My Debate with Ray Comfort: Can Moral Facts Exist without a God?

Last Saturday, I was recruited to live-debate Ray Comfort on Facebook. That’s right. The banana man himself. Warlock to Kirk Cameron’s imp. Mr. “Everyone Is an Adulterer” (including Mother Theresa and that unborn fetus over there). Topic? “Can there be true moral standards without God?” It was a typed thread, timed to one hour. I’ve extracted the entire exchange and reproduced it below for everyone to read, because the original debate was run in Atheists vs Christians Debate Central, a private group of limited capacity. But we may do more of these debates in future, so if you want to join, check it out. And the original thread is here (a Q&A did continue there after the debate, which ranged wildly, too chaotically to reproduce here; I stuck around another 45 minutes to field a few questions). In this edition I corrected any typos I caught.

Here’s the transcript:

★★★ OFFICIAL DEBATE THREAD ★★★

Moderators: Welcome Dr. Richard Carrier and Evangelist Ray Comfort and welcome group members. The following debate will begin @ 4pmPT and will last 1 hour. View the current time here. This is a one-on-one debate between Dr. Carrier and Mr. Comfort on the topic:
“Can there be true moral standards without God?”

☛ Please no other comments during the debate ☚ (“likes” are ok)

After the debate has concluded, group members may join the discussion.

Thank you and we hope you enjoy the debate!

-:-

James Williford (Group Admin): Richard Carrier & Ray Comfort let me know when you are here.

Richard Carrier: I’m here.

Ray Comfort: Richard. It’s nice to meet you, albeit, online. I appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts, and look forward to hearing the rebuttals that you will no doubt have. These are the main points I will be covering:

  • An atheist worldview cannot say that anything is morally wrong.
  • Atheism cannot explain the existence of the human conscience.
  • Morality itself cannot exist without God.
  • There is empirical scientific evidence for the existence of God, and for His moral requirements.
  • God did not commit immoral acts in the Old Testament, as many atheists claim.
  • Nor is religion responsible for more wars than anything else in history.

For the sake of expediency, I have pre-written a number of my arguments. However, I will do my best to quickly address any questions and objections you may have, trusting that you’ll be forgiving of any typos that may get though (jk).

James Williford (Group Admin): ➽ Dr. Carrier, you may post your opening statement whenever you are ready.

Ray Comfort: James Williford. May I comment while we are waiting for Richard (besides this comment)?

James Williford (Group Admin): Let’s wait for His opening statement first, please.

Ray Comfort: Will do.

Ray Comfort: Although I’m 68 and can’t wait too long…

Richard Carrier: In formulating my opening statement, I shall keep this to what we came to debate: can there be moral facts if there is no God. Consciousness is a different question. The existence of God is a different question. Etc. We may get into the other things as we discuss our opening statements. So please start with your opening only on the one question: Why you think there can’t be moral facts, if there is no God.

James Williford (Group Admin): ➽ Mr. Comfort you may begin the discussion on, “Can there be true moral standards without God?”

Ray Comfort: No there can’t. This is why. He who denies the existence of God (has no beliefs in any gods), paints himself into dilemma-corner. This is because he is confined to the worldview in which there is no objective and unchanging moral standard.

For example, my question to you is, “Is rape wrong?” If you are an atheist, you are forced to say that it is wrong, because the alternative opens a can of ugly worms. You would never seriously say that rape is right. Just saying that could have your neighbors calling the police, because you would be a potential sexual predator.

My next question to you would be, “WHY is it wrong?” The usual response, is to say that it’s wrong because it causes somebody harm. That’s the general atheist criteria for morality. If something doesn’t hurt someone, then you (If you’re an atheist), believe it is morally okay.

There is, therefore, a plausible scenario in which you would consider child pornography to be morally okay.

This is the scenario: A photographer offers you $75,000 cash to photograph your two toddlers without their clothes on. It will take no more than ten minutes, and he will be behind a one-way mirror. The children won’t be harmed, because they won’t know about it. In fact, they will be benefited, because the $75,000 will be set aside for their private education.

This, therefore, is morally okay with you because no one is harmed? Be careful how you answer, because earlier this week a former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor received a 60-year prison sentence just for having child pornography on his computer. U.S. Federal law states:

“Images of child pornography are not protected under First Amendment rights, and are illegal contraband under federal law. Section 2256 of Title 18, United States Code, defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age). Visual depictions include photographs, videos, digital or computer-generated images indistinguishable from an actual minor, and images created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict an identifiable, actual minor. Undeveloped film, undeveloped videotape, and electronically stored data that can be converted into a visual image of child pornography are also deemed illegal visual depictions under federal law.

“Notably, the legal definition of sexually explicit conduct does not require that an image depict a child engaging in sexual activity. A picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive. Additionally, the age of consent for sexual activity in a given state is irrelevant; any depiction of a minor under 18 years of age engaging in sexually explicit conduct is illegal.” [LINK]

If you publicly advocate child porn, even in this scenario, you may have the police on your doorstep quicker than fleas jump on the back of a mangy dog.

So, the atheist is in a moral dilemma. For him, nothing can be morally wrong. That includes pedophilia, rape, murder, lying, stealing, genocide, and even torture. If he protests that these practices are wrong, I ask, “Who says?”

Richard Carrier: I’ll reply to Comfort’s opening shortly. But first my own opening…

Richard Carrier: Moral Facts Defined : Moral facts come from one thing: what all sane human beings value, when they have true beliefs about themselves, and reason from them without fallacy. Because anything based on false beliefs, or arrived at fallaciously, is false. So only what is based on true beliefs, and arrived at without fallacy, is true. So to find true moral facts, you must eliminate all false beliefs, survey all true beliefs, and deduce what logically follows from those true beliefs, regarding how we ought to behave. Which is why when people argue someone should adopt a certain moral conclusion, they always do so by appealing to some value they think the person they want to persuade already has, or to some false beliefs they think they have, or to some error in logic they believe they are making from their beliefs.

Ontology of Moral Facts : Moral facts are facts about social-cognitive systems, those behaviors that conduce to the most fulfilled state available to the deciding agent, in the context of an interactive social system, and their own cognition of themselves and the world. Value only comes from us; we decide what we want from ourselves and the world. This would be true even if there were a God: we ourselves still have to choose to value anything that God says. Values come from our nature. And God or not, we are cognitive and social beings. If we wish to live as fulfilled as possible, we must cultivate empathy to share the joys of others, else we lose a whole dimension of happiness; and we must cooperate and get along with each other as much as reasonable, so we can manifest by that cooperation a functioning social system, that we all benefit from. Only moral systems that create rather than destroy human happiness have any value to us, and as such, only they are “true,” in the sense that we have sufficient reason to obey them. Accordingly, we as humans have decided to label evil everything conducive to our misery; and good, everything conducive to our happiness. And moral good and evil, as a subset of all, is that which derives from human decisions, which can be changed through reason, persuasion, education, and self-reflection. This standard comes from nothing outside of us. It comes from us. Moral facts are facts about us, about what will most likely lead us each to a better life.

James Williford (Group Admin): Thank you for your opening statements. Richard Carrier you may now respond to Ray’s last comment.

