What are the minimal requirements for rational morality?

UPDATE: Welcome readers from the the Western Experience! Thanks for the link, Jason!

Last week, I posted a list of 13 questions that Christians could use to get discussions going with their atheist friends. Basically, you ask your atheist friend out to lunch, ask them the questions. We got 10 responses to the questions, which I summarized here. And I had lunch with another one of my friends, another Jewish atheist, who goes to a Reformed synagogue, as well.

Basically, the questionnaire’s purpose is to establish whether atheism provides a rational foundation for moral behavior. Specifically, can atheism account for the minimal requirements for rational moral behavior (see below).

1) Objective moral values

There needs to be a way to distinguish what is good from what is bad. For example, the moral standard might specify that being kind to children is good, but torturing them for fun is bad. If the standard is purely subjective, then people could believe anything and each person would be justified in doing right in their own eyes. Even a “social contract” is just based on people’s opinions. So we need a standard that applies regardless of what people’s individual and collective opinions are.

2) Objective moral duties

Moral duties (moral obligations) refer to the actions that are obligatory based on the moral values defined in 1). Suppose we spot you 1) as an atheist. Why are you obligated to do the good thing, rather than the bad thing? To whom is this obligation owed? Why is rational for you to limit your actions based upon this obligation when it is against your self-interest? Why let other people’s expectations decide what is good for you, especially if you can avoid the consequences of their disapproval?

3) Moral accountability

Suppose we spot you 1) and 2) as an atheist. What difference does it make to you if you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to whomever? Is there any reward or punishment for your choice to do right or do wrong? What’s in it for you?

4) Free will

In order for agents to make free moral choices, they must be able to act or abstain from acting by exercising their free will. If there is no free will, then moral choices are impossible. If there are no moral choices, then no one can be held responsible for anything they do. If there is no moral responsibility, then there can be no praise and blame. But then it becomes impossible to praise any action as good or evil.

5) Ultimate significance

Finally, beyond the concept of reward and punishment in 3), we can also ask the question “what does it matter?”. Suppose you do live a good life and you get a reward: 1000 chocolate sundaes. And when you’ve finished eating them, you die for real and that’s the end. In other words, the reward is satisfying, but not really meaningful, ultimately. It’s hard to see how moral actions can be meaningful, ultimately, unless their consequences last on into the future.

Tomorrow, I will explain why the answers given by the atheists show that the worldview of atheism offers none of these 5 requirements, and that therefore morality is really, really, really irrational on atheism. Atheist can look over their shoulders at their neighbors, and act like them in order to feel happy that they are acting consistently with the arbitrary fashions of their herd, but that’s all they can do, on atheism.

Further study

You can get the full story on the requirements for rational morality in a published, peer-reviewed paper written by William Lane Craig here. You can also hear and see him present the paper to an audience of students and faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008. The audio is clipped at 67 minutes, the video is the full 84 minutes. There is 45 minutes of Q&A, with many atheist challengers.

The video of this lecture is the best material you can get on this issue, and the Q&A from the hostile audience is vital to the lesson. More debates on atheism and morality can be found on the debate and lecture page.

You can find a post contrasting the morality of an authentic, consistent Christian with an authentic, consistent non-Christian here. A post examining how atheism is responsible for the deaths of 100 million innocent people in the 20th century alone is here. A post analyzing the tiny number of deaths that religion was responsible for is here.

25 thoughts on “What are the minimal requirements for rational morality?”

  1. 1. Objectivity is achieved by how the morals of a social contract produce a weaker or stronger society. For instance a society that practices a high rate of abortion is weaker than one that does not, because of the wasted inventive talent literally flushed away. It is immoral to create a weaker society, because it will eventuate in the demise of that society in competition with others.
    2. The strength of society is served by placing barriers in the path of those who seek through their actions to advance at the expense of society. It would be nice if there were an externalised force co-opting people to correct behaviour. For this reason societies have encouraged beliefs that use an external godhead to enforce a helpful moral code.
    3. In capitalist society the pursuit of wealth empowers the individual and empowers society. Tritely – money is power. You can of course attempt to make money immorally, but that brings you into foul of the law and risks a lot of grief.
    4. Free will appears to exist.
    5. Beyond possessions, wealth and power – nothing. Existentially it is less fulfilling than belief.

