How do you help someone who claims that there are no objective moral values and obligations? I have found that when specific examples of morally abhorrent behavior, like torturing toddlers for sport, are brought to their attention, most people’s moral intuitions are brought to the surface and they recognize that they do believe in objective moral values and obligations after all.
Some people get the wrong idea though about what I’m doing and think it is an appeal to a ‘majority is right’ type of argument. But this is a misunderstanding. I’m not claiming that since most people think torturing toddlers for sport is morally wrong, that therefore that makes it morally wrong. My approach is not only not the ‘majority is right’ argument, it is not even an argument at all.
I am not trying to ‘show’ or persuade people through evidence and argument. Rather I am employing a strategy to help people experience a direct awareness of the truth so that they will ‘know’ that torturing toddlers for sport is morally wrong and that everyone should agree. But what about those who still disagree?
I know you are out there. I can hear you!
Not too long ago, I had a few particularly persistent questioners following a couple of lectures I gave on university campuses on arguments for the existence of God. Even though I gave three arguments, and two of them included some very interesting features about the early universe, almost all the questions were about the moral argument. In particular they questioned how I know that objective moral values and obligations exist.
After prompting them to think about atrocities like the Holocaust, and Apartheid, and horrible actions like raping little girls or torturing toddlers for sport, these students still were not persuaded that objective moral values and obligations existed.
I decided to use an illustration. I said, “What if a bunch of guys walke
d into our lecture hall and said, ‘You people might think torturing toddlers for sport is morally wrong but me and my buddies think it is great fun!’ How should we respond to that? Should we throw our hands up and conclude, ‘Oh, no, I guess morality is relative to subjective opinions after all?’
No, of course not. We should think that there is something wrong with those guys! They are not functioning properly. In fact what do we call people who do not think torturing toddlers for sport is morally wrong?” After a moment of silence the answer came back from a few students – “Psychopaths!” “Right”, I said. “Anyone who claims torturing children for sport is not objectively wrong is not functioning properly morally. We rightly call someone like that a psychopath.”
That seemed to make a difference. The remaining few doubters seemed to realize that their choice was to accept that torturing toddlers for sport was an example of an objective moral value and obligation that was being violated, or to put themselves in the same moral category as psychopaths. My point all along of course was not that they were psychopaths, but that they weren’t actually relativists after all!
I don’t know for sure if they were fully persuaded, but I do know that their questions stopped. By the looks on their faces, I suspect that maybe their moral intuitions had finally broken through to the surface and they were beginning to recognize that they did believe in some objective moral values and obligations after all – especially that torturing toddlers for sport was morally wrong.
What do you think of my approach to helping people see that they aren’t moral relativists as much as they think they are? Did it help you?
These last series have all been about one part of the moral argument for God’s existence – the premise that objective moral values and obligations exist, and how we know this is the case. In the process I have argued for our ability to directly experience some moral truths through our moral sense. This is counter to the empiricist assumptions of our culture, but I believe it is true nevertheless.
Next time I will be switching gears to some new topics. If you have any suggestions for topics let me know. I will take them into consideration.
33 Responses to “Torturing Toddlers”
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Everything that God said he would do in this world He did it , but has given us the choice of free will in how to spend time here on planet earth until we get to our new earth, in which there will be set free to worship God all the time as well as serving him too
I am glad you re-read Hitchens, but I was not suprised about what he said about Religion Poisons Everything. Much the same as Aron Ra has said the “Religion reverses everything”, religion can corrupt and degenerate goodness into evil. The witch burnings, the blood libel, the Inquisition, the religious wars, the holocaust… the list goes on.
Yes your right that politics, money, can poison too, but I think that is more about just sheer greed. Greed corrupts in much the same as authority (which is just greed again). We see greed corruption in communism, in democracy, in the market place, and also in religion. But pointing out the poisons in politics and other systems, does not excuse the poison that religion spreads.
Religions poisons people into thinking other faiths (or non-faiths) are without value. Religion poisons people into thinking they are just in being monsters, because they have a god on their side, and they are doing the work of their version of their god. Instead of trying to unify humanity, religion divides. If there were a god, creating a religion, he did it wrong.
In your second to last paragraph, you motion that humans are to blame. Well, yes, humans made up politics, the market place, all religions, and businesses, government, and all other human systems. You are missing though, a vital aspect of humanity. All aspects of humanity (and nature) is on a bell curve. There will be an average, with an amount of the population on both sides. No matter what avenue of social attributes you look at, people will do well and not do well. You will have honest and dishonest. You will have people who enjoy and dislike any portion of culture. Humans are not robots, we are not all programmed identically (thank goodness for nature!) So in any system, you will have people who abide by the system, and those who exploit the system. This bell curve outliers is where you will find the corrupt few who exploit others.
The potential for poison in most systems is usually selfishness driven. Someone vying for more than their fair share. Religion though, sets up a promise of supernatural return which may never be realized. Currently the Christian offshoot Islam is the most poisonous. Christianity has weened itself from most of it’s poison a few hundred years ago, but is still not without it’s poison. The bible, like the koran, demands the deaths of non-believers, outsiders, and vilifies those whom are not of the cloth. Jesus himself said he brought a sword to devide families (from non-believers). It’s a poison that still rips families apart for no purpose other than religious, and is not focused on greed. (A family is poorer not richer when it casts out a son or daughter who does not beleive in God anymore.)
While reading the book, did you read Chapter 17. It should help you realise the falsehood you hold that atheism equals communism. Atheism does not automatically lead to corruption of morality. (indeed, as you have read, religion can lead to corrpution of morality (religious wars for example.) Morality and religious stance are not bound tightly. One can easily find moral buddhists, atheists, Jews, Christians and Muslims. And one can find immoral buddists (well maybe not so with this group), atheists, jews, christians and muslims (the jails are a good place to look…)
Note: I am currently reading “Why Evolution is True” I recommend this book too. And I must also recommend Ken Ham’s black comedy “The Lie: Evolution” (I have not read Gish yet, and don’t own any of Henry Morris’s books to recommend them yet). Kens book is without scientific merit is make some serious leaps of logic that leaves the reader wondering what they just read. It’s frustrating, but laughable at the same time.
Well it has been awhile since I have read Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great” so I have pulled it out again to remind myself of what he wrote there. I was intrigued again by his statement that ‘religion poisons everything’. I don’t need his help in recalling the horrors of history that have bee perpetrated in the name of one religion or another. But as I though through some of the terrible things that have happened in our world I think we could replace the word ‘religion’ with a number of other passion-generating nouns and still be able to agree to the truth of the statement. ‘Politics poisons everything’; I don’t know too many people who would argue with that. The conflicts (verbal and physical) that impose themselves in our lives today and on history are innumerable. How many lives have been lost even in this young century due to the posturing of political leaders?
‘Nationalism poisons everything’. In my history books one of the key contributors to both World Wars was the pride of the nations and their desire to prove their sovereignty and strength. We still see ‘sabre rattling’ today as nations vie against one another for perceived ownership of disputed lands.
‘Money poisons everything’. Corruption in the Boardrooms of America (and every other nation of the world) is rampant. The desire of accumulating wealth has been the underlying cause of every war to some degree or another. Even if it is not the primary reason or the public reason for aggression, as you peel back the layers you will often find at the heart of those making the decisions is a dirty greed for more.
We could even rightly accuse ‘love poisons everything’. How many lives have been destroyed by love gone bad. Whether you seek a committed love or the casual love of a ‘hook-up’ you see people being torn apart by the cruelties of love. We even have wars that have been fought over lost love.
What is the common denominator in all of these poisons? Humans. It does not matter what we put our hand to we end up poisoning ourselves because of our selfishness and pride. And that is exactly what God says is the problem: humanity is fundamentally flawed. We have a corrupted operating system that crashes every program that we try to run. You can try to create programs that try to counteract the faulty OS but they are doomed because the ugliness of our nature keeps showing up in new ways.
The solution is in life transformation; allowing God to transform that which is corrupted into His perfect original design. That’s what Jesus does for us: He leads and guides the choices of our lives so we are no longer living according to our pride and selfishness but we are living according to His perfect nature. He can do that for you too Antony.
Religion does not reign in immorality, nor does atheism lead to morality or immorality.
How’s the book reading coming?
As I pointed out in my last post Antony, an atheistic worldview does not only manifest poor decisions in a totalitarian state like communism. Our capitalist society is also prone to the path of minimizing the value of human life and treating others who are different from ourselves as less than human. The Eugenics movement in North America included business men, academics, doctors, and other respected people. An atheistic worldview can allow that kind of mindset to thrive.
