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Here’s my response to the latest STR Place Challenge:
Doubting Eric, if you’re reading this, I had some questions and comments for you. I just got done reading the original twitter you made that gave rise to this challenge as well as re-reading some of the comments you made on the challenge that Brett is responding to here. Although you were questioning how we could know there really are objective morals just because we intuit them or “feel” them, I couldn’t tell whether you doubted the existence of objective morals or not. Maybe you believed in them, but didn’t think intuition was how you justified them. Or maybe you didn’t believe in them. I couldn’t tell. One thing you said on the twitter was, “There is no reliable way of determining if there are moral values and duties that are actually objective,” which makes it sound like you might be agnostic on the question of whether there are any objective morals.
I also read your blog post, “I’m Sorry For Being Homophobic. If I had not already read your challenge to knowing objective morality, I would have gotten the distinct impression that you do believe in objective morality. Here are a few things you said in that post that puzzled me:
I deeply regret voting the way I did, and I am sorry for it. It was wrong, and I am still ashamed of it.
Are you saying it’s wrong for you, or that it would be wrong for anybody? If somebody else voted differently than you, did they actually do something they should not have done, or did they just do something that you happen to disapprove of?
I am happy to say that I have made good progress.
Is it really possible to make moral progress if there are no objective morals? If morality is subjective, or even relative to culture, it seems like individuals or cultures can change, but they can’t really improve.
I still remember having a conversation with my girlfriend at the time about just how absolutely wrong it is to withhold rights from other human beings because of something so ridiculous.
“Absolutely wrong”??? Do you really believe in moral absolutes, or is this a figure of speech? What did you really mean when you said this? And do you really believe people have “rights” that they can be denied? If the law forbids somebody to do something, and you say the law is denying them a right that they have, aren’t you assuming that people have rights apart from the law? What does that mean?
I saw very clearly then that if I didn’t believe in this christian god, I then had the capacity to be a much more moral person.
This makes it sound like you believe in objective morality. How can you become more of a moral person unless there’s some objective standard of morality? Granted you can change, but how can you become more moral? If you are a moral subjectivist or relativist, how should I understand phrases like, “a more moral person”?
I am now able to follow the dictates of my own conscience and make moral decisions without having to consult an ancient book written by superstitious, bigoted, ignorant and illiterate tribesmen.
But you seem to be in serious doubt that your conscience is a reliable guide to morality. This whole challenge was over whether our moral intuitions can really get us in touch with objective moral truth. Do you just mean to say that you’re free to follow your own conscience, regardless of whether it’s telling you anything objectively true? Kind of like being free to eat the ice cream you like best and not having to eat the ice cream some book tells you to eat?
You used words like “bigoted” in a pejorative sense in your post on homophobia. Do you think there’s really anything wrong with being a bigot, or is it just something you don’t prefer?
You referred to your previous prejudice against homosexuality as a “backward belief.” What do you mean by that? If morality is a matter of subjective opinion, how can one person’s sense of morality be backwards and another person’s sense of morality not be backwards? Aren’t they just different?
I considered posting this in the comment section of your homophobia post, but it’s really beside the point you were making there. You weren’t discussion the subjectivity/objectivity of morality in that post. I posted it here instead since that is the topic here.
Sam, looks like Eric has some more conversation on this topic at his blog: http://doubtingeric.blogspot.com/2012/08/is-this-good-answer-what-do-you-think_27.html
Thanks, Brett. I copied and pasted my comment there.
Thanks for the comments. I will respond to the video response and Sam’s comments soon, but right now I am pretty busy. So stay tuned!
First of all, thank you for your thoughtful response to my objection. As you may have guessed, I don’t feel like you answered my objection fully. I think a good way for me to express where I feel your response is lacking is by going through what you said, bit by bit.
Starting at 5:11 into your video response, you say that you are “going to assume, for the sake of this particular challenge, that morality is objective.”
A Little Background
I think it’s important to remind you that my whole objection is questioning whether morality is objective or not, and how we could possibly determine this. I am not assuming that morality is objective, and I have never even hinted that I did. In fact, the disagreement between us about whether morality is objective is the very thing that spawned this challenge in the first place. If you will indulge me to revisit our conversation:
At http://www.twitlonger.com/show/i90a33, you can read an early response I made to you about the evidence for objective moral values. Here’s the meat of it:
“The question that @NFQblog and I, among countless others, are asking, is “why should we think that objective moral values and duties actually exist?” To tell people, as proof, that we all just know it, is far from convincing. This is what we are talking about.”
To which you replied:
“Appreciate your clarification. And yes, if there are no objective moral values then grounding isn’t the problem.”
I responded by asking,
“Rather than point to possible problems for possible conclusions of rejecting [objective moral values], what’s the evidence that [objective moral values] exist?”
You replied with:
“I’d point to OMV that are self-evidently true: torturing babies for fun is wrong, rape is wrong, honesty is a virtue, etc.”
“Secondly, if OMVs don’t exist, then the only alternative is subjective MVs & that alternative is rationally untenable.”
I responded to you in detail at http://www.twitlonger.com/show/i99n5f, and this is what ultimately became the weekly challenge.
The Origin of my Objection
If you step through this progression, you can see that this is simply, at it’s core, a challenge of the commonly used moral argument for God’s existence:
1. If objective moral values and duties exist, then God exists.
2. Objective moral values and duties actually exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
I am challenging the second premise. This has always been about the second premise of this argument. I want to apply pressure to the believers who claim this second premise is obviously true as they confidently march to the argument’s conclusion that God must exist. The only evidence that I had been presented with to that point is that we “just know it.”
In the comments on an related challenge, Bob Seidensticker voiced the same concern better than I can:
“I’m amazed that a claim as monumental as objective morality is tossed out as casually as it always seems to be. I’ve listened to lots of apologists argue for it, but I’ve never heard anything more substantial than “We all know that certain things are just wrong” (where “just wrong” is supposed to mean “objectively wrong”). Universal moral truths? Or universally held moral instincts? They look very similar, but the latter is all natural. I’m going to need a lot of evidence that the supernatural explanation is the correct one, and I’ve seen nothing.”
This is really the crux of the issue for me. I have heard the moral argument countless times, and used to be quite convinced by it when I was a believer. But at some point I realized that I was just assuming that premise 2 was obvious. I was surprised to find that no one seemed to have any evidence for this premise other than claiming that our moral intuition is a reflection of the objective moral law. That was quite unsatisfying to me, since I don’t trust my moral intuition as a way of knowing what is actually true. I understand that it seems quite clearly that certain moral actions are “obviously” right or wrong, and we can all point to examples of both. But that doesn’t mean that these actions are actually right or wrong. We may feel certain of moral truths, but we could still be mistaken.
Reconnecting this back to your video response, I just simply don’t know why you thought I was claiming morality is objective. I have to assume that a lot of your argumentation is based on that foundation, and perhaps that is why it seems to not actually address my objection. So with that being said, with that foundation laid, allow me to press on with my proper response.
