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  1. 1

    Zero

    1) Objective morality would have to be universal

    //Objective means: (of a person or their judgment) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. So for morality to be objective, it must not be dependent on any opinions.//

    Correct.

    //This means that any concept of morality based on the will of a God is not objective.//

    Erm, no. On the essentialist metaphysics of Thomism the will follows on the intellect, which means that God is incapable of willing something that is not in accordance with reason. Thus anything God may ‘will’ in terms of morality is *logically necessary* and therefore objective, not some kind of divine FIAT.

    //And furthermore, such morality is even another step removed, since even determining the will of God is decided by what the opinions of humans.//

    The claim that human inability to accurately discern the content of objective morality somehow renders morality itself subjective is a non-sequitur (that is, the conclusion *does not logically follow* from the premises).

    //Morality that is subject to a being’s will is subjective by definition.//

    But God is not ‘a being’ amongst others anyway, God is ‘being’ itself, and new Atheist conceptions of an old-man-in-the-sky-with-a-long-white-beard are hopelessly unsophisticated.

    //Objective morality would be morality that is universal and above God. This means the existence of God is irrelevant whether objective morals can exist or not.//

    A hotly debated topic in philosophy. Again, where is your evidential support for your ethical claim?

    2) There is no objective way to determine a god’s will

    //Even if we assume a god exists, can you objectively prove which code of ethics God has said is the true one? Or even if he’s said anything on the matter yet at all?

    Strictly speaking, we cannot objectively prove anything. ‘Truth’ and ‘proof’ are concepts which are ultimately inaccessible through the application of human tools of reasoning, including empiricism, which is an inductive and therefore probabilistic methodology (see Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery). For this reason, belief in any worldview ultimately requires an element of faith.

    Better questions would be ‘Do we have good reason to think that God has revealed the existence of objective morality to humanity?’ and ‘Are some things objectively wrong, e.g. are there any circumstances at all in which torturing a baby would not be ‘wrong’, or would such an act, always be ‘wrong’?’ The Theist claim is that such things are always wrong, without exception. Since your view is that objective morality cannot exist, you concede by extension that torturing babies could be right in some circumstances. I refer you again to the dangers of mixing Atheistic belief with the ability to exercise state power.

    //You have no such objective knowledge so your morality is subjective whether you believe he exists or not. Without an objective basis to discern what he even commands, the whole concept of a divine morality is
    useless and inapplicable to real life.//

    As above, if you’re demanding ‘objective proof’ then there is no ‘objective basis’ for any human knowledge. The idea that this makes all human knowledge ‘useless and inapplicable to real life’ is self-evidently absurd. Do you require ‘objective proof’ for your acceptance of, say, ‘Atheism’? If you are not holding it to the same evidentiary standard as Theistic claims, you are being intellectually dishonest with yourself.and your readers.

    //Believers often point to their own religious text as being the objective way to determine God’s wishes. But this is false because, as was just mentioned, there is no objective way to determine that any particular holy book is actually the word of a god – let alone a moral one. //

    Strawman. The existence of an objective standard of morality, and the existence of an objective basis through which the standard can be deduced are self-evidently different things.

    //And choosing a moral code based on subjective or inconclusive reasons does not equate to objective morality. Any moral views are only as objective as the reasons for which it has been chosen.//

    A strawman and a non-sequitur in two sentences, bravo. First, no Theist is claiming that their own personal interpretation of morality is ‘objectively moral’ because that would be absurd. The claim is that there *is* an objective standard, and that x religion is the one that has the definitive explanation of it. Again, *it does not logically follow* that since the claims of, say, Islam in this regard are false that *all of the other claims are false as well*. To give a simple example, there are currently numerous competing theories of quantum mechanics. There are competing theories of why the dinosaurs went extinct. Some of these theories may eventually be shown to be false, but that *does not mean* all the competing theories are false.

    Second, your point about human interpretation does nothing to show that an objective moral standard does not exist, because *it does not logically follow* that human inability to fully comprehend said standard negates its existence. If this point were actually true, human inability to understand for example, the precise origins of the universe would mean that there was no precise origin of the universe.

