Thursday, January 5, 2012

Is moral law objective or subjective?

Commentor bachfiend:

Cripes, from where do you get your definition of 'objective' to mean 'god given'. Cite some references... Atheists do recognize objective moral law. Just not your bizarre version of it.


Atheists are confused about the objectivity and subjectivity of moral law. I believe that the confusion is feigned; the difference is obvious, but atheists can't admit the truth.

But, here goes. The difference between objective (Christian) and subjective (atheist) moral law:

A moral law is a proposition-- it proposes something  (it's wrong to steal, etc).

Propositions come from minds. Mindless things cannot generate propositions.

We are moral actors-- that is, we are things with minds that generate moral propositions (it's wrong to steal...).

The propositions we as human beings invoke can come from two places- from our human minds or not from our human minds.

Subjective means in the subject. From our human minds.

Objective means outside of the subject. Not from our human minds.

When human beings recognize a moral proposition, it can come from human beings or from outside human beings.

If it comes from human beings, it is subjective.

Of it comes from outside human beings, it is objective.

If you are an atheist, you can only believe that moral propositions are subjective, because there is no "Supermind" outside of human beings that can generate a proposition. You must believe (implicitly or explicitly) that only human opinions make something right or wrong. There is no objective right or wrong, outside of human opinions.

If you are a Christian, you believe that moral law is from God's mind, and exists independently of human opinion. Humans should try to understand His moral law-- from the Bible, and from our conscience, in which he creates a sense of moral law. But Christians believe that moral law exists independently of our opinions of it. Moral law is objective.

The simplest way to express the difference between atheist and Christian views of moral law is this question:

Could something be morally wrong, even if every human being thought it was morally right?

Atheists answer no. Moral law is subjective, and if it does not exist in any human mind, it does not exist.

Christians, or people who are implicitly using Christian ethics, answer yes. Moral law derives from God, and even if every human being disagreed with it, it would still be valid moral law.

Philosophers have recognized this difference for millennia. Kant saw objective morality as the Categorical Imperative, and believed that this was the most powerful evidence for God.

Now you see why atheist confusion on this obvious point is feigned.

114 comments:

  1. Michael,

    What utter bullshit!

    Atheists accept objective morality, because it's imposed on the individual by society. It would be subjective morality if each and every individual were to be free to decide his or her morality.

    For example, I accept that murder is wrong, because society has decided that it's wrong, and has mandated harsh penalties for transgressions. I don't have the subjective freedom to decide that it's OK for me to murder. And it isn't a god given prohibition that makes me think so.

    But it varies from society to society. In traditional San society, it's considered moral for a new mother to kill deformed offspring or the weaker of twins, because in nomadic societies offspring have to be carried by the mother for 4 to 5 years.

    You're going to have to give an example of something that is accepted by all humans, but which is, nonetheless, morally wrong. I can't think of an example. Unless you can provide one, it's a meaningless argument.

    Your definition of 'objective' to mean god given is still bizarre. You still refuse to cite some references to show that 'objective' has this meaning.

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  2. Could something be morally wrong, even if every human being thought it was morally right?

    Yes. It could be that every human being is a utilitarianist, but that they all miscalculate the proper course of action. Hence they are all morally wrong because they have all failed to identify the morally right behavior.

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  3. Let’s look at the Ten Commandments.

    1.Thou should have no Gods before me.-Unconstitutional.
    2. Thou should not make graven images. –Unconstitutional
    3. Thou shall not take the Lords name in vain. –Unconstitutional
    4. Keep the Sabbath holy. – Unconstitutional
    5. Honor thy father and mother. – Not an area addressed by law
    6. Though shalt not murder. –Constitutional! Finally! (I’m being generous here and changing “kill” to “murder” because there are plenty of instances where Christians believe killing is fine.)
    7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. –Unconstitutional? (As far as I know, there are no longer criminal sanctions for committing adultery)
    8. Thou shall not steal. –Constitutional. Two for eight!
    9. Thou shall not bear false witness. –Constitutional. Two in a row!
    10. Thou shalt not covet. –Another not worthy of even being addressed by law.

    Three for eight. Hard to see how the 10 Commandments are objective in any way other than “Because the Bible says so”.

    -KW

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  4. @troy:

    [Hence they are all morally wrong because they have all failed to identify the morally right behavior]

    Who made the morally right behavior "right", when all people thought it wrong?

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  5. “Could something be morally wrong, even if every human being thought it was morally right?... people who are implicitly using Christian ethics, answer yes.”

    This, and its flip side “could something be morally right even if everybody thought it was wrong”, is exactly the kind of warped thinking that allows Christians to embrace the extreme immorality of the Christian God. The murder of innocent children in the biblical flood, punishing generations of children for the sins of their parents, turning nature into an arena of extreme violence because a woman ate an apple, and torturing people for eternity for their inability to believe, are all examples where the bible fails to live up to even the most basic notions of morality.

    -KW

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  6. @Anon a.k.a -KW
    Three for eight. Hard to see how the 10 Commandments are objective in any way other than “Because the Bible says so”.

    You just proved Dr. Egnor point, thank you!

    Your atheist human mind only accept 3 of God's commandments, some other atheist will accept four or five and still others will accept none. I guess you see how subjective atheist moral is.

    BTW, in Nazi Germany, the 6th commandment did not apply when killing Jews, Gipsies, Black and all that were regarded as less than human, so that commandment was Unconstitutional for the Nazis.

    The atheist moral law is very similar to play-doe!

    The 10 commandments are God’s moral law, have been since Moses and will NEVER change.

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  7. Who made the morally right behavior "right", when all people thought it wrong?

    The people themselves. They failed to meet the standards set by themselves.

    You do the same by inventing a god and a set of moral standards allegedly laid down by imaginary god.

    @Pëpè: so you think it's immoral to make graven images?

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  8. @troy:

    [The people themselves. They failed to meet the standards set by themselves.]

    Are the standards arbitrary?

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  9. I accept murder is wrong because I don’t want to be murdered and feel empathy for my fellow human beings. I care more for those close to me and less for those unrelated and distant. I see the objective fact that society and its members will be better-off by doing what we can to discourage murder.

    I understand that species settle into evolutionary stable states that generally discourage the killing of fellow species members and dictate the levels of cooperation, competition, and cheating dependent of the fitness advantages for each strategy. There very few (or none) species that are universally cooperative or hostile with one another because these conditions are not evolutionarily stable. In a population of cooperators the cheater will can always gain an advantage and in a population universally hostile cooperators can always gain an advantage.

    We constantly debate morality as well we should, but what we’re really talking about is behavior. The range of cooperative, competitive, and deceitful behaviors by humans is not at all unlike the range of behaviors observed in other species, and understanding evolutionary basis for behavior can only help to inform the debate.

    -KW

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  10. @troy
    ...so you think it's immoral to make graven images?