Early on, you rightly point out that this question has to do with how we know what we know. You then state that every worldview needs to have an answer to this question (4:00). I see how you might be interested in what I think about that, and I sure some of that will come to light as you read on. But I am not required to give a full account of how I know anything. The objection that I gave, and that you are responding to, is my challenge that the theistic method of knowing the truth of moral values is unreliable and unconvincing to me. The burden of proof is on you, the believer, since the entire discussion is about your methods.
So, how do we know what we know? You provide examples:
1. Empirical means (observation)
2. Pure reason (square circles are logically impossible and so we can know they don’t exist)
What is Intuition?
At 6:43, you define what you mean when you say intuition. You define it as “a reflective way of seeing something. It’s how you come to see something after you’ve reflected on it.” You refer to the Declaration of Independence, which refers to truths that are “self-evident” and say,
“this is what we’re talking about when we’re talking about intuition. Let’s be clear, an intuition is not a feeling. When we talk about intuition, we’re not talking about a ‘woman’s intuition’.”
Next, you say Intuition is not a hunch, like a police detective might have. You then read the Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s definition of intuition:
“immediate knowledge of the truth of a proposition where immediate means not preceded by inference.”
You then proceed to give an example of something we know by intuition. If one is in a crowded room, and asked how they know which body is theirs, one wouldn’t reason their way to the knowledge of which body is theirs. You say there isn’t evidence for someone to reason from to know this.
“You simply know it through introspection. You’ve got this direct awareness that this body is my body….I just know it.” (9:15 in)
You say you can’t prove that you are in this particular body. And you wouldn’t have to justify the claim that you just know it.
“There are things that I simply just know upon some introspection. I have a direct awareness that this is my body and that’s how I come to know it. So I can come to know things through direct awareness, through a reflective way of seeing something. I reflect for a moment, I realize ‘yep, this is my body. I am unified with this particular body.’” (9:52)
I would like to point out something here. You claim that the person tasked with proving which body is theirs would not be able to do so apart from intuition. You said that they would be justified in saying they “just know it.” I think that is a bit simplistic. There are other senses that we use to confirm the intuition that we are “in” a particular body. You can use your sense of sight to indicate which eyes you are looking out of, and what those are connected to, following it to the rest of the body (you do this very thing at 10:10). You can plug your ears to limit your sense of hearing, thus indicating your relative position based on known locations of sounds. You can use your sense of touch (along with your sight) to confirm you feel something when the hands that you intuit to be yours are in fact touching something (or you could just put your hand over a flame!). You could use your sense of taste to confirm that when you put food in the mouth of the body you intuit to be yours, you can taste it. You could even reason that you are in a particular body by noticing that the location of the body has a direct connection to what you smell at any given time. Not to mention that you could control only one body in the entire room with your brain!
Of course none of this “proves” which body is yours, but that’s not the point. The point is we can have an intuition and still use other methods to confirm it’s accuracy. If you offer this sort of methodology that allows us to test if our moral intuitions are actually reliable (confirming the intuition that morality is objective), then we have something here. But I fear that sort of thing is not being offered.
After you make a case for there being some truths that can’t be proven, you revisit my objection, “Why would the fact that I intuit something to be true be considered evidence that it really is true?”
“Well, I guess, according to intuition, you just say, ‘Just because I know.’ Intuitive truths don’t require a defense, in a way. They don’t require justification from other evidence or other knowledge. There simply is a point that you reach where you say, ‘I just know. I just know.’ Now, some of you may not be satisfied with that. Ok, that’s fine. You might think, ‘Oh, that’s cheating, you can’t say ‘well I just know.’ ‘Well, I don’t think you have another alternative. And here’s why. If there are some things you can’t know without knowing how you know them — without giving some kind of other justification, our whole knowledge project cannot even get off the ground. You see, what you’re faced with is an infinite regress. We could have an infinite regress of why’s, or how’s. Why do you know that? Or how do you know that? And so you might give me some account of why you know something, and I say, ‘well, why do you know that?’ And you say, ‘well, because of this.’ And I say, ‘well, why do you know that?”….And we could do that for infinity.” (10:30)
This is not evidence that we can actually trust our intuition that an objective moral law exists. It simply indicates that there may not be a reliable way to actually know the truth about certain things. All you have pointed out here is how we can’t know the truth of some things by empirical means. It does not follow that since we cannot know the truth about certain things by means other than intuition, therefore we can know the truth of those things by intuition. Intuition could still be a bad method for finding out the truth. Especially since we would have no way to verify any of it. You say that there is no alternative to saying, “I just know.” How about, “I don’t know”?
I understand your point about how there needs to be an agreed upon starting point for knowledge to begin. For example, people have to agree that the world they are observing is actually real, and that they can observe it. They have to agree on some logical axioms, such as the law of non-contradiction. These things may not be able to be proved empirically, but we don’t question them because they are essential to rational discourse. But what does that have to do with our moral sense? You explain:
“Intuitions would be part of that foundation that we then build our structure of knowledge and justification on. Ok, now that’s a much more involved conversation, just giving you a brief intro on that. But look, this is a problem for either of us. Because you might say, ‘Well I don’t buy intuition, I don’t buy this kind of direct awareness or this foundational kind of knowing. Ok, I think it’s the best account. So then you’re going to have to give me your account — give me a better account. How do you come to start knowing things? And eventually I think what’s going to happen is I keep pressing you on this, you’re going to eventually come to a point where you’ve got some foundation. You’re going to come to some stopping point, you’re going to come to a place where you say, ‘well, I simply know that.’“(12:35)
Hold on a second. Are you claiming that our moral intuition should be considered as foundational as the law of noncontradiction to our knowing anything about anything? Where are the reasons to think that these things are all in the same epistemological category? The logical laws are a necessity to having any rational discussion, but you cannot say the same thing about our moral intuitions! Why would questioning the reliability of our moral intuition be the same as questioning logical axioms (even if we know those by intuition)? Wouldn’t that mean that I would not be able to question any intuition by the same rules?
Why am I required to give an account for how I know things? Again, you are answering my objection, not attacking my position. This is not about what I think. It’s about what evidence you have for coming to the conclusions you have. It’s about questioning your reasons for thinking that “just knowing” is a good way to get to the truth.
You state that the sort of intuitional knowing that you are talking about:
“doesn’t mean that at all times and all places, everyone is going to intuit everything perfectly. According to the Christian worldview, we’re in a fallen world. There are things that affect our noetic structure, our minds, our thinking, our reasoning abilities. Anyway, separate discussion.” (14:44)
If our minds can be affected in this way, wouldn’t trusting our intuitions about the truth of certain things seem like a bad idea? Shouldn’t we be seeking methods to figure out if our effected minds are telling us the right things? I don’t see how this serves to do anything but weaken your case.
