Are Answers to Ultimate Questions Dangerous? – #5 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Four times in the past year I have heard the following kind of statement from atheists: “Religious people are dangerous because they think they have answers to ultimate questions.”  Twice these comments were uttered by personal friends of mine, and twice I heard them expressed by atheists in debates that I listened to via mp3.  The first few times I heard the comment I didn’t think much of it.  The fourth time, however, has bothered me enough that I need to respond.

What are the ultimate questions that religious people think they know the answers to?  Generally, these are questions like the following:

  1. Where did the universe come from?
  2. How do we know what is right and what is wrong?
  3. Does God exist?
  4. What happens to us after we die?
  5. What is the purpose of our lives?

Atheists seem to be alarmed by the fact that religious people think they have answers to these questions.  The argument is that people who think they have answers to these questions are often dogmatic, uninterested in reason, irrational, arrogant, and exclusionary.  The flip side of this argument is that people who claim to have no answers to these questions are open-minded, reasonable, rational, intellectually humble, and inclusionary.

The first thing that strikes me about this argument is that it is a bit disingenuous for atheists to claim they have no answers.  Many of the atheists I know seem quite sure that their answers to all five of the ultimate questions above are correct.  They can be just as dogmatic, unreasonable, irrational, arrogant, and exclusionary as the most extreme religious fundamentalist.  Just read through the atheist comments on my blog posts, and you’ll have all the data you need.

Secondly, it strikes me as strange that anyone would frown upon a person finding answers to ultimate questions.  After all, these are the kinds of questions that mark the major milestones of human life.  Birth, marriage, and death all inspire us to ask these questions.  Our judicial system and our political discourse wade deeply into these issues.  They are foundational to the human experience and they are what drive us forward in our pursuit of truth.  To tell a person that they should never think they have answers to these questions seems supremely cruel and unreasonable.  It’s like telling a man thirsting for water that there is no such thing as water – he must be content in his thirst.

Is there a legitimate point to be made by atheists?  Yes, but not about religious people, specifically.  The danger, in my opinion, is not that some people think they have answers to ultimate questions.  No, the danger is when a person has answers and they completely shut off their mind and refuse to consider any other views, whether that person is religious or not.  Those kind of people exist on all sides and I agree that they are worrying.

When thinking ceases, the search for truth ceases.  All of us have some false beliefs, and therefore we all need to be corrected.  If we refuse the chance to ever be shown our false beliefs, we endanger ourselves and everyone around us, for truth has consequences.  Here I can agree with my atheist friends.

  • Boz

    I agree with you, the danger comes from dogmatism, absolute certainty.

    For example, some people say: I am 100% absolutely dogmatically certain that the correct thing to do is to kill all the jews.

  • Dennis

    The danger isn’t in trying to find answers, the danger is in finding answers that aren’t true.

    Religion isn’t based on evidence (that’s why we call it faith). So, it has as much credibility as leprechauns, evil giants, unicorns, etc.

    Normally, we would put people with such delusions in mental hospitals. But religions are different. When people hear stories coming from other people with authority backed up by lots of divine gestures, suddenly their critical thinking mode is off, and swallow it like sweet cake.
    The danger is, that while these people actually belong in mental hospitals to be treated for their schizophrenia, they demand respect for their delusions. They often even want to make laws to force (parts of) their delusions upon others.
    That’s what the danger is.
    Want to tell us atheïsts what to do, how we should live? Then give proof. Then all pray and make God write in clouds in the sky:”I the Christian God- exist”.
    Otherwise you do not deserve ANY respect for your delusions. We will tolerate it, but that is as much as you will ever get.

  • Dennis, there’s a lot of bare assertion here (which is, I think, somewhat ironic). You seem to be ignorant of much of the contemporary debate. There is, contrary to your assertion, evidences claimed by theism. What you’ll need to do is to demonstrate all the arguments for God fail in order to show the theist is not rational in accepting theism. However, even this wouldn’t make theism false. Only by constructing a positive argument for atheism can one claim theism is definitively false. If you do this, you belong in a professional academic journal. I hope to see what you have soon! 🙂

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    How do you expect me to prove that something that doesn’t exist, doesn’t exist?

    Please prove to me invisible unicorns don’t exist.
    So no, i do not need to prove your God doesn’t exist, you need to prove your God does exist, or- you will not be entitled to any respect for it.

  • Dennis, thanks for the response. Apparently you would say that it is impossible to prove the nonexistence of something. But that simply isn’t true. One may disprove the existence of something by showing its logical incoherence, surveying groups of sufficiently limited scope, or if one has positive reasons to believe a contrary yet exclusive claim. It’s interesting that you seem to have accepted that theists offer evidence and did not offer any rebuttal to any known theistic argument. It’s also interesting that you have, in effect, admitted you do not have any argument which results in the conclusion “therefore, God does not exist.” I’d say we’re in pretty good shape!

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    Alright, let’s start at the basis:
    – Christian religion does not give any meaning to life itself, merely to the afterlife. (Since there is no evidence for an afterlife, this is a horrendous error. Wasting people’s lives)
    – Christian religion defines good and evil, where in reality it doesn’t exist. There is no entity judging us, things are merely good and evil for us, that’s why we view them so. But Christian religion wants to force us in an incorrect way by making good and evil universal, also a horrendous error for it also takes away the joy out of other people’s lives even they don’t hurt others (homosexuals, people who wish for euthanasia, married people that are forced to stay together etc.)

    So, all kinds of views on the world, and decision making: based on an entity you cannot even prove to really exist.
    And that is fine, atheists will tolerate this, but keep it to yourselves, don’t force your entity upon us with laws, that’s all we ask.
    But if you DO force us by making laws: then you need to prove the existence of your God you based your laws on. Or we will revolt.

  • Jeff


    Do you really believe that good and evil don’t exist? If so, on what basis to you condemn anything?

    Is murder “wrong” or just unpleasant? What about lying? Or stealing?

  • Thanks for your response! Now we’re getting somewhere. Even supposing Christianity does not contain meaning for this life (assuming you mean “purpose”) and even assuming there is no afterlife, how does it follow that Christianity, much less theism, is false? Indeed, there are some so-called immaterial Christians who do not even believe we have a soul! But I submit, regardless, that there are good reasons to think Christianity contains meaning for this life. See Jesus, Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. All about how to live this life! 🙂

    When you say “there is no entity judging us,” doesn’t that beg the question against the Christian God? After all, this is precisely what we want to know. The rest of your post is a red herring, as it doesn’t tell us anything about whether or not God exists.

  • Dennis

    Dear Jeff,

    Good and evil do exist: for us, when I get murdered, it’s kind of bad for me isn’t it? It kills me, and I don’t want that. But since no lightning strike regularly kills murderers, since God doesn’t discriminate who gets to live, who gets to die, who gets a nice life, who doesn’t, it seems pretty obvious to me there isn’t anything that does any judging. It’s all rather random.
    Or can you honestly say when a parasite eats away the eyes of a 2 year old girl that it is justice? It isn’t ANYTHING, it just happened. And it’s very bad for the girl. But that’s it.

    Dear Randy,

    Hmm, I don’t think we’re getting anywhere actually. You don’t seem to want to understand that I do not need to disprove your beliefs to give you any respect for them.
    If I am the holy prophet for the leprechauns and I write on a piece of paper:”Randy Everist must stand on his head every day for 5 hours to please the leprechauns.”
    You kind of want me to give you proof that leprechauns actually exist don’t you?

  • Dennis, I just don’t see any value in whether or not you respect theism. After all, isn’t theism true or false regardless? In point of fact, if you make a claim to truth, you must back it up. So far, you have implicitly asserted “God does not exist,” provided no good reasons to believe this, and have avoided any interaction with theistic arguments. Perhaps you are simply unaware of them. I will list two or three for your review!

    Kalam Cosmological
    1. Whatever begins to exist had a cause.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the universe had a cause.

    1. The existence of the universe is due either to necessity, chance, or design.
    2. It is not due to necessity or chance.
    3. Therefore, it is due to design.

    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
    2. Objective moral values do exist.
    3. Therefore, God exists.

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    But you make wrong assumptions: Cosmological: The universe is flat, it is very well possible it started from nothing. (all the energies in the universe cancel each other out, it started at 0) Hard to comprehend, I know. Try to find a lecture about this by Lawrence Krauss.

    Euhm could you elaborate on point 2 there?! WHY do you consider that to be true automatically?

    Objective moral values do need exist at all, take a look around you! Life is chaos, everything does what it takes to survive, and dies out when it fails. Every life considers life to be ‘good’. So it does ANYTHING to preserve it(self). Good or bad.