    If you want to be well informed, you shouldn’t get your info from other atheists.

    Here are the REAL 10 Commandments:

    1. I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.
    2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
    3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
    4. Honor your father and your mother.
    5. You shall not kill.
    6. You shall not commit adultery.
    7. You shall not steal.
    8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
    10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

    Now, which one of these you find immoral?

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    Replies
    1. Nope, they werent in english you stupid mother fucker.

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  11. @Egnor: No, not arbitrary. They maximize well-being.


    @Pépè: How confusing. Are there multiple 10 commandments? How do we decide which is the "real" one?

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  12. @troy
    How confusing...

    What's confusing? The wording may vary but the moral basis remains the same. They apply to all men and there is no pick and choose as a secular society would have us believe.

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  13. Pepe, is it or is not immoral to make graven images?

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  14. @troy

    It's immoral to take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

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  15. But is it immoral, yes or no, to make graven images?

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  16. Christians may congratulate themselves for letting a dehydrated child die because they refuses to steal a drink of water, but that child will have died because of a foolish belief. None of the Ten Commandments are absolutely moral because they don’t allow for the extreme cases where a minor transgression serves a far greater good.

    -KW

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  17. @troy:

    [@Egnor: No, not arbitrary. They maximize well-being.]

    Why is maximizing well-being moral, and maximizing suffering is not moral?

    If humans are the only minds that exist, then that is just an opinion. s.u.b.j.e.c.t.i.v.e.

    I feel like I'm trying to teach multiplication tables to an uncommonly dull student.

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  18. Why is maximizing well-being moral, and maximizing suffering is not moral?

    If humans are the only minds that exist, then that is just an opinion. s.u.b.j.e.c.t.i.v.e.


    I agree, the moral standards are a matter of opinion. They are objective only in the sense that independent observers can agree whether they are violated or not.

    Your allegedly objective moral standards, which you think are God-given, are also a matter of opinion. Look at Pépé. He can't even tell me whether making graven images is immoral or not - a simple yes-or-no question - even though he believes like you that moral rules are objective.

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  19. Even Douglas Wilson, the pastor who co-starred in the documentary 'Collision' had said admittedly, that if the Jesus story isnt true, and that he isnt the son of god, then yeah, the whole story is awful, and immoral. And guess what, there isnt a shred of proof that can prove that he was.

    There have been laws and codes far before mosaic law. Christianity didnt invent everything, people.

    There are certain things in life, in a civil society, that are detrimental to the survival of said society. If everyone who lived in a village, or wherever, simply did as they pleased - stole from each other, killed each other, lied, etc., then you know what? People would not survive very long, would they? It is in an individual's best interests, and his/her family's best interests to get along with others in the tribe or even outside tribes.

    So what is this morality you speak of? Is it the 10 commandments? Is it avoiding the 7 deadly sins? Because those are in the old testament, not in the new, do they get thrown out along with the other 'rules' from it?

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  20. ” Why is maximizing well-being moral, and maximizing suffering is not moral?”

    Because for the vast majority of people maximizing well being is pleasurable, minimizes stress, and maximizes fitness, while suffering is painful, increases stress, and reduces fitness. Only someone befuddled by Bronze Age superstitions could ask such a stupid question.

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  21. @anon:

    So what is pleasurable is moral? Rape? Cocaine?

    You are describing expediencies to fulfill desires, not moral law. Often doing the moral thing is not pleasurable, increases stress, minimizes fitness, and causes suffering.

    Ask the first responders on 9-11 if saving people is pleasurable, relaxing, and good for your health.

    Atheism/Darwinism shipwrecks on morality.

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  22. @troy:

    [I agree, the moral standards are a matter of opinion.]

    First candid thing you've said.

    [They are objective only in the sense that independent observers can agree whether they are violated or not.]

    Still a matter of opinion-- the opinions of the "independent observers"

    What is it that makes your opinion that it's not ok to kill Jews more moral than Hitler's opinion that it is ok? It's just your opinion vrs. his opinion.

    Independent observers? So the only difference in your morality and Hitler's is the outcome of a poll?

    Are you actually claiming that not killing Jews is morally superior to killing Jews only if the vote goes that way? Are you asserting that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with killing Jews, other than the fact that killing them would lose in a poll?

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  23. Michael,

    So why haven't you answered my comment? Too difficult?

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  24. Are you actually claiming that not killing Jews is morally superior to killing Jews only if the vote goes that way? Are you asserting that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with killing Jews, other than the fact that killing them would lose in a poll?

    Historically, most of the Jews that were murdered were murdered by "objective" Christians that didn't see anything wrong with murdering Jews. Christian leaders have actively encouraged it over and over again. So have Muslim leaders and still do.

    It certainly is a matter of opinion. I'm glad more and more people are basing their moral opinion on a rational calculus of the consequences of their actions rather than the thoughtless opinions of religious dictators and holy books.

    So tell me, is it immoral to make grave images?

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  25. @troy:

    [So tell me, is it immoral to make grave images?]

    Yes. Objectively immoral.

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  26. @bach:

    [So why haven't you answered my comment? Too difficult?]


    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/objective

    under "adjective",#4,5,6,7,8.

    The reason I didn't answer sooner is that you question was so witless I thought you were kidding.

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  27. Michael,

    You are an idiot.

    The definition of 'objective':

    Adjective

    4. Being the object or goal of one's efforts or actions.

    5. Not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased : an objective opinion.

    6. Intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings, as a person or a book.

    7. Being the object of perception or thought; belonging to the object of thought rather than the thinking subject (opposed to subjective).

    8. Of or pertaining to something that can be known, or to something that is an object or part of an object; existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality.


    Where is 'god given' in any part of the definition? I know the meaning of words is one of your many weaknesses (see 'imaginary'), but this is witless even for you.

    Also you haven't given an example of something that is accepted by all humans, but is still immoral.

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  28. @troy
    But is it immoral, yes or no, to make graven images?

    YES: It is immoral to make graven images if you are going to worship these images and base your entire life and soul on them, like this one.

    NO: If these images are of your mother, your father or your Creator and you will say how much you love them and how grateful you are for all that they gave you.

    PS1: Now stop asking questions and eat your pablum!

    PS2: Sorry, I promised but this is my first fall!

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  29. @bachfiend
    Michael,

    You are an idiot.


    This is typical bachfiend argumentation!

    That makes two of us...

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  30. How un-Catholic to object to making graven images. I guess you are also OK then that the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the graven image-makers should be punished for the crimes of their ancestors, as Exodus 20 proscribes.

    Suffice it to conclude that even Christians can't make up their minds what the ten commandments are.

    So much for objective morality.

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  31. Pepe,

    I'd asked Michael to provide a reference confirming his use of the word 'objective'. When he provides a reference which DOESN'T confirm his use, and to boot calls me witless, then 'idiot' is a reasonable description of him.

