• About TWIM

    The Warfare Is Mental (TWIM) reflects the mental warfare of an author, screenwriter, publisher and member of the Writer's Guild of America. Family, friends, health, humor, art, music, science, faith, fun and knowledge are some of the things that are important to me.

    TWIM is the first and only theist blog listed on the Atheist Blogroll, which currently contains over 1,000 blogs. It goes without saying that I don't endorse hardly any of the views of any of them. Contact Mojoey for more information.

    Ironically, TWIM won an award for "Best Atheist / Skeptic Site" from this site. Much obliged.

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    You and your commenters are a feast of thinking — great stuff.

    -C.L. Dyck
    I have no need to engage with racists, so will ignore cl’s further diatribes.

    cl resists following through on a thought even to provide a solid opposing position, and thus stifles many conversations. It’s a shame since it seems like cl has some brain power that could be applied to the topics at hand.

    [faithlessgod and Hermes] fit my definition of trolling. I didn’t take any of those attacks against you seriously, and quickly categorized them as trolls.

    -JS Allen,
    [cl] is, as many have noticed, a master of this warfare. I’ve been following him for quite some time and he’s one of the most effective Christian trolls out there. No one can completely destroy a conversation as effectively as he does, and with such masterful grace and subtly that he rarely gets banned. This isn’t a blunt-force “U R Hitler!” troll, this is the Yoda of trolling.

    This seems to imply that cl is, at least in part, disingenuous in terms of how he responds/what he claims. Is this most likely true, supported by evidence, or merely a subjective claim?

    -al friedlander,
    ...I wanted to get a message to you outside of the context of specific discussions on CSA. You make good, insightful contributions to that site, and since I often agree with you I'm glad there is someone else there defending my positions better than I sometimes can. However I don't think anything of value would be lost if you stopped engaging in personal combat with juvenile snipers.

    Thank you for your wonderful response - so reasoned in the race of [Waldvogel's] blustering.

    -Annie Laurie Gaylor
     Freedom From Religion Foundation
    Thanks for a great Op-Ed.

    -Marianne Ratcliff
     VC Star
    ...as atheists we need to make sure that someone like cl and any Christian readers of [An Apostate's Chapel] don’t come away with the perception that the atheists caved in or were incapable of responding. I’m sure that a lot of Christians who find cl incomprehensible at times and don’t even bother reading him themselves will come away with an assumption that cl is that sort of rare intellectual theist who can prove that gods exist. And that’s how those inane rumors about the feared xian intellectuals start…

     An Apostate's Chapel
    You are in so over your head here, you are embarrassing yourself...
    I am well versed in many aspects of evolution biology, through my academic background, and my professional life. Unless your academic degrees and background match mine, cease and desist. Return to philosophy and rhetoric, or whatever it is you perceive your strengths to be. They are definitely not science, even at the high school level.

    -R.C. Moore
     Evangelical Realism
    You're doing a fine job.

    -Prof. Larry Moran
     Dept. of Biochemistry
     University of Toronto
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    Phyletic change and vicariance (or, drift and selection versus population isolation), as cl points out, are much better ways of describing what are unfortunately more commonly known as micro- and macro- evolution, respectively.

     Biology postdoc
     Univ. of Cyprus
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    cl says, “The minute you call yourself a Christian or an Atheist or whatever the heck else, you automatically get painted by other people’s interpretations of those words, which are almost always different and almost always distorted.” cl’s point couldn’t be more on. As cl points out there is an important reason for not claiming any real religious (or lack thereof) belief. It puts logical constraints on one's arguments due directly to the bias of the individual that is translating the English to mind ideas of what it means to be religious.

    Just who in the bloody hell do you think you are, you Christian piece of garbage, to come here barking out orders? You're an arrogant, condescending piece of shit. You seem to think you're an intellectual of sorts, when all you are is a Christian who's read a few books. John, everyone, this really is the limit. BR, I'm more than a little annoyed that you continue to engage him. I'm out of here. I have better things to do than to waste my time with these cretins.