  • Dennis, that just begs the question. “Nothing” is no thing–therefore, you have to admit that even the potential to create the universe didn’t exist logically prior to the Big Bang.

    As to necessity, no philosopher of science of which I am aware posits the universe could not possibly have been different, thus necessity isn’t viable. Neither is chance, as the values just in the universe are so fantastically improbable together only people desperate to avoid the conclusion of the argument insist on chance!

    And finally, you assume 1) that “everything does what it takes to survive” (which is untrue), and 2) that if people act badly, there are no moral values. Also, I’ve yet to see any reason to think theism is false. Do you have any? Or do you retract your claim of God’s nonexistence and instead rely on agnosticism of some kind?

  • Nathan

    I think that this conversation is ironic. Jeff is proving the article. He is not even able to acknowledge the other side. Even in it’s faith in reason. Just because you don’t see God does not mean he is there or not there. Either side must have faith as science continues to prove the inadequate approaches Darwinism has. Even then if evolution between species were possible with the fossil record and the time allotted does not get rid of the concept of God you just found out how he did it.

    Concerning moality it is funny you do not even regard our position being based on laws of logic and then say we do not use reason. Asking Randy if good and evil exist how do you determine it. The question is not how do we do but the person without a law by a creator determines it. If God does not determine it then shoot everything is free. Who says murder is wrong or rape is. Am I not just dancing with the DNA I was born with by random chance? I was born to be a murder you can’t tell me it is wrong since birth with a certain moral feeling is the determination of a certain action based on feeling is acceptable.
    If Joy is the determination for something being morally acceptable who says it is? Rapists may find joy in it and possibly others. Who says joy is the determining factor as well? That is the next question. I don’t want no human on this earth determining this do you?

    He is closed to his absolute answer of there not being a God that he is not willing to acknowledge the arguments for God. As I even read a quote from Richard Dawkins saying that natural selection looks like design but it is not. So he at least is giving some merit for the argument in that statement even though he is absolutely closed to the idea of God and has come to his conclusion as Jeff has but at least he can give some way too it.

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    Haha, I have no problems assuming an agnostic vision. Since I cannot rule out that God doesn’t exist.
    What I do rule out however is a Christian, A Judaic, or a Muslim God. Those are (sorry if I’m insulting) to retarded to actually exist.
    Let me clarify what you actually believe:
    God creates man with potential to sin.
    Man sins.
    God makes a woman pregnant of himself.
    When He is born, he commits suicide to forgive man for their sin.

    Ockhams razor simply makes those kind delusions absolute, everything in life, of morals, in the universe, has way better and simpler explanations than the big monotheistic religions. They just get quirkier and quirkier to keep ‘explaining’. Where their explanation isn’t logical at all. It’s just stretching it to insanity.

  • Jeff


    Thanks for responding, but you answered a different question than the one I asked. It is indeed bad for me if I get murdered, but was it wrong for my assailant to have taken my life? Can we call that a moral evil or is it just an event with unfortunate consequences for the victim?

    I also wonder how you “know” that everything is random? Aren’t you assuming a perspective you don’t have, unless you are omniscient? I’m not trying to be combative, but it seems to me you are making an assertion that flies in the face of your own demand for “proof”. There are many things I don’t know the reasons behind, but it doesn’t necessarily follow there are no reasons–there could be reasons I just might not be aware of.

    As to your example about the little girl–that is sad, and a tragedy, and heartbreaking…but I can’t blame the parasite for doing what it does and I wouldn’t say the parasite is morally evil. But if another person dug out her eyes for sport, we are brought back to our original question. Is this morally evil? Not just unpleasant for the victim but wrong for the perpetrator? Is it right to punish the guilty party?

  • Dennis

    Dear Jeff,

    I’m a modern humanist, i believe that as long as you do not hurt others, it isn’t right or wrong, and you should do what you like.

    When people start to hurt others, they are wrong, as they do not want to be hurt themselves, and yes, I think that we as a society should punish those people.

    But there is no entity that judges, there is no God that decides what is good, or what is evil. If we destroy our planet by blowing up all our nuclear weapons, we will all die, we will not go to heaven or hell, we well simply cease to exist. Nothing in the universe will think good or bad of us. It will just have happened, and the universe will continue without us, other life will take our place.
    So yess, we have tremendous responsibility in deciding what is good, and what is evil. For there is no entity that will save us if we get it wrong, nor are there second chances.

  • I noticed you did not dispute any of the further defeaters to the objections of the arguments. We’ve also argued you down from atheism to agnosticism! The next part(s) of your post are appeal to ridicule/incredulity. But why should your ridicule make one think that any Christian claims are wrong?

    Further, ockham’s razor doesn’t even come into play for most theistic arguments; many of them are deductive, and not inferences to the best explanation. It seems the razor doesn’t even apply in regards to objective morality, since the razor is used between explanations where all else is equal. We would need to see some argument why you think the universe accounts for objective morality in a simpler and more reasonable fashion. Now perhaps you may object you don’t think morality is objective at all; but in that case, the razor does not apply.

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    It’s irrelevant: If your belief is not true, if God doesn’t exist, your morality will not have a sound basis, even though you deem it correct. It may well be. A lot of Christian values may be beneficial for us, for society, for life. But if the basis is a lie, it is irrelevant.

  • But then you’re begging the question! The conclusion of the moral argument is that “God exists.” therefore, to deny either of the premises on the basis that God does not exist is fallacious. I hope that helps!

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    Hmm, Idon’t really understand you, are you saying: God must exist, because I couldn’t live without it’s morals?
    You could perfectly live without it’s morals. You do not need to base your morals on some supernatural being. You can have morals without a God.

  • Dennis, thanks for your question! It definitely helps focus the conversation. No, I am not saying we need to believe in God in order to live moral lives. What the first premise says is that in the absence of God, independently-binding objective moral values do not really exist. Perhaps we as a society have constructed values, but these are only binding insofar as society enforces them. In reality, they boil down to preferences. So, one who rapes a child or beats up an old lady has not really done anything wrong-they have done something out of style or out of the will of the people at large. Objective morality means something that is independently true whether or not we agree with it–even if no one agreed raping children was wrong, it still would be.

  • Jeff

    Again, thanks for the reply Dennis, and for answering my question. We can save the “What defines right and wrong?” question for another time, but I would note that the admission of believing some things are actually right and wrong does indeed then lead to that one.

    Then there is also the question of harm–does that include only physical harm or emotional harm as well? I am a married person and if I am unfaithful to my wife it will no doubt hurt her, though not by injuring her physically. Still, it would be wrong.

    Then there are questions about harm in the sense of what if it is not obvious and overt? If I drink myself into an early grave this will hurt my loved ones. Can it then be spoken of as wrong?

    Your last paragraph is again just an assertion. You can’t actually know any of that empirically. It is your assessment of the evidence of reality, but not the assessment of many others. It is your faith. In the end we are all believers in something, someone, or nothing. The only way it could be otherwise would be if we were omniscient–and I haven’t found anyone except my mother-in-law who actually claims that. 🙂

  • Dennis

    Dear Jeff,

    So, what gives you the right to deny a perfectly sane person, that has valid arguments, euthanasia? His interests weigh a thousand times heavier than yours. You don’t even know the person. But, you want to forbid it.

    For your God, in which that person not even believes in.

    Fine if you are religious, but again, keep your delusions to yourself. Don’t force morals (which are opinions, not absolute truths) upon us if we don’t harm you.

    Dear Randy,
    Indeed, no God will give a damn if children are raped, if old ladies are being beaten up. Nothing will judge. So it is our own responsibility.

    And with it comes some rational thinking: you have to give arguments why some things are good, and why some things are bad. You cannot just say:”yeah well, my God said it, so that’s good, or that’s bad”. Which is extremely important, because doing that will prevent rights and wrongs to be open for discussion, and being poured in absolutes. A grave error, for we live in a changing world, in which we need changeable morals, or at least morals that are open for discussion. You never know in what kind of strange situation we might find ourselves. What sometimes is good, is sometimes bad and vice versa.

  • Dennis, interesting comments. But why think how we come to discover moral values has any bearing on whether or not they are true? I certainly agree that if, for instance, people thought slavery in America in the 18th century, they should adjust their beliefs. But why would we not simply say they are mistaken? Further, I’m not sure which premise you are denying now. Remember,

    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
    2. Objective moral values do exist.

    Which one do you deny? Or is it both?

