Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The hypocrisy of absolute morality?...

In criticizing atheism I have used the argument that the atheist who adheres to some form of morality, albeit relative morality, is not being logically consistent with the implications of the idea of a world without God. Essentially, I have stated that if an atheist truly believes that there is no God, then everything that exists must have come about through strictly natural processes. If that which is real is only that which is empirically verifiable, then abstract concepts, such as one’s love for their child, or an understanding of meaning to the universe, are merely illusions. While an atheist may point to empirical evidence as so-called proof of love for their child, they have no way of demonstrating that the abstract concept of love itself truly exists. Yet you’d be hard pressed to find an atheist who does not truly love his child. Hence, I argue that such a dichotomy illustrates a fatal flaw within the naturalistic atheist worldview. However, there have been comments on this blog by individuals who argue that it is the concept of absolute morality, particularly that of Christianity, which reeks of hypocrisy. Their argument, as best I understand it, posits that for a Christian to claim they are aware of absolute morality is no different than a relativist claiming that morality is relative – each is making their own truth claim so… who’s to be believed? Furthermore, they claim that since certain actions by the Christian God have varied over time, with regards to His administering violations of His moral law, then regardless of whatever else His moral law is – it is most certainly relative. To properly respond to this argument one must understand the difference between the concept of absolute morality and the application, or enforcement, of moral laws. When the Christian claims that absolute morality exists he is not claiming that it has been specially revealed to him and him alone. The Christian believes that the innate knowledge of right and wrong resides within every human being, and that such an innate knowledge is due to the fact that God has created human beings in His Image. The knowledge that right and wrong exists implies that there is a morality which we must all adhere to. While it is true that all cultures have had varying applications of moral laws, it is also true that they have all inherently understood the concept of right and wrong. Every culture's response to the knowledge of right and wrong, regardless of how incorrect such a response is, indicates the existence of this transcendent and abstract concept. This is not a minor point, for it has implications with how we address the second part of the criticism levied against Christians. The second part of the criticism has to do with the enforcement of Biblical moral laws and is usually tied to some Old Testament law, the violation of which results in the death of an individual or group of individuals. For example, since God required homosexuals to be stoned to death in the past, why do Christians ignore this command today? The answer, so it is surmised, is because the so-called absolute morality presented in the Old Testament is, in fact, relative. Again, the error here has to do with how the general concept of absolute morality is confused with that of a specific application of punishment. Note that, in the example given, the sin highlighted has always been considered sin by God. Homosexuality is a sin in both the Old and New Testaments. In this specific example the issue isn’t how we treat the homosexual sin but that we understand that homosexuality is a sin. Do you see the difference here? Regardless of how the sin is dealt with, it is still sin. Critics will counter with the apparent fact that other cultures in time have had moral laws that varied greatly from that of the Judeo-Christian ethic. For example, we find instances of child sacrifice, wife swapping, bestiality, etc., throughout history. That various cultures have had varying morals, however, is of no use in addressing the fact that these same cultures have had an inherent knowledge of right and wrong. Consider the adventures of Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery as they traveled from St. Louis to the Pacific and back. It is interesting to note the variety of customs they ran across among the many Indian tribes with whom they made contact. The Indian men of one tribe, for example, offered their wives to sleep with the Americans in the hopes, that through their own future sexual relations, they would receive some of the power the Americans possessed. That we would consider such actions wrong, even though those particular Indians did not, is inconsequential to the argument that both the Americans and the Indians understood the concept of right and wrong. This concept transcends the specific applications that both the Corps of Discovery and the Indians may have attempted to follow. There are implications from the argument that the idea of right and wrong transcends human history. Where does an idea originate, if not from a mind? If an idea is transcendent, then does that not imply that it has come from a mind that is transcendent? If so, we have moved from acknowledging that the concept of right and wrong exists, to admitting that it is transcendent, and because the idea is transcendent, it originated from a transcendent mind. But… which mind? The Christian argues that the God of the Bible is the mind which has provided us with the knowledge of right and wrong. The Christian also posits that God has been working through human history and has provided us with a written record through which we can better understand His plan. Contained within this written record are clarifications to the inherent knowledge we all possess – aspects that J. Budziszewski writes about in his book What We Can’t Not Know. Two points should be noted here: 1) because God is the Author of absolute morality, violations of His moral law are transgressions against God and, 2) specific enforcement of God’s moral law is separate from the moral law itself. If God is the Author of the His moral law, then He has the authority to decide how to address a violation of that law. This should not be surprising for we see the same principle all the time in our own legal system. A criminal is found guilty of breaking the law and then is handed a sentence. Regardless of the severity of the sentence, the fact remains that the criminal broke the law. In other words, the criminal did something wrong. Although Timothy McVeigh was executed, and Charles Manson still sits in a prison cell, they were both found guilty of murder. The question of why God may have used multiple means of addressing violations to His law at specific times in history is certainly a valid question, but that He acted in more than one manner does not, in and of itself, indicate that the concept of absolute morality has been violated. If time permits in the future, I'd like to address the following related questions: How do we determine which laws are known to all and which must be taught? Why should we not follow certain Old Testament laws (such as the one indicating that homosexuals must be stoned to death)? For further information, please reference J. Budziszewski’s books: Written on the Heart The Revenge of Conscience What We Can’t Not Know as well as Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis.


