Friday, April 27, 2012

Featured Article: Do Objective Moral Values Exist? by Neil Shenvi

Do objective moral values really exist?  In this featured article, apologist Neil Shenvi argues that objective moral values do indeed exist.

The article addresses the following:

1. What are "objective moral values?"

2. Evidence that objective moral values exist

3. Do moral relativists really exist?

4.  Why are we moral relativists?

I highly recommend this excellent article found here.

For more articles and resources from Mr. Shenvi, see here.



Courage and Godspeed,
Chad


[HT: Wintery Knight]

69 comments:

Neil Shenvi said...

Hm. No comments yet. Have I successfully convinced everyone that belief in P2 of the Moral argument is warranted?
-Neil

Lenny said...

Well, I want to agree but I need to read it a few times over and over again.:)

Andrew Ryan said...

1) "If the biblical God exists, then He is the standard of objective moral values."

You need to explain why this objectively follows.

2) "Shouldn't altruistic acts like self-sacrifice or adoption have been weeded out of the human population by natural selection eons ago? How could the pressures of natural selection ... failed to prevent people from rushing into burning buildings or diving into icy water to save others?"

This has been explained very well by Dawkins and Coyne - if it aids the survival of the species then it will be selected FOR not against. If I sacrifice myself to save my children, then those altruistic genes I carry will survive in my kids. This still holds true if I'm sacrificing myself for non-relatives - I'm still helping the human race survive, and hence the human race as a whole will carry the capacity for altruism.

Put another way, an altruistic species will have an advantage over a completely selfish one, all other things being equal.

"All human beings do seem to have an innate sense that some things are objectively right and others are objectively wrong."

We all have an innate sense that excrement is to be avoided. It fills us with a sense of disgust, so we keep away from it. This carries an obvious evolutionary advantage - poo can harm us! Likewise we have a strong sense that pregnant women and children should be protected. Can you think of any reason that such a notion might be selected for by evolution?

Finally, if you're going to discuss 'objective morality' you need to address the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Neil Shenvi said...

Hi Andrew,
In answer to your response:

"1) If the biblical God exists, then He is the standard of objective moral values."

You need to explain why this objectively follows."

God's character is the paradigm and standard of moral goodness. That is what a theist means by 'God.' Your question is a bit like asking 'So what if there is a Platonic form of goodness? Why does it follow that there is an objective standard of goodness?' The question itself doesn't make any sense. Are you raising some kind of objection to that idea that God could be such a standard?

"This has been explained very well by Dawkins and Coyne - if it aids the survival of the species then it will be selected FOR not against"

You are confusing kin selection and group selection. Kin selection operates when I sacrifice for my genetic relatives. Group selection operates when I sacrifice for genetically unrelated people. Contrary to your claim, Coyne and Dawkins completely reject group selection because of the free rider problem (see, for instance, my link to Coyne's blog). So if you are going to appeal to group selection to explain the existence of true altruism (as opposed to reciprocal altruism), you need to provide a solution to the free rider problem.

"Finally, if you're going to discuss 'objective morality' you need to address the Euthyphro Dilemma."

No, because my essay focused only on Premise 2 of the Moral argument (objective moral values and duties exist). The Euthyphro Dilemma is only a challenge to Premise 1 of the Moral argument (In the absence of God, objective moral values and duties do not exist). See here for a succinct answer to the ED.
-Neil

Andrew Ryan said...

ED is a challenge to the premise that in God's presence objective morals DO exist.

You're saying your God has a nature. You're saying the nature is a standard of goodness. What does 'goodness' mean in this context if it relates only to God's nature? What does the label good bring to the table. You've got an 'is' of Hod's nature... Whence the ought?

Andrew Ryan said...

The link you gave on ED does actually address the questions I raise. But I don't think it does so satisfactorily. I'll reply with a quote too... Oh it seems my iPod won't allow me to copy and past from either my link or yours. I'll try the URL... The link discusses most of your link's points, but go specifically to the section starting 'God's Nature', particularly the second para:
No, that didn't work either. So google Iron chariots euthyphro's dilemma.

Andrew Ryan said...

Thanks for the correction on Dawkins and Coyne's views on altruism. Take that as being my view, not theirs, then. I would view that free riders get ostracised by groups, discouraging it as an option. I guess 'free rider' genes would be in competition with altruism genes. At any rate, at what stage in a small tribe does kin become group? All in a small group will be brothers, cousins, second and third cousins, etc.

But I'll have to read up on Dawkins own explanation for altruism. Have you, I'm guessing you have. What is your response?

Neil Shenvi said...

"ED is a challenge to the premise that in God's presence objective morals DO exist."

Yes, but this is Premise 1 of the moral argument, which I am not defending in this essay.

"You're saying your God has a nature....You've got an 'is' of God's nature... Whence the ought?"

The is-ought problem only arises if we ask for the basis of moral obligations ('oughts'). This is a separate issue. Briefly, the 'ought' of obligation is derived from the 'is' of God's commands: God's commands constitute our moral obligations.

The is-ought problem with respect to God's commands is resolved in reflecting on the nature of obligations themselves. All obligations arise from commands issued by a competent authority (think about legal obligations, family obligations, etc...) As a perfectly good moral being, God is a competent authority to issue binding moral commands, which then constitute our obligations.

"What does 'goodness' mean in this context if it relates only to God's nature?"

'Goodness' is a description of the moral quality of God's nature as opposed to his omnipotence, his omniscience, etc... which are not -in themselves- moral qualities

You are right that there is some sense in which the question 'Is God's moral nature good?' appears to introduce a problem. But such a paradox arises whenever we encounter an absolute standard. For instance, if 'goodness' were grounded in some Platonic form, we could demand 'Is the form of goodness itself good?' This is a meaningless question because asking it requires a comparison to some higher standard which, by definition, does not exist.

"I guess 'free rider' genes would be in competition with altruism genes."

Game theory predicts that 'free riders' would win out and cause the society to collapse. That is he free rider problem. True altruism is evolutionarily unstable.

"At any rate, at what stage in a small tribe does kin become group? All in a small group will be brothers, cousins, second and third cousins, etc."

I think the cross-over is at the level of cousin. It's quite rapid, since even siblings share only 25% of their genetic material.

"But I'll have to read up on Dawkins own explanation for altruism. Have you, I'm guessing you have. What is your response?"

I tentatively agree with Dawkins and Coyne who regard true altruism as a 'happy accident' for which evolution offers no explanation. It just happens to be that way. I would revise my views if anyone ever offered a compelling alternative, but I have never heard one. One might certainly exist; I am not expert in evolution. But Dawkins and Coyne presumably are, and they see no solution forthcoming.
-Neil

Andrew Ryan said...

"Game theory predicts that 'free riders' would win out and cause the society to collapse. "

Hmm, I'd have thought that would be an argument for why 'free riders' would be selected against! But I tend to defer to Dawkins and Coyne.

"As a perfectly good moral being, God is a competent authority to issue binding moral commands, which then constitute our obligations."

I'm guessing we're just not going to agree here, and I always find it aggressive when someone I'm discussing with starts naming logical fallacies they think I'm employing... but this strikes me as begging the question. One needs to get over the 'is/ought' problem to ESTABLISH God's 'perfectly good moral being', and therefore cannot invoke it in order to get over the problem.

Know what I mean?

You've got a being, he has a nature, he issues commands... I don't see how you get from that to 'He's a good being, his nature is perfectly good, his commands carry authority'.

It makes more sense to me for people to say that, say, Jesus' moral sayings are wise EXTERNALLY of his divine nature. In other words, 'Love thy neighbour' would be a good commandment regardless of who it came from, and Jesus commanding, hypothetically, that we should be cruel and vindictive would be a bad commandment even if it came from an infinitely powerful being.

But this view assumes a standard outside of God, which I'm guessing you'll reject.

" But such a paradox arises whenever we encounter an absolute standard."

Right. That's why I'm not convinced by absolute standards. To me, standards virtually by definition rely on some criteria. Discussions of morality between two or more people make sense and are coherent because we all tend to agree on basic axioms - even if we can come to different conclusions. The axioms need not rest on Divine Commands or Objective Morality for this to be the case.

Thanks for the discussion by the way Neil!

Andrew Ryan said...

I think Dawkins talks about receprical altruism. People will stop helping others if they don't get help in reverse. You point out about free riders causing socities to collapse. I think before it gets to that point the free rider has been chucked out the community! This happens with bonobos, right? It doesn't just have to be species as advanced as us. And if the society DOES collapse, then those 'free rider' genes die with them, thus selecting against such selfishness long term. But I could be missing something here - I tend to defer to Dawkins!

Neil Shenvi said...

"Hmm, I'd have thought that would be an argument for why 'free riders' would be selected against! But I tend to defer to Dawkins and Coyne."

Remember, natural selection is 'blind' and 'short-sighted.' The only thing it selects for is immediate benefit. Free-riding is definitely beneficial to the individual and as long as that is true, natural selection will select free-riders over altruists until the entire group collapses. As I said, this is why Coyne and Dawkins reject group selection. By the time it could occur, free riders would have already destroyed the group.

"One needs to get over the 'is/ought' problem to ESTABLISH God's 'perfectly good moral being'"

As I said, this isn't the is/ought problem because it does not directly relate to our obligations. As for establishing God as a 'perfectly good moral being', this is simply what theists mean when they talk about God. You may say that such a being does not exist. But you can't argue with a definition.

It's not as if we find some being whom we call 'god' and then try to figure out whether this being is good or not. It is that we posit a maximally perfect being called 'God' and ask whether He exists. Again, you can claim He does not, but you can't object to a definition.

