An Essay on the Moral Argument
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12-07-2017, 03:08 PM
An Essay on the Moral Argument
In preparation for hopefully making a YouTube video on the Moral Argument, I decided to compile and summarize my thoughts on the subject into a sort of essay. I wrote it as if I were addressing a Christian, and I tried to write in a fairly colloquial style, though that has proven difficult at times when discussing such lofty topics. It is still a rough draft, so I'm sharing it here and inviting anyone who's so inclined to provide their opinions and feedback. I hope at least some of you find it interesting and perhaps even useful.

The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
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12-07-2017, 03:39 PM
RE: An Essay on the Moral Argument
That’s a good essay, I think. The problem with command morality is a thorny one. The believer simply defines anything his god does as good, regardless of how immoral or contradictory it might be.

Here’s something for your consideration. I cribbed this from “Free Inquiry” a few years ago:

Starting from atheism one can as easily become a social Darwinist as a left-liberal progressive, as easily a hedonist as an ascetic, and so on. Pure atheism simply doesn't skew in the direction of the value systems [Greta] Christina, [PZ] Myers, or even I might prefer. Ethically speaking, it doesn't skew in any direction at all. Instead, it does something more important.

Rather than providing a platform for moral inquiry, atheism helps to make authentic moral inquiry possible. Here's why: if a god exists, we might be living under command morality. The good might be good only because the deity says so. That would make the landscape of right and wrong wholly arbitrary, devoid of contours reason might discern. Given command morality, moral inquiry is a doomed exercise. By removing the threat of command morality, atheism grants would-be moral thinkers a clear range on which to build their value systems.

"It's curious how...many atheists simultaneously want to claim that they are good without gods," Myers wrote, "while also asserting that atheism is nothing but a simple answer to one question." Actually, there's nothing curious about that. When atheists are being good without gods, they are being more than atheists. From their starting points as atheists, they are engaging in value inquiry and arriving at their value systems, whcih vary widely. Some wind up as atheist and conservative...or utilitarian, or pragmatist, or transhumanist. The point is, whatever values atheists arrive at, when they live out those values they will be being atheists plus something else.

In years past, American Atheists spokespeople used to talk about "positive atheism," acknowledging that atheists expressed particular values were engaged in something more than atheism alone. Blogger Jennifer McCreight's recent coinage "Atheism +" also recognizes this.

In closing, pardon me if I plump once more for my favorite moniker for men and women who start from atheism and then apply reason, compassion, and common sense to build value systems conducive to fluorishing in this world. I call them "secular humanists."

From a longer op-ed by Tom Flynn, editor of "Free Inquiry" and executive director for the Council for Secular Humanism.
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12-07-2017, 05:35 PM
RE: An Essay on the Moral Argument
(12-07-2017 03:08 PM)Glossophile Wrote:  In preparation for hopefully making a YouTube video on the Moral Argument, I decided to compile and summarize my thoughts on the subject into a sort of essay. I wrote it as if I were addressing a Christian, and I tried to write in a fairly colloquial style, though that has proven difficult at times when discussing such lofty topics. It is still a rough draft, so I'm sharing it here and inviting anyone who's so inclined to provide their opinions and feedback. I hope at least some of you find it interesting and perhaps even useful.

Near the beginning of section I, you say, "If I were to present that passage to you as evidence that God not only endorses slavery but doesn't exactly frown upon the physical abuse of slaves, you as a Christian would most likely argue that I've taken it out of context, interpreted it too literally, or both."

I'm wondering what sort of Christian you imagine you're addressing? I think that's important, because there are many varieties of "Christian" and not all of them come at this argument in the same way; indeed, this in itself might be an argument that a given Christian raises in response to your paper.

In my experience, those Christians who insist most vehemently that morality has to come from God tend to be pretty strict fundamentalists, even Biblical literalists. A Biblical literalist would, I think, hardly be likely to accuse you of taking the Bible too literally, because that immediately calls their own position into question. He might conceivably accuse you of taking the passage out of context, but really, that would be logically inconsistent: if the statements in the Bible are literally true they will be true whether in context or out of it.

Of course, literalists don't often seem to be too bothered by such petty considerations as "logic" or "consistency", so there we are. Wink

The OT/NT argument also depends a lot on what sort of Christian is responding. An American Catholic, for example, it going to be a lot more likely to dismiss the OT as historical allegory than, say, a member of the Plymouth Brethren.


Overall, I think you've made a good start on a difficult subject.
My main critique is that you should be very careful about putting words into a generic Christian's mouth.
For example:

"You might say that your rubric for interpreting scripture is simply to ask if any given interpretation is consistent with a deity that is purely, wholly, and absolutely good. If it makes God look bad, then you must've read it wrong, right? You could even say that an all-loving God has written a moral code on your heart", etc.

The problem is that this sort of phrasing can easily slip over into straw man arguments, with you setting up your hypothetical Christians within easy reach of knocking them down. Indeed, even if you manage to avoid the straw man trap, too much reliance on the "you Christians" approach can give the appearance of a straw man impropriety. IOW, it can make the argument look less well-thought out than it actually is.