Richard Carrier: Rape is wrong because any rational would-be rapist who acquired full and correct information about how raped women feel, and what sort of person he becomes if he ignores a person’s feelings and welfare, and all of the actual consequences of such behavior to himself and his society, then he would agree that raping such a woman is wrong. Because it actually makes the world he must live in worse even for him, and makes his own self-image worse even for him. It’s impossible to be self-satisfied and not self-horrified and at the same time have only true beliefs about the actual effects of rape on the victim and the perpetrator. Likewise exploiting people without their consent is wrong because it entails creating a world we would constantly live in fear, horror, and loathing of; it therefore cannot be conducive to anyone’s happiness. Except by adopting false beliefs or ignoring true facts. But no true moral facts can follow from false beliefs or ignoring of true facts.

Richard Carrier: Mr. Comfort, my opening combined with that last point constitute a complete rebuttal to your opening.

Ray Comfort: James Williford. May I respond?

James Williford (Group Admin): Yes, you can go back and forth now.

Ray Comfort: Richard, I respectfully disagree, sir. You said, “Accordingly, we as humans have decided to label evil everything conducive to our misery; and good, everything conducive to our happiness.” Does that mean that if I find a way into the vault of a wealthy bank, and steal thousands of dollars without them even knowing it (contributing to my happiness), it’s morally okay? Of course not. Any judge would throw me in prison. Your definition is commonly called “moral relativism.”

We can see the subjective nature that often shapes personal moral convictions, by asking if adult pornography is morally acceptable. You say, like most of the modern world, that it is. It’s not only moral. It’s natural, and it’s legal.

We have already concluded that you think child pornography is wrong, but at what age does it cross the boundary from being immoral (child porn) to being moral (adult porn)?

Is it when the child turns 15? Or would it become moral when she is a shapely 18 year-old? Could it be that your personal pleasure is your influencing factor when it comes to judging when pornography becomes moral? The pleasure of eyes crush the conscience into silence.

While it may be legal to lust after someone who is 18 and older under man’s law, it is not sanctioned under God’s Law. And it’s by that unchanging perfect standard of righteousness that we will be judged on the Day of Judgment. What a fearful thing for those who are not trusting the Savior, no matter what they believe. It is for this reason I’m debating with you. I’m not here to win an argument (i would rather be with my beautiful wife). I’m here because I believe with all of my being that you are in terrible danger and care about you.

Richard Carrier: “Does that mean that if I find a way into the vault of a wealthy bank, and steal thousands of dollars without them even knowing it (contributing to my happiness), it’s morally okay?” You can’t. So it’s a moot point. Unless the bank is owned by a tyrant, like say the King of England in 1776, and you are an American Revolutionary. But then, that wasn’t immoral, was it?

Richard Carrier: Also, if moral relativism is true, then true moral facts still exist. Facts can differ from person to person, and still be true.

Richard Carrier: As to age of consent, that’s a question for cognitive science.

Richard Carrier: When does a person acquire the skill and understanding sufficient to make decisions for themselves is a scientific question.

Richard Carrier: God never said 18 was the age of consent. Um, the Talmud, said it was 12.

Richard Carrier: Personal pleasure is impossible when combined with true beliefs about the horror you are inflicting. Which is why heaven is impossible. All compassionate people will be eternally in horrific misery knowing the unjust miseries eternally inflicted below on countless many including their own loved ones.

Ray Comfort: Back to the subject at hand. Morality. Another dilemma for the atheist is the origin of his conscience–his moral guide. Why does every sane human being have an intuitive knowledge of right and wrong? “Intuitive,” because it’s something we instinctively possess from our infancy. Some would, however, disagree, and say that right and wrong aren’t intuitive, that it is given to them by their parents.

But if a child is left without a father figure (with no moral instruction whatsoever), and finds himself in court for multiple murders, could he be taken seriously if his plea was, “I didn’t know that what I was doing was wrong, your Honor.” Of course not. This is because of a principle in law known as “mens rea.” It is the standard common law test of criminal liability, meaning that “the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty.” In other words where there is a conscience, there is guilt. And every sane person has a society-shaped, albeit, God-given conscience, leaving us all guilty of criminal acts (violation of the moral Law–the Ten Commandments) in the eyes of God.

Yet the voice of our conscience is rarely welcomed, because we find pleasure in doing that which is morally wrong. It is an unwanted and heavy wet blanket that falls onto the joy of sexual lust.

We love the darkness and hate the light, but to dull the voice of conscience is about as intelligent as removing the batteries from your smoke detector, because its alarm annoys you.

A tender conscience will act like an impartial judge on the courtroom of our mind, accusing us of actions that violate God‘s moral Law (the Ten Commandments). For example, the first time we look at pornography, fornicate, commit adultery, lie or steal, or even kill, our conscience will call us out. The next time, its voice may speak with less volume. But the third time, it will merely whisper, and when its voice is completely gone, we will find ourselves in a fire of immorality, with no consciousness of our danger. The Bible calls such a state a “reprobate mind.”

Richard Carrier: Conscience is well studied by cognitive science. It’s the product of our metacognition, essential to consciousness: the ability to model other minds, and mirror emotional states in connection with that. It’s essential to the fulfilled functioning of any social species with social cognition. Yes, bad child rearing can produce people with false beliefs. But true moral facts can’t follow from false beliefs. Thus, moral facts can be not known, yet still true, owing to someone still being trapped in false beliefs or ignorance about themselves or the world or the effects of their decisions on both.

Ray Comfort: Can you give me an example of “true moral facts?”

Richard Carrier: We just covered several. Rape is factually wrong because it is factually anti-conducive to an otherwise available state of life satisfaction of the moral agent. So too disrupting good societies with bank robberies; whereas robbing tyrants is conducive to a better world, and if living under the tyrant is bad enough, the risks involved may entail a greater available life-satisfaction than acquiescing to tyranny.

Ray Comfort: You said “Rape is factually wrong because it is factually anti-conducive to an otherwise available state of life satisfaction of the moral agent.” Not true. A male-dominant society may rape whom they will and produce many children. That would be conducive to their society. The fit survive. But back to today’s subject: “Can there be true moral standards without God?” That can’t be answered without a definition of “moral.” How high do I have to jump to qualify as a high-jumper—over a two-foot bar? The term “high-jump” needs a definition or it is senseless. There’s nothing high about two feet, unless you’re an ant.

What is the definition of “moral?” Atheists don’t have one. The theistic world does, but if it’s not the same as God’s definition, it is illegitimate. His is absolute perfection in thought, word, and deed. That means we are to love the God who gave us life with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor (everyone else) as much as we love ourselves. And that means we never lie to him, steal from him, hate him, or gossip about him, or even lust after his gorgeous wife.

To sin even once in thought, disqualifies you. If you hit a mirror with a hammer in only one place, you shatter the whole thing.

Richard Carrier: I said conducive to life satisfaction. Overpopulated brutal societies are not conducive to anyone’s life satisfaction. You are confusing genes with people. We’re people. In case you didn’t notice.

Richard Carrier: The moral is that which you ought to do above all else. It is simply the set of true imperatives that supersede all others.

