Do Objective Moral Truths Exist in Reality?

The moral argument for God’s existence is often presented as follows:

Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

As with any valid syllogism, the moral argument can be defeated by proving one of the supporting premises to be false. In many conversations with atheists, I’ve encountered several who agree with premise 1, but deny the truth of premise 2. Is this a rational position, or do we have good reason to believe that objective moral values and duties do in fact exist?

Before we look at the evidence, let’s define clearly the boundaries of the premise. The claim is that our universe contains moral categories of values (good and evil) and duties (right and wrong actions) that exist independently of the opinion of anyone and that apply to the actions and motivations of all persons. Therefore, the topic at hand is a question of ontology—whether these categories actually exist, and not epistemology—how we know these categories. How we come to knowledge of morality is irrelevant to the question; whether we know the speed limit on the streets of our city has no effect on the existence of such a limit. In my hometown, you will still be cited for speeding, even if the road is not posted with speed limit signs!

Secondly, the claim is not interested in whether one believes in objective morality. Belief in, or lack of belief in a truth claim does not make the claim true or false. You may not believe that our town has a speed limit; you can still be given a citation in spite of your lack of belief. What the claim addresses is whether these moral categories exist in reality, not in someone’s belief system.

So the question on the table presents us with two different types of realities; a moral universe in which objective moral categories exist, and an amoral universe that contains only subjective moral categories (where each person’s standard of right, wrong, good, and evil is defined by themselves and applies only to themselves). In order to determine which of these descriptions applies to our own universe, let’s take a look at what both of these realities would be like, and then see which most closely describes the features of our own universe.

In an Amoral Universe, objective moral categories do not exist. No action can be called objectively evil; while one might dislike another’s action, no external standard exists by which any action can be called good or evil. In the overall scheme of things, feeding your child is no better or worse than beheading your child, and any feelings one has to the contrary is simply opinion. In this universe, these moral opinions have no basis in reality; that is to say, nothing objective exists on which to base such a concept.

In a Moral Universe, objective moral categories do exist. Any action can fall into one of three categories:

  • Moral actions — actions that conform to the objective moral standard
  • Immoral actions — actions that violate the objective moral standard
  • Amoral actions — actions which are not addressed by the objective moral standard

While legality is not a synonym for morality, the two are somewhat analogous. It is legal in the United States to peacefully and publicly speak against an policy implemented by our government. It is illegal to murder the government official who is responsible for creating this policy. It is a-legal to read the public information related to the policy. Freedom of speech is expressly permitted by the law, murder is expressly forbidden by the law, and reading public documents is simply not addressed by the law.

As an objective feature of the universe, and not of an individual human, these categories apply to all humans, just as the law of gravity applies to all humans. Just as there’s no escaping the laws of physics for physical creatures, the laws of morality are just as binding on moral creatures. However, the moral categories are necessarily different from other laws of the universe in that they are prescriptive (describing how things ought to be) and not descriptive (describing how things are).

Having described these two universes, let us now consider our own. Which of these two descriptions best describes what we see in our own actual universe? I offer here two reasons why I contend that the description of the moral universe more accurately describes our universe.

The idea of an amoral universe is existentially self-refuting.

The concept of an amoral universe, thought not logically self-refuting, is existentially self-refuting. There is no logical incoherence in the statement “No objective moral values and duties exist.” The problem arises when one attempts to describe how one should live in such a universe… for the instant one makes such an attempt, they have invalidate the concept. In an amoral universe, “how one should live” is meaningless… no standard exists to describe how one should live.

Without considering the implications of such a universe deeply, it’s easy to claim, “Objective moral truths do not exist; I have the right to do as I please!” Yet, this statement makes a moral claim to a “right” while denying moral reality. If you believe that others ought to allow you to live according to the dictates of your own will and your own conscience, then you are appealing to objective morality to justify what others “ought” to do.

The logically correct view in an amoral universe is that everyone will do as they do with no moral implications at all. Yet, atheists commonly make moral demands; for example, that theists “stop imposing their morality”. This demand certainly assumes that theists “ought” to act in a particular way.  Yet, without objective morality, no such “ought” can exist.

Or think of it this way; we are beings who can conceive and consider many different possible courses of action. Does any course of action exist that should always happen, if possible? Does any course of action exist that ought never to happen? Ought theists to never torture atheists for fun? Ought atheists to rebut theists who claim that objective moral categories exist?

If one single course of action ought never to happen, then objective morality must exist. But let’s not get ahead of the evidence; whether it is immoral to torture atheists for fun (a question of epistemology) is irrelevant to the point—the only way that such a statement can logically be true is if there is an applicable objective standard by which we can judge the action in question.

The idea of moral categories would be unintelligible in an amoral universe.

In an amoral universe, one is hard-pressed to determine how the idea of moral categories would come to be. While in such a universe, any moral standard is necessarily subjective, such a subjective morality could have absolutely no basis in reality.

While we certainly conceive of ideas that are fictional, most, if not all of these fictional concepts have their roots in reality; unicorns are an extension of horses; werewolves are a blending of human and animal, a cyclops is an oversized human with a single eye. None of these concepts are completely manufactured out of nothingness.

Yet for the concept of subjective morality to appear in an amoral universe is similar to the idea of blue and green appearing in a colorless universe. It is impossible to convey the richness and experience of color to a man blind from birth, because such a man has no basis on which to relate to such a description. While you might explain that blue is a certain wavelength of light, that doesn’t convey to the blind man what light is, or the experience of seeing blue. To the blind man, color and light do not exist in his experience.

But in an amoral universe, moral categories have no basis of existence in reality. In a world where color had no basis of existence in reality, all would be as the blind man above, completely incapable of understanding the concept of color. Even if one conceived of such a thing as green or red in their imagination, they could never communicate this idea to others without a shared reference point. For purely subjective concepts, such shared reference points cannot exist.

It’s been argued that the fact that different cultures and religions have differing concepts of morality is evidence against objective morality. However, this is not the case. My wife and I frequently disagree on colors; I’ll say something is blue, while she insists that it is green. When it’s brought in to sunlight, we usually find that she’s right!

But notice that while we may disagree on the color of the object, neither of us is claiming that it has no color at all! In order for us to have a meaningful conversation about the object’s color, both of us must assume that color exists, and that the object does have a color. If color does not exist, then our conversation is meaningless, unexplainable, and could only be called delusional.

So the fact that every single person who has reached age two seems to have conversations about what men should and should not do seems to be strong evidence that they actually perceive something in the universe that actually exists. Whether politician, priest, parent, or protester, all make the claim that men should behave in a certain way. It seems remarkably myopic to consider all who hold such views to be sharing the same delusion!

For example, Christianity teaches that we should love our enemies, and as much as it is possible, we should live in peace with all men. Some branches of Islam believe that one should behead their enemies. Again, for this point, which view is correct is irrelevant; but in order for anyone to have a meaningful conversation about which view (if either) is correct, one must assume that a correct view does in fact exist. This requires an objective moral standard.

The implications of these two lines of evidence seem inescapable; unless objective moral categories of good, evil, right, and wrong actually exist in reality, our tendency to think in these terms is unexplainable. But to be fair, we’ve only looked at one side of the evidence. In a later post, I will address the arguments against this view.

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67 replies
  1. John Moore says:

    Maybe it’s a category error to speak of moral values existing in the universe. A universe is not the kind of thing that can have morals. Only living things can have morals. Christians may claim, of course, that God is a living thing, but it’s a bit of a stretch to think of the universe as a living thing. So anyway, I wish we’d talk about objective morals in life rather than in the universe.

    Reply
    • Terry Lewis says:

      It is true that a universe is not a moral agent. This phrase is only intended to point out that moral categories are not subjective. The truthmaker is not the observer (us), but is something outside of mankind… something external… out there somewhere! But I’ve not yet presented evidence for what this truthmaker is; that is beyond the scope of this post.

      Therefore, I attempted not to pull more from the evidence than warranted by the evidence I presented. That’s why you see phrases “[morality is] an objective feature of the universe…”. Technically speaking, this is incorrect. Objective morality is not a feature of the universe… it is bigger than that. It is defined by the nature of God, and is applicable in all universes. But I don’t think the evidence I’ve used in this post can warrant that conclusion. I’ll build toward that in later posts.

      Reply
      • John Moore says:

        No, the objective morality is not “out there,” but it’s within us. It’s an objective fact, not about the universe, but about us. Morality is objective because all living things have it in common. On the other hand, if no life existed, then there couldn’t be any morality either.

        Reply
      • Steve Marquis says:

        Arguments about God tend to polarize between the personal monotheistic deity of Christianity and the absence of such. This captures most of the audience but is a pretty limited way to look at the problem. An alternative solution is Pantheism. In that case the universe _is_ a moral agent. We have also avoided many of the objections to a traditional anthropomorphic theism.

        A good hypothesis offers up the minimal explanation for the the thing to be explained -in this case objective moral standards. A personal God is an over explanation.

        Reply
  2. Andy Ryan says:

    Terry Lewis destroys his own argument.

    1) “Belief in, or lack of belief in a truth claim does not make the claim true or false. You may not believe that our town has a speed limit; you can still be given a citation in spite of your lack of belief. What the claim addresses is whether these moral categories exist in reality, not in someone’s belief system.”
    2) “Yet, atheists commonly make moral demands; for example, that theists “stop imposing their morality”. This demand certainly assumes that theists “ought” to act in a particular way. Yet, without objective morality, no such “ought” can exist.”

    Terry’s claimed evidence for objective moral truths is the way that atheists act, or what they believe, yet he says himself that any individual’s belief on the matter has no bearing on whether it is true.

    Thus even by Terry’s own argument, it’s irrelevant whether atheists behave as if they believe objective moral truths are real or not.

    “In an amoral universe, one is hard-pressed to determine how the idea of moral categories would come to be”

    Pro-social behaviour in intelligent pack species appears to aids survival, it’s rather unlikely that such behaviour wouldn’t be selected for over many generations. This is backed up by both biology and math, in the form of game theory.

    Reply
    • Terry Lewis says:

      Andy, I’m not arguing that belief precedes existence, but that existence precedes belief. Objective moral categories do not exist because we believe in them; we believe in them because they exist.

      If I walk through my office building and notice that everyone is wearing raincoats and/or carrying umbrellas, I am justified to believe that it is raining outside. The reality of the rain alters the behavior of my coworkers. But, it is not raining because my coworkers believe that it is, and came dressed appropriately for rain.

      I’ve met several people who claim to believe that objective moral categories do not exist, yet every single one of them will sooner or later make a statement or comment that assumes a moral framework. I’ve met no one in my 47 years who lives as if objective morality does not exist.

      Belief in the existence of an object is irrelevant to the existence of that object; that is not to say it does not provide evidence for the existence of that object.

      Anything that evolves, including morality (or in your words, pro-social behavior) must exist. Evolution is not a creative force, but an adaptive force. While I can understand one preferring certain actions over others in an amoral universe, this is not the same as a prescriptive moral code. Evolution cannot account for the transition from simple reaction (attempting to stop the unwanted actions of another by force or by removing oneself from the situation) to the concept of the unwanted reaction being morally wrong.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        “I’ve met several people who claim to believe that objective moral categories do not exist, yet every single one of them will sooner or later make a statement or comment that assumes a moral framework.”

        They assume a moral framework, sure. But you’re arguing for an OBJECTIVE moral framework. The two are not the same. It’s simply not true that a framework has to be objective to be meaningful or workable. The rules of soccer aren’t ‘objective’ except in the sense that the players and spectators agree on them. They’re subjective rules agreed upon for mutual convenience and enjoyment.