  • Jeff

    Dennis: I’m fairly confident that I haven’t spoken once about what my view of euthanasia is, nor have I spoken in a way that “forces” morals on anyone. You are making assumptions about me based on nothing I have said.

    However, if all morals are mere opinions then what gives your moral value of “not forcing morals” any validity?

  • Dennis

    Dear Jeff,

    First, sorry for making assumptions about you. It’s generally what religions do. Pouring morals in absolutes, and then they are very willing to place those morals over others who aren’t even of that religion.

    Your last question is very correct one, that is also a moral. But it is a moral based on reason, not a moral based on:”my god says so”. So you can argue over it with me. If you find good argumentation as to why my moral:”Live as you wish, as long as you do not hurt others.” is wrong in a situation, by all means, tell my why.
    How different is that with the morals of religious people. They are absolute, you cannot change their minds. Ever. You cannot go into discussion.

  • Dennis, in the absence of God, why should we think harming others is wrong?

  • Further, I think it’s been far and away demonstrated your contention that theists are not rational should be abandoned. We’ve provided rational discourse this entire time. You may disagree with our conclusions, but lack of belief doesn’t make that belief irrational.

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    Why do you need a God to think harming others is wrong?

    Anyway, I will leave it at that for now (I’m Dutch, and it is dinner time here now 😉 )
    Maybe I’ll come back to this site sometime to tease you guys 😛

  • @Dennis, well I’m glad to have met you. But you didn’t answer the question! Why is it wrong morally? The answer to your question of me is that without God, objective morality does not exist.

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    It isn’t wrong, it just that harming others is more often than not unnecessary.
    Doing so anyway is wrong for it harms life (of others) without any reason. As we are all human, we are all equal in that aspect, we are all of the same worth. So, you do not have the right to harm others, as others don’t have the right to harm you without reason.
    The answer to your question more specific, the question is faulty:
    Why should we think harming others is wrong? -has a logical outcome, because the premise is ‘harming without a cause’. Doing anything without a cause is pointless and shouldn’t be done.

  • Dennis

    Nice questions by the way in the article:

    1. Where did the universe come from?
    2. How do we know what is right and what is wrong?
    3. Does God exist?
    4. What happens to us after we die?
    5. What is the purpose of our lives?

    1) We don’t know. So you can fill in ‘God’, but that isn’t really an answer, it’s filling the gaps of not knowing with God.
    2) By reasoning.
    3) We don’t know, there isn’t any proof for it, so answering yes and using that answer to tell other people what to do and how to live is very arrogant.
    4) Rigor mortis, our mind ceases to exist, we are no longer there.
    5) To live, life makes this very clear, it does anything possible to make sure it keeps on existing. In reality you don’t die: if you have children, your children ARE you, your children are you partner. They litarally ARE you, you literally are your parents. Yes you have a mind of your own, and so do your children. But it isn’t ‘new’ life. Your children are you, you just divided yourself, like cells do. When you see an acorn tree, that drops an acorn, and in spring a new acorn tree sprouts. Then it isn’t a ‘new’ tree. It’s the same old acorn tree that divided itself. Life is immortal. It’s just our mind’s that aren’t.
    Has a kind of poetic beauty, but it’s also hard on some of us, so they like to fantasize it isn’t true.

  • Dennis, you seem to contradict yourself! Why is it wrong? Why shouldn’t it be done? You say because I don’t have the right. Do you mean the moral right? But that is precisely the question! When you say I wouldn’t have the moral right because I don’t have the moral right, or that it shouldn’t be done because it shouldn’t be done, you are engaging in circular reasoning. Why think that if it harms someone, it should not (morally) be done? Why would it be a moral wrong to harm someone without a cause? And what does this even mean? After all, suppose we have a serial killer X, who gets great joy from murdering. He is harming people for a cause, namely, his own. Perhaps you mean a sufficient or just cause. But why should we do what is considered just? Who agrees what is just? How is this objective morality? Isn’t this “might makes right” morality?

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    You should be able to figure that one out for yourself.
    Read my previous post above. What does life want? What is it’s purpose? It wants to live. I concur with life, it kinda has a point 😉 Life is worth living.
    So, I based my morals onto that.
    Now isn’t that something 😉

  • But Dennis, then morals are not objective, but subjective. Which means your aforementioned claims of some acts being wrong are factually incorrect. At best, you are sharing your opinion. But why should people believe what you believe? Isn’t that arrogant? 😉 In any case, on your standard of morality, it’s not really wrong to rape a child. It is your preference not to do so, but why should someone adhere to your preferences? It would be like you telling me to love your favorite soccer team because you do!

  • Dennis

    Yes, morals are subjective, yet again, we are all alive, and as such, we all want the same thing, to live, preferably unharmed by others.
    So don’t harm others.
    Do, and the others will harm you back (by putting you in prison.)
    Of course, in real life things aren’t that simple. Abortion is ending a life, but it might result in saving another life (the mother). So what is right and what is wrong? I don’t know, it’s a difficult ethical question. And often there isn’t a clear ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, they overlap, there are grey areas.
    I do know to be very reluctant in giving my opinions in such cases. Since morals are subjective, people have a responsibility towards themselves, their interests weigh 1000 times heavier than yours, so always be careful in what you advise or ‘tell’ them to do. If they do not harm you, they have full responsibility, but more importantly, freedom, to live their lives as they want. They only have one of it.

  • But that is not what you said earlier. Earlier, you affirmed things are really right and wrong. But if that is true, why should people bear any responsibility to themselves? Why should I be “careful”? If you mean moral freedom, this of course means they are free to rape and kill. If you mean legal freedom, you are off-topic. The bottom line is, as we can see from this thread, you have no leg to stand on when it comes to morality and its foundations. So you do not reject the first premise (at least not effectively) and you would reject the second premise of the moral argument. But yet you use language that indicates you think things really are right and wrong, and that I really do have some kind of obligation not to force people to do what I want them to do. Why can’t I just come to your country, convince enough people to agree with me, and mandate you go to bed by 10:00pm under pain of death? I’m speaking in the realm of objective morality. You may be angry, you may rebel, you may protest, but in the end if I can do it, it’s not wrong.

  • Dennis

    I think you are missing the point: if morals are subjective, your morals will never be better than mine and vice versa. So you can’t ever tell me what to do, and I cannot ever tell you what to do.

    Follow this with one simple rule of thumb, since it is my life, my morals concerning my life always take precedence over the morals you have over my life. Since my interest over my life weighs more than your interest in my life.

    This also works vice versa, my morals do not weigh heavier over your morals concerning your life, so I cannot tell you what to do.

  • Yes I can. What you may mean is that it’s not factually correct that you owe such as a moral objective. But why should your morals for your life take precedence over my morals for your life? There’s no reason that I can see. In what way do they “take precedence?” Morally? Then morals are not subjective after all. Legally? Then it is always possible your morals do not take precedence, even for your own life.

  • Dennis

    Haha, you still don’t get it ;),

    Ok, let’s presume I am a viscous killer, I like to kill for fun.

    Now, since morals are relative, there is no universal good or evil in the world. So when I kill you, no God will penalize me, there won’t be divine judgement or anything. It will happen, and that will be that. If society doesn’t find out, I will get away with it and live a happy life on the Bermudas. It’s tough, it isn’t justice, but that will happen. To bad for you, good for me.

    But morally, I was wrong.
    Here’s why:
    Your moral was wanting to live.
    My moral was ending your life.

    Your moral takes precedence because the topic at hand concerns your life, your interests in the matter weigh heavier than mine. Even though both our morals are relative, you have a lot more to lose or gain than I have.

  • Why should that result in an obligation? You have no sooner finished saying morality is subjective and then you affirm an objective moral value! Which is it? It seems you want to affirm objective morality after all (which is fitting; you don’t strike me as a psychopath). But in order to do that, you need to have a ground or a reason.

    Fine. Let’s assume you believe objective morality after all and look at the grounds. You say the action of someone ending someone else’s life in murder is wrong because that person does not want to be murdered. This is wrong because people’s own interests have a heavier moral weight. But why? What gives them that moral weight, and why do I have a moral obligation to observe this moral weight?

  • Dennis

    Morality is subjective,what’s good for one, maybe bad for another. In reality there is NO good and evil, it doesn’t exist. But since we are alive, and want to live, it’s reasonable to base our morals on that (and not on some Holy Book).
    So I tried to explain how WE as humans, as life itself, should see morality.

    Even though we know that in reality it doesn’t exist, it kind of makes sense to protect life with morals, don’t you agree?