“So we have intuitions. I would argue that we have moral intuitions as well. So not only do we come to truths about rationality in intuitive ways, but there are moral intuitions that we have. There are things that we simply just know, with a little bit of reflection.” (15:00)
How does the fact that we have rational intuitions that must be true mean that intuitions of the moral kind must also be true? And when where you going to give evidence that these moral intuitions should be considered part of our foundational knowledge? I think that when you are trying to find out what is really true, you should not use a methodology that lacks the ability to verify its conclusions.
“Look, if presented before you was a scenario where someone was truly torturing a baby for the pure pleasure of it, you would simply percieve that to be wrong, because you have this built-in moral knowledge. There are things I simply just know, morally. And look, if you want to deny that, and you still want to hold to objective moral truth, then you have to give me an account. How do you know objective moral truth on your view, if there aren’t just some foundational things that are just obvious to us? You know, the fact that human life is meaningful, and has value — that seems to me something we simply just know. All of our actions as human beings speak to this fact. It’s something we just know. And so I think there are moral truths that we simply intuit. And so if you respond and say, ‘well why should I think that?’, I’m going to say, ‘well why shouldn’t you think that?’ Look, again, if we don’t have some foundations, moral knowledge doesn’t get off the ground. But if you want to hold that there are objective moral truths, that we can know, well you’re going to have to start somewhere, you’re going to have to start with a foundation of moral truths, moral intuitions, that we simply just know.“ (16:55)
As I said before, I am not holding to objective moral truth. But there is something I want to point out here. Notice how many times you use “I just know” (or some variant on that) as a reason for something. In what I just quoted, you used it this way 4 times. Throughout your entire video, you use it in the same way at least 13 times. Now this sort of “I just know it” phrasing is exactly what I think of when I think of women’s intuition, or a hunch that a detective might have. I know you have been striving to show it as something distinct from those things, but what is the difference? You use it in the same way, and yet you seem to indicate that our moral intuition is somehow different from a feeling. You claim to have evidence beyond “I just know” for the objectivity of morality, but I don’t see anything but assertions that you know it’s objective because you “just know.”
Let’s look at the original objection.
“Why would the fact that I intuit something to be true be considered evidence that it really is true?”
I’m not sure you really got close to this. You attempted to make a case that since the logical foundations of all rational thought are unquestionably right, and we know those by intuition (so they don’t require justification), then our moral intuitions must also be unquestionably right in the same way (and also do not require justification). But wait, you also said that moral intuitions are not always right, and people may differ on the details of what their intuition tells them. In fact, you cast doubt on our mind’s ability to reason due to the fall of man. I don’t know how you mean to tell the correct moral intuitions from the wrong ones.
Essentially, the answer I think you are giving me, and skeptics everywhere, is that you don’t need to give me an answer. You tell me that it’s not a hunch, it’s knowledge, but you don’t demonstrate how you know this. You keep claiming that it’s a way of knowing, but you haven’t shown me why I should think so. You say it’s the same sort of thing as a logical axiom, but don’t tell me why I should agree. You don’t give me any reason to think our moral intuition is anything other than gut feelings. All you shown me is that you have a strong conviction that our moral compass is evidence that there is an objective moral law. That’s nothing new.
Look, this is perhaps an unanswerable question. That’s sort of my point. Christian apologists have long been asserting that the existence of objective moral values and duties is obvious. They skim over it as if everyone agrees, and never provide evidence for it other than, “We all just know it’s true.” I simply aim to show that it’s far from obvious, and your evidence for this very important premise of the moral argument is weak.
I will say that no one has ever devoted the time and thought to my objection that you have. I do appreciate that, even if I don’t appreciate your argumentation. As I always want to stress, I am attacking what you are saying, and perhaps some of the presuppositions you are bringing with you. I never mean to attack you personally. If I give that impression, please be sure to (gently) bring it to my attention. I care about the discussion, and I don’t want to muddy the waters with that sort of thing.
In addition, if I have misrepresented you in some way, please bring it to light so I can correct it.
I know your post is meant for Brett (and for Sam as well), but I was wondering if I could ask you a question myself. In your well-written and well-thought out response, you make your point very clear: you do not believe in objective truth. Earlier I wasn’t completely certain this was the point you were making, but it’s quite clear based on this new response.
So here is my question: If you personally don’t believe in objective truth, what evidence could convince you of its existence? We’re talking about an idea, so there will be no way to use some scientific method to determine the answer. I believe it was Sam who pointed out to statements made on your own blog that show you do believe in objective truth. For example, on your blog post titled “I’m Sorry For Being Homophobic” you state “I still remember having a conversation with my girlfriend at that time about how just absolutley wrong it is to withhold rights from other human beings because of something so ridiculous” I’m curious about this statement (which I believe Sam also pointed to) as it seems to indicate something: you do believe in objective truth. Unless you were intending to use the words “absolutely wrong” for impact, you were making an objective statement. You didn’t say “For me, I personally believe it’s wrong, but that’s just my personal opinion”, that would be the proper way of putting it for someone with a relativistic point of view on truth, rather you made a statement that should rightly be interpreted by the context that you believe it’s wrong for anyone to believe that way. If this is the case, then you just refuted your own belief that objective truth does not exist.
I would say that to be true to your own beliefs, you need to clarify your own statement along these lines: “I personally believe that, for me, it’s wrong to withhold rights from other human beings because of something so ridiculous. Also, it’s equally alright for those who do believe in withholding the same rights because they have an equal right to their beliefs on the matter too.” For a true relativist, this is the logical position. If there is no objective right or wrong then the whole idea of “rights” becomes cloudy at best, since any rights would be simply based on personal opinions.
I also want to point out in the same sentence I quoted you end the sentence by saying “…wrong it is to withhold rights from other human beings because of something so ridiculous.” I assume you didn’t mean for this statement to come out as it did because the way it reads, you imply that there are some reasons to withhold rights from other human beings – in the case of the topic you were discussing, that one happened to be “ridiculous”. But by way of inference, you’ve made a point that there are other reasons that aren’t “ridiculous”. I’m wondering what those are?
I say this in an attempt to further bolster a point made earlier by Brett and others – a person holding to a relativistic point of view (which is what is left without objective truth) cannot make absolute claims about what is right or wrong for anyone but themselves. The rights of others cannot be based on your point of view. If there is no objective truth, then those “rights” don’t exist. You can certainly apologize to them for offending their personal views, but to make a statement that implies anyone else that doesn’t follow in your way of thinking is violating an objective truth.
I’ll let Brett, Sam or others take it from here. But again, nicely thought-out response.
Sorry, I somehow cut out part of a sentence above – on the last sentence of the last paragraph, it should have ended: “…in your way of thinking is wrong is violating an objective truth.”
Sorry, had to add one more thing to my earlier response before I head out the door. I’m curious what you think a “right” is in the first place. If there is no objective standard of truth to define a right by, then there should be no rights. So, without objective truth, what basis do you have to claim rights for others?