        I know lots of people who’ll argue about what film is better than some other film, but that doesn’t mean they believe one film is ‘objectively’ better than another. It just means it’s better than another GIVEN a particular set of criteria that groups of people TEND to subjectively agree on. There’s no reason for a person to hold that the merits of a film can be wholly judged by the number of nude scenes it has – they’re not OBJECTIVELY wrong to do so. But most people don’t hold that view, so groups of people can have meaningful conversations about comparative merits of a films, based purely on them sharing subjective ideas on what constitutes a good film, without it implying that they believe the ideas are ‘objectively’ true.

        Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        “Evolution is not a creative force, but an adaptive force”

        That doesn’t actually mean anything in this context. The end results of evolution can and generally DO trump the solutions that man can come up with ‘creatively’.

        “While I can understand one preferring certain actions over others in an amoral universe, this is not the same as a prescriptive moral code.”

        Indeed it isn’t. But it explains the strong instincts we have towards pro-social behaviour, which was the phenomenon being offered as evidence for ‘objective moral truths’. It is simply not true to say ‘one is hard-pressed to determine how the idea of moral categories would come to be’ when evolution is clear answer. One can breed more social behaviour into wolves or foxes in just a dozen or so generations, simply by breeding from the friendlier or more social animals in each litter. That this is artificial selection rather than natural is beside the point – it can either arise through selection or it can’t, and it demonstrably can.

        “Evolution cannot account for the transition from simple reaction (attempting to stop the unwanted actions of another by force or by removing oneself from the situation) to the concept of the unwanted reaction being morally wrong.”

        The two are the same. We’ve evolved a visceral disgust at rotting food or excrement. Most people would say that those things are ‘objectively disgusting’ – they wouldn’t say it’s simple a matter of personal preference. These are strong instinctive taboos. They wouldn’t work as evolved taboos protecting the species if they were ‘simple reactions’ that we could easily talk or reason ourselves out of.

        Reply
      • Terry Lewis says:

        It’s simply not true that a framework has to be objective to be meaningful or workable.

        Objectivity is implicit in the assumption that others should find the same framework meaningful. If morality is subjective, then your opinion of the morality of my beating you about the head with an iron rod is just as “meaningful” to me as your opinion of the superiority of chocolate ice cream to vanilla. I happen to prefer butter pecan to either of them; I don’t expect anyone else to hold the same view, and I certainly don’t consider them “wrong” or “immoral” if they do not.

        If the rules of soccer were subjective, then a player could play a soccer game according to their own personal interpretation of the rules… perhaps they like rugby better, so they wish to play by the rules of rugby. It doesn’t work that way. A player doesn’t get to follow her own subjective rules of play. That would lead to nothing but chaos. Even in pickup basketball games, we always set the “house rules” (take-it-back’s required; make-it–take-it, etc.) before the game started. You didn’t get to play by your own rules.

        You seem to argue here more against the origin of the rules than the objectivity of the rules. That is outside the scope of this post, but will be addressed later.

        By arguing for objective morality, I’m not saying at all that subjective likes and dislikes do not exist. I find little (if anything) in your last paragraph that I disagree with. In fact, I think it actually supports my point.

        As you point out, if we can truly say that one film is better than another, then we must have a standard by which to judge them. How then shall we say that one action is better than another without a similar standard? You say that you and your friend can “agree” on a standard for films; but what happens when your friend insists that the standard must include the number of times the lead actor cries, and you think the idea to be simply absurd? What happens when you cannot agree on a standard?

        You see, when you have the ability to choose the standard, you only push the problem back a level, for now, you have to justify… not the standard, but your choice of standards… which requires a standard itself. For by choosing your own standard, your standard is still subjective… it’s your preference!

        The implication that the standard must be objective in order to meaningfully compare one thing or action to another is inescapable. John Moore says that “the objective morality is not ‘out there’, but it’s within us.” If by this, he means that it originates from within us, then I think we can safely conclude that he is mistaken.

        One can breed more social behaviour into wolves or foxes in just a dozen or so generations, simply by breeding from the friendlier or more social animals in each litter.

        I have no doubt that aggressive tendencies can have a genetic component. I don’t question that we might prefer our companion and service animals to be less aggressive. What you have demonstrated is a variance in the predisposition to aggression. We don’t have to invoke moral values to prefer one over the other; nor do we require moral concepts to work toward breeding toward the traits we want to reinforce.

        In other words, your example says nothing about whether one ought or ought not to be aggressive. You are presuming that the “is” of aggressive vs. non-aggressive behavior can derive an “ought” in a materialistic universe with no grounding for “oughts”. This is an invalid leap in logic.

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “Objectivity is implicit in the assumption that others should find the same framework meaningful”

          No it isn’t. It just has to be agreed upon – or even just shared in an unspoken way – by the people having the discussion. If you’re saying those unspoken shared values make them ‘objective’ then you’ve removed the need for a God to make them objective.

          “If morality is subjective, then your opinion of the morality of my beating you about the head with an iron rod is just as “meaningful” to me as your opinion of the superiority of chocolate ice cream to vanilla.”

          No, that doesn’t follow in the slightest. If you value human life – which A) most people do (including you) and which B) doesn’t require morality to be objective – then you will obviously see far greater consequences in beating someone over the head with an iron rod than choosing chocolate over vanilla.

          Terry, any discussion here is going to be hard if you make such baseless assertions, simply because it wastes time dealing with each one. I don’t mind spending time replying to you, it’s just wearing replying to points like the one above that surely you wouldn’t make if you gave them a little bit more thought.

          “If the rules of soccer were subjective, then a player could play a soccer game according to their own personal interpretation of the rules”

          No. A group of people just have to agree to play by the SAME set of rules. There ARE many different sets of rules to soccer and there’s nothing ‘objectively correct’ about any of them.

          “Even in pickup basketball games, we always set the “house rules””

          Exactly, you actually agree to my point. How those particular sets of rules came to be is irrelevant – the important thing is simply that everyone’s playing by the SAME rules.

          So to say meaningful discussions about morality cannot take place unless the ‘rules’ of morality are ‘objective’ is not true – the important thing is simply that those involved agree on the same basic set of ‘rules’. Obviously there are disagreements about how exactly those rules play out, but that’s analogous to the Supreme Court discussing how exactly to apply the Constitution.

          Again, how the rules originated doesn’t affect whether or how people can discuss them, or whether they can be meaningful for those involved. The accepted rules IFAB rules of football (soccer), as backed by FIFA may have arisen by a combination of convention, tradition, and simple convenience – it doesn’t matter. What matters is everyone’s playing by the same rules.

          Likewise, the generally accepted morals of our society could be a mix of tradition, mores, laws, combined with our natural taboos and social instincts – rather than ‘objective moral truths’ reflecting the nature of a God. You’ve said nothing that makes the former explanation impossible, incoherent or even unlikely.

          “What you have demonstrated is a variance in the predisposition to aggression.”

          And also a predisposition to be more maternal, more caring of others, more altruistic etc. My point stands.

          “You are presuming that the “is” of aggressive vs. non-aggressive behavior can derive an “ought” in a materialistic universe”

          I did no such thing at any point, in any of posts.

          “What happens when you cannot agree on a standard [on films]?”

          I’ve never come across a situation when it happens. Most people DO agree on these basic standards. The analogy to that is what if you meet a psychopath – who perhaps has no value for human life – and the answer is that in such a situation quoting ‘objective moral truths’ at such an individual is no help! The fact is that most people DO agree on these things and pointing out anomalies is no more help to your argument than mine.

          Reply
        • Terry Lewis says:

          [TL] “Objectivity is implicit in the assumption that others should find the same framework meaningful”
          [AR] No it isn’t. It just has to be agreed upon – or even just shared in an unspoken way – by the people having the discussion.

          I’m sorry, but this is simply incorrect. If you have to agree, decide, or choose for it to be true, then it is by definition, subjective. In your scenario, the “people having the discussion” are the truthmaker, and they must agree on what morality will mean for them. I was not arguing against this type of subjective morality; but, objective morality must exist for subjective morality to work.

          My statement above points out that while this may work well for persons inside the discussion, it cannot address outsiders to the discussion in any meaningful way. If I’m not a part of your discussion, then why should I respect the choices made by your group?

          It gets worse; your example of subjective morality implies a notion of honor, which is a moral concept. For your example to work, the group must assume that if someone is a part of the agreement, that they ought to follow through and honor the agreement. Where do you get that “ought”?

          If you value human life… you will obviously see far greater consequences in beating someone over the head with an iron rod than choosing chocolate over vanilla.

          First of all, I did not equate the two actions. I said without objective morality, your opinion of my brutal attack on you is of equal value as your opinion of ice cream flavors. This is true by definition–without objective moraltiy, all moral “truths” are subjective… you can define them however you want. I could care less which ice cream flavor you prefer… why should I care which of my actions you prefer?

          I’ve had this conversation with many who recoil in horror when I make a statement that sounds this callous. What they forget is, given the worldview they are defending, “right” and “wrong” do not exist. They may even suggest that I’m a horrible person, but in their worldview, “horrible” is meaningless. So if what you are defending is true, why should I care what you think about my actions? Because I want to be “good”? Good has no meaning in an amoral universe.

          Secondly, even if one does not value human life, they can still see a difference in the consequences. The premise, “If you value human life” has nothing to do with the conditional part of your statement. I completely agree that the consequences are different, and that the magnitude of the consequences are also different.

          So, are you saying that I ought to value human life? Where do you get that “ought”?

          Thirdly, are you saying the consequences of one action is worse than the other? By what standard?

          This is a blatant “appeal to consequences” fallacy. The example on logicallyfallacious.com (www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/26-appeal-to-consequences) includes this example: “If there is no objective morality, then all the bad people will not be punished for their bad behavior after death. I don’t like that; therefore, morality must be objective.”

          What’s the difference in that and, “I don’t like the consequences of beating someone with iron rods; therefore that must be evil”.

          So to say meaningful discussions about morality cannot take place unless the ‘rules’ of morality are ‘objective’ is not true – the important thing is simply that those involved agree on the same basic set of ‘rules’.

          Let’s assume that you’re right: who made the rule that we must “agree on the same basic set of ‘rules’” in order to be involved in this meaningful discussion? Are you suggesting that an anarchist who doesn’t agree to these rules has no right to be heard in the discussion? Ought he to live by these rules anyway? What is the truthmaker for your answer; your own opinion, or something that applies to everyone?

          What matters is everyone’s playing by the same rules.

          Why? Are you saying that one “ought” to play by the rules? Where did… oh, you know the question! 😉

          Every argument you have made smuggles in an objective morality. In a truly amoral universe, one can play or not play, as they choose. They can play by the accepted rules, or their own rules, or no rules. The word “ought” is meaningless; any sentence that implies “oughtness” is meaningless.

          Likewise, the generally accepted morals of our society could be a mix of tradition, mores, laws, combined with our natural taboos and social instincts – rather than ‘objective moral truths’ reflecting the nature of a God.

          Actually, I didn’t argue for the source of these objective categories in the post, although I did briefly mention it in a comment. I’ll address that issue when I write on that topic.

          You’ve said nothing that makes the former explanation impossible, incoherent or even unlikely.

          At the risk of being repetitive, can you explain how to describe color to a man blind from birth? You live in a universe with color. You have experienced what it’s like to see color. Yet, your friend has no point of reference to even understand what sight is… much less color!