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    1. “For instance a society that practices a high rate of abortion is weaker than one that does not, because of the wasted inventive talent literally flushed away. It is immoral to create a weaker society, because it will eventuate in the demise of that society in competition with others.”

      So, slavery in the past are justified because the colonial empires clearly became strong due to cheap/free slaves?

      So, the roman’s oppressive regime (who often killed people just to assert their power) was also moral because they made their society’s strong?

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  2. Of your 5 claims required by morality:
    1) Objective standard.
    Platonic ideals match, as does social contract and desire utilitarianism, on my understanding.
    2) Objective moral duties.
    By this I assume you mean a solution to the is-ought problem.
    It could be claimed that the platonic ideals provide a duty to follow them, in the same way a logical platonist would claim their existence causes the world and us to follow those logical rules.
    I’m not as familiar with social contracts, and so don’t know how this is resolved under those theories.
    Under desire utilitarianism, the claim is put forward that ‘ought’ statements are a subset of ‘is’ statements, and therefore a solution to the is ought problem is produced. See page 97 of “A better place: Essays on Desire utilitarianism” for the argument.
    3) Moral accountability.
    We would seem to be accountable to ourselves and to others, which makes the case for a social contract as well as DU. This is perhaps a little tricker for platonism, but I’m sure the claimed duty their existence causes entails accountability of some kind, even if simply to those who do follow them.
    4) Free Will
    Contra-causal/Libertarian free will would result in random decisions, as it’s claimed to not be based upon a preceeding causal chain. This is nonsensical. Your choices are based upon your biology and environment, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why this requires some external substance. There also doesn’t seem to be any reason why our choices can only entail blame and consequences if those choices are made outside of the causal chain – the opposite would seem to be the case.
    5) Ultimate significance
    This is a claim concening why our moral choices matter.
    I stated that my moral choices matter to me and those around me, here and now. I don’t know of any reason why some kind of ultimate significance is required to give meaning.

    I would claim that your 5 points came about through selection bias on your part – you chose them because they show your favoured moral system in a positive light, while seeming to show all other moral systems lacking (though I think you’re also showing selection bias in your application of those criteria).

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    1. Here are my responses.

      1) You can’t explain the origin or means of existence of Platonic forms, on atheism. Where did they come from? The other systems don’t provide an OBJECTIVE standard, just cultural relativism. But these “rules” are arbitrary and vary by time and place. Just conventions.

      2) There is no way to have a rational duty owed to an abstract principle. The other systems fail because no one is in a position to command that duty, except by threat of exercising power. I don’t see why I should constrain my behavior to the Pythagorean theorem. Who cares about abstract objects? Why should they be the boss of me?

      3) On atheism, you can escape the consequences of your actions by exercising power or avoiding detection, etc. If other people are the only ones who can hold you accountable, then you can be evil rationally, so long as you are able to avoid the consequences from these other people.

      4) Free will is impossible if human beings are pure matter, and non-material selves are incompatible with atheism. No moral choices are possible on atheism because no choices are possible on atheism.

      5) What you described is temporal significance, not ultimate significance. You and everyone you affect will still have the same fate: death. It doesn’t matter ultimately how you act, on atheism. Your moral choices don’t matter in the long run, so why put your duty to be good over self-interest if it makes no ultimate difference how you act?

      Atheism is ZERO for five. Christian theism is FIVE for five. Doing the right thing is not rationally grounded on atheism. But it is on Christian theism.

      Doing the right thing on atheism comes down to self-interest: you want to feel good by getting social approval or avoiding social punishments. That is not what made William Wilberforce work 20 years against the tide to abolish slavery.

