Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Featured Article: Did Morals Evolve? by Greg Koukl



This article originally appeared here.


I have consistently put forth what I believe to be a very strong argument for the existence of a personal God and the reality of personal guilt before God based on the existence of self-evident moral rules in the universe.

I think it's a good argument. But it hasn't gone unchallenged, especially by those who are committed to the belief that nothing truly exists which is not subject to examination by the senses through scientific inquiry.

This idea has been around in some form for a long time and goes by a variety of different names, depending upon how it's nuanced: physicalism, scientism, anti-realism, nominalism, strict empiricism, naturalism, etc. I think it's safe to say that modern man thinks he believes this. (Shannon) But this man who said knowledge was only available through empirical testing also said he'd been in love many times, and you can't put love in a test tube. Further, you can't weigh this empirical knowledge he was referring to. And the more we talked the more it became evident that we couldn't even discuss the issue without having to employ the very abstract entities he claimed didn't exist.

By the way, virtually everything we hold to be dear and important to us....cannot be analyzed empirically. If this is true, and if it's also true that nothing is real that is not available to scientific scrutiny, then nothing truly important to us actually exists.


A recent challenge to the transcendent nature of morality comes from the book The Moral Animal--Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology , by Robert Wright, published by Pantheon Press. I have not read the book, but I have read the review by Sara Lippincott in the September 4 (1994) Book Review section of the LA Times . Lippencott sketches out the arguments for us.

The thesis: "conscience, the seat of our moral sense, evolved as a survival mechanism. When...we feel guilt because we have harmed a sibling, it is because we have thereby imperiled the proliferation of our genes. When we feel guilt because we have harmed someone outside the family circle, it is because we have potentially damaged our own (survival enhancing) status."

This doesn't account for guilt we may feel for wantonly mistreating some other animal, which is an immediate problem with this view as an explanation for morality, but let's ignore that for a moment because something else is more pressing.


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If everything about man can be explained in scientific, evolutionary terms, Our belief that we're exploring truth is merely the result of our physical wiring over which we have no control.
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This explanation implicitly contains a remarkable claim. It suggests that there is something in us that is self-consciously aware of the process of evolution, that understands what the goal of evolution is--survival of our own species--and instructs us through our conscience to fulfill the optimal conditions for that survival. How do we know that harming a sibling has "imperiled the proliferation of our genes?" Isn't this a remarkable statement? Nobody even knew what genes were until Gregor Mendel in the latter part of the 19th century.


Consider two cavemen in neighboring villages. One kills the other in cold blood. We're being asked to believe that he feels guilt because he realizes such an act ultimately undermines his own survival status (How? He didn't say.) In the rest of the animal kingdom, killing the opposition seems to secure just the opposite.

We think we have a type of transcendent knowledge we call morality, Wright argues. But there's an explanation for that in evolutionary terms. Something in us knows that conscience is useful for securing the long-term survival of our race. So now to explain away the existence of morality as transcendent knowledge Wright posits the existence of some other kind of transcendent knowledge that creates morality for its own purpose. But this only pushes the problem one generation back. One can then ask, "Where did this force, this law, to always seek the survival of the species come from?" You can't say it evolved, because that would be begging the question: Where did the impulse to seek your own species' survival come from? It evolved based on a species seeking its own survival. The argument becomes circular. Wright solves nothing with his amazing claim.

There are more problems with this, of course, and they center around one inescapable observation. If everything about man can be explained in scientific, evolutionary terms, Our belief that we're exploring truth is merely the result of our physical wiring over which we have no control.

In other words, this kind of physicalism always seems to lead to some kind of determinism: Everything about us is determined by our prior physical states. It's very hard to argue, then, that there is any truth at all to be known, moral or otherwise.


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If the moral element is prior to the behavior, then it can't be the behavior itself.
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Then why should I believe this article? This article purports to tell us something true about the universe, but in the process tells us that our perception of truth is something that is dictated by our genes to "get our genes into the next generation."


This view changes drastically what it means to be moral. It reduces morality to mere survival, to pragmatics. We feel moral urgings because these moral urgings help us to survive better. They have at their core self-preservation in mind. But does self-preservation truly capture what we mean when we say a thing is moral. Indeed many things that fall into the moral category have to do with denying self.

But what is this "correct" business? It implies that there is some higher standard outside of the morality that he is allegedly explaining, a higher standard of moral conduct that can correct the "moral biases built into us by natural selection." But it's precisely this higher moral law that needs explaining and defies naturalistic explanation. Robert Wright doesn't explain it. He merely offers an explanation for some low order moral conduct that has survival value. And then cavalierly refers to this other morality that enables us to become "a truly moral animal." He writes, "Go above and beyond the call of smoothly functioning conscience; help those who aren't likely to help those in return, and do so when nobody's watching. This is one way to be a truly moral animal."

Arguably, certain ways of acting may have evolved (I don't believe this, but I'll grant this for the sake of argument), but morality is not merely a way of acting. How do I know this? Because there's an oughtness about behavior that we can feel that actually precedes the behavior itself. It's not a behavior pattern, but an internal compulsion that compels us to choose certain behaviors--to do what's right--even though this moral incumbency can be denied or disobeyed. If the moral element is prior to the behavior, then it can't be the behavior itself.

For more excellent resources from Greg Koukl and Stand to Reason, go here.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

42 comments:

Geoffrey Charles said...

Hey there, Mr. Chad. I hope you're well and happy.

I read this post and have some thoughts I'd like to share.

First, as you may have gathered from previous discussions with me, I believe in evolution and the idea that our moral intuitions are an evolved survival mechanism.

Second, regarding Koukl's paragraph starting with "This explanation implicitly contains a remarkable claim." The evolution of our species, including our morality, has been happening for a long time. When cavemen killed other cavemen, natural selection was happening. And when cavemen cooperated to enhance the survivability of their clans, natural selection was happening. Generally cavemen with the genetic predisposition to cooperate tended to survive, and those with the genetic predisposition to murder tended not to. Contra Koukl, this happened whether or not the cavemen were "self-consciously aware of the process of evolution." Nobody is asking Koukl to believe that the caveman "feels guilt because he realizes" anything. Rather, the idea is that the caveman feels guilt because that's what his genes, environment, etc. have conditioned him to feel due to natural selection.

Recently, humans have become aware of the process of evolution, but this awareness is not necessary for the success of the process of moral evolution.

Ultimately, these ideas probably don't carry much weight for Koukl because he doesn't believe in evolution to begin with. He likes the consensus argument for the "minimal facts" argument, but he doesn't like the consensus argument for biological evolution.

Chad said...

Hello Mr. Charles,

I am doing very well, thank you. I hope all is well with you and yours.

First off, it seems this conversation has been had.

Second, if I ever conclude that the Blind Moral Maker was able to create intrinsically valuable, moral, reasoning beings from mere matter, which has no moral dimension to my knowledge, it may be worthy of worship.