    3) If God decides what is moral then “good” and “bad” are meaningless

    //The idea that an action is only morally good if God commands it – and hence that we can only be ethical by following God’s commands – is called Divine Command Theory. But this concept is disturbingly insane. To understand why, first consider this: If God defines what is moral, then “good” and “bad” are meaningless because actions have no quality that can define them as good or bad. There would not be good actions and bad actions – there would simply be “actions”……….“Right” and “wrong” would be meaningless. What is evil today could be good tomorrow. According to this worldview, morality has no basis on the intent of an action or the affect the action has on the suffering of any beings. Actions don’t matter. Humans don’t matter. Suffering doesn’t matter. This is a wrong, sick, and dangerous idea that religions have spread for thousands of years.//

    Here’s a succinct refutation of the Euthyphro false dichotomy. You will need to do some background reading to understand it: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/god-obligation-and-euthyphro-dilemma.html

    //As a final point on this matter, let me ask: Is it morally wrong to kill your child?//

    Yes, always.

    //If you believe in God-given morality, then it is not objectively wrong to murder your child.//

    Erm, no, still always wrong. However, you are about to argue the reverse on your Atheistic view in 5) below: //There is no such thing as an external, totally objective morality. Due to its very nature of being about subjective suffering, morality is ultimately subjective to opinion in some form// Oops. Looks like you haven’t really thought this through.

    //If God says it is ok, as he did with Abraham and Jephthah in the Bible, then to murder your own child for no reason besides “God told me to” becomes morally good. Murder can be as righteous as giving clothes to the poor.//

    Nope. The act of ‘murder’ does not ‘become morally good’. First, God is not necessarily bound by morality, it’s a code for humanity, showing us what is moral in so far as we are capable of uderstanding morality. There may be more to it. As discussed above the question is ‘Does God have morally sufficient reason to command X?’ and as we have seen, we are not equipped to judge God. I think it’s also worth pointing out that God does not actually require Abraham to kill Isaac in the OT story. It’s a test of faith, and frankly tests of faith, although unpleasant at the time, often prove in life to be very valuable in building all manner of positive character traits. So even though the example can strike us as very unpleasant, perhaps it serves a purpose an omniscient mind knows, that we cannot know without hindsight, or perhaps even at all.

    //Note: Other Christians reject Divine Command Theory and instead hold the view that God is just extremely wise and “knows what’s best”.//

    It would be very generous to you to call this a strawman. You are just making stuff up because you don’t understand what it actually says.

    //But that view is also flawed because you have no objective basis to say that you know God is wise to begin with. Because how can you know that God is so wise? If any of god’s rules seem to conflict with our own rationality or sense of justice, then on what basis can you determine he is wise even if you assume he exists? So no matter what, belief in god has no part in accurate moral understanding.//

    The attributes of God which cover these questions – omniscience, omnipotence, moral perfection and so forth are *necessarily deduced* through logic. The Theist doesn’t just say, ‘Well, God is perfect so he ‘knows what’s best’. The Theist undertakes a series of interrelated deductive and inductive logical arguments and accepts the conclusions that logic yields. For instance Aquinas Summa Theologiae is over 1,500,000 words. We also look at empirical evidence to see if what we observe in the universe supports the intuited conclusions. That’s what ‘reason’ is all about, weighing the arguments. Since we, as humans, are none of the things God is (omniscient, omnipotent etc), it is a pretty safe bet that when our ideas clash with God’s, *we* are the ones who are wrong.

    //Consider, if someone said Moloch was all-wise, then why should we trust Moloch? If other religious people believe differently from you about God’s wishes, then how can you prove that your view is the correct and wise one? You can’t. And you can’t even know if you are right.//

    Well, the first step would be to establish whether Moloch is logically credible as being ‘all wise’. Let’s look him up and see shall we? Now….it seems Moloch was allegedly a middle-eastern sun god worshiped by the Ammonites, but in fact there is some debate about whether this was even the case. There seem to be no supernatural claims or powers attributed to Moloch, and the only notable feature seems to be that child-sacrifice in his honour was, allegedly, practiced. It would seem then that Moloch has not revealed himself to humanity, and having none of the logically deduced attributes of the God of mono-theism, we can draw the conclusion that he is neither ‘all-wise’ nor in fact ‘God’. Logic and reason are excellent tools for deducing valid conclusions, I really encourage that you look into the possibility of using them in your arguments. I’d be happy to point you to some introductory resources.

    4) Morality is independent from any god

    //Morality is about the experience of suffering, and this fact remains unchanged by the existence of a god or its will.//

    You’ve repeated your two intuited ethical value claims. Time to present some evidence for them I think.