It seems to me that a right has to be based on some objective truth. And, that truth would have to be intuitively known, otherwise, how do we know it’s a right? If it’s nothing more than your own opinion on a particular matter, then it’s just your opinion, not a right. The founding fathers understood this, that’s why they based a statement on rights not on their opinions but on something they knew to be true (intuitively, by the way). Like it or not, we can’t get away from ourselves on this. To be a true relativist (which is a contradiction in itself) you can’t claim rights for anyone, save for yourself.
Lastly, since you clarified your position, and have now clearly made the claim that objective truth doesn’t exist, you’ve now put yourself in the position of needing to provide evidence for your claim, just as you asked Brett to do. Do you have evidence to support your position?
@Believing Erik & @Sam Harper:
I do not think there are any objective (in the sense that theists mean) morals. But that doesn’t make me certain what morality really is. I don’t know for sure. I have some ideas, some evidence, but I can’t say with much confidence what they are.
I still talk about morality in a commonly understood way, using absolute terminology that reflects the way we “feel” about morality. We feel like certain actions are always wrong, so we speak as if that’s true. That is how most people relate to the discussion of morality. I don’t think that the language is actually accurate in its descriptions, but explaining these things whenever you talk about moral things is not practical and you lose a lot in the process.
I accept some moral axioms, like “treat others as you wish to be treated,” not because they are “true” in any sense, but because it makes me (and the other person) feel good when I do it. If this desire to treat people well is an instinctual impulse, and not a transcendent decree, I have no ultimate obligation to give into it. After all, no one is watching, and the adaptation of certain behavior does not give that behavior any ultimate moral value. So I can’t “prove” that it’s “right.”
But in this case, I do give into that desire, as unjustifiable as it may be, because I enjoy the results. I am usually made happier just to know that I made someone happy. I don’t need some ultimate transcendent justification in order to see that a certain action is “good.” I don’t feel the need to have a bottom-up explanation of why I think treating other people as ends in and of themselves is a good thing in order for me to be satisfied with a moral framework. It works well enough (makes me happier, makes others happier, doesn’t endanger my life or anyone else’s, etc), and I can get “better” at it.
I gladly admit that I probably have it wrong, and am simply trying to make sense of it and hopefully get as much right as I can. But criticisms of my view that point to the lack of ultimate justification for moral actions completely miss the point I am trying to make.
This is all not part of the objection I made that started this whole discussion, so I don’t want to argue about how inconsistent I might be living as an atheist. Let’s stay on target, which was talking about why we should think that the moral sense we have (that feels some things are always wrong) is evidence that there are actually objective moral values.
With our 5 senses, we have good reasons to trust them most of the time. They have proven themselves to be pretty reliable in extensive use and in agreement with each other. I can see, touch, smell, taste and maybe hear the same thing. These senses help support the others, and give us reason to trust that they are mostly accurate. I don’t see a reason to put our conscience in there as just another sense, since it has no corroborating evidence like the others. We have no way (I can’t think of one, perhaps you can) that we can really test if we are correct in thinking there is an objective moral law. How would we even go about verifying that?
@Sam Harper, specifically:
I think we can focus our discussion a little bit more by diving into what you said earlier on my blog:
“I agree with Brett’s point of view. Unless there are foundational items of knowledge that are a priori it would be impossible to know anything at all. But the question, really, is whether morality is part of that foundation. If something is part of that foundation, then it can’t be proved, because it’s a priori. It’s just something you see or you don’t see, and if somebody else doesn’t see it, you can’t really show it to them. But that’s no reason for you to doubt what you see.”
I think this is the distinction that needs to be understood. I understand that to question everything our senses tells us, or those items of knowledge that are foundational to all other knowledge is impractical (and likely to drive someone mad). Some things we just have to accept if we wish to do any sort of thinking. There are these concepts that are unprovable, and yet we must accept them for the idea of “proof” to even make sense.
You wish to put our moral sense on that list. I am not sure that it should be there. If I did think it belonged on that list, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Maybe the question needs to change a little bit as we hopefully work our way toward the heart of the disagreement. How about we move on to:
“Why should I think our moral sense is a source of a priori knowledge?”
Wrapped up in that is the implication that this a priori knowledge, in order to be knowledge, has to be actually true. However, since we can’t test a priori knowledge against anything to see if it is true, it could actually be untrue. We could never know about it, but for the sake of argument, the fact that knowledge is a priori doesn’t actually tell us it’s true. It just means we have given up trying to prove it. At least that’s what I think. Please let me know if I am off the mark or misunderstanding you. And as always, please don’t take any argument I make against what you say to mean that I am attacking you as a person. I hope we can have an open, honest and enjoyable conversation.
I guess it seems like when I ask why we should think our moral sense is anything more than a hunch, I get the answer of “because it’s not a hunch, it’s knowledge.” That’s not an answer.
I want to know why I should think that moral intuition is a sort of knowledge that cannot be questioned. Is it a source of reliable knowledge? Is there a way to test it? How is this different from other types of a priori knowledge? Can the law of non-contradiction be tested independently? No, it needs itself for the idea of “testing” to have any meaning.
“Lastly, since you clarified your position, and have now clearly made the claim that objective truth doesn’t exist, you’ve now put yourself in the position of needing to provide evidence for your claim, just as you asked Brett to do. Do you have evidence to support your position?”
I am not making a claim that objective morals do not exist. I am claiming that the assumption that they do is not strongly supported enough to be assumed. Now I personally don’t think they do exist, but I am not trying to convince you that they don’t. The theist putting forward the argument that they do exist (moral argument for God’s existence) is the one making a claim. I think I sufficiently explained this in my response to Brett, in the sections entitled A Little Background,” and “The Origin of my Objection.”
Sam, I didn’t forget you, but I think a lot of what I said to Brett can be directed to you as well.
This quote caught my imagination:-
“Lastly, since you clarified your position, and have now clearly made the claim that objective truth doesn’t exist, you’ve now put yourself in the position of needing to provide evidence for your claim. Do you have evidence to support your position?”
Such a silly claim is really self-defeating. The logic goes like this “absolute truth does not exist” or “there’s no such thing as objective truth”. Such a statement is itself, a claim to truth. Now some might believe in “half truths” but the morality of theists I think, would assert that something is either true or false. So any proclamation that truth is not absolute, is a self- contradiction in terms -like a married bachelor, how heavy is the color red, etc
We are not talking about if there are objective truths, only if there are objective moral values and duties (the crucial premise of the moral argument for God’s existence), and more specifically, why we should trust that our moral sense is an accurate reflection of reality.
Of course there are things that are true and not true. No one is saying any differently.
Thanks for your response. In the interest of making this conversation manageable, I’m going to try to keep my response short.
First let me so that of course I don’t take your disagreement with my view as a personal attack on me. That goes without saying, and I’m sure you don’t take my challenges to you to be personal attacks either. We’re debating our disagreements on the nature of morality, and that’s it.