Richard Carrier: And imperatives are those actions that obtain what we want (which will be a true fact of those actions). And supreme imperatives are those actions that obtain what we most want. And what all humans most want is the greatest fulfillment available to them. And what obtains that without false beliefs, is truly the supreme imperative. And therefore a moral fact.

Ray Comfort: << I said conducive to life satisfaction.>> Are you saying that their is no pleasure/satisfaction or fulfilment in rape? Why then to men rape women? Of course there is peasure in rape and other illegalities. There’s a sense of excitment in theft. Morality should never be reduced to does it make me happy or sad? But is it right or wrong, and atheists have no measuring rod. But there is more bad news for atheists. Morality can’t even exist without God. Our eyes and ears, our brains, the air we breathe, the sun that shines, the birds, and the atoms were created by Him. And the emotion of love, and “morality” itself would not exist without Him, because both love and morality are His very being.

He revealed Himself in the Scriptures as being the “Habitation of Justice,” and showed us His standard through the Law He gave to Moses. The full extent of what the Law demands is seen in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus expounded the Ten Commandments to include intent. Among other things, He said,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

I have asked thousands of people if they think they’re moral, and every one of them believed that they were. But on closer examination, under the light of the Ten Commandments, it becomes clear why they think they are good. Their standard of morality is very low. They consider themselves to be an Olympic high-jumper, when their feet don’t even leave the ground.

The reason we are even looking at this subject, is because we are moral creatures. We’ve been made with a yearning for justice. No other creature in nature sets up court systems and spends billions of dollars each year in search of equity. The biblical explanation for this, is that man’s Creator made him with a knowledge of right and wrong, through the presence of his God-given and society-shaped conscience.

Richard Carrier: You are saying the same thing, BTW. You think satisfying God’s commands will lead to the most fulfilling life available to you. You’re just factually wrong about that (or about some of that anyway; insofar as your morals are excessive; they’ve become less so because you’ve been secretly following secular metaethical reasoning for a couple hundred years, and not actually Biblical reasoning, e.g. you don’t keep slaves or execute apostates as God orders).

Richard Carrier: Ray Comfort, true facts don’t follow from false beliefs. So describing people with false beliefs is not a relevant counter-example. For example, “pleasure/satisfaction or fulfilment in rape” only follows from false beliefs. If you have true beliefs, about what you are causing in the world, and what sort of person you are becoming in the act, you would be in horror, not pleasure.

Richard Carrier: And yes, we yearn for less awful worlds. Because we don’t like awful worlds. If we liked them, we wouldn’t yearn for better ones. The fact of the world is simply that: what we do and don’t like. And the truth of what we should seek, is what world we want after we deduce what follows from all relevant true beliefs and not false.

James Williford (Group Admin): 🕛 Time 🕛

James Williford (Group Admin): ➽ Mr. Comfort, you may post a closing comment whenever you are ready.

Ray Comfort: Thank you. I would like to say a special (and sincere) thank you to atheists. Our YouTube channel has over 50,000,000 views. Many of those who watch them are atheists, so I would like to take a moment to say how much I appreciate that. However, they do see me as a train-wreck and can’t look away. In 2018, we have a new train-wreck-film coming out called “Banana Man” featuring Richard Dawkins Lawrence Krauss, Penn Jillette, as well as brief appearances of Ricky Gervais, PZ Myers, Ron Barrier, Steve Shrines, Thunderfoot, Jaclyn Glenn, Hemant Mehta, Matt Dillahunty, Aaron Ra and others. I’d love to come back and talk about it when it’s released on YouTube.

One other thing. I mention that I would give scientific proof that God exists. I think it is relevant to the topic, because if there’s no God, nothing really matters.

There was no way any sane person could believe that a book, with coherent sentences, sequential page numbers, and with binding and graphics, could make itself. It is without the realm of possibility.

DNA is filled with coherent information. It is complex instructions on how to make your blood, your bones, skin, brain, eyes and ears, your height and your personality. All that information was in your DNA from the moment you were conceived. To say that one book made itself would be insane. So how much more insane is it to believe that DNA created itself. But that’s what an atheist believes. It is the epitome of foolishness. But atheists believe that, and then crown themselves intelligent for that insane belief, hiding behind the skirts of science.
Thank you for allowing me to be here. Best wishes.

James Williford (Group Admin): Thank you Mr. Ray Comfort it has been an honor to have you in our group and thank you for your participation in this debate.

James Williford (Group Admin): ➽ Dr. Carrier, you may post a closing comment whenever you are ready.

Richard Carrier: On the present subject, no evidence was presented that moral facts can’t exist in the absence of a God, and ample evidence was presented that there can. So I consider that settled. For further reading I recommend to everyone my articles: How Can Morals Be Both Invented and True? And: Moral Ontology.

On the closing God thing, evolutionary algorithms increase the accumulation of coherent information at a rate of dozens of bits per replication; so if that’s where it came from, we should expect it would have to have taken several billion years to accumulate the amount we observe on earth. Lo and behold, it took billions of years. An intelligent engineer works faster than that. We intelligently design organisms now ourselves in a matter of mere weeks. And we’re just pathetic humans with limited funding. The conclusion as to whether God exists on that point, is self-evident.

James Williford (Group Admin): Thank you Dr. Richard Carrier it has been an honor to have you in our group and thank you for your participation in this debate.

James Williford (Group Admin): Thank you Dr Richard Carrier and Mr. Ray Comfort this has truly been an honor to have you both in our group and this has been a very interesting debate.

Janice Morris: Thank you Richard and Ray for your time.

James Williford (Group Admin): Group members may now join the discussion if they wish.

Richard Carrier: It’s been great. I appreciate everyone’s taking the time and attention, including Ray Comfort. A pleasure. I’ll hang around for some informal discussion for a little while.

-:-

37 comments

  1. Marc Miller December 10, 2017, 3:46 pm

    Morality is necessary for social animals to live together in harmony for sure. Is it genetic? Or is it picked up consciously, and subconsciously from other human beings? Or both?

    Reply
    1. It is both. And in particularly interesting ways. For example, models of moral cognition argue that certain cognitive processes are much older, on an evolutionary timescale, than the moral behavior of social animals we currently observe. Those processes are co-opted and re-purposed for use in moral judgments. That is to say judgments about who we include in our social group, how we control their behavior to be conduce for the group to flourish, and how do we modulate our own behavior in a computationally efficient way (before language was developed). We can use those models to explain strange errors we make, for example model-free learning assigns intrinsic properties to actions independent of their consequences so we can just actions as wrong even when no harm is caused. There are other interesting cases such as Moral Luck cases where we seem to punish based on outcomes rather than intentions (and for interesting reasons). There is enough to go on here so I don’t write too much in a comment thread, but enough here for some fun googling if you want to know more.

      Reply
    2. What Simon said is true (cf. e.g. the second volume of the excellent series edited by Sinnott-Armstrong, Moral Psychology; I proxied in to defend Sinnott-Armstrong’s defense of ethical naturalism in the journal Philo: see my treatment of Flannagan). But that’s incomplete in an important way.