    //Any concept of morality that does places the issue of suffering secondary to the will of a god cannot be classified as moral because in it suffering is made irrelevant to what is right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, good or bad.//

    Are you trying to articulate ‘The problem of evil’? Your claim is demonstrably false in one sense, because while the Theistic case for objective morality does indeed subordinate suffering to the will of God, suffering *is not* ‘made irrelevant to what is right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, good or bad.’ Rather, the existence of suffering would undermine the claim only if we can show that we do not have good reason to think that God has morally sufficient reason for suffering to exist. The trouble for your argument is that we *do* have grounds to think that God has morally sufficient reasons. Bill Craig has written a lot on this topic, I suggest you look into some of his arguments as a starting point: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil

    Also, let me give you an example. If you have a dog that has cancer and requires a life-saving operation, you cannot explain to the dog why it must undergo fear, stress and physical pain. The dog is incapable of understanding why it must feel abandoned at the vets, and be cut open and have a part of itself removed, and, given the chance, would no doubt resist at all costs. Nontheless, in the long run (assuming a good prognosis) the suffering is both necessary and desirable, and you are morally justified in allowing it to be inflicted on your dog, in order to save its life. Now given that the difference between the omniscient mind of God and a human mind is much greater than the difference between a dog and a human, there is good reason to suppose that God a) can have morally sufficient reason for allowing suffering, and that b) Even if we heard His reasons…..*we still might not understand them*.

    //In that way such concepts of morality are morally nihilistic. They unwittingly reject even the concept of right and wrong being based around what reduces or causes suffering.//

    Are you trying to make the logically self-refuting case that arguments for objective morality are nihilistic????

    5) Reasoned consensus is the closest thing to objective morality

    //People often want a silver bullet to fix their problems; some clear set of rules to hold their hand and tell them what to do. But as we can observe, reality is more complex than that. There is no such thing as an external, totally objective morality. Due to its very nature of being about subjective suffering, morality is ultimately subjective to opinion in some form.//

    Again, your remarkably simplistic assumption that human inability to ‘objectively prove’ something negates its very existence is baffling. Humanity is not able to objectively prove the existence of all kinds of things, here are five for your consideration:

    1. Logical and mathematical truths.
    2. Metaphysical truths like ‘there are other minds than my own’, or ‘the past was not created 5 minutes ago with an appearance of age’.
    3. Statements about ethical value, like ‘Nazi concentration camps were wrong’.
    4. Aesthetic judgments like ‘that thunderstorm was beautiful’.
    5. Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity.

    Do you think you’ve proven that all of these are also false beliefs?

    //So how can we achieve something that is close to objective morality and best alleviates suffering?//

    Simple. Follow the teachings of Christ who has 1. Provided logically sufficient reasons for us to believe He was who he said He was, and; 2. Founded a Church in which his teachings are enshrined in three complementary ways: Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church. The hard bit is living it out of course.

    //Morality can be subjective to the opinions of a social group where everyone’s voice is represented, and where people think rationally about how to address the causes of suffering and account for everyone’s needs (hence ignoring beliefs that are not based in evidence and consistent reasoning).//

    You’re going to need to, at the very least, define ‘rational’ and ‘evidence’ for this sentence to convey anything meaningful. I’m not sure ‘democratic morality’ bodes terribly well though given that Adolf Hitler was democratically elected in a landslide.

    You also don’t seem to be very familiar with your faith. Here’s what an Atheist has to say about attempts to build morality without God: “They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality…..We others hold otherwise. When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God is the truth — it stands and falls with faith in God.

    When the English actually believe that they know “intuitively” what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt.” Neitzsche – Twilight of the Idols.

    //This is the closest method that exists to objective morality, and the most effective moral system by far. This is because it helps dilute selfishness and bias to the greatest degree possible, and it can better address the actual causes of suffering because it also removes delusion to the greatest degree possible. Upholding observation and reason above faith-based belief is the closest way to have non-subjective morals.//

    Leaving aside the complete lack of a rational case for what you’re proposing, there is something interesting about your theory. You’ve just admitted that you are formulating it in an effort to create a system of morality that best approximates ‘objective morality’. You further identify your system as ‘the most effective moral system by far’.

