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The Moral Argument For God's Existence

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Stephanos
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0 posted 03-29-2011 03:26 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,

The Moral argument for God is another form of Teleological argument.

I think you've heard the line of reasoning before ...


1)  A moral awareness is universal.  Though not unanimous, the likenesses are far greater than the differences.  I would even go so far as to say the differences are only as noticeable as they are, because of the backdrop of common ground.  Lewis has done a preliminary harmonization of moral codes from various civilizations in the prologue of "The Abolition of Man".


2)  Human beings do not treat morality as conventional or preferential, but as obligatory.  When one has been accused of being immoral, you never hear the moral principle denied, only excuses given as to why this case is different ... an appeal to extenuating circumstances.  And whenever one accuses another, an assumption is usually made that the moral principle that was breached was understood or perceived by the offender, resulting in real blame.  None of this is definitive proof of Divine Mandate, only suggestive, as our approach to ethics is counterintuitive in mere evolutionary explanations of "morality".  Consider the following quote, from an atheist thinker:  

"The conscience doesn’t make us feel bad the way hunger feels bad, or good the way sex feels good. It makes us feel as if we have done something that’s wrong or something that’s right. Guilty or not guilty. It is amazing that a process as amoral and crassly pragmatic as natural selection could design a mental organ that makes us feel as if we’re in touch with higher truth. Truly a shameless ploy” (Robert White, The Moral Animal — Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology )

3)  Not only is morality treated as transcending the individual, it is often treated as transcending community as well, for example, when a majority practice violates human dignity or rights, and is resisted by a smaller group.  It is easy to imagine a “wrong” being embedded in the majority view.  Entire cultures can be wrong.  This would be non-sensical if morality is defined by consensus.  Even those who hold to moral relativism, have noted this unavoidable conundrum.  Consider the following quote by Anthropologist Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban:

One of the most contentious issues arises from the fundamental question: What authority do we Westerners have to impose our own concept of universal rights on the rest of humanity. . . . [But] the cultural relativists’ argument is often used by repressive governments to deflect international criticism of their abuse of their citizens. . . . I believe that we should not let the concept of relativism stop us from using national and international forums to examine ways to protect the lives and dignity of people in every culture. . . . When there is a choice between defending human rights and defending cultural relativism, anthropologists should choose to protect and promote human rights. We cannot just be bystanders.”  (From ‘Cultural Relativism And Universal Human Rights).


4) Since morality is practiced as if, and considered as if it is something that overarches individuals, cultures, and communities, it is better explained in a religious way, than in a secular merely biological way.  Mainly because nothing in the evolutionary biological sense is “obligatory”, everything is still on trial, and the only criteria for justification is survival value.  And no convincing argument has been made that inexorably links moral behavior with survival.  But morals are not treated, even by those who do not accept Theism, as if they are simply a variant of behavior in an evolutionary pathway.  They are, contrary to their own reasoning, treated as we’ve always treated them, as matters of great import, and as areas of inquiry where there can be real right and wrong answers.  Consider the following quote from atheist thinker Raimond Gaita:

Only someone who is religious can speak seriously of the sacred. . . . We may say that all human beings are inestimably precious, that they are ends in themselves, that they are owed unconditional respect, that they possess inalienable rights, and, of course, that they possess inalienable dignity. In my judgment these are ways of trying to say what we feel a need to say when we are estranged from the conceptual resources [i.e. God] we need to say it. . . . Not one of [these statements about human beings] has the power of the religious way of speaking . . . that we are sacred because God loves us, his children”  (From ‘A Common Humanity: Thinking About Love and Truth and Justice.’)


5)  Scripture describes a world in which God has imposed his moral law, both formally (ie, through written codes, such as the 10 Commandments), and informally, the “work of the law” being “written on their hearts” or conscience (Romans 2:12-16).  It also describes the recipients of formal revelation as having an advantage (Romans 3:1), though none are able to fulfill the moral law perfectly (Romans 3:9).  This explains how human beings have all, in some fashion or another, attempted to describe imperfectly something commonly perceived, and explains why different moral views, are typically based upon very similar moral principles, and have much in common, and may be sometimes wrong, sometimes right ... sometimes better, sometimes worse ... sometimes closer to, sometimes farther than the commonly perceived moral Law which is given by God.  This view of things, which is not without problems of course, explains what we see and feel, regarding human morality, much more satisfyingly than merely biological theories of morality.


Lastly, Brad, I do agree that both believers and unbelievers can be "moral" as commonly understood.  And I understand that you see my view as a needless conflation of origin and identity.  And I will answer that next, in a response.  But I wanted to lay out the general argument first.  

Stephen.  
Uncas
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A tendency towards morality with distinct regional differences is exactly what you'd expect from an evolutionary driven response to socialisation.

