Michael Horner's Blog

    “What’s So Bad About Nihilism?”

    Written by Michael Horner

    "What's So Bad About Nihilism?"

    Photo by acb

    Some people said a defining moment of the debate (see the previous two posts – Man Up and Does a God or Gods Exist?) happened during our cross examination of Christopher DiCarlo on the moral argument. We asked him, “How does your atheistic view avoid moral nihilism?” (that life is without objective meaning, purpose, intrinsic value, or especially objective moral values & obligations).

    After we pushed him on the inability of atheism to provide a foundation for objective moral values and obligations he not only agreed, he then exclaimed, “What’s so bad about nihilism?”

    A hushed silence came over the audience and DiCarlo’s debate partner Matt Dillahunty felt the need to lean over into the microphone and state that DiCarlo’s views did not represent his own views. Now what was going on here?

    DiCarlo was acknowledging the incapacity of naturalistic processes to supply a basis for objective moral truth and especially moral obligation. But then he didn’t think that the implications of that were a big deal. DiCarlo didn’t think it was a problem that there was no real good or evil, or right or wrong.

    Dillahunty, and many other atheists, recognize that the absence of objective good or evil, or right or wrong, presents a serious crisis. But unlike DiCarlo, they do not recognize the fact that naturalism (the view that nature is all that there is) cannot supply the needed foundation for these essential notions for human behavior and flourishing.

    Essentially, Dillahunty denies the first premise of the moral argument for God (1. If God does not exist, objective moral values & obligations do not exist) and DiCarlo denies the second premise (2. Objective moral values & obligations do exist).

    Later in the debate DiCarlo began making a case that human beings can figure out how they should live based on a principle of harm. Since we don’t like to be harmed, he argued, and human beings are essentially alike, we should not do things that harm other human beings. So he was contradicting his previous position that there are no moral obligations.

    Moreover, this is exactly how other atheists argue for the truth of premise #2, that objective moral values and obligations do exist! And there is no way to get should and ought into the conversation. There is no way to get ought from is in the natural world. One cannot get from a mere fact to a value, with one exception I believe.

    In our presentation of the moral argument we argued that God, if he exists, is by definition the greatest conceivable being, because if there was a greater conceivable being, then that would be God. This is what philosophers mean by the term God. Furthermore, it is greater to be the paradigm of goodness than to merely conform to the good or exemplify goodness. So God’s nature must be the paradigm of goodness. It defines the good.

    W.L. Craig offers an analogy, “Think of some audio recordings being ‘high fidelity.’ Whether or not a symphony recording is high fidelity is determined by its approximation to the sound of a live orchestra. The sound of the live orchestra does not exhibit fidelity to anything else; it just is the standard that determines whether some recording is high fidelity or not. Similarly with God’s nature.”[i]

    There is nothing higher than God. Any finite stopping point that an atheist could offer, like the objective value of human beings or sentient creatures, seems arbitrary and implausible compared to God. God, as the greatest conceivable being is more plausible than any naturalist stopping point. God is the only plausible ultimate stopping point.

    Our moral obligations are determined by his commands which are expressions of his essentially good nature, the paradigm of goodness. Only in this way can an ought (a value) be derived from an is (a fact). Things are right or wrong insofar as they are commanded or forbidden by God, the paradigm of goodness.

    DiCarlo misunderstood our use of the idea that God is the greatest conceivable being as a statement of the ontological argument for God. But we made no reference to the Ontological argument at all.  We simply referred to the widely agreed-upon definition of God by philosophers. This happens to be the definition of God the Ontological argument uses but our use of it had nothing to do with that argument. To critique the Ontological argument misses our point by a mile (or two).

    So, if God exists, he is the greatest conceivable being and he is the only plausible explanatory stopping point that can provide a foundation for the objective moral values and obligations that we all, atheist and theist alike, know to exist. This is the only way to avoid nihilism.

    If nihilism were true, have you ever thought of what life or the world would be like?


    [i] W.L. Craig, The Euthyphro Dilemma Once More.

    21 Responses to ““What’s So Bad About Nihilism?””

    • Jamie Jamie says:

      Hi Troublemecca, if God is a human construct, like money is, then I would agree with your statement. But if God is the One who created everything that is, if He is the greatest possible good, if He is unlimited, then His value is not arbitrary but infinite.

      How would you answer Michael’s question of the origin of objective moral values and obligations? If God is a human construct where do objective moral values and obligations come from?

