Wednesday, March 25, 2009

DC crowd at it again; Atheism and Morality

Loftus goes off on Christian notions of morlatiy again (2/24/2009) this is on the DC blog.

Okay, there are several arguments I am damned tired of having to argue over and over and over. The issue of atheist morality is one of them. If you have not yet read an atheist response to this question, or if you are truly interested in how an atheist responds to it then check out the following links.

I believe morality is a social construct, and yet I'm a still a good person.

Scroll down on our FAQ sheet to Atheism, Christianity and Morality, and take special note of this link.

Please read these posts before commenting on morality any more...please.

Read More...

Summary only...



That's all he says about it. Here are some comments from the comment section.


3:56 PM, March 24, 2009
Blogger SE said...

Trying explaining it to the Christians at Reppert's blog. Any time I, or any other atheist, makes the case for morality without God, they just keeping repeating the mantra that atheism equals nihilism and if you don't agree with them, they say you're "intellectually dishonest" and a "pretend atheist".

I'm tired of wasting my time over there.

5:32 PM, March 24, 2009



Meta: But what case do they actually make? they can't ground their axioms so they can't demonstrate the nature of the good. Its' all basically grounded in personal tastes.





Blogger Kel said...

I've found this as well. The notion that religion gives morality is one that has to die. Though if they want to prove that morality needs God, they can take the Bear Challenge I made.

5:33 PM, March 24, 2009



Meta: irrational emotive comment. I suspect its he can't answer the problems that theists raise that he brings this up. that's why it has to die, so I guess they will ridicule it and try to assassinate its reputation.


Blogger Deist Dan said...

Since only religious people have morality, how shall we decide whose to use? Fight some wars like the religious ae used to?

Which bible morality? The old testament morality....the jesus morality...or the paul morality?

How about islamic sharia morality, or Hindu morality? Witches and Voodoo priests have their own morality also.


What makes christians think they are the only religion with a moral code, or that their's is somehow more superior or absolutely true?

Christians have no argument here, religious freedom, freedom of speech, democracy, representative republic, and due process came not from the bible.

As Kelly from the rational response squad said to Ray Comfort on their nightline debate..(paraphrasing)....morality no more comes from god than democrary comes from captain america. Boy did Comfort and Kirk Cameron get humiliated in that debate.



Meta: Christians really do have to stop making the argument about the people and start making it about the ideas. The moral turpitude of atheists comes into it with the argument that one can't live consistently with one's belief system without the Holy Spirit. But that's an argument I would not expect an atheist to understand. It has to be handled real delicately or it will be misunderstood, and I think it's misunderstood by most of those who make it as well.

the "problem" of many moralities in religious belief is not a problem. That should be lost in the averages between the various systems. For example C.S. Lewis' list of cultures that all have the same basic moral systems he draws upon the major civilizations, sociologists who are fond of talking about the relativity of human culture focus on primitive tribes, soemthing Lewis didn't deal with. But the real difference is in terms of social and cultural evolution. But there will be some level of difference between say the moral motions of Saudi Arabia and those of Alabama. But these are problem of minutia, they come with the package of culture difference. None of them mean that we can have ethical systems without grounding our axioms. So the atheist argument falls.

6:47 PM, March 24, 2009
Blogger Jeff said...

John, you're just tired of arguing about this because you're selfish and immoral! You atheists are all the same, why don't you go out and just kill babies?!

/s



Meta: ahahahahaah there you go! Never say die! keep those misunderstandings flying!



7:05 PM, March 24, 2009
Blogger Eric said...

"Any time I, or any other atheist, makes the case for morality without God"

Se, could you give me a summary of the case you advocate? All I ask is that you clarify your premises and conclusions.



The answer to Blogger Eric:

8:51 PM, March 24, 2009
Blogger Eric said...

Kel, your 'Bear Challenge' does no work whatsoever because you've approached it with the supposition that 'protecting one's young' is moral.