In fact the social/evolutionary explanation of morality fits better than a morality instilled by a god, which you'd expect to be far more uniform than it actually is, given the supposed single source.

.
Stephanos
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2 posted 03-30-2011 12:31 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Uncas,

I would say that the regional differences are not so distinct, given that most differences are a result of very like principles being applied to sundry situations and histories.  A God who values both diversity and unity accounts well for both the differences and similarities.  I see no reason why you might insist that complete homogeneity should be a prerequisite for Divine Moral revelation.  That would be like saying that one God would have had to create all people white.  And what I'm saying is like pointing out that very different colored skins have much in common.  


The problem with a merely-evolutionary account of morals, is that we would need to scrap our whole understanding of morals and what we invariably feel them to be, and how we act upon them.  I've never met anyone who would say that child molestation is an unsuccessful evolutionary strategy to pass on genes, but had it turned out otherwise, it would be okay.  The problem with that is it makes the moral question depend upon survival value alone (not upon some more basic, inexorable incumbency).  But I'm gonna bet that's not at all what you believe about particular moral issues, in your mind, and in your use of language, when you happen to be wronged by others.  I think that an explanation that coincides with what we already know and feel about morality, is better than an explanation that requires a complete overhaul.      


Stephen.        
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3 posted 03-30-2011 01:22 AM       View Profile for stargal   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for stargal

Uncas, I was once told it isn’t that morality isn’t uniform, but that we (humans) distort it. It’s like a calm lake of water that someone throws a rock into. The rock splashes and causes the water to ripple outward, but does that change the fact that it’s a lake of water? No, it’s still a lake of water.

When we consider morality from a religious perspective we see that there is an overarching moral code imposed on all people by a deity. We are given the opportunity (via that little thing called free will) to push, prod, stomp on, and think of morality as we will, but it remains the same regardless of how we interfere. Therefore we may argue over differences in opinion on what is moral and what is not, but in the end the ultimate decision breaker is what the deity set forth (and not what we would superimpose on the deity).
Brad
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4 posted 03-30-2011 08:28 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

quote:
4) Since morality is practiced as if, and considered as if it is something that overarches individuals, cultures, and communities, it is better explained in a religious way, than in a secular merely biological way.  Mainly because nothing in the evolutionary biological sense is “obligatory”, everything is still on trial, and the only criteria for justification is survival value.  And no convincing argument has been made that inexorably links moral behavior with survival.  But morals are not treated, even by those who do not accept Theism, as if they are simply a variant of behavior in an evolutionary pathway.  They are, contrary to their own reasoning, treated as we’ve always treated them, as matters of great import, and as areas of inquiry where there can be real right and wrong answers.


This isn't really what I wanted to talk about but I couldn't resist.  First, Uncas is right.  

The God concept justifies, today, the throwing of acid on a woman's face, the killing of siblings, the sacrificing of women on funeral pyres, the suicide of proper devotees, the playing with poisonous snakes, and the withholding of medical aid to children.

Simply put, we have to add another factor here: culture. Once we see that we see that "mere" biology is not monolithic, it does not explain everything.

Once we see that atrocities can be committed in the name of God, in the name of an emperor-God, in the name of "Dear Leader", the overarching element that you mention becomes perfectly clear. It is an excuse for doing something that biological drives might try to dissuade you from. It is bigger than biology.

But let's put another spin on this:  murder is a perfectly reasonable and biological drive from an evolutionary perspective.  What happens then when a community, a culture, a tribe, a family group decides that murder of one's own should be enshrined as the highest good in an overarching way. How long does it go before they realize that suicide is also something that should be enshrined?  

How long do they last?

Kool-aid anyone?

Evolutionary biology is not equivalent to spiritual morality in any form.  It can't tell you to believe in something or not to believe in something.  It can however give a pretty good idea of what happens once you adopt the above position, if taken in an overarching way, will probably result in that position's extinction.

Don't conflate "overarching" with morality.  They aren't the same thing. Remember, once we move into the spiritual realm, there is a very real downside to it as well.
Stephanos
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5 posted 03-30-2011 12:34 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad:
quote:
The God concept justifies, today, the throwing of acid on a woman's face, the killing of siblings, the sacrificing of women on funeral pyres, the suicide of proper devotees, the playing with poisonous snakes, and the withholding of medical aid to children.


Brad, the universality of morality simply points to the existence of God.  This is a general proposition, a sign post, certainly not a destination, nor a way to clarify all moral confusion.  But it is a clue, and for many, the beginning of spiritual inquiry.  


Where religious culture (the word you used) distorts godliness, one must begin to ask specific questions about what makes one religious tradition better than another.  For example, what makes the sacrificial love of Christ better than the extremism of Jihadism?  Beyond that, what makes the historical claims of one tradition better than another?  What makes one religious worldview more or less coherent than another?  There is a whole series of questions following a basic belief in Theism.  And The "Moral Argument" as I've called it, is only a beginning point.  


