Morality Posts – Part 3

At the end of part 2 of this series I briefly discussed Shelly Kagan’s view that moral laws objectively exist and are universally valid independent of human choices.  This view is called moral realism.  Louise Antony and Erik Wielenberg are other atheist promoters of this view.  You can easily find others by googling “atheist moral realism”.

I mention this partially in case some of my readers are interested in pursuing these ideas further, but also to go on to show why it defeats a part of the moral argument for the existence of God.

William Lane Craig uses this argument in many of his debates, and one of his main premises is that “If theism is false, we do not have a sound foundation for morality”.  He further states that given atheism, morality is just an illusion.  I am not arguing here whether or not morality is an illusion, however I am very convinced that his statement in quotes above is false.  Moral nihilism is a possibility under atheism, but it is not at all a logical necessity, and Kagan and other atheists have clearly shown that in their description of the possibility of moral laws simply existing in the universe much like the law of non-contradiction exists.  To me this is a very real possibility and I haven’t heard theists properly respond to this objection to the theist premise above.

I see no logical reason to prefer the theist’s divine command theory of morality over the atheistic view of moral truths simply existing in our universe.  The second belief does not require a god to exist, yet still believes objective moral truths exist.  It seems to me that both of these statements are faith statements, and I have seen it argued that the second is more simplistic and runs into less dilemmas than the first.  Simply given the fact that this atheistic view of morality states less than the theistic view lends credence to that claim.  Both views claim that objective moral truths exist, but the theistic view also claims the existence of an invisible conscious entity.  One could very properly argue that both of these views are not grounded in logical necessities, but I don’t see a reason why the god based view is any more plausible than the atheistic moral view, and in fact to me it is the other way around.  One theist objection is “how is it possible these abstract laws simply exist floating outside of a mind?”, but this is really no different from the question that we could ask theists: “how is it possible that an invisible conscious mind can exist outside of space and time?”  Both beliefs are transcendental to our human understanding so why is it that the theist has such a hard time with the idea of moral truths simply existing in our universe much like the laws of logic.

The strangest thing of all of this is that there is a growing number of theist philosophers (not sure of the percentage) who hold to the view that there actually are moral laws which exist outside of God.  I haven’t researched this fully, but it seems that what they claim is that some moral laws are true because they are commanded by God and some simply exist within our universe apart from him.  My understanding is that this view arose out of a response to the Euthyphro dilemma (which I hope to talk about in my next post), and Robert Merrihew Adams is a strong proponent of this view.  Richard Swinburne is also a proponent of this view, and interestingly enough Swinburne does not see the validity in the moral argument for the existence God.  My purpose here is not to appeal to authority but to have people realize that there are differing views regarding this among theists as well and it is certainly nowhere near as cut and dry as the debaters make it out to be (yes this could be applied to both sides).


27 thoughts on “Morality Posts – Part 3

  1. At this late date in your series I have no idea whether or not you have discussed the following:
    Outside of mankind there are of course a few species that seem to exhibit elementary aspects of morality. Outside of the existence of humankind and these few possibly instinctual forms of morality, the concept of immorality and morality, in our world at least, does not exist. It is a creation of life, our minds, and a result in animals of evolution. In this sense, morality and immorality is an illusion we created, in the same way our consciousness is an illusion created by our organic brain.

  2. If you want to study an interesting atheistic morality, you might consider Ayn Rand’s Objectivist morality. Objectivist morality has some similarities to Sam Harris’s recycling of utilitarianism, in that morality is normative (as opposed to “descriptive morality”) and that it is held to flow from objective facts about human beings.

    But Objectivist morality is more philosophically rigorous in its definitions, methods and starting points. It also takes into account what humans can and can’t know about the future consequences of their actions, because it’s informed by Rand’s Objectivist epistemology.

    If you don’t know much about it, I think a good starting point for learning about this morality would be this post and the books it links to: The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes.