Jamie: “Now I am not suggesting that the inevitable end of an atheistic worldview is genocide but there is neither is there any foundation to argue against that path from an atheistic worldview. If we are just a product of random selection and survival of the fittest what is to stand in the way of those with power to oppress those who are weak?”
Whoa! Yes you have suggested that! Earlier in this thread you stated ““Key figures of atheism who have followed their worldview to its logical trajectory often end up committing atrocities against others.” You are likely confounding athiesm and communism, or at least, a god complex. (Three unrelated concepts and which have no bearing what so ever on each other. We have seen communists believe in a variety of gods, atheists are not communists by rejecting god myths, delusions are not the result of either communism or atheism, or theism, they are themselves a breakdown in critical thought (acceptance of a delusion on faith) or brain failure.
To be sure, ALL humans are Athiestic towards thousands of gods. You yourself do not believe in Isis, Thor, Coyote, Vishnu, Sol.. (The list of gods we both don’t believe in is huge). Being athiest about a certain god does NOT mean one is devoid of possibility of being good. If we look at human history we see a lot of figures who are deemed as good who are athiest towards at the christian god. Buddah and Ghandi are an easy two. Both were not christian, and both pro-human rights. Naturally you can find followers of the christian god who were monsters. Hitler is an easy one for that. We can see that easily religion or lack of religion (whichever religion) is clearly not a cornerstone to being good or not. It is the person that is good or not. While religion can make a good person do evil (in the name of their god), it is hard for a good person to naturally do evil, just as it is for a evil person to do good.
Again you show you have not bothered to understand evolution. Selection is NOT random. The random part is the DNA mistakes that happen with every offspring. While most mutations (we are ALL mutations) are minute and harmless, some provide a benefit or detrement. Those benefits or detriments are not ‘randomly accepted’ in the environment. A tiger will generally take the slowest prey. Thus any dna mutation that slows down a gazelle will likely be detrimental, and any dna mutation that makes it faster will likely be beneficial. This is a gross oversimplification, as the environment is not so simple, but many many factors are involved – success in breeding, competition with other species for same resources, competition with other species as resources, etc)
Jamie, you surely must be interested in cleansing yourself of your lack of understanding. I again strongly recommend you read at least two good books on evolution to better start grasping what you reject so easily. It is like a kid rejecting a new food because it is different looking. Yes evolution is different looking than the quaint myths of Genesis, but evolution is fact. It is similar to trying to discount 2+2=4 (a fact) without trying to understand the math behind it. Just because a 2000 year old book tells you that 2+2=5 (a myth) does not mean the contadictory facts are wrong.
I am not sure if you have read Christopher Hitchen’s fun little book “god is not Great”, but you should give the book a a read. It should do great to conterbalance your grave misunderstanding of non-relationship between Atheism and Communism. Don’t leap to the chapter about this issue, but read the entire book. It is well worth the read.
Have some fun reading, and let me know your thoughts on them. Christopher and Richard are great authors and these books I have mentioned are some of their finest.
They are all easily available on Amazon.ca both in printed and Kindle version.
Antony, unfortunately it has not just been some of the monstrous tyrants of world history that have pursued the tragic path that atheism can lead to. Even in ‘peaceful’ Canada we have made some societal decisions that come from that worldview. In 1928 the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia voted to legislate surgical sterilization of ‘mental defectives’. Those laws were in place until 1972 (1973 in BC). The science of Eugenics is based on a worldview that minimizes the value of human life over the value of what some would call the ‘good of society’. Those were the same ‘ideals’ that drove Carnegie Institution and Rockefeller Foundation to fund scientists from Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Harvard to ‘improve’ the human race by forced sterilization, marriage bans and segregation. Rockefeller funded a German program in which Josef Mengele worked before his role in the atrocities in Auschwitz.
Now I am not suggesting that the inevitable end of an atheistic worldview is genocide but there is neither is there any foundation to argue against that path from an atheistic worldview. If we are just a product of random selection and survival of the fittest what is to stand in the way of those with power to oppress those who are weak?
You stated: “Key figures of atheism who have followed their worldview to its logical trajectory often end up committing atrocities against others. ”
I think you are misconstruing political figures as figures of atheism. While figures like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Robert Ingersol are great people and well respected as atheist figures, they have not committed atrocities as you claim. They are, just human beings who have shaken off or never imprisoned by the chains of a religion. They are not, by being atheist, on the road to atrocities.
Who I think your refereeing to are totalitarian leaders, who happen to be atheist, but being atheist is not a requirement to be totalitarian leader (for example, Hitler). As George Orwell wrote: “A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy”. The leader of the state has complete authority, is seen as inafallable (at least by itself) and rules absolutely. The leader takes on the role of god. If the totalitarian leader happens to be or not be athiesit is immaterial. Their atrocities (if any) are not the logical trajectory of atheism, but their own devices.
There simply is no doctrines of atheism. There is no “world view” that must be held to reject any particular god. One can reject Allah because one believes in God, or Vishnu, or simply because the proof for Allah is too weak to adopt… One can reject Zues as a god, but it does not follow that doing so will corrupt the non-believer. There are countries, counties, and cities run by people who don’t believe in a god or set of gods, any yet they are not needfuly a hot bed of atrocities.
I wanted to break this up between some different ideas you addressed. I thought i might be easier to follow this way.
Jesus instruction to His followers is clearly one of love. He is the one who said, “When someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other” “My commandment is this – to love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends” “But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven” Jesus not only spoke of love and self-sacrifice He also lived it out. There is no one who would deny that Jesus lived out what He preached.
There have been people, who claimed the name “Christian” who have not followed these instructions of Jesus. Now I cannot know what was going on in their hearts and minds but it is clear that they are not reflecting the character of the one whom they are supposed to be following. I know in my life, I do not always reflect the character of my Lord either. I cannot blame Jesus for the times when I ignore His leading in my life and lash out at people who I don’t like or who don’t think the same as I do. Neither should Jesus be rejected because of the ways people who claimed to be His followers have acted.
That cannot be said of all other central figures of religion and worldviews. The activities of radical islamists are consistent with the historical record and message of their founder. The extreme acts of class separation is a key component of the Hindu religious teaching. Key figures of atheism who have followed their worldview to its logical trajectory often end up committing atrocities against others. These people are only following the message of their religion and the example of their leaders. Jesus’ message and example point to a very clear path of love.
Hi Antony, you have put your finger on something that I don’t have a lot of real satisfying answers for. I know that there are acts of God recorded in the Bible that seem anything but loving. His judgment sometimes seems cruel to the extreme and I can’t give you an adequate justification. I totally understand somebody seeing those events and deciding that God is a malevolent being who does not deserve any love or respect from humanity at all.
But I also acknowledge that God is not accountable to me and does not need to convince me of the justice of His actions. There are things that are going on in those events that are not recorded in the Bible that could radically alter my perspective. As the ultimate authority, God does not need to justify His actions to me. That’s the dissatisfying part of this answer, I know.
I have been involved in situations where I had to dismiss an employee for conduct that was not compatible with our organization’s standards. There were lots of people who were not privy to the information that I knew, who really liked this employee and thought that my actions were unjustified. I had to accept that fact that I did not need to justify my actions to those people, and that it would be inappropriate for me to share the details with them in order to get them to see things my way. Those people still do not like or trust me and there is very little I can do to change their attitude. I guess I see God in that same kind of light: there are things going behind the scenes that I cannot know and a much bigger picture that I cannot see, but He does. I may not like it, but there is no way to change it.
So while I cannot explain how God is justified in acting the way He has in all situations, I do know that He is trustworthy. I base that trust on a number of facts I do know: 1) Creation. I understand that you don’t accept that this universe was created and so this will hold little weight for you, but let me explain my thinking. As I study the universe that we live in, the only valid explanation for it is a supernatural creator. The fact that the universe exists proves that. The laws of the natural world state that nothing comes from nothing, that nothing is eternal, and therefore for something to exist there must be an eternal initiator that exists outside of the natural laws who brought something out of nothing. I know you and I have had this conversation before and I am sure we will go around it again but the laws of the natural world cannot explain the existence of our universe. There needed to be a Supernatural Creator to set it all in motion. But the nature of our universe also reveals the qualities of its Maker. There is tremendous beauty, intricacy, balance, information, and intelligence behind it all. The laws of the natural world do not allow for all of that to happen by chance. There is a thoughtful, organized mind behind it all who wanted to create with extravagance, with order, and with a desire to be known by His Creation. The vast diversity of colour, taste, smell, and touch all point to a Creator who wanted us to enjoy and explore. All that speaks to a great mind, and a great love. I know you don’t buy into this, but for me, I know God is great, just and loving because of what I see in the world around me.