          You are proposing something much more difficult. You are suggesting that, in a universe where good, evil, right, and wrong exist, one (or several, but that’s more unlikely) of our ancestors invented these categories, and was then able to describe them in such detail that everyone now understands exactly what they mean. This would require the invention of several new concepts beyond these four: “ought”, “responsibility”, “obligation”, “shame”, “honor”… all of these are moral concepts that have no basis in reality in your proposed universe. How, in a world where nothing “ought” to be, do you describe to another what “ought” means?

          Actually, this is closer to what you’re suggesting. Imagine a world with no vision; all the inhabitants are blind. Then, someone comes up with the idea of “sight”. He invents concepts like “color”, “light” “brightness”, “shadow”, and “vision”. Then, he convinces practically everyone on the planet that such a phenomonon as vision actually exists, even though no one… including our inventor… has any point of reference for what these words mean! What’s more, almost everyone starts behaving as if they actually have this ability! A few holdouts don’t believe; so they remain blind.

          Is this scenario possible? No. Why? Because in this world, vision does not exist! Acting as if it does wouldn’t make it so. Even if one could make the idea of sight comprehensible in a sightless world, behaving as if you could see would be insane, and not to mention very detrimental to your health!

          This is what you’re asking us to believe; that in a universe where morality doesn’t truly exist, moral concepts were invented (meaning “created by men”… not that someone sat down and designed morality), and somehow made comprehensible to the entire population without any point of reference in reality. Then practically everyone on earth became convinced that morality is real, and lives accordingly, although it seems completely impossible for them to even understand what they claim to believe. A few holdouts (psychopaths, sociopaths) don’t believe, but they are the ones who actually have it right! It’s the rest of us who are crazy.

          I challenge you to come up with the idea of something that does not exist… one with no analogue at all in reality and that no one has ever heard of before… and try to explain it to us.

          “You are presuming that the “is” of aggressive vs. non-aggressive behavior can derive an “ought” in a materialistic universe”
          I did no such thing at any point, in any of posts.

          In that case, you have given no explanation for moral behavior at all. You have explained a continuum in the levels of aggression and altruism shown by organisms. You have not demonstrated that one “ought” to land anywhere on that continuum. Being fully aggressive and totally non-altruistic is no better or worse than being completely non-aggressive and altruistic.

          What then are you trying to demonstrate with this point?

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            “I was not arguing against this type of subjective morality; but, objective morality must exist for subjective morality to work.”

            I’m equally sorry, but THIS simply isn’t true.

            That’s like saying ‘objective rules to soccer must exist for subjective rules of soccer to work’, with the objective rules being rules that have always existed, or exist whether anyone believes in them or not. This is nonsense. You and I can make up a game right now – the rules will be subjective, perhaps arbitrary, but we can play the game as long as you and I agree on them and play by the same rules. This doesn’t make the rules objective. Unless you think that a group of people agreeing on societal rules makes those rules ‘objective’.

            “In that case, you have given no explanation for moral behavior at all.”

            Go back to my previous posts if you believe that. I gave clear explanations for pro-social behaviour in animals, including humans. They are there – whether or not you read or accept them.

            “Are you saying that one “ought” to play by the rules? ”

            No. Read my post again. I said that all that matters for the discussions (or in the analogy, the game) to be MEANINGFUL is that everyone plays by the same rules.

            “Every argument you have made smuggles in an objective morality.”

            I think you’re confusing my posts with someone else’s, Terry.

          • toby says:

            Why? Are you saying that one “ought” to play by the rules?

            It’s assumed that all parties will do so if they agree to the rules of the game. That’s the ought. To break the rules would be out of bounds within the context of the game and incur consequences. Much like you and I agree that murder is illegal, but we’re free to commit it. And if we do we get the consequences. The rules apply within the context of the game and outside of the game they have no value or meaning. For instance what would stepping on a crack in the sidewalk mean if you weren’t walking with a friend and playing step on a crack break your mother’s back.

          • Terry Lewis says:

            Andy:

            “…objective morality must exist for subjective morality to work.”

            …That’s like saying ‘objective rules to soccer must exist for subjective rules of soccer to work’, with the objective rules being rules that have always existed, or exist whether anyone believes in them or not….

            You and I can make up a game right now – the rules will be subjective, perhaps arbitrary…

            But what you give with one hand, you take with the other. You say that we can do this with no objective rules at all. But then you add a requirement (in other words, an objective rule)… “as long as you and I agree on them and play by the same rules.” Are you saying that we must agree on the rules? Are you saying I ought to follow the rules? These are not in-game concepts, but metagame concepts. Where do these meta-game rules come from?

            You cannot complain that I’m not playing “fair” if I refuse to play by our agreed-upon rules. You may not like my using a different set of rules, but how do you claim that I “ought” not do so?

            Unless you think that a group of people agreeing on societal rules makes those rules ‘objective’.

            As I said above, if you have to agree to it, then it is by definition subjective. What you are not explaining is why one ought to keep their word when they agree to these rules. That’s an underlying assumption that you’re making without warrant.

            But then you deny this assumption?

            “Are you saying that one “ought” to play by the rules? ”

            No.

            So which is it? If you can’t even say I “ought” to play by the rules, then any subjective “rules” we create are meaningless… thus my statement that subjective morality requires objective morality.

            I said that all that matters for the discussions (or in the analogy, the game) to be MEANINGFUL is that everyone plays by the same rules.

            What do you mean by meaningful in this context?

            Toby:

            Much like you and I agree that murder is illegal, but we’re free to commit it.

            Legality and morality are (quite often) two different things. What is legal is a bit irrelevant.

            The rules apply within the context of the game…

            Why? You’ve said that we “assume” that players will do as agreed. But this is a moral assumption. One assumes that players will play fairly in a world where “fair” is meaningless. You say as much here…

            …and outside of the game they have no value or meaning.

            So you are saying that we live in an amoral universe? As I wrote in the post:

            The logically correct view in an amoral universe is that everyone will do as they do with no moral implications at all. Yet, atheists commonly make moral demands; for example, that theists “stop imposing their morality”. This demand certainly assumes that theists “ought” to act in a particular way. Yet, without objective morality, no such “ought” can exist.

            Your assumption is a perfect example of this point.

            It does seem ridiculous to not make such an assumption doesn’t it? That’s exactly what I would expect in a moral universe, but completely the opposite of what I would expect in an amoral universe!

          • toby says:

            Legality and morality are (quite often) two different things. What is legal is a bit irrelevant.
            I like how you skipped the part where I answered your question to Andy and dropped this non sequitur to avoid my point. The point was ‘It’s assumed that all parties will do so if they agree to the rules of the game. That’s the ought. To break the rules would be out of bounds within the context of the game and incur consequences.’

            Why? You’ve said that we “assume” that players will do as agreed. But this is a moral assumption. One assumes that players will play fairly in a world where “fair” is meaningless.
            Because of the stuff you avoided about people agreeing to the rules of the game. It’s a moral assumption based on the established rules and consequences. Your idea of ‘fair’ being completely meaningless is only your belief.

            So you are saying that we live in an amoral universe?
            No. I think the ‘amoral universe’ you alluded to is a combination of a straw-universe for you to beat up and argument from ignorance. “I don’t see how it could have any basis in reality, so it doesn’t.”

            I see in your post you use the apologist’s sleight of hand:
            Therefore, the topic at hand is a question of ontology—whether these categories actually exist, and not epistemology—how we know these categories. How we come to knowledge of morality is irrelevant to the question.
            After saying this you feel free to avoid giving any sort of evidence for the claim that objective morality exists. In fact most apologists claim that they exist by fiat and what sparse evidence they give is emotional appeals and scare tactics, “If they don’t exist then you can’t say Hilter was bad!” And that’s a barely concealed implication that they themselves are bad for being unable to say so . . . so it must be true that objective morals are real and Hitler was bad.

            an amoral universe that contains only subjective moral categories (where each person’s standard of right, wrong, good, and evil is defined by themselves and applies only to themselves).
            Do you think that? Do social creatures not exist in your straw-universe? Do they not share large swaths of DNA ad culture that leads them to work toward a common goal?

            Let’s look at the argument.
            Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
            Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
            Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

            Objective morals exist because god exists and we know that because god exists and therefore objective more values exist. How can you find this convincing at all? You’re taking an argument (and I like to point out to theists that it’s not your argument or original thought so if it’s wrong then you don’t have to feel bad or defensive about it) that assumes that both god is necessary for objective morality and that objective morality exists. Right from the start it’s a rigged argument.
            Let’s rewrite it a few ways and show you how ridiculous this argument is.
            Premise 1: If God does not exist, then god’s nature does not exist.
            Premise 2: God’s nature does exist.
            Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.
            Or how about this variation in which we invoke the old adage God Is Good.
            Premise 1: If good does not exist, then good does not exist.
            Premise 2: Good does exist.
            Conclusion: Therefore, good exists.
            Which is the same as saying:
            Premise 1: If God does not exist, then god does not exist.
            Premise 2: God does exist.
            Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

            And let’s think about what you’re saying in your post. These things exist whether we believe they do or not. So there may be objective moral values that we don’t even know about that we’re continually disregarding and that puts us all on the highway to hell. The reason for the apologist’s sleight of hand is because they want to avoid having to say “We know about objective moral values because of the revelation of god in the bible”. Harder to defend than some argument that has been built to obfuscate it’s circularity.

  3. Logan says:

    Hi my name is Logan and for a little background I watch Dr. Turek’s videos all the time and it has seriously helped me grow and defend Christianity. Anyway, I was talking to some people today at my college trying to spread the teachings of the Bible and I brought up the moral argument as to why are there morals. They responded that morals are defined by societal standards. I asked them so if society allowed for murder then murder would be OK and they stated no but to some people it is OK like psychopaths. Since psychopaths don’t feel guilt for say murdering how could it be written on our heart since say this one exception (the psychopath) didn’t know right from wrong. Another thing they brought up on my statement that God wrote morals on our heart is that morals are simply taught to us by our parents. We aren’t born having morals but are rather taught them. I am just wondering how to refute this. This stumped me and I want to get back to them with a logical argument against there case. Thank you for taking time to read this whoever does and responds!

    Reply
    • Terry Lewis says:

      Hi Logan!

      Thank you for taking a stand for Christianity. It’s never easy to feel, as you put it, “stumped”, but you grow the most when you reach the end of your knowledge, and have to search for answers. Hang in there!

      Your friends claim that morals were taught to us by our parents. I certainly hope that was true! However, this doesn’t disprove that objective morality exists. Your parents and teachers probably taught you the multiplication tables, but that doesn’t explain why the multiplication tables exist. So their claim of how you come to know morality doesn’t address why morality exists or where it comes from.

      The claim that morals are defined by societal standards is common, but I don’t think it holds up well. In the early part of the nineteenth century, slavery was the standard for society in the southern United States. By their claim, this would make slavery moral, and by extension, those who fought against that institution would by definition be immoral.

      To use a more contemporary example, ask if they support genderless (same-sex) marriage. I would suggest that even after the recent supreme court ruling legalizing this practice, that it is largely frowned upon by society. If this were not the case, then the law could have been changed by the legislatures and not the courts. By their claim, those who believe differently from society are immoral; therefore, it is by definition immoral to fight against the wishes of society, and those advocating genderless marriage are themselves fighting for an immoral goal.

      In order to argue for their position, these advocates had to insist that there was a standard of fairness that applied to all men, and that fairness was being denied to them. For the purposes of this discussion, it is irrelevant whether or not genderless marriage should or should not be recognized by the state. What is important is that without an objective moral standard, their argument has no power.

      God bless!