    • troublemecca says:

      God is like money (eg. cash). He has no intrinsic value. His value is in the effect of his popular belief. Much like money, who this is of value to, and its uses, vary. Much like money, we are evolving from its use.

    • Rigal Terra says:

      Moral values are subjective whether or not any deity exist. All it takes is a differing opinion to show the subjectivity.

      If the greatest being created lesser beings that disagree with it, then there are differing opinions. Now these opinions may be irrational, but that does not take them out of existence, and as long as they exist, the subject, morality, is in disagreement.

    • Debbie says:

      How in the world do you think all of this, the world, the people came to be? There is a wrong and right,there is a God…I guess I am asking the wrong person since all of us that have faith and beliefs do not exist….

    • Andrew says:

      @Anthony Burt, Your indicating to be the expert on morality as according to you morality changes like a current depending on what the society decides what morality.

      First I would challenge your belief that the Bible is not the standard by which mortality should be measured. One of the myths which people as yourself who have not read the full bible is that it is a fairy tale however if you would have like me challenged to determine if the Bible is true. When I began to research the Bible one of he things I discovered is that what was promised as Isaiah prophised with the birth of Christ and even the town did occur. I did also discover that the birth of Israel would occur which did occur after ww2 and that Israel is still survived as a nation should be a testament itself that God is protecting and keeping his promise to King David that he would protect his people the Jewish nation. As it was an atheist as yourself which made it’s mission to destroy the Jewish nation which he failed in doing. You may very well come back at me and suggest that I prove to you that the Bible is authentic and from God and that it is Gods word! God is dictating what morality is however I don’t have to prove it as I have proven to myself that the Bible is true.

      We all are evil and have sin in our lives as in Romans 5:12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the World. Adams sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Unlike your philosophy that moral changes when in God’s eyes it does not change as we all have fallen short and by believing in Christ our sins are forgiven.

      In Mark 16: 16 Anyone who believes and is baptized and will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.

    • Antony Burt says:

      Michael: “With all due respect you don’t know what you are talking about when it comes to morality!”

      — Very nice way of leading off with an ad hominem attack, but you are correct that I am not schooled in morality and I don’t know all the phrases and terms, but I have been ethically aware even as a teenager (back in the seventies).

      You state: “… the second premise of the moral argument that “Objective moral values & obligations exist”, says nothing about God. Because you think it does, your prejudice against the existence of God does not allow you to honestly and fairly deal with whether that statement is true or not.”

      — This is incorrect, my disbelieve in God myths does not have any bearing at this time. My issue is that “Objective Moral Values and Obligations exist.” has not been proven to be a fact. While they may “seem” to exist at first look, it has not been proven.

      You state: “Many, and I would say most scholars would agree with premise 2.”

      — And yet debate ensues. I am don’t know how many scholars or more importantly philosophers would disagree with the statement, but I suppose all if not most theologians would agree with premise 2. Perhaps your sampling of scholars is mostly theologian scholars and not secular scholars? The point is, there IS still debate, and the premise 2 is not a fact, but just a premise, and I don’t need to disbelieve in myths to hold that premise 2 is not valid as a true statement.