Here's what I mean: there are plenty of 'hardwired' acts that you *wouldn't* consider moral if human beings performed them (think of the female praying mantis devouring the male after mating); hence, it follows that the mere fact that X is hardwired cannot justify the notion that it's moral.

In short, you decided before you chose the specifics of your challenge that 'protecting your young' is moral, and you didn't choose this merely because it's 'hardwired.'


Meta: this is the tactic of a reductionist. try to baffle them with pseudo science. This statement serves no metaethical function.He doesn't draw a conclusion now does he demonstrate a case. Nothing he says tells us what is good, or how to live without a notion of the good.

9:03 PM, March 24, 2009
Blogger Kel said...

Eric I agree it's hard-wired, and in that is my point. That such behaviour has evolved in us as well as other species, and thus if you take God out of the picture it changes nothing. We are moral creatures, we have moral instincts. And as such if we are programmed to behave in a certain way, then those who don't will be seen as immoral.

The point was not whether a particular behaviour is moral, rather that a particular behaviour exists without the need of divine mandate. Society wouldn't fall into chaos if people stopped believing, after all our ancestors survived millions of years as social creatures before religion came about.



Meta: Here we have the typical misunderstanding of the biological ethicsits. He assumes that the behavior would still be there without belief in God that that means it still moral thus atheists have morality. But he doesn't' understand what makes moral vs immoral. He's just assuming it's inherent in the behavior. What makes it moral is the system of valuations that seeks to attach moral value to an action. Without that sytem it ceases to be a moral act. Thus you can't ground the morality of an axiom merely in the fact that said behavior is "natural." Without a means of grounding axioms, which will be a system of ethics, it's not moral anymore. It's amoral. That's why atheist metaethics is basically a theory of amorality.

3:22 AM, March 25, 2009
Blogger J.L. Hinman said...

you are a good person because you have Christian memories, and because you have a moral law God put inside you. There are good people in other cultures and other religions too. But they are not good because goodness is a natural byproduct of evolution.

Jut telling us that you are good (and I know you are) is not proof as to why you are good. Now tell me how nature can make you good when nature is neutral and not charged with moral motions?

I would love to see you confront the higher realities of meta ethics. What makes for "good." How do you derive an "ought" form what is?

10:40 AM, March 25, 2009


Christians may at times overplay the atheism = Nihilism bit. That doesn't mean that there isn't a sound argument there about the groundless basis for ethical axioms once we assume there is no transcendental signifier. That is a whole different ball game that most atheists are not even willing to touch yet.

Without a fixed metaphysical organizing principle to mark out a hierarchy of approbations there is no way to guarantee that what is good today will be evil tomorrow int he shifting sands of relativism.That doesn't make atheists bad people, that's not the issue. The issue is that it makes atheists bad ethicists. They don't understand the basic nature of an ethical system and they can't offer a meta ethical theory that would explain the nature of the good or mark out a hierarchy of values.

The only way to sort between competing values is to mark out an organizing principle which lexically orders ethical axioms. Belief in God is not the only way to do this, but it is probably the best. What really gets me is that the atheist so far are not willing offer one. Loftus doesn't offer one. They substitute instead their alleged goodness for a clearly understand set of priorities that mark out a value system and ground it in something other htan their own tatstes.

Grounding is important because once have marked out values, and anyone an do that, there has to be something that sorts them out as important and mere matters of taste. The atheist's typical approach is one of the three ways:

(1) personal likes and dislikes

(2) grounding in nature or science

(3) utilitarianism


(1) is merely inadequate because they can't deal with competing tastes.

(2) violates Hume's fork, you can't derive and ought from an is.

(3) Util has bee soundly thrashed and most mosdern ethcistsi don't take it seriously. Read John Rawls A Theory of Justice.

that basically leaves some form of religious grounding for ethical axioms and that is still the best and most durable approach.

23 comments:

A Hermit said...

Can you explain to me why a nebulous "ground of being" idea of God is a better grounding for human morality than human needs are?

I'm not being facetious or trying to start a fight; I honestly don't understand how the kind of cosmologically necessary being you describe in your other blog has anything to do with human behaviour. As I see it morality is inseparable from humanity; if we're going to ground it in anything it has to be grounded in humanity, not in some ineffable universal necessity.