Paul said...

A couple of inter-related points:

I believe that everything that exists has come about through strictly natural processes. One of those things is thought. Another is emotion. I can't absolutely, 100% *prove* that either of these exists; I might *think* I can, I might *feel* sure of it, but ultimately I can always construct some scenario by which one or the other, or perhaps even both, are constructs rather than realities.

Having said that, the common perception is that thoughts and emotions exist. That these can come about naturally seems self-evident to me; I've watched my children start out as creatures primarily of emotion (very loud emotion at time) and gradually transition to creatures of thought (some of the time). I've experienced what I took to be love, what turned out to be love, and the flip-side, loss. I've reasoned my way into and out of problems. All of these things are undeniable to me, and in each case I can see why they are either useful things for a human to have (love for family helps that family survive, for example), or a side effect of that benefit (as with destructive jealousy).

So if there is a reason to think that love could come about for practical purposes (rather than as a divine gift); if it is something that almost everyone experiences and recognizes; and if there is no need for an abstract concept of love to exist for love to exist (unless you can demonstrate otherwise of course), then where is the dichotomy? I can't prove that the abstract concept of 'rock' exists, yet I can find something to build a house (or indeed a church) on.

The second thing is something we start by agreeing on, which is that people universally recognize that there is something that we call right and wrong. Where we would differ is that the huge range of what is actually considered right and wrong makes the concept almost meaningless. It is a condition of the thoughts and emotions I just mentioned that individuals will recognize that there are things that will benefit them (or things they care about), and things that will harm them (or things they care about). That is hardly more revolutionary than saying that people recognize that there is an 'up' and a 'down'; and on a global scale speaking to an Australian and an American will show you that in each case determining one from the other is a matter of perspective! I don't think there is a need to invoke your God to explain the abstract notion of up and down, nor is there to define abstract rights and wrongs.

In summary; there are perfectly natural reasons why thought and emotion might appear, without requiring an initial abstract concept. A natural result of thought and emotion is right and wrong, again without any appeal to a transcendant authority.

A practical example. Most people in most cultures believe that taking human life is wrong most of the time. That could be because your God put such an idea in our hearts as he molded the clay. Or it could be because to have lived this long (as a species) most humans have noticed the key advantage of being alive over the alternatives, and want to create an environment that furthers that aim. The less critical something is for the survival of the individual, the less likely it is to be subject to right or wrong judgements, and the more likely cultural factors will influence it (which is why you and I both think killing is broadly wrong, while you at one point thought that an afro was a good idea whereas I thought that lank side-partings suited me!)

Rusty said...


I would argue that feeling, in the emotive sense, is separate from feeling in the physical sense. In other words, while one can scientifically measure the physical reactions involved in physical feeling, one cannot measure another person’s emotive feeling. How I feel about freshly baked apple pie cannot be measured by natural reactions alone. While there may be certain electrical impulses associated with my feelings regarding freshly baked apple pie, these impulses, in and of themselves, can only indicate that neural activity is taking place. Consider that I haven’t expressed exactly how I feel about freshly baked apple pie. Whether I like it or dislike it is not solely dependent on the electrical impulses.