      You state: “You say that your utilization of the word objective means personal obligation to be good and yet rules out a priori any source outside of human existence. Where do you get obligation from? What makes it obligatory for the individual to obey the moral rule? Just asserting it doesn’t make it so.”
      – It is true that I believe our morality is entirely culturally driven. There is no “defined good or bad” that exists (for us) outside of our cultures. How does our culture assist us in gaining morality? We are a social animal, and as such on the average we enjoy being in a society more then we do outside of that society. We thrive better when in contact with fellow human beings then we do in isolation. When in contact with other beings we grow mentally much better then if we are separated. The larger the influx of input the better our brains. If we starve ourselves intellectually, we stunt our growth, and likewise if we starve ourselves morally, we stunt our morality. We need to infuse ourselves with as much cultural differences as we can. That is where our growth comes from.
      If we ‘accepted’ that we knew all that there was to know, we would stunt our future growth. Only by accepting that we do NOT know everything, and there are always new horizons to pursue do we maintain any hope of advancement of any type.
      Where do we get moral obligation from? Our culture. I explained that earlier. What makes it obligatory for the individual to obey the moral rule? Our culture pressures us to conform. Let me explain again:
      If you wish to remain part of society you conform to the social norms you wish to remain thereof. If you dislike the social norms (the moral code, the laws of the land, etc) you have several choices, you can disregard those constraints and take the backlash (arrested, outcast, or otherwise penalized), you can go about changing the social norms through social dialog, or you can remove yourself from the society (example: move to a society that already accepts your ideals as the norm. The cliche “go back to where you came from” is grounded in this notion). This is pretty clear I think.
      You wrote: “This is a non-sequitur! All you can get from this is that it is in one’s self-interest to behave morally. But that is not the same thing as obligation.”
      I have heard of cultural obligations expressed as “Selfish Altruism” which makes it pretty clear on how it works. It is in your best interest to be generous to society. Pretty darn simple.
      You wrote: “And the fact is that it can often be in one’s self-interest to treat someone else badly if you know you can get away with it, but that shows that self-interest is not the same as moral obligation.”
      I am confused on that comment about “knowing you can get away with it”. I don’t know about you, but I no longer use ‘getting caught’ as a qualifier for being immoral (I did occasionally as a child). Indeed, having *no chance* of getting caught, and still doing the right thing, is about as good as it can get for feeling good about oneself.
      You wrote: “Here Antony, you are confusing moral ontology and moral epistemology!”
      No, I don’t think I did. I used a god as an example of an authoritarian moral code which falls outside of our current moral code, which is why we may not ‘agree’ with a supreme moral code, even though we are supposed agree with it. Possibly your belief that God is unable to do no wrong had prejudiced you against my
      An objective truth is, as you say, objectively true without our consent of it being true. We can disagree to the extent that every single person upon earth disagrees, but it will not sway the truth (Popular opinion does not make a truth.) Thus, we can not use our current agreement to specify what is an objective truth. Now, imagine if an authoritarian agency came to Earth, and said “Here is the universally accepted moral code section: 12, subsection: 1,000,501: All humanoids, must by their 13th birthday, submit to the intergalactic council their body to be rendered as a delicacy for the InterGalactic Council’s enjoyment.” We would most likely all disagree to this, but our say is without value. It would not change anything. Also, in section: 1005, subsection 25,345,042: reads “The InterGalactic Council, requires every every 3 trillion seconds a 6 year old to be offered up by the populace of earth for torture by the council for their pleasure. Failure to produce a suitable torture sacrifice will render earth a nuclear wasteland.”
      We may disagree with this moral code rules but if they are objectively placed against us, then who are we to argue? We must accept them, and their consequences.
      This points to a huge failure of claiming morality can be objectively true: We have no way of knowing the “objective moral truths” as they are indeed foreign to us, they are not of our creation, but already existed before us, and will exist after us.
      An objective moral truth MAY BE that keeping slaves is good, or that woman should be subservient to men, or that same sex relations ARE immoral, but we have no way of knowing what the objective truths are (as they are independent upon our feelings of moral justice – they MAY coincide, but need not.)
      All we can and should do, is work within our cultures, to improve our culture to be better and more just. We shall look at both sides of the issue, and discern the course of morality. We can recognize the advancement in morality that we have attained without adherence to biblical scripture (i.e. scripture on how to treat slaves, instead of scripture admonishing the owning of slaves etc). We can see we still have eons of progress to go (women are still treated unfairly in almost all cultures at least to some extent).
      We can pretend that there is an objective moral code, but in reality, there is no moral code except for what we create. The diversity of our morality throughout the cultures and through out time only shows it is OUR thinking, discussion and actions that is the cause of our morality. If there was a code that we were to be aware of, either the communicator of the objective moral code has failed largely, or the code is a mishmash of conflicting instructions (do kill, don’t kill etc).
      Evolution has gotten us to this point in morality. Evolution has given us a brain that we can think in the abstract, be empathetic, an think of the past and future. This is exactly what we need to progress our morality through the ages, and we will. We will discard the immorality of our past (and current) and replace it with better morality. It’s a slow progress of discovery, but we will do it. Keeping dusty old books as moral guides is the worst we can do for our progress. We need to discard teachings that are unjust and immoral (i.e. that people who are different are less valuable).

    • Antony
      I am going to respond to this comment piece by piece. With all due respect you don’t know what you are talking about when it comes to morality!
      You wrote: “I think there is a fundamental contrast in how we both utilize the word objective (in relation to morality). I take it you mean it to be a “ultimate moral code supplied by God” where as I apply it be a personal obligation to be good (fully subjective) and NOT as a moral code that exists outside of human existence.”