Third, regarding Koukl’s illustration, I fear you may have misrepresented his view. If you look at the article again, he says “that there is something in us that is self-consciously aware of the process of evolution.” I don’t think he is saying that the caveman has to be aware of what is going on. Regardless, even if I grant your point, it seems to be that the claim being made is still extraordinary.

Finally, regarding the scholarly consensuses, Koukl accepts the minimal facts arguments not only because of the consensus, but also because of the weight of the evidence. If he only accepted it because of the scholarly consensus he would be guilty of what he calls “The Rhodes Scholar” fallacy in his book Tactics. Koukl would agree that we should never accept anything solely because of consensus. It is the soundness of the evidence that the consensus forms around that is relevant.

Further, as Koukl explained on his radio show the other day, it’s not the mere consensus that matters, but the fact that these facts stand up even under secular and hostile examination.

Contrast this with evolution [whatever that means], where we are simply told, “Most scientists believe in evolution; therefore, so should you.”

Godspeed

Chad said...

For those readers interested, the prior conversation I alluded to in the above comment can be found here.

Godspeed

Geoffrey Charles said...

Hi, Chad.

"this conversation has been had"

We've spoken about morality, and I've given some defense for my view, but not my specific comments about Koukl's understanding of moral evolution. Forgive me if I've made you feel like you're repeating yourself.

“intrinsically valuable”

When I wonder what you mean by this, my mind goes to the WLC/Kagan discussion about morality, specifically the distinction between their views on “meaning.” Specifically, Craig's idea of “meaning” was that it must be, in Kagan's words, “ultimate, cosmic, and transcendent” in order for it to be real meaning. Kagan disagreed and said meaning can exist without being so lofty. I wonder if WLC's idea of “meaning” is similar to what you mean by “intrinsically valuable,” i.e. that it must be ultimate, cosmic, transcendent value in order for it to be really intrinsic value. If so, I can see why you would doubt such “intrinsic value” has only come about by natural means, and consider worshipping the source of it.

Definitions are the keys to clear communication about these issues. Another example is the definition of “realism” in the term “moral realism.” A study showed that a most philosophers who were surveyed in the study were atheists, and also most of them were moral realists. To the apologist this might be considered a contradiction. One definition of realist in this context is regarding the idea that some moral claims relate to real facts about the real world. In other words, realism means there is a certain objectivity to morality. However, the apologist would say an atheist has no basis for objectivity of morality. It all comes down to your definitions of the terms.

“I don’t think he is saying that the caveman has to be aware of what is going on.”

Yes he is. Look in the next paragraph where he expounds on the previous one with the example of cavemen: He says, “We're being asked to believe that [the caveman] feels guilt because [the caveman] realizes such an act ultimately undermines his own survival status.” Chad, at first I couldn't believe he said it either. But he did, and it drove me to initially comment and make sure you see it.

This errant understanding of moral evolution doesn't make sense, which probably is a reason why he doesn't believe in it.

“It is the soundness of the evidence that the consensus forms around that is relevant.”

Agreed, and it sure is nice to have opinions backed by scholarly consensus, eh?

Have a good day,
Geoff

Chase said...

Hello Geoffrey,

Glad to see you back on the blog!

As you and Chad have already stated, the issue of morality was discussed previously. It is great to discuss this with you again! I referred back to that discussion and two things stuck out to me:

1. You provided the objective moral of baseless murder and grounded it as an objective moral on the fact that it objectively decreases human well-being.

I found your use of the term "baseless murder" interesting because it implies that circumstances may arise in which murder is justified.

I assume we were, and we are, not talking about killing a human. We were, and we are talking about murder or killing a human for no reason or no valid reason. This at least is what I mean when I say murder.

I then stated that under biological evolution, the only thing keeping me from being murdered is because it does not contribute to the increased well-being of humanity. I then asked, "What happens when
it does contribute to the increased well-being of humanity?" Finally, I answered my own question, because under biological evolution, "murder" or killing a human for no reason or no valid reason is circumstantial. And it seems to me, that many more valid reasons can arise under the biological evolution worldview to kill a human than under the Christian worldview. Especially on the individual level.

The reason this stuck out to me is because you never responded to any of this.

2. I essentially stated that morality under the Christian worldview is based on an obligation to God. I think it follows that if the Christian God exists then mankind has an obligation to him for he is a moral being with transcendent, ultimate authority over his creation.

You stated that the only obligation you know of is between humans. Is this really the case under your worldview? According to your worldview, humans are no different than apes, pigs, bananas, etc. correct? Is an ape obligated to another ape to not take its fruit? Is a pig obligated to another pig to not push it out of the way when at the slop trough? Is a banana obligated to another banana to not block
its sun?

As a side note, you can see, that when we start applying terms such as "morality" or "obligation" or "murder" to a purely materialistic world they become nonsensical.

Anyway, back to the main discussion. Does not this sense of obligation that man feels amongst each other set man apart from all of the other species on the planet? How could the non-moral, impartial system of natural selection accomplish such a partial act towards man by bringing about a sense of duty, honor, and respect (i.e. morals) amongst them?

As usual, I look forward to your response.

God bless.

Chad said...

Hello Mr. Charles,

First off, I want to apologize if the tone indicated that I was bothered in anyway. I fear that sometimes, in my desire to get straight to the point and remain "on topic," my comments may seem cold. That is never my intent and my comments are always meant respectfully.

Second, regarding your interpretation in the Koukl article, I encourage readers themselves to read the article and consider the context of the paragraphs in question. When Koukl writes, "We're being asked to believe that he feels guilt because he realizes such an act ultimately undermines his own survival status," I assumed that Koukl was referring back to the something in us that is self-consciously aware of the process of evolution.

Regardless, as I said before:

1. The claim being made still seems extraordinary.

2. There are other arguments in the article that need to be dealt with.

3. I have no desire nor need to quibble over the questioned paragraphs. If you are interested in understanding Koukl's position, please visit his website here..

Finally, regarding Craig and Kagan, Craig would say that God and immortality are necessary for ultimate meaning.

You can read more of his position here.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I will certainly ponder them.

Respectfully

cvaughn3946 said...

Hi Geoffrey,

I've had two questions that came to mind as I read your responses to Chad's post:

Question 1- Regarding this comment:

"Recently, humans have become aware of the process of evolution, but this awareness is not necessary for the success of the process of moral evolution."

What do you think occurred in the process of moral evolution that prompted the Israelite people to have an increased moral awareness of the values of all peoples (females, children, foreigners, etc) when comparing them to their Near Eastern counterparts. Their laws, though obviously not perfect, were clearly advanced when comparing to their NE counterparts.

Question: In most of your comments, you refer to definitions of terms and the context in which they are used.

My question to you that I’m borrowing from Koukl is, “What makes human beings valuable?” We live in a society where what I might call infanticide, others, depending on their worldview, would call abortion, or partial-birth abortion. Our culture has moved from determining that a fetus inside the womb is not a person to a human partially in the womb is not a person. What will stop us from moving to a human fully outside the womb is not a person? When or if this does happen, would you define this as part of the process of moral evolution or a rapid decline in the values of our culture?