    So it seems that in assessing competing moral theories, you have demonstrated that you believe that an objective standard of morality is desirable, and made a moral judgment about which of these is ‘best’ based on that belief. This is your *subjective* interpretation of what you believe the *objective* standard of morality is. So you have refuted yourself. And you have further done precisely what Neitzsche observes in the quote above.

    //Unlike in religious morality, we must have reasons for our moral beliefs, and this is what makes them moral.//

    In what way do you imagine that ‘religious morality’ does not require reasons?

    //In fact this is the system many of us already try to use without even realizing it. It is the reason our laws do not reflect Biblical ethical codes//

    It is also the reason Atheistic governments have killed at least 150m of their own people in the last 100 years.

    //– although there are many people who would in fact use faith-based delusions as a basis for law.//

    Aaron, your beliefs about morality are faith-based. There is not a single evidence based claim on this page. There is not a single argument here that passes muster in terms of being logically sound and logically valid. Logic is not based upon your personal incredulity about the concept of God. It is based on valid pre-suppositions. Here is an excellent resource that describes what they are, and how they work. Take a look, it’s a lot more accessible than a Logic textbook:http://atheism-analyzed.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/first-principles-bedrock-of-logic-and.html

    Until such time as you can rationally justify your foundational claims vis-a-vis morality, there is no point in critiquing this section further. I realize people don’t tend to change their minds about things in public, even when they’ve been shown to be factually incorrect, so if you wish to discuss things further outside of a public forum, or would just like some suggested reading beyond that contained in our exchanges so far, feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to discuss via email.

    Reply
    1. 1.1

      Aaron

      //Erm, no. On the essentialist metaphysics of Thomism the will follows on the intellect, which means that God is incapable of willing something that is not in accordance with reason. Thus anything God may ‘will’ in terms of morality is *logically necessary* and therefore objective, not some kind of divine FIAT.//

      Ok I understand that. That is just to say that God is our access to moral knowledge, which must be distinguished from being “based on God” which has a more ambiguous connotation and often refers to divine command theory.

      But regardless, the problem with the concept you described is that humans still have to rely on our own imperfect minds to determine what God says or if any god even exists or if what you claim is in fact the nature of God.

      So there is no use at all to basing morality on a god since we still must rely on our own reason no matter what. Therefore God is ultimately not a source of moral knowledge.

      Plus, it seems odd that God would create beings without the same capacity for thinking only in accordance with reason, don’t you think?

      //The claim that human inability to accurately discern the content of objective morality somehow renders morality itself subjective is a non-sequitur (that is, the conclusion *does not logically follow* from the premises).//

      No, because I had explained morality as being “our attempt to maximize happiness and minimize suffering.” You disagreed with that definition, which is fine, but you must remember the context for my comments. So when I speak of morality being dependent on humans, I am pointing out that the actual acts we choose to do and the doctrines we follow – are in fact dependent on humans rather than God, regardless of whether one believes in God or not. I should be clearer on that point in the piece.

      You wrote a lot so I will have to get back to this later, and as I mentioned in another comment I am revising this series so some points of disagreement between may be void at this point.

  2. 2

    Conscious Objector (@_Zero30_)

    //Ok I understand that. That is just to say that God is our access to moral knowledge, which must be distinguished from being “based on God” which has a more ambiguous connotation and often refers to divine command theory.
    But regardless, the problem with the concept you described is that humans still have to rely on our own imperfect minds to determine what God says or if any god even exists or if what you claim is in fact the nature of God.
    So there is no use at all to basing morality on a god since we still must rely on our own reason no matter what. Therefore God is ultimately not a source of moral knowledge.//

    This is an excellent response to 33,000 varieties of protestantism, Islam and Judaism, and one of the reasons I am not a believer in any of those religions. There is a religion, Catholicism, that is not subject to this problem. In the Catholic religion the Magisterium (that is to say, the Pope in common with Cardinals and Bishops) can in some circumstances speak infallibly on ‘doctrine’. Acceptance of the doctrine of the Church is what is required in order to be Catholic. This is a tradition that originated with Christ’s own teaching to his apostles, so its authority is divine.

    I’d certainly agree with your point about us having to rely on our fallible faculties, even to ascertain the existence (or otherwise) of God, but there is certainly enough evidence to make a judgment. The nature of human knowledge is that certainty is very hard to come by. Beyond fundamental laws of nature like gravity, mathematics and so on, our knowledge is either probabilistic (empirical) or metaphysical (necessarily true, *but* intangible, and therefore still requiring an element of ‘faith’.