      I have been clear both in the debate and in blog posts and comments that objective means “true independent of people’s opinions.” Thus objective morality means moral truths that are true independent of people’s opinions just like 2+2=4 is true independent of people’s opinions. (Your earlier comments about 2+2=5 were so ridiculous as not worth a response.) The concept itself doesn’t include God. The moral argument reasons to a conclusion that contains God. Thus the second premise of the moral argument that “Objective moral values & obligations exist”, says nothing about God. Because you think it does, your prejudice against the existence of God does not allow you to honestly and fairly deal with whether that statement is true or not.

      Many, and I would say most scholars would agree with premise 2. The more educated one is, the more likely it is that you are not a moral relativist or subjectivist, especially among philosophers. Even many atheist philosophers like Louise Antony do not have strong doubts about our ability to know objective moral truth. In a debate with W.L. Craig on the foundations of morality she said, “Any argument for moral scepticism will be based upon premises which are less obvious than the existence of objective moral values themselves.” She recognizes the strength of our knowledge of moral values through direct awareness. Through direct awareness we are warranted in claiming to know some moral truths.

      You say that your utilization of the word objective means personal obligation to be good and yet rules out a priori any source outside of human existence. Where do you get obligation from? What makes it obligatory for the individual to obey the moral rule? Just asserting it doesn’t make it so.

      You wrote: “Because behaving in a culturally acceptable way, is beneficial to us (and not being a social outcast), we have an obligation to perform well morally.”

      This is a non-sequitur! All you can get from this is that it is in one’s self-interest to behave morally. But that is not the same thing as obligation. And the fact is that it can often be in one’s self-interest to treat someone else badly if you know you can get away with it, but that shows that self-interest is not the same as moral obligation.

      You wrote: “You mention that objective morality is true even if everyone on earth disagreed with it. Thusly, we would have no way of knowing what he hold to be morally good is what we hold to be morally good or not. God could deem that torturing toddlers for sport IS indeed a good moral thing. I think most of us on earth would disagree with God on that point, but that is not our issue, we would need to tow the line, if God said it was good. (As far as I know, the bible is absolutely mute on torturing toddlers in any context at all, so I don’t see how we could know God’s will on that issue.)”

      Here Antony, you are confusing moral ontology and moral epistemology! The truth status of a moral value is the category of ontology, that is, whether there exists an objective moral value against torturing toddlers for example. But then you bring up moral epistemology, that is, how we know whether an objective moral value against torturing toddlers exists. Most mistakes atheists make about the moral argument are a result of confusing these two categories. In a Christian theistic view God has made us in such a way that we can come to know what is good and evil, right and wrong. Now it doesn’t matter what theory of moral knowledge you might propose – it could even be some sort of evolutionary process. As long as it is not naturalistic, that is, as long as God is somehow behind the process, it is reasonable to assume that humans could have accurate moral knowledge.

      But part of the Christian theistic view also is that the existence of sin and evil in the universe does somewhat hamper our ability to always know the moral truth perfectly, and especially affects our ability to admit the truth to ourselves and then obey it. We have enough knowledge to know that objective moral truth does exist though and to be morally responsible for our actions, even if at times we might be our own worst enemy.

      Moreover, since God, if he does exist, is by definition “the greatest conceivable being,” and since it is greater to be the paradigm of goodness than to merely conform to the good or exemplify goodness, God’s nature must be the paradigm of goodness. It must define the good. God’s commands to us then are not arbitrary. They must conform to his essentially good nature.

      You wrote: “On the other hand, if Moral Nihilism (no absolute good or evil) is true, then we have to look at our social and personal construct and put together our moral code. Because behaving in a culturally acceptable way, is beneficial to us (and not being a social outcast), we have an obligation to perform well morally. If we dislike a moral issue within the culture, we merely step up to the plate and try to change the moral meme. What is beneficial to the culture will naturally rise, and we can see that at work.”

      Here you fail to come to grips with the implications of your atheism and moral nihilism. If nihilism is true there is no such thing as the ‘good.’ The term has no content. All you are left with are pragmatic suggestions for survival – a far cry from objective moral values & obligations. And as I mentioned above, there is no way to get moral obligation for this behavior that is supposed to be “beneficial to the culture.” One would have to create legal obligation since there is no moral obligation why one has to be committed to the rest of the culture or the future of the culture or species. And yet most people do know that torturing toddlers for sport is outrageously immoral not just a violation of a pragmatic suggestion for survival.

      And if all life is just accidental arrangements of atoms, why is doing what benefits the human species the good rather than what benefits mosquitoes or slime?

