Challenge: Moral Values Are Just Brain Patterns

Posted: February 1, 2011 by Amy Hall in God is Real, Weekly Challenge

The challenge today comes from a short clip of atheist Richard Carrier, recorded during one of Brett’s apologetics mission trips. Watch the video, and then tell us how you would respond to Dr. Carrier. How would you counter the idea that moral values are “patterns of thinking and behavior, physically manifested”? We’ll hear Brett’s response on Thursday.

  1. rob says:

    P1 – if morals are just a brain pattern then morals are subjective

    P2 – if morals are subjective then there are no objective morals

    P3 – hence morals are subjective

  2. First I’d wonder why our brains should be trusted to tell us how we ought to act if we are the result of a nonrational and nonmoral process. There’s also the fact that people’s brains can tell them different things. Where is the standard that one might point to that says some action is right and another is wrong? When it comes to the brain and what it tells us morally, how do you determine what is “rightly” working?

  3. Sam Harper says:

    Carrier is confusing ontology and epistemology. If his view that the mind is an emergent property of the brain is true, then at most that would entail that moral BELIEFS are the products of brain chemistry, but that tells us nothing whatsoever about morals themselves.

    But I would question his emergent property view on several grounds. I don’t want to go into that because I’m lazy, but I wrote some about it on my blog here, here, here, and here.

  4. Scott Smith says:

    You guys have it pretty well covered. He has a giant hole in his premise though.
    He said the brain is essentially running a program. Ok, fair enough. But – #1, where did the brain come from (another topic, I realize, but a crucial one) and #2, who wrote the program? I’ve written thousands of lines of code. I’ve not yet encountered one that generated itself.

    Also, his example is terribly flawed as well. He compares to practicing a skill in order to develop it. If that followed, then we would all develop different morals. Unless of course, he is comparing it to a skill such as playing the cello. In that case though, the skill is judged against an established standard. (We know what good cello playing sounds like.) The same holds with morals. Either we all develop random and conflicting morals, or there is some greater moral standard by which ours can be judged.

  5. Elliot Neff says:

    I believe Brett pointed this out in one of his previous videos, but as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “You must first show THAT a man is wrong before you can show WHY a man is wrong.”

    This argument does not carry much validity on the basis of evidence either. How does one intend to prove that moral values are simply brain patterns? One of the main problems with this argument is that there is simply no way to go about proving such an assertion.

    Secondly though, it seems that on the basis of our experience, we have good reasons in contrast for believing that moral values are not simply patterns generated by our brain. If these are really just brain patterns, that necessarily implies that there really is nothing wrong with any moral action or behavior. What we call moral values are simply the sociobiological byproducts of evolution and, therefore, things such as rape, child abuse, murder etc… may be socially inconvenient, but really are no different than any other thinkable action.
    Furthermore, no one could rightfully be held accountable for any action since these are simply patterns generated by our brain. Who is to blame Hitler in this case for the Holocaust on this view? His actions were simply biologically predetermined and he himself could not help what he was doing.

    One might say that moral values are just brain patterns, but no one can live this philosophy out in the real world.

  6. Just FYI, many of the comments here are misinformed, since that video clip is just a two minute piece of a thirty minute presentation that in fact addressed all of these issues. Without that context, this clip only becomes a straw man. You can get that missing context from exploring the writings and A/V files available through my website.

  7. rob says:

    richard it wouldnt make a difference if you did a 2 hour presentation – moral naturalism is flawed – even a naturalist has to admitt something can’t be objectively wrong if were all just animals that occured by chance

    for example: based on your view (assumming your a naturalist) theres no difference between a spider that kills its own young and andrea yates who drowned her 5 kids in a bathtub