"It makes more sense to me for people to say that, say, Jesus' moral sayings are wise EXTERNALLY of his divine nature"

Actually, I think this is a legitimate route. We can talk about 'good' (i.e. we immediately recognize that Jesus' teachings are 'good') without understanding how this concept is grounded. For instance, ancient people could talk about water long before they discovered that water was H2O. So to say that God's nature is the _ground_ for goodness is not to say that we can't _recognize_ goodness intuitively. In fact, I think that what you suggest is perhaps the best route to recognizing God's goodness because it comes from his perfect revelation in Jesus. In Jesus, we do see most clearly the fact that God is obviously and amazingly good.

"That's why I'm not convinced by absolute standards. To me, standards virtually by definition rely on some criteria. "

I've been toying with this idea, but what would you say about the laws of logic as 'absolute standards.' Are you really willing to claim that the laws of logic are simply arbitrary human conventions we reach through consensus? And certainly, I think you'd be willing to acknowledge that the laws of math or physics exist independent of human consensus. So you seem to already acknowledge several sets of non-physical, abstract laws. If so, then what is unusual about positing the existence of some non-physical standard of objective morality?

"I think Dawkins talks about receprical altruism"

Yes, but this not true altruism, as Coyne makes clear. You should read his blog post to which I link in my article as he discusses this issue a bit.

"Thanks for the discussion by the way Neil!"

My pleasure! I'm enjoying it.
-Neil

Andrew Ryan said...

I've got a reply in my head, but have been too busy to set it out.

Here's an interesting link for you. Ignore Ed Brayton's interjections - I believe he is missing the point for the most part:
http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/05/30/sanchez-v-douhat-on-religious-ethics/

Neil Shenvi said...

Andrew,
You are right that Brayton misses the point. Sanchez is making a slightly more coherent case, but there are still problems.

First, Sanchez is calling into question whether God, even if He exists, can ground objective moral values. But this actually has nothing to do with my essay, which examines whether or not objective moral values exist (premise 2 of the moral argument). So he would still have to address the points in my essay and make a case that OMVs do not exist.

Second, in his first excerpt, Sanchez is confusing 'God' with 'a god'. Because of his misunderstanding, Sanchez claims that, at best, God existence gives us prudential reasons to obey and an 'expert witness' of moral truths. But these objections hinge on a misunderstanding.

As I said, the theist does not believe in some deity like Zeus and then compare his character to some higher objective standard of 'goodness' to see whether this deity is good. Rather, the Christian _defines_ God as the metaphysical ground of goodness. As Douthat correctly replies, God himself is the standard to which we appeal to determine the goodness of anything. Notice that Sanchez then backs away from his two assertions, since they only follow if God is _not_ the metaphysical ground of good.

In his second response, Sanchez makes a new objection: God might ground moral values, but how does moral obligation flow from moral values? Why does the 'ought' of moral obligations flow from the 'is' of God's nature flow?

Here again, I think Sanchez is confused. I've never heard it claimed that our moral obligations automatically flow from God's nature. For instance, it is 'good' to be a doctor. But no one thinks that all human beings are obligated to be doctors! In fact, I believe that our moral obligations flow not from God's nature but from his commands. God's moral commands constitute our moral obligations.

Now Sanchez, if we were given the chance to respond, would probably ask: "How does 'is' flow from 'ought'? Just because X 'is' God's command, why 'ought' I to do X?' Here the answer comes simply from reflecting on the nature of obligation. An obligation is a command issued by a competent authority. That is simply what an obligation is. But if God is morally perfect, then he is the only authority competent to issue binding obligations.

Sanchez also makes the mistake of thinking that one needs a reason to obey God's commands in order for them to be obligations. That is not true at all. I am legally obligated to obey tax laws. But that obligation exists independent of the _reasons_ I have to obey the tax laws. I might obey the tax laws because someone has given me $100 to do so. I might obey them to avoid jail. I might obey them because I love paying taxes. I might even disobey them! None of these circumstances abrogates me of my obligation to obey.

So I don't see that Sanchez has really raised any serious objection to the idea that God can ground objective moral values or duties or to the thesis of my essay: that we have good evidence that objective moral values exist.
-Neil

Jim Banes said...

Looking at your five lines of evidence for the existence of objective moral values, I must confess that I don't see much of an argument there. All five seen to be saying, in one way or another, that objective moral values exist because it really, really feels like they do. That's not really much of an argument. It's basically the same one that William Lane Craig uses in his many debates on the existence of god. Unbelievably, I've only seen him called on once (but to great effect) in a 2005 debate with Arif Ahmed.

Andrew Ryan said...

"Sanchez also makes the mistake of thinking that one needs a reason to obey God's commands in order for them to be obligations."

No, he's just asking what makes them obligations. Unless you're admitting you have no reason for calling them 'obligations'.

"But if God is morally perfect, then he is the only authority competent to issue binding obligations."

Neil, this sounds a little too similar to the classic example of someone explaining how a sleeping pill works by making reference to its 'Dormative qualities'.

Where are you getting the 'morally perfect' from?

Andrew Ryan said...

Saying the Christian DEFINES God as the grounding of moral goodness doesn't get you anywhere. You cannot define your way to a solution. Imagine I tell you that you're obligated to give me all your possessions. I tell you there's a thing that I define as 'Neil's obligation to give Andrew all he owns'. I call it Qadi. Then I tell you that I further define squirrels as being the embodiment of Qadi. QED the existence of squirrels obligates you to write me a big cheque.

Have I proved anything? No, I haven't showed the existence of Qadi or explained how squirrels embody it. I've just asserted some definitions. Likewise, simply saying you define God in a certain way does not get you round the is/ought question.

A particularly silly reductio ad absurdem, I know! I mean no disrespect.

Andrew Ryan said...

Regarding laws of logic, do you think that a God is needed to explain them?

I've always found it odd to take 'A must = A' and call that a law, like it's an actual thing, something that perhaps requires explanation. It seems more like simply a self-evident tautology.

Yes, a rock on Pluto would still be a rock on Pluto even if there were no life forms in the universe. That 'law' applies irrespective of our existence. But that's not like saying 'that would still be evil' or 'Charlize Theron would still be beautiful' or 'Citizen Kane would still be a great film' even if there were no humans.

Neil Shenvi said...

Jim,
"All five seen to be saying, in one way or another, that objective moral values exist because it really, really feels like they do."

I'm not sure what you mean by 'in one way or another'. Only point 3 makes any reference to the fact that the majority of human beings have the intuition that OMVs exist. If you would like to provide an explanations for all of these points which is more plausible than the explanation that OMVs exist, you are welcome to do so.

Neil Shenvi said...

"No, he's just asking what makes them obligations. Unless you're admitting you have no reason for calling them 'obligations'."

No, he's asking for reasons to _obey_ our obligations. For instance, he talks about our 'motivations' to perform moral acts. As I said, he is confusing our personal reasons for fulfilling our moral obligations with the existence of moral obligations themselves.

"Where are you getting the 'morally perfect' from?"

This is what Christians (and theists in general) mean by God. God is, by definition, morally perfect. A being who is not morally perfect might be a 'god' like Zeus, but would not be God.

"I tell you there's a thing that I define as 'Neil's obligation to give Andrew all he owns'. I call it Qadi."

I think what you are trying to say is that I could define 'Qadi' as the pink unicorn in my bedroom. But this definition does not make the pink unicorn exist. Granted. But you are still free to make this definition. We would simply have to argue the question of the existence of Qadi separately just as we argue the existence of God separately from his definition. I am defining 'God' biblically as our morally perfect Creator. You can deny that such a God exists, but it doesn't make sense to argue that my definition is wrong.

"Likewise, simply saying you define God in a certain way does not get you round the is/ought question"

I admit that there does exist an is/ought gap in going from 'X is a command of God' to 'We ought to do X'. But I'm not simply defining "moral obligations" as "God's commands." I am asking "What could possibly constitute binding moral obligations?" and considering the plausible alternatives.

It seems to me that if I ground my 'moral obligations' in anything other than God's commands (say, in my spouse's desires, in the commands of my parents, or in the laws of society), I could still always say "So what if X _is_ the command of my spouse/parents/society. Why _ought_ I to do X?" In particular, two questions seem to be important:
1. Are the commands of some entity A always good?
2. Does entity A have the authority to issue binding commands to me?
Now the only entity for which we can always answer 'yes' to both of these questions is a morally perfect Creator God. Such an entity would always command what is good and would have the authority to demand my obedience.

Neil Shenvi said...

So God alone serves as a plausible stopping point for the infinite regress that comes of asking 'Why ought I do X?' The only alternative to positing God as the source of objective moral duties seems to be to deny that objective moral duties exist at all, which is quite a radical step. If you disagree, could you suggest what more plausible ground for the existence of objective moral duties can be offered?

"Regarding laws of logic, do you think that a God is needed to explain them? I've always found it odd to take 'A must = A' and call that a law, like it's an actual thing, something that perhaps requires explanation. It seems more like simply a self-evident tautology."

Actually, my original question was whether you recognize that the laws of logic are non-physical entities not based on human consensus. Certainly, the laws of physics or mathematical relations are not themselves physical entities. If so, then what is so odd about non-physical moral truths not based on human consensus? Certainly, we can't claim that mathematics and physics are 'self-evident' or 'tautological', so this objection seems unimportant.