      You wrote:”Moral Nihilism is not that “anything goes” as you imply but that “morality is not written in stone”. There can still be morally good, and morally bad, there can still be obligation and there can (and is) change.”
      Absolutely none of this is true about moral nihilism!!! Here you are trying to get good, bad and obligation but the definition of nihilism is that those things do not exist!! This also shows how your prejudice against the existence of God doesn’t even allow you to understand the proper understanding of the term objective. You think objective means morality is written in stone. But that is not necessarily true! You confuse “objective” with a particular understanding of “absolute.” Application of objective moral principles can and sometimes should change in different morally relevant circumstances. This view is sometimes called ‘graded absolutism’ but many others including myself prefer the term objectivism (not the same as Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism). There is a much larger conversation that can be had here about objectivism that would take care of your concern that morality should be able to adjust to morally relevant circumstances and moral dilemmas. Just let me know if you want to know more.

      You Wrote: “Simply look at mankind’s history to see the evolution of morality. The keeping of slaves. The rape of woman during war time. The slaughter of people at alters for various Gods. Woman’s rights. Gays rights. We can easily see the changing cultural morality.
      If there was an Objective Moral Code handed down by God, he has done a very poor job of it. Not only is there a quandary of cultural moral differences, but why are we altering our moral code as time marches on? There should not be any deviation at all.
      The fact that moral codes differ and change shows that our moral code is driven by us, the creators of our own morality.”

      It does not follow from the fact that people hold differing moral views in different cultures that morality is relative to culture (or subjective as you claim). You are confusing what is called the descriptive thesis (differing moral views exist), with the prescriptive thesis (differing moral views ought to exist).

      From the fact that people disagree one cannot conclude that there is no objective truth. Just because some people think the earth is flat is no reason for you and I to think that there is no truth to the matter. Also, change in moral views over time does not entail that there is no objective truth. Especially within the Christian theistic view, the differences can be explained by the sin and evil within the human heart. We all fail at times to honestly acknowledge what is morally good and to obey the moral truth; some individuals more than others and some cultures more than others. That is all that is needed to explain the moral change you highlight.

      But I think you are implying more than moral change. I think you are also implying moral progress by your examples. If not, would you be happy if 20 years from now slavery was deemed morally good by the United Nations? I don’t think so. But only objectivism can make sense of moral progress. Your moral subjectivist view certainly can’t! The only way that one can say that a culture or an individual is progressing morally is if there are objective moral norms that exist independently of cultures or individuals that the ‘progress’ is moving towards.

      I think you should put aside for the moment your concern that proponents of the moral argument are trying to force the Bible on you. The argument has nothing to do with that. That will be a secondary issue that will involve careful interpretation of moral issues in the Bible. But you should just accept the obvious that there are objective moral values & obligations. You do know that it is morally wrong to torture toddlers for sport. The fact that someone else might disagree in a different culture or different time should not cause you to doubt what you know is true anymore than the existence of some people who think 2+2=5 should cause you to doubt that you know 2+2= 4.

    • Jamie Jamie says:

      Antony, the Bible tells us that there are two forces at work within a person that creates the struggle around morality. On the one hand, humanity has been created in the image of God and with that comes the awareness of a moral code that is based on the character of God: love. But the flip side is that because we have chosen to reject the authority of God in our lives we fight to create our own morality based on our own priority: self. So there is within us a recognition of what is right and many of our own moral choices (and laws as well) are influenced by that moral code. But our selfishness seeks to redefine those morals in a way that benefits self and this results in a morality that changes and morphs.

      The existence of our conscience points to the existence of our Creator whose image we bear but the fluctuation in cultural norms points to the broken relationship we have with Him. That’s what we need saving from and why God needed to take radical steps in order to set us free from ourselves. He came to us to reveal His perfection and to provide us a way of being healed from our selfishness and return to the perfection that He created within us. His promise is that, “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their family, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will already know me,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

      You say that God has not done a good job of revealing His moral code but the truth is we have worked very hard at ignoring His and trying to create our own. He created us to reflect His character but we chose to be independent of His authority. He revealed His laws and standards and gave them to us as His Word but we chose to ignore the Bible as antiquated mythology. He came to Earth and lived amongst humanity to show us His love completely. The question is: how will you respond? Will you reject Him again and choose to create your own path or will you recognize His truth and choose to follow Him?

    • Antony Burt says:

      Hi Michael,

      I think there is a fundamental contrast in how we both utilize the word objective (in relation to morality). I take it you mean it to be a “ultimate moral code supplied by God” where as I apply it be a personal obligation to be good (fully subjective) and NOT as a moral code that exists outside of human existence.