  3. Hi drenn1077. I have only very briefly and indirectly touched on some of those things. First, let me say that I myself have observed animals that exhibit aspects of guilt or things which one would categorize as moral senses, and have read some (although not a lot) on the subject to agree that there are animal species which exhibit aspects of morality. I am surprised by some theists who attempt to argue against this. Your next few statements seem to be arguing for moral nihilism based on evolutionary evidence (please correct if I’ve misunderstood you). I may be wrong, but I’ve noticed that this seems to be the default belief of a lot of people who become atheists after being religious. I can say for sure that it was the belief that I myself thought I was forced into for many years after I had left the Christian faith. In my post on secular humanism I said that I remained within the Christian faith for many months partly because I didn’t want to lose my moral compass. Of course like others I realized very quickly after leaving Christianity that even if I did turn out to be a moral nihilist I still had desires to live my life in the moral ways of compassion and empathy. Now that I have had the time to read and learn a little more about different atheist perspectives on morality I have seen and noted in these posts some alternative views of morality. As I’ve mentioned, I see the view of there existing moral truths as a real possibility, but I am truly agnostic regarding the belief because I am not sure I see enough evidence for it. I realize that the proponents of this view argue that some very core moral truths are similar to very foundational beliefs which cannot be proven such as the law of non-contradiction or the assumption that objects which we see exist. This relates back to some of my earlier posts on foundational beliefs. While I do understand their point I can also see that moral facts could be distinguished in certain ways from facts of logic as I briefly mentioned in part 2 of this series. I will admit my personal preference to wanting moral realism to be true but obviously my preferences have no bearing on what is real, and the fact that I can see and admit this preference can at least help me to remove it as a bias in my beliefs.

    Your last statement “our consciousness is an illusion created by our organic brain” is difficult for me to parse – it seems like extreme metaphysical nihilism with respect to consciousness being an illusion, but it also states the existence of an organic brain so I don’t know what to make of that. The belief that a brain exists is dependent on our consciousness so I can’t figure out the logic in the statement.

    For any readers of my blog who would like to pursue moral nihilistic ideas further I have heard that Sharon Street, Richard Joyce and Michael Ruse are good references (Nietzsche is an obvious one as well of course). Other good references are always welcomed (regarding any related views as well).

    My comment has gone way longer than I like to make them and there are several things in my thoughts on this which I left out – perhaps a post would have been more appropriate. 🙂

  4. Thank you for the link to objectivist morality info, and thank you also for putting more precise terms to the things that I’ve been writing about in my layman’s vocabulary. Once I get a resources page going early next year I’ll be sure to add this in.

  5. Hi Howie,

    I’m interested in morality from the agnostic/atheist perspective. I also think it makes sense to consider morality from different starting variants of “god” as a premise, and from the premise that god doesn’t exist. I hope you don’t mind me writing a longish comment to share some of my thoughts.

    When it comes to ethics, I prefer to deal in values. I think it’s probably possible to define morals as the expression of values (e.g., killing children is bad because we value children). I also might have slightly broader view of what constitute values than the norm: values aren’t just qualitative rules (e.g., people); values exist that may be quantitatively measured (e.g., scales of happiness or pleasure). In this way we could reduce a system of morality to a set of values, and we could build a system of morality from a set of values (e.g., utilitarianism).

    From what I understand, the term “objective”, when applied to values and morality, means that they exist independent of conscious thought, belief and feelings. Independent of people. What most people consider to be valuable or moral would become inconsequential were people to cease to exist. “Killing children is bad”, only holds if there are children to be killed. Unless our values are still relevant in a universe where we don’t exist, I don’t think that they could be considered objective.

    Furthermore, even if one or more gods exist that dictate the what is moral, this morality might not be independent of their conscious thoughts, beliefs and feelings (depending on what concept of god we are considering). That dictated morality isn’t objective by the above definition. This might be related to what you mentioned of theists that support objective morality apart from God. Nevertheless, if we could somehow find values embedded in the fundamental laws or operation of the universe, we might be able to say they would be objectively valuable.

    Despite all this, I don’t think it is a major problem if subjective values are all that exist. If this should be the case, we would need to search for “good” values, but, by the act of treating these things as valuable, they gain importance. Much like many people already attach value to things in their culture and religion.

    I read most of Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape, and he was championing the “well-being of conscious beings”. This value could be described as a mathematical function that defines a surface, the “landscape”. Though I don’t think he puts it in these terms, he essentially suggests that we should be treating morality as an optimisation problem.

    What do you think of any of these ideas? And of treating morality as an “engineering problem”?


  6. Hi Toby,

    Thank you for your well thought response. I also see a use to connecting ethics to values (I’ve seen others use the terms “goals” or “desires” which I believe are very similar starting points, although there may be some distinctions there).

