Tag Archives: Ontological Foundations of Morality

How well do young people reason about morality?

First, let’s take a look at this post by an atheist philosopher who explains his view on morality. (H/T Reason to Stand)

Here’s his conclusion:

I conclude that morality is largely superfluous in daily life, so its removal – once the initial shock had subsided – would at worst make no difference in the world. (I happen to believe – or just hope? – that its removal would make the world a better place, that is, more to our individual and collective liking. That would constitute an argument for amorality that has more going for it than simply conceptual housekeeping. But the thesis – call it ‘The Joy of Amorality’ – is an empirical one, so I would rely on more than just philosophy to defend it.)

A helpful analogy, at least for the atheist, is sin. Even though words like ‘sinful’ and ‘evil’ come naturally to the tongue as a description of, say, child-molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God and hence the whole religious superstructure that would include such categories as sin and evil. Just so, I now maintain, nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality. Yet, as with the non-existence of God, we human beings can still discover plenty of completely-naturally-explainable internal resources for motivating certain preferences. Thus, enough of us are sufficiently averse to the molesting of children, and would likely continue to be so if fully informed, to put it on the books as prohibited and punishable by our society.

Now what would happen if the entire education system were secularized by people like that philosopher?

Consider this post from secular-leftist evolutionist David Brooks in the New York Times. (H/T Uncommon Descent)

Excerpt:

During the summer of 2008, the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith led a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America. The interviews were part of a larger study that Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson, Patricia Snell Herzog and others have been conducting on the state of America’s youth.

Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing.

[…]The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, which Smith and company recount in a new book, “Lost in Transition,” you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.

When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.

“Not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked,” Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.

The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. “It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”

Recognize that view? Yes, that’s moral relativism – that’s the atheist view of morality. That is the system of morality that is rationally grounded by the worldview of atheism.

Who said this?

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

Richard Dawkins said it. That’s the morality of atheists.

Hey – let’s be clear. If the universe is an accident like Dawkins says it is, there’s no objective way we ought to act. That’s it. Right and wrong are just personal preferences for atheists – do whatever makes you feel good. And you know what? Evil makes some people feel very good. A christian theist has the worldview to say that slavery is wrong. All an atheist can say is “slavery is wrong for me. Or an atheist can say “slavery is wrong for them in that period and in that place. And why would they say that? The only reason an atheist can give for expressing preferences is because it makes them feel good. That’s atheist “morality”.

MUST-READ: Follow up post by Michael Egnor on the New Atheism

Remember my last post about the responses of atheist PZ Meyers to Michael Egnor’s eight questions for the New Atheists?

Well, some other “New Atheists” have responded and he decided to write a new post about one of the funniest ones.

The New Atheist in question answers the questions, but first he attacks Egnor for not allowing comments to the blog post, for being Roman Catholic, for being close-minded(?), and so on.

He then writes this:

The only “doctrine” inherent in “New Atheism” is a desire to observe a secular society and evidentialist arguments…Critical thinking is not conclusion and that’s where Egnor gets everything wrong.

In other words, he doesn’t have any answers to the questions!

Lest you think I am kidding, I will show his answers.

First, let’s review the questions:

  1. Why is there anything?
  2. What caused the Universe?
  3. Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
  4. Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
  5. Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
  6. Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself?
  7. Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
  8. Why is there evil?

And now his answers:

I don’t know. Let’s use the scientific method and critical thinking to continue to try to figure it out and let’s leave religious presuppositions out of policy decisions so we don’t create legal inequality between belivers [sic] and non-believers.

That’s it. He only gave one answer. To all eight questions! He gave the same answer to all eight questions. “I don’t know”. My guess about his “policy” comments is that he is basically concerned that a majority of morality-enabled voters might put legal brakes on his selfish pursuit of happiness. E.g. – by passing laws defending the unborn or laws defending traditional marriage or laws protecting religious liberty, etc.

Anyway, if you want something funny to read, then you should definitely read this post. The funniest stuff is Egnor’s response to the New Atheist, and you have to click through to read that. I guarantee you will fall off your chair laughing. You readers think *I* am snarky and mean. You think *I* make fun of atheists for not being able to ground morality. Ha! Wait till you read Egnor. I’m *nice*.

We all need to get used to dealing with atheists this way. We need to bring their scientific, philosophical and moral deficiencies to the surface for all to see. And we must use questions to do it.