      You mention that objective morality is true even if everyone on earth disagreed with it. Thusly, we would have no way of knowing what he hold to be morally good is what we hold to be morally good or not. God could deem that torturing toddlers for sport IS indeed a good moral thing. I think most of us on earth would disagree with God on that point, but that is not our issue, we would need to tow the line, if God said it was good. (As far as I know, the bible is absolutely mute on torturing toddlers in any context at all, so I don’t see how we could know God’s will on that issue.)

      On the other hand, if Moral Nihilism (no absolute good or evil) is true, then we have to look at our social and personal construct and put together our moral code. Because behaving in a culturally acceptable way, is beneficial to us (and not being a social outcast), we have an obligation to perform well morally. If we dislike a moral issue within the culture, we merely step up to the plate and try to change the moral meme. What is beneficial to the culture will naturally rise, and we can see that at work.

      Simply look at mankind’s history to see the evolution of morality. The keeping of slaves. The rape of woman during war time. The slaughter of people at alters for various Gods. Woman’s rights. Gays rights. We can easily see the changing cultural morality.

      If there was an Objective Moral Code handed down by God, he has done a very poor job of it. Not only is there a quandary of cultural moral differences, but why are we altering our moral code as time marches on? There should not be any deviation at all.

      The fact that moral codes differ and change shows that our moral code is driven by us, the creators of our own morality.

      Moral Nihilism is not that “anything goes” as you imply but that “morality is not written in stone”. There can still be morally good, and morally bad, there can still be obligation and there can (and is) change.

    • Antony

      My question to Chris DiCarlo was? “If there is no God how do you avoid moral nihilism?”

      Chris ultimately admitted that he can’t avoid moral nihilism when he agreed that he can’t say it is objectively morally wrong for someone to kill his family or that it is morally obligatory that people should not kill his family, and implied that it doesn’t matter when he asked “Is moral nihilism a bad thing?”

      I have a copy of the debate now and you were right that the word obligatory was not used that much in my cross examination of DiCarlo. It was a part of my final question. But you need to understand that the terms objective wrt morality contains the notion of obligation (you yourself admitted that morality contains obligation in one of your comments), and the word obligation contains the notion of objective truth, otherwise how could some subjective moral value be obligatory for someone else (or even for the subject for that matter)? In fact I only include both the words objective and obligatory for clarity sake. Throughout the entire debate it was my aim to make the point that in the absence of God morality cannot be objective or obligatory and that is a serious problem for atheism.

      DiCarlo’s question to me of “why do you need objective truth to be a good person?” reveals a real problem! If there is no objective moral truth, then the word “good” has no referent, no content. Don’t confuse this with we cannot know objective moral truth. That is not my point. The point is there would be nothing that is objectively good. The word would have no meaning. Thus there would be no objective moral good or evil, and no moral right or wrong. The concept of a “good person” would make no sense and yet DiCarlo assumes it does make sense by his question.

      Which view can make sense of the wrongness of someone killing Chris CiCarlo’s family or torturing toddlers for sport? Chris admits that on his view he cannot say that either of those is objectively wrong as much as he might find them personally abhorrent and even try to stop them.

      DiCarlo needs to take his intuition that torturing toddlers for sport is personally abhorrent more seriously. I am suggesting that is an experience of direct awareness of the objective truth of a moral obligation.

      The problem may be that he and you Antony are holding out for the wrong standard of proof. Empiricism and evidentialism are stopping you from admitting that those actions are not just personally abhorrent but that everyone should agree that they are abhorrent because it is an objective truth.

      You seem not to have read my material on how someone can know objective moral values and obligations exist. But that is critical to my whole case. And you need to seriously think about it, because it is a prior commitment to an empiricist and evidentialist epistemology that is probably stopping you, and I think DiCarlo as well, from recognizing that you do actually know some objective moral values and obligations. In fact it has been much more common in the debates I have had with atheists over the past 26 years for the atheist to argue very strongly that we all know objective moral values and obligations exist. In my experience DiCarlo and you are the minority among atheists.