     Debunking Christianity
    How old are you CL? I'd guess you have not yet experienced much life. I'd say you were under the age of 21, too young to be here. I don't give a damn what you think of me or my deconversion at all. You're too stupid to realize that regardless of it you must deal with the arguments in the book. They are leading people away from you [sic] faith. I'm seriously considering banning you cl, as I've heard you were banned on other sites. You are much too ignorant for us to have a reasonable discussion.

    -John Loftus
     Debunking Christianity
    I admired the way you handled yourself in the discussion on John's blog. I'm not patient enough to keep my sarcasm in check with some of them blokes, but appreciate those who are.

    -David Marshall
     re: Debunking Christianity
    cl, I have to say, while I fundamentally disagree with you, you are an individual which I highly respect. I think your responses are always well thought out and your insights always well thought out and pertinently derived.
    [Y]ou have made me a stronger atheist in my regards to critical thinking and debating. I really can’t wait to hear more from you. Hell, I’d even buy you a drink, good sir. Cheers!

     Evangelical Realism
    Bottom line? Sometimes I think he's right about certain arguments, and I don't have a problem admitting that. Other times, however, I think he's wrong, and I've called him on that. But I have found he can be pretty reasonable if you (1) don't overstate your case, (2) make concessions when you have, and (3) insist he do the same.

    I like it when [cl] makes me stop, think and question if I am making unfounded assertions or if I am being sloppy. What has been annoying me about cl of late is that he is being excruciatingly anal...

    I really can't thank you enough for catching me on my error in rhetoric. I always love a good debate! And I always enjoy your posts, as well! Keep up the great writing and the excellent eye for detail!

    You make me smarter...

    -Mike G.
    ..thank you, cl. I discovered your blog on a random web search and saw it as an oasis amidst a vast desert of seemingly intractable theist-atheist debate.

    -Sung Jun
    It's good to be able to discuss with people who are open and respectful, and know that disagreement does not mean disrespect... You are to be congratulated, not only for your patience, but also your ability to hold an ever-growing debate together with an impressive degree of structure.

    My tone is derogatory... [cl is] ignorant and credulous and deserves to be mocked... In the time he's been here, he's shown a consistent pattern of antagonizing everyone he comes in contact with, monopolizing threads, derailing discussions with perpetual complaints, quibbles and demands for attention, and generally making arguments that display a lack of good faith and responsiveness... it's become intolerable. I'm not banning him, but I'm putting in place some restrictions on how often he can comment.

     Daylight Atheism
    This is no defense of the annoying cl, but what a self-righteous, prissy atheist you turned out to be, Ebonmuse. I'm disappointed in you, stealing a strategem from the theists.

    -The Exterminator
     to Ebonmuse
    I certainly didn't get any bad impression about cl, and I can't relate his comments with any of the things (Ebonmuse) said above. I actually thought it was quite interesting to have him around.

    -Juan Felipe
     Daylight Atheism
    Please continue to allow
    cl to post his views and make it clear that he is still welcome. And let me be clear, cl is not a lunatic.

     Daylight Atheism
    With one exception, you are the most coherent and intelligent theist I've seen on this site...

    -Steve Bowen
     Daylight Atheism
    I'm rooting for cl. I hope he perpetually manages to skirt the rules enough to do his damage, forcing rule revision after rule revision, ad nauseum. Awesome! Let's watch as Ebon, ever more frustrated, continues to struggle to figure out how to keep his precious private blog neat and tidy as cl keeps messing up his papers while one by one, readers leave due to an every increasing administrative presence. Outstanding! Well I won't go. The thought of this sounds like the most entertaining thing that probably would have ever happened on Daylight Atheism. Hot damn!