I'd suggest getting rid of the frequent references to "you", depersonalizing those passages, and just presenting the common argument(s)
it(them)selve(s), and then applying your logical deconstruction to the arguments , without needing to have them spouted by a personified imaginary Christian.

Hope that makes sense?

My 2¢

--
Dr H

"So, I became an anarchist, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."
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12-07-2017, 05:48 PM
RE: An Essay on the Moral Argument
Thanks, Dr. H. I think speaking for my opponent a bit too much may have been a side effect of trying to be conversational and resist the urge to be too formal. Even then, I consciously tried in at least a few places to avoid flirting with a straw man via hedges like, "You might say..." Maybe a better solution would be to say things like, "A typical Christian response would be..."

The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
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12-07-2017, 06:32 PM
RE: An Essay on the Moral Argument
(12-07-2017 05:48 PM)Glossophile Wrote:  Maybe a better solution would be to say things like, "A typical Christian response would be..."
Maybe even, "some Christians respond that ..." or "fundamentalist Christians respond that ..."

From the perspective of (say) a liberal Christian, a "typical" response would probably be a liberal one, so you don't want to create cognitive dissonance for your reader.

Another approach is to just decide (and make explicit in your essay) exactly what SORT of Christian (or Christian arguments) you're addressing.
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13-07-2017, 01:45 AM
RE: An Essay on the Moral Argument
Well, for anyone who's interested, here's a second draft. I re-wrote the more straw-man-esque bits to hopefully sound less presumptuous. What do you think?

The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
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13-07-2017, 02:35 AM
RE: An Essay on the Moral Argument
Many Christians I've talked to try to say that morality is "what God wants" and it's about what is best for human well-being. They just happen to be the same, sort of, in their mind. This is of course completely stupid. If they are the same, what God wants is irrelevant and we can just assess well-being. If they are not the same, then our morality has been poisoned.

It's having two contradictory beliefs at once, which is often what is required in order to make reality fit their incoherent beliefs.

At least command theory theists are consistent, in that human well-being is of no concern. It's then a matter of talking about why that's undesirable, from our point of view.

I have a website here which discusses the issues and terminology surrounding religion and atheism. It's hopefully user friendly to all.
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13-07-2017, 06:30 AM
RE: An Essay on the Moral Argument
My argument starts with claims God is morally perfect. From the Bible we can get various claimed sub-goodnesses. God is just, fair, merciful, compassionate et al.
But the original sin doctrine of Paul, which is a central dogma of Christianity demonstrates God is none of these things. Original sin destroys our free will and causes us to do evil. So why does not omnipotent God by fiat eliminate this original sin and save all? Supposedly, God, by his inscrutible grace saves some, makes them his elect, but arbitrarily denies that grace to others. Which is not fair, just. merciful, or compassionate. If God lacks these claimed sub-goodnesses, God is not good.

Thus the entire theology of Paul, and the New Testament is self contradictory and makes no sense at all. That set of dogmas is incoherent and self contradictory.

Genesis 1:30 and Isaiah 11:6-9 claim that the predation and cruelty of nature are not original states of nature, or necessary, and at the end, God will eliminate them.
Supposedly, the cruelty of nature is cause by our original sin. This paints God as a rather savage and not at all good omnipotent being who is responsible for vast cruelty for no real good reason. This is a rather odd dogma embedded in the Bible that makes no sense in terms of God's supposed perfect goodness and morality.

God again, then is neither merciful, just compassionate or fair. Lacking these explicitly claimed sub-goodnesses, God is not as claimed, good.

Observations of the internal claims of the nature of God and his moral perfection as found in supposed revelation simply are not coherent, and cannot be true. And since these claims of God's sub-goodness are explicit in the Bible, one cannot wave them away with claims of divine command theory. So much for divine morality arguments.

I find the whole impeccability of God claims of the Bible and theology to be deeply problematic and incoherent, without rationality and rather troubling . And one can easily extend that to other theologies, such as Islam.

When I shake my ignore file, I can hear them buzzing!

Cheerful Charlie
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13-07-2017, 06:57 AM
RE: An Essay on the Moral Argument
(13-07-2017 02:35 AM)Robvalue Wrote:  Many Christians I've talked to try to say that morality is "what God wants" and it's about what is best for human well-being. They just happen to be the same, sort of, in their mind. This is of course completely stupid. If they are the same, what God wants is irrelevant and we can just assess well-being. If they are not the same, then our morality has been poisoned.
I think that they don't see this as irrelevant because to their way of thinking we are incapable of judging what is moral, ethical, good, or results in well-being. God alone can do this reliably. If "all our righteousness is as filthy rags" and "there is none righteous, no, not one" then we are idiots when it comes to judging whether something is, or will lead to, harm or good.

This argument that humans are morally corrupt ("the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?") is central to their thinking about morality. God is the beacon of clarity that leads us blind men to true morality.