The thing is, you're trying to suggest, that for my views to be coherent, I need to accept a form of religious relativism.  But I don't believe this, any moreso than I believe in moral relativism.  Rather, I'm sure that in both morals and religious traditions, there are right and wrong answers.  There are things both closer and farther to the Truth revealed by God.  Throwing acid on someone's face as punishment, is just an example of a bad conclusion, based upon a good principle perceived somewhere along the line.  


The Judeo-Christian view of things certainly would say distorted religion is no better than secularism, or denial of religion.  Pointing to bad answers does not invalidate that there are better ones.  


And in another sense, it simply confirms the state that scripture says we're in.  God gives us his moral law, in sundry ways, we ALL distort it, in both religious settings and non-religious settings.  Good moral truth can be taken advantage of, used as an "excuse".  It is not altogether innocent, as you've spoken in the accusatory. But in making such allegations, you yourself are implying that there is a real right and wrong at work here.  You yourself are assuming moral law, beyond social convention or individual opinion, else what you say would have no force.

Your text above reeks of the preacher/reformer, whether you notice it or not.  

I just can't see how from a secular view, you can make the case that your moral distinctions can be anything but natural flux, or cultural consensus.  

quote:
But let's put another spin on this:  murder is a perfectly reasonable and biological drive from an evolutionary perspective.  What happens then when a community, a culture, a tribe, a family group decides that murder of one's own should be enshrined as the highest good in an overarching way. How long does it go before they realize that suicide is also something that should be enshrined?


I think you've made my point ... Murder is a perfectly reasonable and biological drive from an evolutionary perspective.  Therefore, to say it isn't okay, from that view alone, is arbitrary, not obligatory.

Besides, you throw these examples out, but could you please cite me a culture that finds murdering one's relatives as a moral good?  Usually, if something like this appears in communities (and thank God it is rare), it either shows up as transgression of morality, or either as the exaltation of a lone moral principle (justice, sacrifice?) beyond its proper place, taken out of the context of the whole.  C.S. Lewis refers to the whole as the "Tao" in his book "The Abolition of Man".  This may make moral awareness seem useless, since it can be so easily corrupted.  But again, in the Christian view, moral law is an inescapable reality that points to something else, not an end in itself.

As far as my using the word "overarching", I think you've misunderstood.  I don't mean that one moral concept should overarch everything else, as highest importance, much less that something immoral should be venerated.  What I mean is than an awareness of moral-law as a reality is intractable to humanity and universal among cultures, hence the term "overarching".  Moral variance is surely conceded.  But again, differences among a fallen humanity, in different times and circumstances, doesn't negate the huge swarth of common moral ground beneath (above) us.

quote:
This isn't really what I wanted to talk about but I couldn't resist.


"Say what you need to say ... Say what you need to say" - John Mayer

  

Stephen
        

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (03-31-2011 12:46 AM).]

Uncas
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quote:
Murder is a perfectly reasonable and biological drive from an evolutionary perspective


But, importantly, not in a social setting. In a social group, where each individual's survival is dependent on the survival of the group, murder would be decidedly unstable survival strategy.

Once the level of evolutionary pressures is raised beyond the individual to those of the group the advantages of a shared morality become obvious and, more importantly, inevitable. Extending evolutionary development from the individual to the group isn't that much of a leap if you think about it. After all individual genes exhibit survival tendencies that benefit the group (body) that they inhabit so it's no surprise that the same thing is repeated at a higher level.

Male tigers murder the offspring of other male tigers, which for non-social animals is a stable survival strategy - Meerkats however babysit all the young in their social group regardless of the sire, which is a stable survival strategy in a societal setting.  Of course, you'd expect to see natural variation within societies where a tendency towards pre-social behaviour was exhibited by individuals within the group and we'd also expect the group morality to only hold true within a distinct and definable social group.

Rogue Meerkats that kill the young of their own group are observed and all Meerkats actively kill the young of rival groups.

How are such acts of murder explained based on the concept of a universal morality dictated by a single god?

.
Stephanos
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Uncas:
quote:
But, importantly, not in a social setting. In a social group, where each individual's survival is dependent on the survival of the group, murder would be decidedly unstable survival strategy.


No one said you had to murder them all, just the ones holding society back, those "less than human", various pawnbroker-woman types who are leaches upon society, Jews, handicaps, etc ...  (Please, no one miss my facetiousness).

Seriously, though, selective "murder" is still a live option, from an evolutionary standpoint.  And it's certainly not such an unstable strategy as to have been culled from the herd.  

