Moral foundations - Objective, Subjective & etc: The forever topic

(John Dalton) #81

That seems cherry-picked. If you read the whole of Exodus 21, not so much.

OK, thanks for responding.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #82

From Hebrews 11:31:

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

“Receiving the spies in peace” involved helping them to not be found and killed, and lying to accomplish this. I think most of us could agree here that a commendation in the book of Hebrews probably qualifies as praise from above.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #83

Are habits assumed unacceptable until proven acceptable?

Polygamy is never — not even in the New Testament — condemned outright. Bishops are not permitted to be polygamous (1 Tim 3:2), but even there, the reason for this is not given. The relationship between Jesus and the Church is compared to a monogamous relationship, so clearly this is some sort of ideal, but this is a metaphorical, mystical argument to use about something very concrete, which is not perhaps the soundest approach. Stories abound in the OT about co-wives’ rivalries, but this is far from a prohibition.

And before anyone talks about “the two shall become one flesh,” in the ancient Hebrew culture “one flesh” or “flesh and bone” referred to the bonds of kinship, not of mystical sexual bodies. (If you’re unsure, do a little word study using Scripture to interpret Scripture and you’ll see what I mean.) It’s quite possible to join two women’s families to one man’s family. It happens every day in the Muslim world. Is it ideal for the women? No, not usually. Is it Biblically wrong? Nope.

There are many places in the world where polygamous men are being invited to come to Christ. If they should choose to follow Jesus, divorcing their pre-existing wives would be sin. Polygamy in at least this case is absolutely acceptable to God. I dare you to show me otherwise from Scripture.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #84

If Rahab doesn’t work, try the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah.

Ex. 1:17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?”19 And the midwives said [read: “lied” —AMW] to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.” 20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. 21 And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them.

(Laura) #85

I love that example of those midwives. I know we often think of obeying God as following any command to the death, almost as if thinking too much about it is sinful. But I think God does expect us to look at the big picture too (or at least, as much of it as we are able, mainly the two most important commandments). Maybe someone has already mentioned this, but it also brings to mind Jesus’s question in the gospels:

“If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?”

He seems to acknowledge that if “following a rule” is judged to be more important than someone else’s life, we’re doing it very wrong. Not because that particular rule doesn’t matter, but because loving God and loving others are what everything hangs on.


Yeah, but we are only able to aprehend them because of our minds, a rock doesn’t know that 2 + 2 = 4, and I think it is reasonable to assume that even conscious beings without enough mental capacity (maybe even humans with neurological damage) could not aprehend it as well (I will try to see if I can find some scientific material on that, it got me curious now!), in the same sense, we can aprehend the fact that other people are conscious (theory of mind), which is an objective reality that we could never access if not by the fact that we are conscious ourselves (a machine can’t tell if something is conscious or not, but we do know that consciousness exist), maybe morals are more like consciousness than they are to math in that sense, we can’t prove consciousness objectively, but we know it exists because we experience it ourselves, it is again an objective fact of reality that we can aprehend using our minds, though not objectively provable to other people at least. The idea is that maybe the same follow for morals, though yeah, it is a matter of faith to believe in that. Morals have a lot to do with the relationship between conscious beings, so the very fact that we can aprehend the fact that other people are conscious is already a little piece of the objective morality puzzle.


A rock will still obey the mathematics behind the equations found in relativity and Newton’s laws of gravitation. Quantum particles still interact out in distant space without needing a conscious observer, and they obey the same mathematic equations that we have in physics books.

I would agree that it is an objective fact that other humans do have consciousness and a mind. The tough part is figuring out what exists independent of those minds. Does human morality exist independent of humans? Would other sentient and sapient species like us necessarily have the same morality? I would say that human morality does not exist independent of humans which makes it subjective. If it is objective, then human morality could be demonstrated independently of humans. It could be demonstrated from first principles in the same way that we can demonstrate physical realities like electricity and gravity from first principles. We never have to ask what humans think of gravity in order to describe gravity, and morality should be the same if it is objective.


That is why I and others consider morality to be subjective but still very important. When we think of what is moral, one of the first things we should do is look to our own sense of morality, our own emotions, and our own needs and wants in life. That is subjective.

I also don’t see this as a problem for Christians, theology, or theism in general. If religious belief and practice helps you be a moral person, then by all means be a theist. If you believe that God helps you understand subjective morality better and treat others more justly because of it, then great. I have no argument against that whatsoever.

I think one of the underlying lines of argument is that if morality is subjective then morality isn’t important. I think that is absolutely wrong. Our wants and needs as humans are the most important things in the world to us, and they are subjective. There also seems to be the argument that God must exist because morality is objective, but how many people truly came to God because of that argument? People claim to be in a relationship with God, so would that relationship suddenly disappear if the moral argument disappeared? I don’t see why it would.

Just to sum it up, when I, as an atheist, say that morality is subjective it isn’t meant to be an attack on theism, nor is it an attack on morality itself. It isn’t an argument for anarchy, nihilism, or amorality. It is simply an acknowledgement of where our morality comes from, and I think that knowledge can help all of society, theist and atheist alike.


Yeah, I also don’t really buy the conscious observer quantum effects too much (especially because of how much I see esoteric new agey people trying to conclude all kinds of absurds from it), though I do find some ideas proposed by Antoine Suarez intriguing (though I don’t have enough knowledge about physics to make any real judgement). But that is not really why I’m bringing consciousness in the discussion, what I’m saying is that the possibility of conscious experience (the universe knowing itself in a way, since we are part of the universe) is a feature of reality, and it doesn’t really disappear without brains in my view, though it probably becomes “inactive”. Imagine for some reason all charges in the universe stoped moving, does that mean that electromagnetism is no longer a thing? No, electromagnetic fields would still be a feature of the universe, even if they are not being excited at that moment, I think it is fair to guess that the same is true about consciousness (other inteligent species could meet the requisites to have it in the future). You can do experiments to prove the existence of electromagnetic phenomena, and they follow the mathematical rules of physics, the same can’t be said about consciousness, though it definitely is a feature of the universe.

