Tag Archives: Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism and the Moral Life by J. P. Moreland

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

I found this essay on After All, but it looks like their site is not working well, so I’m just going to steal it and post it here, in case it disappears completely. This is one of my favorite short essays on utilitarianism, and it’s a wonder that the thing can’t stay up somewhere. Well, it will have a home here now. I’d be surprised to see anyone else be this awesome in a measly 1000 words as Dr. Moreland is below.

—-

Utilitarianism and the Moral Life

What Is Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism (also called consequentialism) is a moral theory developed and refined in the modern world by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). It can be defined as follows:

An action or moral rule is right if and only if it maximizes the amount of nonmoral good produced in the consequences that result from doing that act or following that rule compared with other acts or rules open to the agent.

By focusing on three features of utilitarianism, we can clarify this definition.

(1) Utilitarian theories of value.

What is a nonmoral good? Utilitarians deny that there are any moral actions or rules that are intrinsically right or wrong. But they do believe in objective values that are nonmoral.

Hedonistic utilitarians say that the only intrinsic good is pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Quantitative hedonists (Bentham) say that the amount of pleasure and pain is the only thing that matters in deciding between two courses of action, I should do the one that produces the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain (measured by factors like the duration and intensity of the pleasure). Qualitative hedonists (Mill) say that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, but the type of pleasure is what is important, not the amount. They would rank pleasures that come from reading, art, and friendship as more valuable than those that come from, say, a full stomach.

Pluralistic utilitarians
say there are a number of things that have intrinsic, nonmoral value: pleasure, friendship, health, knowledge, freedom, peace, security, and so forth. For pluralists, it is not just the pleasure that comes from friendship that has value but also friendship itself.

Currently, the most popular utilitarian view of value is subjective preference utilitarianism. This position says it is presumptuous and impossible to specify things that have intrinsic nonmoral worth. So, they claim, intrinsic value ought to be defined as that which each individual subjectively desires or wants, provided these do not harm others. Unfortunately, this view collapses into moral relativism.

(2) Utilitarians and maximizing utility.

Utilitarians use the term utility to stand for whatever good they are seeking to produce as consequences of a moral action (e.g., “pleasure” for the hedonist, “satisfaction of subjective preference” for others). They see morality in a means-to-ends way. The sole value of a moral action or rule is the utility of its consequences. Moral action should maximize utility. This can be interpreted in different ways, but many utilitarians embrace the following: the correct moral action or rule is the one that produces the greatest amount of utility for the greatest number of people.

(3) Two forms of utilitarianism: act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.

According to act utilitarianism, an act is right if and only if no other act available maximizes utility more than the act in question. Here, each new moral situation is evaluated on its own, and moral rules like “don’t steal” or “don’t break promises” are secondary The moral agent must weigh available alternatives and choose the one that produces the best consequences. Rule utilitarianism says that correct moral actions are done in keeping with correct moral rules, However, no moral rule is intrinsically right or wrong. Rather, a correct moral rule is one that would maximize utility if most people followed it as opposed to following an alternative rule. Here, alternative rules (e.g., “don’t lie” vs. “don’t lie unless doing so would enhance friendship”) are compared for their consequences, not specific actions.

What Is Wrong with Utilitarianism?

Several objections show the inadequacy of utilitarianism as a normative moral theory.

First, utilitarianism can be used to justify actions that are clearly immoral. Consider the case of a severely deformed fetus. The child is certain to live a brief, albeit painless life. He or she will make no contribution to society. Society, however, will bear great expense. Doctors and other caregivers will invest time, emotion, and effort in adding mere hours to the baby’s life. The parents will know and love the child only long enough to be heartbroken at the inevitable loss. An abortion negates all those “utility” losses. There is no positive utility lost. Many of the same costs are involved in the care of the terminally ill elderly. They too may suffer no pain, but they may offer no benefit to society. In balancing positives and negatives, and excluding from the equation the objective sacredness of all human life, we arrive at morally repugnant decisions. Here deontological and virtue ethics steer us clear of what is easier to what is right.