J.L. Hinman said...

Can you explain to me why a nebulous "ground of being" idea of God is a better grounding for human morality than human needs are?

how do human needs ground axioms? We have a need not to be killed so therefore killing is wrong, like that? what about competing needs?

besides I don't think you understand how belief in God grounds axioms. I'll do a blog thing on that in a couple of days.


I'm not being facetious or trying to start a fight;

I know ;-) It's a legitimate question.


I honestly don't understand how the kind of cosmologically necessary being you describe in your other blog has anything to do with human behaviour.

the mystical experince is about love. The essence of God is love. That's the whole point of the connection between being and love. love requires that God be intimately connected to people. The whole self actualizing aspect of the experience demonstrates God's intimate connection with humans.


As I see it morality is inseparable from humanity; if we're going to ground it in anything it has to be grounded in humanity, not in some ineffable universal necessity.

but as wonderful as humanity is, it is also weak, sick, frail, sinful, silly, selfish, violent, ingorant foolish and so on. So just because we need something doesn't we know what we need or how to legitimate getting it.

Grog need woman. Og has woman. Grog kill Og and take woman. This is moral because it's a human need.

how do you balance all that out.

Now the silly version of theistic morality is to say God is like a big judge in the sky and he hands rules and that's how we know. God is going to bang his gavela nd say "thou shalt not Kill Og to take him woman." Ok we see, killing to take woman is sin, write that down.

that's the comic book version. The hand of God writing no the tabliets and all that.

but the love that we have in us is not merely a side effect of brain chemistry it's the fact of our being created in God's image. So the values of God's character that make up the nature of the good are part of us by virtue of our creaturilness.

J.L. Hinman said...

Now I'm not saying there is no point at which the finger on the tablet isn't needed. That's finely tuned understanding.

the teaching of Jesus are a case in point. The examples we find in the bible and in Christian literature provide precedents and help us understand the fine points and how to sort out competing values.

David B. Ellis said...


the mystical experince is about love. The essence of God is love.


It seems to me that love is of intrinsic worth of its own nature--- whether its the essence of God or not. Whether any God of any sort exists or not.

The only way one can conclude that atheists have no ground for morality is to claim that love has no intrinsic worth. Otherwise, there is no more of a problem for the atheist in the grounding of morality than there is for the theist.

A Hermit said...

"how do human needs ground axioms? We have a need not to be killed so therefore killing is wrong, like that? what about competing needs?"

Morality is about human behaviour (I'd even say it's a form of human behaviour) so our judgements about what makes any particular behaviour moral, it seems to me, rely on the effect that behaviour has on us and those around us. Certainly competing needs complicate theose judgements, but I don't see how belief in God makes those competing needs go away.

"besides I don't think you understand how belief in God grounds axioms. I'll do a blog thing on that in a couple of days."

I'll look forward ot it...

"the mystical experince is about love. The essence of God is love. That's the whole point of the connection between being and love. love requires that God be intimately connected to people. The whole self actualizing aspect of the experience demonstrates God's intimate connection with humans."

Well, I'm all for love, but I don't see any need for a God to connect with people in love. In fact, I've found that for me love is more meaningful if understood as a product of our humanity; it requires a connection with each other, with our environment, with ourselves but trying to connect all of that to anything called "god" is just a distraction in my experience.

And important as it is, there's more to morality than love; honour, dignity, courage...but these are all, like love, like morality itself, products of our humanity. We're talking about human emotions, human behaviour when we talk about morality; I can't see how grounding it in something non-human makes any sense.

"but as wonderful as humanity is, it is also weak, sick, frail, sinful, silly, selfish, violent, ingorant foolish and so on. So just because we need something doesn't we know what we need or how to legitimate getting it."