      Reply
      • Barry says:

        Hello Terry,

        Your appeal to multiplication tables doesn’t do you any favors, numbers are subjective, and what they can and cannot mean is determined by how we have chosen to define them, not a whole lot different than how we choose to define our words. Which is the only reason math works the way it does. The following sign .–> “2” is not a substantively real thing on its own, like a tree or a building, it is nothing but a representation of an abstract mental concept, with a definition that was subjectively determined eons ago. So your appeal to numbers in the effort to protect morality from being entirely subjective, failed, and probably could have been answered by you more directly without involving the silly subject of “where do numbers come from”. You will likely reply “yeah, but where do the laws of math come from”, they come from our choice to attribute often mutually exclusive definitions to different words and symbols.

        Second, morality consists of value judgments, which our experience of the world tells us differ often wildly from person to person. When you exclude people in prison for their eccentric moral views (i.e., women have no rights, valuable property belongs to whoever is capable of taking it), you are excluding the very evidence that morals are subjective. You and I could agree that rape is wrong, but I say rape is wrong only because it violates the subjective laws which humans have decided to place themselves under. I suppose if I had been born and raised in a militia outfit in Sudan, I might have a different view of how much choice a woman should have when I want to have sex with her. If you must arbitrarily exclude “eccentric” groups and populations in order to “prove” that certain morals are objective true for all people everywhere, you are simply admitting that at the end of the day, not all humans agree on basic morality.

        Your reference to US slavery in the 1800’s was disingenuous; the very fact that whites in the north and south could disagree so sharply on the morality of slavery, despite both groups hurling various bible verses at each other, is a good example of how morality is subjective. Indeed, your bible certainly approved of slavery in both OT and NT. In the OT, even beating your slaves wasn’t considered immoral, while in the NT, beating one’s slaves might have been considered immoral, but the slavery institution of owning another person to the degree that it was illegal and punishable for a slave to run away, was not considered immoral, yet we consider it immoral today in America. My point is that you have no objective basis to declare our 19th century enslavement of Negros to be immoral, and you only land yourself in hot water if you dare cite the bible. I don’t call it immoral for any reason other than this is the way our laws eventually morphed. I suppose had I been born and raised a white child in the Slavery South, I might have a different opinion about whether enslaving Blacks was moral.

        I am one of the rare few atheists who make the secular case not only against gay marriage, but against male homosexuality too. But I don’t say homosexuality is objectively immoral, I simply argue, like I do against drunk driving, that refraining from that activity accords best with one’s presumed desire to not take stupid unnecessary risks with one’s personal health or the safety of others. The subjective nature of this judgment is seen from the fact that exactly at what point an activity becomes immoral can never be figured out with any degree of precision. How many alcoholic drinks must you consume, before driving your car becomes immoral? What about Christians who disagree with you? Can you show from the bible that they misinterpreted something?

        Does God have an opinion, as your creator, on exactly how far you should push yourself in exercise before you cross the line and endanger your health? How do you determine this? How much fast food must you consume before you cross the line God has set for your health? What biblical basis do you have for saying monogamous Christian couples who “shack up” without any official marriage, aren’t “really” married in God’s eyes, given that your bible says absolutely nothing about the minimum rites such couples must go through in order to be legitimately married? Our laws do not condemn such “shacking up”, so what makes you think God condemns them?

        Tripping you up on objective morality could not be easier. Your god allegedly thunders from heaven in his infinite holiness and righteousness for each and every tiny little infraction of his moral law which people might commit, yet Christians using one and same basic bible are sharply divided on what God’s opinion is with respect to numerous moral issues.

        You also bombed out in concluding the gays were necessarily implying existence of an objective standard of fairness to argue their legal case that gays should have marriage rights. No, their standard was the US Constitution, which is certainly no objective standard, but the product of a large group of people who left Europe ostensibly seeking religious freedom, which they conveniently forgot about when they progressively deprived the natives, allegedly also created by God, of their rightfully owned land. Man’s actions in coming to America and taking over the Indian Territory could not provide a better test case for the ultimate subjectivity of morality. barryjoneswhat@yahoo.com

        Reply
    • Barry says:

      Hi Logan,

      I’m an atheist and I’d be willing to debate any argument which you feel most powerfully refutes atheism or most powerfully establishes whatever Christian or theistic belief you wish to defend. We can debate online at any forum of your choice or by private email if you wish. barryjoneswhat@yahoo.com

      Reply
  4. Andy Ryan says:

    Terry, you keep asking ‘Are you saying…’ questions to which the answer is not just “No” but “What an earth gave you the idea I’d say ‘yes’ and what does that question have to do with what I just said?”

    You’re asking so many that I suspect you’ve understood virtually nothing I’ve said. So I’ll try to summarise again the two points I’ve made.

    I’ve mainly addressed two of your claims.
    1) That naturalism has no explanation for the phenomenon of human beings having pro-social behaviour.
    2) That discussions between humans about rights and wrongs are incoherent if objective truths don’t exist.

    For the first I’ve said that we would expect a social species to evolve such behaviours, instincts etc.
    For the second I’ve pointed out that such discussions are quite coherent as long as those involved share basic ideas.

    You’ve asked me a lot of questions in return and also offered me many objections. But none of them affect the two points I actually made, let alone do anything to undermine my two points.

    You accuse me of ‘trying to smuggle in objective morality’, but I’ve done nothing close to this – I merely offered a natural explanation for a particular set of behaviours and attitudes, which doesn’t require objective morals to be be true. And I defending the coherence about discussions and attitudes towards pro-social behaviours in the ABSENCE of objective morality. If you think I’m trying to smuggle objective morality in then you’re completely missed my two points.

    “You assume players will act do as agreed. That’s a moral assumption”

    No, it’s based purely on previous observations of human nature. What’s moral about it? That’s like saying I’m making a ‘moral assumption’ when I expect a cat to avoid getting wet. Most humans share basic ideas on certain things – we both agree on that. What we’re discussing is whether this can be explained under naturalism.

    “Are you saŷing that we must or should agree to these rules”

    This another of those questions that have nothing to do with my point. My point was that it’s not true for you to say there is no coherence in discussions or attitudes to pro-social behaviour (call it morality if you wish) in the absence of objective moral truths. Whether or not people ‘should’ agree to these rules is irrelevant – if they do then we have coherence.

    You can ask ‘but what if they didn’t agree?’ But that’s nothing to do with what I was saying. Point is, we both agree people DO agree. Sure, if there was no agreement then it would be like one person talking about a game of football and the other person thinking they were talking about American football. Or two people having no concept of ball game rules at all. But so what? That’s not the situation we’re looking at and therefore not the situation that requires explanation.

    “What does meaningful mean in this context?”

    I was addressing your OWN assertion that ‘moral categories would be incoherent’ in a universe without objective moral truths. I’ve shown they can be coherent.

    “Any subjective rules we create are meaningless”

    What do YOU mean by meaningless here? Again, if you and I invent rules for our own game together, then we can then play that game. Forget if we SHOULD keep to the rules – the point here is that if we DO, the it’s nonsense to say the rules are meaningless. They’ll have meaning to us, and anyone else who plays, and therefore it’s obviously false to call them ‘incoherent’. The rules of baseball are coherent to anyone who plays or follows the game, regardless of whether you call those rules ‘objective’ or ‘just the rules that everyone eventually broadly agreed upon after decades of gradual development.

    Reply
  5. Terry Lewis says:

    Toby:

    I like how you skipped the part where I answered your question to Andy and dropped this non sequitur to avoid my point.

    I addressed your objection in my reply to you (and to Andy as well). How is that “avoid[ing] your point”?

    To break the rules would be out of bounds within the context of the game and incur consequences.

    You are defining your subjective game rules in a larger context… as I described it above, the metagame. When you create these rules, you are not “in the context of the game”. You haven’t yet started the game. So whatever agreed-upon rules apply in the context of the game, they do not apply to the metagame.

    Outside the game, you “assume” that people “ought” to do what they agree to do in the context of the game. If you do not assume such an ought, then all bets are off. Can you please explain where this ought comes from?

    You say you “ought” to follow the rules of the game because you agreed to do so outside of the game; why ought you do what you agree to do outside of the game?

    Let’s face it… some people just enjoy breaking the rules. Many would find far more enjoyment gaming the system rather than playing the game by the rules. The choice to break the rules is not an in-game decision… it’s a metagame decision.

    So you are saying that we live in an amoral universe?
    No. I think the ‘amoral universe’ you alluded to is a combination of a straw-universe for you to beat up and argument from ignorance.

    I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say here… you’re on record, several times, denying the existence of objective morality. I fully expected you to agree with this… have you changed your mind?

    I see in your post you use the apologist’s sleight of hand…. After saying this you feel free to avoid giving any sort of evidence for the claim that objective morality exists.

    Have you read my post?

    You address a couple of arguments that I did not make, but not the ones that I did make.

    Do social creatures not exist in your straw-universe? Do they not share large swaths of DNA ad culture that leads them to work toward a common goal?

    Are you equating “working toward a common goal” with “goodness”? How do you get from one to the other?

    But to answer your question, in any universe containing multiple organisms, those organisms are necessarily social at least on some level. That doesn’t imply morality. The ecosystem doesn’t care how or even if it stabilizes. In an amoral universe, if snail darters go extinct and the ecosystem remains, then all is well. If humanity goes extinct and the ecosystem remains, then all is well. If humanity destroys the ecosystem, who cares? Not us… we won’t be around to care.

    Objective morals exist because god exists and we know that because god exists and therefore objective more values exist.

    I repeat… have you read my post?

    These things exist whether we believe they do or not. So there may be objective moral values that we don’t even know about that we’re continually disregarding and that puts us all on the highway to hell.

    You’re right. No Christian I know would deny this. That’s why Jesus came and made a way for us to escape the consequences of sin–because we can’t live up to God’s standard. What’s more, we can’t even live up to our own standard!

    The reason for the apologist’s sleight of hand is because they want to avoid having to say “We know about objective moral values because of the revelation of god in the bible”.

    Again… have you read my post?

    Three times I’ve asked you this, because three times, you’ve said, “apologists always use X to show that objective morality exists”, and three times, the argument you’re complaining about shows up nowhere in my post.

    And regarding the supposed “sleight of hand”… do you deny that ontology and epistemology are two different things? Does evidence for or against one count as evidence for or against the other?

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “Are you equating “working toward a common goal” with “goodness”? ”

      It’s irrelevant whether we do or don’t make that leap. The point he was making stands either way. You are the one pointing to pro-social species working to a common goal and saying it is evidence for objective moral truths.

      “That doesn’t imply morality”

      Then why hold it up as evidence of objective moral truths?

      Reply
  6. Jeremy says:

    Andy

    “The point he was making stands either way. You are the one pointing to pro-social species working to a common goal and saying it is evidence for objective moral truths.”

    Now your just wrong Andy, Terry has never once stated that working towards a common goal is evidence for objective moral turths. His statement has always been God is evidence for objective moral truths. He asked a question of Toby about relating “goodness” to “common goal.” which for the scheer purpose of continuing to exist a common goal would be considered “good,” although in truth there is nothing good about it.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      God is evidence for moral truths? Backwards, Jeremy – Terry argues that moral truths are evidence of God.

      And yes, he does point to man’s behaviour as evidence of the moral truths:

      “So the fact that every single person who has reached age two seems to have conversations about what men should and should not do seems to be strong evidence that they actually perceive something in the universe that actually exists. Whether politician, priest, parent, or protester, all make the claim that men should behave in a certain way. It seems remarkably myopic to consider all who hold such views to be sharing the same delusion!”

      Reply
    • Jeremy says:

      Andy

      Backwards, Jeremy – Terry argues that moral truths are evidence of God

      sorry for being sloppy I guess, yes moral truths are evidence for God since he argues that the moral truths are God, those truths being a part of Him.