    //Plus, it seems odd that God would create beings without the same capacity for thinking only in accordance with reason, don’t you think?//

    Interesting thought – I can’t say I have ever considered that issue. I don’t think it’s fair to sat that he creates ‘beings without the capacity for thinking in accordance with reason’, since all of us are at least capable of rational thought. It is more the case that we are not capable of perfection in our reasoning. Speaking off the top of my head, I would suggest that if we were created without even the possibility of thinking irrationally, we would not have free will in the true sense of the term. The creation of beings without true autonomy certainly seems logically incompatible with the existence of the first cause deduced by classical Theism.

    \\The claim that human inability to accurately discern the content of objective morality somehow renders morality itself subjective is a non-sequitur (that is, the conclusion *does not logically follow* from the premises).\\

    //No, because I had explained morality as being “our attempt to maximize happiness and minimize suffering.” You disagreed with that definition, which is fine, but you must remember the context for my comments. So when I speak of morality being dependent on humans, I am pointing out that the actual acts we choose to do and the doctrines we follow – are in fact dependent on humans rather than God, regardless of whether one believes in God or not. I should be clearer on that point in the piece.//

    Ok, I understand. That’s fair comment I think, although again I would refer you to the teachings of the Catholic Church where this criticism becomes moot since the doctrine itself at least is not dependent on mere humans.

    //You wrote a lot so I will have to get back to this later, and as I mentioned in another comment I am revising this series so some points of disagreement between may be void at this point.//

    I look forward to the revised version 🙂

    Reply
    1. 2.1

      Aaron

      //the Pope in common with Cardinals and Bishops) can in some circumstances speak infallibly on ‘doctrine’. Acceptance of the doctrine of the Church is what is required in order to be Catholic.//

      That in no way resolves the issue. You’re just using your own fallible mind to decide that other people with fallible minds should tell you what to think. You’re just stating that they can speak infallibly on doctrine without anything to back up that statement with evidence. You saying “My church says to believe X” is no different than anyone else saying “My church/mosque/temple/holy man says to believe Y.” The reason it’s required of people to accept that authority and belief in the Church’s infallibility is because the Catholic church functions as a giant cult with the church leaders dominating the hierarchy.

      //This is a tradition that originated with Christ’s own teaching to his apostles, so its authority is divine.//

      No, they *tell you* that it originated with Christ’s own teachings and that they are infallible. They have no evidence that Jesus said what they claim, or what people even put down in the writings that we call the gospels. And even regardless of origins, you have no reason to think they are good *now* any more than we can rely on any particular constitutional lawyers and judges to tell us what the US’s founding fathers intended today. For someone who claims to be a libertarian – a fundamentally anti-authoritarian ideology – it’s incredible that you could still believe in such overtly manipulative, unsupported doctrine.

      But the more important issue is this: It doesn’t matter what Jesus said either. People are just using their own minds to claim to know what God said. You have no reason to believe that Jesus was anything but another human being (let alone the debate as to whether he even existed) any more than Muslims have to believe that Muhammad was recording a divine message in the Quran. Nor does anything you said relate to how you would know anything about the real nature of God. You would do better to resolve that issue with believers of other religions before bothering to argue the point with someone who doesn’t believe in it at all.

      And It’s probably obvious that I don’t agree on there being any evidence for a god. But I guess if we get into that issue as well then these comments will get way too off the original discussion.

      //It is more the case that we are not capable of perfection in our reasoning.//

      Which is what I said: “…without the same capacity for thinking *only* in accordance with reason”

      //I would suggest that if we were created without even the possibility of thinking irrationally, we would not have free will in the true sense of the term.//

      By that reasoning, God would not have free will. I’m not sure if that should matter or not, but it’s worth pointing out in case that raises some issues. But personally I do not see why being able to reason perfectly has anything to do with free will anyway. Reasoning is not the same as choice – it can just inform choice. So I don’t understand your point there. By creating people without perfect reasoning then he’s dooming us all to have flawed means by which to accept or reject his messages. Something might make great sense to you or me, but not to a Muslim. Then we’ll be screwed on Judgment Day. Hardly benevolent.

      Additionally, the very concept of free will, as it is used in theology, is incoherent so it doesn’t make much sense to reference in any argument. I don’t mean to distract from the main issue but we could get into that as well. I lay out my opinion on it in my article simply titled “Free Will”.

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