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  32. @bach...
    ...then 'idiot' is a reasonable description of him...

    Wow!

    You surely posses an outstanding intellect for your uncanny ability to come up with a so apt and concise description.

    Kudos to you, Sire!

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  33. Pepe,

    Well, what would you call someone who is asked to provide a reference with a definition supporting his use of a word, provides a link to an online dictionary with 5 different uses of the word (read the definitions I provided from Michael's link) and none of which support Michael's use?

    'Idiot' is mild.

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  34. @Pepe
    "You surely posses an outstanding intellect for your uncanny ability to come up with a so apt and concise description."

    Spoken like the true michael egnor cheerleader that you are..

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  35. Atheists do recognize objective moral law.

    Atheists can do anything! They can solve impossible equations during breakfast and then wrestle a bear before lunch. They can train as astronauts in the evening and write sonnets in the night. They are the perfect people!

    What's the problem with admitting a weakness here? There's no justification at all for the statement, "Atheists do recognize objective moral law." It's one of the most glaring shortcomings of atheism. Just acknowledge it and move on.

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  36. @bach: "Atheists accept objective morality, because it's imposed on the individual by society."

    What if I'm an atheist and I don't accept objective morality? Am I no longer an atheist?

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  37. KT Cat,

    If you don't accept objective moral law, then you're a psychopath, atheist and theist alike.

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  38. Bach, bach, bach...
    You make reading this blog without a comment near impossible for me.
    "Atheists accept objective morality, because it's imposed on the individual by society."
    Force does not make it objective. Killing dissenters in North Korean death camps is not objectively moral, because it is enforced. Dressing up obedience as morality is extremely subjective of you, Bach.



    "If you don't accept objective moral law, then you're a psychopath, atheist and theist alike."
    Morality is about right and wrong, Bach.
    Good and evil.
    Your answer is a subjective one.
    You assume that an amoral person is sick, or mentally defective: A 'psychopath'. You seek to explain away evil with material causes (shocker) and that leads you right back to the morally subjective/relativist predicated by your Atheism.

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  39. Killing dissenters in North Korean death camps is not objectively moral, SIMPLY because it is enforced. ***

    teeny tiny tablet day... mea culpa.

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  40. Egnor says “Ask the first responders on 9-11 if saving people is pleasurable, relaxing, and good for your health.”


    The first responders, often referred to as “the Heroes of 9/11”, have become cultural icons whose social standing has benefited greatly from their heroic actions. Who has a better chance of finding a mate, the hero who puts himself at risk to save others, or the coward who shirks his responsibility? Google “NYC fire fighter calendar” and you’ll see.

    “So what is pleasurable is moral? Rape? Cocaine?”

    No. Pain and pleasure have evolved to foster behaviors that maximize fitness, like eating and having sex, while pain evolved to deter you from damaging yourself and to modify your behavior when you have sustained damage. (Keep in mind that when I say fitness I mean it in its evolutionary sense “leave more offspring”). In non-human species doing something pleasurable is almost certainly doing something that has a positive effect on fitness. In our complex world that’s obviously not always the case. For instance, lots of yummy food will make you fat and give you diabetes.

    I’ve read papers that discuss the frequency of rape in terms of evolutionary stable state theory. It’s not moral because it victimizes people and we have empathy for other peoples suffering, but unfortunately it’s not a problem that’s likely to ever go away because there are solid evolutionary reasons for its existence.

    Funny how “Thou shall not rape” never made it into the Bible, but I guess it’s not entirely surprising given the multiple times God commands his followers to rape people.

    -KW

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  41. KW,
    Maybe you missed the 10th commandment? Probably got bored half way through, eh?
    There is also no commandment against cattle rustling (only that coveting again), or anything modern like credit card fraud or bank robbery.
    Hmmm. Maybe all that stuff is covered by the ten commandments? Just maybe....
    Advice? Leave the theology and religious interpretations to those who are not too lazy to think it through.
    Comments such as the above do NOTHING to advance the notion that Atheists are normal, functional people...

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  42. If you don't accept objective moral law, then you're a psychopath, atheist and theist alike.

    So if I decide that we're all just bags of atoms and there is no God, I'm a psychopath if I commit insurance fraud to fund my trips to the brothel? Sounds kind of extreme. I'd say the logic was pretty reasonable.

    See also: Riots, London 2011.

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  43. @Anon with the rape comment above: I love how morality devolves into evolutionary calculations as if there is one path and one end state. It's also fun to read this stuff and then imagine the mental processes that go on in internal moral debates. I'm sure the dude at the bar is thinking, "Well, I better not slip Suzy this bit of Rohypnol because it will lead to evolutionary inefficiencies!"

    Right.

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  44. A few points people are missing in the comments:

    Objective morality is a moral law built into the fabric of reality that exists whether human beings acknowledge it or not. Gravity is an objective law; "You must drive on the right-hand side of the road" is an arbitrary law. Dr. Egnor is merely stating a truism when he says that atheists do not believe in objective morality. Moral agents are, necessarily, rational beings with free will. If there is no rational, free-willed being in charge of the cosmos, then there can be no objective moral law.

    What atheists are left with (and this is not something to be ashamed of; I was rather proud of it when I was trying to be an atheist, and had a hard time leaving it behind as I converted) is that each person must work out his own moral code without fear or trembling. People can decide in groups what behaviors they will tolerate in others, and what sanctions they will impose on them. And then each individual decides how he will act, given the laws of man and nature, and the consequences with which he will live. That's all. No higher law imposed from without - just the laws of cause and effect, and what we choose to do with that knowledge.

    Christians, on the other hand, believe in a supreme lawgiver, who establishes right and wrong for everyone, independent of apparent consequences.

    If there is no meaning or rational purpose to existence (apart from what we invent in our minds) then the human will is the highest moral authority. That's really all Egnor is saying here, and I really don't understand why that's so controversial. Any honest atheist should admit the truth in this, and should respond to any attempts to make them feel bad about it with contempt, not defensiveness. I used to say, "Yes, there is nothing objectively 'better' about my morality than Hitler's. That's because your 'better' doesn't exist. There is no objective 'better'; there's just matters of preference. I prefer to be like me, and not like Hitler. You're welcome."

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  45. Also, I would suggest that the atheists in the combox here are misunderstanding the decalogue (and the mosaic code, and theistic moral teachings in general.) When you start with derision and make no real effort to understand something, you're likely to miss the point. Maybe I can clear up some of that misunderstanding..

    The moral law is fundamentally very simple, and can be summed up in one word: love. Given post-Fall human concupiscence, this law usually needs some further explanation. We get that explanation in the decalogue, the mosaic code, the exhortations of the prophets, the parables (and example!) of Christ, and the epistles of the apostles. The central premise of Christian teaching is summed up in Matthew 22:37-40: "Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets."