I agree that thoughts and emotion exist, but to argue that they come about naturally seems to me to be tautological. The naturalist is faced with the obvious fact, albeit empirically unverifiable, that an abstract concept – that of love – exists. That the concept is abstract is conveniently ignored, and the conclusion is made that love exists through and was developed by natural means. But the arguments don’t suffice in explaining love’s existence. Observing that love exists, and develops, in others does not tell me that it came about naturally or how it possibly could. Experiencing love, or its flip-side, does not tell me that it came about naturally or how it possibly could. Positing that love is a useful thing for a human to have does not tell me that it came about naturally or how it possibly could. By the way, I find that last argument to be the weakest. If the point of a species existence is survival, then the existence of love, as opposed to other “natural” means of species survival, could hardly be considered a particularly useful feature.

C. S. Lewis said something along the lines of, “If the world really has no meaning, then we should have never come to realize that it doesn’t.”

I will reiterate that my argument is that the concept of right and wrong is distinct from specific laws pertaining to right and wrong. There are, however, specific laws which all humans can’t not know (e.g., murder is wrong). Once again, I do not agree that these ideas developed through pragmatic means in which they proved to be beneficial to the survival of the species. While I love my daughters I would not permit one of them to be sacrificed even if such a sacrifice would provide humanity with a cure for cancer.

The two main problems with the survival of the species argument are that it cannot describe how the abstract originates and, that it simply doesn’t stand up to the test of reality. There are much more efficient methods by which a species can survive than to rely on emotion and / or reason. A healthy young man can impregnate a stockyard full of young women in a very short time. Murdering, and then cannibalizing the weak, sick, and old will provide a herd of healthy humans with additional nutrients. The list could go on.

But we humans know that such acts, while pragmatically efficient… are wrong.

ref. Science Doesn't Tell Us Anything Important

Paul said...

You seem to be confused on an evolutionary principle. Individuals don't really care about the survival of the species (except in abstract terms like environmentalism). Tigers don't care about the survival of their species either. And nature certainly doesn't care about the survival of any species, because nature doesn't have emotions. There is no point to a species' survival; humans and tigers aren't here because they were meant to be, or that was 'the point', they're here because whatever it is they happened to do kept them alive, whereas the things that trilobites happened to do didn't work out.

In all cases individuals merely act to further their own survival. If I can get away with eating the weak then I may (that's may, not will - there are many things that are possible that don't get done for any number of reasons). If I am physically able to eat the weak, but somebody else will kill me because of it before I can breed, then *I* might still do it, but my kids won't because I didn't get to have any. You, not eating the relatives of vengeful people, will pass that lack of cannibalism on to your kids, and in time cannibalism tends to zero.

The next step is to move beyond just looking after myself. Protecting my offspring is a good thing, from an evolutionary perspective, because the best way for me to hand down my genes is to have kids that survive to breed. Now there isn't some outside force that can make me want to look after my kids, no design involved. And I (the proto-human) certainly don't sit down and think "how can I ensure the continuity of my genetic potential?" But in the course of random variation some parent will take a more than passing interest in their breeding partner, or their children. Presumably that will help their children to survive, and so that tendency gets passed on.

Now how could that increased interest in your kids manifest? Well, one possibility is just a base instinct, which is perhaps what the tiger shows when caring for its cubs. Or it could become a more complex thing, what we would recognize as an emotion. Could this have greater benefit? Well, the welfare of your children may be tied to the greater welfare of your child, and having a generalized mechanism for love that could be applied to more distant relatives and others around you would work, and might even be more efficient than trying to develop a base instinct to cover such disparate relationships. And hence we develop something we call love.

Humans survive in part by being good at two mental skills: Pattern matching, and abstraction. We recognize the movement of a leopard in the jungle as being significant against a background of noise, or we're less likely to pass on our genes. Similarly we notice that when we took action X, result Y happens, and abstract that out to a relationship between X and Y that we can use in other situations, even ones not involving X or Y. Given that, is it any wonder that we could abstract out a concept of love, that I would notice that while the way I feel about my children and my wife are different, but similar, and abstract the similarity out and call it love? And being curious (a third mental 'skill' that has led us to progress so much) is it such a surprise that, lacking the ability to see evolution happening on me, I would wonder where this thing called love had come from?

I'm not claiming that this is exactly how it happened. But it certainly could, there's no logical flaw or leap in there, and no appeal to a higher power.

Rusty said...