      “And yes, he does point to man’s behaviour as evidence of the moral truths”

      True he is pointing to moral truths because they exist, the question is what is their ontology? Do they have one? I was not saying that a common goal is evidence for moral truths nor is Terry, at best a common goal gets you subjective morals for the present time and are subject to change in the future which makes them in no way objective, the only way for them to be objective would be for us to have all knowledge since we will never have all knowledge they will never be objective, unless God exists.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        If you’re going to say ‘now you’re just wrong’, you need to be pretty careful in backing that up, rather than getting the argument backwards. Note how I was polite enough not to say ‘Now YOU’RE just wrong, Jeremy’.

        “Neither is Terry”

        He’s holding up human behaviour as his evidence for moral truths. What are you pointing to?

        You say that humans acting in a pro-social way isn’t evidence for objective moral truths. I say the same, so I’m glad you agree. So what evidence can you and Terry offer that doesn’t boil down to human behaviour?

        Reply
  7. Jeremy says:

    Andy

    why is it that you never answer any questions that I ask you?

    “If you’re going to say ‘now you’re just wrong’, you need to be pretty careful in backing that up, rather than getting the argument backwards. Note how I was polite enough not to say ‘Now YOU’RE just wrong, Jeremy’.”

    why did you even make this statement? I conceded to being sloppy, and fixed it. you then claim you were polite enough to not say I was wrong, but in your statement you say I was wrong ” Backwards, Jeremy.” Moreover in the past you have said I was wrong, which im ok with but I didnt take it personally or whine about it.

    “So what evidence can you and Terry offer that doesn’t boil down to human behaviour?”

    I dont have any if naturalism is true, If our behavior determines morals then we are still left with subjective morals, which breaks down to pure means of survival and morals do not exist, which believing we are going to survive is flat out deluded or at least hope and science doesnt touch hope, which leads to why survive at all, but then again under naturalism why ask the question, why ask why, who is asking why?

    You tell us that morals dont exist, therefore we ought not believe they do. Is that becasue it would be better/right for us not to? what is the right way for us to think and how do you know that? How skeptical of your skepticism are you? Can you believe in anything?

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “I dont have any if naturalism is true”

      Well whether naturalism is true is the point being discussed. Terry was claiming it isn’t due to the existence of ‘objective moral truths’. So the question is: what evidence is there for them? I said that Terry is basically pointing at human behaviour as evidence for them. You claimed I ‘was just wrong’ in this claim. I replied with a quote from Terry that, to me, backs up my point. I in turn asked you what evidence you can offer that ISN’T human behaviour. After all, you said it was a strawman to claim that’s being offered as evidence AT ALL, let alone the ONLY evidence.

      In reply you seem to say you have no evidence. Albeit, no evidence ‘if naturalism is true’. But you’re claiming that naturalism is NOT true… So that means you SHOULD have some evidence, right?

      So where is it?

      “You tell us morals don’t exist”

      No, I don’t think I have told you that. Terry claimed objective moral truths exist, and I’ve questioned the evidence he’s offered for that.

      What question are you saying I’ve ignored? You asked a few in your last post, but the same post BEGAN by saying I’ve avoided some – I’ve just looked at your previous post and the only question seems to be ‘what is their ontology?’. Was that for me? I’m not even sure what you mean. You’re the one claiming they exist, so is it up to me to explain their ontology?

      Reply
  8. Jeremy says:

    Andy

    “I said that Terry is basically pointing at human behaviour as evidence for them”

    Terry has never basically said that they exist based on human behavior, if he had his whole arguement would fall apart. His arguement would be yours in different words if thats what he said

    “after all, you said it was a strawman to claim that’s being offered as evidence AT ALL, let alone the ONLY evidence.”

    Ive never said this is a strawman although I do believe its false if we are going to talk about morals as if they exist, as I believe that if naturalism is true then then there are no objective moral truths and neither do you. I agree with you.

    ” what evidence is there for them?”

    Are there things we ought to do or believe regardless of whether we want to do them or believe them? this has to be answered in order for this conversation to go on in a meaningful way.

    Me: You tell us morals dont exist
    Andy: No, I dont think I told you that.

    Andy earlier: You say that humans acting in a pro-social way isn’t evidence for objective moral truths. I say the same, so I’m glad you agree.

    Do you see my confusion?

    Here are the other questions I was talking about:

    You tell us that morals dont exist, therefore we ought not believe they do. Is that becasue it would be better/right for us not to?
    what is the right way for us to think and how do you know that?
    Are you skeptical as to how you know that?
    How skeptical of your skepticism are you?
    Can you believe in anything?

    Do you not recognise the inherent problem with you saying they dont exist, you made the claim they dont exist so your making a truth statement all the while claiming there is no truth, no right way at least not one that we can know about, but there is one just not one that involves God. Or are you going to make the claim ” I dont say they dont exist I just lack belief they exist” Also something to be responded to if we are going to have a meaningful conversation.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “Me: You tell us morals dont exist
      Andy: No, I dont think I told you that.

      Andy earlier: You say that humans acting in a pro-social way isn’t evidence for objective moral truths. I say the same, so I’m glad you agree.

      Do you see my confusion?”

      No, I don’t – at no point there do I say ‘morals don’t exist’.

      “You tell us morals don’t exist”

      Again, where did I say that?

      “Are there things we ought to do or believe regardless of whether we want to do them or believe them? this has to be answered in order for this conversation to go on in a meaningful way”

      Sorry, but what evidence are you offering? What are you seeing in the world that you wouldn’t expect to see in the absence of ‘objective moral truths’?

      “Can you believe in anything?”

      What’s that got to do with this subject? Terry made a clear claim that moral truths exist. I’m asking for the evidence.

      Reply
  9. Jeremy says:

    Andy

    “No, I don’t – at no point there do I say ‘morals don’t exist’.”

    So they do exist or dont?

    What are you seeing in the world that you wouldn’t expect to see in the absence of ‘objective moral truths’?”

    There is the underlying question, the answer relies on faith either way you answer it. The answer is God exists and morals do exist or Naturalism is ( no God ) the creator and no morals exist at all, they are just ways that nature is working itself out for the time being, you and your “morals” is just nature figuring it out, but then again Andy is not making any decisions because Andy is just nature in this form, so if Andy wants to go and kill anybody he wants its not wrong its the universe working itself out and he can not be held accountable which is fine from a naturalistic perspective and we should be neutral on any act becasue they can not be good or bad just nature making moves. You like many athiests want to act as if we can have a moral code to live by, but there isnt one which is what we would expect if there is no God. None of this should matter to you anyway because when your dead you will no longer exist to care about such things.

    What’s that got to do with this subject? Terry made a clear claim that moral truths exist. I’m asking for the evidence

    If you would have responded to the questions preceding it then the answer would be self apparent, at least I would hope so. Whats interesting is that you wont accept that morals dont exist and if they dont they are illusory, which means there is no good reason for following any moral code other than you cant help it ( let that work on your mind), at least for the time being. You keep asking for evidence. its been given which is, good and bad exist this is subject to a moral code, the only way a moral code can exist is if God exists, without God there is no objective moral code and it breaks down from there into nothing more than the universe acting itself out and there is nothing good or bad about it, it just is hence no morals its nonsensical.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “So they do exist or don’t?”
      I don’t know – I’m not the one making the claim.

      “There is the underlying question, the answer relies on faith either way you answer it”

      It relies on faith? Not much use as evidence for God, then is it? If it relies on faith then you need to believe in God BEFORE it’s evidence.

      “You keep asking for evidence. its been given which is, good and bad exist this is subject to a moral code”

      Your evidence is just more claims. What do you mean by ‘good and bad exist’? Suffering exists, sure. People do nice things, yes. Sometimes people act selfishly, of course. Why do ‘objective moral truths’ or indeed a God, need to exist for us to be able to observe these things? What exactly are you seeing in the world that you think you wouldn’t see if objective moral truths didn’t exist?

      “The answer is God exists and morals do exist…”

      …You’ve not shown that God existing means morals exist.

      “…[or] Naturalism is ( no God ) the creator and no morals exist at all”

      You’ve not shown that either.

      “None of this should matter to you anyway because when your dead you will no longer exist to care about such things.”

      It shouldn’t matter to me NOW, because it won’t matter to me when I’m DEAD? That’s a non sequitur. That’s like saying “You shouldn’t be in discomfort now from being very hungry, because you won’t be hungry any more once you’ve eaten”. It makes no sense at all, and at any rate isn’t relevant to the question at hand. It’s at the top of the page: ‘Do Objective Moral Truths Exist in Reality?’

      Reply
  10. Jeremy says:

    Andy

    So they do exist or don’t?”
    “I don’t know – I’m not the one making the claim.”

    If you dont know then why have this conversation, especially since you never seem to making claim but you tell that my claims are unsupported and you know that im wrong. You want to play this game of “I’m not making claims, but your wrong” whats your foundation for telling me im wrong.

    “It relies on faith? Not much use as evidence for God, then is it? If it relies on faith then you need to believe in God BEFORE it’s evidence.”

    You just told me that you dont know if objective morals exist, so you acting as if they do requires faith that they do because you dont know. I was saying that faith in God being the objective foundation for morals is faith in HIm being who He says He is, I am very comfortable saying that if He doesnt exist then morals dont exist, are you ok with that.

    “Your evidence is just more claims. What do you mean by ‘good and bad exist’? Suffering exists, sure. People do nice things, yes. Sometimes people act selfishly, of course. Why do ‘objective moral truths’ or indeed a God, need to exist for us to be able to observe these things?”

    Ok, please read carefully good, bad, suffering, niceness, selfishness dont exist if objective morals dont exist, if God doesnt exist none of these things exist other than thats how we describe them. If we were not here would those things exist?

    You’ve not shown that God existing means morals exist
    You’ve not shown that either

    since neither of my explanations cant be shown to as sufficient explanations can you please give me one that is sufficient to explain morals if they exist, because obviously Im very confused and would like not to be.

    “It shouldn’t matter to me NOW, because it won’t matter to me when I’m DEAD?”

    I was trying to show that if morals rely on us then when we dont exist anymore they wont either, which I have to ask did morals exist before there were any human minds?

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “If you dont know then why have this conversation”

      Terry has described a phenonemon called ‘objective moral truths’, which he claims exists. I’ve no idea whether he’s right or not, but I can examine the evidence he offers for his claim. And for reasons I’ve already given, I don’t think the evidence he offers holds water. Might objective moral truths still exist? Sure. Has he given sufficient reasons to accept that they do? Not in my opinion.

      “You just told me that you dont know if objective morals exist, so you acting as if they do requires faith that they do because you don’t know”

      Who says I’m acting as if they do? I’m guessing that you have an opinion about how someone should act if they do NOT believe in objective moral truths, and you don’t think I match up to that. But I may well disagree with your opinion there. As far as I’m concerned I’m acting exactly like someone who is agnostic on the issue.

      “I was trying to show that if morals rely on us then when we dont exist anymore they wont either, which I have to ask did morals exist before there were any human minds?”

      I don’t know, Terry. But I don’t get why ‘after you’re dead this won’t matter to you’ is in this case relevant to whether it should matter to me right now while I’m alive.

      “Ok, please read carefully good, bad, suffering, niceness, selfishness dont exist if objective morals don’t exist”

      Who says? Objective moral truths are required for suffering to exist? I don’t see that that makes sense at all. As far as I can see all that is required is for a creature to have a central nervous system and the ability to feel pain.

      “I am very comfortable saying that if He doesnt exist then morals dont exist, are you ok with that.”