      Christians are operating on a different plane than atheists. We believe in human rights, for Christians as well as non-Christians. And we are prepared to sacrifice our live to defend those human rights. Everyone has to have the freedom to be able to respond to God, and my job is to make sure that they do have that freedom. And it’s rational for me to give up everything including my own life to help safeguard those rights.

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      1. Dude,

        You weren’t kidding when you said you used to be a Platonist. Nice.

        I’d like to even take this a bit further. Under a platonic system we can even craft a DIFFERENT moral system that has as its sole good returning to the forms, AKA, the worst moral excesses of gnosticism and manichaeism (that word just ruined my spell check, btw).

        Seriously though, we create a justification for ANYTHING, which is really just an early form of consequentialism and relativism.

        Murder suddenly is acceptable since you have now put in place a quasi-objective good: It is okay to murder because murder allows the victims to transcend back into the forms.

        By creating a consequentialist objective good you open the door for anything and have no grounds for saying anything is wrong.

        So if an atheist wants to make an appeal to the forms for providing morality, they ain’t gonna like the morality they get, since it ends up being subjective.

        Without objective authority and origin, the center can not hold. No matter how many ways you try to represent it, without an objective authority, the center does not and can not hold.

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    2. “1) Objective standard.
      Platonic ideals match, as does social contract and desire utilitarianism, on my understanding.”

      If you are putting social contract and desire utilitarianism under the catagory of “objective standard” then you are badly misunderstanding both social contract and utilitarianism.

      Social contract says the french revolution’s reign of terror was a-okay. Utilitarianism says “But what about all the GOOD THINGS that Hitler and Stalin did for their countries!”

      So, they are a no go. They are both fancy versions of might makes right.

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      1. LCB, it’s my (possibly incorrect) understanding that social contract theories involve some veiled, rational observer, such that moral rules which oppress or favour one group over another won’t be present, as this “ideal observer” could lift the veil and find itself in the unfavourable category.
        Desire Utilitarianism is different to Act Utilitarianism, which is what I understand you to be talking about here. DU does not seem to suffer from the flaw you point out here.

        Regarding “might makes right”, I’ve find Biblical morality to be a version of the same, often dressed up in fancy language :-)

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        1. In this post I will discuss social contract theory. The other issues I will take up in different posts.

          Social contract theories often do operate in the context of rational humans developing rational social contracts with a conception of there being outside moral rules.

          Which works in early enlightenment thought especially with at least a tacit acknowledgment of deism. However, when we carry the enlightenment thought to its logical conclusion, the whole system is really unable to hold.

          We need look no further Marx, Nietzche, and in our contemporary era, Jean Paul Satre, Umberto Eco, Michel Foucault, or Jacques Derrida.

          In the one hand (for those philosophers above that had a literary bent) we are capable of re-interperting any social contract in any way we want. It will always be utterly divorced from both its original context and any timeless context that it accompanies. Unless you are willing to reject over a century of philosophy and an entire cultural context that has embraced that philosophy, you’re stuck with social contracts that mean precisely whatever anyone wants them to mean. With the degradation of the concept that “words actually have meaning” even written and articulated social contracts take on precisely whatever meaning the reader and interperter wants them to have.

          On the other hand we have those like Marx whose thinking is now also (unfortunately) widespread, in that everything is viewed in the lens of a power struggle with an inevitable dialectical historical conclusion. In this view social contracts are merely tools of oppression and need to be overthrown and destroyed anyways, with the exception of the situations where they can be useful for advancing the historical dialectic. I could explain this more, but since this type of thinking is what is now taught in schools, most everyone is exposed to it and can easily grasp this point.

          Either direction we have social contracts that are merely ‘might makes right’ dressed up in fancy clothes.

          Added to all of this is that both directions that the heirs of the enlightenment took also deny reason itself. Whereas in one direction we get a sort of soft relativism of “reason is whatever I say it is”, in the other direction we get “reason is whatever those with power say it is”,
          we could quibble about this a bit, but I doubt there is anyone who takes seriously the notion that either of these approaches do anything to preserve any sort of objective reason or any sort of objective outside observer.