  • Not morally, no. Not even socially. For there are social circumstances in which it is better for society to eliminate or kill those which do not contribute to societal well-being. Further, there is no reason why I shouldn’t impose my morals on you if I feel like doing it! You also said how we “should” see morality. “Should” in order to what? To be moral? To be legal?

  • Morgan

    Dear everyone,
    I believe one of the most well known philosophers of all time, Immanuel Kant, argued that fact that it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of god. The fact is there is no arguing that point for it is absolute. Ever argument may it be for god or no god reaches a point where somewhere down the line we must go “….and then it just happened. We don’t understand how…..”
    For me, it is in this moment that I let go of the futile arguments and started searching for what I believe makes me a better person: prosociality. I have dome much research one the topic and if warranted I will argue my case further with many cited articles but it boils down to this: acts that benefit others prolong the life of civilizations as well as making us happier by stimulating our prefrontal cortexes. The reason religion works for many is because the foundations of religion are based on selfless acts towards others which in turn help society grow in a positive direction and make one’s own self feel better.

    I understand that radicals on both sides ruin this but nothing will ever be perfect.

    I merely would like to point this out and also say I am not inferring that only religion can lead to or bolster prosocial acts, it is just that they are more centered on those subjects.

    That is all for now…..

  • Kant has largely been discredited by modern philosophy. Further, what’s best for society is not always what is best for the individual. The first issue is epistemic. It is impossible to know what will bring about the ultimate good or least amount of harm. Suppose John invites David on a fishing trip (and David has no friends). Most would say this is a morally good action. However, we have no idea if John’s action is actually good since we don’t know how David will react. Suppose (unbeknownst to John) David is mentally disturbed and kills John. John’s action (in theory) did not result in the greatest good, and definitely included harm. Even then, there’s no way to know; perhaps John’s death leads to enhanced preventative measures that save the lives of tens of thousands in the future. This leads us to our second objection against this view of morality, which is:

    This is a consequentialist view of morality. If I told you that I believed any action was justifiable, so long as it had a positive outcome, you may very well be appalled. We call that “the ends justify the means,” and most people think this is not a very good ethical theory. Yet this is precisely what this view entails (even if it’s not what is intended). Perhaps then some will back off of this claim. They may say instead of embracing what is ultimately good (since then atrocities like John’s murder would be considered good), each action should be judged on its immediate effect. For example, it would always be wrong to steal, since that brings harm to an individual.

    Consider this thought experiment: suppose my friend is deathly afraid of submarines. He needed to get to an appointment quickly, but the fastest way was via submarine (unbeknownst to him). He arrives at the travel station, seeing a long hall with the letter “A” on the left and the letter “B” on the right. He further knows boarding one of them will lead him to a train, while the other will lead him to a submarine. He asks me, “I trust you. Which way is the train?” I know that the submarine is just as safe as the train, that he is unlikely to find out he is on the submarine (silly, but it’s a thought experiment), and that it’s extremely important to make it on time to his appointment. I point him down to B, which is actually the submarine. His mind is placed at ease, which is a good immediate effect. He further will end up at his meeting on time, which is a substantially good effect. But suppose he finds out mid-trip that he was not on a train. He would experience mental anguish. Most people would not think the momentarily good effect justifies the mental pain I ultimately brought about (or the feeling of betrayal, etc.). The illustration is only heightened if we consider some tragedy happened (such as death). No one would say the action which produces a somewhat good effect but then later produces a horrible or tragic effect is justified.

  • Dennis

    Hmm, maybe I should put this differently then.
    If we all commit suicide, that would be subjectively morally a bad thing. It causes us all to die. That’s bad for us, as we won’t be living anymore.
    But objectively, no good or evil has occurred. The rabbits, the trees, the tuna fish, the foxes, the alligators, the tigers, the badgers, the lizards, they will throw a huge party to celebrate. The tyranny of humankind will be over. More room for other life! Nothing in the universe will care. There are no set parameters for what is right and what is wrong. We decide ourselves. And even though deciding what is right or wrong is subjective, even though it doesn’t matter to anything else but us, it matters to us, and that is what matters.

  • Well now you’re conflating subjective moral values with the flourishing of an individual. They are not always identical. So you agree: there is nothing wrong with raping a baby, or torturing your mother for fun, etc. Would you at least be willing to say those words with those examples in the proper indexical referents? There’s something about people who deny objective morality: they rarely are willing to internalize these issues. The last phrase of your last sentence, which is “that is what matters” is meaningless according to your view of morality.

  • Morgan

    Wait wait wait…..ummmmm did you just say that Immanuel Kant is discredited in modern philosophy? The same Immanuel Kant who is credited with bringing together modern rationalism and empiricism AND who strongly influences ethics, metaphysics and political philosophy fields today? That guy?…….huh.

    It is obvious to me that you are one of those people that clearly just gets a kick out of arguing because you feel you have never met anyone, or met many people, who can “beat you”. This makes this argument less interesting as it is just a struggle to see who can be stubborn and make up irrational arguments and stories to support their view the longest…..I mean win.

    It is a shame….when i first say this thread I was hoping for productive debate and instead found this ranting angry person…..sigh.

  • Morgan, I see you have not addressed the issue, and instead engaged in ad hominems. I suggest that when or if you are ready, you may engage in the arguments. I think you’ll find them productive and I hope you have a wonderful day!

  • Morgan

    For me he is showing to much anger in his righting and it is bleeding onto his logic….I apologize for interrupting your debate/discussion. It is obvious I am showing signs of anger as well and for that reason I find it best for me to just step back and let this one go. Please continue on and I apologize to you both for any rude things I might have said and for my intrusion.

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy
    Quote: The last phrase of your last sentence, which is “that is what matters” is meaningless according to your view of morality.

    No, it is not. And for someone that knows what ad hominem means, you must know what non sequitur means. Even if morals are relative, or subjective, it doesn’t mean we as persons automatically assign less value to them. That only happens in your mind.
    I assign less value to Christian morals, because they are objective. They are not based on arguments, but on “my god says so”. Which is a terrible argument.

  • Wow Morgan. In all seriousness, that is perhaps the wisest thing I have seen someone do in quite some time! You have my respect, and I apologize for offending you. Hope you have a good night (it’s off to bed for me).

  • Hi Dennis. A non-sequitur means “it does not follow.” The argument is

    1. If morality is not objective, nothing matters morally.
    2. Morality is not objective.
    3. Nothing matters morally.

    (3) obviously follows from (1) and (2), so you must not mean that it is a non-sequitur. Perhaps you mean simply that others value them. But if you do, it makes the second “that’s all that matters” redundant, and hence, meaningless to objective morality. If morality is not objective, it just doesn’t make a difference that X matters to someone.

  • Wil

    Very nice discussion, but I can see this is just another very cyclical argument on both sides.
    Both of you have are set in your views and I doubt any discussion is going to change that.

    This is my view – Religion is man made and therefore imperfect. There have been may atrocities done in the name of religion only God is perfect and only his Son was without blame. The rest of us have a lot work to do 🙂 It all boils down to Faith. Faith is believing in something that is not proven. If it was proven it would be fact and no longer Faith.

    Dennis – You have spent a lot time talking about how religion forces you to do things you don’t want to. It is obvious your experience with religion is not a good one. Fine don’t be religious. How does discrediting religion (which is man made) discredit the existence of GOD?

    I am just curious…

    Morgan – If you are still lurking you might find the book “The Spiritual Brain” an interesting read.

  • Dennis

    1. If morality is not objective, nothing matters morally.
    2. Morality is not objective.
    3. Nothing matters morally.

    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
    2. Objective moral values do exist.
    3. Therefore, God exists.

    THAT IS THE NON SEQUITUR ! Directy in your first 1) Then again in the second 2) and 3) Why do you presume subjective morals don’t matter??! Your assumption is based on nothing! But you say, since morals are objective, God must exist- HUH?!

    If one of your morals is:”Eating oranges is good”. IT MATTERS TO YOU, NOW DOESN’T IT??
    How does that go with someone else if one of his morals is:”I hate oranges”.

    Since according to your ‘theory’ morals are objective, how the f*** do you explain the differences between the 2? Is your answer then too, like in your theory:”Since the moral for eating oranges is apparently subjective, God doesn’t exist”.

    Really, I do not know where to start to get that rubbish out of your head.

  • Dennis

    Dear Will,

    Quote –How does discrediting religion (which is man made) discredit the existence of GOD? —

    I do not discredit God, I discredit religion.