Atheists oppose science and evidence

Theists support science and evidence

Michael Egnor asks atheist P.Z. Meyers about the New Atheism worldview

First, I should say that if you don’t know who P.Z. Myers is, you should know that he is an incredibly arrogant and vulgar internet atheist. He is very popular on the Internet with atheists because of his foaming-at-the-mouth, howling-at-the-moon ranting against intelligent design, theism in general and Christianity in particular.

Anyway, Myers is interviewed by Michael Egnor, a neurosurgeon and professor of pediatrics, who appeared in the movie “Expelled”. He asks P.Z. Myers questions about the New Atheism, then comments on Myers’ answers. (H/T ECM)

Here are the questions:

  1. Why is there anything?
  2. What caused the Universe?
  3. Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
  4. Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
  5. Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
  6. Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself?
  7. Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
  8. Why is there evil?

Myers’ answers are short and betray an incredible ignorance of the philosophical issues.

Here’s TWO of the eight answers and Egnor’s responses:

1) Why is there anything?

Myers: 
 Nothing is unstable.

Egnor: “Nothing” is not unstable. Nothing is not stable. Nothing is not metastable, nor hypostable, nor quasi-stable. Nothing is nothing. Nothing has no properties. “Nothing is unstable” is gibberish. Hence its central place in New Atheist atheology. If by “nothing” Myers is referring to the emergence of matter by quantum fluctuations (today’s trendy New Atheist evasion of theism), I observe that a quantum field isn’t “nothing.” A quantum field is very much something, in need of explanation. A quantum field gives rise to particles, not to itself. You have to explain the existence of the quantum field. Nice try. The question “why is there anything” is fundamental. The classical theist answer is that God’s essence is His existence, and He is the ground of existence. Note that God (as understood classically) does not need explanation or cause. The uncaused nature of God is demonstrated, not stipulated, by classical theism (see Aristotle’s Prime Mover argument and Aquinas’ First, Second, and Third Ways). Furthermore, the Prime Mover argument (Aquinas’ First Way) demonstrates that God’s existence is necessary even if the universe was eternal and had no beginning; His existence is necessary for existence of the universe at every moment. New Atheists don’t understand the question, don’t understand the terminology, and don’t understand their own rudimentary logical contradictions. New Atheist ignorance doesn’t mean that classical theism is true; it merely means that New Atheism has nothing to say. But I sort of suspected that.

2) What caused the Universe?

Myers: Nothing caused it.

Egnor: “Nothing” doesn’t cause anything. Nothing is absence of existence. Nothing has no agency. “Nothing caused…” is an oxymoron.

Let’s look at coherent answers to the question. The basic cosmological argument is this: 1) Whatever begins to exist is caused by another 2) the Universe began to exist 3) The Universe was caused by another. Modus ponens. Something that begins to exist cannot cause itself, because that would mean that it was prior to itself, which is nonsense.

The universe began to exist 13.75 ± 0.17 billion years ago. So another caused it. The universe is nature, so its cause is super-nature-al (sometimes the hyphens and the last ‘e’ are omitted). The supernatural cause of the universe is an insight provided by science and reason. Denial of a supernatural cause of the universe is denial of science (Big Bang Cosmology) and reason (elementary logic).

Let’s consider the alternatives:

1) Perhaps the universe was caused by a quantum fluctuation, a black hole, fecundity of a multiverse, ad nauseum (vide supra). But then the causation problem just shifts to the quantum field or the black hole or the multiverse. What caused the quantum field, or the maternal black hole, or the whole damn multiverse itself? You can’t change the subject.

2) Perhaps the word “cause” doesn’t apply to the universe at all. Perhaps the universe is a Kantian noumenon, not a phenomenon, and it’s not subject to the rules that govern the things we perceive (this was Kant’s gambit against the Cosmological Argument).

But if this is true, then the principle of sufficient reason is invalid. The principle of sufficient reason, for you New Atheists, is the principle that anything that happens does so for a reason. It’s the proposition that everything that begins to exist has a cause. If you deny the principle of sufficient reason to elide the inference to theism, then there is nothing wrong with asserting that lesser things in the universe (e.g. rabbits, hominids) popped into existence for no reason as well. If the whole shebang doesn’t need reason, no thing needs a reason. You can invoke “it’s uncaused” anytime. If you can shuck the principle of sufficient reason for the existence of the universe, you sure as hell can shuck the principle of sufficient reason for origin of species. POP. The universe exists. POP. Primordial prokaryotes exist. No need for OOL research. POP. Trilobites exist. No need for “natural selection” when you’ve got “uncaused existence.” POP. Whales exist. POP. Man exists. New Atheist creationism, with no need for God. No need for any explanations. Stuff just POPs into existence. POP POP POP. No need for evolutionary biologists.