      Not particularly. I don’t see how God existing means moral exist. And I’m open to people explaining a system of morals that doesn’t require God.

      Reply
  11. Jerermy says:

    Andy

    “Terry has described a phenonemon called ‘objective moral truths’, which he claims exists. I’ve no idea whether he’s right or not, but I can examine the evidence he offers for his claim. And for reasons I’ve already given, I don’t think the evidence he offers holds water. Might objective moral truths still exist? Sure. Has he given sufficient reasons to accept that they do? Not in my opinion.”

    What is your criteria for determining if evidence put forth for objective moral truths is sufficient?

    “Who says I’m acting as if they do? I’m guessing that you have an opinion about how someone should act if they do NOT believe in objective moral truths, and you don’t think I match up to that. But I may well disagree with your opinion there. As far as I’m concerned I’m acting exactly like someone who is agnostic on the issue.”

    First of all whether I believe in Objective morals existing is irrelevant if they exist. Secondly based on experience,
    I made an assumption that you do act based on some type of moral code. if you say that you dont, please explain how you are able to do that, I would not presume how you should act other than if you were to live that out in a 100%way, I dont know that you could act at all or at least you would have to give up any notion that you are acting all.

    “I don’t know, Terry. But I don’t get why ‘after you’re dead this won’t matter to you’ is in this case relevant to whether it should matter to me right now while I’m alive.”

    will what have mattered to you right now matter to you when your dead?

    “Who says? Objective moral truths are required for suffering to exist? I don’t see that that makes sense at all. As far as I can see all that is required is for a creature to have a central nervous system and the ability to feel pain.”

    Oh people like Nietzche, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens. although Nietzsche was the only one that truly admitted to this that Ive read. A central nervous system is required only for physical pain, moreover that pain isnt really pain its pressure, ever been to the doctor and gotten a shot and right before giving it they say ” gonna feel some pressure”, they dont say that because they are trying soften the blow. They say that because thats all it is, exciting the nerve endings that sense a pressure change and tearing, letting you know of a change and something that could be potentially harmful. emotional pain is a different kind of pain on its own. Pain can be over come. You ever read C.S. Lewsi’s book The Problem of Pain?

    “Not particularly. I don’t see how God existing means moral exist. And I’m open to people explaining a system of morals that doesn’t require God.”

    so morals exist just not objective ones? Only subjective morals exist but nobody has any reason to accept them as true and the way we ought to do things, right? Are you open to God being the foundation for morals?

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “What is your criteria for determining if evidence put forth for objective moral truths is sufficient?”

      Jeremy, when someone tries to drag the conversation into the meta then it’s generally a sign that it’s disappearing down a rabbit hole. I’ve already critiqued the evidence Terry offered.

      “will what have mattered to you right now matter to you when your dead?”

      I doubt it. I don’t think this has anything to do with Terry’s claims or my critiques of them though.

      ” A central nervous system is required only for physical pain”

      Right. That’s called suffering, Terry. I think we’re done here.

      Reply
      • Terry Lewis says:

        Uh… Andy, you’re having a conversation addressed to me, when I’m not here! Miss me much ? 😉

        I actually agree with you on one point, Andy. Suffering could still exist, even if objective morality does not exist. I’ve referred this to preferential-badness… it’s something that is bad because you do not desire it. But preferential-badness does not equate with moral-badness or evil. Suffering is not preferred by the sufferer… but that does not imply that one should not cause others to suffer. That requires moral-badness… something that is evil and should not be done. This moral-badness is what you claim may or may not exist…”[you] don’t know”.

        In my post, I address this exact scenario. While the sufferer might do anything in his or her power to alleviate the suffering, in an amoral universe, I find no reason to believe that the idea that such a condition should not exist would ever enter their mind. What “ought to be” would not exist; what is, and what can be changed is the only reality.

        I don’t see how God existing means moral exist. And I’m open to people explaining a system of morals that doesn’t require God.

        Interesting… so you’re ok believing that there are some things that men ought to do, or ought not to do, so long as there’s no one to make the rules, or to ultimately hold you accountable?

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “Uh… Andy, you’re having a conversation addressed to me, when I’m not here! Miss me much ? ;)”
          I put Terry once when I meant Jeremy. Sorry. Jeremy himself mis-spelled his own name once, and another time posted under the name ‘Andy’, so I think I can be forgiven.

          “Suffering could still exist, even if objective morality does not exist”
          You can argue that out with Jeremy, who denied it.

          “so you’re ok believing that there are some things that men ought to do, or ought not to do, so long as there’s no one to make the rules, or to ultimately hold you accountable?”

          At no point did I say that.

          While you’re back, can you offer any evidence for objective moral truths? You don’t in your article above.

          There’s another point you never answered elsewhere, but I’ve failed to find the thread it occurred on. We were talking about the laws of logic, which you said required the mind of God to exist. You said that even if no humans existed, the laws would still exist, as if they did NOT exist it would created the nonsensical situation where (without the law of non-contradiction) the laws would both exist and not exist. Therefore, you said, the laws do NOT require humans to exist.

          That’s fine, but the problem for your argument is that exactly the same thing would apply to the laws of logic and God. Take out ‘humans’ and replace it with ‘God’ and the argument shows that the laws do NOT require God to exist:

          If no God existed, the laws would still exist, as if they did NOT exist it would created the nonsensical situation where (without the law of non-contradiction) the laws would both exist and not exist. Therefore, the laws do NOT require God to exist.

          Reply
  12. Jeremy says:

    Andy

    “Jeremy, when someone tries to drag the conversation into the meta then it’s generally a sign that it’s disappearing down a rabbit hole. I’ve already critiqued the evidence Terry offered.”

    Are you saying that the metaphysical is nonsensical?

    “I doubt it. I don’t think this has anything to do with Terry’s claims or my critiques of them though.”

    What is there to doubt, it would be logical to think that if you no longer exist then you wouldnt be thinking at all. This has everything to do with your not accepting of Terry’s claims. Terry argues for a metaphysical foundation. You dont accept the metaphysical apparetly which is fine, but you have to also look at the conclusion that leads to.

    “Right. That’s called suffering, Terry. I think we’re done here.”

    Why are you calling me Terry, as a joke? No suffering has nothing to do with the physical state of something, pain is nothing more than the perception of an outside stimulus. For those people in this world that dont feel physical pain yet they can be cut to cause bleeding, are they suffering? Does bacteria suffer went its poked with a needle, it doesnt have a central nervous system.?

    By the way do you watch a lot of Matt Dillahunty?

    This conversation can be over not a big deal, honestly though your not gonna find what your looking for here as I dont think you can be convinced by anything we say or anybody including God.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “it would be logical to think that if you no longer exist then you wouldnt be thinking at all”
      I agree. So since I doubt that there is an afterlife, I doubt that what matters to me know will matter to me when I’m dead. Where’s your confusion, Jeremy?

      “No suffering has nothing to do with the physical state of something”
      If you’re saying that enduring tremendous pain doesn’t count as suffering then you’re going off the deep end in a serious way.

      “Does bacteria suffer went its poked with a needle, it doesnt have a central nervous system.?”
      No, bacteria doesn’t have a central nervous system so I doubt that it suffers. A deer being eaten alive by a predator DOES have a central nervous system and gives every indication of suffering.

      “Terry argues for a metaphysical foundation”
      Terry made his arguments, I’ve replied with why I don’t think they work. You’ve not addressed my responses. And he certainly made non-metaphysical claims such as: “Evolution is not a creative force, but an adaptive force” that can be addressed without reference to the metaphysical.

      “Are you saying that the metaphysical is nonsensical?”

      I said, meta, not metaphysical. You had said: “What is your criteria for determining if evidence put forth for objective moral truths is sufficient?”, when I’d already explained my problems with his ‘evidence’. You’ve either got an answer to those problems or you don’t.

      I often find in these conversations that they’ll start with an apologist making a clear claim about the world we see – it can be ‘People acting in this way, X, is a particular phenomena that can only be explained by God’ or ‘This particular thing we see in the fossil record suggests intelligent design’. Then, when they get responses giving non-God explanations for that phenomena, and they see they’re not going to ‘win’ the argument by discussing the facts, they’ll try to shift the argument to the ‘meta’ by saying things like “Sure, but what evidence could possibly convince you anyway?”, or “But what does ‘evidence’ or ‘facts’ or ‘reality’ mean anyway?” or, “If you don’t believe in God, how can you even justify the logic you’re using in this conversation?”.

      All of these are ‘going nuclear’ options that people reach for when their argument is failing. It reminds me of the dodgy lawyer in The Simpsons when he’s losing and says “Yes, but what is ‘truth’?”.

      Reply
      • Jeremy says:

        Andy

        I had written you something from home and now its not showing up here and rather that put it back on here I think Ill be done with this conversation. Although I wouldnt mind answer to the question that I asked about matt dillahunty and if you listen to him alot. I would also like to encourage you to study about pain a little more and whether or not pain in sense of a person suffering actually happens, this is very interesting that you want to attach a personal component to pain rather than accept it for what it is, C.S. Lewis does a great job in his book The Problem of Pain. Hope you had a great thanksgiving God bless you,

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “I would also like to encourage you to study about pain a little more and whether or not pain in sense of a person suffering actually happens”

          Jeremy, if you’re saying that torturing a dog doesn’t cause the animal to suffer then you’ve either gone way off the deep end in this discussion, and separated yourself from reality, or you’re just trying to play a word game with the term ‘suffer’.

          Reply
  13. Jeremy says:

    Andy

    Where’s your confusion, Jeremy?

    My confusion is that you doubt. There is nothing to doubt if naturalism is true, which is contradictory to how you live your life upon a moral code but you ignore the fact that if there is no God morals don’t exist in way shape or form other than what we imagine them to be. So why think that anything we do can be considered good or worthwhile, true what I just said gives us no objective morals, but if God is real then morals are real. The evidence for God is substantial if you are willing to grant the metaphysical but seem unwilling to do that as you stated that the metaphysical is nonsensical.

    “I said, meta, not metaphysical. You had said: “What is your criteria for determining if evidence put forth for objective moral truths is sufficient?”, when I’d already explained my problems with his ‘evidence’. You’ve either got an answer to those problems or you don’t”

    Here is your chance to educate because I don’t know what you mean when just use ‘meta’

    “Evolution is not a creative force, but an adaptive force” that can be addressed without reference to the metaphysical.”

    Right within evolution morals were adapted for survival, but were nothing more than tools to survive, why would they be different now?

    “If you’re saying that enduring tremendous pain doesn’t count as suffering then you’re going off the deep end in a serious way.”

    How so, im being very respectful to the body and its processes just cause we are able to call it suffering doesn’t mean that it is suffering. The deer doesn’t even know what the term suffering means, if there were no humans would suffering still exist?

    “All of these are ‘going nuclear’ options that people reach for when their argument is failing. It reminds me of the dodgy lawyer in The Simpsons when he’s losing and says “Yes, but what is ‘truth’?”.”

    Lol, I get it, but its interesting he may say that but he uses that just as agnostics/athiests do to escape the truth by saying that there isn’t any truth but what we make it or that truth is different for everybody, I don’t think you would agree with people using truth like that as its intellectually dishonest.