Geoffrey Charles said...

Hello, Sir Chase.

Sorry for not responding sooner, but as you may see from what I write in this comment, perhaps the reason I did not has to do with us being on very different pages regarding this topic.

“you never responded to any of this.”

I'm not sure I follow your train of logic, however, assuming it's sound, what sort of response do you expect? In other words, let's say you're right. For example, our desire for well-being keeps us from murdering. Yes, and? Or, decisions whether or not to kill somebody are based on the circumstances. Sure – and? Or, perhaps there are more reasons “under the biological evolution worldview to kill a human than under the Christian worldview.” For the sake of argument, let's say “Yes, there are.” And?

“if the Christian God exists then mankind has an obligation to him for he is a moral being with transcendent, ultimate authority over his creation.”

But of course.

humans are no different than apes, pigs, bananas, etc. correct?

Incorrect.

Does not this sense of obligation that man feels amongst each other set man apart from all of the other species on the planet?

Yes.

“non-moral, impartial system of natural selection”

I've been saying that natural selection favors moral behavior. It is not impartial.

Chase said...

Geoffrey,

I agree we are on very different pages. You hold that the morality developed under biological evolution is truly moral. I hold that the morality developed under biological evolution is survival and that it is only labeled as morality by humans. I am having difficulty understanding how morality is anything other than survival. Could you please explain it to me? Perhaps this will bring us closer to the same page. Though, we are a little bit closer as we both agree that if the Christian God exists we have an obligation to him.

<“I'm not sure I follow your train of logic, however, assuming it's sound, what sort of response do you expect? In other words, let's say you're right. For example, our desire for well-being keeps us from murdering. Yes, and? Or, decisions whether or not to kill somebody are based on the circumstances. Sure – and Or, perhaps there are more reasons ‘under the biological evolution worldview to kill a human than under the Christian worldview.’ For the sake of argument, let's say ‘Yes, there are.’ And?”>

If the decision on whether or not to kill someone is circumstantial, how was a standard of morality developed under natural selection?

Also, please provide an example under biological evolution that would be an invalid reason to kill a human. And could you please be more specific than, “when it does not increase the well-being of humanity.

Also, I wrote in my previous comment in this string, that under biological evolution humans are no different than apes, pigs, bananas, etc. This, you say, is incorrect. However, in our previous discussion on morality in the previous comment string Chad provided the link to in this string, you did not say the same. Let us take a look.

You said:



In response to this I said:



You responded to my response with this:



So, if other species have the potential to recognize morality (and as you stated previously, there are other species doing this) does this not make us no different than any other species? Humans are just farther along the evolutionary path. Humans were once where apes, pigs, bananas, etc. are now on that path. So, apes have the potential to recognize morality. Pigs have the potential to recognize morality. Bananas have the potential to recognize morality. Are you contradicting yourself?

I said:

Does not this sense of obligation that man feels amongst each other set man apart from all of the other species on the planet?

You answered yes to this question. However, based on your own words I quoted above, you should have answered, “Yes, temporarily.”

“I've been saying that natural selection favors moral behavior. It is not impartial.”

I did not say it was impartial towards actions that advance a species. I said it was impartial towards species. So, again I ask, how could the non-moral, impartial system of natural selection accomplish such a partial act towards man by bringing about a sense of duty, honor, and respect (i.e. morals) amongst them?

I hope all of my references back to previous postings did not get confusing. I look forward to your response.

Respectfully.

Chase said...

Geoffrey,

A portion of my previous comment did not post. It begins at "Let us take a look". The missing portion is as follows:

You said:

Over time, evolution has built into us certain moral emotions and the ability to evaluate some actions and recognize whether or not they increase or decrease well being.

In response to this I said:

What you have described above, and what you have been discussing previously, is a system of survival not a system of morality. Please explain to me why this system should be labeled morality when with every other species on the planet it is labeled survival. Do humans hold a special position in biological evolution? I thought biological evolution was not partial in dealing with species.

You responded to my response with this:

But we've been discovering that other social animals have recognized the importance of morality. Their morality is obviously not has advanced as our own because we're the most socially advanced species. And by advanced I mean how we communicate, interact, trade, govern, vote, educate, volunteer, etc etc. So, the morality of other species is still only generally concerned with survival.

"So, if other species have the potential" is where the above missing portion ends.

Geoffrey Charles said...

cvaughan: Hello. Indeed, I say hello.

“What do you think occurred in the process of moral evolution that prompted the Israelite people to have an increased moral awareness”

I'm not sure that they did.

“What makes human beings valuable?”

I think it's a combination of our qualities including but probably not limited intelligence, consciousness, self-realization, communication, adaptability, social cooperation, productivity, etc.

“What will stop us from moving to a human fully outside the womb is not a person?”

I know neither what will bring us there nor what will keep us from there.

“When or if this does happen, would you define this as part of the process of moral evolution or a rapid decline in the values of our culture?”

If these were the only two choices and I had to choose one, I would tend toward the latter. However, these two choices aren't mutually exclusive, nor do they represent the full range of responses to such a situation.

Geoffrey Charles said...

Hi, Chad.

Regarding your interpretation of Koukl, if it's a correct one, it's still misrepresenting the idea of moral evolution. Moral evolution doesn't assert that there's “something in us (or any other species, for that matter) that is self-consciously aware of the process of evolution” or “understands what the goal of evolution is.”

The only "realizing" going on (if you insist on using the word) is that certain actions "realize" an evolutionary advantange or disadvantage.

Geoffrey Charles said...

Hi, Chase. Hey.

“I am having difficulty understanding how morality is anything other than survival. Could you please explain it to me?”

Morality has become more than survival in the same way that other human qualities that were built into us by natural selection have.

To what can this be compared? A poor man was very hungry. He got a job for a small wage, and with it, he bought food. Over time, he saved enough to buy a mule. With it he planted a garden. He continued to work and save, until he eventually hired an employee to work in his garden. It slowly grew and became a farm. The man and his farm made more money, and hired more people. The business grew, and began to invest its money. Because of the farms investments, a school was built. Then a hospital. Then a library, a courthouse, a theater, a charity, and a church (Unity Unitarian Universalist was its name).

While the man's efforts were originated and rooted in survival, they blossomed and found their ends in other human values, such as education, employment, justice, health, generosity, happiness, meaning, and spirituality.

“If the decision on whether or not to kill someone is circumstantial, how was a standard of morality developed under natural selection?”

Some circumstances made killing evolutionarily advantageous and some made it evolutionarily disadvantageous.

“please provide an example under biological evolution that would be an invalid reason to kill a human.”

An invalid reason to kill a human would be because of going for a quick morning swim before work.

“you did not say the same. Let us take a look.”