If the universe doesn’t need a cause, no part of it needs a cause. Denial of the principle of sufficient reason is denial of logic, science, and history, all of it. Any surprise that New Atheists invoke it? They’d rather invoke nonsense than admit the obvious: there is a Cause.

I like to blog on the scientific research and the scientific evidence, but I still think that it is important to understand philosophical concepts like intentionality, final causes and the ontological foundations of morality. That’s table stakes for a comprehensive worldview. Science only provides you with experimental confirmation for premises in logically valid arguments. You can’t prove anything without an argument. And that requires at least some knowledge of logic and analytical philosophy.

You might also like to read the survey I gave some of the atheists I know and their horrible answers that show what atheists really think about truth and morality.

Atheists oppose science and evidence

Theists support science and evidence

Debate summary: Is God necessary for morality? William Lane Craig vs Shelly Kagan

Debate summary

This is a summary of a debate on the rational justification for moral values, moral duties and moral accountability on atheism. The question of free will and determinism also comes up. Note that this is not a debate to see who wins. The commie wusses at the Veritas Forum made Craig promise not to press for a victory, as he reports here:

I did respond briefly to Prof. Kagan’s view… but I didn’t press the point because our hosts with the Veritas Forum had made it very clear to me that they were not interested in having a knock-down debate but a friendly dialogue that would foster a warm and inviting atmosphere for non-believing students at Columbia. The goal was simply to get the issues out on the table in a congenial, welcoming environment, which I think we did.

The debate was held in February, 2009 at Columbia University between Yale philosopher Shelly Kagan and William Lane Craig.

Video and audio are here:

Shelly Kagan – opening speech

Framing the debate:

  • The question is not whether people need God in order to act morally, because atheists are able act morally and immorally just as well as theists
  • The questions is whether we need to God in order to be the ground for morality. Do right and wrong really exist if there is not God?
  • He will defend objective morality on atheism

One possible explanation for morality without God is:

  • right is what helps others and doesn’t hurt them
  • wrong is what hurts people and doesn’t help them

And the standard rules of moral behavior emerge from these 2 principles.

What are the objections to this help/hurt theory

1) Are these really wrong, or is this standard just a matter of opinion?

No, these moral standards are not a matter of opinion, they are facts.

2) What makes these rules apply to everyone and prescribe behaviors

Possible answers:
– moral rules are just brute facts
– contractarianism: (social contract) the moral rules should be chosen by reflecting on a hypothetical discussion between ideal reasoners
– something else

3) Morality involves commandments, so who is the commander?

Possible answers:
– moral commandments don’t require a commander
– for example, logical rules like the law of non-contradiction don’t need a lawgiver, and moral rules could be just like that
– or, perhaps the commander is society itself, which fits with the contractarian theory

William Lane Craig – opening speech

Framing the debate:

  • not debating whether belief in God is necessary to act morally
  • the question is whether god is a necessary ground for morality to be meaningful

Is God necessary for morality? It depends on what morality means:
– is morality just an arbitrary pattern of social behavior?
– if so, then God isn’t needed to ground humans to act according to a pattern of social behavior

But if morality is objective, (true whether anyone believes it or not):
– then god is necessary to ground objective morality
– because objective moral standards exists independently of human standards of personal preference or cultural fashion

Non-objective morality is illusion/convention
– pattern has no objective moral significance, it’s just an arbitrary fashion that varies by time and place

God is necessary for morality in 3 ways
1) God grounds objective moral values, i.e. – what counts as good and what counts as evil
2) God grounds objective moral duties, i.e. – what we ought to do and ought not to do
3) God grounds moral accountability, i.e. – our ultimate fate depends on how we act morally

1) Moral values
– whether some action is good or evil, independent of whether anyone thinks it is or not
– individual and social opinions do not decide these standards of good and evil
– god is necessary to ground moral standards that exist independent of human opinions
– the moral values are set by god’s unchanging nature

Human value:
– why think that humans have value, such that they should be treated a particular way
– on atheism, humans are just animals
– evolution means that moral values are the product of the struggle for survival
– the “herd” moral standard is arbitrary, it is not really a true standard
– on atheism, moral values do not exist independently, they are merely descriptions of behaviors that are the product of biological and cultural evolution
– in other animal species, many things that we think of as wrong are practiced, like stealing and rape
– so why think that our practices are objectively true, instead of just customs and fashions of our species?