Individuals don't really care about the survival of the species (except in abstract terms like environmentalism).I would wager that the majority of the general populace, if asked if they care about the survival of the human species, would answer in the affirmative. Of course, just how far that concern would drive their individual actions is another matter. But the fact remains that humans do care about the survival of the human race. Also, it’s interesting to note that environmentalism typically elevates concern for other species and / or the planet over concern for our own present-day gratification.

Tigers don't care about the survival of their species either.I would agree with that, but it only further illustrates my point that humans are distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom.

And nature certainly doesn't care about the survival of any species, because nature doesn't have emotions.From the PBS series Evolution: Natural selection works by giving individuals who are better adapted to a given set of environmental conditions an advantage over those that are not as well adapted. Survival of the fittest usually makes one think of the biggest, strongest, or smartest individuals being the winners, but in a biological sense, evolutionary fitness refers to the ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment. Popular interpretations of "survival of the fittest" typically ignore the importance of both reproduction and cooperation. To survive but not pass on one's genes to the next generation is to be biologically unfit. And many organisms are the "fittest" because they cooperate with other organisms, rather than competing with them.Cooperation can only come about through willful choice. I defy an evolutionist to demonstrate how “cooperating” organisms chose to begin cooperating… and why. Perhaps cooperation is not the best word to use for the relationship cooperating organisms have; maybe a better description is something along the lines of, organisms designed to interact. Regardless, passing on one’s genes individually or corporately would be pointless unless it was tied to the survivability of the species.

You, not eating the relatives of vengeful people, will pass that lack of cannibalism on to your kids, and in time cannibalism tends to zero.My choosing to perform or not perform cannibalism has no effect on what genes are passed on to my children. They retain the power to choose whether to commit the wrongdoing or not.

The next step is to move beyond just looking after myself. Protecting my offspring is a good thing, from an evolutionary perspective, because the best way for me to hand down my genes is to have kids that survive to breed.I’m confused by your statements here. You’ve been arguing that there is no individual concern for species survival, but only that of individual survival, yet now you introduce an aspect of caring for one’s mate and / or children in order to ensure species survivability. The concern seems to be there but if it isn’t in the individual or in nature… where is it? What’s more, if I’m concerned primarily with my own survivability then why should I show any concern for my mate and children? Yet from the evolutionary perspective it appears that we stand a better chance of surviving, as a species, if I do protect my family. Hence, so it is said, we see a possible scenario for the development of love of family.

The problem with such scenarios is that they tend towards the ad hoc. Why, for example, aren’t our family structures like that of brown bears? eagles? lions? whales? or black widow spiders? Tigers caring for their cubs is one thing – it’s instinct. An entirely different thing is a mother and father caring for their children, laughing and crying with them as they grow into adults, and mourning for them if they die. That such a powerfully distinct, abstract, and willful emotion is attributed to simply being beneficial for the species amounts to an evolutionary just-so story. How could what I feel (in the emotive sense) be transmitted to successive generations? Ad hoc explanations aside, evolutionary biologists haven’t a clue as to how such a phenomenon could actually occur.

Humans survive in part by being good at two mental skills: Pattern matching, and abstraction.Reason and rationality. The abstract. Simply because we know they exist doesn’t mean they came about through natural means. Noting that humans recognize the abstract doesn’t explain where that cognizance came from or where the abstract concept itself came from. For example, recognizing the concept of “oneness” did not create it. Regardless of whether there were any humans on earth, the concept of “oneness” would have still existed. If anything, I would argue that you’ve demonstrated how humans, all humans, have the capability of reasoning out the existence of the abstract – something inherently tied to spirituality.

Paul said...

I'll number the points for ease of reference!

1. I didn't explain this too well. What I meant is that people don't sit around thinking "How can I continue my gene-line?" Of course they're concerned about the future of the species in the abstract (as I said), but people don't take actions day-to-day to further the species - at best they think about their kids or grandkids in a concrete way.

2. No argument, though the reason for the difference is one of our differences!

3. The quote is wrong - Nature doesn't *give* anybody anything; those organisms that are better adapted *have* an advantage, they're not given one. The development of cooperation is pretty straightforward. Two organisms (say, you and me) do something coincidentally together (say both chase after the same mammoth) and notice, because we're good at pattern matching and abstraction, that it's easier than doing it alone. Because it's easier we're more successful in life, are more likely to raise healthy children, and can pass either the propensity for such cooperation or teach our offspring about the advantages. Extend that over 10,000 generations and you can develop quite a lot of cooperation. No choice was involved in the original action, and it didn't rely on choice to perpetuate it (though that could help the process).