      For an analogy: it’s also true that we evolved innate cognitive tools for reasoning about and modeling the world and ourselves, but they are imperfect and deeply flawed (see Wikipedia’s List of Cognitive Biases). So we can’t say “correct reasoning is what our brains evolved,” because that’s false. There is some correct reasoning in there; but a lot of incorrect, too. It’s enough correct to give us an edge. That’s it. We then had to invent cultural “software patches” as it were, through trial and error, to improve our reasoning (logic, science, mathematics). Once you understand the goal of reasoning, it’s a straightforward matter to figure out which tools obtain that goal better than others.

      Morality is the same. As a social species who depend on cooperation for survival, we evolved a bunch of tools of moral reasoning, too. But like our other reasoning tools, they are flawed. Better than none, so they give us an advantage; but they make a lot of mistakes, too. And we have slowly been developing cultural “software patches” to fix that (from governments and legal systems and the concept of rights; to analytical tools honing our understanding of empathy, game theory, social contract theory, and so on). Once we decide what the goal is of moral reasoning, it’s again a straightforward matter to figure out which tools obtain that goal better than others.

      Here one might say the goal is to help people get along better in society and also ensure they help manifest a more useful and stable society for them to benefit from. Which is almost right. One still has to care about that end goal. And when we go Aristotle on this, we get somewhere else. Aristotle said we have to ask of each thing, “Why do we want that?” And then keep asking until you have an answer that is a thing we want for itself, and not for some other reason (and thus there is no longer any answer to “Why do we want that?” in the same way there is no north of the north pole).

      With reasoning, the goal is simply to know what’s true. We can still then ask “Why do we want that?” but that then exits the question of whether we have a good tool for getting at the truth, and enters a different realm, of why we care about knowing what’s true. And that actually is a moral realm: the discovery that we ought above all things care what’s true. And that’s where all roads lead. Hence in morality, the goal ends up being, what behaviors will maximize our personal fulfillment (make us as satisfied with ourselves and the world as we can be in the circumstances available to us; the question then whether it’s better to build that satisfaction on lies and false beliefs can be entertained, but it won’t end up favoring that conclusion). That’s why we will want to do those things above all other things (the root definition of a moral imperative), because there is nothing else we can do that will get us what we really want. People can then be ignorant of all this, or reason badly from facts to conclusions about what to do about it, and so on. But true facts lie only in true facts. So if we are asking what’s true about morality, we are already saying it’s not whatever follows from false beliefs.

      It just so happens that personal satisfaction requires getting along well with society and helping to manifest a society that is useful and stable for us. It also requires cultivating empathy and enjoying the happiness-states only accessible that way. And personal self-respect, i.e. being the sort of person you like and respect and not the sort of person you fear and loathe. Morality lies at the conjunction of all these things: what satisfies all these things the most, of the options available to you.

      Reply
      1. Yikes I wrote that just before falling asleep and wish there were an edit function to make it more comprehensible!

        Oh I have that Sinnott-Armstrong book and have not had chance to open it yet! All the more reason to check it out!

        I find the interface between what we do do (moral psychology) and what we ought to do (moral philosophy, characterised nicely by that last comment) deeply interesting.

        Reply
  2. Ex-Pentacostal December 11, 2017, 3:05 pm

    I’ll give you credit for “debating” Comfort. He’s more then a train-wreck, at least if that were true then we’d be rid of his complete nonsense once and for all.

    He said “One other thing. I mention that I would give scientific proof that God exists. I think it is relevant to the topic, because if there’s no God, nothing really matters.”

    The Universe does not care and therefore, nothing does matter. The only value there is, is what we create, protect, encourage, cherish, etc., while we are alive.

    Christians (I’m being generous here by calling Comfort a Christian) insist that there “must be meaning” to life and living. I struggled with this for a long, long time myself. Noam Chomsky said it best, “There is no meaning” and he’s right. Nor does there “have to be” meaning for life, or our existence.

    Thomas Ligotti (The Conspiracy Against The Human Race) also says, “life is malignantly useless”. Once you understand the context, he’s actually right. Existence (consciousness / life) has no real purpose.

    Christianity was fabricated, whole cloth, to try to answer this question – and they got it entirely wrong. Conjuring up a magical invisible Sky God didn’t solve anything, but it created innumerable problems for humanity.

    Reply
    1. Meaning only comes from us. We decide what we value, and what matters to us. It’s not even logically possible for that to come from someone else. Because no matter what that third party said our meaning or value was, we’d have to already agree with them for that to even matter to us. But if we already agree with them, we don’t need them. Because we already value that about us ourselves.

      It’s not as if God could say “your purpose is to suffer eternally to scare some other people I like,” there is no sense in which that would be true for you. It may be true of him, actually why God made you; but it isn’t anything you’d ever agree with as something that gives your life value and meaning. Because you wouldn’t value that goal, or your exploitation toward it. It’s someone else’s goal. Not yours. And “being used” by someone else for ends only they care about, can never be something we deem meaningful to us.

      Reply
      1. We give value to each other. Most of this is based on what they offer us (self-centred). The value we give to each other is mostly economic. The lower the economic value the less someone feels valued. This is very evident in society and the workplace. The gospel tells a different story. Each human has inherent value as a created being. No matter what they produce or don’t produce they share the same value as everyone. This topic didn’t get a lot of coverage.

        Reply
        1. That’s not really true though. When you have to triage in saving people from a burning building, for example, because you can’t save them all, do you treat a serial killer as of equal value to a medical doctor you need to care for the other survivors you select for rescue? Obviously not. In reality, people do have varying value, based on what they’ve made of themselves, both their moral character and their skills and control of resources (e.g. the President of the United States is by definition more valuable than the Secret Service agent hired to take a bullet for her). Their value is also in practice affected by standard market forces (how many people value you, increases your market value; hence why states will rattle more swords to free a celebrity hostage than a random one; and why a fundraiser for a popular person’s welfare will bring in far more than a random one will). We might not like these things, but they are the reality. And we have to base our understanding of real facts, on the facts of reality.

          And there just is no factual sense in which every human being is “equally valuable.” Some are of very little value (e.g. the serial killer). Most are of considerable value. Others are of yet greater value, both for reasons we would deem reasonable (e.g. the needed doctor; or someone of well-established moral character who can be counted on) and reasons we would deem frivolous (e.g. the celebrity; the abandoned dog on a Pacific ghost ship).

          What we can at most say is that apart from reprobates, everyone has significant value (i.e. no one’s value is trivial); but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still people of greater value than us, for various reasons and in different ways and contexts, some that are legitimate and some that are frivolous. That shouldn’t bother us. Insofar as it structurally concerns us, we effect structural solutions: e.g. individual human happiness depends on a functional justice system and a functional justice system depends on the legal principle of equality before the law. Thus, we can say that systems that give privileges to the rich over the poor are immoral; the poor should have the same access to justice and the same treatment in justice as the rich. But not because the rich and the poor are “equally valuable” by any particular metric; rather, because not treating them equally in that specific context causes a dysfunctional system that promulgates corruption and dissatisfaction.

          Likewise, if you treat people differently based on, for example, their wealth, you are helping to create a dissatisfying system. Not because you are incorrectly assessing their differences in value (e.g. it remains a fact the rich person can do more for you than the poor one), but because their differences in value do not alter the way reality works: those differences will simply not rescue you from the negative consequences of treating them differently. Thus, moral systems don’t follow from un-factual claims like “everyone is of equal value”; they follow from factual claims like “if you treat people differently, the consequences may be worse than if you didn’t.”