    Your visit has been something of a reality check to me. It seems that when you present rational arguments and criticisms, many commenters feel territory slipping and then work up vaporous or leaky responses. I also want to remark that your presence here has considerably moved me to try being a more careful and understanding debater...

     Daylight Atheism
    I do have a lot of respect for you too. You seem to be a very intelligent and thoughtful individual with a knack for getting to the bottom of a problem, cutting through all the bullshit rhetoric on the way down. The fact that many other atheists seem to unreasonably despise you bothers me a lot, because I think that maybe they aren’t acting in good faith.

    -Peter Hurford
    I am not going to waste any more time parsing your comments to decide if they've crossed the line or not... So I banned you.

    -Greta Christina
    Be rude... cl invites rudeness. Would you want an incontinent little puppy coming into your house?

    -(((Billy))) the Atheist
    Note to all my regular readers: Since An Apostate’s Chapel is a free-speech zone, I don’t censor conversations.
    As it appears that cl is a troll, please note that I will not be responding to him any longer. I ask that you refrain from doing so, as well. Please don’t feed the troll!

    -The Chaplain
    …I can’t reconcile being a "freethinker" with banning speech. [cl's] comments are not offensive in the normal understanding of that term, and he poses absolutely no threat except perhaps to some imagined decorum. Why can’t atheists lighten up, for no-Christ’s sake?

    -The Exterminator
    Is it going to distract from my meal when crazy uncle cl starts blathering out nonsense, pick his ears with a carrot or start taking his pants off? No. In fact, it might actually heighten the experience in some amusing way. So no, I don't see cl's work as damage.

    I am beginning to suspect that you are a troll cl. Albeit an evolved troll, but a troll nonetheless. Perhaps we should all stop feeding the troll?

     Evangelical Realism
    [cl is] is either a sophist or an incompetent when it comes to the english language... (sic)

     Evangelical Realism
    I’d say cl is pretty sharp... it may be tempting at times to think that “the other guy” is arguing out of some personal character flaw rather than a sincere desire to acknowledge the truth, I still think it’s better to debate respectfully... It is disrespectful to make unsupported accusations against people, e.g. by suggesting that their views are caused by an intrinsically corrupt and immoral nature.

    -Deacon Duncan, 3-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    [cl] cannot refute my facts, so he needs must find (sic) some scapegoat in order to claim that he has confronted the enemy and proven them wrong... cl, sadly, has proven himself to be the sort of guest who comes into your living room and sneaks behind your couch to take a crap on the floor, just so he can tell all your neighbors how bad your house smells and what an unsanitary housekeeper you are... an interesting case study in the negative effects a Christian worldview has on a reasonably intellectual mind.

    -Deacon Duncan, 6-17-09
     Evangelical Realism
    I strongly discourage discussion of the character, abilities, motives, or personal ancestry of individual commenters, as tempting as such comments may be at times. I discourage the posting of comments that make frequent use of the pronoun “you,” as in “you always…” or “you never…” or “you are just so…”, when directed at a specific individual.

    -Deacon Duncan, 4-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    I won’t be publishing your most recent comment because it’s a return to the same sort of schtick you’ve pulled here before: re-writing other people’s arguments to make yourself look misunderstood and/or unfairly accused, taking “polyvalent” positions so that when people address your points you can claim to have said something else, distorting other people’s arguments, trolling for negative reactions, and so on.

    -Deacon Duncan, 10-8-09
     Evangelical Realism
    [E]gomaniacal troll.
    You win... You’re a disingenuous sophist through and through, cl. And a friggin’ narcissist to boot! Since I’ve thoroughly and purposefully broken the Deacon’s rules of engagement, I shall consider my right to post henceforth annulled, and move on - dramatic pause, lights out.

     Evangelical Realism
    He either thinks in a very weird way or he's quite the con artist.

    I will gladly admit that I have a boner for cl. Maybe some day I’ll even earn a place of honor on cl’s Blog of Infamy.