    I also agree that the term objective is defined by a lot of people the way you have defined it, and then as you have mentioned because theists connect morality to a God or gods then morality could be said to be subjective there too because gods are conscious entities also. Sometimes theists bring in the “nature of God” phrase to get around this, but theists wouldn’t let secular humanists use the phrase “nature of humans” to prove that non-theistic morality is objective, so this doesn’t seem to solve the issue.

    While I would like to think that there truly are objective values somehow embedded into reality, I believe you are right that it isn’t a major problem if subjective values are all that exist. In a practical sense we all pretty much agree on the big picture that conscious things being tormented or put to pain are not things we value, and the opposite is what we do value. We have clearly implemented democratic societies which include many different people of differing worldviews, but yet include laws which promote those values.

    As far as the “engineering” question, I believe we can use the scientific method to try and determine what actions that we take tend to promote those values that we agree upon. The tricky part comes when the values of some people have to be weighed against the values of others (and these sorts of scenarios can be caused by many different things). However, both theists and atheists have the same difficulty in solving these sorts of tricky problems. I believe in these scenarios at least we can use scientific methods to help clarify what our different options are, but picking which option to follow is the part that is so “sticky”.

  7. Pingback: Morality Posts – an interesting exchange | Truth Is Elusive

  8. Hi Howie, I think some moral truths really do exist “out there”, just as some logical and mathematical truths do. So atheists can apprehend these just as christians can. But there are practical and theoretical problems for the atheist I believe.

    1. How can the atheist explain this? If the atheist is also a materialist/naturalist/physicalist, then they believe the universe can’t contain non-material things. We can see how arithmetic can be true, and doesn’t need any cause to explain it, but how can the atheist explain how ethics can be true and where they came from?

    2. Many atheists will therefore believe in subjective ethics, which is a very shaky foundation, and will lead some less moral people into bad idea and bad actions. Not all of course.

  9. Hi Uncle E,

    Many atheists believe in the law of non-contradiction and that is non-material. While I personally claim agnosticism of the following, the explanation from several atheist philosophers who I have listed to you before is really very simple – there are ethical axioms that are simply brute facts of reality just like the law of non-contradiction. You and I went through several rounds of this on Nate’s blog and I am very convinced that on this particular point of yours we will not progress and we have to leave it as we simply disagree. I think we are both not quite sure why our point of view is not clicking with the other person and I’m fine leaving it at that. I have a link in one of my posts to our discussion if anyone is interested in understanding your points of view on this.

  10. Hi Howie, I hope you don’t mind if I have at least one more attempt to bridge the understanding gap?

    Let’s say for the moment that it is a fact that ethical axioms are simply brute facts of reality as you and the philosophers say. And let’s not discuss for the moment how they got to be that way (though I think that is a question I haven’t yet seen a satisfactory atheist answer to). Let’s just focus on how an atheist can know these axioms.

    Most atheists are strong on the requirement that evidence is required before accepting the truth of a proposition (Clifford’s Principle etc). And this works well for maths, logic and science. There are ways of either proving or at least showing propositions to be most probably correct – we can re-develop Euclid’s geometry or Newton’s laws of gravitation from first principles if we wish, and we will all get the same answers if we do our reasoning correctly.

    But how does an atheist get evidence an ethical proposition or axiom is correct? I can see how they could test the practical outcomes of a proposition such as “People of race xxx deserve to be killed”, but that still says nothing about the ethics of such a belief. All assessments that such a belief is unethical assume an ethical axiom that the atheist cannot prove.

    So, paradoxically, the atheist who is a moral realist has to hold this view on faith, and contrary to Clifford’s Principle.

    So I believe the biggest difference between atheists and christians on morality is not in ontology (what is) but in epistemology (how we know what is).

    Does that advance the discussion for you? Best wishes.

  11. Hey Uncle E – no problem, I don’t mind giving a little extra effort here. I’d like to take it in pieces. First I think you may have just been loose with words here, but I do want to make sure we’re on the same page here. You said:

    Let’s say for the moment that it is a fact that ethical axioms are simply brute facts of reality as you and the philosophers say.

    You do understand that I don’t say that, but I see it as a possibility, right? Do you see the distinction or is this just in the noise for you? It’s not in the noise for me, it’s important that you understand this if you want to understand my own views.