Second, in a similar way, utilitarianism denies the existence of supererogatory acts. These are acts of moral heroism that are not morally obligatory but are still praiseworthy. Examples would be giving 75 percent of your income to the poor or throwing yourself on a bomb to save a stranger. Consider the bomb example. You have two choices — throwing yourself on the bomb or not doing so. Each choice would have consequences and, according to utilitarianism, you are morally obligated to do one or the other depending on which option maximized utility. Thus, there is no room for acts that go beyond the call of morality.

Third, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of human rights and human dignity. If enslaving a minority of people, say by a lottery, would produce the greatest good for the greatest number, or if conceiving children only to harvest their parts would do the same, then these could he justified in a utilitarian scheme. But enslavement and abortion violate individual rights and treat people as a means to an end, not as creatures with intrinsic dignity as human beings. If acts of abortion, active euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and so forth maximize utility, then they are morally obligatory for the utilitarian. But any moral system that makes abortion and suicide morally obligatory is surely flawed.

Finally, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of motives and character. We should praise good motives and seek good character because such motives and character are intrinsically valuable. But utilitarianism implies that the only reason we should praise good motives instead of bad ones, or seek good character instead of bad character, is because such acts would maximize utility. But this has the cart before the horse. We should praise good motives and blame bad ones because they are good or bad, not because such acts of praising and blaming produce good consequences.

In sum, it should be clear that utilitarianism is an inadequate moral theory. Unfortunately, ours is a pragmatic culture and utilitarianism is on the rise. But for those of us who follow Christ, a combination of virtue and deontological ethics is a more adequate view of common sense morality found in natural law and of the moral vision contained in the Bible.

Utilitarianism and the Moral Life by J. P. Moreland

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

I found this essay on After All, but it looks like their site is not working well, so I’m just going to steal it and post it here, in case it disappears completely. This is one of my favorite short essays on utilitarianism, and it’s a wonder that the thing can’t stay up somewhere. Well, it will have a home here now. I’d be surprised to see anyone else be this awesome in a measly 1000 words as Dr. Moreland is below.

—-

Utilitarianism and the Moral Life

What Is Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism (also called consequentialism) is a moral theory developed and refined in the modern world by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). It can be defined as follows:

An action or moral rule is right if and only if it maximizes the amount of nonmoral good produced in the consequences that result from doing that act or following that rule compared with other acts or rules open to the agent.

By focusing on three features of utilitarianism, we can clarify this definition.

(1) Utilitarian theories of value.

What is a nonmoral good? Utilitarians deny that there are any moral actions or rules that are intrinsically right or wrong. But they do believe in objective values that are nonmoral.

Hedonistic utilitarians say that the only intrinsic good is pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Quantitative hedonists (Bentham) say that the amount of pleasure and pain is the only thing that matters in deciding between two courses of action, I should do the one that produces the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain (measured by factors like the duration and intensity of the pleasure). Qualitative hedonists (Mill) say that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, but the type of pleasure is what is important, not the amount. They would rank pleasures that come from reading, art, and friendship as more valuable than those that come from, say, a full stomach.

Pluralistic utilitarians
say there are a number of things that have intrinsic, nonmoral value: pleasure, friendship, health, knowledge, freedom, peace, security, and so forth. For pluralists, it is not just the pleasure that comes from friendship that has value but also friendship itself.

Currently, the most popular utilitarian view of value is subjective preference utilitarianism. This position says it is presumptuous and impossible to specify things that have intrinsic nonmoral worth. So, they claim, intrinsic value ought to be defined as that which each individual subjectively desires or wants, provided these do not harm others. Unfortunately, this view collapses into moral relativism.

(2) Utilitarians and maximizing utility.

Utilitarians use the term utility to stand for whatever good they are seeking to produce as consequences of a moral action (e.g., “pleasure” for the hedonist, “satisfaction of subjective preference” for others). They see morality in a means-to-ends way. The sole value of a moral action or rule is the utility of its consequences. Moral action should maximize utility. This can be interpreted in different ways, but many utilitarians embrace the following: the correct moral action or rule is the one that produces the greatest amount of utility for the greatest number of people.

(3) Two forms of utilitarianism: act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.