2) Revelation. Again, I know that you don’t believe that there is any God to reveal Himself and discount the Bible as a human creation intended to coerce and control other people, so I don’t expect this to carry much weight for you either. But as I look at the documents that make up the Bible and see the comprehensive integrity of the message despite it’s unbelievable diversity of life position of all of the authors (written over 1500 years, by more than 40 different authors from many different socio-economic backgrounds and cultures, using a vast array of literary forms, in three different languages) tells me that there was an Author behind the work of the human authors directing what it was He wanted them to say so that we could have a reference point to know who He is and how He wants us to relate to Him. And the message is “God loves us and wants the best for us and is actively working to help save us from our self-destructive rebellion against Him.”
3) Incarnation (that is, God becoming human). Now I know you wish that there was a way to refute this but the evidence is too strong to deny. Jesus claimed to be God come in human form to reveal God to us, to show God’s love for us, to take the punishment of our rebellion on Himself so that we could have a relationship with God as He originally intended. Jesus gave ample proof of His divinity throughout His earthly ministry but the ultimate evidence He pointed to was that He would rise from the dead, which He did on Easter morning. People for years have tried to discount the veracity of this event but the historical evidence for it is so compelling that it is impossible for anyone to prove otherwise. This act of God–to humble Himself to become one of us so He could die in our place–is the ultimate expression of His love for us and shows the trustworthiness of His character.
Based these three evidences of God’s love, His perfection, His intelligence, His power, and His personal involvement in the lives of humanity, I can trust that in situations which seem contrary to that perfect nature of God, there is a justification for His actions. That doesn’t mean I don’t wrestle with understanding those situations and ask Him “Why?” But I don’t reject Him because there are things that I don’t understand.
“There is no doubt that many horrific acts have been committed under the guise of Christianity.”
No, Jamie, you are wrong. It’s not a GUISE, but actual Christianity that monsterous horrific vile acts are/were perpetrated. In the book of mythological stories called the bible, we find some of the most horrific acts ever imagined by humans. (I won’t go so far as to say the stories of the bible are REAL, as there are no scientific facts that can vouch for all the stories, so they are at best, just stories, but for the sake of discussion of Christianity, let’s acknowledge that they are the basis of upon which Christianity is based, and thus, the stories ‘are’ christian, not in guise, but in essence. The stories are the foundations, upon what the religion is based, thus intertwined within the core of it’s being. If the stores are false or real, they ‘are’ Christian.
The bible opens with a fantasy about how the universe was created, and part of it is the Adam and Eve story: God creates the man and woman and sets them free in a garden with little education. He advises them to remain ignorant and not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge which is within the garden (but being omniscient He already knows they will eat from the tree), He also allows the Serpent in the garden with the Tree and Adam and Eve. (Again, knowing all, he knows the Serpent will beguil the couple into feasting upon the fruit, and ‘become just like us (with knowledge)’). God goes ‘away’ (turning off his omniscientness?) and let’s the beguiling happen, then feigns suprise and disgust, and curses all involved except himself. Immorally he curses even the subsequent children for the alledged crimes of the parents!
Now, you may not think that cursing unborn children for crimes of entrapment is not so bad, so let’s look at some more violent crimes against humanity perpetrated by the mythical God.
Torturing Children for fun:
Are there instances in the bible where God sets actions into play which will cause grief, torment, pain to children? Most assuredly yes!
One of the most famous instances is God commanding Abraham to kill his son. This very famous story is supposedly a test for Abraham, though, God already knows the mettle of Abraham so no test is truly required. So the test is for God’s enjoyment, to ‘verify’ what God already knows? Who knows why, but the end result is that the son can only be tortured by impending doom about to be metted out by his own father. The boy is not killed at the last moment, by an intervening angel, but, this is too late to save the boy from torture already perpetrated by God’s plan of action.
But that was just one boy… what about several?
God tortures at least forty two children for the ‘crime’ of ‘teasing’ a bald man. Some children tease a man for being bald, and he asks god to teach them a lesson, and God in his ‘love and kindness’ sends a bear to rend fourty two children apart. Granted the first few children to be pulled apart there would not have seen ‘much’ torture, but the later ones, watching the other children being ripped apart, and knowing they were also to be killed in such manner, would have been subjected to horrific and inhumane torture for the little children. The torture applied to them far far exceeds their crime of ‘teasing’.
Ok, well, that was ‘just 42’ kids… how about more?
Well, let us continue with Genesis and look at the largest wholesale slaughter of humanity ever imagined (or, if you prefer perpetrated): the Biblical flood! Here God sets in motion an action to kill every single adult and child on the entire planet save for one small family of humans. The plan takes hundreds of years to come into play, and then god floods the entire world, drowning all it’s human inhabitants (save for just 8). God is not merciful, and swift. He could instantaniously just stop people from existing, but no he forces them to drown. To watch the waters rise slowly, allowing them to seek higher ground, to climb up high, to climb upon their neighbors, to fight for breath. But God is unrelenting and ensures that everyone has met a watery grave (except for his few of 8 he allowed to survive – or so the story goes). God does not save the children from waiting to die, nor from the torture of drowning itself. God took his time on this. Relishing the outcome undoubtably, until for some reason, he (while still being omniscient) suddenly realized the vileness of his planned action, and became remorseful (it is a silly concept for an omniscient entity to suddenly become aware, but anyways…)
God could have stopped any of these vile horrific actions, but he did not. Because the people who made up the stories, wanted God to be scary, to be horrific, and to be vile. They wanted people to respect God through fear. They didn’t want a nice God.
Later on, the creators of God, made him promise eternal torture to unbelievers. If there is a Hell (and no evidence supports such existence for Heaven or Hell), then even it’s mere existence is vile and horrific, let alone the level of eternal torture applied to all it’s inhabitants.
God has, himself, in the stories attributed to him, by the Christians, has set the bar very high indeed as to the potential vileness that is acceptable as ‘good’.
Is it no wonder that the Christian based waves of horror like the holocaust, witch burnings, the Inquisition, or abortion clinic bombings, and doctor killings, or the hate mongering by churches (ala West Boro Baptist Church) seem mild and allowable in context of the biblical teachings. Vile acts caused by Christians (of any of it’s many forms) are Christian acts. Not ‘supposed’ Christian. The bible as a moral guide, can be used to validate almost any vile act imaginable. God did not put asside being god, when he killed. Christians do not need to put aside being christian when they kill.
The song “Onward Christian Soldiers” would be pointless, if Christianity meant non-voilence.
Jesus was not living according to a list of rules and regulations. He was living according to His character which is perfect and on which the 10 commandments was based. When a a person allows Jesus to direct their life, they don’t have to focus on following any set of rules and regulations because Jesus will lead them in way that reflects His perfect character as well. So no, accepting Jesus doesn’t mean that you can act immorally without consequence. That would be inconsistent with the character of Jesus.
I agree that in some ways our societies are better reflecting the morality of God better than at some points in the past. There is no doubt that many horrific acts have been committed under the guise of Christianity. Those are things that obviously do not match what Jesus lived or taught. But I would also say that in many ways we are straying far from what is morally wise in an attempt to give people so-called freedom. We ignore God’s morality at our own peril. History shows over and over how destructive human society can become when we decide to ignore what God has set as boundaries in order to gratify our own desires. We don’t have to look that far back: the Sexual Revolution has had a devastating impact on marriages which has undermined the stability of families. While we see many single moms and dads who have done herculean efforts to provide a stable home for their children, it is abundantly clear that children do far better in a home where they have the loving support of a mother and father who live out their love and commitment for each other. As our society continues to reinvent marriage and families we will only see those destructive realities increase, and the next generation pays the price for our experimentation.
I see in my own life how, when i have chosen to follow my selfish inclinations rather than follow Jesus’ leading in my life, my children are the worse off for it. It is a scary thing to see my children’s choices influenced by my selfish ones. That brings me back to Jesus asking for His help to break those negative influences I have had and set my kids of a better trajectory than what I have lived. The wonderful things is I see that happening. I am able to go to my kids and apologize for the self-centered choices that i have made and talk to them about how Jesus is helping me to choose better today.
That is the reality of all of us who follow Jesus: when we do follow His leading we see how well He leads us into a purity. But often we get caught in our selfishness again and start following our own desires rather than what Jesus wants. That’s why there is no such thing as a perfect Christian. But Jesus promises that His Spirit will help convict us and then restore us so that we get back to living with Jesus in control. And when this life is over we will be welcomed into His presence where we will be rid of that selfishness once and for all and will be a testimony of the power and love of God. You see, in spite of my weaknesses and mistakes, God is able to make something beautiful out of my life. He is my confidence and hope.