And entirely apart from this question, we can consider whether invariant, nonphysical rules of logic, physics and mathematics are best explained by the existence of a supernatural mind whose thoughts are reflected in such rules. The best atheistic alternative I can think of is to say "These things don't need explanations. They just happen to be this way." That's not very satisfying to me.

Andrew Ryan said...

No, you miss the point with your pink unicorn. I'm saying that we can take something that DOES exist, and say 'i define it to have quality x', but that doesn't make that quality a coherent one; you can't define that quality into existence.

The Infinite regress does not stop with your God simply by you defining that God as ending it.

Andrew Ryan said...

Regarding laws of maths, take the value of Pi. You might find it unsatisfying to say the value is an inherent part of a circle, or whatever, but I don't see how positing a God is any more of a satisfying answer for why Pi is 3.1416 etc. Are you saying God MADE it that number? That he could have made it 3.9, or 42? How?

Regarding denying 'objective morality' - I don't see why this is radical. Claiming an objective morality seems radical to me. I'm not even convinced it's a coherent concept. If you're saying it depends on a God then it seems it isn't objective anyway - it's subject to a God's existence.

Andrew Ryan said...

If someone else defined God as 'morally evil', how would you both determine which of you was correct? Even coming across this God and looking at His actions wouldn't help you - whether torturing kittens or healing the sick, one couldn't judge these actions good or evil without reference to the God's nature. If the other guy was right, even the healing would be 'evil''. If you're right, even the kitten torture would be good. How would you know whose definition was right? What meaning would either of your definitions actually have?

Andrew Ryan said...

One extra question, Neil. If you're comparing 'objective morality' to laws of physics, maths etc, does that mean you believe one could go about proving, testing or demonstrating any 'moral laws', in the way that you can with maths and physics?

Neil Shenvi said...

"No, you miss the point with your pink unicorn. I'm saying that we can take something that DOES exist, and say 'i define it to have quality x', but that doesn't make that quality a coherent one; you can't define that quality into existence."

Ah, I think I see the issue. When we talk about 'defining' a concept, we mean associating a token or word with some set of properties. This I can do without restriction. I could indeed define 'PINKUNICORN' to be 'the metaphysically ultimate ground of value and meaning.' That is a perfectly acceptable definition as long as I am clear that the token 'PINKUNICORN' is _not_ to be associated with the plush toy in my bedroom. This is where I think your confusion arises. You are taking an token ('pink unicorn') that stands for an object with you are already familiar and giving it new properties.

This we cannot do unless we are prepared to answer question: 'Why think that the metaphysically ultimate also has the property of being a plush toy?' This is where the pink unicorn example fails. I have no reason to believe that the plush toy in my bedroom is also the 'metaphysically ultimate ground of value and meaning'. Yet this does not mean that there is no metaphysical ultimate ground of value and meaning!

"The Infinite regress does not stop with your God simply by you defining that God as ending it."

It does if we define God as 'the metaphysically ultimate ground of value and meaning.' Now it is entirely possible for someone to question whether the end of this infinite regress of moral goodness ALSO ends the infinite regress of causation or explanation (as it is claimed that God does). And it is possible for someone to claim that there are no objective moral values in which case there is no regress. But again, it is not possible to say "You can't define God to be the metaphysically ultimate ground of value and meaning."

Neil Shenvi said...

"I don't see how positing a God is any more of a satisfying answer for why Pi is 3.1416 etc. Are you saying God MADE it that number? That he could have made it 3.9, or 42? How?"

I haven't thought carefully about universals in relation to God. My gut feeling would be to say that pi=3.141592 is a necessary truth because it reflects God's thoughts (rules of logic are in the same category). But Christian philosophers hold a variety of opinions on this view.

"Regarding denying 'objective morality' - I don't see why this is radical. Claiming an objective morality seems radical to me."

It's radical for two reasons. First, it flies in the face of our most radically basic intuitions. Even the most hardened relativist, if you catch them off-guard, will see some terrible evil and say in his heart 'It is wrong. It is WRONG.' I have met zero people whom I can account as true moral anti-realists.

If you'd like to convince me that you are a moral anti-realist, convince me that you would unhesitatingly accept the Cipher challenge and murder a thousand children in return for amnesia and a big house. It might also be worth reading the following essay which shows how our practical thirst for truth gives the lie to any professed moral anti-realism:
http://www.shenvi.org/Essays/SeekTruth.htm

And second, you'll still have to answer the five points in my essay. If you can't, then you have five pieces of evidence in favor of moral realism and none in favor of moral anti-realism.

It would be a radical choice indeed to adopt moral-antirealism in the face of your own strong intuition and the evidence!

"I'm not even convinced it's a coherent concept. If you're saying it depends on a God then it seems it isn't objective anyway - it's subject to a God's existence."

God's existence is necessary as is his nature. That is why OMVs can be grounded in his moral nature.

Neil Shenvi said...

"If someone else defined God as 'morally evil', how would you both determine which of you was correct?"

Stephen Law did this in his debate with Wiliam Lane Craig. See answers here:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-evil-god-objection
or here:
http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2011/11/stephen-laws-incoherent-evil-go/

"If you're comparing 'objective morality' to laws of physics, maths etc, does that mean you believe one could go about proving, testing or demonstrating any 'moral laws', in the way that you can with maths and physics?"

No. I was merely pointing out that you yourself already believe in the existence of numerous immaterial, non-physical entities. If you already are committed to belief in such entities, what is inherently irrational with positing the existence of another class of immaterial, non-physical entities: namely, objective moral facts?

Andrew Ryan said...

The non-physical entities you refer to that I already accept seem to be things like descriptions of the way physical objects behave like the laws of gravity, or tautologies like the law on non contradiction. It seems like a stretch to even call these 'entities'. That aside, I don't see how these are comparable to conjectured 'objective morals'. Questioning the latter has nothing to do with accepting or rejecting something on the basis that it is 'immaterial' or non-physical.

Andrew Ryan said...

Oh dear, you're linking to WLC arguments? The apologist for genocide? What right has he to divide morals at all? Re the cipher challenge, WLC has no problem with murdering a thousand kids even without the house and amnesia. The question is absurd anyway. And if we're relying on the evidence of my intuition, my intuition tells me the genocide condoned in the bible is immoral.

Andrew Ryan said...

Regarding your five points:
1) that cultures have morality in common is not evidence for objective morality. For a start, there's much between cultures that differ significantly. The most extreme behaviours are taboo in most, and they are all behaviours that directly damage society. Simple survivor bias is at play here. Societies that routinely slaughtered their babies would die out! Also, all societies have a taboo against excrement, fir equally obvious survival reasons. This doesn't mean excrement is 'objectively disgusting'.

Andrew Ryan said...

As for the other points I'm afraid I have to agree that they mostly just come down to you feel that objective morality exists. I'd pretty much other dispute the assertions in your five points or reject that they count as evidence. Most philosophers accept objective morality? I'd say that most either reject it a la Euthyphro or they attempt to ground it without reference to God. And even if they all accepted it, that's just an argument from authority.

As for 'we all act as if it exists' - who says? I act as if I have values, but no God is required for that. I just have to value something.

Andrew Ryan said...

Actually I do remember Law making that argument and I agree with him. I wouldn't accept the Cipher challenge because I value the lives of 1000 kids more than a house. This is true regardless of whether I can make myself forget about their deaths after I've made the decision. I would choose their deaths in the first place. The question is so bizarre (and insulting) that I was tempted to treat it with the contempt it deserved and ignore it completely, so take it as a courtesy to you that I gave it as much consideration as I do above!

Andrew Ryan said...

Pi is only so because it reflects God's thoughts? What does that even mean, Neal? So he could he change his mind? Could he have made it something else? If Pi equalled something else then it wouldn't really be a circle, would it? I'm afraid this line of reasoning doesn't really make much sense. I'd hazard a guess that you'd say 1+1=2 is only true because it reflects God's thoughts too. So what would it equal if there was no God or a different God? If your reply is that it is necessary to have a God whose thoughts reflect that it equals 2, I'd say that that is a roundabout way of saying that it has to equal 2 regardless of a God. Even if a God declared that it equalled 3, it still would stubbornly remain 2.

And if one can accept that some things are just so regardless of a God's thoughts, opinion or even existence, then this could apply to lots of other things too.

Jim Banes said...

You said in your 5 evidences:

1. Nearly universally across human cultures, there exist the same basic standards of morality. In addition, there exist in all cultures truly altruistic acts which lead to no personal or genetic benefit.

OK, maybe you got me on this one. True, you didn't say anything about these universal basic standards existing as a result of human intuition. On the other hand, you didn't explain how this observation counts as evidence for the objective nature of these universal standards. There is no reason to believe that they are objective in any meaningful sense of the word. They could just as easily be the result a Rousseau-like social contract.

2. The majority of people who explicitly deny the existence of objective morality still act as if objective morality exists.

Why? Because it intuitively feels like it does.

3. There exists a nearly universal human intuition that certain things are objectively right or wrong.

Because it intuitively feels like they are.

4. The majority of philosophers recognize the existence of objective moral facts.

Because they intuitively feel like there are.

5. Many naturalists (like Sam Harris or Shelley Kagan) affirm the existence of objective moral facts, despite the problems inherent in grounding these facts in the natural world.

Again, because they intuitively feel that they exist.

It seems to me that the last 4 of your evidences depend on people's intuitions, conscious or unconscious, regarding the existence of objective moral values. The first, although it doesn't explicitly state it, at least strongly implies it.

My point is this: I have never seen a convincing argument for the existence of objective moral values. The only evidence I have ever seen offered for their existence is that many people, maybe even most people, believe in them, or at least behave as if they really do exist. But feelings or intuitions are lousy evidence for the existence of things like objective moral values.