          So though the concept of the social contract was advanced as a way to justify governance apart from the authority of God and apart from might makes right, once the actual concept of the authority of God is removed it devolved merely into might makes right but spelled out in flowery prose. Many intellectual giants have commented on this precise change taking place in europe (Oriana Fallaci as an atheist, and her multi-year friend the now-Pope Benedict serve as two from the European continent) in two forms. The first is in the breakdown of European culture as it has embraced a philosophy of “nothing has meaning” and the second is in the spread of Islam, which is an ideology/religion that divorces reason from faith.

          When you remove faith from reason, or reason from faith, you will result in might makes right. The two require each other. As I said previously: Without objective authority and origin, the center can not hold. No matter how many ways you try to represent it, without an objective authority, the center does not and can not hold.

          Social contract theory only works in a Christian context. Once (for whatever reason) society moves beyond its Christian foundations, the social contract breaks apart.

          Though this is not a Catholic forum, I will close this brief essay on the matter with a quote from Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. Persons of all faiths widely acknowledge him as one of the foremost philosophers and theologians in the world. Though this is given in a religious context, it easily applies to a general philosophical context as well. If we are ever to build lasting societies that are not trapped in the doomed cycle of rising and falling, they must be built upon objective truth and that is found in the person of Christ. Secular liberalism is the ideology of cultural suicide:

          How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by every wind of teaching”, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.

          However, we have a different goal: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. Being an “Adult” means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today’s fashions or the latest novelties. A faith which is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature. It is this friendship which opens us up to all that is good and gives us the knowledge to judge true from false, and deceit from truth. We must become mature in this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith – only faith – which creates unity and takes form in love. On this theme, Saint Paul offers us some beautiful words – in contrast to the continual ups and downs of those were are like infants, tossed about by the waves: (he says) make truth in love, as the basic formula of Christian existence. In Christ, truth and love coincide. To the extent that we draw near to Christ, in our own life, truth and love merge. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like “a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal” (1 Cor 13,1).

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          1. It is more useful to view social contract theory as descriptive rather than prescriptive. Social contracts don’t need to be articulated or formalised, and as far as I know, no social contract theorist posits that specific social contracts are set in stone. The social contract is merely the mechanism by which societies cohere in a particular way, and challenges to the social contract are entirely legitimate. It’s also worth remembering that there is no single theory of social contracts – the contrast between Rousseau and Proudhon, for example, is stark – so it’s foolish to talk about social contract theory as if there was some objective standard of social contract that is being broken down.

            I would suggest that your personal desire for an objective and permanent (the word you use at one point is “timeless”) order to things is both the source of your objections to the social contract but also more generally the reason why you are a theist and I (for example) am not. I understand entirely that you are uncomfortable with uncertainty, but you must understand that your discomfort is not a sufficient justification for those who do not share it. Amongst your objections to postmodernism and Marxism is that neither “either of these approaches do anything to preserve any sort of objective reason or any sort of objective outside observer” – but you provide no evidence that either of those philosophical streams make the specific claims that you attribute to them (and I would challenge your assertion that they do).

            Neither postmodernism or Marxism creates social contracts that are “might makes right”; indeed my understanding of Marx is that he rejected social contract theory as a tool of oppression (although it’s hard to find something that he didn’t think was a tool of oppression). Might makes right is not a result of social contract theory, but the result of humans being – well, human. Social contract theory actually offers a defense against might makes right by making the consent of the governed central to the whole social enterprise, particularly in its more recent formulations. The removal of the concept of the authority of God is central to the progress that we’ve made in bettering our lives – for example, freedom of religion is impossible if the authority of God is invoked, because it’s always a specific God that’s being invoked, and not everybody believes in that specific God.

            I’d be interested what you mean by a “breakdown of European culture”, since European culture still seems to be in place, and what the evidence is for that “breakdown”. I’m saddened but not surprised by your apparent readiness to believe that the spread of Islam is the result of the authority of God being removed despite the fact that this removal appears to predate the spread of Islam by several centuries. I’m sure we could have an enervating discussing Eurabia, but personally I’d rather not. I’d simply state that it is patently false that social contract theory only “works” in a Christian context, since as a conceptual framework it can clearly be applied to pretty much any society and still yield useful insights.