Your quotes of me show I've previously spoken nothing of your twice-alleged banana morality.

“you should have answered, “Yes, temporarily.”

Must I qualify my every use of “yes” when not meant eternally?

“how could the non-moral, impartial system of natural selection accomplish such a partial act towards man by bringing about a sense of duty, honor, and respect (i.e. morals) amongst them?

Natural selection IS partial to species that act in beneficial ways, so, to answer your question, it accomplished “such a partial act towards man” by partially selecting the moral actions of humankind over many centuries, thus building into us our moral intuitions, emotions, and other biological responses to certain actions.

Chase said...

Hello Geoffrey,

Please consider another story:

A poor man was very hungry, so he stole food. Over time, after constantly having to steal food, he decided to kill a man to get his mule. With the mule, he planted a garden. He continued to work and save, until he eventually forced his son to work his garden. The garden slowly grew and became a farm. The man and his farm made money, and hired more people at unfair wages. The business grew and began to invest its money. Because of the farm’s investments, the man built himself a mansion. Then he bought a private jet and a Lamborgini. A library, a courthouse, a theater, a charity, and a church were built as a result of the farm’s investments as well.

The above is also a likely possibility. Is this still morality?

“Some circumstances made killing evolutionarily advantageous and some made it evolutionarily disadvantageous.”

So, should we be evaluating actions based on whether they are “moral” or “immoral” or based on whether they are “evolutionarily advantageous” or “evolutionarily disadvantageous”? Is there even a difference?

“An invalid reason to kill a human would be because of going for a quick morning swim before work.”

I am unsure what you are saying here. Are you saying that person A killing person B before person A goes for a morning swim before work is an invalid reason for person A to kill person B? If so, prehaps person A kills person B before they go for a swim because it gets them “warmed up” for their swim and makes them perform better which, in turn, increases their health and survivability. Please clarify.

“Your quotes of me show I've previously spoken nothing of your twice-alleged banana morality.”

My quotes of you show that other species have the potential to “recognize morality” and are therefore no different from the human species and that you contradicted yourself by saying that the human species is set apart from other species.

“Must I qualify my every use of ‘yes’ when not meant eternally?”

By “temporarily,” I meant that, according to your previous comments, SO FAR the human species is the only species which has “recognized morality” to an advanced degree. My comment was meant to understand your position on whether or not man’s sense of obligation sets him apart from other species. I apologize for trying to understand your position.

“Natural selection IS partial to species that act in beneficial ways, so, to answer your question, it accomplished “such a partial act towards man” by partially selecting the moral actions of humankind over many centuries, thus building into us our moral intuitions, emotions, and other biological responses to certain actions.”

If I grant that the above is true. Its seems to me that humans have no obligation to the “morality” established by natural selection. In others words it may be beneficial for a man not to kill another man to get a mule, but it is not binding upon him to not do it and he does not have to answer to natural selection. So, the biological evolutionist cannot say a human action is “right” or “wrong” only that it is “beneficial” or “not beneficial”. Why would they even use such terms as “right” or “wrong”?

I look forward to your response.

Respectfully.

Andrew Ryan said...

I agree with Geoffrey.

Sexual desire most likely developed because it increased reproduction. The more you're attracted to the opposite sex, the better it is for the survival of the species. It does NOT follow from this that people want to have sex because they want to continue the species.

Regarding 'inherent value', if I value something then by definition it has value.

"So, the biological evolutionist cannot say a human action is “right” or “wrong” only that it is “beneficial” or “not beneficial”. Why would they even use such terms as “right” or “wrong”?"

The terms 'right' and 'wrong' are understood by all - all that's required for a term to be coherent is that the users of the term have a common understanding of its meaning. Introducing God makes the terms right and wrong no more meaningful. In fact one can argue that they become LESS meaningful.

Chase said...

Hi Andrew,

Your quotes are in italics.

Sexual desire most likely developed because it increased reproduction

First off, what does this have to do with the discussion at hand? The discussion is whether or not morals evolved. Second, this is simply an assertion not an argument.

Regarding 'inherent value', if I value something then by definition it has value.

If something has inherent value, that inherent value is not derived from something else. The value is part of it, essential to it. That is the definition of inherent. So, if you give Item A value, yes, Item A has value, but not inherent value by the mere fact that you are ascribing the value and the value is not an essential part of Item A.

The terms 'right' and 'wrong' are understood by all.

To mean what exactly? Beneficial to the survivability of humanity(right) or not beneficial to the survivability of humanity (wrong)? If so, then, as I have stated before in the discussion, this is not morality. It is survival. I have been not been provided with any reason to think otherwise.

Respectfully.

Andrew Ryan said...

Chase, where does the obligation come from if there is a God?

Andrew Ryan said...

Regarding your final question, one might as well say that one cannot call any action good or bad, merely 'in accordance or not with God's nature'.

BTW: Not sure if any of my recent posts have actually posted successfully/cleared. If this is the fifth consecutive one awaiting approval then I'm sorry. If this is the first, then I'll post more when it actually appears.

Chad said...

Hello Mr. Ryan,

Questions for Greg Koukl should be directed here.

Respectfully

Andrew Ryan said...

Valuable means it has value to someone or something. The concept you forward of 'inherent value' does not appear to be a coherent one. How can you describe 'value' be an essential quality of a thing without making any reference to a person or thing that it has value to? Even if it is to God that the thing has value, that is not 'inherent value' - you're still making the value contingent on something else, even if it is a deity.

Andrew Ryan said...

Regarding the meanings or right and wrong, survival of the species are only tangental to their meaning. The concepts rest on axioms of fairness and shared values. Other higher primates grasp these concepts, without being able to explain them or rationalise them. Saying it comes down to understanding of species survival is a strawman that I believe has already been dealt with.

We have shared concepts of many other things - beauty, good art, food quality - that we cannot necessarily ground in 'objective' terms, it doesn't render the concepts incoherent.

Andrew Ryan said...

"First off, what does this have to do with the discussion at hand? The discussion is whether or not morals evolved. Second, this is simply an assertion not an argument."

I didn't realise that this commonly accepted idea NEEDED to be argued any more.

I was using the evolution of sexual desire as an analogy to help explain about moral feelings.

Andrew Ryan said...

More to the point, I didn't defend the idea that sexual attraction evolved simply because it wasn't necessary to my point whether you accepted it or not. I was making an analogy or comparison to aid my explanation of where I thought you misunderstood biologists' view of evolved moral behaviour.

To whit: saying they believe a man consciously thinks 'action x would damage my species' is a strawman in the same way as saying they believe a man consciously thinks 'Wow, those hips and mammary glands would make that woman a great mate for me to boost the species with!'.

Whether it not you accept these are evolved emotions is neither here nor there - you can still accurately understand what the argument is.

That said, I'd be interested in how you believe natural selection would NOT favour a greater over a lesser attraction to the opposite sex in a species.

As a final point, there are whole books you can read on the subject - Jared Diamond's 'Why is sex fun' is a good one to start on.