    These explanations are not designed to be some sort of mathematical equation or computer program; they're more descriptive. When Moses tells Israel to love God and their neighbors, and Israel says, "Hm, okay, love. What does that look like?" Moses gives them an answer: "It looks like this: Don't place your trust in false Gods; place it in the Living God who is Love. Respect him and remember that he is holy and central to your life. Don't let your work eat up every moment of your life; take one day out of seven to rest and meditate and be with me and with those you love. Love and respect your family - especially your parents. Don't kill people. Don't sleep around. Don't take things that don't belong to you. Don't slander your neighbors. Don't indulge in envy."

    Does that mean that a man sins against love if he steals from the rich to feed the starving? Or shoots an intruder to protect his family? Or kisses a picture of his deceased wife and whispers to it "I love you?" Or hops on a fire truck and puts out a fire on the sabbath? Of course not. These kinds of legalistic interpretations of the descriptive law make a mockery of love, and are exactly the thing Christ objected to in Mark 2:23-28: "And it came to pass again, as the Lord walked through the corn fields on the sabbath, that his disciples began to go forward, and to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said to him: Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said to them: Have you never read what David did when he had need, and was hungry himself, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God, under Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the loaves of proposition, which was not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave to them who were with him? And he said to them: The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. Therefore the Son of man is Lord of the sabbath also."

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  46. Incidentally, KW is also missing the point of "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation." This is not just God being mean; this is God telling his people how sin works, and how the consequences and habits of sin are never just personal, but are passed on to one's children. Children of abusive parents often grow up to become abusive. Children of philanderers often have trouble trusting their spouses, and are frequently prone to adultery themselves. Children of alcoholics are often alcoholics themselves. Sin is never personal - we all suffer for the sins of our neighbors. (By the same token, charity is never personal either, and we all benefit from the charity of our neighbors.)

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  47. Why does mregnor suppose that "objective" moral law necessarily may be derived only from god(s)? He offers no explanation or evidence in support of his supposition. His argument rests on two "beliefs"--first, that there is a god, and, second, that objective moral laws can only come from this god and not from anything else.

    Why is it not just as plausible, indeed more so, to suppose that some sense of morality or, at least, some mode of developing a moral code is inherent in the nature of human beings? Various physical, emotional, and psychological characteristics are well recognized as inherent aspects of humans. Why not a sense of morality? Note too that a sense of morality inherent in our human nature is not "subjective" as mregnor supposes (but, again, does not explain or prove). A human does not "choose" the inherent aspects of his or her nature. Nor are such aspects merely matters of "opinion" that may be changed at will.

    Apart from that, mregnor's air of smug comfort in the "objectivity" and superiority of his god-given moral code can only appear ridiculous to anyone who does not believe in his god. From this perspective, atheists can at least say that they generally endeavor to understand and maintain their moral code with their eyes open and their wits about them. You can understand, I trust, that atheists might look askance at those who instead pretend or suppose the one right moral code will be handed to them if only they open the right book, utter the right chants, and breathe the right incense, all in the right frame of mind of course and in keeping with the sage advice of the right holy men who have the right understanding of the will of the right god(s).

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  48. @Doug:

    [Why does mregnor suppose that "objective" moral law necessarily may be derived only from god(s)?]

    Where else would it come from?

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  49. [Where else would it come from?]

    Please read the second paragraph of my comment.

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  50. @Doug:

    [Why is it not just as plausible, indeed more so, to suppose that some sense of morality or, at least, some mode of developing a moral code is inherent in the nature of human beings?]

    Christians believe that the moral code is inherent in our nature. Written in our hearts. By God.

    [Various physical, emotional, and psychological characteristics are well recognized as inherent aspects of humans. Why not a sense of morality?]

    I agree.

    [Note too that a sense of morality inherent in our human nature is not "subjective" as mregnor supposes (but, again, does not explain or prove). A human does not "choose" the inherent aspects of his or her nature. Nor are such aspects merely matters of "opinion" that may be changed at will.]

    Our biological endowment is "is"; moral law is "ought". We may well have genetic/biochemical natures that influence us to do and not do certain things. But if that is all moral law is, we are robots.

    Moral law transcends biochemistry and genetics. It is "ought", which is not material, but spiritual.

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  51. @Doug:

    [Apart from that, mregnor's air of smug comfort in the "objectivity" and superiority of his god-given moral code can only appear ridiculous to anyone who does not believe in his god.]

    I'm too old to be concerned about appearing ridiculous. And I hardly derive "smug comfort" from God's moral law. Actually, I feel quite inadequate, and my failure to conform to His law causes me quite a bit of discomfort, even angst. I go to confession often. I'm more the prodigal son than the older brother, in a lot of ways.

    [From this perspective, atheists can at least say that they generally endeavor to understand and maintain their moral code with their eyes open and their wits about them.]

    Of course atheists try to abide by their moral code. Aquinas observed that we always do what we think is best, in a sense. That's why we choose to do something. We think it's the best thing to do.

    The question is whether atheists have their eyes open and their wits about them. I think not.

    [You can understand, I trust, that atheists might look askance at those who instead pretend or suppose the one right moral code will be handed to them if only they open the right book, utter the right chants, and breathe the right incense, all in the right frame of mind of course and in keeping with the sage advice of the right holy men who have the right understanding of the will of the right god(s).]

    You're asking an important question: how is it that I believe in the God of Christian revelation?

    It's simple to answer briefly, and very difficult to answer exhaustively. Briefly, I believe that God (the God of Aristotle) can be known to exist by reason-- Prime Mover, etc.

    I believe in the God of Christian revelation for the same reason Anslem did-- I believe in order to understand. That is, by accepting God's existence and Christ's Lordship I have come to understand things that have long perplexed me. Christianity fits my life like a key fits a lock. In addition, I have had a modest spiritual experience during prayer that astonished me.

    I have also come to see that the arguments for atheism-- arguments that I accepted most of my life-- are nonsense.

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  52. We are agreed that "oughts" are inherent in our nature. To just say "god(s) put them in us," without some explanation or evidence showing as much, is to beg the question. It can just as easily, and more plausibly, be said that these "oughts" are derived from the very nature of the beings we have evolved to be?

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  53. @Doug:

    How can matter in motion give rise to "ought", rather than mere "is", misinterpreted as ought?

    Atheism in its materialist manifestation provides no "ought".

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  54. [How can matter in motion give rise to "ought", rather than mere "is", misinterpreted as ought?]

    Even by your conception, either way, you get what we perceive as "ought."

    More to the point, though, why do you suppose that matter in motion, as you put it, cannot lead to the evolution of beings with a sense of "ought"?

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  55. @Doug:


    [Even by your conception, either way, you get what we perceive as "ought."]

    Of course we perceive ought.

    The question is: do we perceive genuine "ought", or do we misperceive "is" (neurotransmitters, etc) to be ought?

    Is "ought" real?

    If it is real, then it transcends "is", and transcends biochemistry.