My whole point has been that, if we're rejecting murder based on its evolutionary instability, and not upon a more basic moral reality, then our "morals" concerning murder are pretentious.  I feel quite sure that you yourself don't think of murder in a way consistent with your description of why it is wrong.


quote:
Once the level of evolutionary pressures is raised beyond the individual to those of the group the advantages of a shared morality become obvious and, more importantly, inevitable. Extending evolutionary development from the individual to the group isn't that much of a leap if you think about it. After all individual genes exhibit survival tendencies that benefit the group (body) that they inhabit so it's no surprise that the same thing is repeated at a higher level.



But you seem to be suggesting that individual "immoral" actions, at the discretion of the perpetrator, threatens the survival of the whole community.  When as a matter of fact it doesn't necessarily have to.  For example, one could choose to kill a population unable to reproduce, or a population considered to be a "burden" to society, or the weak and defenseless.  It's a Nietzchian idea, but it certainly hasn't be proven to be at odds with the survival of an "elite" group.

The point I'm trying to make is that if such a group were to "get away with" such treacherous policies and practices, by your view, they would have simply gambled on another evolutionary strategy and won.  But the moral law that we sense, tells us that even were they to survive, it would still have been dreadfully wrong.  I just don't see how someone holding your view could feel this way too.  Or to put it another way, I don't see how someone who knows this, could hold to your evolutionary view of morals.    

But if you say that that survival and moral behavior always correlate, or even mostly correlate ... wouldn't that state of affairs, built into the the fabric of the world, be curious to you?


quote:
Rogue Meerkats that kill the young of their own group are observed and all Meerkats actively kill the young of rival groups.

How are such acts of murder explained based on the concept of a universal morality dictated by a single god?


I'm not sure I understand what your aiming for here.  Are you calling animal predation "murder"?  Would even secular ethicians superimpose human morals on animals?  In the Christian view, animals are not made "in the image of God" as human beings are.  Coupled with this is the view that the Creation itself was subjected to what St. Paul referred to as "vanity".  At any rate, given the distinction human beings have, Theologically speaking, this would account for the differing standards.  Though I respect vegans, I haven't met anyone who really feels that killing animals for food is murder, much less that animal predation is murder.

I guess in answering your question, I would just say that human beings, in God's economy, are called to represent God in a way that surpasses an amoral nature and the animal kingdom, to rise above a world "red in tooth and claw".


Stephen          
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Our animal-roots don't remove our religious branches nor do our religous branches remove our animal-roots.  They are both very imporant to being a civilized ape
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quote:
No one said you had to murder them all, just the ones holding society back, those "less than human", various pawnbroker-woman types who are leaches upon society, Jews, handicaps, etc


You mean those outside their own group?

As I've already said you'd expect a morality which evolved  to further a group of individuals to have boundaries, outside of which the moral laws are relaxed - meerkats babysit the young within their own group but murder the young of rival groups. Or if you like good meerkats do good things and bad meerkats do bad things but it takes a strong social bond to make bad meerkats do good things.

A morality developed to ensure the survival of groups, driven by evolutionary forces, would predict wars, oppression and genocide along with individual acts of anti-social behaviour. which is exactly what we see when we look around us.

quote:
But the moral law that we sense, tells us that even were they to survive, it would still have been dreadfully wrong.


Moral judgement is dependent on the group you happen to belong to.

Christians didn't believe it was dreadfully wrong or immoral to annihilate the Cathars, but I bet the Cathars did, where was universal morality in 14th century France?

quote:
I'm not sure I understand what your aiming for here.


I was pointing out that social animals, within their distinct social groups, act differently from non-social animals but as a group entity they exhibit anti-social tendencies towards other groups.

.
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     Claims made for the universality of morality should be as parsimonious as the claims we should make for any other hypothesis.  Claims made by the oil industry based on the existance of oil should also be as parsimonious as possible.  In either case, it is simple to build grand claims upon upon simple suppositions.

     Morality is not universal.  It is useful and common, as any psychopath will tell you, and an excellent way to make money.  While I happen to think it's dandy and I wouldn't leave home without it, or my own particular and peculiar version of it, I can't help but notice that I run into wide disagreements with others about the fairly conventional morality I call my own.

     While I can say that there may or may not be a God, I can almost always say that there is a will to power, and that morality gets trotted out in that context.  One persons says to another, You have to do this! and the Othe says to the one, No, I don't and then, Why should I?

     That is the conversation that frequently generates a moral situation, and the motive hehind it is to impose one person's notion of what to do on another person.

     I think morality is an example much more of the urge to exert power than it is evidence of God.

     Don't get me wrong, there may well be a God.  I am often convinced of it.  I simply don't believe that morality is evidence of God so much as evidence of man's attempt to assert power over Her fellows.  That's my opinion, of course.
Brad
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11 posted 04-01-2011 10:19 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Stephen said:
quote:
Besides, you throw these examples out, but could you please cite me a culture that finds murdering one's relatives as a moral good?  Usually, if something like this appears in communities (and thank God it is rare), it either shows up as transgression of morality, or either as the exaltation of a lone moral principle (justice, sacrifice?) beyond its proper place, taken out of the context of the whole.