4. You missed the point. If your actions are more likely to get you killed, you're less likely to pass your genes on. You eating people in a group of people who find that act disagreeable is more likely to get you killed, hence reducing your ability to pass on your genes (if I eat your brother and you kill me for it before I have kids, I won't pass anything on to my kids, will I?) Now I'll agree that your kids won't necessarily inherit your good or bad behaviour, but the 10% (or whatever) better chance adds up over the generations.

5. Well, I thought I'd explained this, but I'll try again. If 100 animals spend one day looking after their offspring, and 100 spend no time, I'll say that more of the 'caring' animals' offspring will survive. In any individual case it may or may not help, but overall it will help. And whether it's a learned behaviour (from noticing the parent doing it with subsequent offspring) or some genetic component, some of those lucky offspring will pass on that propensity, and some of *those* will spend two days looking after their offspring. Again, apply that over a thousand generations and it starts to add up. It's not that I'm thinking about the future of my offspring, it's that any beneficial things I do are more likely to get passed along than harmful things.

*Of course* this is ad hoc. If we ran the process over again we might not get humanity - we might get 'civilized' dogs, or cacti, or nothing. The fact that we're here biases us toward thinking that things had to be this way, when in fact they just turned out this way. Incidentally, why do you refer to 'just' instinct? Elephants show 'just instinct', yet they mourn the loss of a family member, which is more than 'just instinct' would require. Perhaps if we gave them another 1,000 generations they'd move further down the line to what we perceive as self-awareness or 'humanity'. Or perhaps they wouldn't - it's ad hoc after all.

6. You can repeat the idea that there are abstracts outside what we could have abstracted for ourselves, but that doesn't make it true. To demonstrate, let me return your argument: tell me a single abstract that I can't think up for myself. Naturally that's a trick question - you're limited by what you know, which is what I know. So everything we consider an abstract that precedes a reality happens to either match a reality (in which case your assertion is fundamentally unprovable), or is in itself unprovable. On the other hand, I contend that abstracting is a useful skill with practical applications, and if it happens to extend beyond finding the next mammoth to eat into areas that are of more indeterminate benefit, and perhaps at times of no obvious benefit at all (except perhaps to 'exercise the muscle') then that's just how it turns out.

Ilona said...

I consider the idea of absolute morality to be faulty. "Absolute" is something unchanging, unmoved by circumstance. As Christians I don't really think we have a rigid system that could be described that way.

What I believe we have is an Absolute Standard. The Truth, the standard of God's Own character is the unchanging center which morality pivots upon. It gives bones to the body of judgments of right and wrong.

This dispenses with the awkward explanation of a difference between the concept and the application(enforcement) of morality within the system outlined in God's Word. It allows for the fact that Jesus Christ gave a higher form of morality than the law could express. The law was limited to the minimum -further limited by man's inability to keep it.

I believe the Christian will come to a dead-end trying to defend "absolute morality".

The weakness of "relative morality " is not that it accomodates different circumstances, but that it has no core standard by which to judge right and wrong, since the standards based within man himself are ever shifting. None can claim pre-eminence amongst peers.

Our core standard is not a system, but a Person. That is the scriptural premise.

Paul said...

Ilona - I agree (speaking from the outside of course!) The most valuable thing I've learned here is that, according to the New Covenant view, it seems that the only thing that is consistently immoral is going against your God. Outside of that pretty much anything *could* be moral, depending on the circumstance. This is confusing to a lot of people (it used to be to me). I still don't believe it, but at least I understand it (I think!)

Rusty said...


I understand the evolutionary explanations for the biological examples of "cooperation." There are inherent problems with it in that there is no explanation as to how the multiple species existed prior to their dependent cooperation, save for the appeal to long lost pathways that must have existed. Also, I would argue that whether an individual or a group of individuals find an act disagreeable is irrelevant, for such action presupposes an external standard of conduct.

I'll leave further evo discussion for a future post I'm going to do on the National Geographic article, Was Darwin Wrong?.


Perhaps some of the confusion regarding my posts has been the use of the term "absolute morality." It can conjure up an image of some ancient book of rules that all must adhere to. However, I think that the term "absolute standard" does no better - if morality pivots off of this standard, then what is this morality?