According to act utilitarianism, an act is right if and only if no other act available maximizes utility more than the act in question. Here, each new moral situation is evaluated on its own, and moral rules like “don’t steal” or “don’t break promises” are secondary The moral agent must weigh available alternatives and choose the one that produces the best consequences. Rule utilitarianism says that correct moral actions are done in keeping with correct moral rules, However, no moral rule is intrinsically right or wrong. Rather, a correct moral rule is one that would maximize utility if most people followed it as opposed to following an alternative rule. Here, alternative rules (e.g., “don’t lie” vs. “don’t lie unless doing so would enhance friendship”) are compared for their consequences, not specific actions.

What Is Wrong with Utilitarianism?

Several objections show the inadequacy of utilitarianism as a normative moral theory.

First, utilitarianism can be used to justify actions that are clearly immoral. Consider the case of a severely deformed fetus. The child is certain to live a brief, albeit painless life. He or she will make no contribution to society. Society, however, will bear great expense. Doctors and other caregivers will invest time, emotion, and effort in adding mere hours to the baby’s life. The parents will know and love the child only long enough to be heartbroken at the inevitable loss. An abortion negates all those “utility” losses. There is no positive utility lost. Many of the same costs are involved in the care of the terminally ill elderly. They too may suffer no pain, but they may offer no benefit to society. In balancing positives and negatives, and excluding from the equation the objective sacredness of all human life, we arrive at morally repugnant decisions. Here deontological and virtue ethics steer us clear of what is easier to what is right.

Second, in a similar way, utilitarianism denies the existence of supererogatory acts. These are acts of moral heroism that are not morally obligatory but are still praiseworthy. Examples would be giving 75 percent of your income to the poor or throwing yourself on a bomb to save a stranger. Consider the bomb example. You have two choices — throwing yourself on the bomb or not doing so. Each choice would have consequences and, according to utilitarianism, you are morally obligated to do one or the other depending on which option maximized utility. Thus, there is no room for acts that go beyond the call of morality.

Third, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of human rights and human dignity. If enslaving a minority of people, say by a lottery, would produce the greatest good for the greatest number, or if conceiving children only to harvest their parts would do the same, then these could he justified in a utilitarian scheme. But enslavement and abortion violate individual rights and treat people as a means to an end, not as creatures with intrinsic dignity as human beings. If acts of abortion, active euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and so forth maximize utility, then they are morally obligatory for the utilitarian. But any moral system that makes abortion and suicide morally obligatory is surely flawed.

Finally, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of motives and character. We should praise good motives and seek good character because such motives and character are intrinsically valuable. But utilitarianism implies that the only reason we should praise good motives instead of bad ones, or seek good character instead of bad character, is because such acts would maximize utility. But this has the cart before the horse. We should praise good motives and blame bad ones because they are good or bad, not because such acts of praising and blaming produce good consequences.

In sum, it should be clear that utilitarianism is an inadequate moral theory. Unfortunately, ours is a pragmatic culture and utilitarianism is on the rise. But for those of us who follow Christ, a combination of virtue and deontological ethics is a more adequate view of common sense morality found in natural law and of the moral vision contained in the Bible.

Atheist Michael Shermer tries to rationally ground morality in debate with Frank Turek

Michael Shermer debates Frank Turek: atheism and morality
Michael Shermer debates Frank Turek: atheism and morality

The topic of the debate was on the grounding of morality – which worldview (theism or atheism) is better at grounding morality?

And here is the MP3 for the cross-examination only, which is what I will be summarizing. (12.5 Mb)

The full debate can be seen here and can be heard here.

Turek’s cross-examination period starts at 74m22s and ends at 89m20s.

Shermer’s cross-examination period starts at 89m50s and ends at 105m0s.

Topics of Turek’s cross-examination:

  • evolution produces Shermer’s moral sense and Hitler’s moral sense
  • why does Shermer think his is better than Hitler’s, since both were produced by the same evolution?
  • what makes right or wrong if evolution is the source of morality?
  • why is Stalin’s opinion of right and wrong less valuable than the herd’s opinion of right and wrong?
  • do the Founding Fathers ground inalienable rights in a Creator, or in evolution?
  • can atheism ground the existence of inalienable rights?
  • can you ground objective moral values and objective moral duties by asking people how they feel?
  • can you ground objective human rights on atheism by shouting like a madman and interrupting?
  • how can you trust your thinking if they are the result of an unguided, random process of evolution?
  • how can you have rational thoughts if materialism is true, and you are a machine made out of meat?
  • can you ground objective moral values and objective moral duties on personal preferences?
  • how do the personal preferences of some individuals create an objective moral duty for other individuals?
  • does naturalistic evolution orient human beings toward survival or truth?
  • on materialism, what is the chemical composition of justice?