      Although I am glad that you have been reading and commenting on some of my earlier blog posts, It is unfortunate that you have been working your way backwards through them because my case for objective moral values and obligations was the first topic that I covered in my blog starting in early March. I apologize for the difficulty in accessing some of the earlier posts. Below are the links to the 5 posts that make my case for objective moral values & obligations. Most of the answers to the questions and assertions you raise in many of your comments on this topic are found in here. You need to respond directly to this case that I have presented.
      http://powertochange.com/blogposts/2012/03/06/i-do-not-like-blue-covers-2/
      http://powertochange.com/blogposts/2012/03/12/how-do-you-know-objective-moral-values-and-obligations-exist/
      http://powertochange.com/blogposts/2012/03/19/is-direct-awareness-of-reality-just-a-feeling/
      http://powertochange.com/blogposts/2012/03/28/are-intuitions-for-real/
      http://powertochange.com/blogposts/2012/04/10/torturing-toddlers/

      I have no problem responding to your questions and comments if you are actually engaging with the arguments I present in my blog posts and responses to your comments. Since my time is valuable I probably won’t bother responding much to your presentations of your position. In fact, if that is all a comment contains I may delete it. After all you can have your own blog for that right?

    • Antony Burt says:

      Hi Michael.

      In your post June 28 at 9PM you stated: “Obligation was what my cross examination of DiCarlo was all about.”

      Yet in the whole cross examination phase, you use the the words “obligation” (or a derivative) only twice. No wonder I missed it… Nihilism and similar words count in at: seven times, Objective at eleven (counting just your uses.) May I have guessed the cross examination was about math as the mathematical equation 2+2=4 was used as often as the word obligation.

      It seemed to me that the cross examination was actually all about you trying to label Chris a moral nihilist (not that there’s anything wrong with that – to quote Jerry Seinfeld.) As even you wrapped up with: “I got the answer I want. This is a moral nihilist we have here tonight.”

    • Antony burt says:

      As Chris said during his exchange with you (which was not answered)

      Chris:
      “Why do you need objective truths to be a good person? I think I am.”

      Since according to your own definition, an objective moral value is true independently upon agreement from anyone or any culture, how can we identify any Objective Moral Value? You bring up “Torture Toddlers for Sport is Wrong”, but provide NO evidence to support the claim it is an Objective Moral Value. You mention it is almost without doubt that most humans find it abhorrent, but that does NOT mean it is objective due to your own definition. It would be a nihilistic moral value for sure, but not an identified objective moral value.

      I noticed when you asked Chris directly about moral values, you asked him subjectively (you framed the moral question so that it applied to him directly with a high level of emotional charge), but he didn’t fall into your trap and he remained objective about the question at hand, and did not state belief in the unproven.

      Why do we need Objective Moral Values to be good, and how can we identify Objective Moral Values?

    • Michael Horner says:

      Antony
      Obligation was what my cross examination of DiCarlo was all about. And neither one admitted to it. Then later DiCarlo tried to bring it in based on human nature, after he had already denied it. He did the same thing in my other debate with him a couple of years back. The problem is that both his attempts and yours in the rest of your comment can’t get you moral obligation. Show me how any of your examples provides moral obligation. At best all you can get is, as you said, self-preservation or I would add species preservation (the two are often in conflict by the way) but pragmatic suggestion for survival is a long way from what is meant by moral obligation. And why, under naturalism, ought one care about billions of one’s species who will live far into the future?

    • Antony Burt says:

      I don’t recall an exchange during the debate where either of your opponents denied that morality contains the notion of obligation. Christopher did deny existence of an objective moral code that existed outside of human culture (not exact words) but I don’t recall denial of any sort of obligation within a sense of morality.

      I woud agree that a sense of morality should include an obligation, otherwise the morality would be entirely self-centred, and that isn’t morality, but simply self-preservation. The cause of that obligation would naturally be evolutionary or culturally sourced as we have an evolutionary obligation not to eat our children, and a cultural obligation not to eat our neighbour’s children. (I use ‘eat children’ purely as example of a single moral meme, not as a measure of morality, a sense of morality is much more involved than a single moral issue…)

    • Michael Horner says:

      Antony
      It was told to me later by one of the people in the audience that a hush fell over the crowd when Dillahunty said that DiCarlo’s position did not reflect his own. You have the advantage of already having a video of the debate which is apparently on its way to me.
      Whether Dillahunty said it immediately after DiCarlo’s statement or shortly after is irrelevant. It was clear that he was referring to that statement and was distancing himself from DiCarlo’s view.
      You are correct that there was a response from the crowd when I asked with some frustration and a little sarcasm whether anybody has studied ethics here and DiCarlo put his hand up. It was funny. I knew what Chris’s degree was. Of course my frustration with that discussion still stands, since I couldn’t get either DiCarlo or Dillahunty to admit that morality contains the notion of obligation. If there is no obligation you don’t have morality, but something else. Someone with a PhD in Philosophy with ethics as one of his qualifying areas should know that.