I tried to explain to you that there is much more to life than simple on off switches. Just because a couple does not marry, does not mean they are less or more selfish or unselfish than the couple who do marry. Maybe marriage is illegal for them (in that case the state is more selfish then they are) or maybe the couple is married for a green card (in which case the marriage is a selfish act.) Maybe the couple do not want to have children because the parents were abused as kids and they want to break the cycle. Maybe the couple do not want to bring a child into poverty. Maybe they couple is adopting instead of birthing.
One could argue that a decline in offspring is an unselfish act to decrease the burden on a culture already stressed with many unwanted children.
Life is not full of on off switches.
Being culturally responsible, and doing something for the greater good is an unselfish act.
“So as we allow Jesus to lead our lives we no longer have to follow a moral code…”
WHOA!!!! did you just write that? That we can ‘buy into’ a life of immorality?
“but we live out the nature of Jesus on which the moral code is built.” Oh… so if I accept Jesus, I can rape and pillage my neighbors, and pretend I am moral? We have evidence in the bible that God is vile and disgusting (killing, justifying rape etc in the old testament) so, anything goes, if that’s the case. No Thank You!!! I reject that mode of lie living, and would prefer to be moral without relying on an ancient out out date book.
“Our morality becomes an expression of who we are rather than an ideal we strive to live up to.”
I would agree with you on that one! Our expressed morality is whom we are. When we step up to the plate and try to allow gays to marry the one they love, we are expressing greater morality than we have seen in the recent past. When we step up and protect a woman from being molested, we are expressing greater morality than we have seen in the recent past. When we step up and stop slaughter of animals for the bodies, we see a greater morality than we have seen in the past…
We do so much need to let go of the morality of the dark ages, and create a better world for our children. For they will learn from us, and build upon the foundations we make for them. They (or their children) will be better than us, and if we let them teach us, they will make us better too.
Read those books on evolution. They have much to offer you.
Two of the evidences that you give that we are not selfish–having children and getting married–are both on the decline in most western nations. Fewer couples are willing to make the life-long commitment to marriage and also making the life-long commitment to raising children. I wonder if that is a sign that we are becoming more selfish.
I agree that our involvement in society necessitates putting aside selfishness in order to see the whole community flourish, but that doesn’t mean that those selfish desires go away. There is the desire to have something that belongs to someone else. All of us feel the frustration of someone giving us orders. Everyone knows what it is to try and ignore the hurting of someone else when to help would cost something from me. We can try to sugar coat those feelings and justify their existence in our lives but what it boils down to is a selfishness within each one of us.
Jesus is the only one who offers any hope of seeing that end. The Bible says, “So then, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; what is old is passed away, behold all thing are made new.” (2Corinthians 5:17) So as we allow Jesus to lead our lives we no longer have to follow a moral code but we live out the nature of Jesus on which the moral code is built. Our morality becomes an expression of who we are rather than an ideal we strive to live up to.
Am I selfish? No. I am not. Just as you are most likely not. Very few people are selfish. Most are, on the average, kind. We are social animals, and as a requirement of that socialibility is to be social. If we were all looking out for number one all the time, we would not be social, but anti-social. By our very social structure we are unselfish. We nurture our young, a very unselfish move. We feed our young, without feeding ourselves if food is scarce, a very unselfish move. We care for our mate, more unselfishness. The list goes on! If we were, at our core, selfish, we would not have children as they cost us resources (food etc) that we would rather keep to ourselves. We would never marry, or be in any long term relationship, as that also means to share our life with someone else. You can see that obviously, we have it in ourselves to share. It is in our nature to be unselfish. Many other species share this. Naked Blind Mole Rats are a social rodent. Even in the insect kingdom, we see insects, unselfishly dying for for others. Some insects spend their whole life, looking after other insects, willing to die for their queen. If this whole planet was just a bed of selfishness, then it would be sheer anarchy and chaos. There would be no humans at all (we never would have evolved from the other primates that never would have evolved…)
Do we have selfish moments? Why not? What’s wrong with a little ‘me time’? There is nothing wrong with that. We certainly don’t wont to be nindless slaves to others? We are to “share” our lives, not be “devotees” of our spouse, or some imaginary concept (like a god). We have a duty to our selves, to be the best we can be, so that when we share ourselves with the rest of society, we have something to offer. If we did not do stuff for ourselves, we would not grow, we would not be better, we would not progress, but remain stagnant, and what good is that. Of course we have an amount of self awareness, a desire for self-improvement, a desire for self enrichment. It is the balance of shelfishness and unselfishness that most people maintain.
Having moments of selfishness is not a bad thing, as you make it out to be. It’s part of being alive.
“If our morality is a result of the evolutionary model that you describe then why do we still have that darkness within each one of us? Why is each generation equally prone to the same darkness that just manifests itself in different ways?”
There isn’t a selfishness gene that makes one ALL selfish, or ALL unselfish. Behaviour is more complex than a row of switches, where apon one is marked ‘Selfishness’ There is not a single gene that governs social behaviour, it is a complex mesh. Evolution is a slow process. We are essentially the same species we were 10,000 years ago. Our bodies have not evolved as quickly as our culture.
I suggest you take some time and do some layman reading of some books. Start with the two books I suggested and just keep going from there. It will start to make sense, and then you can start to make sense of why we ‘have the darkness’ that is has not evolved out yet (if it ever will). Really, just order the books on Amazon, they will deliver them to you, and you can start reading them at your leasure. Or you can order them from the library for loan. I did, then bought them after reading them… But read them anyway. You will have a far greater understanding of how life works, the beauty of nature, and how complex life really is. With you greater understanding of life, you can feel oneness with all life on earth, as we are all directly related (even if our common ancestor is 172 million years ago (or whenever!) It’s a humbling experience when finallly you start to graspe evolution and how it works. How, not by plan or forethought, but by ‘order in chaos’ we are here today. By ‘order in chaos’ I mean that the big bang created first generation stars, those stars eventually exploded, and their dust eventually created more stars, which eventually failed too, and exploded. Our sun (which formed before our planet), is made of the earlier stars dust. Our planet (and the other in our system) were made after our sun, as the choas of dust, self ordered into planets (via gravity etc). After life started, billions upon billions of lifeforms evolved. Perhaps counting in the trillions of unknown and lost forms as the eons passed. Finally of those untold species, we are left with a few billion species (only 1% or so of all species that have existed do currently exist). That we are as we are today, is not the result of a plan, but by chance, and by selection. (All new forms are by chance, but those that remain are selected by the environment.) Nothing more, nothing less.
Read the books, and you won’t need to ask questions about “why each generation is equally prong…” you will understand why the question is only asked by someone misunderstanding evolution. (There are two errors in your single question, which I tried to answer here, but answered in length and in better form by Richard Dawkins in his books.)
So are you selfish? Do you have thoughts that you don’t let anybody know about? Have you reacted poorly to someone out of self-centeredness? Are there situations in your life when you have rebelled against authority because you wanted to do things your own way?
You are right:I don’t know you, but I have never met anyone who was able to say honestly that they are free from selfishness. They may do selfless acts of kindness and act loving in many situations. But we all know that there is within every human heart a darkness that we cannot erase. At best we can reign it in but it is still there with us. Jesus described it as a whitewashed tomb: clean and shiny on the outside but inside is full of death.
If our morality is a result of the evolutionary model that you describe then why do we still have that darkness within each one of us? Why is each generation equally prone to the same darkness that just manifests itself in different ways?
Your comment”So how do you deal with the selfishness that is in your heart Antony? Are you just not yet fully evolved? What things do you do to cover up the darkness in you?”
Shows up a few problems in your understanding of humanity. First you assume I (as yourself) am selfish. What basis other than your religious upbringing demonstrates to you that I am selfish? That I am sitting here trying to help you and potentially others see yourself free from the ties of religion? If I was truly selfish, I refrain from wasting my time on line with those who are lost in religion instead of trying to help where I can. Just as you are not truly selfish, I am not. If you can’t see that, then, I suppose I have a lot more work to do here…
“Am I truly not evolved?” Um… don’t you have a basic understanding of evolution? Are you confusing metamorphisis with evolution? No form of live in their life time ‘evolves’ Evolution is “change through descent” you may wish to read a few texts, and get back to me on why you are wrong. Two fantastic books by Richard Dawkins you should read: The Greatest Show On Earth is a nice book why evolution is factual and not fantasy. It has nice glossy pictures in it too. Very nice read, and enjoyable. The other book is the Selfish Gene. Read the book before thinking the title IS the book. This book, is a truly enjoyable book, as it unleashes the how of evolution so that even I (a non-biologist) could understand evolution better.
