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March 22, 2010

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To say that Shermer's question makes no sense seems to be begging the question. Why is it not?

RonH

To say that Shermer's question makes no sense for the reason given seems to be begging the question. Why is it not?

"Would you still be good if God didn't exist?"--Shermer

begs the question if taken from Greg's perspective.

I think that's what he was saying.

How is it begging the question?

Mr. Koukl’s position seems to be that, without divine direction, we wouldn’t be able even to have this conversation—that the most rudimentary moral ideas would be unthinkable. So a question about our ability to think morally, which also presupposes the non-existence of God, is incoherent—like a question about your spouse which presupposes that you never married.

Dan, DJ,
(paraphrasing)
Shermer: "Would you still be good if God didn't exist?"
Koukl: Would you be faithful if you were never married married?
Shermer: That makes no sense!
Koukl: By the same token the concept of goodness - the concept of moral law - doesn't apply without a moral law maker.

Making the analogy begs the question.

RonH

C.S. Lewis once said that he had been angry at God for his not existing.

RonH,
It boils down to God's necessity of being/character and the intentionality built into the reality that God freely created - which flows from that same necessity. In that reality, some action or thing ought to be one way, and not another.

A materialistic reality lacks both necessity and intentionality so there can be no thing or action that ought to be one way or the other. All ways are equal. There is no wrong way for a living being to exist and hence no evil, moral good, etc.

What's your point there Johnnie?

Janny,
Ya, I'm almost sure that is his position. That doesn't make it true.
RonH

SteveK,

From what does "God's necessity of being/character" flow?

RonH

Necessity in this sense means not contingent. God doesn't flow from anything.

SteveK,

I think that by "God's necessity of being/character" you mean 1) God must exist and 2) He must have a certain character.

So I'm asking why He must exist. Why must he have a certain character? A good character for instance?

I have more questions depending on your answer.

RonH


I'm not sure this issue is particularly complex -- the differences in perspectives are due to differences in definition.

On one hand, people like RonH define "morality" as evolving via a "society says" process ... enough people with enough power over time decide what is right and wrong.

On the other hand, people like Greg define "morality" as an unchanging set of principles reflecting God's character.

The real question is, "who's correct?"

I have an ignorant layperson-type question, if anyone will field it. In fact I'm sure the answer is in STR's archive somewhere.

If it were the case that morality is an unchanging set of principles reflecting God's character, then why would the history and development of Christianity be so thoroughly guided by disagreement? Why would present-day Christianity be a ramifying family tree of more-or-less distantly related denominations, with some doctrinal fight or other at every fork?

Why, in short, aren't Christians all on the same page? Do they share a common divine source of moral guidance or don't they?

btmbo,

It has nothing to do with me. I could agree with Koukl and still say he begged the question by making the analogy he made between Shermer's question and his own.

Janny,

It's because of all the humans in Christianity.

RonH

Janney -

Not quite sure what is meant by "Christians aren't on the same page" -- it can mean a few things, but despite that I'll take a shot, and address the spirit of your post, if not the letter.

It seems there may be a couple distinct issues being conflated here. They include:

1) Existence of objective moral principals

2) Response to these principals

Humans, including followers of Jesus, are fallible. The Bible says as much.

If God is perfect and we're not, then we're going to err and litter the highway of history with our mistakes.

So the fact that Christians disagree does not imply that objective moral truths do not exist. It implies that Christians disagree.

RonH said

    It has nothing to do with me
OK. For the sake of advancing this discussion I grant you that.

Do you agree that you and Greg define morality differently and that the germane issue here is actually the fundamental difference in the definition, not whether Greg begged the question?

btmbo,

OK...

I think Greg is wedded to a theory of morality. I think much of that theory is unsupported. Whether his theory is right or wrong making bad arguments won't do.

I have not settled on an overall moral theory - not for lack of trying. I am not convinced that the objective/subjective dichotomy so cherished here is true. Or if it is then I think the 'relative' side is something much more constrained than 'anything goes'.

I just walked the dog and now I'm not so sure Greg was begging the question. Question begging applies to arguments. His response to Shermer was not an argument. Rather it might be called "The Short Parable of the Faithful Bachelor". He preceded it, then, with 'The Short Parable of the Newspaper Article'.

Moral realism has a lot going for it in that it does seem that the wrongness is in the rape. But read this and tell me whether energy is real.

So now I'm telling parables. But mine comes with a caveat: a parable doesn't prove or support anything. It can open one's mind. Whether that is good or bad depends on what gets in.

One thing you and I agree on: it's the Christians that mess up Christianity.

RonH

A good article on morality framed differently

http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2008/04/14/evolution-challenge-of-morality

RonH,

Would love to have coffee sometime.

btmbo,

…the fact that Christians disagree does not imply that objective moral truths do not exist. It implies that Christians disagree.

And what is implied by the observation that Christians disagree? It seems to me to imply that their religion doesn’t provide them with any actual moral insight such as they routinely claim for themselves. That can’t be right: clearly Mr. Koukl thinks Calvinists have special moral insight; and clearly most Christians believe that they’re standing on some sort of consistent, reliable moral bedrock, and that it is their religion which informs them of it.