    Tell you what ill read what you post next and I think we”ll call it on this convo. you didn’t answer my questin about matt dillahunty or C.S. lewis by the way

    Reply
  14. toby says:

    Therefore, the topic at hand is a question of ontology—whether these categories actually exist, and not epistemology—how we know these categories. How we come to knowledge of morality is irrelevant to the question;

    Yes, I’ve read your post several times. And I still see this as a sleight of hand. You’re not bringing anything new to the table here. It’s the same old argument. “Objective moral values and duties exist because otherwise OH THE HORROR! YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING IS BAD OR GOOD!” You make up a staw universe in which the basic concept of “better or worse” can’t exist because there isn’t a god. A person wants a drink from a stream. They try to dip water out with two things, a flat rock and their cupped hands. They decide that their cupped hands work better than a flat rock and apply the label good to using cupped hands to drink water from a stream. Is it such a hard idea to grasp and extend to other scenarios? Who would be “hard-pressed” to see how notions of better or worse came to be? How would that have no basis in reality? The fact of the matter is that you can’t explain that objective moral values exist without explaning how you know that they do. This is a garbage debate tactic. “They exist, and I don’t have to explain how I know—that’s irrelevant!”

    The claim is that our universe contains moral categories of values (good and evil) and duties (right and wrong actions) that exist independently of the opinion of anyone and that apply to the actions and motivations of all persons.

    What use are objective moral values other than as a basis for divine judgement? History shows that morality is a nebulous, shifting concept that adapts to the times. At one point it was god’s will to stone unruly children, gays, and not to eat lobster. But now it’s not and if you’d bother to address this point it would be a lot of hoop jumping and cognitive dissonant gymnastics about old and new testament and ceremonial law and different times and blah.

    You address a couple of arguments that I did not make, but not the ones that I did make.

    Could you point to where you give evidence for objective morality in your post? I don’t buy your straw-universe comparison. You’re basically using the same trick as the ontology/epistemology evasion. “There’s an amoral universe and exists just as I say and I don’t have to offer any evidence that it would actually be the way I describe it.” It’s why I said it was part argument from ignorance. And now that I think about it it’s also a bit of a gap argument where you insert god/objective morals into the other universe.

    Reply
    • Terry Lewis says:

      Toby,

      You’re objecting against a claim I’m not making.

      A person wants a drink from a stream. They try to dip water out with two things, a flat rock and their cupped hands. They decide that their cupped hands work better than a flat rock and apply the label good to using cupped hands to drink water from a stream. Is it such a hard idea to grasp and extend to other scenarios?

      This is preferential-good. The cupped hands work better for the purpose of drinking, so the drinker “prefers” what works more efficiently. Personally, I’d prefer a Solo cup! That’s more efficient than cupped hands!

      But this is not a moral claim, unless you want to say it is somehow immoral to drink from a flat rock. How do you move from “drinking from a flat rock is less efficient” to “men should not drink from flat rocks”?

      I also notice one other thing about your claim; you judge the efficiency of using cupped hands or flat rocks in relation to your purpose. If your purpose is drinking, cupped hands are better. If your purpose is killing a small animal for supper, the flat rock is better.

      So even if your analogy is correct, what is the purpose of men’s behavior? If someone murders your children, is that moral or immoral? By your analogy, the answer is, “it depends on their purpose”. If their purpose is to harm you, then killing your children would be an efficient way to do so. Does this make it moral? If their purpose is to form an alliance with you, then it is completely inefficient. But is it wrong to do such a thing simply because it does not further one’s own purposes?

      Such “morality” is, quite obviously, subjective—on this system, the truth of whether an action is moral or immoral is determined by the observer, not by the observed. As my post is specifically about objective morality, the existence of this type of morality is rather irrelevant.

      How would that have no basis in reality?

      On atheism, mankind has no overarching purpose. I’ve read many atheist philosophers who say that it is up to us to define our own purpose in life. If this is true, then how can you say anything is bad or good? And if killing your children is moral for Bob who wants to harm you, and immoral for Mark who wants to ally with you, then how can you say that such morality is “real” in any meaningful way?

      What use are objective moral values other than as a basis for divine judgement? History shows that morality is a nebulous, shifting concept that adapts to the times.

      Is that what history shows, or does it show that men have discovered (or at times, perhaps, forgotten) new truths about the objective moral principles?

      If your statement is true, then please explain how homosexual activists could say honestly that they were being denied the “right” to marry? Something must exist before it can be denied. Your claim above is that moral values and duties are defined by men (and by extension, society). Yet, our culture in the United States is largely opposed to homosexual marriage. If this were not the case, then the laws could have been changed through the legislature and not the courts. By your definition, it was immoral for homosexuals to fight for something not approved of by society.

      For what, then, were they fighting? Their own actions require an objective moral law in order to make any sense. They were claiming that the majority were wrong to deny them access to marriage benefits. Can you explain, in a universe without objective morality, how this can be true?

      Reply
      • toby says:

        “Such “morality” is, quite obviously, subjective—on this system, the truth of whether an action is moral or immoral is determined by the observer, not by the observed.”

        Distinguish this from the world we live in.

        I’ve read many atheist philosophers who say that it is up to us to define our own purpose in life. If this is true, then how can you say anything is bad or good?

        How can you say anything is good or bad? You’re not really saying that there are objective morals, you’re saying that there is a superbeing who’s nature is how you define good and are attempting to tell everyone that their opinions are completely invalid because they don’t use your definition of good. In fact, they can’t even use your word “good”! This argument is simply a hijacking of language.

        Then how can you say that such morality is “real” in any meaningful way?

        I don’t even know what to make of the question. Morality is a concept. Morality is as real as any other concept. But like any other concept it requires brains to exist so saying that morality exists regardless of whether it is known or not is nonsensical to me.

        Their own actions require an objective moral law in order to make any sense. They were claiming that the majority were wrong to deny them access to marriage benefits. Can you explain, in a universe without objective morality, how this can be true?

        Yes. History shows that morality is a nebulous, shifting concept that adapts to the times. Otherwise polls would be useless as opinions would never change.

        Reply
        • tanner bryan says:

          You are basing your information of your world view as if it is the only answer. The only reasons those philosophers gave those answers is because they are atheists. When you are constrained to a naturalistic world view you have to change definitions and assume that you cannot have morality.
          The problem is we do have a moral code so you who answer is bs and the reason why you are forced to give an outlandish answer is because of an atheist named G. E. Moore. He is the man that made a theory which proved no one can create a moral code in a purely material world. You cannot create a moral code because every time you try to create a moral you end up using a Naturalistic Fallacy. The fallacy happens when you get to your answer by just reversing your logic.
          an example would be; helping people is good (this time), thus it is good to help people. you can see how you will never be able to make a moral code or standard because if you help steel money from poor people (fits the code you created) it is not good.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            By ‘proved it’ do you mean that Moore ‘argued it’? The two are no the same. Problem for you is that you haven’t shown how appealing to the supernatural solves the problem you present of creating a moral code. You knock up against the Euthryphro Dilemma and all the problems of Divine Command Theory.

            In short, introducing a God into the equation gets you no closer to demonstrating or explaining an ‘objective morality’.

        • Terry Lewis says:

          Toby:

          Sorry to take so long to respond.

          [TL] “Such “morality” is, quite obviously, subjective—on this system, the truth of whether an action is moral or immoral is determined by the observer, not by the observed.”
          [Toby] Distinguish this from the world we live in.

          Are you saying that it is moral for someone who wants to harm you to torture your children because it fulfills their purpose? I know you claim to believe in nothing more than subjective morality, but I’d wager that you don’t live as if that is true. Even in your denial, you can’t escape the truth. You would find abhorrent any man who would rape a child. If this isn’t true, then I have no words left… you need more help than I can provide.

          You’re not really saying that there are objective morals, you’re saying that there is a superbeing who’s nature is how you define good and are attempting to tell everyone that their opinions are completely invalid because they don’t use your definition of good.

          No, Toby. If their opinions are invalid, it is because they lack merit. For instance, you claim to believe in an amoral universe. But when I consider that in such a universe, no action may be rightfully condemned, and I see every single human condemning the actions of others, I cannot conclude that your idea is correct. The whole of humanity stands against you. Furthermore, if you yourself hold that some actions should not be done, then you stand against yourself.

          I’ve asked repeatedly for atheists to provide a naturalistic moral standard that defines how men should live. And each proposal I see suffers from a fatal flaw. If it’s based in human opinion, then why should I value that opinion over my own? If it’s based in scientific discovery, then how can the discovery of how things work tell me how I ought to behave?

          I’ve heard atheists say that they have a cosmic authority problem… they will not bow their knee to God. Why do they not also have a terrestrial authority problem? I see no reason to bow my knee to other man, based only on their own opinions, ideas, or self-importance. Why do men resist a moral standard based on God’s nature, but eagerly accept one defined by the nature of other humans?

          [TL] [H]ow can you say that such morality is “real” in any meaningful way?
          [Toby] I don’t even know what to make of the question. Morality is a concept. Morality is as real as any other concept. But like any other concept it requires brains to exist…

          But is morality a fictional concept, or a real concept? Is it something like the fictional telekinesis of Stephen King’s Carrie, or more like love? (Or do you deny the reality of love?)

          so saying that morality exists regardless of whether it is known or not is nonsensical to me.

          At the risk of being repetitive, does logic exist without logical minds? Would the idea that “no humans exist” be true and logically coherent?

          Obviously, the principles of calculus existed long before they were discovered. I don’t see how you find this idea nonsensical.

          History shows that morality is a nebulous, shifting concept that adapts to the times.

          Ok, let’s assume that’s true and revisit my example.

          Most states that had voted on same-sex marriage had solidly rejected the idea (including California). The people said “No”. If morality is defined by the culture, then wouldn’t this mean that same-sex marriage was immoral, and that those who lobbied for it were also immoral?

          Otherwise polls would be useless as opinions would never change.

          You changed the subject… are we discussing morality, or people’s opinion of morality? It’s obvious that opinions can change. You haven’t shown that the object of their opinion can change.

          In fact, in an amoral universe, an opinion about morality would be an opinion about nothing. What value is it then?

          Reply
          • toby says:

            ? I know you claim to believe in nothing more than subjective morality, but I’d wager that you don’t live as if that is true. Even in your denial, you can’t escape the truth. You would find abhorrent any man who would rape a child.

            Why do apologists consider this such a “gotcha” line? Why would it be surprising that a person with a moral opinion for a given act would feel offended/mad/disheartened if someone acted counter to their opinion?

            But when I consider that in such a universe, no action may be rightfully condemned, and I see every single human condemning the actions of others, I cannot conclude that your idea is correct.

            See my point above then further consider that no person is raised in a vacuum and their morality is largely given to them as a combination of culture, teaching, and reason.

            I’ve asked repeatedly for atheists to provide a naturalistic moral standard that defines how men should live. And each proposal I see suffers from a fatal flaw. If it’s based in human opinion, then why should I value that opinion over my own?

            And I’ve offered somewhere here before that continued existence is a basic property of life. It’s how all life is programmed from the simplest organism to the us. Once you get to our level of cognition you have so many variables to weigh in a given decision that choices could actually run counter to the continued existence of us. Opinions and reason and calculation is what we have to work with.

            Why do men resist a moral standard based on God’s nature, but eagerly accept one defined by the nature of other humans?

            Because one can be clearly seen to exist and the consequences of breaking the rules more immediate and potentially severe.

            But is morality a fictional concept, or a real concept? Is it something like the fictional telekinesis of Stephen King’s Carrie, or more like love? (Or do you deny the reality of love?)
            I don’t think your question makes sense. A concept is a concept. Love is just a title and concept we apply to the physical and mental states we have in certain relationships in our lives.

            At the risk of being repetitive, does logic exist without logical minds?

            No, it is a description of how we think about the reality around us. Without intelligent beings in the universe the universe will still work as it does, but there would be no thought, hence no logic.

            If morality is defined by the culture, then wouldn’t this mean that same-sex marriage was immoral, and that those who lobbied for it were also immoral?