I guess my point wasn't all that clear.  Regardless of what we think might be biologically natural, if the end result is not reproducible, it dies out.  In this sense, given all the variances, anything that might be called universal morality must cohere with that point.  

Examples where this isn't so might include the Jim Jone's cult, the Heaven's Gate people, and "the we love death more than they love life" crowd.

Of course, I'm also making a prediction here.  If this is right and given that they continue to kill more Muslims than infidels, the Islamic terrorist faction will eventually disappear. It's not much of a consolation to tragedy but it seems right to me.

Could we be seeing the beginning of something like that with the "Middle East 1848?"

I think you're right that I misunderstood your use of "overarching".  I'm still not sure I understand it as I can't see my contradiction.  I presupposed a Western value system, but I don't see any need to believe in a transcendent value system.  I simply think it would better, for us and for them, to think as you and I do -- more or less.  

What would that mean?

Well, here's a quick list of values that should be esteemed:

1. honesty
2. equality
3. anti-authoritarianism
4. openness
5. self-correcting mechanisms
6. creativity

With these in place, we might have a shot at restraining Bob's (or Fred's) will to power.

  

[This message has been edited by Brad (04-02-2011 12:22 AM).]

Stephanos
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Essorant:  
quote:
Our animal-roots don't remove our religious branches nor do our religous branches remove our animal-roots.  They are both very imporant to being a civilized ape


Essorant, I agree.  Though I have scientific doubts about Evolution, I feel that were it true, it would still require a God (as long as "God" means that/who which is our transcendent source, and not vice versa)



Uncas:  
quote:
You mean those outside their own group?

As I've already said you'd expect a morality which evolved  to further a group of individuals to have boundaries, outside of which the moral laws are relaxed.


No Uncas, when I mentioned those kinds of people, I was referring to those who are a part of the larger community, and who have allegedly been holding it back.

quote:
A morality developed to ensure the survival of groups, driven by evolutionary forces, would predict wars, oppression and genocide along with individual acts of anti-social behaviour. which is exactly what we see when we look around us.


But it doesn't explain the certainty you have that, aside from genetic survival, immoral acts are really immoral.  

Wars, oppression, genocide, and anti-social behavior are also explained by a deeper spiritual malady that scripture calls sin.  And with that explanation, our moral convictions are not forfeited, or alternatively, held inconsistently with our bio-philosophy.  


quote:
Moral judgement is dependent on the group you happen to belong to.

Christians didn't believe it was dreadfully wrong or immoral to annihilate the Cathars, but I bet the Cathars did, where was universal morality in 14th century France?


If moral judgment is dependent on the group you belong to, why do you imply a real (and not simply relative) moral failure of certain Christians in 14th Century France?

Universal moral awareness, was the same place it has always been, with the understanding of some things: 1)  Human beings act contrary to their own moral insights (conscience) 2)  Human beings act contrary to what their religions prescribe (ask yourself what Jesus taught about someone's enemies, and aggression)  3) Human beings perpetrate evil by isolating one or more moral principles, apart from the whole of the Moral Law given by God.  4)  Human beings commonly deceive themselves, by feeling justified in acting upon a sequestered moral principle, and therefore have a "divided self".


Bob:  
quote:
Claims made for the universality of morality should be as parsimonious as the claims we should make for any other hypothesis.


I think parsimony is maintained with the claim for universal morality, unless you could also say that the existence and infernal recurrence of bad art, shows that the artistic impulse isn't universal among people and cultures.  That doesn't make sense to me.  

quote:
While I happen to think it's dandy and I wouldn't leave home without it, or my own particular and peculiar version of it, I can't help but notice that I run into wide disagreements with others about the fairly conventional morality I call my own.


But you never address the assertion that the most variant moral codes have much common ground.  And you’ve constantly ignored the fact that I have never once argued that morality is anywhere near a unanimous affair.  When I say "universal" I don't mean universally alike in every particular.  I do mean that the major themes of morality repeat time and again among all cultures, irregardless of their applications, misapplications, or situational nuances.

quote:
Don't get me wrong, there may well be a God.  I am often convinced of it.  I simply don't believe that morality is evidence of God so much as evidence of man's attempt to assert power over Her fellows.  That's my opinion, of course.