Consider the statement: Torturing babies for pleasure is wrong.

Is that absolute?

Or consider that Jesus stated he came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. He also stated that the entire Law rested on two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor (greatly abridged paraphrase). Are those commandments absolute? How about the Ten Commandments (which those two commandments summarize) - are they absolute?


Yes you are beginning to see that, in the Christian context, God is the Author of morality and, therefore, is not beholden to it in the same manner that mankind is. However it is incorrect to conclude that anything could then be considered moral (if God so chose to declare it). Pennock makes this claim in his book, Tower of Babel, but I think he fails in his argument. Simply said, God cannot commit evil. Does this mean that God is not all powerful? Well, that's a topic for another post.

Ilona said...

Rusty, I think we need to have clarity in this argument with anyone who adheres to what is termed "relative morality", so I believe that absolute standard is something that can be defended, while using the modifier "absolute" with morality will end up in difficult explanations. Because we really don't mean *absolute* morality.

It is alot like the arguments on truth. There is truth and then there is big T Truth, absolute Truth. The absolute in both the truth arguments and the morality arguments reside in the character of God. When you use the argument "Torturing babies for pleasure is wrong." it is wrong in the absolute sense only because we believe in a system based upon the type of mercy and justice that is outlined in the Bible. I think you are in trouble if you try to use our feelings of wrong for what is wrong. ( Even if we are "right on" with our feelings..... how do we _KNOW_?) It breaks down as soon as someone insists that they feel right in what is a wrong relationship. You know to which argument I refer....

We have to have something more solid. We have to say that the reason we search for truth is because there is big T Truth out there, even if our understanding of it is marred. There is an absolute standard for our morality, but we can't say it is in a body of laws. As Christians we cannot say that. And yet we can say there is order to what morality is, due to the unchanging nature of God as it is revealed historically in the scriptures. He IS a certain way, even if He isn't acting in response of a certain way, because He is a person and not a static statute.

"consider that Jesus stated he came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it." Fulfill as in superceded. It did not remain absolute as written. Nothing was taken away, but better understanding and satisfaction was given.
" Love God and love your neighbor (greatly abridged paraphrase). Are those commandments absolute?" Not as they stood. They did not go far enough, and yet they were beyond man without God's help.

This is our basic doctrine, Rusty.

but in all our weakness of arguing we have this strength over the relativists: whereon do they get to say something is moral...even when within they know and feel it?

You have used this base well with evolutionists. Relative morality is in the same boat. Only we don't argue detail, we argue the basics of our humanity.

Why is it wrong to eat our young? Because something within us demands the dignity and the meaning of being 'human'.

Our Absolute Standard gives us this, what do the relativists and all other physicalist-based thinkers appeal to?

And appeal they will need to, because no one can bear giving up their meaning.

Ilona said...

You said,"I've learned here is that, according to the New Covenant view, it seems that the only thing that is consistently immoral is going against your God. Outside of that pretty much anything *could* be moral, depending on the circumstance."

I am afraid you might have to go over the lessons again. I think the trouble lays in the idea that the God of the Bible does anything, whether moral or not. If I read you right....?

In the one sense you are right: if God is the pivot, then going against Him would be the one consistantly immoral definition. But if He indeed has a specific character, then ,no, it would not be a case of almost anything becoming morally acceptable. There is that Standard, you know.

That is what gives shape and order to morality, and why there can be law.

I think you might have real problems with trying to believe that there is any possibility of truth. And if there is no truth, then how could anything be known, and how could we have any sort of scientific system? Sounds slippery, but really there is no other structure. I think the argument that New Covenant is actually making with you is the idea that there is truth, Real Truth. There are some things wrong because it is true that they are ultimately harmful. There has to be an outside objective view of what is wrong and harmful. We can't trust our subjectives views, always.

That is why Lex Rex works so well, it creates the objective distance. And relativity will never come out on the side of Lex Rex.

Ever thought of that?

Rusty said...


I still think that the line between absolute morality and absolute standard is slim to non-existent. Torturing babies for the pleasure is wrong not because of any belief system we hold but simply because it is wrong. Where the confusion arises is that people connect morality with rules - I am not using the term absolute morality to refer to a set of rules that we must follow, although I believe there certainly are basic rules we all know.