Chase said...

Hi Andrew,

I hope you had an enjoyable weekend. It is good to get back into the discussion. Again, your quotes are in italics.

where does the obligation come from if there is a God?

Which obligation are you referring to? Man’s obligation to each other or man’s obligation to God? If the Christian God exists then mankind has an obligation to him for he is a moral being with transcendent, ultimate authority over his creation. And if the Christian God exists then mankind has an obligation to each other because God has placed value upon mankind. I pose the same question to you. Where does the obligation (whichever obligation you are referring to) come from if there is no god?

Valuable means it has value to someone or something. The concept you forward of 'inherent value' does not appear to be a coherent one. How can you describe 'value' be an essential quality of a thing without making any reference to a person or thing that it has value to? Even if it is to God that the thing has value, that is not 'inherent value' - you're still making the value contingent on something else, even if it is a deity.

If God does not exist then, yes, the definition of inherent value that I posited is incoherent. For only God can have value in and of himself (inherent value). What I get from what you are saying, (please correct me if I am mistaken), is that there is nothing that has inherent value. Everything gets its value from something else. If so, then humans only have value because other humans establish that they have value. That seems very dangerous to me.

Regarding the meanings or right and wrong, survival of the species are only tangental to their meaning. The concepts rest on axioms of fairness and shared values. Other higher primates grasp these concepts, without being able to explain them or rationalise them.

So, to clarify what you are saying, fairness and values are self-evident truths? Concepts that humans and other species discover? This would mean that things are fair or valuable regardless of human opinion and action. Regardless of the action of any species.

Saying it comes down to understanding of species survival is a strawman that I believe has already been dealt with.

First off, in our original discussion of morality found here, I stated that morality is founded upon or, as you put it, “comes down to”, survivial and Geoffrey agreed. Second, in this comment string on May 7th, I asked Geoffrey the following: “You hold that the morality developed under biological evolution is truly moral. I hold that the morality developed under biological evolution is survival and that it is only labeled as morality by humans. I am having difficulty understanding how morality is anything other than survival. Could you please explain it to me?” How is asking this question a strawman?

If you follow this comment string from the date above you will see that this was not dealt with. To give an example of how ‘morality’ is more than survival, Geoffrey provided a story of a man working hard and saving until he was able to plant a garden which became a prospering business and the business’ investments resulted in libraries, museums, etc. I then provided a story of a man stealing, killing, and using others to plant his garden and develop his business. This business’ investments also resulted in libraries, museums, etc. I then asked, essentially, which is ‘morality’? He has yet to respond to this latest comment.

I think I effectively demonstrated from the story I provided that the fact that ‘morality’, under biological evolution, is based upon survival it is unable to be anything more than survival. This ‘morality’ is just a label. A label we can apply to anything that advances the survival of humanity.

Regards.

Andrew Ryan said...

"If the Christian God exists then mankind has an obligation to him for he is a moral being with transcendent, ultimate authority over his creation"

Sorry, this is just assertion and, I believe, question begging. You explain his authority over us by defining him as having a quality 'x' that basically means 'he has authority over us'. That doesn't answer the question. It is the same as the old joke of explaining how a sleeping pill works by making reference to its 'dormative qualities'.

You use the word 'moral' but say that the word only makes sense when related to God's standard. Therefore I don't really see what meaning it has to explain his authority by reference to him being a 'moral being'. What does that actually mean?

Again, whence the authority?

[Alternatively, if you're saying that it simply naturally, axiomatically, follows that any being who created us would obviously deserve to have authority over us, then you're referring to a standard or axiom EXTERNAL to this being, perhaps similar to property laws.

If such a standard or axiom exists EXTERNAL to this being, then a moral system exists with or without this being's existence. I'm putting this all in square brackets because I'm 95% certain this isn't the argument you were making.]

"So, to clarify what you are saying, fairness and values are self-evident truths? Concepts that humans and other species discover?"

I don't know, but either way my argument didn't rest on them being self-evident truths.

"If God does not exist then, yes, the definition of inherent value that I posited is incoherent"

I don't see that you've shown that God existing makes any difference to the concept of inherent value either way. If our value is contingent on your God's existence then you've made it conditional and therefore not inherent.

"For only God can have value in and of himself (inherent value)."

Who says and how so?

"What I get from what you are saying, (please correct me if I am mistaken), is that there is nothing that has inherent value. Everything gets its value from something else. If so, then humans only have value because other humans establish that they have value. That seems very dangerous to me."

I forgive you, for that's not QUITE what I was saying. I don't need anyone else to make me valuable. I can value myself. If I value myself then, be definition, I am valuable. If you deny that then you'll come against the law of non contradiction!

Andrew Ryan said...

"Because there's an oughtness about behavior that we can feel that actually precedes the behavior itself. It's not a behavior pattern, but an internal compulsion that compels us to choose certain behaviors--to do what's right--even though this moral incumbency can be denied or disobeyed. If the moral element is prior to the behavior, then it can't be the behavior itself."

You could say that the above is no different in that respect to other compulsions we have; eg to eat, to sleep, or lustful feelings. These can also be restrained, and they are also prior to the behaviour. None of them are 'ways of acting' either. If you 'grant for the sake of argument' that certain ways of acting evolved, then it doesn't seem contradictory to also grant that compulsions evolved that lead to those 'ways of acting'.

We have a choice whether to act on any of our compulsions, but feeling a strong compulsion to do something certainly makes us more likely to do it.

None of this affects your question here: "But does self-preservation truly capture what we mean when we say a thing is moral", but it does address your objection about the compulsion preceding the behaviour.

You can say that a compulsion to do something doesn't make it moral, but that is true regardless of whether one believes the compulsion is an evolved one or placed in us by an intelligent third-party.

Chase said...

Hello again Andrew,

Sorry, this is just assertion and, I believe, question begging. You explain his authority over us by defining him as having a quality 'x' that basically means 'he has authority over us'. That doesn't answer the question.

Actually, I made no assertion. Notice I said if the Christian God exists. But regardless, I want to address something more pressing.

You asked me, based upon my Christian worldview, where the obligation comes from. I then stated that it comes from God who is a moral being (righteous, loving, just, merciful, gracious, compassionate, etc. I did not think I had to define what moral meant. I apologize.) with transcendent, ultimate authority over his creation. This is how Christians define God. And this makes sense of our moral obligations because only a perfectly moral, supernatural being can have the authority to hold us to those obligations. You then proceeded to tell me, a Christian, that I cannot define who the Christian God is.

We are not arguing over definitions of worldviews. We are arguing which worldview, however they are defined, makes the most sense of our moral obligations. I provided you with my worldview and why it makes sense of our moral obligations. You have yet to do either as you never clarified which obligation you were referring to or provided an answer to the question of where the obligation (whichever one you were referring to) comes from under your worldview. Our discussion will quickly end for the reasons above.