But the post-modern insight that power struggle is imbedded within human behavior, cannot be applied to every moral principle.  Surely you recognize that even the statement “human beings are bent on controlling each other” has more than a dash of moral disapprobation in it.  What you seem to be leaving out of the discussion, is that some forms of “control” are absolutely moral and proper.  Stewardship or responsibility would serve as a better word, though the concept of control is ever-present.  The wearied post-modern critique of morality doesn’t stop there either.  I could take the same approach to say that the only reason you are posting your words on this forum is to “control” others and to persuade them to your own druthers (That's why texts promoting literary deconstructionism are "built" on the same post-modern idea).  But it would be preposterously inconsistent for me to take that approach.  Such a “hermeneutic of suspicion”, though relying on a truth (human beings often have ulterior motives), makes the mistake of lumping everything in the same basket.  And it is self defeating.  That is my critique of what you are saying.  But as a more positive argument for my own assertion, I would ask whether you could think of any “moral” principles that might not fit your paradigm of “morality as only a form of control”?  What of altruism ... which, though rare, seems to be in another category than the kind of control you’re implying.  

And Bob, of course that’s your opinion, which means “what I think is more than opinion”.             


Brad, I’ll try and answer you soon.  

Stephen
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13 posted 04-02-2011 01:46 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad:  
quote:
I presupposed a Western value system, but I don't see any need to believe in a transcendent value system.  I simply think it would better, for us and for them, to think as you and I do -- more or less.  

What would that mean?

Well, here's a quick list of values that should be esteemed:

1. honesty
2. equality
3. anti-authoritarianism
4. openness
5. self-correcting mechanisms
6. creativity


Two observations:  Your use of the word "better" is based upon a moral sensibility on some level.  Whether or not you say it overtly, it seems to me you're making an ethical statement by saying that our system is 'better'.


Secondly, the list you provide is certainly good but incomplete.  A couple of examples ... "anti-authoritarianism" means that we oppose government that turns out to be oppressive, not that we oppose authority or government per se, else "anarchism" should have been your word.  And "openness" means the ability to change when needed, not the freedom to deface what is good and reliable.  You value openness, and yet, if you have children you know this principle is moderated by protection and limitation.  

Also, I have to say that these values are not limited to the West in any fashion, as if we could put theirs into one column and ours in another, and present them as antithetical.  


What I'm trying to say regarding a universal morality, is that all cultures see and grasp the moral law ... but all have done so imperfectly.  Consider this statement by Christian apologist Timothy Keller:

"(If) Christianity is not the product of any one culture but is actually the transcultural truth of God ... we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point ... If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place." (From 'The Reason For God- Belief In an Age of Skepticism')

This is exactly what we see within culture.  A non-western culture values Justice supremely, so that Jesus' statements about forgiving enemies, is offensive and counter-intuitive.  Our culture has no problem with a forgiving and tolerant God, and yet balks at the concepts of divine judgment and punishment.  The truth is, that God's revelation is corrective and challenging to both kinds of cultures.  And furthermore, its obvious that these cultures, at variance, have both apprehended a real and significant part of moral truth.  The chasm between appears when these aspects of moral truth are sequestered and practiced in isolation.  


And again, I'm not sure how to further explain my statement about "overarching", except by reiterating that such a universality fits our deepest certainties about morals, namely that they can't be explained or justified by a simple head-count, and therefore they stand in some fashion "above" cultural variation and bias.  And I do concede that we ourselves can never quite escape that bias.  But it doesn't follow that we have no awareness of something beyond, which is the very explanation of why the moral sense is ubiquitous to begin with.


Stephen
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14 posted 04-02-2011 04:33 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Well, we all have our charged dichotomies.

If Ess changed religion to culture, and animal to biology, he and I would be saying the same thing.  As far as I can tell, Uncas and I are saying the same thing.

Nature and nurture yet again.

I wonder if Stephen Pinker's catch-all "heritable" term might be useful here.

The answer to the nature versus nurture question is both.

Stephen has God's "revelation" (grace?) and sin.

Let's see, Bob has "will to power" and not sure what the other term might be.  

I would argue that nature and nurture have already been deconstructed.  We have no reason to choose one or the other; they work together to make up who we are and what we are.

Now what?

Morality as a transcendent (independent of space and time) concept or morality as a biological/cultural construct?

Would I be placing too many charged terms in one sentence to be saying this:

morality evolves?

[This message has been edited by Brad (04-02-2011 05:09 PM).]

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15 posted 04-02-2011 06:38 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad:
quote:
Now what?

Morality as a transcendent (independent of space and time) concept or morality as a biological/cultural construct?


I don't see the dichotomy as either one or the other, but as either both, or only the latter.  I don't believe that the Christian view of morality discounts that moral ideas and practices are transmitted through a social/cultural mechanism.  Yes, there is an innate tendency among cultures to recognize moral realities, but mothers and fathers and larger communities still inculcate their children.


Stephen  
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16 posted 04-02-2011 07:58 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Well, okay.

I don't know if I can go any further in that area.  I was at a poker game on Friday and I brought up trans-humanism (along with comments on John Adams and C.S. Lewis of all things) and I got stopped there.  I was trying to show how truly awestruck one can feel when we look at some of the ideas being thrown around today.  