     Evangelical Realism
    Long time reader first time poster... I like reading what you
    have to say over at Daylight Atheism so I figured I'd pop in here.

    He's just a jerk
    that likes to argue.

     Daylight Atheism
    You’re not a reasonable thinker in my book. You’re simply an arguer, for better or worse. I’m Michael Palin, you’re John Cleese. You’re just a disputation-ist, bringing everything into question...

     Reason vs. Apologetics
    Motherfucker, this is an interesting blog... Quite the group of commenters.

    -John Evo
    You are very articulate, and I can only assume that it's a result of high intelligence; an intelligence that's interested in, and can understand, healthy debate. However, at every turn, that's not what I or others seem to get.

    -ex machina
     Daylight Atheism
    You are a troll, a liar, and a useless sack of shit. Not only that, but you're still wrong even after moving the goal posts and trying to re-write history. So, you can stop cyber stalking me now and trying to provoke me. I know what you are doing, and you are doing it so that you can whine about how I'm being irrational and mean to you and stroke your pathetic martyr complex. You're a pathetic attention whore and I've already given you too much attention. So, back the fuck off, stop following me around the intarwebs and trying to provoke me, and fuck off.

     Daylight Atheism
    I would just like to say that, OMGF, having read the debate as a neutral observer, some of the things cl says about your style of argument are true, IMO. It is quite hasty, which means you occasionally haven't got the central point cl is trying to make...

    -John D.
     Daylight Atheism
    ...this is a difficult question that deserves more than a kneejerk reaction, not to imply that you're kneejerking. You're the least kneejerking person I've met.

    If you’re here playing devil’s advocate, then, hey, you do a great job at it, it’s a service, keep us sharp... You’re a smart guy, but those are exactly the ones who give the worst headaches!

     An Apostate's Chapel
    You are a waste of time, cl. A big fat black hole of bullshit sucking in everyone who comes into contact with you.

    -Spanish Inquisitor
    As for all that harsh invective that's come your way, umm... I gotta say, I've seen some of the invective, but I haven't seen the behavior on your part that called for it. Maybe I've just not seen enough? I don't know... from what I've read, I can tell that you're a smart person, and whether you deserved any of that treatment or not is quite frankly immaterial to me; I just want to deal with the smart person at the eye of that storm.

     She Who Chatters
    I now think that you’re an atheist, just having fun at other atheists’ expense. If that’s the case, kudos.

    -The Exterminator

Isn’t Richard Carrier Putting The Cart Before The Horse?

So you might have heard that the Loftus put out a new book pompously titled, The End of Christianity, which includes a chapter from self-proclaimed infidel Richard Carrier, titled, Moral Facts Naturally Exist (and Science Could Find Them). Can we agree that this is an empirical claim? If so, can you imagine the consternation that might ensue if a reputable physics journal published a paper titled: The Higgs Boson Exists, And Science Could Find It?

Shouldn’t we demonstrate something before we bastardize science to say it exists? Granted, Carrier might be using “exists” abstractly, as in moral facts “exist” in a logical or philosophical sense. But, if that’s the case, he’s incorrect to say science can find them. And no, I haven’t read the chapter; that’s besides the point. I’m focusing exclusively on the misleading nature of the title here, so don’t try to flank me.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe moral facts exist, and though I think it would require some degree of revelation, I’m even open to the idea that science could find them. Or, more accurately, that science could demonstrate them. To find them implies to discover them via controlled, replicated experimentation, and that is precisely what I think science cannot do. To demonstrate them implies something more like a “proof” that any given moral proclamation is a fact.

I’m not disagreeing with Carrier in that moral facts exist. Rather, I’m suspicious as to why Carrier, Loftus and the rest of Team Scarlet A demand rigorous proof whenever a believer so much as claims to have wiped their bum in the morning, yet apparently feel free to publish and sell fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants arguments to the masses proclaiming that things exist before science finds them.

And Loftus says Victor Reppert is a science-basher!