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          2. LCB: Social contract theories often do operate in the context of rational humans developing rational social contracts with a conception of there being outside moral rules.

            According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, you’re referring to “contractualists”. The “non-contractualists” aim to derive the moral reasons from non-moral reasons. It looks like Social Contract theories are still being actively developed by moral philosophers.

            LCB: Either direction we have social contracts that are merely ‘might makes right’ dressed up in fancy clothes.

            LCB: As I said previously: Without objective authority and origin, the center can not hold. No matter how many ways you try to represent it, without an objective authority, the center does not and can not hold.

            And deriving your authority from another person, even if that is the person of the Christian God is not objective, it’s entirely subjective (depending as it does on the command or nature of said person).
            Sure you can claim the Christian God is defined as perfectly good, and therefore His authority and morality are also the good, but that doesn’t make things objective in the sense you seem to be trying for. It’s simply might makes right, the very concept you’re railing against in social contract ethics, with all might being attributed to your deity (who is defined as being right). You’d get closer to the sense of objective morality you seem to be after by postulating morality as existing as something self existent and transcendant, like Platonic ideals.

            LCB: If we are ever to build lasting societies that are not trapped in the doomed cycle of rising and falling, they must be built upon objective truth and that is found in the person of Christ.

            Should we get into serious problems with accepting the person of Jesus as depicted in the Christian Bible, or just leave it at a statement that most of the population of the world don’t believe your deity exists?

            As for Benedict. I’m sure he’s sincere in his beliefs, but that doesn’t make him remotely right. The societies we are living in, where “The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth” are the least violent times in history, including the world wars and totalitarian death camps etc from last century. The lessening of violence has come during increased secularisation of societies, which I find quite interesting amid claims that only “Christianity” or some other supernatural belief system can lead to stable societies.

            Stephen Pinker has a good presentation on the Myth of Violence.

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  3. 1) You can’t explain the origin of Yahweh, you simply assert His existence as brute fact. The argument for platonic forms would be the same.
    Page 45 of the DU book I linked to above lays out his case for the objectivism of the theory.
    I guess we need to define how we’re using terms like Objective/Subjective, as perhaps we’re using them in different ways.

    I claimed, as brute fact, that the existence of the platonic ideals, which are not abstract concepts, gives rise to moral duty and obligation.
    If morality can only be imposed from above, then you’re suggesting might makes right. I think you’re being inconsistent here, in claiming other moral systems fail because they require the threat of punishment, and yet your own system succeeds, even though it is based upon a punishment/reward system. Why is it ok for some persons to enforce their will, and not others?

    3) Under Christianity you can avoid punishment. Simply accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour and all is forgiven. This is not a point in your favour.

    4) Incorrect. Contra-Causal/Libertarian free will is impossible without invoking the supernatural. As this view is incoherent, and does not accord with investigation, this also is not a point in your favour.

    5) I agree with you here. In some ultimate, cosmic sense, it doesn’t matter what you do. I fail to see why this is a requirement.

    As I think I said before, these are your 5 requirements.
    As for how many non-Christian moral systems gain, you’re still being very uncharitable in your assessment, and being very charitable toward your favoured system. Shouldn’t we try to be a little more impartial? :-)

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    1. 1) I don’t assert God’s existence as a brute fact.

      2) One of the reasons why Christianity is not tyranny is because Christ loved rebels first, and was willing to pay the price for their rebellion. It is not humiliating to my pride to respond to the person who loves me most. On the contrary, it is honorable. It is the height of personal honor to honor those who risked the most for you. Gratitude is good.

      3) Jesus saves you from Hell, but you have to live with your decisions forever. The length of punishment or reward is fixed. The degree of punishment or reward varies depending on the number and severity of sins committed. Do you need Bible references for this?

      4) We disagree. In the absence of a non-physical mind, the behavior of a living system is determined by its genetic programming and sensory inputs.