Why do you assume I have darkness? Because I don’t believe in the same mythology as you? Is this because your god says I am flawed? What if your god does not exist? Am I still a bad dark person? LOL.
Hi Atony, the Bible explains the problems that humanity has had with interpreting and living out the moral code God has given us. It is because we are born with a selfish nature that desires to be in control of our own lives. We don’t want to submit to the moral code that God has given because we want to create our own. And so we have disagreements on how to understand what God has directed. We have other religions that try to create our own means to deal with our selfish nature.
Why do we need law enforcement? Aren’t the laws clearly written for us? Our breaking of the law does not reflect the ambiguity of the written code but instead shows our propensity towards doing things our own way.
How does one distinguish the true Word of God from those others that claim divine authority? First, look at the historical accuracy. The documents that make up the New Testament in the Bible are written by eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus and have great consistency within the diversity of many authors. No other sacred text has such close personal connection to the events being described.
Second, look at the message. All other religious texts instruct on how a person can repair the moral damage of their soul through legalism, ritual, spiritual enlightenment, or karma/reincarnation. Jesus said that human attempts to save themselves are futile. Only the intervention of God on behalf of a person can result in true transformation. Religions try to cover over the wickedness within us; Jesus died for us to pay our penalty and then transforms us into His perfect likeness. If everyone else says “You can do it yourself” but only one says “You need me to do it for you” I think you should look very closely at that unique message.
So how do you deal with the selfishness that is in your heart Antony? Are you just not yet fully evolved? What things do you do to cover up the darkness in you?
If I may, let us examine your last post:
“The wonderful thing is Antony that God has given us a written code as well. He knew that our selfishness would try to twist the moral code that He embedded in us so He also inspired the writings of the Bible to guide our moral decisions. It is not hidden.”
“Written code” This I assume means the bible? Or the Gita? Or the Koran? or the Torah? or the well, any of the many many other written down ‘moral guides’ that humanity has been writing for themselves for centuries. Just look at how many times “Do unto others…” has been written down in the past four thousand years… Every (or at least almost every) culture has this snippet of philosophy. This could mean that no specific religion is required (as even non-religious philosophical writings include this), and thus no god is required. Or does it mean that God has created all religions and instilled the same tenent, just in various slightly different versions? If a god has created all the variety of religions, why? With the divide between religions, with the killing of infidels, why would this be a good thing? Just create one religion. Even withing religions, we see splits within. There are thousands of versions of Christianity. Why? Can’t god figure out how to make a religion? People don’t argue about 2+2=4, so why do they argue about what god is the real one, or if god exists or not?
If it’s so “not hidden” why can’t we see it plain as day? Why remain ambiguious and have people disagree on what the real meaning is? People died over religious beliefs. This doesn’t make sense that a diety inspiring or just allowing something to be written in his name, would allow nonsense to be created that would cause pain and suffering in his name? It just doesn’t hold water.
If the moral code is in us, and is not hidden, it’s not doing a very good job of being unambiguous, and being easy to find. We know 2+2=4 without variety. Nowhere in the world is 2+2=4.0000001 or 2+1.9=4. There is no debate. But in religion (any religion) we find people fighting over what they think is the ‘right way’ to behave, the ‘right way’ to believe, the ‘right way’ to hateful of those who are different (skin colour, sexual gender, sexual preference…) This is not ‘unhidden’, this is but humans thrashing about trying to figure things out, when things are ‘hidden’.
There is no ‘truth’ to morality. In many cultures we have found versions of the obvious (“be good..”) but because we had to figure things out, it’s all been phrased differently, and found in different times, and languages. Yes, it differs through the cultures, as it would.
Even some species of animals exhibit a moral code, did god write them religious texts also? Why not? When god set about to kill the and plants animals along with the humans during the “great flood” (not saying there was one, just talking about the myth of it), he must have been upset with their sinning too. Why else would he not save the innocents? Because there were not to be found, or, god was just too lazy to kill only those that offended him and just went whole scale. (What sort of all knowing being could be offended anyways?)
It doesn’t seem to hold water that we have an objective moral code buried in our being (inclusively or exclusively of other animal species), nor has it been written down in clear and concise text somewhere that was not entirely made by the species man.
If we had objective moral code within us, there would never have been slavery of any sort. There never would have been rape of any sort. There never would have been any immoral behaviour of businesses over other businesses, or land, or peoples. It would never occur to us to be immoral. We would be just moral. It is clear that within the context of the bible, that God himself is morally corrupt (being vengeful, or wrathful are not morally sound modes of being – but emotionally driven diversions from morality.) If God can’t get it right, how is he to write objectively? If it is objective, why is it human centric? (It’s ok to kill animals, but not humans, it is ok to eat animals, but not humans…)
The only morality that makes sense, is the evolutionary model that we created. We developed it through the ages, in our own time, and pace, with our own flavours. Some very basic models like “do good to others” are simple to deduce (they benefit society on the whole). Naturally, not all cultures would deduce the same tenents exactly, nor write them exactly the same as other cultures. This is observable. We can even see the evolution of morality in our own culture. Just a few hundred years ago, being homosexual was against the law in North America, but now we see the tides turning to a more accepting culture, even some churches are becoming human rights aware and accepting of gays. Woman having the right to vote, or to even own property is recent (in hundreds of years). There is nothing in the bible to say woman should speak up or be mans equal, but here we are, stiving for that goal. How could that be? The bible only supports a woman being less than a man, and yet… Woman can vote, they can be schooled, they can even be president or prime minister. They are even supposed to make equal pay for equal work. How can that be, when God didn’t recognize it?
Because, we make up morality ourselves. This is not a bad thing, but a good thing. It means it is adaptive to new ideas. We figure out gender may not be a valid rational to promote unequality, and we start working to over turn that immorality of gender unequality… A society that builds a better society will prosper and grow, one that stagnats or rejects advancements will squander advancments, and will ebb away into history.
The wonderful thing is Antony that God has given us a written code as well. He knew that our selfishness would try to twist the moral code that He embedded in us so He also inspired the writings of the Bible to guide our moral decisions. It is not hidden.
You said “We know that those who suppress those feelings of guilt can become unbelievably dangerous and disturbed mentally”
This can be putting the cart before the cart. The mentally ill (or shall we say different), may not experience guilt for their actions. Just as some people will naturally feel without guilt, others will feel overly guilty where society would imply none. (They feel guilty through their own devices, like how an abused person, may feel guilty for causing their abuser to abuse them… It doesn’t make sense to another person, but to the abused, their distortion of guilt is very sensable.)
Guilt need not lead to derangment, and derangment may lead to actions which society would imply guilt, but the deranged see no imputous for guilt.
“The Bible answers that by pointing out that the moral code is a reflection of the character of God and as we are created in His image, we have that moral code embedded deep within us. It helps us realize that there is a God and what He is like. Because we break that moral code we realize that we need help to properly reflect our Maker. It drives us toward God and humbles us to look to Him for help.”
Jamie, this is meaningless! If we had a moral code embedded in us, then surely there would not have been slavery (and there still is!), there would not have been murder (and yet there still is), there would not have been gender inequality (and yet there still is), there would not have been genocide (and yet there still is), there would not have been wars (and yet there still is)… We can see easily that humanity is slowly rising from that barbarianism of non-ethical thinking.
If ethics were so important to any god, then it would behove that god to not hide the moral code deep within us, but bring it to the fore and allow us to ‘get it right’ without the slow evolution of morality we do see. It’s a failure on any supposed god (Vishnu, Allah, Jehovah or whomever) to ‘hide’ morality away and to let it be discovered.
When we teach our children, we don’t hide the math books, the dictionairy, the history books, and let them figure everything out for themselves. We give them the benefit of our and our fathers experience. We teach them directly our wisdom and knowledge. We don’t hide from our kids, what they need, while the kids kill each other in cruel competitions that they later will sense was wrong…
“That’s what brought me to look to Jesus: I knew that I was not capable of living a moral life….”
Again, I think you got the cart before the horse. Maybe you realized you were on a downward spiral, and you knew, deep in your own mind, that things had to change. You looked for a way to correct your own life, and found that many people attributed their own corrections to their adoption of some sort of religion. (All religions even far out cults have legions of converts whom have been saved by whatever religion they chose – it is not the god or gods, but the community, the rules, the authority or whatever that helps, if it were a single correct god (say Allah for example), then only the people finding the religion (focusing on Allah in this example) would be helped. But we see no such distinction. Animal spirits (native american beliefs) are as beneficial as any god, or lack of god).) People have even found dropping god, to be enlightening. Once we loose the hubris of ‘being in need of saving’ we can start focusing on the real ‘us’, what makes us great from the get go. Why we belong in the universe, instead of the universe belonging to us etc.