    2. Be careful when talking about “meaning” and “purpose”. Often there is an intuition (maybe a learned intuition from religious education, or maybe in-built) that smuggles in the concept of “ultimate meaning” or “ultimate purpose”. Since there is no ultimate meaning, it seems there can be no meaning at all. This is a mistake. Meaning and purpose emerge from conscious agents. Purpose is what an agent intends. God is apparently the ultimate agent and thus it’s non-existence seems to make purpose either falsified or at least diminish to pseudo-purpose. Again this is a mistake. The very idea of ultimate purpose or an ultimate agent is an incoherent concept. There is no ultimate purpose like there is no ultimate chocolate bar. Because there is no ultimate chocolate bar does not mean that, by necessity, there are no actual chocolate bars … unless you are Plato and you are very hungry in your cave.

      Reply
  3. Marc Miller December 11, 2017, 3:49 pm

    Thank you Simon and Dr. Carrier! One more question… There have been peer reviewed scientific experiments that seem to prove that consciousness can influence the material world.

    http://in5d.com/10-scientific-studies-that-prove-consciousness-can-alter-our-physical-material-world/

    It then follows that maybe one consciousness can influence another, maybe all…

    So what do you think of the idea of a sort of collective consciousness which includes morality?

    Reply
    1. That’s all snake oil, sad to say.

      Just from item 1: The Radin paper is pseudoscience. The Henry paper describes no science experiment he conducted and is not about any scientific conclusion, just a one-page editorial on concepts.

      The other nine are all similarly bogus. This is all just woo’s version of fake news. Right up there with Deepak Chopra. You can Google research each one and find out what’s really true.

      Reply
  4. Richard there seems to be a naturalistic fallacy in the moral ontology you describe. You of course know Hume’s famous is/ought dichotomy. How do you get morality from all the facts of the universe? I just read Harris’ Moral Landscape and found it unconvincing. For sure scientific facts about the universe are not irrelevant to moral questions. But morality cannot be reduced to an empirical science that can be discovered in a lab. For example if someone wants to spend half a billion on some stupid painting, what kind of scientific facts about the world can convince him it would be more moral to give that money to starving African kids instead? I’m sure the aforementioned guy already knows all there is to know about starving kids in Africa and how they suffer. He just doesn’t care. His happiness rests in acquiring rare and valuable artifacts, and not in putting a smile on a stranger’s face.

    Reply
    1. Hume actually didn’t say there was no way to get from an is to an ought; only that “moralists” never do that when they argue how you ought to behave. Hume then developed his own method of getting from an is to an ought. One that Kant fully concurred was true of imperatives generally, but rejected only for moral imperatives because he didn’t like it. Then when he tried proving his alternative true, he ended up with the same thing. It’s called a hypothetical imperative. And it gets us from an is to an ought all the time. In fact, countless scientific facts are is-ought demonstrations (e.g. what one ought do to successfully perform surgery or build a bridge). My peer reviewed chapter on moral facts explains all this, with quotations and citations of the relevant authors and abundant philosophers who today concur (most especially Philippa Foot, inventor of the trolley problem, who argued all moral facts are hypothetical imperatives; I concur). See my Open Letter for details; it then contains a link to the book that has my formal philosophy paper.

      Reply
    2. As to your example, I already answered it in the Comfort debate. But a formal demonstration is in the aforementioned chapter. In short, there is a more fulfilling state accessible to the man you describe; his believing there isn’t, is simply a factually false belief about himself; and what sustains his preferences are likewise a system of other false beliefs, about himself and the world. Correct those false beliefs, leave him with only true beliefs, and he will realize his interests as-is are hollow and unsatisfying, and helping others leads to greater satisfaction with himself and the world. But that won’t necessarily mean feeding kids in Africa. The presumption that there is any moral obligation to do that specifically, is exactly what Hume was complaining about: an assertion backed with no evidence. What one should do who has those resources, may be that, or something else, or some combination of things. You won’t know until you empirically connect the facts of the agent’s possible satisfaction states with the facts of the world and the consequences of different choices available. And many alternatives may be equally moral.

      Reply
      1. Um, no. I’m sure there are some people who would NOT achieve greater self satisfaction by being altruistic than by being selfish. Can you objectively prove that vanilla ice cream is more tasty than chocolate ice cream? I’m sure no amount of empirical data or objective facts can help answer this question. So how is that different for morality? I agree that most people have wrong factual information that clouds their moral judgement. But to argue that there can be an objective morality presumes that everyone more or less can achieve the best satisfaction by more or less having roughly the same goals. What if someone genuinely achieves the best emotional satisfaction by spending his time watching movies as opposed to volunteering at a soup kitchen? What if this is how his brain is wired and no amount of objective facts can change that? You can argue only a small minority of people would be like that. But who is to say they are objectively wrong just because they are a statistical minority?

        Reply
        1. “Can you objectively prove that vanilla ice cream is more tasty than chocolate ice cream?” That’s not relevant. Individual differences have no effect on covering laws (e.g. people differ in what they like to eat; but everyone has to eat). I cover that very point in the chapter I mentioned.

          All people need to feel good about themselves. All people are happier when they experience empathic joys than when they experience none. And so on. How they realize those things can vary. But everyone needs to realize those things. And to do it, while only possessing true beliefs, entails certain things about how you will behave.

          Your overall question has a whole section in my cited chapter called “Cave Man Say Science Scary.” It covers the problem you are lost in. Conceptually, you can’t know you are wrong without empirically finding out. But we have plenty of science that makes your hypothesis factually unlikely. Although if it turns out to be true, then it’s factually true. And you’ve just discovered a moral truth everyone has been avoiding. But odds are low that’s the case in this instance. Though it may be the case in less ridiculous comparisons (e.g. supporting soup kitchens may in fact not be a moral imperative; the truth may be more complicated). And it’s indeed possible different moral systems are true for different people. Those would still be objectively true facts (those people could not say they should behave otherwise, without making a false statement about themselves). Although our commonalities of biology and environment and social dynamics entail there must be covering laws true for all people; so there cannot be non-overlapping moral systems that are true. But this all requires attending to facts. Not making shit up.

          No one can have “watching TV” as a top core goal, for example; it’s biologically impossible (TV’s didn’t even exist when our brains evolved, so watching TV can only be a derivative pleasure: we only like it because of something else it brings us). And psychology has well established we need more than one thing to be happy (so it’s impossible that it can be just “watching TV”). When you look at the psychology of happiness, fulfillment, and self-respect, the science strongly supports nothing like you imagine. And you have to start with the science. Not making stuff up from the armchair.

        2. The bottom line is, it’s really really hard coming up with a worrisome example of a “moral truth” without relying on some false belief about human beings or individuals or the causal laws of reality.

          And you can’t just imagine such things. Because you first have to imagine why those things would be true for anyone. And that entangles you in a lot of unavoidable assertions about humans, individuals, or reality, that are very likely going to be just full on false.