The majority of philosophers and neuroscientists, for example, would deny the existence of libertarian free will. They can furnish very convincing intellectual arguments against it. These arguments make sense to me and I accept them as true. I cannot, however, completely rid myself of the feeling that I do in fact have libertarian free will. I recognize, however, that sometimes my feelings can mislead me.

Like with free will, intuition is no evidence for the existence of objective moral values.

Chad said...

"The apologist for genocide?"

Dr. Craig has responded this charge here.

This is merely an ad hominem argument and further comments on this topic will not be published.

Let's stay on track.

Respectfully

Chad said...

Correction:

"to this charge"

My apologies

Neil Shenvi said...

Re: the existence of immaterial laws of physics, math, logic, etc..., you wrote:

"It seems like a stretch to even call these 'entities'. That aside, I don't see how these are comparable to conjectured 'objective morals'. Questioning the latter has nothing to do with accepting or rejecting something on the basis that it is 'immaterial' or non-physical"

Right. But you originally said that you question 'all absolute standards' and that morals were based on human consensus. I pointed out that you accept other immaterial objective or absolute standards as elements in your ontology. If so, then why think that objective moral values are impermissible? Because they describe 'value' rather than 'fact'? This merely begs the question!

"Oh dear, you're linking to WLC arguments?"

This is not a defense of the 'evil God' challenge, so I cannot respond to it.

"Also, all societies have a taboo against excrement, fir equally obvious survival reasons."

This is an appeal to group selection. If you are prepared to defend it, you'll have to address the free-rider problem, as I mentioned above, and show why Coyne and Dawkins are wrong in rejecting it.

"I wouldn't accept the Cipher challenge because I value the lives of 1000 kids more than a house."

Ok. Take the amorality pill question next. If I offered you a pill that would destroy all your _negative_ moral emotions like guilt and leave only the positive ones (joy, gratitude, etc...), would you take it? It wouldn't force you to kill 1000 children for a big house. But if you wanted to, you could do so without a single pang of conscience. Would you take the pill? If not, why not?

"Most philosophers accept objective morality?"

Yes, I linked to the survey that shows this is true.

"I'd say that most either reject it a la Euthyphro"

This is false. See the survey.

"or they attempt to ground it without reference to God."

This is correct. But in my essay, I am not arguing for P1 of the MA, but only P2 (OMVs exist).

"As for 'we all act as if it exists' - who says? I act as if I have values, but no God is required for that. I just have to value something."

What I think an alien anthropologist would find interesting is that the things the moral anti-realist happens to value are hard to explain if he really, truly believes in moral anti-realism. You value a big house. You strive and work for it. Yet for some reason, you are unwilling to kill 1000 random children, whom you've never met and whom you are guaranteed to forget, for the concrete pleasure of a big house. I find this revealing. What it shows is that we know there is a right and wrong after all. Even the moral anti-realist can bring himself to act consistently with his worldview.

"And if one can accept that some things are just so regardless of a God's thoughts, opinion or even existence, then this could apply to lots of other things too."

No, you were on the right track when you observed that universals could be necessary thoughts of a rational God. On this view, logic, math and reason themselves are reflections of God's thoughts. Or you could be a nominalist. As I said, there are many options that Christian philosophers have defended, so I won't hazard a guess as to which is true.

Neil Shenvi said...

Jim,
Point 1. "On the other hand, you didn't explain how this observation counts as evidence for the objective nature of these universal standards. There is no reason to believe that they are objective in any meaningful sense of the word."

The hypothesis that OMVs exist and we have intuitive perception of them explains why there are both universal standards of human behavior and true altruism across almost all cultures. If OMVs do not exist, these behaviors are much hard to explain.

"They could just as easily be the result a Rousseau-like social contract."

This completely fails to explain true altruism which, by definition, is non-reciprocal. It also fails to explain the existence of basic standards of morality among societies who have not heard of Rousseau or bothered to think about the foundations of law.

Point 2. "Why? Because it intuitively feels like it does."

I think you haven't appreciated the strength of this evidence. Let me elaborate on what I said to Andrew above. I've talked to people who claim to be moral relativists. They deny that there is objective good and evil. Yet when they are asked to take the Cipher Challenge or the amorality pill, they hesitate. Why?

These are people who insist that they intuitions are illusions. Yet they can't transcend them. If I had an irrational fear of heights, I would work to eradicate it if it was preventing me from achieving my goals. But moral anti-realists think that their conscience is _exactly_ such an illusion, yet they cannot eradicate it and are not even willing to do so (as the amorality pill thought experiment shows). This is evidence that, despite their claims, deep down inside, they are not moral anti-realists. Their whole life is evidence against them. And this fact is better explained by the existence and perception of OMVs than their non-existence.

Point 3.
"Because it intuitively feels like they are."

Yes, this point appeals to near-universal human intuition.


Point 4. "Because they intuitively feel like there are."

This is not at all fair to philosophers. Do you really think they have never considered the possibility that OMVs are simply illusions? Of course they have! Philosophers above all people should be those who have given such issues careful thought. But the majority of them favor moral realism. This would be surprising if OMVs did not exist.

Point 5: "Again, because they intuitively feel that they exist."

Again, are you really suggesting that Harris and Kagan and others have never considered the possibility that OMVs do not exist? The fact that they affirm their existence, despite how problematic they are if naturalism is true, is evidence that they do in fact exist and Harris and Kagan can perceive them immediately, just like the rest of us.

To make your objections to points 4 and 5 stick, you're going to have to convince us that the _only_ reason the majority of philosophers and naturalists like Karan or Harris believe in OMVs is that they are naively following their intuition and have never had the self-reflection to notice that this is what they are doing. That's a tough case to make! But you're welcome to make it.

All of these points present a cumulative case for the existence of OMVs. I can't see that you've presented a good objection to any of these points. And even if you did, you would still need to make a positive case of your own that OMVs do not exist. Again, I'd be interested to hear that case made.

Andrew Ryan said...

Neil, I'm baffled by your conclusion re the cypher challenge. I value the lives of children regardless of whether I've met them or not. Why make 'meeting them' a precondition of valuing their lives? And yes, I value their lives more than I value a house. Your question is utterly bizarre to me. That I value a child's life more than bricks and mortar says nothing about an 'intuitive belief in OMV', and it's a complete non sequitur to suggest
It does.

Your arguments here seem to mainly rest on claiming we intuitively believe in OMV', based on how you think people would rationally behave if they did not. It's a strawman argument.

Andrew Ryan said...

I wouldn't take the amorality pill because it would lead me to destroy things that I value. Why is this supposed to be a hard question? You might as well ask me if I'd take a pill that would lead me to cut my own arm off. The question presupposes that I only avoid killing kids because I don't want the guilt. It's another strawman.

Andrew Ryan said...

Regarding 'appeal to group selection', are you really saying that I need to make a big case to convince you that humans would evolve a feeling of revulsion to those who torture children or go round murdering people? Neil, can you explain to ME how the 'free rider' problem might allow humans to develop POSITIVE or at least ambivalent feelings to murderers and child torturers. Really? I understand your objection to it encouraging altruism, but you're reaching into odd territory to use the same argument here.

Regarding Laws' evil God argument, I've already said that I pretty much agree with him. If neither of us have time to do more than refer each other to other people's arguments and responses, then there's a dead end there.

Andrew Ryan said...

"Philosophers above all people should be those who have given such issues careful thought. But the majority of them favor moral realism. This would be surprising if OMVs did not exist."

Neil, I've had another look at the survey. If anything it makes your argument harder, not easier.

56.3% Accept or lean toward: moral realism. As a quick tangent, does that mean if just 6.3% changed their mind that you'd accept that as an argument AGAINST OMV? That's not particularly compelling.

But far worse, 72.8% of the same polled philosophers claim to lean towards atheism, a MUCH greater number.

By your own logical argument, you therefore have to say: "Philosophers above all people should be those who have given such issues careful thought. But the majority of them favor atheism. This would be surprising if God actually existed."

Furthermore, given the figures, it follows that half or more of those who favour moral realism are also atheist leaning, and therefore do NOT think that a God explains moral realism, or indeed believe that moral realism is evidence FOR a God. Again, using your logic, these philosophers 'give these matters careful thought', and therefore their opinion is part of cumulative evidence AGAINST OMV being evidence for a God.

Either that, or they don't see moral realism as being in any way synonymous with or evidence for OMV.

"The fact that they affirm their existence, despite how problematic they are if naturalism is true"

As I've already pointed out, it's equally problematic if supernaturalism is true. If you can simply define your way out of it in the latter, you can equally define your way out of it with naturalism.

Graceus said...

Hello, Andrew. This is an interesting conversation you're having here. I am curious about your statement "I wouldn't take the amorality pill because it would lead me to destroy the things that I value." So, if you didn't value children, and you valued and desired a house more, what is there to prohibit you from taking the pill and killing the children in order for you to obtain your heart's desire? This is not a straw man fallacy, by the way, because it still deals with the OMVs.

Graceus said...

Andrew, it is interesting that you mention the free rider problem and people having ambivalent feelings towards murderers or people who torture children. Generally, we see those feelings that some people have towards murderers and people who torture children as unnatural. We tend to think of people who feel that way as having something wrong with their cognitive faculties, while true altruism is viewed as normal, and we don’t think of super niceness as a fluke of nature. So while Neil has cited Dawkins and Coyne to back up his claim, you will need to provide evidence that supports your claim if you do not agree.