  • Jeff

    Hi Dennis–

    I do appreciate your apology. Sorry I went away yesterday, but work was calling! 🙂

    You and Randy had quite the discussion from that point on and I have no desire just to rehash the same points. Thanks for the civil discussion though. And rest assured, though I am indeed a Christian believer, I have no desire to force anything on anyone. Jesus said I should treat others the way I want to be treated and I try to live that.

    One more point about “morals”–I certainly believe in them–and believe they imply that there are non-empirical realities. But I also know I don’t live up to them. In my mind, genuine Christianity is not moralism (though it respects morals), but actually a refutation of it. If you are ever feeling curious, consider reading Tim Keller’s THE PRODIGAL GOD. It expounds on that very concept far more eloquently than my ability (or time) to do so here.

    In the meantime, wishing good things for you this and all your days.

  • Dennis, you’re confusing a number of things. If-then conditionals just examine what is to be the case were some other state of affairs to obtain. The moral argument is what I purport, the first argument is what you purport.

    In your denial of (1) of what I call “your argument,” you are committing the fallacy of equivocation, specifically on the word “matters.” Something cannot matter “morally” in any ultimate sense; it just doesn’t make a difference. If subjective morals do matter to us, then they are objective, by definition.

    Also, you seem to be confused about valid methods of reasoning, since you discredit modus tollens but embrace affirming the consequent. I think I’ve thoroughly demonstrated the untenability of your claims, and thus the conclusion, “God exists,” stands. I’ll let you have the last word.

  • Dennis

    Dear Randy,

    This is your key mistake:

    “If subjective morals do matter to us, then they are objective, by definition.”

    And for I don’t know how many posts from you now, you cannot give me an explanation as to WHY this would be true, you just keep on saying:”But it is true!, really euhm, just because it is, and uhm, because by definition!”

    No…it is not. To use your example, if I rape babies for the fun of it, it wouldn’t be an objective moral, BUT THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE SAYING!
    So as long as you don’t ‘get’ that, whether you consciously do this to troll me or really are oblivious, I don’t know, but it is very tiresome.

  • Dennis

    Dear Jeff,

    I’m pleased to hear you don’t force your morals upon others. A very good trait (most of the time hehe 😉 )

    And forgive me for not going to read the book. I do indeed think that once you believe you can completely lose yourself in the labyrinth of fantasies made up by all the other people that believed in that same faith.

    I wish to stay out of that labyrinth. 😉

  • Jeff


    You are truly wary of all things “religious”! I read all sorts of things from all sorts of angles all the time, and have been blessed with insights from some surprising sources. Plus…it’s always good to know one’s enemies! 😉

  • Dennis

    Haha, I am considered the enemy? I don’t think of religious people that way, until they try to force their views upon others. (And Christianity isn’t as fundamental as some other religions, thank heavens, on most areas they are quite reasonable 🙂 ).

    But I do pity religious people, they are in love with the chains that bind them.

    Here in the Netherlands Christian religion is slowly falling apart, more and more leave the churches, secularism is stealing them away (I love secularism). Again, thank heavens, but it isn’t going fast enough for my tastes. I hope that in 100 years from now religion will have disappeared from the face of this earth, or, that religion, but also, culture, nationality, race, ideological views etc. all come second to the one thing we have in common, that we are all human.
    We could truly make a paradise here, if it weren’t for idiots who put other things before their being human as priorities.

    So, now you have some insight in the over the top idealistic views of the enemy. How are you going to defeat that? 😉

  • Jeff


    The “enemy” comment was in jest of course! I don’t have to defeat anyone because the King is the king and will be shown to be such. I just have to be faithful, and one of my primary ways of doing so is to love even those who count themselves my enemy.

    As to chains…that was a perfect description of my life outside of Christ. The only real freedom I have known is IN him. 🙂

    I don’t think secularism will provide the utopia you envision, in fact, I don’t think it will win out in the end. Just my opinion of course, and also my “faith”. 😉

    Good day, my Netherlands neighbor, and hopefully our paths will cross again on this site soon.

  • Dennis

    I guess the chains are only seen from people on the other side looking at each other. But who is right? We can’t both be.
    As long Jesus doesn’t come back, I’ll say I am, teasing religious people. So we might be talking more 😉 Good day to you as well!

  • Wil

    Hello Dennis:

    So you discount religion? Good Now that religion is out of the way. Why do you not believe there is a God?



  • Dennis

    Hi Wil,

    Because I do not know whether a God exists. There is nothing that points towards the existence of a God. And especially not the kinds of retarded Gods the big monotheistic religions have (I am CERTAIN, no God like those exist!) . Those are just the product of the imaginative human mind, that wishes to be special.

    So as long there is no proof for a God, I will not ‘believe’ in one.
    Technically: I will NEVER believe in a God, I will only either know a God to be there, or I won’t.

  • Pingback: Is it arrogant and judgmental to defend your answers to ultimate questions? « Wintery Knight()

  • Please excuse this comment coming a week late, but I just stumbled across this thread, and thought I’d toss in my two cents.

    1. Whatever begins to exist had a cause.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the universe had a cause.

    1. The existence of the universe is due either to necessity, chance, or design.
    2. It is not due to necessity or chance.
    3. Therefore, it is due to design.

    Is it possible that the cause happened after the effect? What I mean is that as long as we’re postulating incredibly miraculous events, like universes appearing from nothing, then isn’t it also possible that the cause of this universe appearing as it did, happened not at the beginning of the universe, but perhaps at the end?

    One hypothetical example: Man does not go extinct; instead he spreads slowly but surely throughout the galaxy, and in the extreme far reaches of time and space colonizes this entire universe. With his billions of years of accumulated knowledge, at some point in the unimaginably distant future, he triggers an event that happens not in the future, but in the incredibly distant past, thus in essence bootstrapping himself into existence. With this admittedly far-fetched scenario, both the Cosmological and the Teleological arguments seem to be satisfied, and without admitting the necessity of a God, at least an independent God of nonhuman origination anyway.

    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
    — Arthur C. Clarke

    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
    2. Objective moral values do exist.
    3. Therefore, God exists

    I don’t think it follows that a creator is necessary for there to be objective moral values. I also don’t wish to become bogged down in endless wrangling and nutpicking over the definition of [objective vs. subjective.] Behaviors are learned and they are also inherited. You merely need look at the great kingdom of nature to show what a powerful force is natural instinct. Supposing that there was no God who said might not have said: “thou shalt not kill.” Isn’t it possible that the pressure of generation after generation of mankind attempting to survive and flourish in their individual societies, weeded out the ones who tended to be destructive to it? One could even say that man is genetically predisposed to follow certain moral values, as those who don’t are—for the most part—unable to successfully pass along their genes to their children or in any event to care for them. Even if there is no “gene” which contains morality, isn’t it also possible that our present society which teaches these morals also evolved much like mankind itself? Those societies with defective moral substrates tended to die off.

  • Hi Jack, I’d just like to focus on the moral argument (to keep it relatively short). It seems your objection to (1) is actually an example of the genetic fallacy. It simply does not matter how we come to know moral values (epistemology); it matters what their foundation is (ontology). I think this conflation is evidenced in your response since it purports to be a refutation of (1), but then moves to discuss whether or not moral values are ontologically objective. It simply doesn’t matter that they are not objective to (1), as you could agree with the premise and yet reject the conclusion (by rejecting [2]). The good news is, you ought to agree with the a material conditional if you embrace the denial of the antecedent or the affirmation of the consequent but not both. So, if you, say, believe God exists, you should support (1) as true, and if you believe objective moral values do not exist, you should support (1) as true. It seems you are hinting that you do in fact believe the affirmation of the consequent. Therefore, it seems your objection cannot logically lie with (1), but with (2). But what non-fallacious reason is there to suppose moral values are not independently-binding?

  • I’m sorry Randy, but your response to my questions concerning the existence of God and objective moral values, seemed—at least to me—to be a strange and obfuscatory sort of intellectual dishonesty. I wonder if you could rewrite your incomprehensible cryptogram without trying to further obfuscate whatever it is that you’re trying to ask? Since I have no idea what—if any—question you’re asking, save that it has to do with the origination of moral values, I’ll further expand on my original thoughts in the hopes that something of what you asked might accidently be addressed.

    You posited that if objective moral rules exist—and they do—then they must come from God. I merely raised the possibility that objective moral values might not be handed down from some supreme deity, but could arise during the course of history from outside pressures—more terrestrial ones. Looking back through time, I see horrors and atrocities that appall and disgust me. How could people have acted that way? I, for one, don’t understand it. Is killing wrong? If I kill my baby is it [wrong or a preference.] Assuming that only one of only these two possibilities is correct, is merely begging the question.