Of course this sort of nonsense leads us to assessing 21st century needs with (at best) 1st century thinking but even this does not trouble them. Biblical times occupy this gauzy sort of spot in their brains that they see as the Good Old Days, when miracles happened, god personally walked the earth, and everything has turned to shit since.

I am not excusing any of this, just trying to set the stage for how they frame their understanding of morality. Morality is always lost to us, Christianity is there to restore it. This is axiomatic to them.
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13-07-2017, 07:14 AM
RE: An Essay on the Moral Argument
(13-07-2017 06:30 AM)Cheerful Charlie Wrote:  My argument starts with [Christian's] claims [that] God is morally perfect. From the Bible we can get various claimed sub-goodnesses. God is just, fair, merciful, compassionate et al.
But the original sin doctrine of Paul, which is a central dogma of Christianity demonstrates God is none of these things. Original sin destroys our free will and causes us to do evil.
Fundies don't see it that way; they see the ability to choose between good and evil as free will. Take away free will, you take away the ability to sin but also the ability to be truly good. They revel in taking the path less traveled, in making the difficult choice to be good despite every cell in their bodies screaming out for wanton licentiousness.

Somehow this isn't a problem for them in heaven, when apparently everyone will do good and will be unable to sin (at least after the 1000 year reign, depending on your eschatology). They look forward to that day when they will be "mindless robots" who don't "truly love god". Or something. But we can't have that here and now.

At any rate, mounting this argument, I guarantee you will be accused of wanting to misuse free will by taking license to "commit sin" as an expression of free will. Free will is not "rebellion against god", they'll admonish you. You will get caught in their circular reasoning and their warped understanding of free will (freedom of choice, actually). If, as they say, free will can be "misused" then it's not free will, is it? It's like Henry Ford saying you can have any color Model T you want, so long as it's black. Also they front-load the discussion with the assumption that choices exercised against god's will / proscriptions / law is sin / evil. Just one more of their "choiceless choices" then: you are "free" to "choose" the "correct" choice only. And it's the only way to be righteous.
(13-07-2017 06:30 AM)Cheerful Charlie Wrote:  So why does not omnipotent God by fiat eliminate this original sin and save all? Supposedly, God, by his inscrutible grace saves some, makes them his elect, but arbitrarily denies that grace to others. Which is not fair, just. merciful, or compassionate. If God lacks these claimed sub-goodnesses, God is not good.

Thus the entire theology of Paul, and the New Testament is self contradictory and makes no sense at all. That set of dogmas is incoherent and self contradictory.
Well I will agree with that, although most fundamentalist theologians regard it as paradoxical more than contradictory, and simply argue for their particular position they stake out somewhere on the scale between Calvinism and Arminianism. Not all fundies are strict Calvinists. Certainly the "sawdust trail" types with their altar calls, can't be strict Calvinists because if god chooses his elect there's no point in evangelism.

No one ever said it wasn't a funhouse hall of mirrors.
(13-07-2017 06:30 AM)Cheerful Charlie Wrote:  Genesis 1:30 and Isaiah 11:6-9 claim that the predation and cruelty of nature are not original states of nature, or necessary, and at the end, God will eliminate them.
Supposedly, the cruelty of nature is cause by our original sin. This paints God as a rather savage and not at all good omnipotent being who is responsible for vast cruelty for no real good reason. This is a rather odd dogma embedded in the Bible that makes no sense in terms of God's supposed perfect goodness and morality.
Except that if you are raised on this nonsense like it was mother's milk, you're so used to it you don't see it that way. You see it as sin corrupted nature, and that was just the natural consequences of our ancestor's willful disobedience. They are also used to the concept of corporate / national / tribal / familial sin, of punishment being visited on the descendants of the sinner. That's about as unfair as it gets, but in their confused thinking, which regards sin as a thing-in-itself rather than just an abstract concept, this sin is a stain, a Black Spot on the soul of a man, that is passed on by inheritance and expunged only at great price. The ancients had not a clue how genetics worked, and now we have this concept of sin passed down. And true believers don't even know to be appalled at it.
(13-07-2017 06:30 AM)Cheerful Charlie Wrote:  God again, then is neither merciful, just compassionate or fair. Lacking these explicitly claimed sub-goodnesses, God is not as claimed, good.
Here again ... compartmentalization saves the day for them. God is good, but also righteous. Compassionate, but must remain pure. He will happily set aside his righteous indignation at your concupiscence if you will but repent. Otherwise, you have it coming.
(13-07-2017 06:30 AM)Cheerful Charlie Wrote:  I find the whole impeccability of God claims of the Bible and theology to be deeply problematic and incoherent, without rationality and rather troubling . And one can easily extend that to other theologies, such as Islam.
Totally agree, but fundamentalism has made oatmeal of people's brains, as explained above. These arguments will get through to a few people who have doubts, but not to most.

As a pastor I once knew said, "bad theology is a hard taskmaster". Of course what he didn't understand is that it's ALL bad.
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