Regarding the Evil God argument-how can God be evil if OMVs do not exist? If OMVs do not exist, all that you would have is your opinion that God is a big, invisible meanie. You cannot even use the Evil God Argument unless you affirm the existence of OMVs, and you cannot say that God is truly evil for the circumstances regarding the Canaanites; it would only be your preference that you dislike God’s actions, the same as it would be your preference to dislike stinky shoes. It seems as though you want to be able to state beyond your own subjective opinion that certain things are really evil and bad, but you cannot have that on your worldview. You can only have your opinion, and others would also be entitled to their own opinions. You have to borrow from the Christian worldview if you want things to line up with reality.

The poll that Neil provided can be used as evidence in support of the existence of Objective Moral Values. If this is not evidence for OMVs, can you explain why the majority of philosophers would believe that way? Usually, when people have a problem with a poll, they attempt to explain the numbers away. But what explanation can be given for the majority of philosophers believing in OMVs? Obviously, some of them do not see a problem with unbelief in God and OMVs existing. So, why would they not want to believe in subjective moral values?

Andrew Ryan said...

Graceus, I don't think you read my posts carefully. Your first paragraph says nothing that argued with anything I said. It seems to be arguing against someone else's points.

Your second para: The point is that using God to explain OMVs is that it presupposes a good God. You have to start by asserting 'God is morally perfect'.

Your third para says nothing that I didn't address in the post you purport to answer. Read my post again.

In short: no part of your post makes a point for me to actually answer.

Andrew Ryan said...

"But what explanation can be given..."

As I've already pointed out, if you're going to make that argument you also have to answer what explanation can be given for a FAR greater majority of philosophers rejecting belief in God. If you're opting for this argument from authority then it actually digs you into a far deeper hole.

Your tactic for 'rebutting' me appears to be to completely ignore the actual points I raised.

Neil Shenvi said...

"I wouldn't take the amorality pill because it would lead me to destroy things that I value."

No, not at all. Reread the description. The amorality pill would merely remove your illusory negative moral emotions without forcing you to do anything. It would allow you to kill children without guilt, but would not force you to do it. You could then rationally, unemotionally decide whether the big house was more likely to bring you happiness than the lives of a thousand children whom you had never met without the nagging and erroneous intuition that 'murder is wrong.'

"Neil, can you explain to ME how the 'free rider' problem might allow humans to develop POSITIVE or at least ambivalent feelings to murderers and child torturers. Really?"

The free-rider problem is a problem for true altruism because it predicts that group selection cannot exist and therefore cannot be used to explain true altruism.

As to the question of whether evolution could produce in us positive feelings about murderers and child torturers, this is quite simple. Even in the presence of group selection, murdering or torturing out-group members should be highly favored, because it would allow the in-group community to flourish by out-competing the out-group. So evolution could certainly have produced in us a love and admiration for murderers and child-killers as long as the victims were not part of our tribe.

"Regarding Laws' evil God argument, I've already said that I pretty much agree with him. If neither of us have time to do more than refer each other to other people's arguments and responses, then there's a dead end there."

I can give you several answers to the 'evil God' objection.

First, theists define God as the paradigm of moral goodness. A 'god' like Zeus might be evil, but not God as Christians define him. You can argue that such a God may not exist. But you cannot argue that God might actually be evil any more than we could claim that a square might actually be round.

Second, because evil is a privation of goodness, then any metaphysically ultimate being could not be evil. Good can exist without evil but evil cannot exist without good. So an evil being could not be a necessary being because it would be contingent on the existence of a good being. Therefore, if God is a necessary being (as Christians claim) then it is metaphysically impossible for him to be evil.

Third, the notion of an 'God who does what is wrong' is incoherent because it requires that such a god violate his moral obligations. But moral obligations can only be imposed by a competent authority. So a 'God who does what is wrong' cannot be metaphysically ultimate; the fact that he can do wrong proves that there must be some higher entity who imposes on him moral duties which he is then able to violate.

For all of these reasons, Law's 'evil God' objection fails.

Neil Shenvi said...

"56.3% Accept or lean toward: moral realism. As a quick tangent, does that mean if just 6.3% changed their mind that you'd accept that as an argument AGAINST OMV? That's not particularly compelling."

That is correct. If the data on moral realism changes, then you can use it as an argument in favor of moral anti-realism. But since the data is what I have stated, you need to deal with it as it is rather than speculating about what might happen in the future.

"But far worse, 72.8% of the same polled philosophers claim to lean towards atheism, a MUCH greater number....Again, using your logic, these philosophers 'give these matters careful thought', and therefore their opinion is part of cumulative evidence AGAINST OMV being evidence for a God."

Sort of. There are two problems here.

The first is that this observation only counts as evidence against God's existence if the hypothesis that 'God exists' cannot account for the unbelief of professional philosophers. I can't speak for other religions, but Christianity does indeed account for this phenomena. The Bible goes out of its way to state that God is not discovered by the wildly intelligent, brilliant, successful, strong and powerful, but by the weak, humble, and despised (see 1 Cor. 1). So if Christianity in particular is true, we would not necessarily expect to see it accepted by the majority of philosophers.

Second, you correctly point out that the opinion of philosophers would only be one point in a cumulative case. Abductive reasoning seeks the _best_ explanation for a set of observations. An explanation need not encounter zero counterevidence; it need merely have more evidence in its favor than against it. If we were arguing God's existence, I would be willing to grant that the atheistic beliefs of the majority of philosophers is evidence against it (setting aside my first point for a moment). However, against this observation I would set a vast amount of other evidence: philosophical, scientific, and historical. So it would not be the case of a piece of evidence determining the conclusion, but the weight of a cumulative case.

"As I've already pointed out, it's equally problematic if supernaturalism is true. If you can simply define your way out of it in the latter, you can equally define your way out of it with naturalism."

First, you have not shown that the theistic account of OMVs is problematic. You have raised both the Euthyphro Dilemma and the 'Evil God' challenge, but I have answered both.

Second, you cannot 'define your way out of it' on naturalism. If you think you can (say, by defining 'the good' as 'what contributes to the flourishing of sentient creatures'), you should you listen to the Craig-Harris debate found here:
http://www.apologetics315.com/2011/04/william-lane-craig-vs-sam-harris-debate.html

Neil Shenvi said...

Andrew,
In reply to Grace, you wrote:
"Your second para: The point is that using God to explain OMVs is that it presupposes a good God. You have to start by asserting 'God is morally perfect'."

Here, you're mistaken. The theist says "God's perfectly good character is the ground of OMVs." The atheist replies "But what if God is evil?" To which Grace correctly asks "What did you mean when you just used the word 'evil'?"

That is a question that the atheist cannot answer. I grant that the theist defines God as perfectly good. But when the atheist talks about 'an evil God' has has just uttered an incoherent phrase ('an evil perfectly-good-being'). Unless you can provide us with some coherent explanation of what you mean by 'an evil perfectly-good-being', your objection is not meaningful.

And if you define 'God' to be 'a perfectly bad being', then you will have to answer the objections I raised above to such a definition (evil as privation; wrong as transgression of moral obligation).

Andrew Ryan said...

"The theist says "God's perfectly good character is the ground of OMVs." The atheist replies "But what if God is evil?" To which Grace correctly asks "What did you mean when you just used the word 'evil'?"

You've got it backwards. The atheist is merely pointing out the [correct!] question: "What did you mean when you just used the phrase 'Perfectly good character'?"

"The amorality pill would merely remove your illusory negative moral emotions without forcing you to do anything. It would allow you to kill children without guilt, but would not force you to do it."

I read it perfectly well thank you. I already pointed out that it presupposes that 'guilt' is the reason or at least a major reason that I don't kill kids. If you think this applies to yourself then fair enough, but don't judge me by your own standards. My previous answer stands perfectly well. Saying 'It wouldn't force you to do it' is neither here nor there.

"You could then rationally, unemotionally decide whether the big house was more likely to bring you happiness than the lives of a thousand children"

I still value the lives of kids more than bricks and mortar, therefore the rational decision would still be not to take the house. The question of how much happiness the kids bring me is irrelevant to my decision.

"First, theists define God as the paradigm of moral goodness."

For that sentence to make sense you need to define what you mean by 'moral goodness'.

"But since the data is what I have stated, you need to deal with it as it is rather than speculating about what might happen in the future."

You miss my point. I was pointing out that the majority you refer to is just a few percentage points, not particularly significant.

"Second, because evil is a privation of goodness. Good can exist without evil but evil cannot exist without good."

Who says? That's pure assertion. Is it only true if there's a perfectly moral God, or would it be true regardless? If the former, then it's a circular argument to use the assertion as an argument FOR a perfectly moral God.

"So if Christianity in particular is true, we would not necessarily expect to see it accepted by the majority of philosophers."

Sorry Neil, but this is hogwash. Either you cite the philosopher's majority opinion as evidence on your side or you don't.

"However, against this observation I would set a vast amount of other evidence: philosophical, scientific, and historical."

And I'd equally claim the above is all evidence against, but that's irrelevant anyway – your argument is special pleading Neil.

"You have raised both the Euthyphro Dilemma and the 'Evil God' challenge, but I have answered both."

And I answered back re: the Euth Dilemma. You're defining your way out of it. If I start by merely 'defining' murder or unfairness or whatever as being wrong 'by definition' then I can build objective moral values till the cows come home. But both you and I would be 'smuggling in' the objective part. And starting by asserting that 'I define God as the paradigm of moral goodness' is certainly 'smuggling in the objective'.

Graceus said...