    3. Tim Marrier December 22, 2017, 9:40 pm

      Peter
      Buying the painting over helping starving children would only be ‘immoral’ in the sense that we are in a human designed system/world that ignores starving children and half-billion dollar art. No argument could be made that the majority would accept as okay for that; we just don’t happen to also have the structuring for those discussions (yet). But really, what should happen there also essentially DOES happen: sane people aren’t his friends (other than similar idiots/bought people) because of his unethical choices (albeit personal, but so are friends to considerable extents). Shunned out of the gene pool, that’s the future for people like that soon, because it’s unreasonable by consensus.

      Reply
  5. Hello Richard, I have read this debate, and consider that it addresses some central complex questions. My comment is on your statement “true moral facts can’t follow from false beliefs.”

    On the surface, this statement appears simple and obvious and logical. Voltaire expressed it well with his mot that believing absurdities allows atrocities. But digging below the surface there are issues raised by the simple answer that deserve attention, with Voltaire’s refutation serving as a reduction to absurdity, not a practical response to the social function of myth.

    The concept of a “moral fact” in philosophy is difficult. Our moral values rest upon beliefs that our society has found useful. Ultimately, values rest upon allegedly self-evident claims, moral axioms. Calling an axiom a fact just means we believe it is true. That brings up the whole problem that an axiom is only true within its logical system, since when we call axioms into question, such as parallel lines not meeting, mathematicians can develop alternative coherent systems.

    My favourite moral axiom is that human flourishing is good. But to call that a moral fact seems to involve a category mistake, in logic if not in politics. The technically false belief that our moral values are factual can in fact generate highly adaptive practices.

    The wiring of our brains and societies has an evolutionary complexity that means that false beliefs generate useful values. While ultimately values that are grounded in delusion will cause suffering, there is a vast world of human concern where interim values have proven highly adaptive when considered to be absolutely factual.

    Comfort mentions the Ten Commandments, which are widely considered absolute, but have the problems of being grounded in fictional stories, and also of restricting personhood to men who own property. Within the axiomatic framework of monotheist hierarchical patriarchy, the Ten Commandments are highly adaptive, as is the belief that God is intentional and personal. In religious societies such adaptive morality is classed as a moral fact.

    The nub of the problem, it seems to me, is that such religious values have a mythological function, simplifying a complex natural reality into a story that can be easily believed. As the modern world shifts from a framework where only property owning men are persons, so too the moral frameworks that evolved with that assumption come into question, as the Moore case illustrates.

    If in philosophy we defined God as the anthropic orderliness of nature, converting that abstract concept into the myth of an intentional being can be a way to simplify the complex reality, to provide comforting guidance for a society who do not have the sophistication or time to discuss abstract philosophy. While strictly speaking the idea of God as an intentional being is a false belief, its durable utility and stability has made this belief highly adaptive. The evolutionary moral critique of this belief should therefore focus on whether it is adaptive rather than on whether it is true.

    Therefore, in reading the Bible, it is possible to argue that the surface literal beliefs actually reference deeper coherent truth, that all the myths function as moral parables, conveying deep meaning that is not apparent in the literal claims. The social function of myths such as the existence of Christ is symbolic, presenting a simple popular tale that can carry adaptive moral lessons. That is congruent with what the Gospels actually say, where Jesus says the mysteries of the kingdom are for initiates while everything told to the general public is parable.

    Reply
    1. “Ultimately, values rest upon allegedly self-evident claims, moral axioms. Calling an axiom a fact just means we believe it is true.” You are confusing descriptive with prescriptive moral facts. Descriptive moral facts merely describe what a society considers morally true; the values it just happens to have. Philosophy is supposed to go beyond that and ask, what values should it have. Not what values does it have.

      My analysis covers that goal. I don’t argue to Ray that the values we happen to have are what determine moral facts. I argue that what values we would have if we had no false beliefs (and reasoned without fallacy from only true beliefs) are the actual foundation for true moral facts. The moral beliefs we should have, rather than the moral beliefs we happen to have.

      There are no axioms in this arrangement. It is literally an end-root conclusion about unchangeable facts, objectively true facts, about us and the world. That humans desire above all else to be fulfilled and satisfied with who they have become and with the world they must inhabit, and desire that for no other reason but itself, is an objective scientific empirical fact about human beings. Analytically, it can be shown to be logically necessarily true of all self-recognizing conscious agents; what can differ is what produces that fulfillment state. And for that there are two levels: individual differences; and covering laws. By analogy to food: individual differences exist as to what food is satisfying (some people can’t eat dairy; some people don’t like broccoli, etc.); but everyone must eat nutritious food to maximize satisfaction state (to stay reasonably healthy and fit, and alive). The latter is a universal truth. About humans. Theoretically there can be entities for which that imperative is not true (God being a solid example); although maybe even that isn’t the case (e.g. if gods are impossible, and the only possible entities are entities that need to consume energy and resources to stay healthy, fit, and alive; then entities only differ in what they eat, e.g. electricity vs. grain in the case of a theoretical digital AI).

      The same analysis will fall out for everything people think they need to be happy. Either their belief that they so need it is false, or their belief that they so need it is true. And if true, there will be an objectively true individual fact (e.g. we can’t just “choose” to like broccoli or not vomit from dairy; it’s an objective fact about us that we just don’t like broccoli and just will vomit from dairy), and an objectively true generic fact (e.g. we can’t just “choose” to not need nutritious food to achieve all our other goals, including happiness; what food can vary, but that it must be food is a universal objective truth of all humans). The latter is where moral facts lie. The former simply describes the individual realization of general moral facts. And there can be complex systems that create exceptions or reversals of expectation (e.g. sometimes one must avoid nutritious food to accomplish some other goal that matters more, because the normal order of things has objectively changed, and our available options are all sub-optimal). But those still follow entirely from objective facts of the world, and thus are themselves objective facts of the world.

      Thus, no axioms are involved in any of this.

      Thus, for example, it is not an axiom of any true moral system that “human flourishing is good.” The only grounding fact there can be is “my flourishing is good,” and even that only as long as I define “flourishing” as “achieving the best satisfaction-state available to me in the circumstances I am in.” It can then in most normal circumstances be a derivative (not axiomatic) truth that “human flourishing is good,” but that won’t be a grounding fact. It will simply be entailed by circumstances. For instance, my own flourishing is benefited by human flourishing, therefore human flourishing is a derivative goal of the core goal of seeking my own life satisfaction. Likewise, my own flourishing is benefited by access to satisfaction-states only available through empathic contact with humanity (and satisfaction from knowing how I’ve benefited them just as I would have wanted them to benefit me), and empathic contact with humanity entails the conclusion that “human flourishing is good” (because only by improving human flourishing, can I increase my access to empathic satisfaction). This also means there will be limits (too much outward concern can begin to damage my own flourishing and lead to a self-destructive or miserable existence; which fact empathic humans with true beliefs will recognize and appreciate, and thus not expect anyone to exceed that limit).

      As to the Biblical morality lying within myth and allegory, Biblical morality is abhorrent and dysfunctional. Even as myth or allegory, it remains shitty and therefore untrue. It therefore has nothing to commend it. Which is why the Founding Fathers outlawed almost all of it. See my discussion of that, including a comparison with Solon’s (pagan) ten commandments with those of the Bible, for the difference between good and shitty moral values and why the Bible is mostly the latter (and contains nothing of the former not already present in other systems, thus negating any value the Bible ever could have had; and its value was already nil because it promotes abhorrent values as well). See also why even Jesus is actually an awful person and a terrible moral exemplar. But the OT God, far worse.