    I don’t even know how to put a probability number to this idea. But what I don’t see is that the theist view is better than this view. That is the gist of what I’m saying. In other words, I see this moral realism view that some atheist philosophers have as either just as probable or maybe even more probable than the theist view (I explain that in more detail here). I can answer your other questions as well, but let’s start here.

  12. Hi Howie, thanks for the clarification re moral realism. I didn’t say that was what you believed, just what you said, but it also seemed that you were recommending the idea, so it is good that you made sure I understood your position.

    But it seems to me that the theistic view of moral realism has several advantages over the atheistic view, as I outlined in my previous comment, briefly:

    1. How did they get to be “facts” and what makes them so? Theism can explain, atheism cannot (IMO).
    2. Therefore the atheist has to belief on faith, contradicting Clifford’s Principle, which is almost sacred to many atheists, whereas the theist has a reason + faith to believe it (and the theist doesn’t have a problem with faith).
    3. We can establish physics, maths, logic, etc by observation and reason, but how can the atheist establish moral truths? natural selection may select for what works but is that what is ‘right’? The theist has God’s authority, and the christian has Jesus’ authority to guide us.

    So I don’t think moral realism, to an atheist, is probable and explained, and moral truths knowable, whereas to a theist they are. I think they are enormous advantages, and a clear pointer that if we choose moral realism over moral relativism or moral nihilism, then we have increased the probability that God exists.

  13. Hi Uncle E: I said nothing in my last response that needed you to repeat your objections here. I was trying to work very slowly at an explanation of my thoughts on this for you. I wasn’t in debate mode but explain mode which I agreed to after you kindly suggested it in your previous comment. If you would like me to continue I can and then, because I am sure we won’t agree, at the end you can repeat your objections once more if it makes you feel better and we can end on that. But for now let me get to explain your first objection without more things to confuse my mind. Sound good?

  14. Hey Howie, I wasn’t in “debate mode” either, just responding to your last comment. Sorry if I jumped the gun. Please continue.

  15. No problem. I know there are several points in our last discussion on Nate’s blog that we reached an impasse on because you simply disagreed and I was unable to understand why you disagreed and the reverse is the case as well. I’m trying to take baby steps so we may possibly figure out the breaking points. I think I know where those are, but I’m up for a little more discussion.

    We can’t avoid the foundational beliefs discussion this time because it is key to the discussion and really isn’t a tangent. You didn’t respond to those questions on Nate’s blog, but to be fair I gave you an out on it before because I wrongly said that it may be a tangent.

    Many atheists are foundationalists which means that they (including myself) believe that there are some “first principles” as you called them that we do not have proof for. The only proof is that they seem self-evident. I hope we don’t have to go into semantics, but I’ve seen different terms for these “first principles” – I’ve seen them called “axioms”, “foundational beliefs”, and “properly basic beliefs”. I’d like to stick to the word axiom because it is easier to type – is that ok? Now, the fact is that many of these axioms are not “physical” things at all but are actually simply “laws” of the universe – every field of study has them – and we realize we have to have them because if we keep asking “why” over and over again like children always do then at some point we get to these basic things that are not really justified in any sense other than we simply think they are self-evident. We all try and decide in different ways what these axioms are in each field (e.g. logic, physics, math, …) in order to describe the world around us and to help us make predictions about what the future will be like for us. Then we take those axioms and build from them to further our understanding and predictions.

    I haven’t completely answered your question, so I’d like you to simply answer these questions for me:
    – Do you agree that there are atheists who are foundationalists?
    – Do you believe that foundationalism itself is contradictory to the views that atheists hold?
    – Do you believe that the fact there are any axioms at all is proof of the existence of God?
    – Do you believe that the existence of God is an axiom (i.e. proof not necessary, it’s simply a self-evident statement) like Alvin Plantinga believes?

  16. Hi Howie, I’m fine with “axioms”.

    Do you agree that there are atheists who are foundationalists?

    No problem.

    Do you believe that foundationalism itself is contradictory to the views that atheists hold?

    No, not in principle. But I believe some atheist views about their beliefs may be contradictory.

    Do you believe that the fact there are any axioms at all is proof of the existence of God?

    No. I don’t believe anything is “proof” that God exists, but I presume you mean reasonable evidence, or compelling evidence, and I don’t believe axioms per se are evidence of God. But I believe some particular axioms are strong evidence.

    Do you believe that the existence of God is an axiom (i.e. proof not necessary, it’s simply a self-evident statement) like Alvin Plantinga believes?