“I have found that Jesus changes that in me. He leads my choices so that I do what is right.” I think you are belittling yourself quite a bit here. You yourself saw the need to self correct. You found a crutch in Jesus and leaned on it, but it was you, yourself, and only you that leads you to do what is right!” It was not you found the truth, but found a way to support yourself better. You knew you had to be a better person, and you, yourself, made it happen. It could have been with the bible, the Gita, the Koran, or the Encyclopedia Brittania. It was yourself that stood up, and became stronger, and rose above the downward spiral that you were on before.
As for the babies being moral. I hadn’t seen those studies on CNN before, but other sources (some using other species!) Some interesting things, like lying, honour and protesting, are attributes that other species share with us. It’s great to see that we share so much with our cousins in the wild. It’s a beautiful thing to see that we are not so special, we are just ‘here’. Just as they are. We are all in this together, for the short time we have to witness it… (and then it is gone forever – so enjoy it now…) ;-)
Sorry to leave your response hanging for so long Antony. I missed the notification.
I agree that there is turmoil created within the human spirit because we have this innate sense of what is right and wrong and yet we find ourselves choosing wrong. We know that those who suppress those feelings of guilt can become unbelievably dangerous and disturbed mentally. A lot of depression and despair can be traced back to people’s guilt and shame over wrong choices they have made.
You ask what the value of a moral code is when it can and is broken. The Bible answers that by pointing out that the moral code is a reflection of the character of God and as we are created in His image, we have that moral code embedded deep within us. It helps us realize that there is a God and what He is like. Because we break that moral code we realize that we need help to properly reflect our Maker. It drives us toward God and humbles us to look to Him for help.
That’s what brought me to look to Jesus: I knew that I was not capable of living a moral life. Given the right circumstances I would choose what was evil over what was good. I have found that Jesus changes that in me. He leads my choices so that I do what is right. When I choose to do my own thing He is there to convict me of my mistakes and leads me down a path to make those things right. I am not perfect, but the more I depend on His leading and follow in obedience to what He says, I make more and more right choices.
I just saw an interview on CNN that was reporting on a study done by Yale Infant Cognition Center which was looking at the moral awareness of infants http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/12/us/baby-lab-morals-ac360/index.html I haven’t been able to find any publication of their study yet so this may be premature but it is interesting to see how babies at a young age seem to be drawn to characters that are good rather than characters that are bad. Have you seen this study? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
Dear Father God.
Lord I lift anyone who is going through this situation in there life, that You will protect the child from people who are like this, as the child is iniscent and only follows who ever is leading them. In Jesus Mightyname amen
You say that because people break an objective code, that objective code still exists? Then what value IS that code?
Michael’s position was that the objective code is fact, much like 2+2 = 4 is a fact and as such is not open to debate over the validity. Michael brought forward the notion that torturing toddlers for sport is an example of what is universaly held as an objective truth that it is bad to torture toddlers for sport. Now, most humans would agree that it is bad form to torture children, for sport, profit, or any other excuse, but is that an objective truth or not? Since to be objective, it must hold true without it being tied to the human species. (Similar to how math still works for dolphins. They don’t add 2+2 and get 5).
Now, my point was that no one disputes math. A math equation is true, or it is not. There is no debate, and we can see that other primates and mammals use math to similar result to our experience. Math is, objectively true. No one (honestly) adds 2 + 2 and gets 5, or 4, or 4.1, or -4. It just doesn’t happen.
But now, let’s look at morality. Here we see a very wide swath of morality claims, even within the same culture let alone species!
Michaels example is “torturing toddlers for sport.” But this rapidly breaks down as an objective moral code when one looks at it closely.
To be objective, a truth must exist, without subjectiviity, without special cases. It just IS true, with or without human applying subjectivness to it. The phrase “Torturing Toddlers for sport” must remain true without human qualities. It must remain true regardless of the species being tortured, or the species doing the torture. It must remain true regardless of subjectiveness of ‘sport’ or ‘toddler’ or ‘ torture’.
If we look at the meat industry, we see countless examples of toture of young being done, and being condoned by governments the globe over. Obviously, the people doing, and supporting the killing and torture of young calves, chickens, pigs, are not feeling guilty on a large part, as even the government supports the rampant death rate of young animals.
We can clearly see that the ‘objective’ part is by in large ‘subjective’. While we may agree that torturing “human” toddlers for sport is wrong, we subjectively condone torturing non-human toddlers for sport, and are particulaly happy about it when we get to eat the by product of that torture and death (sure, we may not eat the baby male chicks routinely suffocated or dropped into a grinder while still alive – but we do enjoy those chicken eggs from the females that get to live- so it must be ok.)
Even torturing human children is is fine and dandy by some of the population as children are doing boxing as a sport! The parents of these kids are allowing and encouraging other children to fight with their own children. Knowing full well, that damage to both children can result. This is allowing children to torture each other for sport.
I think it is vasty sickening, but as an atheist, I don’t have to use the bible as a guide to figure this out. As the bible is mute on the sport of having children attack each other with their fists, I am not sure on how theists feel on the subject. I know evolution has provided us with a basic ‘moral code’ to protect our young, but as always in nature, there are those who fall on either side of the bell curve. There will be parents overprotective, and those who are under protective. Given that we are naturally protective of our children (as a many species are – even fishes (our far distant cousins) can be very protective of their offspring – and naturally there are species who have evolved to be NOT protective of their young – but this wide variance just shows, that morality is not objective.)
Now, if there happened to be a moral position which was universally true, regardless of species, without subjectiveness, without qualifications, then perhaps, we could say that ‘that’ moral position was objectively true, but, at best, all we can see is that some moral positions are more agreed upon than others… While slavery is quite frowned upon today in many culture, it has only been in the last few hundred years that many cultures have adopted that stance, and that stance is slow to be adopted, or totally ignored in several cultures. It obviously is not an objective truth like 2+2 = 4, that ownership of others is morally bad.
All in all, morality (because it IS debated) can not be held as a product of an objective moral code, but as a human creation. Morality is not a stable fact that once discovered is univerally accepted as fact. We see that even ‘torturing toddlers for sport’ is not an objective truth, but merely an opinion with a large agreement (with many disagreeing when the species and profit are simply out of balance.)
Hi Antony, I don’t know that is helpful to argue that since people break the objective moral code that no such code exists. That’s why people feel guilty for doing wrong things. There certainly are exceptions to that but generally there are extenuating circumstances that lead to a lack of guilt. But the exception does not cancel the rule.
Not only is there a universal awareness of an objective moral code, but there is also a universal awareness of human’s inability to measure up to that code. That is part of the explanation of religions being a consistent component of every culture: everyone realizes that there is something broken within humans. Left to our own devices we often choose the wrong path and need something that will keep that tendency in check. I think anyone who is honest with themselves recognizes that they have made the wrong choices at times in life. Even though they knew what would be right, they chose the wrong.
But every religion’s answer to that is to set up rules, rituals, paths of knowledge, that will allow a person to atone for their mistakes and once again conform to the objective moral code. Jesus is the only one who said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” He tells us that the brokenness of humanity is something that only God can repair. No amount of good deeds will make up for the mistakes that have been made; no amount of ritual or sacrifice can cover up the selfish destructive choices we have made; no amount of spiritual enlightenment will cleanse us of our brokenness. Our only hope is to accept Jesus sacrifice on our behalf. Because He is God, His sacrifice is of infinite value and atones for the sin of all. If we trust in that rather than in our own efforts we will be made new and He will guide our future choices. No other religion or worldview deals with the brokenness of humanity like that.
He will do that for you too Antony. You no longer have to live with the guilt of what you have done. You can be free from that! Let me tell you, there is no freedom like it!
Ok, no response on valid math where 2 + 2 != 4 ( the answer is that in base 3 the correct equation would be 2 + 2 = 11. Interesting huh.. 2+2=5 is never right, but 2 + 2 = 11 can be right in one instance…)
On to the premise of “Torturing Toddlers for Sport” being objectively wrong.
Such a claim is NOT in the bible, so where do we ‘get’ this from? From evolution? An understanding of protecting our young (and the young of others in our clan) has evolved in our social construct over millions of years, but is it objectively correct? We see in nature (not our species but other social species) where killing offspring is ‘natural’ (example: when food is scarce, the offspring may be killed to allow the adults to survive and generate new offspring when (and if) times are better) so obviously it is not simply and objectively wrong to kill toddlers. The question is torture, and killing toddlers who would rob parents of nutrition in lean times is not torture. So we need to go further.