Morality: Well Done, Wrongly Done

This, more or less, is what I tend to believe about morality:

Take, for example, that which we are now doing, drinking, singing and talking—these actions are not in themselves either good or evil, but they turn out in this or that way according to the mode of performing them; and when well done they are good, and when wrongly done they are evil; and in like manner not every love, but only that which has a noble purpose, is noble and worthy of praise.
-From Plato’s Symposium

What sayest thou?

Religion Contorts Morality? Oh Please!

So Greta Christina has a post titled How Religion Contorts Morality, and I think that’s nonsense. First off, we have a category error: “religion” is not an agent such that it can contort anything. Only people can contort morality, if such a thing called “morality” actually maps to the real-world in the first place. You might be tempted to think this is just semantics, but it’s not. Speaking precisely minimizes error and misunderstanding. Of course, “Why I Think Religious Person X Is Wrong About Morality” is nowhere near as provocative a title, so I guess I see where she’s coming from there.

Anyways, I’ve seen some pretty contorted “morality” from atheists, too. For example, Tommykey, who apparently thinks it’s wrong to torture terrorists for information, but okay for a woman to kill her unborn child simply because the father possesses unsavory characteristics, or because she thinks she might have a tough time coping with the burdens of parenthood.

In my opinion, that’s about as contorted as can be – but it has nothing to do with atheism, because atheism can’t contort anything.

How Would I Present Desirism?

(I originally wrote this post six months ago)

When considering a redesign for some client’s website, I often ask, “How would I have coded this thing?” A while back, I got to thinking about desirism in the same way.

This is no offense to Alonzo, but in my honest opinion, he presents desirism ambiguously, from key tenets right down to the original name, desire utilitarianism. I may be way off here, but I get the feeling Alonzo doesn’t want the heavy burden that typically falls to those making moral claims, and that this may influence him to equivocate on select terms. Most discouraging is that regarding conventional definitions, he claims “moral terms are being used in substantially the same way that moral terms had been used.”

I wouldn’t waste the time if it were just me having difficulty with the theory, but a non-trivial subset of intelligent people consistently raise identical or near-identical objections, so I thought I would take a stab at presenting desirism in a way that would make sense to myself. Specifically, my goal is to present it in a way that it avoids the common objections. If the current objections are really the result of misunderstanding as Luke and Fyfe claim, then a clearer presentation should nullify them. OTOH, if the same objections can still be raised after a clearer presentation, it follows that desirism may be in error.

I will be particularly interested in feedback regarding how accurately you think I’ve presented Alonzo’s theory, and more importantly, if you think my formulation can avoid at least some of the common objections to desirism. Hopefully, you’ll notice and appreciate the relative absence of traditional moral terms: no good, no evil, no morality, no right, no wrong, no mention of objective or intrinsic value, etc. In fact, I’m not even going to call it desirism!

Mind you, I’m not presenting this as something I actually believe in and endorse [although certain parts of it do happen to overlap with my own views on meta and applied ethics]. Ultimately, I think my presentation remains vulnerable to criticism [for example, substitute “should I paint my house bright pink” for “should I listen to loud music in the middle of the night,” the example discussed at the end of the presentation]. However, I think my presentation is far simpler and clearer than Fyfe’s, without confusing moral language or claims without evidence–and that it is nowhere near as convoluted or open to criticism as his. We can actually use my presentation as a guideline without the need to embark on an impossible calculation of billions of desires, and without the unjustified claims that necessarily ensue from our inability to do so.

I’ve written the rest of this post as if I were speaking to a live audience.

Continue reading

The New Moral Crusaders?

Episode 14 of Luke and Alonzo’s oddly named Morality in the Real World is up, and despite its length, I don’t think it said much. Sure, it’s important and commendable to distinguish between the facts of reality vs. the words we use, but they could have accomplished that in a few short sentences. In the positive, the student is starting to surpass–or at least show genuine skepticism towards–the teacher. I find that very encouraging. Though one could argue that it has simply transferred to Yudkowsky, Luke’s infatuation with Alonzo Fyfe seems to be waning. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with the episode, I suggest doing so, else my post might not make as much sense as it could.