    A person who engages in his preference for killing babies will not long survive in that pursuit. I’d venture to say that from a Darwinian standpoint, it’s definitely not a survival trait. It’s extremely likely that there is actual evolutionary pressure to follow certain moral values. Further, even more than evolutionary pressure, there is societal pressure to conform to specific moral precepts.

    When I examine the history of this world it is a dark and nasty business. With few exceptions the societies that have condoned the rape and murder of seven-year-olds did not long endure, nor did their citizens. Objective morals exist. They are not a preference, and they might not be God given, they might simply be a framework of moral beliefs that happens to work, and have just spontaneously arisen in the course of people trying to get along with each other.

    Consider the Parable of the Monkeys. While there could be some outside entity forcing his moral outlook upon us all with no earthly explanation of why, it’s also equally likely that we are all bound by a perfectly natural moral framework that has grown and evolved just as we have.

  • rigelrover

    Danger comes from dogmatism… including the dogmatic methodological naturalims adopted by many people in academia.

  • Jack, simply because you did not understand it, it does not follow there was “intellectual dishonesty.” Further, your claim of objective moral values arising from society is exactly the definition of subjective moral values; otherwise how are they independently binding?

    As to your assertion that survival is abetted by following moral values, that does not follow either. Suppose two men are in the ocean adrift, and their raft is sinking with no available help in sight. No one knows these men are in the raft. One of them must go or the raft will likely sink. Suppose man A drowns man B. No one knows what he has done, and it was advantageous in the realm of survival for him to kill. This strongly suggests survival morality is not objective (or at the very least leads to horrifically counterintuitive results).

    Finally, you seem to conflate objectivity with subjectivity by first claiming another standard for objective morality’s existence, then claiming that saying they exist or do not exist “begs the question.” But what question? We’re discussing the first premise, and positing objective moral values existence or nonexistence doesn’t beg the question of whether or not the indicative material conditional would be true (if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist)!

  • Andrew Ryan

    Randy, why would objective morality necessarily follow from a deity’s existence? You claim it, but offer no evidence to support it. If morality is subject to this God’s existence, then it is not objective.

  • Randy, you proposed three syllogisms. All three are flawed. I believe I’ve proven that. We can debate back and forth, with you providing little anecdotes which support your position, I.E. the two men in a boat, but that is pointless. I notice you haven’t bothered to defend the cosmological or teleological syllogisms you presented. Understand please, that I won’t get into an asinine and drawn-out debate with you about the definition of subjective vs. objective. You say that evolutionary forces and societal forces are not objective. I disagree, they are completely objective, at least in terms of a specific individual. Your entire argument Randy, is the very definition of begging the question.

  • Vic

    I’ve been following the conversation between jack and randy a bit.

    Jack, am I right to deduce that you are saying that it is possible for societies to organically produce their own objective morals? If this is so, then aren’t they subjective already? Technically, multiple societies can have different objective morals. If so, how are they objective anymore? Aren’t they subjective with respect to other societies? A community living in the north pole should have very different morals compared to a community living in the equator since they have very different environmental pressures. The Spartans felt it was okay to kill a baby if it was deemed weak, but the Athenians found them barbaric. Why did the Spartan have so much moral disparity compared to others who were living near them at the same time period?

    Just curious…

  • Andrew Ryan

    Vic, different societies DO have different moral systems, just like different religions do. That’s just a statement of fact. Why are morals coming from a God or holy book any more objective? Where is the God getting them from? Is he basing it on something or making them up?

  • @Andrew, I’m simply saying that God is the objective grounds for morality. In these comments (which I have contributed to extensively) it has been argued God is a metaphysically necessary being, if he exists at all. As such and being the ground of objective moral values, these would also be necessary.

    @Jack. It’s unlikely you’ve proven much of anything–or else you should be in an academic journal. It’s also untrue the thought experiment proffered was “pointless,” as I even spelled out the point. This is a specific example of intellectual hand-waving, unlike your dismissive “your entire argument is question-begging.” You mean one has to believe God exists in order to believe were God not to exist, then objective moral values do not exist? You mean one has to believe God exists in order to believe objective moral values exist? Since you said the “entire argument” is question-begging, you’ve hence contradicted your prior (and subsequent) assertion that morality is objective. Unless, that is, you believe God exists! So which is it? Am I begging the question, and your position is logically incoherent/you believe God exists, or is the entire argument not question-begging after all?

  • Jack, am I right to deduce that you are saying that it is possible for societies to organically produce their own objective morals?

    Yes, different societies have different moral frameworks. This has been true throughout history. This is yet another argument against “God given” morality. If an outside sentient entity had total power and control of the universe, and could dictate its own flavor of morality to all its creations, then why do different cultures have completely different morals?

    The definition of Subjective:
    a. Proceeding from or taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world: a subjective decision.
    b. Particular to a given person; personal: subjective experience.

    The outside pressures which provide an individual with his moral compass are not found within his own mind (subjective) but are to be found within his society, and within each member of that society. These morals are found both in a society’s laws and within its manners and within its expectations. These are not subjective morals they are objective. They do not change from individual to individual, although they will change substantially from culture to culture.

    Additionally, I can’t help but look to nature and the fact that highly complex instinctual behaviors are to be found there, and infer that humans also are genetically passed similar instincts or “morals.” Call them taboos if you wish, these same taboos—cannibalism and incest to name two—are fairly standard throughout all of human civilization.

  • A dictionary is not a philosophical resource; if I’ve said that once to the uninitiated I’ve said it a hundred times. Further, society A says slavery was right; we say it is wrong. But what you must of necessity mean is that for society A, slavery was right, and it is incorrect for us to say it was then wrong. Additionally, we then have a problem where objective moral values are contradictory. A bit like saying 2+2=5 for them but 4 for us, and they are both objectively true.

  • A dictionary is not a philosophical resource; if I’ve said that once to the uninitiated I’ve said it a hundred times. Further, society A says slavery was right; we say it is wrong. But what you must of necessity mean is that for society A, slavery was right, and it is incorrect for us to say it was then wrong. Additionally, we then have a problem where objective moral values are contradictory. A bit like saying 2+2=5 for them but 4 for us, and they are both objectively true.

    A dictionary is a philosophical resource; If I’ve said that once, I’ve said it enough, since repeating one’s self a hundred times would indicate a truly obnoxious personality, the kind of pushy know-it-all who always has to have the last word.

    Your definition of subjective is incorrect. Furthermore appeals to authority and question begging are all you have so far submitted. No matter how many times you rewrite the same basic things, you haven’t said anything new, nor have you supported your orginal syllogism. And, if by OBJECTIVE, you mean scientifically provable, then just leave morality out, because it has no scientific basis.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “@Andrew, I’m simply saying that God is the objective grounds for morality.”

    You’re not saying anything. You’re asserting that God leads to objective morality, but have done nothing to explain why or even what that would actually mean.

  • Bill Pratt

    Different societies have different morality? I think it’s just the opposite. I think that every society recognizes the same basic moral rules – love your neighbor, don’t take human life without justification, cowardice is wrong, justice is good, rape is wrong, kindness is good, theft is wrong, respect your parents, and on and on. Sure, there are some disagreements between societies, but the basic structure of morality is present everywhere.

    Without this truth, there could be no diplomacy between nations or appeals to human rights. Every nation would just speak past every other nation.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “the basic structure of morality is present everywhere.”

    Any nation with no basic structure would fall apart, so survivorship bias insures that we’d see basic agreements on behaviour.

    But lets look at some differences – one country’s age of consent is another country’s statutory rape. Two men can get married in one country, in another their sexuality would get them jailed. America’s freedom of speech allows the Phelps family to protest at soldiers’ funerals, whereas Germany’s history has led to a legislation against holocaust denial. Many nations see gun ownership as intrinsically immoral, in America it’s practically an imperative. Most counties have long ago eliminated capital punishment, others execute hundreds of people a year.

    Many people see abortion as equivalent to murder, and yet it’s state funded in many countries.

    And if we look historically we see huge differences too. Your grandfather could easily have known people who used to be slaves. Age of consent in many states of America was about 12 as late as the last century. And black and white people couldn’t marry each other in Virginia up to the 1950s.

    You may see these as all small insignificant differences. I don’t.

    And yes, states do have to talk to each other. We had to make deals with Colonel Gaddaffi, and still have to deal with all sorts of nasty dictators, simply for political expediency. We can appeal to human rights, but torture still goes on, restriction of human rights still goes on.