Topics of Shermer’s cross-examination:

  • Radical muslims are exactly the same as evangelical Christians, and have the same God (Allah is the same as the Triune Christian God)
  • Radical muslims would assert that their God is the same as the Triune Christian God, with Jesus and the Holy Spirit also being God
  • Therefore, we can lay the blame for what radical muslims do on the backs of evangelical Christians
  • Radical muslims and evangelical Christians are the same, because “you’re enthusiastic, they’re enthusiastic”
  • The Bible’s notion of indentured servitude to pay off debt is the identical to the idea of slavery based on race
  • The Bible’s notion that masters and slaves are equal in the sight of God forms a basis for thinking they are unequal
  • The Bible teaches things that I disagree with, like the idea that marriage should provide children with a mother and a father
  • Gay marriage is solidly grounded in evolution, even though the morality that evolution produces varies by time and place
  • Atheists can ground objective moral values and objective moral duties by asking people how they feel
  • Can atheists who want to legalize gay marriage because “they’re in love” prohibit polygamy or incest as marriage?
  • Is shouting “you’re on the wrong side of history” a way to rationally ground morality in an accidental atheistic universe?
  • Is it loving for atheists to celebrate a lifestyle that exposes gay men to sickness and premature death?
  • Is it “bigotry” for the Center for Disease Control to warn men who have sex with men about higher health risks?
  • How do Christians decide what is right and wrong when they are confronted with a moral dilemma?
  • How do humans sense the objective moral standard that is required for them to make moral judgments
  • Can enlightenment philosophers who merely imagine human rights actually create those human rights?
  • If revelations change over time for Mormons, does that undermine the need for God to ground objective morality?

I apologize for the poor quality of the video and audio. The moderator was extremely ineffective, letting Shermer go on and on making speeches instead of asking questions during his questioning time. Also, Shermer apparently thought that shouting at Turek and waving his finger at Turek was a good strategy to defend against Turek’s use of logic and evidence.

My thoughts on Michael Shermer

I do want to make some general comments about what Shermer said. Shermer’s view of morality is “what is best for the greatest number of people”. There are no inalienable rights that act as a break on the will of the majority. Shermer has no objection to anything that the majority has decided in any time or in any place. If he were there, he would agree that whatever they decided was morally right.

Two hundred years ago, Shermer would have endorsed slavery. And if he were in Germany 50 years ago, he would have endorsed the Holocaust. If he lived in a Pakistan today, he would endorse stoning women for wearing the wrong clothes. Atheists always think that whatever the majority is doing in a particular time and place is right for them. There are no inalienable human rights that exist apart from human opinions, on atheism.

Another problem is that Shermer is constantly making moral judgments when his own view is that morality is constantly changing in different times and places. He condemns the moral values of other times and places without having any standard in his worldview that can decide between different moral values and duties. It is like saying that lunch is better than breakfast because lunch is here and now, and breakfast was then and there. That is literally what atheists do when they make moral judgments. They have no standard that applies to different times and places, just the ever evolving opinions of the majority of people in different times and places.

Is Michael Shermer concerned about morality?

Finally, I want people to understand what kind of person Michael Shermer is. You can read a post by PZ Myers on his blog Pharyngula to get the picture. I think it’s useful to know about Shermer’s own morality since he seems to like to make moral judgments so much during debates. In my own experience in dealing with atheists, although they will talk about slavery and the Crusades, there is nothing in an atheist’s moral system that makes things wrong for all times and all places. They bring it up to stop you from judging them about the things that they care about. When an atheist says “the Crusades! Slavery!” what they really mean is “I need to shame you for having a basis for moral judgments against me, so that you won’t say anything about me getting married women drunk then raping them”. That’s what atheistic use of moral language is really about.