This is all not part of the objection I made that started this whole discussion, so I don’t want to argue about how inconsistent I might be living as an atheist.
The reason I asked you all those questions about your post on homosexuality is because I think the things you said there revealed that even though you deny the existence of objective morals, you still perceive them as if they were objective. They at least APPEAR objective to you. I think that in unguarded moments, when the subject is not the existence of objective morals, you do believe in them. Your statements make no sense unless you do. For example, you hold other people to them. You expect other people to know about them and to live by them, and when they don’t, you behave as if those people have done something they ought not to have done. You think the morals you perceive actually apply to other people. But if they are merely subjective, then they do NOT apply to other people. So even though you deny that morals are objective, they at least APPEAR objective to you.
I think you are just like a person who, although they perceive an external world that appears to be real, they nevertheless think it’s all in their head. A person who denies the existence of the external world does not stop perceiving it as if it were real. They just deny that what appears to be so really IS so.
Yes, that is the central question in this discussion. Let me explain in a little more detail why I think our moral perceptions belong in our a priori foundation of knowledge.
All a priori knowledge is knowledge we have that isn’t derived from anything else. We don’t infer it from other knowledge we have. Rather, we know it simply by reflecting inward and grasping it or “seeing” it.
But there are three kinds of a priori knowledge…
1. Things we know because of our first person awareness.
If you think of a number between one and ten, you know immediately what number you’re thinking of just because you’re thinking of it. You don’t need evidence to tell you what number you’re thinking of because you know it directly. You know that you’re thinking, feeling, and perceiving, and you know what you’re thinking, feeling, and perceiving simply because you have first person private access to the content of your own mind.
2. Things we know because they are rationally grasped.
The previous category included things we know about the content of our own minds. But this category includes what we know about reality outside of our minds. These include math, geometry, and the laws of logic. We know that 2 + 2 = 4. We know that if straight lines intersect, the opposite angles must be equal. We know that if two propositions contradict each other, they can’t both be true at the same time and in the same sense. The laws of logic are the basis upon which everything else is proved, so the laws themselves can’t be proved. To attempt proving them would be to engage in circular reasoning. But to understand them is to believe them. Likewise, with geometry, you can simply reflect on something and know with certainty that it’s true. You don’t have to test anything to discover that opposite angles of intersecting lines are equal. You don’t have to get a bunch of examples, measure each one, and discover there’s a high probability that it’s true in every case. You can just “see” that it’s universally true merely by reflecting on it and rationally grasping it. The same is true with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
3. Things we know because that’s just the way a normally functioning mind works.
There are many things that go in this category, including the uniformity of nature, that our senses give us true information about the external world, that our memories give us true information about the past, that there are other minds, that ought implies can, that you have an enduring self, that Ockham’s razor is a valid thumb rule, that time exists, and that causation exists. None of these things can be proved. If you’re familiar with David Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, you’ll know why. Take the uniformity of nature, for example. The uniformity of nature is what tells you that the future will resemble the past or that experience can tell you what the world is like. It’s what allows you to engage in inductive reasoning. It’s what allows you to learn from experience. It’s what allows you to calculate probabilities. It’s what allows you to extrapolate from what you observe to what you don’t observe. The entire scientific method depends on this principle. It’s why testing things in the lab have relevance to the way the world works outside the lab. But it can’t be proved. If you appeal to past experience to say that since it’s always worked in the past that it must be the way things really are or that we should expect it to continue to work in the future, you are begging the question since you’re using the principle to justify the principle.
What all three of these categories have in common is that they are a priori. 1 differs from 2 and 3 in the fact that it’s knowledge about the self whereas 2 and 3 are knowledge about reality outside the self. 3 differs from 1 and 2 in that it’s possible to be wrong about the items in 3, but it’s not possible to be wrong about the items in 1 and 2.
I believe morality goes in the third category because it shares certain properties in common with the items in 3, which properties are the very reason they go in that category. Those properties include:
a. None of them can be proved.
b. It’s possible to be wrong about each of them.
c. Every normally functioning mind apprehends them.
d. It’s prima facie unreasonable to deny them.
All four of these things are true about morality. Morality cannot be proved. It’s possible that there are no objective morals, even though we perceive them. Every normal person perceives them (which is why we consider sociopathy to be a mental illness). It’s prima facie unreasonable to deny them, which is evident in the fact that we all find it counter-intuitive to deny them and none of us can live consistently with the belief that they aren’t real.
Now let me respond to some of your objections.
However, since we can’t test a priori knowledge against anything to see if it is true, it could actually be untrue.
If you’ve followed me so far, you can see that this statement is true in the case of the third category of a priori knowledge, but it’s not true in the case of the first two categories. For example, it is possible that I could be wrong in thinking I’ve got a computer on my lap (I could be dreaming or plugged into the Matrix), but it’s not possible for me to be wrong that I’m at least perceiving what I take to be a computer in my lap. It is possible that I just now came into existence and all the memories of what appears to be a past that actually happened were merely built in when I came into existence. But it is not possible for the law of non-contradiction to be true.
I’ve granted that it’s possible our belief in morality is wrong. But the mere possibility of being wrong doesn’t make it a reasonable thing to deny. After all, the mere possibility that my sensory perceptions are all in my head doesn’t make it reasonable to believe there’s no external world. The mere possibility of solipsism doesn’t make solipsism reasonable. Now, I think it’s unreasonable to deny the existence of objective morality. I think we should assume the world is just as it appears to be unless we have good reason to deny that it is. This is just common sense realism. If it looks like there’s a difference between right and wrong, then you should assume there is a difference between right and wrong unless you have good reason to think otherwise. Mere possibility isn’t sufficient reason for doubt.
I want to know why I should think that moral intuition is a sort of knowledge that cannot be questioned.
I’m not saying it’s knowledge that can’t be questioned. While we can be certain about the items in 1 and 2, it’s at least possible that we’re wrong about the items in 3. What I’m saying is that it’s more reasonable to affirm them than to deny them.
Is it a source of reliable knowledge?
Yes. All of the items in category 3 are known in the same way. If you doubt one, you bring the others into question since to doubt them is to doubt the reliability of that particular way of knowing. So if you doubt morality, you throw the external world into doubt. If it’s reasonable to believe in the external world, then it’s just as reasonable to believe in morality.
Concerning the external world, you said we can justify it because we have independent attestation from our various senses. Our sense of sight, smell, feel, hearing, and taste all tell us the same thing. But that won’t do because all of these perceptions are perceptions of one and the same mind. Your perceptions agree just as much when you’re asleep as they do when you’re awake. And they would agree just as much if you were plugged into the Matrix. The are not actually independent of each other since they are all products of the same mind. All that follows from the fact that they agree with each other is that your mind is consistent.
Can the law of non-contradiction be tested independently? No, it needs itself for the idea of “testing” to have any meaning.