Is torture of any living being for sport a good thing?
We see spiders and other species injecting paralyzing venom into prey to facilitate using the live victim as food at a later time, this is torture to the prey, but it’s not for sport but for food. (Surely if a god designed torture, he did it well by having the victim being eaten alive. What a nasty work of design!)
I can’t think of any species, that just kills or tortures for pleasure, other than mankind. We kill baby seals, clubbing them to death and even skinning them alive just for their fur. Surely this is torture for sport. It just happens to be not human babies. So we do see we can be horrible and dish out death in horrible ways, just for pleasure (of a fur coat, a meal of veal, a pair of leather shoes or belt etc).
But again, it’s not human toddlers. We see that man is not objectively good to other species, nor to it’s own species (our jails are filled with people who are not good.) Yes, we have ‘free will’ to do bad things, but if it were “objectively true” to be good, then we would, by default, all be good. We don’t see people using personal versions of math where 2 + 2 = 5, or 2 + 2 = 6, or 2 + 2 = 2… when they balance their books, write cheques or calculate their tips. They use the one objectively true math. Sure they may leave a 1% tip instead of 15%, but they are leaving 1% on purpose, it is not because they are using a different set of math. We, regardless of culture, use the (base 10) 2 + 2 = 4, without debate, without question, and without malice. It ‘is’ naturally followed by everyone who has basic math skills. No matter if self taught, or instructed by a teacher. 2+2=4 is always used, without distortion.
But we look at the prisons, and we see that the ‘moral truth’ is not followed by the same degree. It is likely possible that 100 % of the inmates would verify that 2 + 2 = 4, so it obviously is not by mental defect that has them causing so many crimes against other humans and non-humans. Perhaps they are there, because there is NO set of objective moral truths?
Perhaps ‘objective moral code’ is just overwhelming consensus? In some cultures the ‘objective’ moral standard is to abuse, and in other cultures the ‘objective’ moral standard is to NOT abuse. It’s not because there is two objective moral standards, but the overwhelming consensus is just different between the cultures.
If there were an ‘objective moral code’ not to torture toddlers for sport, then surely Psalm 137:9 would have been impossible to write “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” It simply would never have been imagined! It is as good of an endorsement of torturing toddlers for sport as you can get from the bible. (Another being the female bears tearing apart 42 children, but that is God himself commanding the bears, not humans doing the tearing of children. 2 Kings 2:24)
It’s not an objective truth to not torture toddlers, like it is that 2 + 2 = 4. Math existed before we figured it out, but human morals require humans to make them up. This is why it’s subjective, and not objective. This is why our prisons are filled with people who for whatever reasons, ignore the moral code of the culture, and do their own thing.
Regarding the two true math equations of 2 + 2 = 11, and 2 + 2 = 4: the point is that 2 + 2 = 4 is not the only truth.
Can you figure out the validation to allow 2 + 2 = 11 to be true?
A few observations:
On objective morality:
Since a objective moral law can be objected to by all humans and still be correct, perhaps a good test would be to find an objective moral law that every human objects to instead of an issue that seems extremely repulsive and try to impress that it is an objective moral law. Perhaps it is moral to always lie? What morality could all humans object to but still be morally correct?
2 + 2 = 11 is valid and true and it is just as valid as 2 + 2 = 4.
2 + 2 = 5 is never valid unless one allows introduction of outside forces (the addition of 1 outside of the control of the equation. Example: I add two rocks to an empty jar, then I add two more rocks to a the same jar. After I have added my two sets of rocks, there are indeed five rocks in the jar. This is due to another person adding a single rock between my additions. It is a legal move, but outside of the equation.)
One the fallibility of our senses and our impressions of reality:
Empirical evidence is not evidence of reality. Humans (I am not aware of other species falling victim to this or not) can have hallucinations of many of the senses. We can feel phantom limbs, we can hear voices, see movement, read words, and see faces where none exist. We can build false memories of stories we hear. Our brains are NOT trustworthy archival machines. This is one reason why it is important for science to re-evaluate itself. For example, early research validated homeopathic procedures, but later re-evaluation of the process proved them to be false and without merit. First impressions of empirical data is not always accurate. We must look behind the data and look further. In the end, we only have an impression of reality, it isn’t raw reality that we think we witness.
We know from studies of infants that even prior to language skills, babies have the basics of morality down pat. Help is good and goodness gets rewards etc. This is obviously a morality with which we are born with, but why do we have it? Is it evolved or just an objective morality that all beings have upon birth. As ants are social animals, and help others, perhaps they too have the same morality? When an ant’s scent is denatured and the ant is reintroduce to the hive, it is readily attacked and killed. This implies their ‘help’ is merely evolved to assist like, and attack others. It certainly is not an objective morality to kill your own hive mates if they happen to smell different.
Is anti-slavery morality an objective morality (static and unchanging) or a subjective morality (changing)?
Is anti-slavery morality, always true, or is it something we have learned? Is that part of our DNA (like with the babies shown to reward good, and punish evil)? I don’t think so. As an objective moral truth, it would likely be “It is immoral to claim ownership on another living being.” Slavery is not as a big business as it was many years ago, but desperate people still sell their offspring into the slave market (be it a sex slave market, or domestic help slave market) and there are buyers. To be fair, th last few hundred years has seen a remarkable and good decline in the practice of slavery. Much headway has been made in a short time but animals are still not only kept as slaves, but slaughtered for the pleasure of consuming their flesh. So our current morality against slavery (be it full, partial or none) is perhaps merely cultural (perhaps in tandem with greater empathy) which would imply that anti-slavery morality is subjective and not objective. Our anti-slavery morality is steadily getting stronger, and in perhaps another few hundred years or so, it will be considered immoral to slaughter animal slaves for their flesh.
Thanks for your long rebuttal Michael.
No, we did not have a chance to converse after the debate. I did see you whilst your were entrenched in conversation, but I did not join your group of attendees.
In your reply you state: “Deep down I think we all know some objective moral values & obligations do exist.”
This I do not agree with this. This reply will focus on this single idea.
To clarify: I hold “Objective moral values and obligations” to mean that certain moral values and obligations exist without contextual qualifiers, such as species, gender, age, mental capabilities and such. If it is moral to do X, then it is immoral to NOT do X. There can be no special cases where it is moral to be immoral according to contextual qualifiers. An example would be: If it is immoral to hit a girl, it is immoral to hit a boy, old man, handicapped person or someone stronger and more able than you. If it is immoral to hit a girl, it is also moral to not hit a girl. If it immoral to hit a girl, it is also immoral to hit a girl if you don’t like her, if she hate you, or if she is ugly or threatening.
I believe that all morality is purely a product of evolution and culture. If humans did not exist, then human morality would not exist. If chimpanzees did not exist, then chimp morality would not exist. If rats did not exist, rat morality would not exist. Each morality is grown through evolution, and culture of the species. The morality system in say, meerkats, is different from ours, and ours is different than say multi winged beasties on some far flung planet where torturing infants for sport is still a profitable business. There is no objective morality that is applicable to all life on all planets.
I am sure you would agree that if there was objective morality which is always true and valid without human involvement, then that morality is without concern of species, gender, mental capacity or other subjective qualities. If we can claim that it is objectively immoral to beat a child for sport, then it should also be true to beat ANY creature for sport. This being a moral law should be evident throughout all known history of our earth, but it is easy to see that this simple morality is more recent than the human history is long, and indeed humans killing and beating animals for sport is still rampant in many cultures. Indeed, I would suspect that pugnacious sports involving children are not so rare in some cultures, particularly in our short few million years of being on this earth.
We can see evidence that instead of objective moral laws, we have subjective moral values which have come into being through evolutionary advantage (don’t kill your support group) to cultural advantage (don’t kill your neighbour), to even advanced morality (don’t kill other species.)
I don’t see how you can prove that a single morality clause applies in all cultures, in all times in our history, without subjective qualifiers. Even the big moral law that most cultures have adopted is filled with subjective qualifiers. The moral law that it is wrong to kill, is not objectively always wrong. Some cultures allow mercy killings, others not. Some cultures allow honour killing, other not. Some cultures allow suicide and assisted suicide, Some cultures allow killing for sport (mostly in the past, but still, a person killed during sport is not generally deemed immoral if it is an accident). Plus billions of animals are killed each year for sport or for pleasure each and every year. If killing was an objective immorality, then it would apply to all species (because the morality is outside of the human experience), gender, sexual orientation, mental capabilities and such. Even your “torture toddlers” morality is qualified with subjective parts. It is fine to torture adults, but not children? It is fine to torture children for profit instead of sport? It is fine to torture children if we can save another human? It is fine to torture children if we can save time? You see the problem?