What atheists really think about morality

Atheist Richard Dawkins says atheists have no objective moral standards:

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, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

So, when Shermer tries to shame Christians for behaviors in other times and places which our society here and now disagrees with, what he really means is “morality, objectively speaking, is nonsense, but I will use your moral sense that comes from your non-atheistic worldview to shame you, so that you won’t have the confidence to judge me for my immoral behavior”. And we need to get used to understanding this about atheists. Morality is nonsense to them, and their real goal is to get you off their back for their hedonism. For atheists, morality is just complying with arbitrary social customs which vary by time and place. There is nothing more to it than aping their neighbors (at least when their neighbors are watching). And they would have aped slave-owners, widow-burners and Nazi prison guards too, if they lived in that time and place. And shouted at Christians for disagreeing with them, just like Shermer did about gay marriage.

If you like the way that Frank Turek debates, then be sure and check out his new book “Stealing From God“. I highly recommend it.

Utilitarianism and the Moral Life by J. P. Moreland

I found this essay on After All, but it looks like their site is not working well, so I’m just going to steal it and post it here, in case it disappears completely. This is one of my favorite short essays on utilitarianism, and it’s a wonder that the thing can’t stay up somewhere. Well, it will have a home here now. I’d be surprised to see anyone else be this awesome in a measly 1000 words as Dr. Moreland is below.

—-

Utilitarianism and the Moral Life

What Is Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism (also called consequentialism) is a moral theory developed and refined in the modern world by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). It can be defined as follows:

An action or moral rule is right if and only if it maximizes the amount of nonmoral good produced in the consequences that result from doing that act or following that rule compared with other acts or rules open to the agent.

By focusing on three features of utilitarianism, we can clarify this definition.

(1) Utilitarian theories of value.

What is a nonmoral good? Utilitarians deny that there are any moral actions or rules that are intrinsically right or wrong. But they do believe in objective values that are nonmoral.

Hedonistic utilitarians say that the only intrinsic good is pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Quantitative hedonists (Bentham) say that the amount of pleasure and pain is the only thing that matters in deciding between two courses of action, I should do the one that produces the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain (measured by factors like the duration and intensity of the pleasure). Qualitative hedonists (Mill) say that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, but the type of pleasure is what is important, not the amount. They would rank pleasures that come from reading, art, and friendship as more valuable than those that come from, say, a full stomach.

Pluralistic utilitarians
say there are a number of things that have intrinsic, nonmoral value: pleasure, friendship, health, knowledge, freedom, peace, security, and so forth. For pluralists, it is not just the pleasure that comes from friendship that has value but also friendship itself.

Currently, the most popular utilitarian view of value is subjective preference utilitarianism. This position says it is presumptuous and impossible to specify things that have intrinsic nonmoral worth. So, they claim, intrinsic value ought to be defined as that which each individual subjectively desires or wants, provided these do not harm others. Unfortunately, this view collapses into moral relativism.

(2) Utilitarians and maximizing utility.

Utilitarians use the term utility to stand for whatever good they are seeking to produce as consequences of a moral action (e.g., “pleasure” for the hedonist, “satisfaction of subjective preference” for others). They see morality in a means-to-ends way. The sole value of a moral action or rule is the utility of its consequences. Moral action should maximize utility. This can be interpreted in different ways, but many utilitarians embrace the following: the correct moral action or rule is the one that produces the greatest amount of utility for the greatest number of people.

(3) Two forms of utilitarianism: act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.

According to act utilitarianism, an act is right if and only if no other act available maximizes utility more than the act in question. Here, each new moral situation is evaluated on its own, and moral rules like “don’t steal” or “don’t break promises” are secondary The moral agent must weigh available alternatives and choose the one that produces the best consequences. Rule utilitarianism says that correct moral actions are done in keeping with correct moral rules, However, no moral rule is intrinsically right or wrong. Rather, a correct moral rule is one that would maximize utility if most people followed it as opposed to following an alternative rule. Here, alternative rules (e.g., “don’t lie” vs. “don’t lie unless doing so would enhance friendship”) are compared for their consequences, not specific actions.

What Is Wrong with Utilitarianism?

Several objections show the inadequacy of utilitarianism as a normative moral theory.