      Reply
      1. That’s all fine and dandy but what does any of that have to do with morality? Where do good and evil fit in there? Why would it be good and morally desirable for conscious creatures to maximize their happiness and well being? And whose well being is morally worthy of considering? Our family? OUr country? OUr ingroup? All people? Nonhuman animals? Intelligent aliens and sentient computers? And what if there is a contradiction between maximizing the well being of 2 moral agents? How can we choose? Whose well being should we compromise for the sake of the other? You can’t claim to have an objective moral code without having the ability, at least in principle, to answer such tough questions.

        Reply
      2. If John is a billionaire who can scientifically be shown to maximize his personal happiness by donating 0.01% of his income to charity and hoarding the rest, and if Jack is a middle class guy who can scientifically be shown to maximize his personal happiness by donating 50% of his income to charity and living a modest basic life, does your and Sam Harris’s “objective” moral theory means both guys are equally moral? That neither choice is objectively better or more moral than the other? That would seem to contradict the notion that there is anything objective about objective morality

        Reply
        1. If the evidence panned out. But that’s as likely as the evidence panning out for six day creation.

          Right now, we already have abundant scientific evidence that annual income above 80k has a negligible effect on happiness. Thus, the data already show your scenario is false.

          More so as the science on helping others with one’s surplus shows a significant effect on happiness. Thus, once you reach a threshold (where your basic needs are met and you aren’t in a risky state of near doom; hence the negligible gains begin at 80k and no gains exist after 160k), living reasonably and donating a lot (or using your money in ways that bring others happiness or satisfaction or improve the world, which need not exclusively mean charity), has far greater impact on satisfaction than earning more money and spending it on yourself.

  6. So your theory of objective moral values is that there is no objective moral value and it’s all subjective and depends on people’s feelings and desires anyway?

    Reply
    1. You are confusing a bunch of different things. All truth is subjective in the sense that you only ever know things by reference to thoughts in the theater of your mind. But what we do is hypothesize from that, to objective truths independent of the theater of the mind. For example, I can be a Jedi Knight in the theater of my mind. But I can’t simply decide to be outside the theater of my mind. Wishing it, desiring it, has no causal effect on who I still actually am and can do. Which is indeed one way we confirm there is an objective world: it’s what we can’t change merely by thinking it changed.

      Hence, again, food. You need to eat to be happy. That’s an objective truth about you. You can’t change it by merely desiring that you need not eat to stay healthy and alive. Thus, you can’t alter reality merely by desiring it. But you can have a disorder whereby you no longer feel an impulse (a desire) to eat. Yet it will remain true that you must eat to be happy. An objective true fact about you (and all humans). And you will always desire to escape the suffering that results from not eating, which entails the derivative desire to eat. Even if you don’t know that or refuse to acknowledge it. It remains an objective fact about you, that you need to eat to be happy, and it remains an objective fact about you that you need to desire to eat to eat. Therefore you need to desire to eat to be happy. And that is an objective true fact about you (and all humans).

      You can’t just “desire” that that not be true. Your desires thus have no control over what’s objectively true about what you should desire. You therefore have no subjective power over true moral facts. True moral facts are facts you cannot change by desiring something else, any more than you can become an actual Jedi Knight by merely desiring it.

      Thus, yes, all statements about what people should do can only be true by reference to things they want. It’s literally logically impossible for any such statement to be true, that does not reference something you want. Values only come from valuers. They cannot come from outside valuers. It’s not even logically possible that they could. Because even if there were some external set of values, a person has no reason to value them unless they already value them. But if they already value them, the external set is irrelevant. You just always simply have the internal set of values.

      Not even Christian Divine Command Theory can avoid this fact.

      Moral facts thus are facts about the subjective feelings and desires of people. If people had no feelings or desires, there would be no true moral facts. There couldn’t be. It would be logically impossible. But it does not follow that moral facts are “whatever someone happens to feel or desire.” Because like the person with the eating disorder, you can’t simply “want” a thing and have it turn out well for you. Therefore there are certain things you have to want (like “to eat”). And no amount of wanting it otherwise can change that. Nor can any believing otherwise change that. Moral facts are thus independent of human desires and beliefs in that one sense: whatever we happen to believe about what will satisfy us can be false; and whatever we happen to desire can fail to make us happy and thus be the wrong desire to satisfy us.

      What we ought to desire, is therefore an objective true fact of the world you cannot wish away or disbelieve away. It’s completely immune to the beliefs and desires you happen to have at any given time. It still does derive from a desire (our desire to be satisfied with ourselves and the world), but that desire cannot ever be false (it’s self-contradictory to say a conscious being desires above all things to be dissatisfied; because that would mean what they mean by dissatisfied, is the most satisfying state available to them, so you can’t escape the fact that what you will always want above all else is maximal satisfaction: being incapable of ever being false, it is an unchangeable objective truth of you—in fact of all conscious agents). And what follows from that desire everyone must always have, is a set of desires that will maximize their satisfaction. And the set of desires they have, may not be the correct set for that. Thus, there is an objective true fact of what they should desire, that is different from and independent of whatever they happen to think, believe, or desire.

      That’s what moral facts are.

      And there is literally no other possibility.

      Reply
    2. So the question is to empirically discover what set of desires actually does procure the best satisfaction state available to an agent in their given circumstances.

      That can’t be invented from the armchair. It can’t be merely “believed” or “desired” into existence. The laws of causal reality are immutable to our thoughts and wants. Thus, for example, you can’t just “desire” that a million dollar income will make you happy. All empirical science shows that it won’t. Which is just a fact. So if you believe otherwise, you simply have a false belief. How you maximize your satisfaction with a million dollar income, is something you have to discover empirically. And science has already accumulated a lot of data regarding what sorts of things that might be. If instead you maintain false beliefs that lead you to use that money in ways that keep you dissatisfied, or cut off from greater satisfaction states actually available to you, you are simply behaving incorrectly even in reference to your own desire to maximize your satisfaction. You can falsely believe that’s not true, but it’s still true. You can not know it’s true, but it’s still true. You can wish it weren’t true, even desire it not be true. But it’s still true.

      Reply
      1. Yet none of what you say means there is any universally binding objective moral code that EVERYONE should agree to. So something like causing gratuitous pain and suffering is immoral because it violates people’s innate desires and preferences. But if there was for example an alien race whose biological evolutionary history made their brains wired differently than us such that their innate desire is fulfilled by causing others gratuitous pain (and if we can scientifically verify that to be the case) then it isn’t objectively immoral for them to do so.

        That would seem to make gratuitous suffering not objectively immoral in the sense that water is objectively made of 2 hydrogens and 1 oxygen.

        Reply
        1. “Yet none of what you say means there is any universally binding objective moral code that EVERYONE should agree to.” It might. You can’t know until you check. If everyone has a common set of hierarchical needs to be satisfied, and since everyone always wants above all to be satisfied, then there will necessarily be a common set of behaviors they should all agree to. That’s unavoidable fact.