That's why human beings are always having conversations like this one...we need to recognize our iognorance and our weakness and work through it. And let's be honest; the God described in the Christian Bible is surprisingly human in his behaviour; He seems to exhibit the same of kind of petty jealousies, insecurities and anger that so often undo us mere mortals...a terrific metaphor for human behaviour, perhaps, but again taking the idea of God as more than a metaphor and trying to make it the basis for morality seems like a distraction from the real issues that confront us human beings trying to find a way to live together in this world.

"Grog need woman. Og has woman. Grog kill Og and take woman. This is moral because it's a human need."

And that would the "silly, comic book version" of humanistic morality, wouldn't it? Human need doesn't just mean fulfilling every biological need, and damn the consequences; our need for security rules out Og's behaviour here because non of us want to live in a world where it's OK to just kill someone and take what you want; our need for self determination rules out men just "taking" women...I can think of all kinds of ways in which Og's behaviour here violates human centred morality and never have to appeal to a God to do so.

"...the love that we have in us is not merely a side effect of brain chemistry it's the fact of our being created in God's image. So the values of God's character that make up the nature of the good are part of us by virtue of our creaturilness."

Why does God get the credit for all of the good parts of our nature, and never gets the blame for the bad parts? I think this is part of the reason I reject the use of a God idea as a basis for morality; it seems to me to create a false dichotomy between the conflicting parts of our nature; bad things are human, good things are divine...I think that's unfair to humanity, it puts the good part in a sense beyond our reach instead of recognizing it as the thing that makes us truly human.

J.L. Hinman said...

Hermit i'm going to answer you at length in a new post tonight. look for that.

J.L. Hinman said...

It seems to me that love is of intrinsic worth of its own nature--- whether its the essence of God or not. Whether any God of any sort exists or not.

It's worth something in a personal sense but that just makes it a matter of taste.unless it's imposed from the top ontologically as a transcendental signifier, or as a hierarchical value then it's it's just a personal predication and one's man's love is another man's subjective hogwash.

The only way one can conclude that atheists have no ground for morality is to claim that love has no intrinsic worth. Otherwise, there is no more of a problem for the atheist in the grounding of morality than there is for the theist.

Moral values and personal tastes are not on the same ontological level. Love is subjective, another time atheists would saying "that's subjective" meaning it's worthless.

I'm not saying atheists don't love I'm saying most of the time they don't value the subjective until they need to like now.

but none of that supporting grounding. Just because it's nice and you like it and it seems good doesn't make it a ground for axioms.

if you think atheists can ground their axioms tell me what you ground them in? Love? If love is just a chemical reaction due to a side effect of the neural transmitters how does that ground moral axioms? just subjective.

If love is the character of God it grounds them becasue God created the universe so love is written in as the basic meaning of our being.

A Hermit said...

"...the love that we have in us is not merely a side effect of brain chemistry..."

I'm disappointed in this bit, by the way, Joe; this is the kind of thing the fundies on CARM come out with all the time.

Even IF love is "a side effect of brain chemistry" why should that make it less important to us?

J.L. Hinman said...

Hermit, you are missing some key concepts about moraltiy. Moraltiy is not just something that's improtant to me. It's not emotions it's not feel good time. It's not gonna make it moral just to be important to some person.

It's only moral if involves a decision, that decision is based upon a value, and the value has to imposable upon everyone.

morality is about duty and obligation not just good vibes and candy ass sentiment.

J.L. Hinman said...

I'm disappointed in this bit, by the way, Joe; this is the kind of thing the fundies on CARM come out with all the time.

what does that mean?

Morality is about rule keeping. It's not just niceness and feelings. Its' about rules and obligations and keeping obligations, it's about doing what you should do.

what makes something that which should be done? Just feeling that it's important does not make it that which should be done.

I feel that the Legion to superheroes is important to me. I don't feel that I have the right to force others to like them just because I do. So that's not morality. But don't commit adultery, that can be forced upon everyone, because it's a moral motion. It involves duty and obligation.

David B. Ellis said...


It's worth something in a personal sense but that just makes it a matter of taste.


Experiencing love is not like a preference for chocolate over vanilla ice cream.