First, utilitarianism can be used to justify actions that are clearly immoral. Consider the case of a severely deformed fetus. The child is certain to live a brief, albeit painless life. He or she will make no contribution to society. Society, however, will bear great expense. Doctors and other caregivers will invest time, emotion, and effort in adding mere hours to the baby’s life. The parents will know and love the child only long enough to be heartbroken at the inevitable loss. An abortion negates all those “utility” losses. There is no positive utility lost. Many of the same costs are involved in the care of the terminally ill elderly. They too may suffer no pain, but they may offer no benefit to society. In balancing positives and negatives, and excluding from the equation the objective sacredness of all human life, we arrive at morally repugnant decisions. Here deontological and virtue ethics steer us clear of what is easier to what is right.

Second, in a similar way, utilitarianism denies the existence of supererogatory acts. These are acts of moral heroism that are not morally obligatory but are still praiseworthy. Examples would be giving 75 percent of your income to the poor or throwing yourself on a bomb to save a stranger. Consider the bomb example. You have two choices — throwing yourself on the bomb or not doing so. Each choice would have consequences and, according to utilitarianism, you are morally obligated to do one or the other depending on which option maximized utility. Thus, there is no room for acts that go beyond the call of morality.

Third, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of human rights and human dignity. If enslaving a minority of people, say by a lottery, would produce the greatest good for the greatest number, or if conceiving children only to harvest their parts would do the same, then these could he justified in a utilitarian scheme. But enslavement and abortion violate individual rights and treat people as a means to an end, not as creatures with intrinsic dignity as human beings. If acts of abortion, active euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and so forth maximize utility, then they are morally obligatory for the utilitarian. But any moral system that makes abortion and suicide morally obligatory is surely flawed.

Finally, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of motives and character. We should praise good motives and seek good character because such motives and character are intrinsically valuable. But utilitarianism implies that the only reason we should praise good motives instead of bad ones, or seek good character instead of bad character, is because such acts would maximize utility. But this has the cart before the horse. We should praise good motives and blame bad ones because they are good or bad, not because such acts of praising and blaming produce good consequences.

In sum, it should be clear that utilitarianism is an inadequate moral theory. Unfortunately, ours is a pragmatic culture and utilitarianism is on the rise. But for those of us who follow Christ, a combination of virtue and deontological ethics is a more adequate view of common sense morality found in natural law and of the moral vision contained in the Bible.

Atheist Michael Shermer tries to rationally ground morality in debate with Frank Turek

Michael Shermer debates Frank Turek: atheism and morality
Michael Shermer debates Frank Turek: atheism and morality

The topic of the debate was on the grounding of morality – which worldview (theism or atheism) is better at grounding morality?

And here is the MP3 for the cross-examination only, which is what I will be summarizing. (12.5 Mb)

The full debate can be seen here and can be heard here.

Turek’s cross-examination period starts at 74m22s and ends at 89m20s.

Shermer’s cross-examination period starts at 89m50s and ends at 105m0s.

Topics of Turek’s cross-examination:

  • evolution produces Shermer’s moral sense and Hitler’s moral sense
  • why does Shermer think his is better than Hitler’s, since both were produced by the same evolution?
  • what makes right or wrong if evolution is the source of morality?
  • why is Stalin’s opinion of right and wrong less valuable than the herd’s opinion of right and wrong?
  • do the Founding Fathers ground inalienable rights in a Creator, or in evolution?
  • can atheism ground the existence of inalienable rights?
  • can you ground objective moral values and objective moral duties by asking people how they feel?
  • can you ground objective human rights on atheism by shouting like a madman and interrupting?
  • how can you trust your thinking if they are the result of an unguided, random process of evolution?
  • how can you have rational thoughts if materialism is true, and you are a machine made out of meat?
  • can you ground objective moral values and objective moral duties on personal preferences?
  • how do the personal preferences of some individuals create an objective moral duty for other individuals?
  • does naturalistic evolution orient human beings toward survival or truth?
  • on materialism, what is the chemical composition of justice?