Hello, Andrew. Actually, with the first paragraph you only asked a question which I explained, but Neil explained it better. So, it was only an explanation, but I have to point out that you actually didn’t have a counter-argument for Neil’s claim of the free rider problem.

Regarding the second paragraph, your complaint is that I need to presuppose a good God first. However, God, by _definition_, is omni benevolent. His good nature is the absolute standard for goodness. You have not answered my objection to the Evil God argument. Since you deny that OMVs exist, God cannot be objectively evil on your worldview. It can only be your subjective preference or opinion that God is a baddie; basically, there’s no need on your view to be outraged by the 911 terror acts on the Twin Towers or Hitler’s annihilation of the Jews or when people’s civil rights are taken away because morality is subjective to each individual on atheism!

I just read Neil’s reply to you, “An explanation need not encounter zero counterevidence: it need merely have more evidence in its favor than against it,” which was what I was trying to get from you-an explanation as to why the majority of philosophers would choose OMVs over SMVs. Do you have an explanation that supports your view better? If not, then Neil is justified in his explanation of the evidence.

The point I was trying to show with my original comment was that you have offered nothing that refutes any of Neil’s evidence for OMVs. Also, I am still wondering, since you haven't answered my question yet, if you no longer valued children, but you valued and desired a house more, what is there to prohibit you from taking the pill and killing the children in order for you to obtain your heart's desire? Would you then do it? Why or why not?

Hopefully I didn't post this twice

Neil Shenvi said...

"I still value the lives of kids more than bricks and mortar, therefore the rational decision would still be not to take the house."

Yes, but then you have no reason at all not to take the amorality pill! You would still value whatever you value before taking the pill; you would just have no guilt. So would you take the pill? Are you really telling me that your behavior is never, ever influenced by negative moral emotions? If these emotions are _purely_ illusions, pointing to no objective referent, then can you provide a reason that you would not leap at the opportunity to be free of them, to live a life unshackled by conscience?

Isn't it clear that something in you is horrified by the idea of becoming an amoral, conscience-less monster? But why? Unless, deep down inside, we know that our moral feelings point to an objective referent,

"For that sentence to make sense you need to define what you mean by 'moral goodness'."

A theist and an atheist can both recognize moral goodness as a basic quality of actions such as compassion, love, justice, mercy, etc... There is no 'more basic' definition of moral goodness, any more than there is a 'more basic' definition of 'color' or 'here'. So the question is not at all over the definition of 'moral goodness' but over what furnishes the _ground_ or _basis_ of moral goodness. It is here that the theist posits God as the basis of moral goodness. We are positing the existence of a being whose character exemplifies the qualities of moral goodness that we all recognize.

I wrote: "Second, because evil is a privation of goodness. Good can exist without evil but evil cannot exist without good."

You wrote: "Who says? That's pure assertion."

Ok, let's consider some evils. For every instance of evil, there is some good which is either absent or distorted. That is precisely what we mean when something is evil; it is not as it _ought_ to be. I can't even conceive of calling something 'evil' except by comparison to a good. But this phenomena does not apply to goodness. A thing can be good in itself with no reference to evil. So now that I've presented an argument in support of my contention, you can provide a counter-argument.

Additionally, you have not addressed the objection that a 'God who does wrong' would have to violate moral obligations imposed by a superior entity and thus could not be metaphysically ultimate.

I wrote: "So if Christianity in particular is true, we would not necessarily expect to see it accepted by the majority of philosophers."

Yo wrote: "Sorry Neil, but this is hogwash. Either you cite the philosopher's majority opinion as evidence on your side or you don't."

No, this it the way Bayesian confirmation theory works. The atheistic beliefs of philosophers is only evidence insofar as it would not be expected if Christianity were true. In the same way, the observation 'My carpet is dry' is only evidence that 'it did not rain last night' if I have reason to believe that if it _had_ rained last night, my carpet _would_ be wet. If you're curious about this issue, look up 'Bayesian confirmation theory.'

Neil Shenvi said...

I wrote: "You have raised both the Euthyphro Dilemma and the 'Evil God' challenge, but I have answered both."

You wrote: "And I answered back re: the Euth Dilemma. You're defining your way out of it. If I start by merely 'defining' murder or unfairness or whatever as being wrong 'by definition' then I can build objective moral values till the cows come home."

Yes, but this dispute is not over whether OMVs exist, but what is a viable _ground_ for OMVs. I can define murder as wrong, but then I have to provide an objective _referent_ to which 'wrongness' corresponds. This is the entire project of naturalistic moral theory! The theist provides a _ground_ for OMVs; they are grounded in God's nature. That is the element of reality to which 'goodness' corresponds. Similarly, you need to provide a naturalistic _ground_ for 'wrongness.' If you'd like to defend utilitarianism or contractarianism, we can do that.
-Neil

Neil Shenvi said...

Andrew,
Since this conversation seems like it is winding down, I wanted to make two last points. In response to the Cipher question, you have repeatedly stated 'I value children more than brick and mortar.' From the standpoint of moral antirealism, this is just your personal opinion, which is no different than the statements 'I value pickles more than olives' or 'I value my personal pleasure more than the suffering of innocent people.' I want to make two points.

First, I seriously, seriously doubt you feel that way. If you actually encountered someone who valued their personal pleasure over the suffering of thousands of children, you would not merely react with personal distaste. You would react with moral revulsion. Your worldview might leave you incapable of actually naming your sentiments. But what your conscience would be screaming is 'That is wrong! That is evil!' You might have to suppress this reaction intellectually because it is inconsistent with your worldview. But it would be there. Is it really reasonable, then, to adopt a worldview which cannot explain (and indeed denies reality to) your most basic, immediate perceptions of right and wrong?

But the second point is far more personal, which is why I saved it to the end. You repeatedly deny that you would accept Cipher's offer. But you are wrong. Not only would accept it hypothetically, you are accepting it daily. And so am I.

There are 15 million AIDS orphans in Africa. 21% of all children in the US live in poverty. Every time you and I go out to dinner, buy new clothing, or go to a movie, we are making Cipher's choice. We are not loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are opting for personal pleasure, for 'brick and mortar' over the lives of millions of children. We are guilty.

That is not all. Would you turn down the amorality pill? No. Nor would I. In fact, we are taking it every day. How many hours do we spend each day reading about the horrors of life in a third-world slum? Are we stirring up our consciences to move us to do whatever we can to help these people? No. We have opted for a numbed, sleeping conscience instead of a conscience grieving and wounded on behalf of the grieving and wounded. We know that, if we actually awoke our conscience to the horrendous suffering around us, we would not be able to take it. It would make us sad. So we choose to distract ourselves with work, family, entertainment, video games, hobbies. We choose personal pleasure of costly compassion. We choose daily to escape from the moral reality that confronts us at every turn.

Is this true of you? It is true of me. This, as I said in my essay, is the appeal of moral relativism. It allows us to suppress the uneasy knowledge that we are moral failures.

Christianity is the only religion to correctly and uncompromisingly diagnose our problem and is the only religion to provide a solution: God's grace is available to the worst of sinners. I would sincerely urge you to take these arguments seriously. Christianity is not primarily reached at the end of a philosophical argument. It is primarily reached through an admission of our moral filth before a perfect and holy God and a desperate cry for his mercy. That mercy is offered to you freely at the cross of Christ. You can have it.
-Neil

Andrew Ryan said...

Graceus, in your first post you said: "Generally, we see those feelings that some people have towards murderers and people who torture children as unnatural. We tend to think of people who feel that way as having something wrong with their cognitive faculties"

My point is that you're not saying anything there that I disagree with, or is a problem for anything I said. Experts on sociopaths and psychopaths, such as Simon Baron-Cohen argue that such people very much DO have something wrong with their cognitive faculties. Often it relates to not going through the normal childhood process of developing empathy.

Why do you think this contradicts anything I said? I would expect this to be the case. Empathy is beneficial for humans.

"Also, I am still wondering, since you haven't answered my question yet, if you no longer valued children, but you valued and desired a house more..."

You're speculating about what I'd do if I held wildly different values - basically what I'd do if I was a sociopath. I probably wouldn't NEED the pill if I was such a person, but the question is a bit pointless. I might as well ask you whether you would go round slaughtering children if you believed it was what your God wanted you to do.

Neil argues that it might be beneficial for a tribe to prize the value of hurting outsiders to the tribe. To a certain extent we DO see that people are less empathetic to outsiders. 'Charity begins at home', we say. And you'll notice that filicide rates are much higher when it is a step-child or adopted child rather than blood relative.

Our brains are complicated, evolved over millions of years. Each new part just got added to the previous bits - mammal brain built on lizard brain etc, and there was little in the way of a 'backwards' step. The great book 'Kluge' uses the analogy of a factory that is upgraded many times over a long time period, but which cannot ever stop production, meaning that the very oldest technology still works alongside the newest, often performing the same function or competing to do so.

So we all have many competing instincts and desires, come much more 'knee-jerk', less reasoned and instant than others. We evolved distrust of outsiders, we evolved instincts to get 'something for nothing' if we can, we evolved competitive instincts with our peers. At the same time we evolved kindness, compassion and empathy. And we also evolved instincts to think badly of others who indulge in more selfish instincts. All the above carries benefits for either ourselves or our group as a whole. And all these instincts compete with each other in complicated way, and are influenced by the culture of the group you live in.

Generally kindness and empathy wins out. Sometimes even the more selfish urges are prized by others too. But it's not surprising that more 'negative' instincts are often kept in check by other instincts to think badly of others who exhibit them.