          This doesn’t mean everyone has to behave identically, because individual differences and circumstances can alter the best way to realize those universal rules. Again, like with food: it is universally true we all must eat; it is not therefore universally true we all must eat the same thing.

          As to alien races, they may indeed be subject to different moral truths. There are reasons why that’s unlikely (social systems only work one way; self-aware cognitive systems must always have certain attributes, such as the ability to model other minds and to experience varying states of misery and satisfaction; physics entails everything must eat something and will be mortal in some sense, etc.). But there could be rare exceptions (I discuss them in my book Sense and Goodness without God, cf. p.343). That won’t matter to us though. Moral truths for us don’t change, just because there are aliens for whom different moral truths hold.

          But yes, morality is not an atom or a physical law. It’s a truth about structured cognitive-social systems. There will always be objectively true moral facts for any self-aware being, even if they differ by species; just as there will always be objectively true scientific facts about such a being’s psychology and anthropology and sociology, even if they differ by species.

  7. Does this Objectivist take same the same as you’re saying? Seems it.

    http://bahnsenburner.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/where-did-morality-come-from.html

    “Not only does morality come from existence, it specifically comes from man’s need for values, something which demonstrably and undeniably exists as an inherent part of his nature as a biological organism. It is man’s nature qua the rational animal which lays the metaphysical foundation of an objective system of morality and dictates which moral system is suited to his nature.

    Like all biological organisms, man faces a fundamental alternative: life vs. death. Life is not an automatic given for man. His life is conditional, which means: he has certain needs which must be met in order for him to continue living. Meeting these needs does not happen all by itself. On the contrary, man must act, and he acts by choice, and thus he needs an objective standard on which to build a code of values to guide his choices and actions. This is absolute and inalterable, and an individual’s moral system needs to take these facts into account. “

    Reply
    1. Yes. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says in that post or how he words it, but that quote (and the following point he makes about subjectivism) captures the gist of what I’m saying.

      Reply
  8. Miguel Ruiz December 21, 2017, 9:12 am

    I will try to express myself in English though this is not my language.

    There is something I like to point to. In science there are many theories that are still just mere theories. Non proven facts despite of being taught at the schools to the mass population like they were actual facts. e.g: the Darwinian macroevolution (kind transformation to the point of becoming a different kind) I did not see yet a proof of that, e.g intermediate state fossils (half & half kind fossil). The people who defends such as theories like they were facts, is always mentioning billions of years like argument that set that possible. But we cannot prove with real science methods that earth actually had billons of years. Therefore we are building facts on theories that are based on other no proven ones, like we were doing so on the air. That has happened historically when theories were rebuked by other theories dictated by the human science in later studies. Now we come to the point that the evolutionary theory (Darwinian macroevolution) has been around for some centuries. Like science got stuck there. Then, many modern theories are built up on those basis. But if one day those basis are rebuked, the whole bunch might fall down to dust.

    Why I said all that. Because of the fact that while I have no means to prove that you were not right on the mentioned theories, you have no means to prove you are right either. Worse you cannot prove that you are right on denial of God’s existence, the same way you claim I cannot prove to you that actually God exists. We are both swimming on the pool of the blind faith looking to different ways to explain what all us, despite of our arrogance, cannot actually explain.

    But I can tell you something. If the judgement day arrives, behold, we all will be judged by our very acts and no one can scape without a saviour because we all are sinners. That I can prove you. How many women that are not yours have you ever desired on your mind, heart? How many times has you hated somebody to the point of desiring its death?

    Probably if now law enforcement would exists, they will be much more killers out there because some does not do that just because of the law and its consequences. But if we could read their minds and convince them for their killing thoughts, the prisions might fill quicker.

    I would not take the risk anyway. By God grace I love God and I thanks to the saviour Jesus Christ who took my sins upon the cross.

    But if I would be just a rational man without faith in God despite of having a lot of faith in science and theories of billons of years, I will not take the risk anyway. It is too risky for the little amount of proofs (if any) we can find to rebuke the existence of God.

    I know scientists can use much more vocabulary and technical words to look like giving more relevant arguments that feel complicated versus simplistic. But the true fact so far is that the proofs we all need are to be discovered yet.

    While many of us we have been forced to memorise theories, that BTW are probably or will be proven wrong, in order to have a diploma that enables us to find a work for living, many of you have never taken the time to learn about God by reading the whole Bible. This reading as a whole book that tell us just one very history rather than a bunch of citations by which we permit ourselves the fallacy of judging God and the truth. Contextual reading is a requirement for any rational study. Are you ready to be fallen on the attempt of having a diploma that may grant you eternal life? Otherwise why do not you read the Bible the same way that you study other books to get your diploma?

    Last but no less. Atheists claim that the Bible rather than being the word of God is a bunch of books written by mere humans. Can you tell me if your respectful science books were written by somebody else than mere humans? I guess not. So what does make them so special to you?

    Regards

    Reply
    1. Yes, we can prove the world is billions of years old, by numerous scientific methods that all corroborate each other. You need to start exploring the TalkOrigins Archive. And begin your escape from the lies you’ve been told.

      Likewise, your understanding of human nature is scientifically false. You’ve been lied to about that as well. Read The Better Angels of Our Nature just for a start.

      Knowledge does not require a diploma anymore. It’s freely accessible on the internet and beyond. You can work toward developing a critical mind able to tell the difference between dishonest and poorly reasoned conclusions, and well-argued and well-evidenced ones. All you have to do is commit to doing that. To learning how to reason more critically, and become less and less vulnerable to the manipulation of people lying to you or spreading false beliefs to you that they don’t even know aren’t true.

      And in the meantime, enjoy life, and work to become the sort of person you want to be, the sort of person you want the world to be populated by. Because this is the only time you get to know yourself and experience the joys of living and knowing the world and other people in it.

      Reply
  9. “Right now, we already have abundant scientific evidence that annual income above 80k has a negligible effect on happiness.”

    So, “scientifically,” socialism is justified in the sense that income should be capped at 80K. Wow, science is fun. This simplistic, “scientific” approach to morality is how Hitler justified his program.

    And if “empirical data” of “flourishing socieities” is our standard, then the ancient Egyptians with a highly hierarchal, slave-holding society is the “best,” because it is, thus far, the longest surviving successful society.

    Reply
    1. That’s a non sequitur. There are more consequences to a proposed “income cap” system than merely the effect of surplus capital on the producer’s happiness, which consequences can actually end up eliminating the entire effect science establishes. Obvious problems with a communist state have been more than amply demonstrated, for example. And that’s even before we get to the little problem that the cap amount changes with dollar value and economic conditions. It’s not a cosmic law that it works out at US$80k right now.

      The slave thing is an even bigger non sequitur. It makes no sense at all to argue from “science has proved that having $80k of your own income and the economic freedom to employ it is sufficient for optimal happiness, therefore it’s moral to own slaves.” Nor is it logical to argue “this government lasted a long time, therefore it’s the best.” That ignores the entire point of individual agent happiness as the relevant outcome measure. The survival of a government is quite disconnected from the happiness-realization of its subjects.

      Moral facts can only come from truth without fallacy. You are advancing nothing that’s true and relying on fallacy after fallacy. Garbage in, garbage out.

      Reply

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