      5) We agree.

      You are the man. I don’t think we’ve ever had an opposing commenter this good.

      We don’t have to agree!

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  4. 1) You misunderstand. You asked originally what created the platonic moral ideals. I said I could claim they are uncreated, the same way the Christian deity is claimed to be uncreated/uncaused. If you don’t claim that, then I’d be interested in your take on how Yahweh was created :-)

    2) Even a benign dictatorship is still a dictatorship :-)
    We could get into the seeming incoherence of Jesus’ sacrifice, but it would be getting away from the point.

    3) Not all Christians agree with you on that point, and I’m sure they too could provide bible references (even the universalists and the annihilationists). I’ve been told that to sin against an infinite being justifies infinite punishment. That all these different views on hell can be justified from the bible demonstrated to me how ambiguous the Christian Bible is (something you’d expect if Yahweh was myth).

    4) Even things as simple as a pendulum become chaotic and unpredictable over time. Physical systems, even if fully determined by causal interaction, can be so complex that the only way to “predict” future states is to run the system. Hence, I think you’re treating physical determninism (whether hard or soft) a little too simplistically.
    And even if you were correct, the brain being the mind is very strongly suggested by current evidence, so even if non-supernatural minds are required to make “free” choices, that simply indicates that it’s probable we don’t make free choices (though having a fondness for compatibalism, I don’t agree with that position).

    5) Great :-)

    And no, we don’t need to agree, and interacting with those of different viewpoints is always interesting to me :-)

    If we keep going along, I think we’re going to move into discussing whether Christian morality matches your criteria, and whether that is important, which I’m happy to do, but wasn’t the original reason I added to this discussion.
    My argument initially was that the criteria you give are unduly influenced by your prefered result, and that you apply the criteria in an inconsistent fashion, treating Christian morality more charitably than others.

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    1. 1) They are not the same. We have evidence that God exists because of the origin of the universe. There must have been a free action of a non-material mind to bring the universe into being, because that is required by the effect: the origin of all space, time, matter and energy, as well as the cosmic fine-tuning, etc. What evidence do we have that these Platonic forms exist? They cannot have caused any effects because they are just abstract objects. I need an argument, and some evidence to support the premises.

      2) OK, see we’re making progress.

      3) Look, the Bible teaches that there are degrees of reward and punishment, even though the duration of each person’s after-life is the same: eternity. No Bible-believing Christian doubts this teaching. And this is from Paul’s letters (reward) and from Q (punishment) so these are early traditions, which are likely to be authentic even if you doubt inerrancy.

      4) I am not talking about unpredictability, I am talking about whether something is biologically determined. Look at what Cornell atheist and evolutionist William Provine says:

      Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

      No ultimate foundations for ethics exist, no ultimate meaning in life exists, and free will is merely a human myth. These are all conclusions to which Darwin came quite clearly. Modern evolutionary biology not only supports Darwin’s belief in evolution by descent, and his belief in natural selection, but all of the implications that Darwin saw in evolution have been strongly supported by modern evolutionary biology.

      (Source)

      5) Yahoo!

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    2. “1) You misunderstand. You asked originally what created the platonic moral ideals. I said I could claim they are uncreated, the same way the Christian deity is claimed to be uncreated/uncaused. If you don’t claim that, then I’d be interested in your take on how Yahweh was created :-)”

      I’m not sure you understand the difference between the different types of causation.

      At this juncture I would HIGHLY recommend 2 books to you (since you clearly seem willing to engage in serious intellectual pursuit):

      1) Mortimer Adler’s “How to think about God” (he wrote this before he was a believer, too)
      2) Edward Feser’s “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism”

      I recommend the second because it because an awesome primer on some serious philosophical matters.

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      1. What is the difference between postulating an eternal uncaused deity, and eternal uncaused trancendant forms?

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  5. WK: 1) They are not the same. We have evidence that God exists because of the origin of the universe.

    Which amounts to an argument from ignorance, basically. There was no singularity, and prior to what is termed “Planck Time”, our current models break down and we simply don’t know what went on. More speculative hypothesis such as String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity are hoped to provide (and are providing) further insight, though as yet they’re still immature.