But still we all generally have empathy, such that we can be touched by great suffering among foreigners thousands of miles away, although we'll never meet them. And yes, this empathy is beneficial to the species as a whole. Even if it leads to acts that do NOT benefit the species directly, such as trying to stop an animal feeling pain, it is still the result of something we developed because it was beneficial.

Look at how primates in groups act to each other - they have all these instincts too. They developed long before we could rationalise them or think through our actions on a deeper level. I know a common view among experts is that our explanations for why we did something are often just post-hoc rationalisations for decisions we made completely instinctively.

Andrew Ryan said...

"...basically, there’s no need on your view to be outraged by the 911 terror acts on the Twin Towers or Hitler’s annihilation of the Jews or when people’s civil rights are taken away because morality is subjective to each individual on atheism!"

I might as well say that you can't be outraged either, but should just conclude that you and Hitler simply had a disagreement over what your God wanted him to do. He thought God wanted him to kill Jews, you disagree. Likewise the 9/11 terrorists. You all think you're carrying out God's plan, you just disagree on what the plan is.

Put another way, you'll find no greater consensus on morality among theists or Christians than among atheists.

"which was what I was trying to get from you-an explanation as to why the majority of philosophers would choose OMVs over SMVs. Do you have an explanation that supports your view better? If not, then Neil is justified in his explanation of the evidence."

I already answered:
1) A tiny minority of 6% isn't that compelling. How do you explain the 44% who disagree?
2) They said they supported moral-realism, which I don't think is quite the same thing as OMV
3) The majority are atheists, meaning they don't even think moral-realism is explained by God (what's your explanation for that?).
4) The percentage who don't believe in God vastly outweighs the percentage who support 'moral realism', so it's special pleading to say they're an authority on the latter but not the former. Neil argues that they're hopelessly confused about the existence of God, but are to trustworthy authorities on moral realism. This is special pleading.

"However, God, by _definition_, is omni benevolent"

By whose definition? His own? That's circular. Yours? That's subjective.

"His good nature is the absolute standard for goodness."

If I told you that my 'chong' nature is the standard 'chong', then you'd be forgiven for saying that I wasn't actually telling you anything. A conherent definition of a term shouldn't contain the term itself, much less RELY on that term. Yet you tell me that God's 'good' nature is the standard for 'goodness'. What do you mean when you call his nature 'good', if 'good' only carries meaning when related to his nature?

Graceus said...

“My point is that you're not saying anything there that I disagree with, or is a problem for anything I said. Experts on sociopaths and psychopaths, such as Simon Baron-Cohen argue that such people very much DO have something wrong with their cognitive faculties. Often it relates to not going through the normal childhood process of developing empathy.”

We agree there. However, you seem to equate the origin of true altruism with positive or ambivalent feelings some people have to murderers and child torturers, and as I said before, people do not think of others who perform altruistic acts as having anything wrong with their cognitive faculties. So, I don’t see how your question of how ambivalent feelings towards murderers did anything to refute Neil’s evidence, nor have I seen a positive claim offered to as a rebuttal. You say that empathy is beneficial for humans, but Neil has already cited Dawkins and Coyne as saying that true altruism doesn’t benefit a group. You are free to still cite sources to justify your claim if you think that true altruism did evolve to benefit groups.

“You're speculating about what I'd do if I held wildly different values…. I probably wouldn't NEED the pill if I was such a person, but the question is a bit pointless. I might as well ask you whether you would go round slaughtering children if you believed it was what your God wanted you to do.”

The question posed by Neil is a thought experiment. I am able to play along and answer _your_ thought experiment. Allow me to make an analogy. If the commander in chief ordered you, a pilot, to drop a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of men, women, and children to end a war, would you do it? If it were me, I would. So to answer your question, yes I would. There are three reasons why I would obey God’s command in your thought experiment: 1). We are commanded to obey God’s commands 2). We know God has reasons (just like President Truman had reasons) for his commands 3). Since God is by definition omni benevolent, then I can trust that His commands are true to His nature.

“… basically what I'd do if I was a sociopath.”

That is interesting that you say that I’m comparing you to a sociopath, which it seems to me you abhor. Are you saying that you would have remorse or guilt if you killed 1,000 children? What is wrong with a sociopath on your view if he is only doing what is instrumental to him? You seem to want children to have instrinsic value, but naturalism doesn’t support that-it only supports instrumental value, so if you decided one day that you didn’t value children, my question again is what would stop you from killing 1000 children? Would you do it? I’d appreciate it if you would answer the question according to the thought experiment-the one where you didn’t value children but desired a house.

“And yes, this empathy is beneficial to the species as a whole.”

We are talking about _true_ altruism benefitting group selection. Since Neil cited a source, I’d like to see your source that backs your claim that _true_altruism evolved out of benefit to group selection. Can you produce it?

“I might as well say that you can't be outraged either, but should just conclude that you and Hitler simply had a disagreement over what your God wanted him to do. He thought God wanted him to kill Jews, you disagree. Likewise the 9/11 terrorists. You all think you're carrying out God's plan, you just disagree on what the plan is.”

Well, on our view, we can be outraged. But since on your worldview morality is subjective, you have no reason to, neither can your claims of injustice (God and the Canaanites, e.g.) be influential in persuading people to see that God is truly evil.

Graceus said...

“I already answered:
1) A tiny minority of 6% isn't that compelling. How do you explain the 44% who disagree?
2) They said they supported moral-realism, which I don't think is quite the same thing as OMV
3) The majority are atheists, meaning they don't even think moral-realism is explained by God (what's your explanation for that?).
4) The percentage who don't believe in God vastly outweighs the percentage who support 'moral realism', so it's special pleading to say they're an authority on the latter but not the former. Neil argues that they're hopelessly confused about the existence of God, but are to trustworthy authorities on moral realism. This is special pleading.”

1). I can give an explanation-my explanation is that they don’t want to see morals as real because then evil will truly exist and if there is moral evil, then there is a moral law-giver who they would have to answer to for moral evils that have been committed.
2). That means morals are not illusory, which means they can be objective.
3). They have found another way to ground morals without God.
4). We’re not appealing to authority. We’re merely looking for an explanation that best explains the figures. My explanation for why there are more atheist philosophers than theist philosophers is because some of them choose disbelief for volitional reasons.

Now that I have offered explanations, can you give me an explanation as to why the majority of philosophers would choose to believe that morals are objective and not subjective?

//"However, God, by _definition_, is omni benevolent"

By whose definition? His own? That's circular. Yours? That's subjective.//

You seem to think this is some ad hoc reasoning. Before this argument was even thought of, Jews and Christians have long held the belief that God (not ‘god’) is by definition omni benevolent, so it’s neither circular, ad hoc, or subjective.

Graceus said...

//"His good nature is the absolute standard for goodness."

If I told you that my 'chong' nature is the standard 'chong', then you'd be forgiven for saying that I wasn't actually telling you anything. A coherent definition of a term shouldn't contain the term itself, much less RELY on that term. Yet you tell me that God's 'good' nature is the standard for 'goodness'. What do you mean when you call his nature 'good', if 'good' only carries meaning when related to his nature?//

If you look at Neil’s answer, you can’t get more basic than the definition he gave for goodness. Goodness is a part of God’s unchanging nature, so it is the absolute standard. Since I think you’re going to claim it is a tautology, let me answer that for you. It would be a tautology if goodness and God were identical. Consider these two sentences: ‘My father is tall’ and ‘My father is my male parent’. The former sentence provides additional information about my father while the latter sentence provides no new information ( ‘my father’ IS by definition ‘my male parent’. Goodness gives additional information about God. Another reason why it would not be a tautology is because goodness is not the only attribute of God; God is also just, loving, caring, merciful. Again, I did not come up with the description of God’s nature- it is a belief long held by Christians and Jews.

I also want to address a comment you made to Neil: “re: the Euth Dilemma. You're defining your way out of it. If I start by merely 'defining' murder or unfairness or whatever as being wrong 'by definition' then I can build objective moral values till the cows come home. But both you and I would be 'smuggling in' the objective part. And starting by asserting that 'I define God as the paradigm of moral goodness' is certainly 'smuggling in the objective'.”

You complain about “objective” being smuggled in when we posit God as the grounds for objective morality, but I have an objection. First, I don’t think I ever saw the Moral Argument presented, so here it is
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/moral-argument#ixzz1xcNgoa9q
You seem to want to deny premise 1, but you would have to adopt the view that OMVs exist, which you don’t. But it seems to me that all this is an effort to avoid God. If OMVs existed, it is possible that God grounds them, and if God does, then we all have to answer for the evil we have done. This evil prevents us from having a relationship with a Holy God. But there is a way to restore that relationship. I'll refer you to Neil’s last comment which sums up what really goes on when we think about morals.

Andrew Ryan said...

"But it seems to me that all this is an effort to avoid God. If OMVs existed, it is possible that God grounds them"

I think I've already said that I don't see how a God existing would make any difference to the existence of OMV, or the coherence of the concept. Therefore the question has nothing to do with avoiding God.

"1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist."
Asserted premise not backed up by argument.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Unproven assertion.
3. Therefore, God exists.
Conclusion built on unproven assertions.

"Another reason why it would not be a tautology is because goodness is not the only attribute of God"

That doesn't stop it being a tautology.

You're saying that God's nature has a certain aspect. You give it a label. You say that his nature is the standard for that label. That doesn't really get you anywhere.

"Goodness gives additional information about God"

No it doesn't. Because you're arguing that 'goodness' can only be defined by reference to God.