As I talked about downloading consciousness into a computer, the point was made that what is being downloaded and what is being human might be two different things.

A God of the gaps argument, sure, but all this stuff is still incredibly new.  We've only recently discovered that we don't know what 96% (some have argued 99%) of the universe is made of.  Evolutionary psychology is still in its infancy (Biological evolution is not.)

Perhaps discretion is the better part of value.   

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17 posted 04-02-2011 09:46 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

What in the discussion about trans-humanism was a "god of the gaps" argument?


Actually, considering that most of what is taken to be true of biological evolution has not been remotely described or demonstrated, I would disagree about it not being in infancy (scientifically speaking).  But if you mean that, as an influental cultural idea, it is not new, then yes.  

Stephen
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18 posted 04-03-2011 01:35 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

quote:
What in the discussion about trans-humanism was a "god of the gaps" argument?


An exhaustive definition of what makes us human.

quote:
Actually, considering that most of what is taken to be true of biological evolution has not been remotely described or demonstrated, I would disagree about it not being in infancy (scientifically speaking).


Well, we haven't changed here, have we?  

Neither of us.

I suppose something like lateral transfer of DNA makes a bit of a dent but we're still eukaryotes, not bacteria, not archaea.

Did you here the one about the T. Rex and the chicken?
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19 posted 04-03-2011 09:05 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

This is switching tracks for sure.  Though the "moral argument" probably has a lot to say about downloading human consciousness into cyberspace.  The prefix "Trans" could definitely be replaced with "De", without too much adjustment.    

But seriously, could you elaborate on why you feel that our certainty that being human is more than say, AI, is a "god in the gaps" argument?


Stephen
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20 posted 04-03-2011 11:04 AM       View Profile for Uncas   Email Uncas   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Uncas


quote:
But it doesn't explain the certainty you have that, aside from genetic survival, immoral acts are really immoral.


By whose measure of morality?

My morality is sufficiently close to your morality to believe that exterminating Cathars is morally wrong but the Christians doing the exterminating at the time obviously didn't share that morality. Your claim pre-supposes a universally shared morality that, based on the evidence, simply doesn't exist. Any argument that suggests that because someone with a similar set of evolved moral values as yourself believes an act is immoral proves that such beliefs are universal is doomed to failure as long as there exists clear evidence that some groups don't actually hold those beliefs.

quote:
morality evolves?


Morality, or the concepts of what constitutes moral behaviour, certainly evolves. The evidence of that evolution is overwhelming. The 1st century Christians had a different concept of what was morally acceptable than 14th century Christians. Who in turn had different moral values than current Christians and they all had different moral values than other contemporary groups.

.
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21 posted 04-03-2011 12:48 PM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

I think the same general principle is taking place throughout lifeforms (including humans), but among humans intelligence interferes a lot more so it is not as automatic or consistent as among other animals.   That is it is not called "instincts" as often among ourselves, because our intelligence allows us artistically to modify our approach to anything a lot more.  Therefore we have many different names (thoughts, morals, religion, laws, politics, etc) for what at its root is still the basic instinct of an animal, but responded to in a much more artistic and variable way than other animals may respond.  
  
However, whether we are talking about a microbe or a man, we are all trying to do what is right for life/survival in one way or another.  This is fairly universal.  It may be stretched and twisted in many different ways, but it is the same underlying elastic throughout all life-forms, an "elastic" that is one part and parcel with life and therefore inherently tries to live and do what helps it live as well.
 
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22 posted 04-03-2011 01:32 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Uncas:
quote:
By whose measure of morality?


By everyone's measure of morality.  We don't have to agree about particulars, in order to share a certainty that  immoral acts are really immoral.  If morals are based upon mere survival value, then I can't see why anyone would be so sure that immoral acts are immoral.  Do you only think immoral acts are wrong if someone "gets caught"?  If not, then from a solely evolutionary explanation of morality, why not?  

quote:
My morality is sufficiently close to your morality to believe that exterminating Cathars is morally wrong but the Christians doing the exterminating at the time obviously didn't share that morality.


I'm curious ... do you belief it was really morally wrong, or just different?  What do you mean when you say you think they were being immoral?  Do you believe that they, as a community, could possibly be wrong, or only different?  If the former, then you confirm what I'm saying.  If the latter, then you undermine your own moral disapproval of those particular Christians, the very force of your argument.

What about these assertions which I've mentioned?  1) People act against their own moral insights.  Evidence:  Guilt  2)  People act against their own religious prescriptions.  Evidence:  Jesus in particular, and the New Testament in general does not support aggression, and yet some Christians practice violence.  The Bible does not recommend adultery, and yet some Christians commit adultery 3)  People rationalize immoral actions by isolating one moral principle at the expense of others.  Evidence:  Ask them to justify why they did something, and they will appeal to moral principles that you too, hold in some esteem, whether or not you agree with their actions.

quote:
Your claim pre-supposes a universally shared morality that, based on the evidence, simply doesn't exist.