On the alleged ambiguity of Alonzo’s terms, Luke writes,

Well, Alonzo, you invented these terms, “thwarting” and “fulfilling” to refer to relationships between desires and states of affairs. A desire that P is fulfilled in any state of affairs in which P is true, and it is thwarted in any state in which P is false… every time you present your idea to a new audience you have to explain how you are using those terms, because it’s not obvious. And a lot of people who encounter your writing don’t encounter the explanation of what you mean by those terms, so it confuses them… I have a solution to that problem. I found a couple of people who picked what I think might be better words for making this distinction. Instead of talking about ‘desire fulfillment’ versus ‘desire satisfaction’, they talk about ‘objective desire satisfaction’ versus ‘subjective desire satisfaction’.

How isn’t that obvious? It’s clear as day to me. Though I disagree with his conflation of morality and desire fulfillment, I think the majority of Alonzo’s original definitions are clear, accurate, and useful to productive discussion. Luke proposes a terrible solution. He’s added two of the most misunderstood and confusing terms into a theory that was already heavily misunderstood and confusing. I mean, look how much people struggle with “objective” and “subjective” morality. So we have “action-based” theories of desire, and “pleasure-based” theories of desire, also referred to as “objective desire satisfaction” and “subjective desire satisfaction,” respectively. I’m not sure what this accomplishes. In terms of the agent, is there any salient difference? I don’t really see what this distinction brings to the table. Does this distinction support the theory? Does it change the way we discuss praise and condemnation?

After revisiting the old, “if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it” koan, Luke writes,

…we can skip the definition issue altogether – avoid using the words ‘desire’ and ‘sound’ – and just argue about what certain motivational structures in the brain are doing, or what certain shock waves in the air are doing.

I agree. This is why I have always resisted Luke’s claim that “desires might not exist” would be problematic for desirism. As I said then, this seems semantic, and I’ve never understood why Luke took that as a potential defeater. As long as we are discussing human morality, brain states undeniably exist. Specific brain states are the structures, and desires are the symbols. Nobody can argue that brain states don’t exist, at least, not without turning quite a bit of apparent knowledge on its head. So, if we commit ourselves to the position that desires reduce to brain states–which Alonzo has committed to–who can argue that desires don’t exist?

However, despite claiming that desirism respects no particular assumptions, Luke and Alonzo respect a massive assumption here: that desires reduce to brain states. What happens when we extend desirism to brainless organisms? Do jellyfish have desires? Clearly, jellyfish have needs, or perhaps predispositions to eat, reproduce, poop, etc. If we treat desires as ultimately reducible to brain states, it seems we must deny that jellyfish have desires, but we can ask: do jellyfish desire eating? Mating? Do jellyfish feel pain? If you poke a jellyfish with a stick, it reacts like a creature with a brain. Jellyfish clearly demonstrate an aversion to being poked. If they demonstrate aversion, don’t they necessarily demonstrate desire? Perhaps desires don’t reduce to brain states at all? Perhaps desires actually reduce to, “needs fulfilled to procure stasis,” or something like that? With that definition, jellyfish are included. Regardless, Luke and Alonzo will need to hash this out if they extend their theory to brainless organisms.

One might criticize me for making the very same error Luke and Alonzo discuss in the post, that of searching for a “super-dictionary” definition for desire. I’m not, at least, not to the neglect of the larger picture. I’m questioning how well the symbol matches the substance. I’m challenging their claims that desires are ultimately reducible to brain states, and that desirism respects no particular assumptions. That first claim hasn’t been demonstrated, and the second claim is definitely false. Though, for the sake of argument, I’ll agree to treat human desires as ultimately reducible to brain states. Let’s grant Luke and Alonzo the benefit of the doubt, and say the symbol matches the substance. Do any serious problems persist? I think so.