How can Christians be so convinced of both the accuracy of their moral compass and their own fallibility?

Janney asked

    How can Christians be so convinced of both the accuracy of their moral compass and their own fallibility?
I think this gets to an important issue. Before proceeding I would ask a question:

    Must we be infallible to know truth?

btmbo,
aw. likewise.
RonH

btmbo,

Must we be infallible to know truth?

That sounds awfully rhetorical. But I'll give it a shot.

If, by “truth,” you mean something pedestrian, like “facts”—that is, the practical sort of truth we recognize from our everyday interactions with the observable world—then the answer is no. We handle that sort of truth all the time. We're not perfect at it, but we do well enough mostly. (I'm pretty sure that's not the meaning you mean.)

Of course, if by “truth” you mean some sort of eternal, immutable, transcendent principle or something, then that's a different animal. And since you and I appear to agree that we mere mortals can't be relied on to understand that sort of truth, it seems safe to say that the answer is yes: we must be, if not infallible, at least less fallible than we evidently are. (I'm pretty sure we don't really agree, but I'm a little confused on that point.)

Janney -

Hard to tell from your response... but it appears you might agree that we need not be infallible to know truth?

If we agree on that point, then it follows that infallible Christians can acknowledge objective moral truths.

btmbo,

...it follows that infallible Christians can acknowledge objective moral truths.

Let me simply agree “that fallible Christians can acknowledge objective moral truths,” although history says we're going to disagree about definitions down the road. (I disagree that the rest of humankind cannot also know such truths, but I'll go along for now.)

By saying so, do you mean to endorse the special right-from-wrong-telling power Christians claim to have, by virtue of their faith? I ask because we're still stuck with the rather commonplace objective truth that, since its inception, Christian morality has undergone non-stop descent-with-modification, just like every other human endeavor.

Your syllogism catches the point, I think, if indirectly:

If God is perfect and we're not, then we're going to err and litter the highway of history with our mistakes.

Quite right, but note that, if God were not perfect and we weren't perfect either, then etc. Or, if God weren't real and we weren't perfect, then etc. In fact, God is rather beside this particular point—we would litter the highway of history regardless. And that is in fact what history looks like: not-perfect people making mistakes and (with a little luck) learning from them.

But, in that case, what would our morals have to do with “God's unchanging character”?

Janney -

Oops -- I meant to say fallible Christians in my last post. Thanks for catching that. I don't endorse a special right-from-wrong-telling power that some Christians may claim. Non-Christians and Christians alike recognize largely the same moral principles, e.g., murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, etc.

I submit the difference is that Christians claim these principles are immutable and such immutability derives from a moral law-giver (God). Non-Christians claim moral principles change with time and/or context because they result not from an unchanging law-giver, but from the consensus of society, or evolutionary artifacts, or other mechanisms.

I think Greg's point stands, and it's pretty straightforward: if you don't believe in a moral law-giver (God) who conveys unchanging morality, then what one means by 'right' and 'wrong' shifts with time or context, and shifting definitions certainly don't lead to objective universal morality.

btmbo,

I submit the difference is that Christians claim these principles [murder is wrong, stealing is wrong] are immutable and such immutability derives from a moral law-giver (God).

That sounds like a fair description.

Non-Christians claim moral principles change with time and/or context because they result not from an unchanging law-giver, but from the consensus of society, or evolutionary artifacts, or other mechanisms.

That sounds fair too, since we’re focusing on Christians (for the record I’m sure there are plenty of non-Christian religions which make claims like the first one).

I think Greg's point stands, and it's pretty straightforward: if you don't believe in a moral law-giver (God) who conveys unchanging morality, then what one means by 'right' and 'wrong' shifts with time or context…

Actually, I took Greg’s point to be that, if God didn’t exist, the very idea of right-and-wrong would be incoherent—that, if I can carry a moral thought in my head, then God must exist. That point will stand till the End of Days. It’s unassailable. It’s an invitation for secular humanists to shut up and go away.

But my point also stands, for better or for worse: Christian morality does not look like the product of applied immutable principles of right and wrong. It looks, rather, like a product of history—like something which has shifted with time and context. Regardless of their belief in a moral law-giver, Christians act like people making mistakes and learning from them (with differential success).

I can agree that societies everywhere tend to converge on a short list of particular moral rules, including the ones you mentioned. But that’s pretty weak tea compared to the actual top-down application of immutable moral law that Christians talk about—so weak, in fact, that it doesn’t look like evidence for a moral law-giver at all. It looks like people everywhere working it out on their own.

That's all I get?

Apologies for the delay -- on occasion life gets in the way ;)

Janney said

    But my point also stands, for better or for worse: Christian morality does not look like the product of applied immutable principles of right and wrong.
So if Christian morality doesn't appear to you to be the product of immutable principles of right and wrong, what do you think it *should* look like, given (as we both agree) humans, including followers of Jesus, are fallible?