    • Antony Burt says:

      A note on the debate:

      In the second and third paragraph it is accurately stated that Christopher DiCarlo said (or words to the effect) “What’s so bad about nihilism?”

      I do not recall any hush falling over the crowd, as we were already quiet as we were listening.

      Matt did not lean over and state that his views were different than Christopher’s until minutes later when that section of cross examination was over, and Matt said he would like to enter a debate with you on morality.

      I do recall a particular time between these two separate events that was indeed a punctuation in audience feedback. You had asked “Has anyone here actually studied ethics?” and after a short pause, Christopher raised his arm while looking at you. The house erupted in applause. Christopher has a ph.D. of Philosophy of Science and Ethics, from the University of Waterloo.

    • Zach – thanks for your comment. Sorry it has taken me so long to respond. It has been a busy month. You are right that atheistic moral Platonism is a potential option for the moral realist. But there are good reasons that I think make it a less reasonable possibility than Theism.
      W.L. Craig identifies 3 problems with Atheistic Moral Platonism that I think are quite strong.

      1. Moral values make more sense as properties of persons. It is difficult to make any sense of what it means for say justice to just exist.

      2. No basis for moral duties – even if moral values like, justice, loyalty, & mercy could just “exist” in some sense, why would you have a duty to be, say, merciful? Who or what puts that obligation on you? And since moral vices, on the Platonic view also just exist, why wouldn’t we also be obligated to hate? No grounds for moral obligation.

      3. Utterly incredible coincidence that the blind evolutionary process should spit forth precisely the sort of creatures who correspond to the abstractly existing realm of moral values. Much more plausible that the laws of nature and the moral law are both under the authority of God, than to think that these two independent realms just happened to mesh.

      You can check a bit more on this subject in the following links on Craig’s website.

      *End of Q & A #94 http://www.reasonablefaith.org/classifying-immaterial-objects
      Q & A #236 http://www.reasonablefaith.org/moral-values-and-abstract-objects

    • Jamie Jamie says:

      So how would you describe what it means to be a Platonist moral realist atheist Zach? How does that help you make moral decisions in your life?

    • Zach says:

      It is trivial to be a moral realist atheist. Maybe under vulgar materialism moral realism is hard to reach, but I can be a Platonist moral realist atheist. No gods necessary.

    • Sharon says:

      good article, i have never heard of this before interesting, my younger brother says he is an athest, thank you for this post

    • kahu says:

      Maybe this is the things that Jesus spoke about regarding the end time in book of Mathew. Our Heavenly Father will have to step in before man self destruct. I believe that this is not what our Heavenly Father created us to do. We are not here to self destruct,which seems the way mankind is going with all the wars over materialistic value. It’s sad how so many innocent people lose their lives because of thier leaders, it’s also sad how our environment is eroding because of what we all are doing to our planet. No wonder people like DiCarlo don’t believe,just look around this planet maybe that’s why they question or doubt there is no God. However, those of us who do believe there is a purpose to life and we just didn’t become but were called know that we are a part of something bigger, our Heavenly Father. I always believe that action speaks more louder than words, that is why Jesus said Go. I also believe that our Heavenly Father can’t move in our lives unless we first Move. so, it is by my faith that I Move,Go what our Heavenly Father has put in me to do. Some people can not see God’s existence because they are so focused on their troubles, only our Heavenly Father can bring a man to his knees, and open his eyes, for this I say we can only pray for people who don’t believe. Because arguing or debating over their unblief will not change their veiws, just waste your time when someone else might need you more. Jesus was rejected at times from those that didn’t believe, he said what he said and meant what he meant and left to go pray. The Son God was always praying more so than saying, my questions (was it for strength, did he feel alone, why did he pray, what did he pray for?}. Maybe we as children of our Heavenly Father, should be more prayerful, and do the same as Jesus. Without a doubt I do believe there is one who created all things good and bad, and who does a work through and in all things created for there is nothing that wasn’t created without the creator. Now this creator of all things is now my Heavenly Father, for it is through his Son Jesus Christ that made a sacrifice for me that I may find Mercy, Peace, Happiness and Unconditonal Love. It is through the Son that I am saved from the weight of this fleshly body and the cares of this world. It is through the Son Jesus Christ that my Heavenly Father and I are reconcile. I pray for those who don’t believe that there maybe an hour in which God will bring them to there knees, open their eyes that they may believe.

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