    It may be but I don’t have an opinion on that, and I don’t use that concept in my own thinking.

    I’ll leave it at that and see where you are going on this. Thanks.

  17. I really appreciate your patience. I’m sure you’ve already guessed at where I’m going.

    I agree with you that some atheists have contradictory views. But actually, I think all of us have some contradictory things in our worldviews. For some it’s intentional because of an agenda, but I think for a lot it’s simply either wrong thinking or misinformation or perhaps in most cases just not having the desire to dive deep into philosophy – it can be draining and even boring, so I don’t blame them. I don’t believe this stuff is anywhere near as simple as some like to make it out to be, and that is just one of several reasons for the name of my blog.

    Sorry, yes, I’m not careful with the proper wording – I did mean reasonable or compelling evidence rather than proof – I interchange those a lot wrongly.

    So maybe we should drink a beer to agreeing a lot on this current comment you made. 😉 After the beer though I have to note that there is one point I think I disagree with and it may actually be pretty important – I’m not clear how axioms can become strong evidence for the existence of a God. I mean if axioms are self-evident things that we assume to be true about reality then they are simply descriptions of reality. I can see how we can build from those axioms to then find compelling evidence to believe things exist (like certain people or even a God or gods for example), but I don’t understand how the axioms themselves prove the existence of anything more than just the axioms themselves. Maybe if we go deeper into this discussion on morality then your reasoning will become clearer on this, but this may be a sticking point.

    First I’d like to answer the statement you made that atheists have not given a satisfactory answer to the question of how ethical axioms became brute facts of our universe. (I know you said we didn’t need to discuss this, but I believe it’s an important part of the puzzle of explaining the views of some moral realists). But the answer to this lies in the fact that they are “axioms”. As per the definition of axioms (and I believe “brute fact” is actually yet another synonym for axiom) they are things we accept as self-evident even though we don’t have an explanation for how they “came about”. This is the same for things like the law of non-contradiction or even basic axioms or laws of sciences. We don’t know how they came about, but we accept them as axioms and build from there. I’d like to know your thoughts on that.

    And so this is a partial answer to your question about Clifford’s principle. As I have understood them, atheists who are moral realists believe that there are ethical axioms that exist just like “laws” somehow exist even though it may be funky to think of a “law” as existing. So they believe that they are simply self-evident. I myself am not so sure that they pass the test of being self-evident, but I do see the possibility that there could actually be moral laws that exist in the universe just like physical laws exist. You seem to be ok with atheists believing that physical laws exist and are not compelling evidence for a God. I’m not totally clear why moral laws could not exist also without being compelling evidence for a God.

    There are actually a few more things I want to say regarding Clifford’s principle, but I’ve written quite a lot here, so I’d really like to hear your thoughts on what I have written here so far.

  18. Hi Howie,

    Anyone can claim anything is a “brute fact”, and axiom, but surely we should still ask them to justify that conclusion before we accept it? I presume you don’t accept Plantinga’s view that belief in God is properly basic? So why should I accept any other such view, such as that moral axioms are basic?

    Now it so happens that I do believe some moral axioms are basic, but I believe I have good reason for that. So before I share my ideas, I wonder if you would be happy this time to answer a few questions please (after which I will have a go):

    1. Can you give an example of a moral axiom?
    2. What sort of universe would this have to be for that to be a moral axiom, or would it be true in all possible universes?
    3. How would anyone know that is a moral truth?
    4. How would you justify that axiom over others, or over there being none at all (i.e. moral relativism)?


  19. Anyone can claim anything is a “brute fact”, and axiom, but surely we should still ask them to justify that conclusion before we accept it?

    I couldn’t agree more with this: anyone can claim anything is an axiom and that doesn’t make it so. I know I wrote too much in my last comment and I can’t blame you if you missed this: “I myself am not so sure that they pass the test of being self-evident”. So yes I agree.

    I presume you don’t accept Plantinga’s view that belief in God is properly basic?

    Yes, I don’t accept Plantinga’s view that belief in God is properly basic.

    So why should I accept any other such view, such as that moral axioms are basic?

    You can accept whatever view you want to obviously – I didn’t suggest that you had to do otherwise. 🙂 I was just explaining my own viewpoints because you wanted me to. 🙂 What I would suggest is that it would help us all if we all tried our best at explaining our experience of reality. I believe you are doing that.