Maybe not the same, but I think likely similar, maybe there are constraints in the universe that limit the range in which morality can develop in sapient species, akin to what we see in anatomical features of convergent evolution, or maybe morals indeed come from a superior realm, but that would be, again, a matter of faith.

Consciousness can’t be demonstrated from first principles and yet it is a very real feature of existence.


I actually agree with you on that. I’m probably and oddball among theists, I honestly don’t think that having a “religious experience” or feeling a personal relationship with God would have convinced me to give up my former atheism, since I would just rationalize it as being my mind playing tricks on me. It is more about looking at existence and the nature of reality and seeing God’s hand in all of it than about feeling a personal connection for me.


That gets us back to one of the prongs I talked about earlier. Even if there is an objective morality it doesn’t appear that humans have access to it in a way that lets us demonstrate that morality is objective. If it is a matter of faith, then we are stuck with our subjective preferences of one set of religious tenets over another.


Or to put it another way, the moral argument appears to be more of a justification for religious beliefs that people already hold. I’m not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be a necessary part of Christian theology (at least from what I can see).


I guess we agree on that. Believing morality is objective is a matter of faith to me, and even though I believe that we can discover it with time, I agree that there is not really a way to demonstrate that we are actually discovering it instead of inventing.


By the way, I just remembered this paper. It is not like it proves anything, but is very curious that moral realism is the predominant position of the philosophers in that survey for meta-ethcis at the same time that atheism is the predominant position on God. It does seem a little contradictory at first, don’t you guys think?


Yes and no. Like I said, I’m kind of an odball in these issues, but from what I saw other theist arguing, I think their main point is that some features of our morality seem weird in the eyes of evolution, which could of course be due to pure chance (a spandrel, like you suggested previously, maybe?) but it would also be perfectly consistent with a scenario where God intended (or “rigged” the universe from the beggining, as a manner of speaking) for things to end up that way because they are objectively good in his mind. A similar argument is made for the fact that we can comprehend the universe, we could have done just fine with the capacity to understand things at the level of our everyday experiences, but mankind has been able to discover things like gravity and even relativity and quantum mechanics, which are waaaay beyond what our evolutionary needs would require. Are you familiar with Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism?


First, I am not familiar with Plantinga’s argument, so feel free to discuss it if you feel it is worth it.

Second, the current mindset of biologists is to move away from pan-adaptionism, and perhaps even shy away from a weaker adaptionist position. We shouldn’t assume that just because a feature or characteristic evolved that it also gives the species an advantage. Instead, neutral features can evolve by chance or by hitchhiking with another feature that does offer an advantage. Slightly neutral characteristics can also become prominent if they become linked to a much more advantageous characteristics. So we need to be careful in assuming that just because humans have a specific feature that it must also be an advantageous feature.

It may be that our big brains evolved to deal with complex social behaviors, tool making, and coming up with new hunting behaviors. Our ability to comprehend the universe in the way that we do is simply a byproduct of selection for those other traits.


The wikipedia article about it is pretty complete and accurate, you may find it interesting at least as in an intelectually puzzling kind of way:

I totally agree with you, but the point for the fact that we can comprehend the universe (not so much for morality) is that we would have to accumulate lots and lots of “neutral” adaptations by pure chance in order to arrive at the point in which we can comprehend the universe in the way we do, and we could as well have gained several “neutral” characteristics which would make us stray far away from that path.

To an everyday level, sure. But how we jump from that to relativity, quantum mechanics and more abstract kinds of mathematics?

P.S. That is actually an argument favoring your side, but what do you think of Geoffrey Miller ideas about the big human brain having evolved as a mean of sexual selection? I finished reading “the mating mind” just recently and found it really intriguing.


That is why science is built upon the idea that humans are probably wrong about the universe. Methodological naturalism tries to counteract evolutionary naturalism (if I am reading Plantinga correctly) by requiring tests that use empirical facts instead of relying on human rationality. This is why we accept quantum mechanics even though it goes against all of our (evolved?) intuitions. It would seem to me that Plantinga’s thesis requires us to be so unreliable that we can’t tell if the Moon is real or be able to reliably count to 10.

This relates to back to the question of objective morality. Can we demonstrate that morality is objective in the same way that we can objectively demonstrate particle-wave duality? It doesn’t appear so (of course, I am more than willing to be proven wrong on this count).


It is built upon the idea that our intuitions are wrong, but our interpretations of the data and the scientific method are also dependent on our reasoning and rationality. We also have to rely on certain axioms in order to do science, which we establish based on our reasoning (although they can be proven wrong and changed given enough data, but then again, our interpretation of that data itself is motivated by our rationality). It is more about the fact that we have the proper machinery to do science than about having the right answers right from the start from our intuitions.


I am in full support of skepticism, but I don’t see how this type of uber-skepticism can be justified. The power of the scientific method and the practice of science itself is that it predicts things we haven’t yet observed, and then we observe them. For example, the BB theory predicted that we would find radiowave emissions coming from all over the cosmos, and then we did. The same theory predicts a correlation between redshift and distance which is confirmed time and again with each new observation of distant galaxies. This seems to be something more than just intuition.