My evidence is that you know that the bellicose Christians you've mentioned might be wrong, and not just different in the same way brown eyes are different than blue.

More evidence includes the fact that people, including you and I, act against their own moral insights.  

More evidence includes the fact that people, including you and I, understand what it means to be self-deceived, whenever self interest is bound up in one's decisions and actions.

If my above assertions are reasonably true, then we have a sufficient challenge to the idea that moral differences are solely explained biologically or genetically.  


quote:
Any argument that suggests that because someone with a similar set of evolved moral values as yourself believes an act is immoral proves that such beliefs are universal is doomed to failure as long as there exists clear evidence that some groups don't actually hold those beliefs.


Then you've thoroughly misunderstood and misstated my argument.  My argument is that ALL human moralities are variants of the same moral principles, which is evidence for a universal moral awareness, however imperfect.  If you understood my argument (even without agreeing with it) you would probably stop giving moral variance as a refutation of it, since the argument itself doesn't depend upon unanimity.


"Underneath many differences in particular moral codes there are common basis of moral principles.  For example, variants of the Golden Rule occur in very many different cultures.  Try to imagine a society where cowardice is admired and where double-crossing people who have been kind to you is a cause for pride." (C.S. Lewis, from 'The Abolition of Man')


"The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum ... Every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting some one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it from the rest, and erecting it into an unum necessarium."  (C.S. Lewis, from the essay 'The Poison of Subjectivism')


I choose these quotes from Lewis, not because the argument is solely his, but because he communicates it well.  


I know you don't, at this point, agree with what I'm saying.  I would like you, however, to argue against what I've actually been saying, which is that universal moral awareness and particular moral variance are not antithetical, as evidenced by the common moral assumptions that are made in order to disagree.  It's as If I were arguing that fixing cars was a universal trait, and you argue back by pointing out that any two mechanics are likely to disagree.  So maybe you could explain in detail why you think moral disagreement and (non-comprehensive) universal moral awareness must be incompatible.  


Stephen
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I don't have a problem with a humanistic moral capacity just as I don't have a problem with a humanistic linguistic capacity.

I don't see it as a signpost and I think we can trace it from survival strategies along the same lines as Dennett's "intentional stance" or, what seems to be innate, the idea of other minds.  From there, if you employ a kind of "veil of ignorance" it all seems to come together.  Variation and aberration are easily explained then.  When you don't follow one of the above points, you get what we would call immorality.

Or is that just too abstract?  I ask that simply because the devil, of course, is in the details.

By "god of the gaps" earlier, I assumed that the guy I was talking to was worried about a soul.  That is, because we don't know precisely the relationship between mind and brain (except that all evidence points to the mind's dependence on the brain) and we don't know precisely the relationship between body and brain, we can then postulate the soul in that position.

Maybe I was wrong.

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24 posted 04-08-2011 01:32 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K


quote:

  My argument is that ALL human moralities are variants of the same moral principles, which is evidence for a universal moral awareness, however imperfect.  



     All human moralities may be variants of something.

     Beyond that, however, you are trying to define something by using the thing itself as a referrent, and I don't believe this will do.  It is a tautology.  It is a circularity.  It eats its own tail.  It does not work as a piece of definition or as a piece of logic.

     The notion of Universal moral principles is also a bit dodgy.  You have snuck in that concept without demonstration, and I am not certain it is supportable.  There seem to be elements of behavior that are reasonably wide-spread.  These can be tested.  Principles need to be deduced, demonstrated and proven.  You can test whether or not people want to be right by tracking their speech patterns, agreeing on what constitutes arguement and what constitutes agreement, and then developing a test with high inter-rater reliability to measure speech samples from as many different places and situations as you can find.  You should be able to test that hypothesis pretty well.

     The more concrete the principles you want to test, the more likely you will be able to test them as well.

     I cannot say if your conclusion is right or wrong here.  You may in fact be correct, Stephanos, but I don't believe you can actually establish that as a fact in this way.

     Universal moral principles?  

     You'd need to show me.

     However imperfect is a big caviat.  That's another way of talking about inter-rater reliability, and at some point in a scientific examination of a data set, there is enough variation in the inter-rater reliability to mean that the conclusion is junk.  The way you're phrasing it here suggests that when you look at moral reasoning, there are no junk conclusions — "however imperfect" is that big a fudge factor.

     So, which are the moral Principles?

     And how do we know that they're variations of the same moral principles and not something entirely different — where is your inter-rater reliability on this, in other words?

     What defines them as moral principles as opposed to laws of physical science, such as gravity, or colors or other catagories?

     And how can you be certain that that you justify the use of all capital letters in the word ALL?

     There are porobably other questions, but these are enough to give me a headache for now.
 
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