Topics of Shermer’s cross-examination:

  • Radical muslims are exactly the same as evangelical Christians, and have the same God (Allah is the same as the Triune Christian God)
  • Radical muslims would assert that their God is the same as the Triune Christian God, with Jesus and the Holy Spirit also being God
  • Therefore, we can lay the blame for what radical muslims do on the backs of evangelical Christians
  • Radical muslims and evangelical Christians are the same, because “you’re enthusiastic, they’re enthusiastic”
  • The Bible’s notion of indentured servitude to pay off debt is the identical to the idea of slavery based on race
  • The Bible’s notion that masters and slaves are equal in the sight of God forms a basis for thinking they are unequal
  • The Bible teaches things that I disagree with, like the idea that marriage should provide children with a mother and a father
  • Gay marriage is solidly grounded in evolution, even though the morality that evolution produces varies by time and place
  • Atheists can ground objective moral values and objective moral duties by asking people how they feel
  • Can atheists who want to legalize gay marriage because “they’re in love” prohibit polygamy or incest as marriage?
  • Is shouting “you’re on the wrong side of history” a way to rationally ground morality in an accidental atheistic universe?
  • Is it loving for atheists to celebrate a lifestyle that exposes gay men to sickness and premature death?
  • Is it “bigotry” for the Center for Disease Control to warn men who have sex with men about higher health risks?
  • How do Christians decide what is right and wrong when they are confronted with a moral dilemma?
  • How do humans sense the objective moral standard that is required for them to make moral judgments
  • Can enlightenment philosophers who merely imagine human rights actually create those human rights?
  • If revelations change over time for Mormons, does that undermine the need for God to ground objective morality?

I apologize for the poor quality of the video and audio. The moderator was extremely ineffective, letting Shermer go on and on making speeches instead of asking questions during his questioning time. Also, Shermer apparently thought that shouting at Turek and waving his finger at Turek was a good strategy to defend against Turek’s use of logic and evidence.

My thoughts on Michael Shermer

I do want to make some general comments about what Shermer said. Shermer’s view of morality is “what is best for the greatest number of people”. There are no inalienable rights that act as a break on the will of the majority. Shermer has no objection to anything that the majority has decided in any time or in any place. If he were there, he would agree that whatever they decided was morally right.

Two hundred years ago, Shermer would have endorsed slavery. And if he were in Germany 50 years ago, he would have endorsed the Holocaust. If he lived in a Pakistan today, he would endorse stoning women for wearing the wrong clothes. Atheists always think that whatever the majority is doing in a particular time and place is right for them. There are no inalienable human rights that exist apart from human opinions, on atheism.

Another problem is that Shermer is constantly making moral judgments when his own view is that morality is constantly changing in different times and places. He condemns the moral values of other times and places without having any standard in his worldview that can decide between different moral values and duties. It is like saying that lunch is better than breakfast because lunch is here and now, and breakfast was then and there. That is literally what atheists do when they make moral judgments. They have no standard that applies to different times and places, just the ever evolving opinions of the majority of people in different times and places.

Is Michael Shermer concerned about morality?

Finally, I want people to understand what kind of person Michael Shermer is. You can read a post by PZ Myers on his blog Pharyngula to get the picture. I think it’s useful to know about Shermer’s own morality since he seems to like to make moral judgments so much during debates. In my own experience in dealing with atheists, although they will talk about slavery and the Crusades, there is nothing in an atheist’s moral system that makes things wrong for all times and all places. They bring it up to stop you from judging them about the things that they care about. When an atheist says “the Crusades! Slavery!” what they really mean is “I need to shame you for having a basis for moral judgments against me, so that you won’t say anything about me getting married women drunk then raping them”. That’s what atheistic use of moral language is really about.

What atheists really think about morality

Atheist Richard Dawkins says atheists have no objective moral standards:

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, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

So, when Shermer tries to shame Christians for behaviors in other times and places which our society here and now disagrees with, what he really means is “morality, objectively speaking, is nonsense, but I will use your moral sense that comes from your non-atheistic worldview to shame you, so that you won’t have the confidence to judge me for my immoral behavior”. And we need to get used to understanding this about atheists. Morality is nonsense to them, and their real goal is to get you off their back for their hedonism. For atheists, morality is just complying with arbitrary social customs which vary by time and place. There is nothing more to it than aping their neighbors (at least when their neighbors are watching). And they would have aped slave-owners, widow-burners and Nazi prison guards too, if they lived in that time and place. And shouted at Christians for disagreeing with them, just like Shermer did about gay marriage.

If you like the way that Frank Turek debates, then be sure and check out his new book “Stealing From God“. I highly recommend it.

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

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