What do you mean by stating that Jesus' commands to Love God, and love your neighbor, are not absolute? Is there a time when loving God is not the greatest commandment?

I think we are essentially saying the same thing, yet from slightly different vantage points.

Paul said...

Ilona - My point is that, from what's been said here, the only morality is what your god says. If it says that you can kill someone, then you can. If it says in the next breath that you can't kill anyone, then you can't. The killing didn't change, and so for atheists like me it seems that the definition of what is moral did. And there (apparently) is my mistake - morality is whatever your god says, whenever it says it, and that is inherently constant.

Rusty - You make an interesting assumption that I can't find something disagreeable. Are you saying that opinion proves god? That for me to find something disagreeable or not requires moral absolutes, which in turn requires (your) god. So my dislike of cabbage proves that your god exists?

Rusty said...


Pardon me for not being clear.

I'm saying that murder is wrong not because I happen to find it disagreeable, as I would eating cabbage; but that murder is wrong because it is wrong. Whether you, I , or anyone else finds murder "agreeable" does not change the fact that it is wrong.

Paul said...

But Rusty, murder isn't a moral absolute, because it is a qualified version of killing. What counts as 'murder' (and not just 'killing') is defined by morality, so of course murder is wrong.

Rusty said...


I disagree.

Humans know about right and wrong. Humans also know that murder is a wrong. They may not know why they know it's wrong, they may even claim that it isn't wrong - but the wrongness of the act does not change.

Paul said...

Well, you have said that not everyone recognizes it as right or wrong, but that's a separate issue. You can't say that people know murder is right or wrong, because you can't define murder without discussing right or wrong. For example, I think killing a prisoner sentenced by due process to death is murder. So that's wrong then?

Rusty said...


Let’s not confuse definitions. Murder is the intentional killing of an innocent human. The prisoner is not innocent (for the sake of this discussion). So it’s not that you disagree with the concept or definition of murder, but that you consider the execution of the prisoner to be an unjust punishment.

Grumpy Old Man said...

Why isn't the existence of (differing) moral standards in all human groups simply an evolved trait of symbol-using social predators?

C.S.Lewis uses the argument that a sense of right and wrong and a sense of not fully living up to the right is universal, somehow demonstrates that the source of morality is a transcendent being. That's a possible explanation but I don't see why it's necessary.

If it's not necessary, Occam's razor tells me to avoid referring to such an entity. That I find the loss of faith-driven absolutes extremely problematic for our society and the future of civilzation, as I explain here, does not make it so.

Liberal Patriot said...

What self-endorsing, presumptuous hogwash that never questions its basic faulty premise.

Your application of "universal morality" doesn't fit universally.

A case in point: Tribal cultures had different views of killing. The indiginous North American tribes varied -- for example read Fehrenbach's "Commanches: Destruction of a People" (delightfully free from the "noble savage" tripe). He documents a ritual harvest of looting and warfare in the same way the tribe would hunt bison or practice shooting arrows from the back of a galloping horse ... or other peoples would farm or hunt whale.

Clearly their treks deep into Mexico to steal and slaughter qualify as murder -- by the definition you cite.

But they wouldn't view that as wrong any more than they viewed their seasonal migrations as leaving one home for another, since they were nomadic and would even move upwind when they had bespoiled their present spot.

They were a brutal and vicious people. And they were likely the finest and most successful calvary the world has known, until the bottomless well of Winchesters and homesteaders got the better of them.

They were a people of faith -- a faith vastly different than anything that came from a Judeo-Christian framework -- but their worldview included the pillaging of the weak and the razing of rivals. That was how the magic worked.

It wasn't wrong, it was demanded by their faith. A warrior gained magic in conquest, magic that got him bison and visions if he got "powerful" enough.

Of course they were just one of thousands of Ameri-Indian tribes (Fehrenbach's term) that developed and thrived or died in the 10,000 years before Euro-Anglo contact. But few tribes were like the Commanches. But every continent had some that were, and very few ever adapted and they were either assimilated or destroyed by the time 19th century was done.

I always laugh at people of faith (and it always seems to be American Protestants) presuming to tell atheists why we should all be acting heinously and how our being mannerly instead is inconsistent with a worldview that they neither study nor grasp.

In 2004 -- unless you read books you didn't list, you never read very much of a book that presented a view that didn't re-inforce your own.

Hypocrisy indeed.