If you can experience love deeply with no psychological trauma or distortion of objectivity marring one's judgment I do not believe you can fail to value it.

Your claim that its just a "matter of taste" is simply a denial of the intrinsic value of love.

You seem to think nothing has any value, even love, if that value isn't derived from a transcendent source.

I contend that the value of love derives solely from its own intrinsic qualities.


Love is subjective, another time atheists would saying "that's subjective" meaning it's worthless.


Here is my central point on meta-ethics. The place where most people go dead wrong on the issue from the very start:

SUBJECTIVE DOES NOT MEAN ARBITRARY NOR WORTHLESS.

Subjective simply means experiential as opposed to somethings existence independent of experience. Naturally, morality is all about the experiencial. Where there are no experiencers there can be no morality. Rocks and trees don't suffer, they don't hope, they don't love and they don't face moral dilemmas.

Its only when subjectivity (combined with sentience) enters the world that morality becomes a possibility.

To illustrate what I mean by subjective not being equivalent to arbitrary let's look at the example of physical agony. We'd all agree that the experience is, in and of itself, a bad thing (though, of course, possibily a sometimes necessary thing in some circumstances). No one in their right mind values it in and of itself.

And why is agony to be devalued? If we look for some "objective" reason we go wrong from the very start. Its devaluation is due precisely to the subjective content of the experience itself.


I'm not saying atheists don't love I'm saying most of the time they don't value the subjective until they need to like now.


Subjectivity as such is highly relevent (central in fact) to ethical questions (since such questions are in large part about what the subjective experience of life would be like for people as a whole who followed one set of values as opposed to another).

It is not pertinent to many other questions. Not all questions are about our subjective experience. Many are about how things are independent of that experience.


If love is just a chemical reaction due to a side effect of the neural transmitters how does that ground moral axioms? just subjective.


Again, subjective does not mean arbitrary. Unlike you I do not dismiss subjectivity in moral questions. Subjectivity is at the heart of the issue.

Some subjective experiences (like love) are intrinsically positive in nature (though of course they can be distorted toward harmful objects and twisted in various ways, one of the things that makes meta-ethics complicated is the intricate ways subjective experience and objective fact are intertwined in questions of morality).


If love is the character of God it grounds them becasue God created the universe so love is written in as the basic meaning of our being.


All I have to do is experience love to see it as the basic value for any sane and psychologically sound human being.

Lets imagine there is no god. Can you honestly say you would see no valid reason to think it better to be a loving person than a sociopath? Part of a community of loving individuals rather than a community of sociopaths?

The answer is obvious. All you have to do to recognize it is to get over this strange, unfounded idea you seem to have that subjectivity equates to arbitrariness.

David B. Ellis said...


morality is about duty and obligation not just good vibes and candy ass sentiment.



What is duty but a codification of the behaviors natural to a person motivated by love?

David B. Ellis said...


it's about doing what you should do.



And are not the things we should do the ones that come naturally to the person motivated by love?

Call it candy-ass sentiment if you like but its the sort of sentiment that makes people willing to risk life and limb. There's nothing candy ass about it.

David B. Ellis said...


I don't feel that I have the right to force others to like them just because I do. So that's not morality. But don't commit adultery, that can be forced upon everyone, because it's a moral motion.


that which is moral = that which we can legitimately force others to do?

I can see a lot of problems with such an idea.

I thought you put great stock in free will. In people's opportunity to CHOOSE to do right or wrong rather than their being forced to do right.

A Hermit said...

"Hermit, you are missing some key concepts about moraltiy. Moraltiy is not just something that's improtant to me. It's not emotions it's not feel good time. It's not gonna make it moral just to be important to some person."

Where exactly did I say that was all there was to it?! I think you're missing the key elements of what I just wrote...;-)

"It's only moral if involves a decision, that decision is based upon a value, and the value has to imposable upon everyone."

Yes, and what we're disagreeing about is the basis for those values. I say it has to be in the real world needs of real live human beings, not in a belief in some ineffable deity.