I hope you don’t doubt the law of non-contradiction just because it can’t be tested. I think that you not only know the law of non-contradiction is true, but you know it with such absolute certainty that it’s not even possible for you to be wrong about it.
That’s about all I have to say.
I typed this up yesterday, but am just getting around to posting it today. I see that Sam has already responded using a far more philosophical methodology than I am currently capable of. That said, since I visit this site to learn and to improve my skills in responding to challenges, I’d like to offer a response as well since you did address us both. You’ll forgive me if I take a less scholarly approach, but I think I still may have something to offer in this discussion.
You stated to both Sam and I that we should “…stay on target”. I want to be clear that my earlier response is not intended to go off “target”, but rather was an attempt to provide a wider foundation for the discussion at hand. After your earlier invitation to visit your site, I did. Like Sam, I came across the same post and was interested in what it might say about your beliefs. The reason I referenced your blog post is to help get a clearer picture of what your particular worldview happens to be, something that is applicable to this discussion as your personal view on morality and objective truth will have an effect on your interpretation of the arguments presented to you.
In your response to Brett’s video you stated “…my whole objection is questioning whether morality is objective or not, and how we could possibly determine this. I am not assuming morality is objective, and I have never even hinted that I did.” I attempted to point out in my last response that you give indications, based on your own statements that you in fact do agree with some kind of objective morality, in opposition to your statement above. You may not ‘assume’ objective morality, but you appear to live by some kind of objective morality. As I pointed out (Sam did this as well), you make statements in your post where you state an objective moral point of view and then imply that those who disagree with that point of view are wrong. Specifically, you reference the ‘rights’ of others. Where do those ‘rights’ come from? If there is no objective moral truth, how can anyone have ‘rights’? In your latest response to me, you clarify that you believe in certain moral ‘axioms’. It appears you mean by ‘axioms’ certain sayings or personal beliefs that have been proven to work in some circumstances are good justification for some kind of moral action because they make you or others ‘feel’ good. But your post refers to something more than what makes you or someone else feel good. You refer to ‘rights. Since you chose the term ‘axiom’, I presume to avoid any language that may imply an objective moral truth. So I have to ask, how do you get ‘rights’ from ‘axioms’, at least as you used the word? I assume based on your argument in your blog post you believe that those folks have some sort of right afforded them to do what they wish. But what is that right based on? It’s not a Constitutional right, or you would likely have appealed to that. In the context, you weren’t appealing to the rights afforded in certain states, or you would likely have appealed to that authority. To what authority can you appeal to give justification to their ‘rights’? In actuality, your reference implies that the rights they have come not from some man-made document or law, but that they have an inherent right that comes from something outside of rules or laws written by society. That’s why I’m pointing these things out. Your appeal to rights makes it appear that you are appealing to some objective moral truth. To what authority or objective moral truth then do you appeal as a basis for their rights?
The discussion above is applicable because your ability to either accept or reject the arguments being made in these posts/replies is based on your worldview. I was simply trying to point out that you seem to act as if you believe in objective moral truth, whether you say you do or not. I think the reason that Brett stated an assumption of objective morality is that we see evidence in how people behave. People act as if there are objective moral truths. I’m not trying to point to inconsistencies to take jabs at you, but rather to point out that you also act as if there is such a thing objective moral truth. In your post you were incensed by the fact that you had previously held a point of view that you now consider offensive to the ‘rights’ of others. But why do you believe they had ‘rights’ to offend in the first place? You state in your response to Sam and I that you do what ‘feels good’. I think this misses the point. I may make day to day decisions based on what makes me feel good, and while I don’t have a problem with that in certain cases, it’s not really a legitimate basis to form a civil law or something by which human rights are to be based. If it were, then an axiom such ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’ would likely be written into the law. But we don’t mandate treating others fairly or with respect just to make ourselves or someone else feel good. We create laws to prevent people from doing what is wrong. Following them may not make us feel better about ourselves, but it may prevent us from causing harm to others, whether we feel good doing so or not. We’re not talking about feelings but about absolute beliefs in right and wrong. We seem to know there is right and wrong, and our actions show that we believe this to be true. Does this, in answer to your question, prove objective morality exists? No. But it is certainly an evidence for it, whether you accept that evidence or not.
The arguments being provided by those responding to you here are based partially on classical philosophical arguments. But to be entirely truthful, we need to acknowledge our ‘outside source’ of objective truth, our ‘authority’. While I do believe that Brett and Sam have done a fine job providing answers that don’t rely on or point to Biblical authority, I do believe we must acknowledge that our own worldview helps to shape our knowledge about the things we intuit. In the case of many of those here, that authority is the Bible. So far, people have been keeping any mention of the Bible or Christianity out of the conversation, and I think that’s probably a good place to start, particularly since you identify yourself as an Atheist. We can reasonably assume you won’t accept any appeal to authority rooted in a belief in God. Appeals have been made to a variety of examples of how society acts as if there are objective moral truths. Arguments have been made about how we intuit things and how we may know they are true. But without giving consideration to our individual worldview, the thing we all bring to the table, I believe we miss out on a key piece of the whole discussion.
So I don’t run the risk of putting words in other’s mouths, I will say that I personally am not claiming that my own interpretations or intuitions are the sole source of objectivity; it is rather my intuition in light of outside revelation that leads to my ultimate conclusion. I don’t think you’d be surprised by that, but perhaps you just want to hear someone say it. You see, I believe we can know objective if we have an objective moral agent providing a basis for it. And so there is the real issue. How do we convince people that don’t accept the existence of that external moral agent, a transcendent being with objective knowledge that objective moral values exist? I don’t think we can. Objectivity has to be based on some point of reference in order to be objective. If you reject out of hand that the objective moral agent doesn’t exist, then we can’t come to an agreement.
So what if you reject that premise, that there is no transcendent moral agent, thereby offering no basis for objective morality? You are still left with the fact that people act as if there is objective morality. They act on it by writing laws, directing legislation on civil rights, forming governments, making day to day decisions. Something has to account for that behavior. We offer one solution. To many, that solution makes sense. It fits the world as we know it. Others will argue that we can’t arrive at a conclusion that ultimately requires some kind of supernatural intervention. Fair enough. But regardless of your point of view on the supernatural, people continue to act as if there is objective morality, not just personal feelings.