"Before this argument was even thought of, Jews and Christians have long held the belief that God (not ‘god’) is by definition omni benevolent, so it’s neither circular, ad hoc, or subjective."

You've not answered the question. You've just told me that Jews and Christians have long held it as a belief that their God is omni-benevolent. My question remains - by whose definition: yours, theirs or their God's? What does 'benevolent' even mean if you can't define it without making reference back to God's nature? You're basically saying "God's nature is benevolent. Benevolent is defined by God's nature". This remains tautology regardless of any other attributes you assign to your God's nature.

"However, you seem to equate the origin of true altruism with positive or ambivalent feelings some people have to murderers and child torturers"

What do you mean, I 'seem' to? At no point have I said that. If anything I said the opposite! I said that we reject these people, we decry them. It doesn't say much for your argument when it is based on believing I hold exactly the opposite view to my actual and stated view.

"You say that empathy is beneficial for humans, but Neil has already cited Dawkins and Coyne as saying that true altruism doesn’t benefit a group"

Great, but 'empathy' does not equal 'true altruism', so my point stands.

"You seem to want children to have instrinsic value, but naturalism doesn’t support that"

Non sequitur - neither does soil erosion. So what? If I value children then by definition they have value. That's what 'valuable' means - that it has value to someone. Introducing a God makes no difference to this. You're just saying they're valuable to God rather than to me. That doesn't make them intrinsically valuable - we could play a thought experiment where I ask you to imagine that God stops valuing the children. You'd then be forced to say the children's lives would stop being valuable! So, not 'inherently valuable'.

"If the commander in chief ordered you, a pilot, to drop a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of men, women, and children to end a war, would you do it? If it were me, I would."

And by that logic you'd also obey your 'Commander in Chief' if he was Hitler asking you to help in the Holocaust.

"So to answer your question, yes I would. "

If you're saying you'd be happy to go round slaughtering children, why should I listen to anything you have to say about morality, objective or otherwise? Why does that make you better than anyone who chooses to take that pill? You say I cannot decry Hitler, but you actually back him to the hilt - by all means murder in the name of God if you think you're doing His work.

Chad said...

Readers can find an excellent article here that deals with the question of ultimate value.

Further, I would like to remind everyone that we demand all those commenting be treated respectfully and cordially.

Thank you

Chad said...

And I repeat...

This is merely an ad hominem argument and further comments on this topic will not be published.

Respectfully

Graceus said...

//You're saying that God's nature has a certain aspect. You give it a label. You say that his nature is the standard for that label. That doesn't really get you anywhere.”
"Goodness gives additional information about God"

No it doesn't. Because you're arguing that 'goodness' can only be defined by reference to God.//

The example I gave of ‘my dad is tall’ and ‘my dad is a male parent’ illustrates perfectly how there is additional information making the first statement meaningful, so we can see that whenever we say, “God is good”, we are not saying “God is God”.

“You've not answered the question. You've just told me that Jews and Christians have long held it as a belief that their God is omni-benevolent. My question remains - by whose definition: yours, theirs or their God's? What does 'benevolent' even mean if you can't define it without making reference back to God's nature? You're basically saying "God's nature is benevolent. Benevolent is defined by God's nature". This remains tautology regardless of any other attributes you assign to your God's nature.”

I am going by the Jewish and Christian belief. This isn’t an ad hoc definition because it was around long before Jews and Christians thought of apologetic arguments. P1 of the Moral Argument is: _If_ God does not exist, then OMVs do not exist. This is a logical argument. If you reverse that, it is logically possible that if God does exist, OMVs exist, and to refer to goodness as being part of God’s nature is not an incoherent concept. You would have to prove otherwise if you say it is. This link explains how there is no problem with God’s character as the paradigm for goodness. I'd read it before trying to argue this further. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/personal-god#ixzz1xsmMrdx7.

// Great, but 'empathy' does not equal 'true altruism', so my point stands.//

I am not sure why you are bringing empathy up, when Neil’s evidence is about true altruism and not just ‘empathy’. Was it supposed to refute Neil’s evidence? If it was, that is not what Neil’s evidence is about.

Graceus said...

// Non sequitur - neither does soil erosion. So what? If I value children then by definition they have value. That's what 'valuable' means - that it has value to someone. Introducing a God makes no difference to this. You're just saying they're valuable to God rather than to me. That doesn't make them intrinsically valuable - we could play a thought experiment where I ask you to imagine that God stops valuing the children. You'd then be forced to say the children's lives would stop being valuable! So, not 'inherently valuable'.//

My comment was made because you constantly say that you value children. So, do you have intrinsic value for them or instrumental value? If you have the former, how do you explain that when on naturalism, the world is valueless except for the instrumental value you give? I see that you have brought up another thought experiment (the first of which I answered), but you have not honored my repeated requests of answering mine. What is so hard about answering the questions: If you do not value children, but desired and valued a house more, would you take the amorality pill and kill the children in order to obtain your desire-the house? Why or why not?

//If you're saying you'd be happy to go round slaughtering children, why should I listen to anything you have to say about morality, objective or otherwise?//

First, you mischaracterize my position. My position is that I would obey God because He commanded it, God has reasons, because God’s nature is good, His reasons for his commands are good.

Secondly, God would not command evil. An evil, all-good being is an oxymoron and would not exist. I offer the following argument:


A. No act commanded by a necessarily good being is evil
B. A command is _perceived_ to be evil.
C. Therefore, it is either not the case that the command was given or the command was not given by a necessarily good being.


This is actually a tangent, so I’m not going to dwell on it, but just as President Truman’s command can be perceived to be evil, and it actually wasn’t, so commands by God may be perceived as evil and are not actually evil. If the command is actually evil, then it is not a command that is issued by God.

Andrew Ryan said...

Graceus, if I was taking the pill so I could carry out a specific act then either it was an act I would have no problem with carrying out anyway - in which case the pill is superfluous - or the conscience that would have otherwise stopped me carrying out the act (without the pill) would instead stop me taking the pill in the first place. Taking the pill would be equivalent in my mind to carrying out the act that I suspect would follow from taking it, so I'd feel the same guilt as I considered taking it as I would have done considering taking those 1000 kids' lives... and therefore wouldn't take it.

Asking what I'd do if I didn't value the lives of others is like asking what you'd do if you didn't place any value on the nature of your God. I don't get the point or implication of the hypothetical.

Andrew Ryan said...

God is good is not like saying 'God is God', you say. That doesn't solve the problem, which is that describing his nature as good doesn't tell us anything, as good (you say) has no meaning without reference to his nature. You offer a counter example of 'my dad is tall'. That's not the same as saying 'My God is good', where good only has meaning when without reference to the same God. We can define 'tall' without reference to your father - we can explain it and measure it. It's not an abstract concept.

So my previous problem with saying 'God is good' still stands, as far as I can see.

You ask me to explain my valuing of children if it's not intrinsic. Why does it need to be intrinsic? If I value them then I value them, intrinsic or otherwise. If YOU see their value as intrinsic, why do you place the existence of your God as a condition on their value. They're still the same kids either way, God or not, with exactly the same capacity for suffering. But apparently if there's no God, you suddenly don't care about them, and presumably would happily take the pill; all of which makes me wonder if you ever cared about them in the first place.

My baby wakes, will have to address your other points later. Will check out your link, but if it's from WLC then I warn you I've never come across a convincing argument from him.

Andrew Ryan said...

You asked me why I brought up empathy. Neil objected to me saying it's not surprising that we would evolve to reject, despise or vilify child murderers - such people would be very dangerous to any group. Neil's objection made reference to the 'free rider' problem. My reply was that the free rider problem isn't a valid objection to the idea that group selection would create a species that vilified child murderers.

Your OWN interjection in this conversation was to point out that we do vilify child murderers - or something similar (I can't cut and paste on this iPod). My reply to you was that I agreed, and hadn't said anything to the contrary.

With regards to empathy, again having empathy benefits us as a species. Other primates have empathy too. And it's another reason we react strongly against sadism etc - we understand the pain of others. We wince when we see even animals in pain.

Andrew Ryan said...

A quick point on 'true altruism'. The number of opportunities to sacrifice your life for others are small. It happens but is rare, simply because it is not needed that often. If we evolved a capacity to sacrifice ourselves, but most of the time it was exhibited merely in helping others, and this made us more attractive to mates who sensed we would make caring effective parents, then the small occasional loss in carriers of this capacity through self-sacrifice would be off-set by the increased reproductive success.

Regarding free riders - these are kept in check by the vilification they receive. Look at our attitude to the unemployed. We don't like to see them starve, and many societies have 'safety nets' to prevent people really suffering, but we equally expect people to make an effort to find work. Our benevolence is not inexhaustible!

And of course we class some free riders as criminals and separate them from the rest of society. Survivorship bias means that societies that allowed themselves to become over-run by free-riders would collapse. So the ones that survive are by definition the ones where the reciprocal and 'real' altruists kept the free riders in check.

Andrew Ryan said...

I've only just seen Neil's three posts starting 11 June, 10:45. Sorry that I've not responded to any of the many points there. I saw Graceas' posts following them and forgot to look earlier. Neil has most likely moved on, but there are many points I'd like to respond to, but will probably need to wait till I can use a proper computer to copy/paste the individual quotes I'm responding to.

A single question for now though, re:evil God. If a God displayed all the behaviour we currently call evil - torturous, cruel, inconsistent justice, random punishments, perverse actions - what would you call such a being's nature, if you've ruled out calling it evil? Would one be forced to declare His nature 'good by definition'.