I don't know, but either way my argument didn't rest on them being self-evident truths.

Yes, it does. You stated:

Regarding the meanings or right and wrong, survival of the species are only tangental to their meaning. The concepts [based upon the previous sentence, I assume by concepts you mean the meanings of right and wrong] rest on axioms [self-evident truths] of fairness and shared values.

So, again I ask, are you saying that fairness and values are self-evident truths? Concepts that humans and all other species discover? Concepts that are not affected by the opinions or actions of any species?

Also, your first sentence affirms what you have been saying: That the meanings of right and wrong are only slightly connected to survival/natural selection. So, does something else outside of natural selection also contribute to what right and wrong mean? If so, what is it? This is the same as the question I asked before about explaining to me how morality is anything other than survival. Which is not a strawman for you are claiming survival/natural selection only partly plays a role in the meaning of morality.

I don't see that you've shown that God existing makes any difference to the concept of inherent value either way.

I never said God’s existence keeps us from understanding the concept of inherent value. In my first comment I defined inherent value and then stated in my next comment that if God does not exist then nothing has inherent value. And I never said humans have inherent value. Each human is valuable to God and therefore each human has value regardless of what any other human says or does.

Finally, if the Christian God exists he certainly has the ability to have value in and of himself in the same way that you seem to think you have value in and of yourself (inherent value) just by you saying that you have value. But of course I am assuming that this is your position. Please clarify for me whether or not you are holding that you have inherent value and also whether or not you agree with my definition of inherent value.

I don't need anyone else to make me valuable. I can value myself. If I value myself then, be definition, I am valuable. If you deny that then you'll come against the law of non contradiction!

You value yourself, therefore you are valuable. Someone else does not value you, therefore you are not valuable.

Chase said...

Continued from previous comment...

Who is going against the law of non contradiction?

And what about those who struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide? Do these people still have value even if they do not value themselves?

I truly hope that you clarify your position a little more for me, so that our discussion can continue.

Respectfully.

Andrew Ryan said...

I stop being valuable if someone else doesn't value me? That doesn't follow. Diamonds don't stop being valuable just because you can find me someone who is indifferent to them. Anything valued by someone by definition has value.

Andrew Ryan said...

Chase, we can extrapolate outwards from ourselves to a group and then to the species as a whole or indeed any sentient beings - it's illogical to value my own life and those of my friends, family and their friends etc, but to shut off this valuing at a certain point. I can empathise with others, see that their needs, desires, feelings and capacity for happiness or pain, is similar or the same as my own, and therefore figure they deserve the same considerations and rights as myself.

Regarding concepts as fairness, it's quite possible they are emerging properties of social interactions. This might not make them 'objective', but that doesn't stop them being real on a certain level, or stop them bring concepts that all social interacting beings can understand.

I notice by the way that by inherent value you mean valuable to God. This doesn't seem inherent to me - it suggests that if God hypothetically stopped valuing you, you'd stop being valuable. This isn't 'inherent value', it's contingent, as you're saying it's subject to God valuing you. Inherently valuable in the way you seem to mean would surely mean it was valuable regardless of whether a God existed or not?

Andrew Ryan said...

To clarify my position on the role of natural selection on morality, I believe it is for the most part useful in the debate only as an explanation for human (and animal) behaviour, including our gut instincts, knee-jerk responses, sense of guilt. This doesn't make our evolved responses 'lies' or mean we should dismiss them. In fact, it probably generally is not a good idea to ignore our evolved feelings - they serve us well most of the time, in the same way our pain receptors alert us to problems.

But I also reckon that many of our evolved responses can be unhealthy - racism on a knee-jerk level, or negative reactions to the disfigured or crippled or ill - these most likely are evolved. At one point in our history they helped us, but not any more.

But evolution is useful for explaining the phenomena of much of our behaviour. See my analogy about the bilingual history class (I think that was on this thread). It doesn't, however, tell us how we SHOULD behave, except unless you're talking about a moral quandary and one of the considerations is an actions effect on the human race as a whole. But that's not the same thing.

Geoffrey Charles said...

Chase,

“Is this still morality?”

In this world, no. However, had the kinds of behavior you described actually led to greater survival, then we would've eventually considered them to be moral. So, that which we consider moral is relatively based in part upon that which conferred evolutionary advantages.

By the way, I hope my point of the story wasn't missed – behaviors, emotions, and ideas that had their roots in survival eventually blossomed into other realms of life not directly dealing with survival. For example, “justice” is no longer about group survival only, but rather it has become an end in and of itself. We've realized justice is good even if it doesn't promote survival directly.

“So, should we be evaluating actions based on whether they are “moral” or “immoral” or based on whether they are “evolutionarily advantageous” or “evolutionarily disadvantageous”?”

No, rather - certain moral origins can be explained by having, at one point, an evolutionary advantage.

“If so, prehaps person A kills person B before they go for a swim because it gets them “warmed up” for their swim and makes them perform better which, in turn, increases their health and survivability.”

Such behavior did not increase the survivability of the group. Such injustice is detrimental to social cooperation. Since evolving the emotion of fairness, we've also learned that fairness is valuable in and of itself – even if being fair doesn't promote survivability of our group. But fairness/justice are complicated and much more could be said.

“My quotes of you show that other species have the potential to “recognize morality”

I did not contradict myself. Here's why: the phrase “other species” does not mean “all species.”

“Natural selection IS partial to species that act in beneficial ways, so, to answer your question, it accomplished “such a partial act towards man” by partially selecting the moral actions of humankind over many centuries, thus building into us our moral intuitions, emotions, and other biological responses to certain actions.”

“Its seems to me that humans have no obligation to the “morality” established by natural selection.”

We have obligations put upon us by other people and ourselves. It's your burden of proof that there exists some other supernatural obligation out there somewhere.

“does not have to answer to natural selection”

Your choice of words make it seem like you just need for there to be “something to answer to.” It might be an interesting experience for you to just pretend for a while that there's nothing to answer to out there. Such exercises do help in discussions like this.

“Why would they even use such terms as “right” or “wrong”?”

You've implied the terms “right” and “wrong” only refer to actions for which we must “answer to” somebody, presumably your God. If you stop interpreting those words like a religious person, then they can be interpreted naturalistic-ly. But trying to do both at once will not make sense, as you've noticed.

Sorry for my terseness, I'm a bit tired.
Geoff

Chase said...

Hello again Geoffrey,

I am glad to pick up our discussion again. I hope everything is well since our last conversation.

In this world, no. However, had the kinds of behavior you described actually led to greater survival, then we would've eventually considered them to be moral.

So, on your view, stealing, murdering, and injustice could have been moral.

Your choice of words make it seem like you just need for there to be “something to answer to.” It might be an interesting experience for you to just pretend for a while that there's nothing to answer to out there.

I do think of this while I have these types of discussions. If there is nothing to answer to out there then I am not under any obligation to anyone. I can do as I please and if I do choose ‘moral’ behavior it is only an instinctive response. Not a result of an obligation/duty to anybody.

