Fear Of Whales

Archive for February, 2015

The Death of the Moral Argument

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One of the ambitions I had when I started this blog over 7 years ago was to write a series which would trot out all of the Classical apologetic arguments for the existence of a God: Cosmological, Axiological, Teleological, Noalogical, and Ontological. I have a list of future blog topics, and they have been on there forever. Today I wonder if I may have waited too long.

I believe the moral argument is dead.

Arguments have arisen on the internet and elsewhere, Atheists and non-believers have embraced moral objectivism, tackled the moral argument head on, and, in my opinion, triumphed over it. They did not therefore disprove the existence of God, instead the removed one major arrow from our traditional quiver of arguments purporting to prove it.

Brief Refresher: The moral argument goes something like this

1. If no Objective Moral Lawgiver exists, no objective morality exists

2. Objective morality does exist

Some Objective Moral Lawgiver does exist

The classic response by secularists which was very weak and unsatisfying, was to deny the second premise. The claim that no objective morality exists effectively stymies the argument, but at the cost of granting the Apologist the moral high ground, and inviting him to proceed to attempt to “prove” objective morality through references to human atrocities which the critic is then forced to shrug at.

We could never definitively prove objective morality, but we won a lot of crowds through inductive arguments that objective morality really seemed right and relativism seemed icky. The Critics kept using it because it had never (strictly speaking) been “defeated” it just lost them a lot of debates.

maxresdefaultBut recently, folks like Sam Harris have taken to upholding objective morality on atheistic grounds. They have built consistent systems that begin with a common understanding of the definition of the word “morality” such as “greatest good for the greatest number” or “most helpful for the survival of the species or group” (not new ideas, just newly popular in this context) They proceed from there to build systems of moral rules that are similar and comparable to those systems produced by theistic models. Hitler can be universally, really bad, slavery can be objectively wrong, God does not have to exist to hate it in order for the system to be consistent.

The new apologetic response is to insist that while such a system can be constructed, it cannot be sourced. Why should morality mean “Greatest good fro the greatest number” if it just means that to you, then it’s relative, if it should mean that to everyone than you need a Lawgiver.

The response is true but it is irrelevant. a Consistent idea does not need a source. I don’t have a source for half the things a believe. Logic, reason, historical facts. Someone told me that they were true, and I believed them, since then nothing has disproven the beliefs I adopted, they seemed to work, they satisfy me. That’s how I came to believe that B goes “bu bu bu” god didn’t tell me, someone who believed it did, and it worked.

If I say “morals are objective” you can choose to believe me, then if nobody disproves that, I become your Objective Standard for moral law. And that’s fine. My fallibility has nothing to do with my capacity to guess right, and once you believe it it is rational for you to keep believing it.

Oh well, moving on

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February 25th, 2015 at 11:39 pm

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The Majority Of Scholars

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There is a phrase I have been hearing a lot, which I have come to detest. “The majority of scholars agree that…” It is raised in bar rooms and classrooms, it comes up in discussions about every subject, at seemingly every level. It is a useless thing to say.

scholarsI understand why a person would be inclined to say this sort of thing. You are talking to someone who makes some claim about a academic discipline with which you have some familiarity, and you think they will benefit to know that when you studied it you were convinced of a particular view, and what’s more, you were wholly unimpressed with the view opposing it. You think the view is virtually unanimous among reasonable people.

And if you said THAT, it would be a fair thing to say, you think a thing is true, and you are informing your discussion partner of your opinion. But if instead you say “The majority of scholars agree with me” you are making several indefensible claims instead.

In order for that phrase to have meaning You would have to know a number of things you cannot possibly know. First you need a comprehensive list of scholars. You need to know who is a scholar and who is a pretender. You also need to know what each and every one of those scholars believe about the issue in question, or at least 51% if there is unanimous consensus. Finally, since you are presenting this to someone who apparently disagrees, you need to know how you are going to prove it.

You can’t possibly. I don’t care what issue you are discussing, scholars disagree with one another for a living. That’s what a scholar is, that’s how you get published. There is serious scholarly dissent about the existence of numbers, about the definition of the word “good” and about the nature of truth itself. How can you possibly claim a representative sample of them who agree that it’s true that a number of things are good?

“London is in England” would be a terribly complicated thing to claim scholarly consensus on. Which London?, which England? What is the nature of location? Should we be talking to Geographers or Political Scientists? What does “is” mean?

And by the time you have uttered this phrase, you are already facing an opposing claim, which means you are not trying to establish scholarly consensus on a phrase like “London is in England” but on a controversial phrase. And how does a phrase get to be controversial? Through controversy of course! Your discussion partner did not synthesize their unpopular idea out of thin air, no matter how dumb it sounds, they heard it somewhere. Chances are they heard it from someone who heard it from some “scholar”.

So you tip your hand to your own ignorance when you respond to controversy in this way. What you are really communicating when you say “The majority of scholars agree” is that the sample of scholars with which you are familiar seem to agree on a controversial issue, and you take that sample to be representative. The phrase comes to mean “I am biased in my reading and have only read scholars who believe this, but I expect you to believe that my perspective is the only one”

The only correct response is “No, thank you”

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February 18th, 2015 at 10:54 pm

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