    Sure thing, I’m happy to give it a try:
    1) Which things are moral or scientific axioms are discussed and debated in university courses across the world. A possible moral axiom that I have heard as an example is “do not harm innocent children for pleasure”. But I could be wrong about this being a moral axiom just like I’m not sure I could properly tell you the axioms of physics.

    2) I’ve read this kind of stuff in several readings on philosophy and these kind of questions confuse me more than help me. It may relate to modal logic which I am not familiar with. My own thoughts on “would it be true in all possible universes” is that it depends on the word “possible”. For example if possible meant logically possible then I guess that would by definition mean that laws of logic must apply but other things are all up for grabs. I’m not so sure how to even know if the laws of physics are true in all possible universes. I’m only trying to describe the universe which we can all experience.

    3) If someone believed it was a moral axiom they would say that they know it to be true because it explains the fact that practically everyone seems to be in agreement that it is true, and perhaps also because there seem to be negative consequences that arise from the action.

    4) Similar to #3. Axioms in all fields are meant to describe our experience of reality and the intense sense that we seem to have regarding morality are a part of reality. So the more an axiom has explanatory power in this regard the better it would be justified.

  20. Hi Howie, thanks for your answers, they are certainly interesting. Here are a few comments plus my answers.

    We agree that we need some justification for claiming that something is a moral axiom. Your answer #4 that axioms describe our experience of reality is interesting, and I think quite a good idea. But the problems I see with it are:

    (i) People’s experience of reality, even moral reality, change. There is a fair degree of consensus, but can axioms change at all?
    (ii) I don’t think you offer a very strong account of how people know it is a moral axiom, and no account at all of how it came to be an axiom. It is almost like a majority vote (not quite of course). This is different to science, maths and logic, which can be demonstrated through repeatable “proofs”.
    (iii) Your approach may be difficult for a naturalist/physicalist (which I presume you are not committed to), because it is hard to see how such a non-physical axiom could arise from, or be identical to, a physical entity or truth.
    (iv) I’m not sure whether the suggested axiom you give is what I would call an axiom, because it it very particular and applied, and i would expect an axiom to be more a principle. But that is a minor point.

    So it still seems to me that you need a stronger reason to justify that belief, especially explaining how it could arise in this universe, but I think what you say may be plausible enough if you could do that. Atheists who believe in Clifford’s Principle would need to do a bit more work on it!

    My answers (briefly) are:

    1. Love God and love you fellow humans (this may be the only axiom).
    2. Axioms arise in this universe because God knows they are true and has constructed us and the universe so we can know and act upon them.
    3. We know because we see they are true and God/Jesus confirms them.
    4. We know by experience and by authority that they are true.

    I’m not sure where to go from here. I understand your position better, I think it is way preferable to moral relativism, but I still think it is a view difficult to justify. But I’m not sure how much further the discussion can go. What do you think?

  21. I’m fine with ending the discussion very soon here because you know how I’ve expressed before that disagreeing tends to drain me. But I would like to say something else that I’m totally not getting about your view.

    I believe Clifford’s principle says “don’t believe something if there is not sufficient evidence.” The word sufficient is the key word here.

    Now if someone were to prove to me that there is not sufficient evidence that morality is objective then for myself I would not feel right saying that I believed morality was objective. Because if there is not sufficient evidence then there is no reason to explain it in any way at all. We don’t need to believe in God to explain it. We don’t need to believe in moral truths existing in the universe to explain it. We simply would not believe it.

    Now my understanding of your belief is that somehow the existence of objective morality is compelling evidence for the existence of God. But I feel if I take your approach then I am presupposing the existence of God in order to say there is compelling evidence for the existence of God. What I need first is compelling evidence that morality is objective without appealing to the existence of God. Then once I see that there is compelling evidence that it is objective I need to decide how to explain it. I believe that if there is compelling evidence for that then a simpler explanation that seems to fit better with the experiences that we have overall of reality is that there are moral truths that exist just like the laws of nature exist. The laws of nature are not physical objects. They are laws. Moral truths are not physical objects either – they are laws too.

    So are you saying there is not sufficient evidence that morality is objective? or is there? If the evidence is not sufficient then I believe that people are justified in abandoning that belief. But you seem to be suggesting that there is sufficient evidence. You said it to eSell on the other comment thread – “really, so you believe pedophilia is not objectively wrong?” So it seems you do believe the evidence is sufficient to believe morality is objective. What I can’t piece together is the 2 angles you seem to be going at. I wonder if a subtle contradiction may actually lie somewhere in that reasoning as well. These things can be hard to notice for all of us remember.