    Which comes back to an earlier question:

    Would murder be wrong, even if all people thought it was right?

    Is there a right and wrong that exists independently of biochemistry?

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  56. Michael,

    I'm well aware that the meaning of words isn't one of your strengths ... but murder is the unlawful killing of a human, so BY DEFINITION murder is wrong, even if accepted by all humans.

    You meant to write 'homicide' instead of 'murder'.

    Most societies have legitimized homicide outside their group and prohibited it within their group, calling it murder. The secret of peace is to expand your idea of group to include all humans, so that homicide of any human can potentially be regarded as murder (naturally, there are occasional cases of justifiable homicide).

    And no, right and wrong cannot exist in the absence of biochemistry, at least in the absence of physical sentient beings.

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  57. If the "ought" is part of our nature, it "is" "real," regardless of whether it comes about by some natural process or some supernatural one you deem worthy of the label "spiritual." The question remains: Why should we suppose the supernatural source you favor?

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  58. @Doug:

    "Ought" is an aspect of a property of the mind that philosophers of the mind call "intentionality", which means the ability of a thought to be directed at something. Intentionality has long been recognized (inplicitly since Aristotle and explicitly since the scholastics) as the essential property of a thought-- that it means something. A chemical reaction-- say in a neuron-- does not intrinsically mean anything, it just is. But the thought associated with the reaction means something. A thought has reference to something other than itself. A thought is directed as something-- a concept, an object, a person, etc. Brentano (German philosopher in the late 19th century) called the directedness of a thought-- intentionality-- "the mark of the mental".

    But matter by itself cannot be intentional. Atoms just are. They don't mean anything, independently of a mind. So the mind itself cannot be composed merely of atoms, no matter how arranged and how complex.

    How does this require God? Intentionality is a subset of a broader principle of metaphysics-- teleology. Teleology is the goal or end-directed behavior of a process. Intentionality is one kind of goal-directed process. Laws of nature are another goal-directed process.

    Aquinas' Fifth Way demonstrates that goal directedness is predicated on the existence of a mind (if the form of the endpoint is not instantiated in the substance, it must be instantiated in a mind).

    Goal-directedness in nature-- that analogue of intentionality of which moral law is an example-- is evidence for God's existence.

    "Ought" presupposes God.

    Of course, most people don't think it through so much, and just have the intuition that the Moral Law must come ultimately from God. They're right.

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  59. Egnor: How can matter in motion give rise to "ought", rather than mere "is", misinterpreted as ought?

    Have you never heard of evolutionary game theory, Mike? Martin Nowak, a mathematical biologist at Harvard, has done quite a bit of research in that area. Here is a Cliff Notes introduction by Steve Pinker.

    In a nutshell, life strategies (how organisms ought to behave in order to succeed) can emerge through the usual selection feedback.

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  60. @oleg:

    Game theory presupposes mental acts, which are intentional, which are teleological.

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  61. Which postulate of game theory does that? I am curious.

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  62. @oleg:

    "Game theory is the study of the ways in which strategic interactions among economic agents produce outcomes with respect to the preferences (or utilities) of those agents, where the outcomes in question might have been intended by none of the agents."

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/game-theory/

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  63. @oleg:

    Let me know if you need any more rudimentary definitions of things that you claim to know.

    I'm here to help.

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  64. Take time to read and parse the quote you cited, Mike. Pay attention to the words might have been intended by none of the agents.

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  65. It would also help to read the sentence immediately following said quote, namely:

    The meaning of this statement will not be clear to the non-expert until each of the italicized words and phrases has been explained and featured in some examples.

    Go ahead and read the entire article, Mike. Section 7.3 looks particularly relevant to this discussion.

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  66. "Game theory is the study of the ways in which strategic interactions among economic agents produce outcomes with respect to the preferences (or utilities) of those agents, where the outcomes in question might have been intended by none of the agents."

    That is a definition of economic game theory, where agents (humans) are supposed to be utility maximizing rational agents (a ridiculous assumption of course).

    Evolutionary game theory (introduced by Hamilton, Price and Maynard Smith in the early seventies) does not presuppose rational agents. It assumes that natural selection will lead to the evolution of behaviors (so-called evolutionarily stable strategies or ESSs) that maximize reproductive success (instead of "utility") of agents. It is typically assumed that such strategies are genetically determined, and not the product of rational thought.

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  67. @troy, oleg:

    All game theory involves minds, of one sort or another. Without minds, agents participating in "games" are governed by the laws of physics.

    Evolutionary game theory is merely that application of some of the principles of economic game theory to evolutionary change, which is fine as far as it goes.

    But games of any sort presuppose minds, and minds presuppose intentionality, and intentionality presupposes teleology, and teleology presupposes God.

    You can run, guys, but you can't hide.

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  68. Evolutionary game theory is merely that application of some of the principles of economic game theory to evolutionary change, which is fine as far as it goes.

    No, evolutionary game theory has its own concepts, such as the ESS, which economic game theory doesn't have. As a matter of fact, economists are now borrowing ideas from evolutionary game theory because the concept of a rational agent in economic game theory doesn't make much sense, while selection as an optimizing process does (that's why evolutionary algorithms are used in industry as optimization tools).


    But games of any sort presuppose minds, and minds presuppose intentionality, and intentionality presupposes teleology, and teleology presupposes God.

    Again, nope. Games do not presuppose minds. They presuppose strategies (rules that say how to behave under specific conditions) and payoff functions (rules that say how successful strategies are, given the distribution of strategies in the population). Computers can and do play games and routinely outperform humans, as you know.

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  69. Egnor: All game theory involves minds, of one sort or another. Without minds, agents participating in "games" are governed by the laws of physics.

    Ah, Egnorance at its bestest! You didn't even bother to read the Stanford Encyclopedia article, did you? Of course not. If you did, you would see that agents in game theory can be non-humans, so no minds need be involved. From Section 7,

    The least controversial game-theoretic modelling has applied the classical form of the theory to consideration of strategies by which non-human animals seek to acquire the basic resource relevant to their evolutionary tournament: opportunities to produce offspring that are themselves likely to reproduce. In order to thereby maximize their expected fitness, animals must find optimal trade-offs among various intermediate goods, such as nutrition, security from predation and ability to out-compete rivals for mates. Efficient trade-off points among these goods can often be estimated for particular species in particular environmental circumstances, and, on the basis of these estimations, both parametric and non-parametric equilibria can be derived. Models of this sort have an impressive track record in predicting and explaining independent empirical data on such strategic phenomena as competitive foraging, mate selection, nepotism, sibling rivalry,herding, collective anti-predator vigilance and signaling, reciprocal grooming, and interspecific mutuality (symbiosis).

    So no, "mind" is not presupposed. Back to the drawing board, genius.

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  70. @troy:

    [Again, nope. Games do not presuppose minds. They presuppose strategies (rules that say how to behave under specific conditions) and payoff functions (rules that say how successful strategies are, given the distribution of strategies in the population).]