Luke writes,

I’m interested in the facts of the world, not the words.

Then support desirism with facts of the world, instead of intuition and semantic meandering! I was never too confused over what Alonzo meant, at least, not enough to be stuck in the mud. I simply haven’t seen a lick of evidence that supports the conclusions he draws from his theory. Now, this is only an issue because Luke and Alonzo claim their theory is empirical, and evidence-based. If they didn’t make that claim, I wouldn’t raise such a big stink about evidence. Regardless, we need to start at the ground level. Okay, so we have this particle-fine distinction between “action-based” theories of desire and “pleasure-based” theories of desire. By what principle do we get from there to, “television sitcoms and reality shows are a worthless waste of time where people sit on a couch and get fat while they acquire no useful information and accomplish absolutely nothing of value?” By what evidence do we get from there to, “spectator sports is a waste of time, money, and real-estate?” By what facts do we get from there to, “we would be better off without television sitcoms, reality shows and spectator sports?”

IOW, how can we be sure that Alonzo Fyfe isn’t just projecting his values onto others, like every other moral crusader throughout history? How can we be sure Luke and Alonzo’s “morality” is any different than Tipper Gore’s, who felt the same way about gangster rap–or Osama bin Laden’s, who felt the same way about American culture?

Alonzo writes,

…our listeners have been clamoring for a detailed, accurate presentation of desirism. How else can we give it to them?

Empirical demonstration, bottom line. If this is a theory about morality in the real world, then use real world empiricism to demonstrate your claim that we should do away with spectator sports, television sitcoms and reality shows. If you cannot, I suspect you’re just another moral crusader. It’s that simple.

Objective Morality: Clarifying The Questions

Today I’d like to examine three different questions that come up in discussions over so-called “objective” morality, and I’d like to argue that two of them are essentially worthless in terms of answering what most people seem to perceive as the core question.

The first question is, “Why are those values objectively good? Why is X objectively good, as opposed to Y?” I was recently asked this after I had offered, “love, patience, kindness, charity, thanksgiving, honesty” as an approximation of good. While the question carries an air of intellectualism about it, it’s actually quite fruitless. As this atheist commenter aptly illustrates, we can ask “why” in response to seemingly any proposition. For example, 2+2=4. Why? Asking “why” in response to a proposition does not constitute a sound objection to that proposition. Nonetheless, the general answer is simple, perhaps even tautological: why are values X-Y objective? Well, because they meet the definition of objective! It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

The second question is, “Do objective moral values exist?” This frames the question purely in terms of ontology, and we see an example of a rebuttal to this here. The person who asks this question seems to be asking if moral values can exist without a valuer, perhaps as something like Platonic forms. While I don’t think they can, the question is fruitless to what I think most people are after in discussing so-called objective morality. Nonetheless, I agree that if such entities did exist, they would qualify as “objective moral values” in this purest sense of the word. Also, note that the first pseudo-intellectual question could still apply: we could ask “why” these moral entities exist as opposed to some other moral entities, in the same way we can ask “why” electrons exist and not some other elementary particle.

The third question–the one I think the vast majority of people have implicitly in mind when they discuss so-called objective morality–is something along the lines of whether or not moral realism is true. Or, to phrase it another way, whether or not it can be true to say there is something all people should or should not do. I suspect this is the question at the core of the debate over so-called objective morality. I answer yes. I argue that “objective morality” can only exist within a theistic rubric, and I have yet to see a successful refutation of this position. Euthyphro’s horns can only pierce a God capable of whimsical, arbitrary morality.

Along these lines, drj asks:

The only way you can tell anyone what they “ought” to do is to appeal to some value or desire they hold. God-morality can’t even overcome this. What if I truly value hell, more than anything else? Well, then God-morality has nothing to say about what I ought to do. I ought to do what I can to piss God off, so that he throws me in hell.