  22. Hi Howie, I’m fine to keep going for a bit, I just don’t think I have anywhere to take the discussion myself.

    “Now if someone were to prove to me that there is not sufficient evidence that morality is objective then for myself I would not feel right saying that I believed morality was objective.”
    No, I am agreeing with you that we mostly act as if there truly are some things that are right and wrong. I am then asking which views of the world are consistent with that.

    “Now my understanding of your belief is that somehow the existence of objective morality is compelling evidence for the existence of God.”
    No I wouldn’t say that. I think it is evidence, that becomes compelling when combined with other evidence. I think most people live and implicitly believe that human beings have selfs or consciousness, we have free choice, we are rational and we recognise objective moral values (mostly). That is our experience from the inside (so to speak) of what it means to be human.

    But naturalism and naturalistic science has difficulty explaining these things. Scientists and philosophers seem quite unable to explain consciousness; naturalistic science leads clearly to the conclusion that we have no freewill; it is hard to see how natural selection (which selects in ways that maximise gene survival) can therefore lead to brains which are highly rational even about abstract matters (i.e. our cognitive faculties are reliable); and it is hard to find a demonstrable basis for objective morality.

    So our experience as human beings seems to be different (and richer) than what naturalistic science portrays.

    If we want to think rightly, we have to investigate and resolve anomalies in our world view, and here is an anomaly. Naturalists/physicists tend to deny consciousness, freewill and objective morality, but hold to rationality. I am saying this is a reductionist approach that ignores the evidence of our experience as human beings.

    You take a different approach, which affirms our experience, but it doesn’t seem that your worldview can explain how this is. But theism is capable of explaining it.

    So that is the two angles I am coming from. Trying to arrive at a viewpoint that explains everything. I suspect I may be a coherentist rather than a foundationalist in some ways.

    Does that explain? Thanks.

  23. Yeah, that does explain your view and actually the second I read “I suspect I may be a coherentist…in some ways” it clicked in my mind. You are right – I think we are all probably a mixture of both and your world-view does seem to lean more toward coherentism. I’ll be frank – for myself I am bothered by both options (coherentism and foundationalism) because the drawbacks of both leave me feeling uncertain about truth, and I don’t like that feeling.

    I’m trying in this comment not to compare our views because I’d like to wind this down in a positive way. I meant it when I said that I felt you are doing your best to properly find out what is true about reality. Just because our views and conclusions do not match doesn’t mean I can’t think that.

    There were still a bunch more things I wanted to explain about the contradiction that atheists seem to have regarding morality and Clifford’s principle but it would take quite a long comment to get it all down, so I can leave that for another time if we want to return to it. There was also a bunch more I could say in response to some of your other objections but I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities in the future.

    By the time you read this you may already be heading into your weekend, so have a great weekend!


  24. Hi Howie,

    I think we have reached a suitable stopping point. I agree with you:

    * Few of us consider our epistemological position in great detail (I know I don’t think that theoretically all that often), and most would be a mix of foundationalist and coherentist and whatever works.

    * I don’t see why people from opposite viewpoints have to consider that their “opponents” aren’t honest and as true to truth as they can be. So I appreciate your statement (“I felt you are doing your best to properly find out what is true about reality”) and I think the same about you. We may each think the other to be mistaken or inconsistent, but sincere people can be honestly mistaken.

    Maybe you could post on some of those other matters sometime?

    Yes, it is Friday evening now, with a busy night ahead, and a busy Saturday. Have a good one yourself! Thanks.

  25. Pingback: Philosophical Arguments for God | Truth Is Elusive

  26. Pingback: Morality Without Gods | Truth Is Elusive

  27. Hi unkleE,

    I know we aren’t really discussing things anymore because our personalities seem to conflict in a way such that arguments always ensue, but I did want to at least let you know that I finally got time to write a post like you suggested in your last comment here on December 6, 2013 !! I think it makes my views on morality at least a little bit clearer (although I’ll admit they still aren’t very clear given that I’m annoyingly possibilian about everything. 😉 ). Seriously – don’t feel any obligation to read it of course. I just wanted to let you know.

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