  • Jack, I think it’s obvious you’ve lost the debate here, as you’ve simply resorted to ad hominems and sweeping generalizations. You may feel free to try again at any point, though. 🙂

  • @Andrew, feel free to re-read the thread. Also, feel free to re-read my response to you. Why is it you think “asserting” is not “saying”? Why is it you think if X is metaphysically necessary, natural property Y of X is also not metaphysically necessary?

  • Andrew Ryan

    Randy, it is meaningless to say that it is ‘necessary’ for God to be objectively moral. Necessary for what? Necessary for your argument? Necessary to fulfil your definition of God? You can’t define something into existence. Before you say that goodness is a natural property of God, you need to explain what you mean by ‘goodness’. If ‘goodness’ is defined purely in relation to God, then you’re making a circular argument. How would you differentiate this from assertion that ‘evil is a natural property of God’?

    What do you actually MEAN by saying ‘God is good’? What extra information does it give us about God if you say that he is ‘good’? Where does this ‘natural property’ come from? If it it self-created then what stops it being arbitrary? If it comes from somewhere external of God, then God is not required for an objective morality.

  • Andrew, to say something is “necessary” is not meaningless, as your subsequent questions demonstrate! Rather, you mean you are epistemically unsure of what information the term conveys. As I mentioned, it is metaphysical necessity which is in view; that is, the fundamentals of reality. No one is attempting to define anything into existence, as many (even atheists) embrace the premise that God is the objective ground of morality were morality to exist (atheists simply deny objective morality exists in these cases); some atheists even agree God is metaphysically necessary, if he exists at all (these atheists simply believe it is impossible such a God exists).

    Now your objection here isn’t actually against moral ontology, but epistemology. You just want to know about morality. In morality, goodness is intuitively known. It is those values (such as love, justice, truth, etc.) which are believed to conform to a standard. God’s nature is posited as that standard of goodness. The argument is that God’s nature is the explanation for morality; but that’s not all his nature is. This is why it’s no more a circular argument than it is to explain a person in terms of a property. Suppose there is a person X who grounds the truth of proposition Y; Y is peculiarly true to X alone. Then it is the case that X is the standard or definition of Y; we would say X is Y. But X can be more than simply Y; it’s just that X entails Y and Y entails X. You’d have to say such an issue is impossible (which is extremely improbable).

    I think the rest of your post stems from the confusion surrounding metaphysically-necessary beings and their properties (since morality would neither be created nor external).

  • Andrew Ryan

    Randy, you’re still not answering the question.

    “In morality, goodness is intuitively known. It is those values (such as love, justice, truth, etc.) which are believed to conform to a standard. God’s nature is posited as that standard of goodness.”

    None of this tells us anything. So, values are conforming to a standard, which comes from God. OK. But what makes that standard ‘good’, rather than ‘evil’? How are you judging this to be good? If you’re judging it to be good by its own standard, then yes that is a circular argument.

    “morality would neither be created nor external”

    So where does this property come from? Could it have been any other way?

    See the discussion on Euthyphro’s Dilemma on this site to see the problem in your argument.

  • Andrew Ryan

    To clairify, you’ve identified a quality that you believe a God MUST have (I’ll put aside for now that you’ve no way of demonstrating that this quality actually exists). You call this quality, say, X. And you give X the label of ‘good’. Why not instead call it ‘evil’? Whence the imperative.

    You can say it is OBVIOUS that love, justice, truth etc are ‘good’ qualities. But if that is the case, then they would be OBVIOUSLY good qualities with or without a God, and therefore the atheist has nothing to justify to you.

  • Andrew, you’re still confusing epistemic uncertainty with ontological reference, and that confusion runs into the problem you face. For instance, when you say, “You can say it is OBVIOUS that love, justice, truth etc are ‘good’ qualities. But if that is the case, then they would be OBVIOUSLY good qualities with or without a God, and therefore the atheist has nothing to justify to you,” you conflate moral epistemology with moral ontology. No one claims you must believe in God to know morality (at least no one of whom I am aware).

    Further, to ask for a further explanation of a posited ultimate explanation simply presupposes the explanation offered isn’t the ultimate explanation! It is analogous to explaining libertarian free will. Why did Jones do A? Because Jones willed to do A? But what caused Jones to do that? Nothing. He just did. He may have had a reason to do it, but he himself is the ultimate cause or explanation. To ask further is to presuppose that which is posited!

    Now that brings us to metaphysical necessity. Your continued objections concern me, if only because it seems you do not agree that if X is metaphysically necessary, then property Y is also metaphysically necessary. You may object we do not know if God is metaphysically necessary, but God here is posited in the traditional sense of being the creator of all, the maximally excellent being, et al. So you may then object that God, if he does exist, may arbitrate these moral values, so that these are not an essential property. But then they are not objective, and hence cannot be applied to the first premise (if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist). The only way they could is if you insist that it is in fact the case that God exists and objective moral values do not exist, or by asserting God does not exist and objective moral values do exist. But then the onus is on you.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Offering free will is just comparing one problematic subject with another.

    “For instance, when you say, “You can say it is OBVIOUS that love…”

    “No one claims you must believe in God to know morality (at least no one of whom I am aware).”

    I wasn’t claiming that anyone WAS making such a claim. I was pre-empting a possible objection on the apologists’ side. I was not making that objection myself. And yes, I HAVE heard that objection made.

    “The only way they could is if you insist that it is in fact the case that God exists and objective moral values do not exist, or by asserting God does not exist and objective moral values do exist”

    Well you have neither demonstrated that objective morality exists, nor that a God exists. You’re the one making these claims, not me.

    “God here is posited in the traditional sense of being the creator of all, the maximally excellent being”

    William Lane Craig says that using that definition, God must be perfectly moral, given that morality is a ‘great making property’. The problem here is that he is trying to smuggle in an objectivity. Who says that morality is a great-making property? Because he has defined it as such? If we can make that definition to EXPLAIN God’s morality, then ‘morality being a great-making property’ must exist as a true proposition EXTERNALLY to God. That being the case, God is not needed to make it so.

  • “Well you have neither demonstrated that objective morality exists, nor that a God exists. You’re the one making these claims, not me.”

    You seem to misunderstand the material conditional. You do not have to believe either of those things in order to believe the proposition “if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.” You should only reject the conditional in the case that you think if God does exist then objective morality does not exist (which I have never seen defended*), or if you think objective morality does exist but God does not (the far more common route).

    That it is greater to be morally perfect than it is to be a moral transgressor seems to be obvious, for in the former case there is no deviation from such a standard while in the latter there is at least one. It’s analogous to a baseball game. That hitting the first pitch out of the park is greater than striking out just seems obvious.

    So, in short, the internal coherence of the first premise (if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist) is intact and no alternative has been proffered which is at least as plausible as God to account for morality’s being objective (view this counterfactually, if you wish [if morality were to be objective]). I’d say the first premise is in good shape! Of course, the atheist need not believe in God automatically. He may reject the second premise (objective moral values do exist).

  • Andrew Ryan

    I don’t see why the existence of a God would affect the question of objective morality either way. You’ve not shown how His existence would create an objective morality. And you’ve not really explained what an objective morality would even be.

    “That hitting the first pitch out of the park is greater than striking out just seems obvious.”

    Baseball is based on subjective rules, rules someone at one point made up. You can say that it’s better to pitch out the park GIVEN the agreed rules.

    “That it is greater to be morally perfect than it is to be a moral transgressor seems to be obvious”

    You need to explain what ‘morally perfect’ actually means before you can make such an assertion. And also what you mean by ‘greater’. Greater in what manner?

  • Andrew, again I am not saying God’s existence “creates” objective morality, but rather necessitates it. If X is necessary, and Y is essential to X, Y is necessary. This is a well-known modal inference, and I’ve seen nothing from you as to why we should not think it to be so.

    You’re also delving into Loki’s Wager territory. It concerns me that you may not be too interested in truth when you implicitly acknowledge what “better” means in one sentence and then demand to know what it means in the other. Your objection to the baseball analogy captures the essence of my argument. It is adherence to a given standard, or lack of deviation from it, which makes something better than another which does deviate. In point of fact, I do not need to explain the content of moral perfection to know what it means. I need only point out it is lack of deviance from that standard. So long as this is coherent, then God is plausible as the objective grounds of morality, were God and/or morality to exist.

    So far, we’ve seen nothing to suggest this is logically incoherent (read: logical contradiction) and no plausible alternative.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “you implicitly acknowledge what “better” means in one sentence and then demand to know what it means in the other.”