"morality is about duty and obligation"
Which we have toward one another by virtue of our shared humanity
"not just good vibes and candy ass sentiment."

Not sure why you keep repeating this, it's not the argument I'm making...

J.L. Hinman said...

I am answering these by Dave in the main blog piece (a new post).

J.L. Hinman said...

Where exactly did I say that was all there was to it?! I think you're missing the key elements of what I just wrote...;-)

which are?

"It's only moral if involves a decision, that decision is based upon a value, and the value has to imposable upon everyone."

Yes, and what we're disagreeing about is the basis for those values. I say it has to be in the real world needs of real live human beings, not in a belief in some ineffable deity.

It is about real life, but it can't just be grounded in the human alone with nothing transcendent because then it's not grounded. It's relative.

"morality is about duty and obligation"

Which we have toward one another by virtue of our shared humanity
"not just good vibes and candy ass sentiment."

who says? where is that written in any kind of law? unless higher power makes it a law it's nothing more than a nice sentiment.

Not sure why you keep repeating this, it's not the argument I'm making...

you just made it.

A Hermit said...

"you just made it."

Nope; I'm sorry Joe, I'm not taking responsibility for your straw man.

Human needs and human behaviour are more accessible to all of us, and therefore more objective a basis for moral decision making, than your subjective belief that you have experienced a greater power.

J.L. Hinman said...

ethics and moral philosophy have an official standing in the philosophical world. It has a history. I has a development. Every major philosopher has contributed to it. you can't come in with no relation to any of that and demand that something be true.

How I made several arguments and you have not responded. that means at the least the very least Christian moral philosophy has a higher standing in the academic world.

you haven ot told me how your feelings can sort out the difference in your feelings and mine. why are your feelings one's we go by and not mine, or Charles Mansons?


show me one major ethicist who agrees with you?

J.L. Hinman said...

Human needs and human behaviour are more accessible to all of us, and therefore more objective a basis for moral decision making, than your subjective belief that you have experienced a greater power.


you try to make out like belief in god is subjective your little privates feelings of bieng nice are not subjective becuase they are human so they are accessable.

feelings of God are not only accessable but the vast majority of humans have them and agree wtih me.

atheists are just a little frrenge minorioty who don't have the same of feeling that most people have.. so religious feelings are more common.

don't ty to make out like atheism is somehow the majority after all you know that's bull.

J.L. Hinman said...

I'm going to do a post on the role of love in relation to my ethical philosophy. But that will probably take a few days. closer to Friday.

I am going to it on the other blog so be watching for it.

J.L. Hinman said...

I've also posted these comments and the major post that follows on my boards so they can be discussed as a thread.

A Hermit said...

"ethics and moral philosophy have an official standing in the philosophical world. It has a history. I has a development. Every major philosopher has contributed to it. you can't come in with no relation to any of that and demand that something be true."

I didn't realize my lack of formal education in this area disqualified me from having a valid opinion...

"show me one major ethicist who agrees with you?"

I'm not interested in finding authorities who agree with me at the moment; I'm wondering if you can explain to me why your subjective belief in an ineffable God is a better grounding for human ethical/moral decision making than actual human experience?

"you try to make out like belief in god is subjective your little privates feelings of bieng nice are not subjective becuase they are human so they are accessable."

I never said they weren't subjective, just that they are more accessible, and therefore more amenable to objective analysis, than your ineffeable idea of God.

"feelings of God are not only accessable but the vast majority of humans have them and agree wtih me."

But most people don't agree with you, Joe; most people in this world are not Christians; ie their subjective understanding of God is different from yours. Hell, even most Christians have a different understanding of God than you do...

But we all know what it means to love someone, to be angry, to feel sad or happy or lonely or hungry etc.

"atheists are just a little frrenge minorioty who don't have the same of feeling that most people have.. so religious feelings are more common."

I've had religious feelings; I just don't attribute then to anything called "God."

"don't ty to make out like atheism is somehow the majority after all you know that's bull."

Another straw man; I never said anything of the kind. So far all you've dome is invent arguments I haven't made to argue against...