    Strategy presupposes mind. The mind need not be rational or human. It can be animal, etc. But strategy means mind.

    [Computers can and do play games and routinely outperform humans, as you know.]

    Computers are built by engineers with minds, and programmed by programmers with minds.

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  71. @oleg:

    Animals have minds. Not rational minds, but minds, which presuppose intentionality, which presupposes...

    Resistance is useless, oleg.

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  72. Strategy presupposes mind. The mind need not be rational or human. It can be animal, etc. But strategy means mind.

    No, it doesn't. Not in game theory. A strategy is simply a rule that specifies what action (from a range of possible actions) to perform under what conditions (from a range of possible conditions). That's all it is. Such rules can be encoded by genes, by software, and also by brains.


    Computers are built by engineers with minds, and programmed by programmers with minds.

    But animals were not built by engineers, yet they do have predictable conditional behaviors that can be modeled as strategies in a game theory model.

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  73. And not just animals. Behavior of microbes has been successfully modeled with game theory. Do microbes have minds?

    I'll look up a reference.

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  74. Here's an good reference to the application of game theory to microbes: link

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  75. Do ants have minds? LOL.

    Seriously, game theory does not rely on the concept of mind at all. Read the article for starters before spewing any more nonsense! Here is another excerpt:

    Though we might no longer be moved by scruples derived from psychological behaviorism, many theorists continue to follow Samuelson's way of understanding utility because they think it important that game theory apply to any kind of agent—a person, a bear, a bee, a firm or a country—and not just to agents with human minds.

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  76. @troy:

    A strategy is a form of teleology, which presupposes mind.

    When strategy occurs in inanimate nature, it demonstrates God's existence. (From the Teleological Proof-- Aquinas' Fifth Way)

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  77. troy,

    Egnor's answer is simple. Complex animals have minds. Simple animals are robots programmed by God. It's an irrefutable theory.

    Let's ask him where the boundary lies. LOL.

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  78. @troy:

    Microbes have souls, in the sense of Aristotelian substantial forms. All living things have souls. Microbes obviously don't have rational souls, but they grow, reproduce, move, excrete, etc, which encompasses vegetative and sensitive functions.

    The hyelomorphic understanding of nature, which is the only coherent understanding and is the correct one, leads inevitably to several proofs for God's existence (First and Fifth Ways, specifically).

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  79. oleg:

    Mind is loosely defined in hylemorphism. What is defined is soul, which is substantial form of a living thing.

    Humans have rational souls. They reason.

    Animals have sensitive soul. They have appetite, sensation, movement, etc.

    Plants have vegetative soul. They grow, reproduce, etc.

    Probably the most widely accepted sense of mind is Brentano's, which is that intentionality-- the directedness of a thought-- is the hallmark of mind. Subjective experience-- qualia-- are probably also hallmarks of mind.

    Humans and animals clearly have minds. Plants, not.

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  80. A strategy is a form of teleology, which presupposes mind.

    No it's not, although it may seem that way. But it's just a rule that says how to behave in a given circumstance. A successful rule may seem to anticipate the "counter moves" of an "opponent", but that doesn't imply there is true anticipation.

    Take the HIV virus. It has proteins on its exterior that are very mutable. This is a good "strategy" to avoid detection by the immune system. It may seem to anticipate the immune system's "moves" but of course there is no teleology involved at all, nor does it demonstrate God's existence.

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  81. @troy:

    All directedness in nature demonstrates God's existence.

    If not God, whence the directedness?

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  82. Humans and animals clearly have minds. Plants, not.

    But game theory has been successfully applied to plants as well. For example in how much energy a plant channels into the production of pollen vs ovules. It turns out that plant "behavior" can be considered strategic behavior, governed by similar rules that maximize reproductive success in animals.

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  83. All directedness in nature demonstrates God's existence.

    If not God, whence the directedness?


    Evolution by natural selection. All organisms have enemies. The actions of the enemies are to some extent predictable. For example, enemies excrete certain chemicals, therefore they are detectable. Water fleas respond to the presence of such chemicals by developing a hard exterior. The extra energy required to develop this cannot be used to produced eggs, but in the presence of enemies it pays off to do it anyway. This kind of conditional strategy is genetically encoded without any need for a mind to direct it.

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  84. It's great poking fun at Michael's soul and mind games, but all of this is beside the point. Game theory does not operate with the concept of mind. It does not need it. It does not use it. The point of game theory is that a successful strategy can emerge without a conscious effort from the agents (rational mind in Mike's terms).

    This is a bit like the aether in physics. Theory of relativity made the aether obsolete. Likewise, the concept of mind is entirely unnecessary in game theory.

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  85. mregnor,

    I earlier wrote: "Apart from that, mregnor's air of smug comfort in the "objectivity" and superiority of his god-given moral code can only appear ridiculous to anyone who does not believe in his god. From this perspective, atheists can at least say that they generally endeavor to understand and maintain their moral code with their eyes open and their wits about them. You can understand, I trust, that atheists might look askance at those who instead pretend or suppose the one right moral code will be handed to them if only they open the right book, utter the right chants, and breathe the right incense, all in the right frame of mind of course and in keeping with the sage advice of the right holy men who have the right understanding of the will of the right god(s)."

    You responded by (1) presuming that my first sentence concerned your personal emotional state and saying that you are not concerned about appearing ridiculous, (2) saying with respect to my second sentence that you believed atheists try to abide by their moral code, but you think they do not have the eyes open and their wits about them, and (3) presuming that my third sentence concerned the question how you personally came to believe in the Christian god and briefly noting that you came to your belief because it enables you to understand things and you had a spiritual experience during prayer.

    You largely missed--and thus never responded to--the point of my comment.

    My point is that your claims that your moral code is (1) "objective" in contrast to atheists' "subjective" code and (2) right and valid as opposed to the hit-and-miss code of atheists are so much gibberish to all except those who already believe in your god. To those who do not share your belief in the Christian god, your moral code is every bit as "subjective" as you claim the atheists' code is since you chose it just as much as they chose theirs and, moreover, it is perhaps more arbitrary and prone to error since you chose or accepted your code wholesale in the rather indirect, unmindful manner I described. The arbitrariousness and dangerousness of your approach, moreover, is magnified by the fact that billions of other theists around the globe do the same thing (they just happen to open a different book or accept the interpretations of a different holy man) and, by that process, select their moral codes, which are somewhat different than yours and which are equally as "objective" and "absolutely right" in their minds as yours is in your mind. Meanwhile, atheists (or many at least) look on and wonder whether all of you are smoking dope or what.

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  86. Michael,

    Some plants do have directness and intentionality. Such as the insectivorous plant the Venus Flytrap. It's able to trap an insect with a mind in less than 20 seconds. Does it have a mind?