Stated another way, just because a first-grade student gets their sums wrong doesn't mean mathematical principles don't exist. Objective, grounding moral principles can exist at the same time the adherents of those principles follow them imperfectly. I would advocate that's what we observe with followers of Jesus.

To say a bit more, a fundamental premise of Christian belief is that we are all flawed and that lacking acceptance of Jesus' redeeming sacrifice, we are subject to God's judgment. Acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice does not guarantee that we will become perfect in this world; it guarantees salvation.

btmbo,

(Sorry, that smart-ass line was directed at a word-salad comment which has apparently been deleted. Just for the record.)

So if Christian morality doesn't appear to you to be the product of immutable principles of right and wrong, what do you think it *should* look like, given (as we both agree) humans, including followers of Jesus, are fallible?

Oh, for all I know, given that we're all fallible, Christian morality should look just like the doctrinal descent with modification we actually observe. But only a Christian would take such an observation to be evidence in Christianity's favor. A simpler conclusion would be that Christians don't have the moral bedrock they say they have.

Objective, grounding moral principles can exist at the same time the adherents of those principles follow them imperfectly.

Absolutely! You and I agree that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions, and it's observably the case that people are less than perfect at figuring them out (witness the fact that we're still working on it). But it seems safe to say that we disagree on where to locate the basis for those answers. You and Mr. Koukl wish to “ground” them in the sky, as though history had taught us that that's a good idea; and I'd rather “ground” them on the ground.

...a fundamental premise of Christian belief is that we are all flawed and that lacking acceptance of Jesus' redeeming sacrifice, we are subject to God's judgment.

Indeed. Unfortunately, this premise inoculates you against everything in the world which might contradict your premises. With inoculations like that, we can have a world full of Bible-reading Christians, all claiming different things, and all knowing in their hearts that they're right.

Have you considered the possibility that we're flawed enough to be wrong about those fundamental premises?

Janney said:

    You and I agree that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions [...]
I would qualify that statement slightly: Because (evidently) you and I ground morality differently, your concepts of 'right' and 'wrong' are fundamentally different entities than mine. So although we utter the same words, we convey different meanings.

Have you had a chance to peruse Greg's book 'Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air' ? It provides a detailed treatment of issues such as these, and I'd be interested to hear your perspectives on the book's approach.

Janney also said:

    [...] this premise inoculates you against everything in the world which might contradict your premises
Can you say more about this? What exactly do you mean?

Janney further said:

    Have you considered the possibility that we're flawed enough to be wrong about those fundamental premises?
I concede that I could be wrong. But given that is true for everyone, where does that lead?

Also, Janney said:

    A simpler conclusion would be that Christians don't have the moral bedrock they say they have.
Can you say how you came to that conclusion? I'm wondering specifically about the word 'simpler'.

btmbo,

Can you say more about this? What exactly do you mean?

The argument as I understand it goes roughly like this:

Premise 1: If people are fallible, then Christianity is true.
Premise 2: People are fallible.
Conclusion: Christianity is true.

Aside from the fact that any consequent you like can be plugged into the first premise, the particularly neat thing about this argument is that it co-opts our own fallibility: it effectively grants permission to dismiss any challenge as human error. Mighty persuasive to people who believe the conclusion already, but, again, any conclusion will fit.

Note the resemblance to Mr. Koukl's argument from Grounding Morality:

Premise 1: If moral ideas exist, then God exists.
Premise 2: Moral ideas exist.
Conclusion: God exists.

If you like the sound of that, try plugging in Zeus, or Shiva, or space aliens, or secular humanism.

I concede that I could be wrong. But given that is true for everyone, where does that lead?

One might expect it to lead to a certain hesitation—an unwillingness, even—to pronounce on matters involving things we can't observe and on which no one can agree.

Can you say how you came to that conclusion? I'm wondering specifically about the word 'simpler'.

If real-world factors are (or appear to be) sufficient to explain the evolution of Christian morality, then they are the simplest explanation of Christian morality. I mean, as opposed to calling in extra-natural forces beyond our comprehension, or something.

...although we utter the same words, we convey different meanings.

I have to tell you, if moral questions have any real substance at all (and I think they do, and I trust you agree), then their answers cannot depend on how we choose to define particular words.

Have you had a chance to peruse Greg's book 'Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air' ?

Neither of us wants to plead the case for relativism. The only question is whether or not one of us can be declared guilty of it. It's an observable fact that Christian moral ideas have shifted with time and context, as I think we have agreed. If “shifting definitions” equals “relativism,” then Christianity does not offer an alternative (or, rather, it offers an alternative in principle which is contradicted in practice).

But maybe it doesn't equal relativism. I'm going to go out on a limb here and ask: why should “shifting definitions” necessarily fail to lead us to, or at least toward, “objective universal morality”? We'd never get there by shifting randomly, but we're not shifting randomly—each succeeding generation tries to keep the good and fix the bad. There is reason, I think, to think that we're improving.

Janney, Thanks for posting -- I've got a few things on my plate, so may not be able to give your post the attention it deserves for a few days, but check back in a couple ...

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