It's your burden of proof that there exists some other supernatural obligation out there somewhere.

I do not think that there is a burden of proof on either of us. We both agree that moral obligations exist. We are therefore examining which worldview, atheistic or theistic, makes the most sense of that existence. You have already conceeded on this thread that the Christian worldview makes sense of our moral obligations. I do not think you have shown that the atheistic worldview does the same. The story you provided did not show that ‘morality’ under naturalism is anything beyond survival. The story I provided made this clear, because even you used survival (not any type of obligation the man had towards the people he stole from, or the man he killed, or his son, or his workers, or even society as a whole) as the determining factor when deciding whether or not to label the stealing, murdering, and injustice done by the man in my story as ‘moral’.

Sorry for my terseness, I'm a bit tired.

No worries. I think though that our conversation has again run its course. You may respond if you like (And within your own timing. I do not want you wearing yourself out because you feel pressured to get a response to me) to once again try and demonstrate how atheism/naturalism makes the most sense of our moral obligations. However, from the above I think you would agree that it is perfectly rationale for me to select the Christian worldview as making the most sense of our moral obligations.

Respectfully.

Chase said...

Hey Andrew,

I notice by the way that by inherent value you mean valuable to God. This doesn't seem inherent to me - it suggests that if God hypothetically stopped valuing you, you'd stop being valuable. This isn't 'inherent value', it's contingent, as you're saying it's subject to God valuing you. Inherently valuable in the way you seem to mean would surely mean it was valuable regardless of whether a God existed or not?

In my first comment on this thread, I stated that something that has inherent value has that value in and of itself. Value is an essential characteristic of the thing. It did not get the value from something else. I think we agree on the definition of inherent value.

I then stated that if God (by God I meant the Christian God) does not exist then nothing has inherent value. For only God (as Christians define him; i.e. self-sufficient) can have value in and of himself (inherent value). Finally, I stated that each human is valuable to God and therefore each human has value regardless of what any other human says or does. The value was not what was given by God to humans, but it was their nature. That nature is that humans are made in the image of God and so value is part of human nature and therefore humans are inherently valuable. Also, because it is based in an ultimate authority (God), the value can be fully enforced consistently and continuously and will stay the same consistently and continuously. It is an ultimate value. The Christian God will not stop valuing humans for to do so would be contradictory to his nature since humans are made in his image.

Also, we can see the concept of enforcing value in the diamond example you provided. Diamonds in and of themselves are just rocks, but because an authority (human government) attributes value to them and can enforce that value, they have value, but not inherent value. But because human government is not an ultimate authority, the value of diamonds can change, and they do change, because their value is subject to human opinion. The value they have is also relative. Relative to humanity.

You, an authority, attribute value to yourself. So, you have value, but not inherent value by the mere fact that the value was given to you. But because you are not an ultimate authority, the value of you can change, and it does change, because your value is subject to your opinion. The value you have is also relative; relative to you; relative even more so than diamonds, because although you have the authority to declare yourself valuable you do not have the ability to enforce it. You could appeal to human government to enforce your value, but even then it is still relative value as seen from the diamond example above and just by taking a look at history. Governments have changed the value of human beings.

We both agree that human beings are valuable. I think I am perfectly rationale in selecting the Christian worldview as the best explanation for why they are inherently valuable. And I have provided why I have made that selection (human value is rooted in the Christian God, an ultimate, transcendent, eternal, self-sufficient, unchanging, moral being, who has created them with value). You have not provided me with a good reason (human value is rooted in changing human opinion?) to select your worldview, which I am assuming is atheism/naturalism, as the best explanation for why human beings are inherently valuable.

I also feel like our discussion is getting circular and that you are not addressing some of my questions and requests for clarification (like what obligation you were referring to earlier and where the obligation comes from and whether or not humans are inherently valuable or if you agree with my definition of inherent value), so you may have the last word if you like.

Respectfully.

Andrew Ryan said...

Chase, I didn't realise you still held there were questions I hadn't answered. I'll do my best now to directly address the points in your last post.

"human value is rooted in the Christian God, an ultimate, transcendent, eternal, self-sufficient, unchanging, moral being, who has created them with value"

I don't know what you mean by 'created with value', or even if it is a coherent concept. By what mechanism does one 'create something with value'? How does this differ in practical terms from creating something without value? You go on to suggest that what you actually mean is simply that God values us:

"Finally, I stated that each human is valuable to God and therefore each human has value regardless of what any other human says or does."

This just comes down to the same definition of valuable as I was using then. I said something was valuable because it is valued by someone, and in the above quote you appear to agree, but you make that someone God. Your definition is different only in degree, not in kind - the value is somehow better because we either change our mind or eventually die off whereas the God doesn't. I don't see why this makes it any more 'inherent'.

"I stated that something that has inherent value has that value in and of itself. Value is an essential characteristic of the thing. It did not get the value from something else. I think we agree on the definition of inherent value."

Possibly - but you deny that humans have that quality. You go on to say that the value of humans is derived from us being created by and valued by God. Remove this and you remove the value. Your answer to this is that this removal couldn't actually happen:

"The Christian God will not stop valuing humans for to do so would be contradictory to his nature since humans are made in his image. "

Regardless of your claim of the impossibility of its removal - you're still making the value contingent.

You also say this: " That nature is that humans are made in the image of God and so value is part of human nature and therefore humans are inherently valuable."

Sorry, this seems like word salad rather than a logical argument or syllogism.

Andrew Ryan said...

I missed this from your earlier post:

"If the Christian God exists then mankind has an obligation to him for he is a moral being with transcendent, ultimate authority over his creation."

I replied that this is basically just saying that man hase an obligation to God because God has quality X, with X being defined as 'conferring obligations on man'.

You then replied this: "...it comes from God who is a moral being (righteous, loving, just, merciful, gracious, compassionate, etc. I did not think I had to define what moral meant. I apologize.)"

We're talking meta-ethics, no? Neither of us should be assuming that traits such as 'righteous, loving, merciful' etc are objectively moral and obligation-causing, as that's what's being debated in the first place.

If you're asserting that a being that embodies these traits is axiomatically moral and carries moral authority, then you're begging the question.

In other words, you can't use God having these traits as being proof of his authority, as those traits being moral supposedly flows from His authority in the first place!

So we've got:
a) God has authority because he is a moral being
b) Moral means the following traits x, y, z
c) These traits x, y, z are moral because they are the traits of an authoritative moral being.

Again, this argument is question-begging, circular. Unless you just want to say that those traits are objectively moral, axiomatically moral even without reference to God, in which case you must allow atheists to say "Action b is immoral because it breaches ideas such as being righteous, loving, just, merciful, etc - surely I don't have to define what immoral means?".

My previous post got no confirmation when I submitted it. If this post comes through and the other one doesn't, then I'll re-type the first.

Andrew Ryan said...