    Go and read Richard Dawkins' book 'Climbing Mount Improbable', particularly the last chapter 'A Garden Enclosed' which discusses the stable gaming strategies of the fig (all 900 species of them, plants without a mind) and its fig wasp (similarly 900 species, each specific for a fig tree, and with hardly a brain at all). Both have directness and intentionality, but they evolved. Weren't designed.

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  87. @Doug:

    [The arbitrariousness and dangerousness of your approach, moreover, is magnified by the fact that billions of other theists around the globe do the same thing...]

    Pretty funny. An atheist lecturing someone else on the dangerousness of applying an ideologically-derived moral code. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_atheism).

    Anytime you'd like to compare the historical and contemporary political manifestations of Christian and atheist moral codes, I'm game.

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  88. @Doug:

    [... as opposed to the hit-and-miss code of atheists are so much gibberish]

    I don't think that atheist moral codes are "hit and miss". I think that atheist moral codes tend to clear evil, as demonstrated by every explicitly atheist society on earth.

    Man is fallen, and without God, reaches deep levels of evil. That is the theme of much of the 20th century.

    And I have no intention of defending non-Christian moral codes. Islam has much evil, as do various pagan religions. Judaism has many good things, but lacks Christ.

    Atheism has produced an depth of evil that transcends the worst of any theist morality.

    But I only defend Christian morality.

    By the way Doug, where do you think our rights come from? I take it that you believe the framers were wrong in the Declaration.

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  89. @Doug:

    On the issue of subjective vs objective moral law, the difference between the Christian and the atheist position is obvious.

    Christians believe that the moral code originates in the mind of God, and exists independently of man's opinions. Our job is to discover it, not create it.

    Atheist views are a jumbled mess, and can't ground anything, morality among other things, in any coherent way.

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  90. Michael,

    Only certain Christians, of an incoherent type, believe that the moral code originates in the mind of god. Most are pragmatic and willing to decide on laws on the basis of necessity and utility.

    How do you think that you discover God's moral code? I suspect by thinking about it, and making it up as you go along.

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  91. @bach:

    [Some plants do have directness and intentionality. Such as the insectivorous plant the Venus Flytrap. It's able to trap an insect with a mind in less than 20 seconds. Does it have a mind?]

    The VF manifests teleology. Intentionality is a manifestation of teleology in living things with minds. I don't think that VF's have anything like a mind.

    [Go and read Richard Dawkins' book 'Climbing Mount Improbable', particularly the last chapter 'A Garden Enclosed' which discusses the stable gaming strategies of the fig (all 900 species of them, plants without a mind) and its fig wasp (similarly 900 species, each specific for a fig tree, and with hardly a brain at all). Both have directness and intentionality, but they evolved. Weren't designed.]

    "Weren't designed"? That's the matter at issue, and your presumption can't be used to settle the issue. Whether or not nature manifests design is the central question.

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  92. @bach:

    [Only certain Christians, of an incoherent type, believe that the moral code originates in the mind of god.]

    What a stupid assertion. The divine source of the moral law is a fundamental tenet of Christianity.

    [Most are pragmatic and willing to decide on laws on the basis of necessity and utility.]

    To that extent, they are not Christians.

    [How do you think that you discover God's moral code? I suspect by thinking about it, and making it up as you go along.}

    1) It's written in our hearts
    2) The Bible and Church teaching
    3) Prayer

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  93. mregnor,

    I well understand that you defend only the Christian moral code (I set aside, for the moment, that there are several such codes, depending on the kind of Christian) and do not defend, but rather even attack, the moral codes of other types of theists--for the very reason that you regard your code as "objective" and "absolute" and "right" and regard theirs as "subjective" and wrong, just like they regard theirs as objective and absolute and right and regard yours as subjective and wrong. That, indeed, is partially my point. And the strength and validity of your conflicting claims depends entirely on your respective beliefs in your gods. To those who do not believe in your god, your moral code is every bit as "subjective" as you suppose the others' codes are. And to those who do not believe in any gods, any of the theists' moral codes are as "subjective" (in your understanding of that term) as all the others.

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  94. Doug:

    More succinctly, there are differences of opinion.

    I believe the Christian opinion is the correct one, which is why I became a Christian.

    Where do unalienable rights come from?

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  95. As I understand it, various philosophers ground "natural rights" in various sources, including god(s).

    My view is that, much like our sense of morality, derives from our nature as human beings, so too do "natural rights" that are unalienable because they are inherent in our nature.

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  96. Humans evolved to have the "nature" they do.

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  97. @Doug:

    Evolution preserves beneficial traits. It does not create them.

    Whence "our nature"?

    Don't pretend you don't understand the question. Unlike the usual drones I encounter, you're smart enough to know what I mean.

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  98. Michael,

    Nothing is 'written' in our hearts. I would have thought that a neurosurgeon with even a minimal understanding of neuroscience (as you seem to have) would have used a better figure of speech to imply that it's the brain that has implanted moral laws, and actually bothered to indicate a mechanism for it occurring.

    The bible contains over 600 moral commands, most of which are ignored nowadays. Jesus was supposed to have claimed in Matthew that he came not to change one piece of law. So have do you decide (or anyone else for that matter) which biblical laws are to be followed and which ignored?

    Finally, how do you know that your prayers are genuine and an accurate reflection of 'God's will'? How do you know that it's not your subconscious that's talking to you?

    Evolution does produce beneficial traits. Your manifest ignorance of biology doesn't impress me. We might not be able to explain how the 23,000 genes in the human genome interact to produce the human brain with its 100 billion neurons to the depth you appear to want, because if the brain was simple enough to understand, we'd be too simple to understand.

    We are making progress. We know that abnormal FOXP2 genes lead to defective speech. We know that traits such as psychopathy, narcissism, borderline personalities and Aspergers syndrome are associated with defective mirror neurons and Von Economo cells, and Aspergers syndrome is associated with various gene variants.

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  99. It appears that your understanding of evolution is not the same as mine. In my understanding, the limitation and thus the problem you suppose does not appear.

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  100. Egnor: Evolution preserves beneficial traits. It does not create them.

    Wrong as usual. You probably mean to say natural selection preserves beneficial traits.

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  101. @Doug:

    In evolutionary theory, random heritable variation (mutation, recombination of genes, etc) provides the substrate on which natural selection (differences in reproductive effectiveness) acts.

    Variation is random, ostensibly, and natural selection isn't an agent or a force, it is merely an observation of the result of myriad forces and agency in nature.

    Variation must produce favorable organisms on which natural selection can "act". It has often been said, perceptively, that the real question is about the arrival of the fittest, not the survival of the fittest.

    Where does adaptation come from, prior to the "action" of natural selection, which can preserve adaptation, but not create it?

    Evolutionary theory accords quite well with Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics.

    The deeper question is: whence "our nature"?