Of course, on the surface, this seems true. I agree with drj that we must appeal to some value or desire that an agent holds in order for any “ought” to have sway. However, if hell really is the absence of all that entails joy, and the presence of all that entails suffering, it seems silly to suggest that somebody might value that. Somebody might object, noting that there are people who really want to die. This might be true, but why do they want to die? Is it not because they believe death would provide a respite from the privations of life? I have yet to encounter a person who has a fulfilling life and wants to die. My point here is that rejection of objective morality is not refutation of objective morality. You can seemingly always find somebody who wants to buck the norm. This doesn’t mean there’s no norm.

On my question of whether or not atheism is compatible with objective morality, drj writes:

…it should be easy to see how morals can be built on naturalism. If some value exists on naturalism, that is universal, valued above all else, and held by all sentient creatures, then we can similarly have reasons to do X, not Y.

Of course, one can “build” morals on anything. That’s never been denied. The question is whether the morals one builds have truth value outside the scope of the builders. We can “build” morality on the coattails of evolution or utilitarianism or something like that, but this doesn’t mean my statement that “you should do X” has any truth value. Even if all of humanity could agree on a universal morality, this would not make it true or objective in the sense that God-based morality would be true or objective. If every person on Earth said we should all cook meth, does that mean we really should all cook meth?

Heading in a different direction, J. Simonov writes:

If God’s goodness is necessary, rather than arbitrary, you are taking the horn in which God is held to a standard. Necessity is the author of goodness on this account, rather than God as such.

This is incoherent. Like value, what we call “necessity” cannot exist without an agent with a need. Necessity cannot be the author of anything because necessity has no authoring power.

There are many objections to God-based morality, but few that seem to stick.

On Galen Strawson’s Basic Argument

woodchuck64 recently said that “Logic easily disposes of libertarian free will and ultimate moral responsibility via something like Galen Strawson’s basic argument.” I replied that I felt this was false, and asked for elaboration, which he supplied by linking to this PDF.

The Pessimist’s argument woodchuck64 cited seems the same as Strawson’s basic argument outlined here:

The Basic Argument has various expressions in the literature of free will, and its central idea can be quickly conveyed. (1) Nothing can be causa sui – nothing can be the cause of itself. (2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects. (3) Therefore nothing can be truly morally responsible.

I agree with woodchuck64 that most who reject this argument do so out of aghast reaction to it’s ramifications as opposed to sound refutation of one or more premises. While I won’t go that route, I can’t help but ponder these ramifications. Hitler’s actions become equivalent to the Japanese tsunami in Strawsonian morality: ultimately blameless events necessitated by prior causal interactions. More revoltingly, if true, Strawson seems to have successfully proven the illusion of rationality. Perhaps most revoltingly of all, if true, Strawson has proven that the very foundation of law-abiding civilization is an illusion. What does this mean for legislation founded on illusion? Interesting thoughts, but let’s cut to the chase.

I’ll go ahead and agree with P1, that nothing is causa sui. After all, this echoes basic Aristotle, which I support when endorsing the argument from kinesis. However, I deny P2, that one must be causa sui for ultimate responsibility to hold. Why must I cause myself to be ultimately responsible for my actions? I submit that one only need be the cause of one’s individual actions, not the cause of oneself, in order for ultimate responsibility to hold. As an interesting aside, those who accept P2 can no longer criticize the God of the Bible as an immoral monster, because the God of the Bible is not causa sui.

The problem, as I see it, is the claim that one is the cause of one’s individual actions seems ultimately unfalsifiable. How might we demonstrate that an individual could not have done otherwise in any given scenario? It’s not like we can rewind time to test the hypothesis and replicate our results.

Therefore, the claim that “logic easily disposes of libertarian free will and ultimate moral responsibility” strikes me as premature. Unless I’m missing something, it seems we have to suspend judgment.

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