    I explained my point clearly. If you don’t understand what I’ve written, please ask for a clarification rather than just accuse me of not being interested in the truth.

    I pointed out that ‘better’ in regards to baseball means ‘better, GIVEN the man-made, arbitrary rules that players of baseball implicitly agree to”. I was asking you what the ‘given’ is in the better used in the other context.

    “So far, we’ve seen nothing to suggest this is logically incoherent (read: logical contradiction) and no plausible alternative.”

    Logically incoherent? Well let’s see – you’ve got phenomena X – which you cannot demonstrate – and you say it can only be caused by entity Y – which you also cannot demonstrate, through a process you cannot explain.

    As for plausible alternatives, why would it be any less plausible to attribute ‘objective morals’ to the nature of pixies, fairies, elves – all of which are ‘necessarily’ the embodiment of good, by my own definition of those entities.

    “I need only point out it is lack of deviance from that standard.”

    What standard? X is lack of deviance from the standard of X. What extra information are you adding by calling that X ‘morality’?

  • On the contrary, Andrew, I understood your reference well! You mentioned something was better given a standard–that’s all I tried to show, and you apparently agree!

    “Logically incoherent? Well let’s see – you’ve got phenomena X – which you cannot demonstrate – and you say it can only be caused by entity Y – which you also cannot demonstrate, through a process you cannot explain.”

    To be helpful, this is not logical incoherence. At best, this is an example of an unsupported assertion. However, even unsupported assertions are not of necessity contradictory.

    As to your alternative, it simply reduces itself to exactly what I say: a metaphysically necessary being. Now, you may object pixies and the like are not metaphysically necessary, but then the morals they ground are not objective, but rather subjectively true and dependently, rather than independently, binding. Hence this is not a candidate for objective morality. Further, if you do not mean a metaphysically-necessary being, in what way do you intend the being to ground morality? What reason have we to believe it? If you do mean it is a metaphysically-necessary being, then your definition of it as a pixie is at best superfluous.

    “Being good” is identical with good. How is this a problem? Again, this just asks for another explanation on to an ultimate explanation. If you wonder what belongs in the content of what is good, you’re no longer debating moral ontology (being), but epistemology.

    Finally, we still see there is no reason to suppose there is an alternative for grounding objective morality, if it exists, which is at least as plausible as God; and no reason to suppose that were God to exist, objective morality would not (nor the conjunction of that particular antecedent or consequent). If God doesn’t exist, how is it true that objective morality exists again?

  • Andrew Ryan

    “You mentioned something was better given a standard”

    Fine, it was an arbitrary standard. If you agree that objective ‘betters’ can happen within a man-made framework, then you don’t need a supernatural explanation for an objective morality. Within a utilitarian framework, optimum actions will theoretically exist, even if we can’t always perfectly work them out. In this sense, atheists have no problem discussing an objective morality.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “. Now, you may object pixies and the like are not metaphysically necessary”

    Your God is only metaphysically necessary because you define Him as such. Anyone else is equally able to similarly define any other supernatural beings as metaphysically necessary.

    As for Loki’s wager, the definition of morality in this context is rather important. If you cannot define what you actually mean by it, your argument is worthless. It’s just an attribute you claim an entity has necessarily, which doesn’t have to have anything to do with what we mean when we talk about someone acting in a good or evil way.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “. If God doesn’t exist, how is it true that objective morality exists again?”

    I just answered that. Now replace the word ‘doesn’t’ with ‘does’ and the same question comes back to you. Again.

  • Hi Andrew, this will be my last post, for we are simply repeating ourselves. I’ll leave you to have the last word! The point of the analogy was that something is judged to be closer to a standard based upon that standard, and it is better to be closer to that standard. Objective/subjective concerns just don’t come into play, unless you think that one can adhere closer to a subjective standard but cannot adhere closer to an objective standard.

    The concept of God’s metaphysical necessity is only posited in respect to the question of why a God grounds objective morality. Your objection wasn’t an objection to the coherence of this, but rather some sort of appeal to ridicule whereby you insisted there was a metaphysically necessary being which also was a fairy. Ockham’s razor will shave away such an attribute, all things being equal (which, as far as I can tell, is your point: you believe both are equal.) If this is the case, you’ll have to provide some sort of evidence–otherwise we may dismiss the fairy in favor of just metaphysical necessity.

    Next, throughout this thread (especially early on, before our conversation), I have defined objective moral values as that which is “good” and “evil” which is true and binding whether anyone believes in them or not, or whether anyone agrees with the content or not. You have pressed for what that means, but I have responded this is an ultimate explanation (such as mathematical explanations cannot be pressed further to justify the use of themselves–at some point you realize the concept of a number without having to have an explanation of the concept of a number [or its explanation for further study]). You have responded by wanting to know the content of the moral values, but this is irrelevant, a category error conflating epistemology and ontology.

    Finally, you did not answer how objective morality exists without God. At best, you attempted to offer an explanation of morality in terms of “arbitrariness,” which is exactly the opposite of objective morality.

    So we see we have no reason to reject the first premise (if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist [whose contrapositive is not, as you have repeatedly claimed, “if God exists, objective moral values exist,” but rather “if objective moral values exist, God exists”]). We also should only reject such if we believe either God exists and objective moral values do not exist, or if we believe God does not exist and objective moral values exist. I have provided a logically consistent model, and no plausible, logically consistent model has been offered for either of the two aforementioned criteria for rejection. As such, it seems the moral argument, at least on the basis of its first premise, remains more plausibly true than false. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. Even many atheists grant the force of this premise. They just think God, and hence objective moral values, do not exist.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Randy, you are right that we are repeating ourselves. You keep asking ‘Without God, how can we have objective morality’, but you’ve yet to show how we have objective morality WITH God. You merely throw the phrase ‘metaphysically necessary’ at the problem. If an action is only moral subject to the existence of a God, then it’s not objective. You’re saying that if the God hypothetically stopped existing, then the action would stop being moral.

    “if objective moral values exist, God exists”

    You’ve done nothing to demonstrate this.

    “…rather some sort of appeal to ridicule whereby you insisted there was a metaphysically necessary being which also was a fairy”

    I ‘insisted’ nothing of the sort, and it’s not an appeal to ridicule either. I pointed out that your argument would work equally well by substituting ‘God’ with any other supernatural entity.

    “We may dismiss the fairy in favor of just metaphysical necessity” – then you could equally say “we may dismiss the God in favor of just metaphysical necessity”. If you claim the metaphysical necessity can exist without the fairy, then it can equally exist without the God.

    “You believe both [God/fairies] are equal” – well if you’ve got other evidence for a God then that’s a separate argument. You can’t have a proof of God that depends on an assumption that God is more likely than other supernatural phenomena, such that it automatically takes precedence as an explanation. That is begging the question.

    Regarding you equating ‘objective morality’ with mathematical truths. We can test the veracity of mathematical truths, we can demonstrate them, include them in equations. You’ve suggested no test to demonstrate that objective morals exist. At best you’ve got an empirical observation that people may agree on morals. But even if everyone did (which they don’t), one can only conclude from that that everyone agrees. Even if everyone on earth had a deep-seated conviction that a particular action was ‘morally wrong’, then all you’ve shown as they we all hold the same opinion, not that it transcends are own minds.

    “Finally, you did not answer how objective morality exists without God”

    I reject the term ‘objective morality’ as a meaningless concept. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are adjectives; their coherence as terms depend on the people using them sharing an understanding of a criteria. Generally, it would be based on some kind of harm principle, which doesn’t require a God in order to understand or justify it. Regardless, having a criteria makes it subjective. You talked about games. Within the framework of a game, we can talk about the objectively best move to make – but this is based on the criteria that we already agree on.

    If two people are discussing what is the ‘greatest movie’, they must share a basic idea of what criteria they are judging it on – it’s influence, or camera work, or how convincing the acting is, or whatever. To be ‘objectively great’ would mean it’s great without needing any kind of underlying criteria.

    In that sense ‘objectively moral’ would mean moral without any kind of reference to an underlying axiom or criteria. In this sense, the term makes no sense. What would it MEAN to say that any action was immoral?

    All best to you Randy.

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  • MJR

    @Andrew… You posited, “if objective moral values exist, God exists. You’ve done nothing to demonstrate this.”

    Then allow me to:

  • Andrew R

    Yes, you keep throwing links at me. I disagree with WLC’s argument, so you’re wasting your time (in as much as you out any time or though in cutting and pasting that link).