Free will:
– moral choices require a non-physical mind distinct from the physical brain in order to make free moral choices
– on (biological) determinism, no choices are morally significant – just actions of puppets on strings
– no moral responsibility for a puppet’s determined actions

2) Moral duties
– whether some action is right or wrong
– whether humans are morally obligated to perform certain actions, independent of whether we think that we do or not
– the commands flow from god’s unchanging moral nature
– they become duties for us, his creatures

on atheism
– on atheism, humans are animals, and animals don’t have real moral obligations
– where would moral duties come from on atheism, to whom is the duty owed?
– on atheism, it is just a subjective impression ingrained into us by social and biological pressures
– on atheism, there is no standard of what we ought to do
– on atheism, breaking the social contract is the same as belching loudly at the dinner table, it’s just being unfashionable – not doing what the rest of the heard has decided is customary

3) moral accountability
– on theism, the moral choices we make affect where we end up in the afterlife
– god balances the scales of justice in the end

on atheism:
– it is irrelevant how you act, you end up in the same place (dead) regardless of how you live

why be moral on atheism?
– why shouldn’t a person pursue self interest instead of following the moral conventions of the social contract
– it’s not always the case that doing the right thing is also doing the thing that gives you selfish pleasure
– a very powerful person would not need to be moral, since they can escape the social sanctions that result from their breaking the social contract
– why would a very powerful do the right thing when it is against their self-interest, on atheism, since the social contract is just arbitrary fashion?

acts of self-sacrifice are irrational on atheism
– the result is that no one will be moral when it is hard to do the right thing
– because in the long run, it doesn’t matter what you do, on atheism
– compassion and self-sacrifice are not pleasurable, and are therefore pointless on atheism

Conclusion:

questions atheists must answer:
what is the basis of objective moral values?
what is the basis of human value on atheism?
why ought we to do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing?
what is the basis for moral accountability

Continue reading Debate summary: Is God necessary for morality? William Lane Craig vs Shelly Kagan

Upcoming panel debate featuring Tony Costa and Michael Coren

For my Canadian readers, if you are in Toronto, you might want to consider attending this upcoming debate on morality in an atheistic worldview. Is it possible? Is it rational? The official topic is “Evolution of ethics: Science vs Faith”. It is being organized by non-Christians, which explains the title, and the apparent 3-2 advantage the non-theists will enjoy.

Excerpt from the Humanist Canada web site:

Are ethics divinely-inspired or man-made? Are there absolute morals? Although scientists and philosophers have debated the nature of ethics for hundreds of years, developments in genetic research have unleashed a firestorm of issues concerning human control of creation and its impact on our future. Given that society ideals change over time, how can we determine what is morally right or wrong?

Join Humanist Canada for a lively and thought-provoking debate on the nature of ethics. Five prominent speakers, from both the Christian and Humanist communities, will discuss and debate some of the hottest topics today including abortion, gender, homosexuality, and biotechnology. Our panel of speakers includes: Christopher diCarlo (celebrated professor of Philosophy of Science and Bioethics; founder of “We Are All African” Campaign); Michael Coren (outspoken Christian writer; radio and TV host); George Dvorsky (popular transhumanist; animal rights activist); Tony Costa (recognized public speaker for Campus for Christ); and Jean Saindon (award-winning professor of Natural Science and Technology).

Time and place: Saturday April 18 @ 6:30 pm, Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex Ave, Toronto

Tickets: $15 Humanist Canada members; $25 general admission; $10 students (with school ID). Appetizers, desserts and drinks included. Purchase tickets by April 15 for best seats. Click HERE for the printable registration form or click on ticket choices below.

DiCarlo debated Bill Craig before and really, really disappointed me.

If you know of an upcoming debate or discussion event related to the topics on this blog, be sure and send me an e-mail. If you know of any additional materials related to this topic, please leave a comment.

Other debates on atheism and morality

Here are some prior debates on the rationality of morality on atheism.

  1. From Christianity Today, a written debate: Douglas Wilson vs. Christopher Hitchens
  2. From the University of Western Ontario, a transcript of a public debate: William Lane Craig vs. Kai Nielsen
  3. From Schenectady College, a transcript of a public debate:William Lane Craig vs Richard Taylor
  4. From Franklin & Marshall College, William Lane Craig vs. Paul Kurtz (audio, video1, video2, video3, video4, video5, video6, video7)
  5. From the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, William Lane Craig vs. Louise Antony (audio1, audio2, video1, video2)

Further study

A good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally-grounding prescriptive morality here. My previous posts on this blog on this topic are here and here. The first one is about whether atheists can use a made-up standard to judge God for his perceived moral failures, the second one is on whether meaningful morality is rational on atheism.