You’ve asked the people here on the STR site, who have a worldview based on belief in a transcendent moral agent for their evidence of how they can know objective truth. The responses that Brett, Sam and others have given have been consistent with that viewpoint. I get that you’re not satisfied with the arguments that have been presented. But since there is no way to provide empirical scientific evidence for a metaphysical discussion, we are left with philosophy, ideology, logic and reason – all inclusive of our personal worldviews. Nothing that has been presented to you is either illogical or unreasonable. Rather, they are completely logical and reasonable given a certain assumption, that there is an outside moral agent providing some kind of guidance for objective truths. I know you took issue with Brett’s assumption of objective morality in his video response. As such I can presume you’ll take exception to my assumption of a particular worldview in order to arrive at my ultimate conclusion – at least as it would apply to someone other than myself. We simply can’t escape the fact that we are all influenced by our worldviews. The question is, in light of those worldviews, what makes the most sense when considering our intuition of morality? Obviously, it has a big influence. I think the point you’re ultimately getting at with the question you presented to Brett was that we can’t arrive at our belief about objective moral truth without a belief in something outside of this world influencing our conclusions. Or, stated as a question: is it possible for me to convince you that knowledge of the objectivity of an intuited moral truth when you don’t accept my premise that there is an outside moral agent to guide you to that conclusion? The more I’ve thought about your original question, it seems that this is kind of the point you were perhaps trying to make. This may be too simplistic an answer, but it seems to make sense to me.
We sit at two fundamentally different places. As long as this separates our points of view, we will likely never be able to convince one another (not that you’re trying to convince me, I’m just making a point) that either is correct. The evidence that is available for us to consider is there. It’s not conclusive in the sense of the outcome of a scientific experiment. In the end, we will weigh the evidence available to us and arrive at our own conclusions. For me, the preponderance of the evidence available to me allows me to be reasonably convinced that there is objective moral truth, and that we can know its objective. We are free moral agents with the ability to make our own decisions. Some day, I do believe we’ll all learn with certainty which point of view on morality was actually true. Until that time, the debate will continue.
Thank you for again taking the time to respond. I find I’m learning a lot from this discussion which is why I continue to post replies. I also realize your original question was to Brett and STR opened it up to others. I appreciate your willingness to entertain others in this dialogue. Most people I meet are unwilling, uninterested or too easily offended to have discussions of this nature. Thanks for being a fair and willing opponent.
Ok guys, thank you again for your followup. I feel I need to clear a few things up. Of course I think morality feels objective. That’s why we are having this discussion. If no one thought it felt objective, then apologists wouldn’t be using the moral argument to show God exists, and I wouldn’t be complaining about it.
Although I don’t personally think morality is objective, that’s not what I am arguing here. This is a crucial point. The only challenge I brought was questioning the reasons for thinking the objectivity of moral values and duties was an obvious truth. My point is that while morality feels like it’s objective, that may not be a good enough reason to use it’s assumed objectivity as the crucial premise in a philosophical argument proving there is a God.
So if you are complaining that I use language that implies objectivity, I want to remind you that it has nothing to do with the argument we should be discussing here. I could be the most inconsistent person imaginable, and my argument could be valid. I gave reasons why I think I speak and feel the way I do. If you complain that my language indicates that I actually do believe in the objectivity of morals, then shame on you. Please see above.
Here’s the issue: It is always assumed by apologists using the moral argument that morals are obviously objective. But I say the evidence for that claim is not very good. In fact, I question that we can even possibly know if they are objective or not. All in effort to show that the moral argument is not very convincing to a non-believer. That’s it. That’s all I am defending with this challenge. The Christian apologist is making the claim (morals are obviously objective, and we all know it), and I am asking what the evidence is for that claim. You have given me some, and I have concluded that your standard of what makes for evidence is lower than mine. The fact that I am questioning a claim made by apologists is what allows me to ask for evidence without having to first prove anything of my own. The believer making the claims about the true nature of morality has to provide evidence. If they don’t, that’s ok, but I wish they wouldn’t continue making the same claims to the next person as if they were the most well-attested facts ever known.
And so I think we have reached our fundamental differences on this issue. Some of you have said that it’s fine to trust our intuitions, as they are a reliable method of determining the objectivity or subjectivity of particular moral concepts (as if they are things). I say that I don’t think it’s a reliable way to know anything other than how we feel about a moral situation. These seem to be pretty foundational claims, from which a lot of other claims flow.
I am skeptical, perhaps you are more believing. I am less willing to trust my mind about certain things, and this likely comes out of what I think the mind is. If you think that there is a spirit that somehow controls the body and is what “we” truly are, then it makes sense that you would be more willing to trust your feelings about the truth of things (I am not saying you definitely believe these things, only using them as a probable example). And of course, I would think this is a bad idea. I would point to the mockery that Christian apologists heap upon the Mormon Missionaries’ “burning in the bosom” confirmation that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and say that what you have offered me here in form of an argument, is nothing but the same assertions they would.
If the objectivity of moral values and duties can only be “known” by intuition, then I would argue that they can’t be “known” in any meaningful sense of the word. I am arguing that intuition is not a good way to determine truth — critically thinking about it is.
I am not interested in derailing this discussion into what I believe about this or that. That’s irrelevant, and only serve to distract from the question.
P.S. To Sam, specifically:
“I believe morality goes in the third category because it shares certain properties in common with the items in 3, which properties are the very reason they go in that category. Those properties include:
a. None of them can be proved.
b. It’s possible to be wrong about each of them.
c. Every normally functioning mind apprehends them.
d. It’s prima facie unreasonable to deny them.
All four of these things are true about morality. Morality cannot be proved. It’s possible that there are no objective morals, even though we perceive them. Every normal person perceives them (which is why we consider sociopathy to be a mental illness). It’s prima facie unreasonable to deny them, which is evident in the fact that we all find it counter-intuitive to deny them and none of us can live consistently with the belief that they aren’t real.”
That’s exactly my point. It cannot be proved, so apologists should stop using it’s “obvious objectivity” as proof that God exists. I never was arguing that morality is not objective, even if that is what I think. I was simply asking for evidence for the claim that so many have assumed to be true.
Thanks again, I hope I have addressed your concerns adequately.
No doubt we’re approaching this from two different directions. I don’t believe I’ve been attempting to make the point that we can know objective truths with absolute certainty given the information available to us, but rather that the evidence leans in the direction of objective truth rather than away from it.
As for claiming proof of God based on objective morality, that’s a piece of evidence I’ve rarely used as a claim for God’s existence. I don’t think it’s wrong to use it as an evidence, but I wouldn’t be satisfied if that’s all someone had to offer – similar to your reference to our objection of the Mormon’s claim of the ‘burning in the bosom’. I have no problem with them using this as an evidence, but too many use it as the only evidence. Try to do critical research of their books and the teachings of the church and you rarely get any decent response in defense. Contrast that with Christianity where we have volumes and volumes of various forms of evidence that support the claims of Christianity. We don’t retreat to a simple “It’s true because I believe it’s true” position, but rather listen to what critics say and do serious research to provide support for our claims. Before you say it, I will grant you that not all Christians do this, but the research is there.
I don’t blame you for rejecting the arguments of objective moral truth as evidence for the existence of God. In the light of other information, it can help fill in a bigger picture. When I became a believer, I needed more evidence than “it works for me”. Ask my wife, I am a skeptic by nature. I question many things and I’m not satisfied with simplistic answers that don’t have at least some basis in reasoned thought. I have questioned my own beliefs on many occasions, but as I review the evidence available to me, I find I consistently find that Christianity is the only thing that really makes everything work together. It answers big questions, it fits with history, prophecy, it changes peoples lives, it survives the attacks that have for centuries attempted to bring it to an end.