            Aside from the fact that not everyone votes, culture is only a portion of what makes up morality.

            In fact, in an amoral universe, an opinion about morality would be an opinion about nothing. What value is it then?
            I don’t think we have to revisit your strawuniverse. You’ve loaded it to mean that any kind of morality wouldn’t exist. It’s a basically a word game. “I said AMORAL, meaning no morals at all!” So sure, in a universe with no morals, not even subjective ones, there are no morals. Wow.

          • toby says:

            Also, why do you, and many other apologists, feel the need to load your arguments with emotional triggers?
            “Are you saying that it is moral for someone who wants to harm you to torture your children because it fulfills their purpose?…You would find abhorrent any man who would rape a child.”

            Why focus on children? The act is what we’re talking about, not who is acted upon. Pare down your arguments to the verbs.

      • Andy Ryan says:

        “If your statement is true, then please explain how homosexual activists could say honestly that they were being denied the “right” to marry? Something must exist before it can be denied. Your claim above is that moral values and duties are defined by men (and by extension, society). Yet, our culture in the United States is largely opposed to homosexual marriage. If this were not the case, then the laws could have been changed through the legislature and not the courts. By your definition, it was immoral for homosexuals to fight for something not approved of by society.”

        Very little in this paragraph makes any sense at all.

        Anyone arguing anti-gay bigotry can point to the US Constitution in the same way that inter-racial couples did. They have a right to marry according to that. The US Constitution deliberately made no reference to God, so no God need be invoked to argue that you don’t get to deny a US citizen their Constitutionally protected rights. Feel free to move to a theocracy if this bothers you.

        “Something must exist before it can be denied”

        This doesn’t work. Can we say ‘We aren’t denying children the right to vote because ‘Kids voting’ doesn’t exist?

        “Our culture in the United States is largely opposed to homosexual marriage”

        Largely? Based on the most recent Pew Poll this year, a majority of Americans (55%) support same-sex marriage, compared with 39% who oppose it.

        “By your definition, it was immoral for homosexuals to fight for something not approved of by society”

        That’s not true by the definition of anyone arguing here. No-one said that the majority holding a position makes it objectively correct. And it’s demonstrably false to claim that only gays were supporting gay marriage or fighting for it.

        Reply
        • Terry Lewis says:

          Andy:

          Anyone arguing [against] anti-gay bigotry can point to the US Constitution in the same way that inter-racial couples did. They have a right to marry according to that.

          I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. As you point out, the U.S. Constitution does not make reference to God; neither does it make reference to marriage. Marriage is not a “Constitutionally-protected right”. At best, marriage is is a state issue, and it was being dealt with by the states before SCOTUS overstepped their authority.

          But I’m not arguing from a legal position… this is completely irrelevant to my point.

          Based on the most recent Pew Poll this year, a majority of Americans (55%) support same-sex marriage, compared with 39% who oppose it.

          I’m basing my statement on the laws passed by the people at the state level with were then overturned by the courts that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. I’ll trust that over any poll.

          That’s not true by the definition of anyone arguing here. No-one said that the majority holding a position makes it objectively correct.

          I didn’t mention objectivity, Andy… you did. I said, “by your definition”, which in context was a subjective definition of morality. If morality is subjective, and defined by the culture, then it is (by definition) immoral for anyone to struggle against what the culture deems to be moral.

          But your point actually bolsters my argument for the existence of objective morality. Only if these persons were being improperly denied a right can it be moral to fight for that right. And without objective morality, no one can legitimately claim any right at all, except what they are strong enough to claim.

          And it’s demonstrably false to claim that only gays were supporting gay marriage or fighting for it.

          Sorry… didn’t mean to leave anyone out… I’ll correct. “By your definition, it was immoral for ANYONE to fight for something not approved of by society.”

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            “neither does it make reference to marriage”
            No, I’m right. But seeing as you say it has nothing to do with your point, I won’t waste time explaining why you’re wrong.

            “If morality is subjective, and defined by the culture, then it is (by definition) immoral for anyone to struggle against what the culture deems to be moral.”

            Arguing against and changing people’s minds on an issue that is causing harm is a very moral position to take, given any reasonable definition of ‘moral’. Just because the majority holds a position, that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy position or one that shouldn’t be challenged.

            “I’ll trust that over any poll”

            Why? Opinions on gay marriage have changed pretty fast, so the polls give a more up-to-date view of the nation’s views. Plus, votes by definition only reflect the views of those who voted. Sorry, but you’ll have to face up to the fact that your stance on gay marriage is a swiftly dwindling minority position. My point stands.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            And Terry, you never addressed my point that your own argument undermines the idea that God is necessary for logic.

            You said that even if no humans existed it would have to be the case that logic existed, or – sans the law of non-contradiction – the laws could both exist and not exist. And therefore logic doesn’t depend on humans.

            I pointed out that this argument would be exactly the same if you replace ‘humans’ with ‘God’. Thus logic doesn’t depend on the existence of God either.

          • Terry Lewis says:

            Arguing against and changing people’s minds on an issue that is causing harm is a very moral position to take,

            EXACTLY!

            Plus, votes by definition only reflect the views of those who voted.

            And polls by definition only reflect the views of the polled. We don’t make our laws in this nation by that type of poll… the only poll that counts is the voting booth. More states, when it counted, said NO to homosexual marriage than YES.

            You said that even if no humans existed it would have to be the case that logic existed, or – sans the law of non-contradiction – the laws could both exist and not exist. And therefore logic doesn’t depend on humans.

            But you said that logic, like love, was a brain state (or maybe it was Toby… don’t have time to look it up right now.) If there’s no human brain in existence, yet logic still exists, then HOW does it exist?

          • Andy Ryan says:

            Terry, it certainly wasn’t me.

            And you STILL haven’t addressed my point that your own argument undermines the idea that God is necessary for logic.

            “EXACTLY!”

            Right, so you concede my point, good.

            “We don’t make our laws by those kinds of poll”

            …or by vote either. Allowing interracial marriage wasn’t decided by public vote. My point stands.

          • toby says:

            But you said that logic, like love, was a brain state (or maybe it was Toby… don’t have time to look it up right now.) If there’s no human brain in existence, yet logic still exists, then HOW does it exist?
            If it was me then I’d likely have said that logic is a concept to describe how we think in relation to how the universe works. The universe works the way it works regardless and doesn’t need brains around to have a concept of logic so that the universe can be as it is.

            And yes, love is entirely a brain state.

  15. John Gonzales says:

    Okay, Terry, I’ll bite. What is the evidence for the asserted premise that the Judeo-Christian god hypothesis is the only possible source for objective morality? Both premises of the argument are invalid, but let’s start here if you please.

    Reply
    • Terry Lewis says:

      Hi John!

      Sorry… I’ve been busy with work for some time now. Didn’t mean to ignore your comment.

      You ask, “What is the evidence for the asserted premise that the Judeo-Christian god hypothesis is the only possible source for objective morality?”

      I’m sorry, but while I do believe that this statement is correct, I don’t recall this being my “asserted premise”. I did describe the moral argument for the existence of God (and to be clear, this is an argument for generic theism, not particularly for the Judeo-Christian God). This post is written to defend the existence of objective morality, not to discuss the source of such a moral standard. If I can find time in my crazy schedule, I still hope to continue this series, and I’ll be happy to address this there. But the answer to your question is simply too long to fit in a comment. While I’ve done that in the past, I’d much rather make it a post so that more persons can join the discussion.

      Reply
  16. Barry says:

    The blog author asserted:

    “Without considering the implications of such a universe deeply, it’s easy to claim, “Objective moral truths do not exist; I have the right to do as I please!” Yet, this statement makes a moral claim to a “right” while denying moral reality. If you believe that others ought to allow you to live according to the dictates of your own will and your own conscience, then you are appealing to objective morality to justify what others “ought” to do.”
    ———————

    Correction: when an atheist tells another person what they “ought” to do, the atheist is not appealing to an objective standard of morality, the atheist is merely drawing on his or her own personal subjective value judgments. I am an atheist and disagree with Dan Barker and other atheists who say objective moral values exist. They most certainly do not. You’d have to demonstrate the existence of an objective standard before you can say objective morals exist, and you aren’t going to do that. Furthermore, the argument from morality puts the cart before the horse. You cannot argue from objective morals to the conclusion that an absolute moral law giver exists, because the ground of the absolute moral is what gives it life. Again, you need to show the absolute moral law giver exists, THEN you show that he gave a moral law, THEN you argue that this particular moral is binding upon all people in all times and places without exception…only THEN can you safely conclude that objective moral values exist.

    By the way, plenty of Christians disagree on matters that would seem important to god, such as gun control, birth control, and the minimum age a girl must reach before she can be married. NONE of these are answered with such clarity in the bible that you can demonstrate the error of those who disagree with you on those issues. When Jesus said we should “turn the other cheek”, did he intend that as an absolute? Many Christians say yes, an equal number cite the fighting words of Jesus “I came not to bring peace but a sword” as evidence that the former was not intended in an absolute sense.

    Christians who adopt 5-point Calvinism argue from the bible that all choices of men conform either to God’s revealed will or conform to his secret will. Although you can easily trip up some such Calvinists who haven’t completely lost their mind, the point for purposes of this discussion is that Calvinists represent a significant number of Christians who believe that, for example, “thou shalt not commit adultery” is not objective, because the fact that plenty of Christians violate that rule proves that God also objectively carved out exceptions to it for certain people.

    The moral argument for God is a bit disingenuous: NONE of the moral commands in the bible can be shown to be applicable to every human being at all times without exception. Go ahead, smartie…cite a bible verse that you think sets forth a moral value that God intends to be binding upon all people without exception, and I will find a biblical exception to it. Let me guess…idolatry? Adultery? Take your best shot.

    Finally, the very fact that most of the sadistic horrible ways of God in the OT (i.e., his being happy to hurt people, his telling Israelites to slaughter children) are things you personally believe no longer apply to God’s followers today, imbues that former barbaric morality with the trait of temporality, and of course, its right when those morals “no longer apply”, that their non-objective basis is proven. Otherwise, you must say that objective morals need not apply to all people everywhere, in which case you’ve erred greatly since that is the very definition of subjective morals.

    I have extensively reviewed Turek’s book “Stealing from God”, and I challenge him and anybody here to a debate on any of the issues raised in that book or in this post, in any private email or blog/forum of your choice. barryjoneswhat@yahoo.com

    Reply
  17. David S says:

    As a Christian I believe in objective moral values but I don’t see that they can be used as proof of God’s existence. To the atheist moral values have evolved and developed through history. To the atheist morals are behavioural patterns which conform to the individual and social need to survive and thrive. The other factors that guide the atheistic moral structure are pleasure and pain. As far as I can see the atheist sees no need for an external law-giver even if there is One. I would suggest that pleasure, pain, survival and thrival are the only factors necessary to drive and guide human morality in a godless world.

    Reply
  18. ST Mannew says:

    If truth and morality exist, then God must exist.

    If truth and morality exist, then we have evidence of God’s existence to begin with, given that His existence can be ascertained from the fact that morality and truth exists in reality, and because saying otherwise makes one immoral and without the truth, then why should anyone believe someone who says “God does not exist”, when God can be seen in and because of what we already know to exist in reality like morality and truth.

    Therefore, if truth and morality always existed, because truth and morality cannot be known not to exist without the truth and morality being unknown to us, then something must have always existed that makes truth and morality known to exist. And that thing that makes truth and morality always known to exist; that thing must necessarily exist in us before the truth and morality is known to us.

    Reply

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