.
2) It is the only objective basis on which to have any ultimate morality at all.
3) W/o it we have no way to tell the diff between liking vanilla ice cream, raping little girls, and sex w/ hyena carcasses.

'God's Law flows out of God's character, and God has God's character.' Isn't that a bit tautological?

What you said certainly is, but that's not the distillation of what I said. Why even add the 2nd phrase?

Why should one's be accepted as the definition of good?

B/c of the impossibility of the contrary, as explained above. You're welcome to present other candidates and we'll see how they do under examination.

It could simply be made equal.

Which would lead to its own set of problems, and then you'd complain about THOSE.
The bottom line is that God made things good and man has turned aside to many devices, and has screwed things up. The only way we know that they're screwed up is that we have a perfect standard by which to judge them. Judging a twisted piece of airplane wreckage (say, from the wing) by another piece of twisted wreckage (say, from the engine) is no way to analyse debris. You compare to a real, working wing.

Does God make 'male' and 'female' souls, and put them in stronger or weaker bodies?

God creates every soul, so yes.
As for the stronger/weaker, it's a general pattern that women are physically smaller and weaker than men.

Did He want there to be a hierarchy?

Yes, of role (in the family, in the church), not of essence.

Did he want some souls to dominate others, and 'keep them in their place?

Not in the way you're implying.

Happy to help - hope it's useful.

Peace,
Rhology