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  102. @bach:

    [Nothing is 'written' in our hearts. I would have thought that a neurosurgeon with even a minimal understanding of neuroscience (as you seem to have) would have used a better figure of speech to imply that it's the brain that has implanted moral laws, and actually bothered to indicate a mechanism for it occurring.]

    "The law is written in our telencephalon" doesn't have the same poetic resonance.

    [The bible contains over 600 moral commands, most of which are ignored nowadays. Jesus was supposed to have claimed in Matthew that he came not to change one piece of law. So have do you decide (or anyone else for that matter) which biblical laws are to be followed and which ignored?]

    I'm not a fundamentalist nor a protestant, and I'm not a Biblical literalist. I learn from the Magesteria of the Catholic Church, and from my conscience.

    [Finally, how do you know that your prayers are genuine and an accurate reflection of 'God's will'? How do you know that it's not your subconscious that's talking to you?]

    I don't know. I pray for discernment, and faith. I'm a very imperfect creature. I do the best with what I have, and I use my best judgement. I give my life to Christ. With fear and trembling, as Paul called it.

    [Evolution does produce beneficial traits. Your manifest ignorance of biology doesn't impress me.]

    I'll keep working on it. Someday...

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  103. Egnor: Variation must produce favorable organisms on which natural selection can "act".

    I think you're on to something.

    Where does adaptation come from, prior to the "action" of natural selection, which can preserve adaptation, but not create it?

    No, I was wrong. You still don't get it.

    The deeper question is: whence "our nature"?

    It's a philosophical question. Philosophers have produced tons of bullshit trying to answer it. Stick with it if you are interested in bullshit.

    Evolutionary theory accords quite well with Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics.

    Change of heart? You used to say that evolutionary theory was a tautology. What happened?

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  104. @oleg:

    [It's a philosophical question. Philosophers have produced tons of bullshit trying to answer it. Stick with it if you are interested in bullshit.]

    It's all philosophy, all the way down. Your assertion that philosophy is bullshit is philosophy.

    [Evolutionary theory accords quite well with Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics.

    Change of heart? You used to say that evolutionary theory was a tautology. What happened?]

    I missspoke. The redacted version:

    "Evolution accords quite well with Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics."

    Darwinism, which is what most people mean by "evolutionary theory", is a composite of banality (variation) and tautology (selection). The meaningful questions are much deeper: why is nature the way it is, where do laws of nature come from, etc.

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  105. Egnor: The meaningful questions are much deeper: why is nature the way it is, where do laws of nature come from, etc.

    Philosophers have been going at it for millennia, and they don't have much to show for it. They are asking wrong questions.

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  106. Michael,

    There's plenty of variation already in nature, even in apparently uniform populations of species. All the variants of dogs came from a single uniform population of grey wolves, ranging from chihuahuas to great danes.

    There's an ongoing experiment in Novosibirsk which has managed to take a uniform population of silver foxes and in less than 25 years produced subpopulations of very tame and very fearful foxes. The tame foxes also have gained the coloration of border collies (I've held one in my arms, and it was very tame).

    With a mammalian genome containing at least 20,000 genes, all of which are prone to neutral mutations, not affecting the product produced but instead its rate of production, it's inevitable that there will be considerable almost infinite variation within populations, albeit of visually undetectable kind.

    You're simplistic in assuming that variation has to be be obvious to the naked eye, otherwise it doesn't exist or isn't important.

    I don't even have the slightest idea what you mean by 'evolutionary theory accords quite well with Aristolean/Thomistic metaphysics'. I suspect that you in your confused mind don't have the slightest idea either.

    Care to elaborate?

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  107. @bach:

    [There's plenty of variation already in nature, even in apparently uniform populations of species. All the variants of dogs came from a single uniform population of grey wolves, ranging from chihuahuas to great danes.

    There's an ongoing experiment in Novosibirsk which has managed to take a uniform population of silver foxes and in less than 25 years produced subpopulations of very tame and very fearful foxes. The tame foxes also have gained the coloration of border collies (I've held one in my arms, and it was very tame).]

    Great examples of intelligent design.

    [You're simplistic in assuming that variation has to be be obvious to the naked eye, otherwise it doesn't exist or isn't important.]

    I don't assume variation has to be "visible". I observe that variation has to be heritable and adaptive to be preserved by natural selection.

    [I don't even have the slightest idea what you mean by 'evolutionary theory accords quite well with Aristolean/Thomistic metaphysics'. I suspect that you in your confused mind don't have the slightest idea either. Care to elaborate?]

    Evolution of species is a nice example of teleology in nature. Aristotle and St. Thomas would concur, if you left out the atheist crap.

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  108. Egnor: Evolution of species is a nice example of teleology in nature. Aristotle and St. Thomas would concur, if you left out the atheist crap.

    Why would I even care whether Aristotle and Aquinas would agree? (And how would we even check? With an oujia board?)

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  109. To cut to the chase, am I correct in understanding that you maintain that (1) evolution cannot lead to a species of our nature and (2) since you cannot imagine any other possibility to explain our nature, you conclude that god(s) gave it to us?

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  110. Michael,

    Nope. 'Darwinism' is what ignorant (not 'most') people mean by 'evolutionary theory'.

    The breeding of dogs and silver foxes weren't examples of intelligent design. They were examples of setting out to achieve one aim and accidentally and nonintelligently arriving at something else.

    Variation has to be inheritable, but it doesn't have to be adaptive. It just has to be near neutral (good or bad) because if it's very bad, it will be very quickly removed from the population.

    Evolution of species isn't an example of teleology in nature. All it means that when a single population is divided into two by some geographic barrier, each population is then free to diverge by selective pressure on pre-existing variants as a result of different environments to produce two populations that are so different that they are no longer capable of interbreeding, so they're separate species.

    There's no intelligent agent deciding that the two separate populations will evolve in different directions. It's just chance and environment.

    So now you're deciding what Aristotle and Aquinas would think about speciation, assuming that they had any idea as to what makes a species.

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  111. @Doug:

    1) Evolution did lead to a species of our nature. It was and remains a teleological process, created and sustained by God. Our physical nature may well have evolved from other primates in the manner suggested by evolutionary biologists. Our soul and spirit did not evolve, but was created by God at our conception.

    2) "Imagine" is the wrong word. I can imagine anything.

    I cannot conceive any other possibility to explain our nature. I cannot rationally accept the emergence of the universe from nothing, natural laws from nothing, and moral law from no one.

    God's existence is demonstrated in Aquinas' Five Ways, which are refined logically rigorous expressions of the common popular conviction that the universe didn't come from nothing.

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  112. Michael,

    So how does 'imagine' differ from 'conceive'? One online dictionary I looked at gave them as synonyms.

    Of course, you're just making it up as you go along, telling stories.

    Common popular convictions aren't necessarily true, and aren't a basis for rational argument. Most people think that memory acts like a video recorder, and memories are reliable, but they're also wrong about that too.

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