Also just noticed this.

Me: "I don't know, but either way my argument didn't rest on them being self-evident truths."
You: "Yes, it does. You stated:
Regarding the meanings or right and wrong, survival of the species are only tangental to their meaning. The concepts [based upon the previous sentence, I assume by concepts you mean the meanings of right and wrong] rest on axioms [self-evident truths] of fairness and shared values.""

You can translate 'axiom' as 'self-edvident truth', but that's not an essential definition.

Axiom: "An axiom is a premise or starting point of reasoning. As classically conceived, an axiom is a premise so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy. The word comes from the Greek ἀξίωμα 'that which is thought worthy or fit,' or 'that which commends itself as evident.' As used in modern logic, an axiom is simply a premise or starting point for reasoning"

You and I can discuss the relative qualities of films or wines or books or country walks, and have quite coherent conversations on all these subjects without believing there exists 'objectively true' answers to any of these questions.

However, we do need to share basic axiom relating to quality. For films we will need to share basic ideas of what constitutes quality. These will be the starting points of the discussion, but they are generally unspoken. These types of discussion happen all the time, and they don't tend to start with one person ensuring the other isn't just evaluating based on the number of nude scenes.

So ideas like 'acting quality', 'enjoyability', 'script quality' may all play a major part, despite none of them being 'objective' markers of quality, and despite none necessarily being objectively provable concepts in themselves.

So my point stands in my answer: "I don't know, but either way my argument didn't rest on them being self-evident truths."

"Please clarify for me whether or not you are holding that you have inherent value and also whether or not you agree with my definition of inherent value."

To clarify: I think your concept of 'inherent value' is incoherent. Value means 'is valued by something'.

Andrew Ryan said...

Chase, I'm just trying to address every question you say I've not answered.

You said:
"...you are not addressing some of my questions and requests for clarification (like what obligation you were referring to earlier "

I've gone back to every reference I made to 'obligation'. I believe I only ever used the term in response to your OWN use of it. I think you started questioning me using the term after my second post, which was:

"Chase, where does the obligation come from if there is a God?"

I was actually responding to you saying this: "Morality under the Christian worldview is based on an obligation to God. I think it follows that if the Christian God exists then mankind has an obligation to him for he is a moral being with transcendent, ultimate authority over his creation."

So I was using the term only to try to make sense of your own use of it in your above assertion. And I've already gone into why I don't accept the coherence of that assertion in my earlier post today.

I hope this leaves all your questions answered. Notwithstanding you saying the conversation has run its course, I would welcome any further questions you have, or anything you feel I have not yet addressed.

Chase said...

Hi Andrew,

I first want to say that I am responding to more clearly state what the main purpose of my last comment was. The last word is still yours. I was trying to determine your position on the two main areas of discussion:

1. Value

I think your concept of 'inherent value' is incoherent. Value means 'is valued by something'.

When you say something, I assume you mean someone, because earlier you stated: Anything valued by someone by definition has value. It is nonsense to say that a thing can value anything. For example, a rock cannot value the ground.

That being said, is the second sentence how you define inherent value? Or is this just how you are defining value? This is the position I have been trying to understand. I have already stated that it seems to me, from earlier comments of yours on this thread, that you do not think anything has inherent value. For example, you stated:

How can you describe 'value' be an essential quality of a thing without making any reference to a person or thing that it has value to?

If this is your position, then it logically follows that if I am not valued by anyone (myself included due to depression and/or thoughts of suicide), according to your view I do not have value. Please clarify if this is your position.

Also, I find it interesting that you label my comment as word salad. This means you do not value it. But I value it. So, by your own logic you have to concede that my comment is indeed not word salad, but valuable. Is this your position?

2. Moral Obligations

Where do man’s moral obligations come from in a universe without God? Do you even think mankind has moral obligations? These are the other areas I was looking for clarity on from you.

Again, if I did not make all of this clear earlier I apologize.

I look forward to hearing your positions on these two areas.

Andrew Ryan said...

Chase, I'm not fussed about 'last word'. Keep responding or stop responding. I'm also happy for someone to say "I'm not posting any more", and then change their mind if they feel they have something more to say, or change their mind or whatever.

"That being said, is the second sentence how you define inherent value?"

No - I don't really see 'inherent value' as making sense as a concept, as it seems to say something can have value without actually having value to anybody. Your own definition of 'inherent value' includes the notion that the object of the term is valuable to God - so it still fits my own understanding of simple 'value', as opposed to so-called 'inherent value'.

"it logically follows that if I am not valued by anyone (myself included due to depression and/or thoughts of suicide), according to your view I do not have value."

Chase, I promise that you will always have value to me, even if you get depressed or suicidal! Hope this clarifies.

"So, by your own logic you have to concede that my comment is indeed not word salad, but valuable."

It can be valuable to you Chase. That does not necessarily make it coherent!

2. "Where do man’s moral obligations come from in a universe without God? "

I don't get the meaning of the second part of the sentence. It's like saying "Why do apples ferment if Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone in shooting JFK". It seems to be a non sequitur. What difference does positing a God make to the question of where our moral obligations come from?

I ask this because if I can understand what assumptions or logical argument you make in order to say where our moral obligations come from WITH a God, then I'm guessing that the same assumptions and arguments can quite logically explain them WITHOUT a God.

Andrew Ryan said...

Chase, your position is that you make the value of any human entirely contingent on the existence of God, no? If you can imagine a hypothetical universe identical to this one, with the same people, with the same hopes and dreams and capacity for suffering and happiness... but just without a God, you would say these people were worthless? Or would you still believe these people's lives had some kind of value?

[NB: If you answer that you can't answer as your God exists in every possible universe, even hypothetical ones, I'm afraid this will strike me as avoiding the question.]

And to head off a POSSIBLE question from you regarding my last post, if you start asking me about the worth of people I'm not even aware of, or conjecture about what happens if when I die, there's no-one left who values other people's lives, then the question (and answer) doesn't really change from my perspective.

That is to say, you're still asking ME for MY opinion on the worth of people. Even if it's in a situation where I'm not around, you're still asking me NOW (when I am around) if these people are valuable are not. And given that I see lives as valuable, I have to say yes. In a quantum way (think I'm using the right word), the situation is altered simply by being viewed. I can't look at an even hypothetical life and say 'it's worthless', because I don't see it as such. I view it as valuable, even if it's a life that won't start till after mine ends.

If you want to say that I'm saying the life is 'inherently valuable', then go ahead. But I don't invoke a God to explain this, nor do I think that invoking a God adds anything to the concept of 'inherently valuable'.

Andrew Ryan said...

Oh, and an extra point that I doing think has been mentioned elsewhere: it's pretty easy to 'breed' more social behaviour into dogs in just a few generations. In other words, you can quickly breed traits like friendliness and docile behaviour into dogs.

Given that, I don't see the problem in the possibility that what we view as moral instincts or behaviours could in principle have arisen in our own species through natural selection.