There is no objective morality, it is always subjective to the culture and to the circumstances (sometimes it is overwhelmingly repulsive, that it seems objective, but truly, it is still just massively subjective). Not that there is anything wrong with subjective morality. We have been working on our morality for millions of years now, and we are getting better. We still have a long ways to go. You just have to look at the immorality in ours and other cultures to see we have a long way to go to us having a morally correct culture (if it indeed ever could happen).
Equality between gender, ages, colour and other current inequalities are a long way off. If we recognize that morality is viral in nature (that is good and bad morality can be taught through contact) than we can open up discourse and keep morality moving forward and upward.
As you can see, I do not believe that objective morality exists, therefore there is no evidence from morality that god exists. If you said that subjective morality is proof of God (somehow), then I would have NO issue with that, but still would not believe in the Christian God, as the bible does not allow him to exist, but that is another discussion though.
Hey Antony – thanks for your comments. By any chance did we happen to talk with each other at the reception following the debate?
Let me respond to your comment point by point:
1. you wrote: “I didn’t see where objective moral values and obligations are actually proven to exist.”
In the debate all I had time to say on premise 2 was, “Deep down I think we all know some objective moral values & obligations do exist. The judgments we make when ourselves and others are unjustly treated, reveal what we really believe about morality, regardless of what we say we believe. We think that genocide in Rawanda , or the Nazi Holocaust, or raping little girls, or torturing toddlers for fun are moral abominations that people should not do, not just some things that we personally don’t like; not just a flouting of social conventions.”
This article above and 4 earlier ones were written as a direct response to your question because it is a common question I get from people. The links are
I really think that you should wrestle with the points I make in these posts if you sincerely want an answer to your question.
Just because someone cannot prove or show to another the truth of a proposition, it does not follow that they cannot know the truth of that proposition.
In this article above I explicitly make the point “I am not trying to ‘show’ or persuade people through evidence and argument. Rather I am employing a strategy to help people experience a direct awareness of the truth so that they will ‘know’ that torturing toddlers for sport is morally wrong and that everyone should agree.”
Wouldn’t you agree that you think torturing toddlers for sport is objectively wrong and that everyone should agree? If so then you agree with premise 2. If not, then reread the ‘psychopath’ story above. Are you really ready to admit that you are on the same moral level as a psychopath? I doubt if you do, and I doubt that you are a psychopath. I think you know torturing toddlers for sport is morally wrong. Now if you insist on denying that, then there is not much I can do. This version of the moral argument won’t work for you. But I have found that most people when they are confronted with examples like this, recognize that they do believe in objective moral values and obligations after all, even if they previously thought they were relativists or subjectivists.
2. you wrote: “the designations of toddler and sport bring up the warning bells. This implies that it IS morally correct to torture if not a toddler or not for sport. This would make the morality of torture fully subjective.”
Actually, to say that torturing toddlers for sport is a violation of an objective moral value and obligation in no way implies anything of the sort! I am merely giving one example of an objective moral value and obligation. It says nor implies nothing about whether torturing other people is right or wrong. Your argument is a non-sequitur.
3. you seem to think that for something to be an objective moral value and obligation that it must be held by all people and cultures through all time.
But as I said in the debate “By “objective” we mean true, valid and binding whether anyone believes in them or not; that is, true independent of peoples’ opinions, just like 2 + 2 = 4 is objectively true even if everyone in the world disagreed.” The fact that some people might disagree that torturing toddlers for sport is objectively wrong, does nothing to change the fact that it is objectively wrong. Like I wrote above, ““What if a bunch of guys walked into our lecture hall and said, ‘You people might think torturing toddlers for sport is morally wrong but me and my buddies think it is great fun!’ How should we respond to that? Should we throw our hands up and conclude, ‘Oh, no, I guess morality is relative to subjective opinions after all?’
No, of course not. We should think that there is something wrong with those guys! They are not functioning properly. In fact what do we call people who do not think torturing toddlers for sport is morally wrong?” After a moment of silence the answer came back from a few students – “Psychopaths!” “Right”, I said. “Anyone who claims torturing children for sport is not objectively wrong is not functioning properly morally. We rightly call someone like that a psychopath.”
As anybody who has taken a freshman ethics class knows, cultural relativism as a descriptive thesis (cultures do disagree about some moral principles), says nothing about the prescriptive thesis that culture ought or ought not disagree about moral principles.
Your assertion that “the objective value in question… is made up of subjective parts” makes little sense.
4. What about your claim that the Biblical God violates this objective moral value?
This is irrelevant to the truth of the moral argument for God that you correctly outlined at the beginning of your comment. It does nothing to refute either premise 1 or 2. Of course once one draws the conclusion that God exists then the question will arise what God is the best possible match with the God of this argument’s conclusion.
Much has been written on the subject of God’s moral behavior in the last few years, so since it is irrelevant to the soundness of the moral argument, and this response to your comment is already very long, I will give you some excellent links to material on that subject by philosopher Paul Copan.
5. Finally, your conclusion “Therefore God does not exist” is fallacious reasoning. At very best if your arguments were successful, which they weren’t, you would have only shown that this particular argument for God was not sound. You would not have shown that the other arguments for God that I gave at the debate were not sound. You would not have shown that all the other arguments for God (Plantinga’s famous paper on Two dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments) are not sound. And even if you had done that, it would not follow that God does not exist. That would be to commit the logical fallacy ‘Argument from Ignorance’. My former professor, the atheist Kai Nielsen, put it well,
“To show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false. … All the proofs of God’s existence may fail, but it still may be the case that God exists. In short, to show that the proofs do not work is not enough by itself. It may still be the case that God exists.” (Kai Nielsen, Reason and Practice (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 143-4.)
I find it particularly interesting that Leah Libresco, the very popular atheist blogger, mentioned her strong belief in objective morality as being very important in her recent conversion to Christian theism. See her CNN interview here – http://www.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_t2#/video/bestoftv/2012/06/24/intv-atheist-catholic.cnn
I hope you can give this moral argument another look Antony, especially premise 2. I’d be glad to try and respond to any other questions or comments you have. Actually I have to respond to another one of your comments on one of my other posts right now.
I was at the Imagine No Religion Conference, and I felt you missed a points to nail down your position. One point was proof that Objective Moral Values actually exist.
Essentially you say that:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values & obligations do not exist
2. Objective moral values & obligations exist
3. Therefore, God exists
But I didn’t see where objective moral values and obligations are actually proven to exist.
One supposed objective moral value you mentioned in your debate on May 19, 2012 was: “It is morally wrong to torture a toddler for sport.” (May not be an exact quote, so correct me if I got a word or two wrong.)
This is an interesting “objective moral value”. While it is difficult to think of an evaluation where it would be morally correct to torture a toddler for sport, the designations of toddler and sport bring up the warning bells. This implies that it IS morally correct to torture if not a toddler or not for sport. This would make the morality of torture fully subjective, so lets look at some forms of torture (causing extreme pain or hardship).
Throughout human history (and indeed it still goes on in some cultures) torture for sport has enjoyed by many people. Culturally we put two grown men in an area and watch them beat each other until one is no longer able to stand or remain aware. Another torture for sport could include public executions (still carried out in some countries.) This brings up questions if capital punishment itself is moral (it seems God supports it). Indeed, even in the bible, we find one story of God torturing children. The great biblical flood (a grand mass execution if ever there was one). Was God merciful? No, he made the waters slowly engulf all the children (and everyone else too). That is a torturous way to kill. Perhaps God did it for sport?
We see that torture for sport is not universally held as immoral, nor is children used in sport immoral (indeed there are children who box though they may not go for the knock out…) As we look at the constructs of the objective moral value in question, we see it is merely made up of subjective parts.
Thus we see that “It is morally wrong to torture a toddler for sport” is not an “objective moral value” but a combination of subjective moral values. Which by and large put all together, almost everyone would agree to (except obviously God) that “torturing toddlers for sport” is immoral, but it remains subjective at the core.
Therefore, God does not exist.
That is a great article you wrote Wes and an intriguing comment conversation as well. Thanks for sharing the link
Great post, Michael! Here’s a link to my own in case you’re interested: http://www.wakeupworld.ca/1/post/2012/03/why-murder-isnt-wrong-and-other-moral-conundrums.html