If I’ve learned anything from this exchange it’s this: I will not be assuming that when I speak to someone about God, that I will be able to necessarily rest with a single argument. As this whole discussion has shown, we can debate back and forth and still not arrive at a conclusion that satisfies both sides. I’ll certainly be more aware that while some may be more easily convinced than others, it may take much more convincing for true skeptics. As a skeptic who became a Christian, I can certainly appreciate that point of view. Thanks again for your response, perhaps we’ll get a chance to chat again sometime.
Then you should bite the bullet and admit that you don’t know the external world exists, you don’t know the past exists, you don’t know that you’ve existed for longer than a moment or that you will continue to exist to the next moment, you don’t know that anything ever causes anything else, you don’t know that past experience can tell you anything about what the world is like, you don’t know that there are other minds besides your own, and you don’t know that ought implies can.
Eric, I don’t think you launched a substantial critique of my argument, which leaves me wondering if I was unclear. I gave you an argument for why we should trust our intuitions about morality, and you’re response is simply that we shouldn’t trust our intuitions about morality. I argued that there are things we know without having to give evidence, and your response was that we haven’t offered evidence for those things. :-/
I would point to the mockery that Christian apologists heap upon the Mormon Missionaries’ “burning in the bosom” confirmation that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and say that what you have offered me here in form of an argument, is nothing but the same assertions they would.
No, they are not the same. A burning in the bosom that tells Mormons that the Book of Mormon is true does not have all of these properties:
a. It can’t be proved.
b. It’s possible to be wrong about it.
c. Every normally functioning mind apprehends it.
d. It’s prima facie unreasonable to deny it.
Besides, after saying that pointing out your inconsistency doesn’t invalidate your argument, why would you turn around and point out our “inconsistency” in hopes of invalidating our argument? That’s inconsistent of you.
The reason I pointed out your inconsistency is because the premise that people who deny the existence of morality still perceive it in such a way that it appears real to them was part of my argument. I was using you as an example of somebody who denies the existence of objective morality while still perceiving it as if it were real. You see morality just as clear as everybody else does. The only difference is that everybody else affirms what they perceive, and you deny what you perceive.
I can’t make you affirm morality, obviously. Anybody can just say, “Nuh uh!” You can show me anything in an attempt to prove that something is real, and I can just say, “Nuh uh!” After all, all I need is a mere possibility that it’s false, and that is easy to come by. But I’m not going to stop using morality as evidence for God just because there are people like you who offer nothing more than, “Nuh uh!” to deny the existence of objective morals.
It cannot be proved, so apologists should stop using it’s “obvious objectivity” as proof that God exists.
By that reasoning, we should all stop using logic to prove anything. After all, as you have said yourself, logic can’t be proved.
Again, I don’t accept that our moral intuitions should be considered as a foundational source of knowledge, like the laws of logic or our five senses. I haven’t heard a convincing reason to think they should be considered the same. If I did think they were, then it would be inconsistent of me to question these and not the others. But since I don’t think they are the same sort of thing, I don’t think that I should be questioning everything I know.
I can’t rule out a matrix-like reality from which there is no escape. Conceptually, there would be no way to verify whether this life is real or not. It’s not reasonable to accept this possibility because there is no evidence that it is true. But it could still be true, of course.
When talking about trusting our intuitions, the apologist seems to want to connect our moral intuitions (which many people refer to gut feelings) to innate “knowledge” about the real world. I don’t see the connection. I can’t see how the trusting of our five senses or the foundations of rational discourse are just as reasonable as trusting that our moral intuitions are giving us true information about something that is (allegedly) outside of us.
The entire case that has been made seems to completely depend upon first defining certain types of widely-accepted principles as known “by intuition.” Secondly, it is argued that since that sort of intuition is ok for “knowing” these things, then our moral intuitions should be considered just as reasonable to accept as a way of knowing things. It’s clean at first glance, but I don’t find it convincing. It still comes down to how someone “feels” about it, and that’s not what I consider evidence.
I consider my challenge unanswered.
I appreciate Brett, Sam and Erik’s contributions and it is clear that they have thought a lot about this. I will continue to browse this thread for a bit, but I will decline to respond to further questions or arguments unless something new or interesting is put forward. I think I have responded to the arguments fairly thus far, but now I feel like I am just repeating what I have already said in earlier posts. I don’t think any further repetition of my points will move the conversation forward, so don’t expect it. If you are hoping for a response from me and haven’t seen it, it’s probably because I think it’s already been sufficiently addressed.
One last thing
We know that part of the problem with Brett’s video response is that he explicitly says that he is assuming morality is objective, and then assaults what he thinks is my position, assuming that I am in agreement with the existence of objective moral values and duties. But if you have been following the discussion from the beginning, you know that the very existence of objective moral values is the very thing the apologist is attempting to prove. I don’t really know how this sort of mistake was made, but if not assuming the objectivity of morality would change how Brett would address my original challenge, then I would still be interested to hear it.
Thanks again, and I will likely chime in on future challenges.
Eric, I may not have been clear on why I think consistency demands that you deny the existence of the external world and all that other stuff. It is because of the basis upon which you deny the reliability of our moral intuitions. You said that if intuition is the only way we can know objective morality that we can’t know objective morality. You said that intuition is not a good way to determine truth. You said that if morality can’t be proved, then apologist should stop using the objectivity of morality to prove God. I’m just taking your statements to their logical conclusions.
1. If intuition is the only way to know something, then we can’t know it.
2. Intuition is the only way to know the content of our thoughts, the laws of math, logic., etc., the external world, the past, the uniformity of nature, etc. etc.
3. Therefore, we can’t know the content of our thoughts, the laws of math, logic, etc., the external world, the past, the uniformity of nature, etc. etc.
1. If something can’t be proved, then it can’t be known.
2. The laws of logic, the external world, the uniformity of nature, etc. can’t be proved.
3. Therefore, the laws of logic, the external world, the uniformity of nature, etc. can’t be known.
I’m using a reductio ad absurdum argument. The basis upon which you doubt your intuitions about morality apply equally to every other item of a priori knowledge, and I listed a bunch of them. If you think we can know all those things after all, then that undermines your reasons for doubting your moral intuitions.
Thank you for the discussion. It is always refreshing to be able to argue with somebody who is intelligent and civil.
I find that when I debate a sceptic about religion, morality, miracles or science, I start by asking them if they came to the debate having already assumed there is no God. I start by saying it’s rather pointless pursuing a subject like religion or the merits of Scripture with an atheist. It’s much like someone asking me to assess evidence for UFOs when I have already decided that aliens dont exist.
Hitchens was notorious for such circular reasoning by ridiculing religion and those who believe in miracles and then concluding “therefore God cant possibly exist”.
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