    WK: There must have been a free action of a non-material mind to bring the universe into being, because that is required by the effect: the origin of all space, time, matter and energy, as well as the cosmic fine-tuning, etc.

    There are hypothesis based upon existing models of physics which do not require the intervention of a non-material mind (Cosmological Natural Selection and Eternal Inflation come to mind).
    The fine tuning argument relies upon incomplete information. The theories from which these fine tuning parameters fall out are known to be incorrect (though very useful).

    Both arguments seem to be “God of the gaps”, in that there is no positive evidence in favour of the God hypothesis, just an absence of a conventional theory.

    WK: What evidence do we have that these Platonic forms exist?

    I’m not a platonist, so I’m going to mount a serious case for their existence (I’ve never really been interested . I’m sure there are papers around which attempt such a thing, should either of us be interested.

    WK: They cannot have caused any effects because they are just abstract objects. I need an argument, and some evidence to support the premises.

    Again, I’m no Platonist, so I’m not going to try a serious defence here.
    It’s my understanding, however, that platonic ideal forms are not abstract, abstract meaning things which exist in minds, such as the idea of unicorns. They’re transcendant, real things, existing in their own right.
    How these transcendant entities can have causal influence is an interesting problem, and one which Christianity, with it’s concept of an immaterial God and immaterial soul, also has to deal with.
    Are you sure you were a Platonist? ;-)

    2) Regarding a dictatorship, judging by the words of the bible, Yahweh is not a benign dictotor :-)

    3) If torment is eternal, how do you judge any sort of difference between punishment levels? It would all tend to smear together at the pointy end of infinity :-)

    On the converse, do you believe there is free will in heaven? And if so, doesn’t your concept of free will require the ability to do the wrong? Doesn’t that mean there will still be sinning in heaven?

    WK: No Bible-believing Christian doubts this teaching.

    We’re back to a definition of “Christian”. I’m sure universalists and annihilationists would self identify as “Bible believing Christians”.

    WK: 4) Look at what Cornell atheist and evolutionist William Provine says:…

    I don’t see the problem? If the evidence points towards us not having libertarian free will, then we very likely don’t have it.
    If the evidence points towards there being no “ultimate” foundation for ethics, or that we cease to be when we die, then that is also likely the case.
    If you find these conclusions to be distasteful, then that would seem to be bad luck on your part – reality doesn’t conform to our wishes.
    Personally, I prefer to approach things from an understanding of what is our current best understanding, than indulge in such wishful thinking :-)

    5) I still don’t see why some ultimate significance is required for there to be meaning, I simply agree that without some ultimate cosmic significance, there is no ultimate meaning to things. We can still find and give meaning to our lives and ourselves.

    As a side note, what evidence do you have for a mind functioning without some physical substrate?
    The only minds we are familiar with are our own, which require brains to function (even if you claim some supernatural component to provide some missing “free will”).

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  6. But Havok, don’t the “God in the Gaps” arguments apply to the “immature” physics fields like String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity, both of which fail to correspond to reality and have “hopes” (as you helpfully put it) that some great unknown discovery will allow them to be tennable?

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  7. James, both String Theory and LQG are tentative hypothesis, subject to falsification and change in a effort to understand, model and explain reality. String theory is a very ambitious project, and seems to be something of a black hole of time. LQR has a more modest goal, to unify Quantum Mechanics and Gravity (General Relativity).
    Both make predictions, both are falsifiable in principle (though it seems to be rather beyond the bounds of practical for String Theory).
    So, what predictions does the God hypothesis provide? How would you falsify it? How does it increase our understanding?

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  8. Havok,

    This is from The Bible:

    “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

    Note that God reveals Himself through what He has made. When you said that universe with all its complexity and wonders just came about from undirected random processes, not only you’re fooling yourself, but you also still have no excuse.

    How does it (God hypothesis) increase our understanding? The whole Western modern science virtually existed from the understanding that God exists.

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