Sunday, September 21, 2008

Explaining Our Moral Intuitions

In the moral argument, dealt with in the last post, the second premise is that real, objective moral obligations exist. Non-believers tend to react to this claim with a wide range of non-sequiturs. Pointing out that not everyone agrees about morality, or that people in different cultures have different values, or that lots of people who don’t believe in God are nevertheless moral all miss the point. The believer’s claim here is that whether everyone acknowledges it or not, moral claims like “rape is wrong,” “genocide is evil,” “generosity and love are virtues” are true. It is also a mistake to argue that there are some cases where many things that seem good are not, or that actions that seem to be evil may be necessary. Those instances don’t suggest that there is no truth about the matter, only that it isn’t simple.

But let’s consider what non-circular grounds one might have for thinking that the claim is true. Even if people everywhere seemed to agree about some fundamental moral values, that might be consistent with the claim, but it won’t provide much support. More often, believers consult a powerful sense that they have that certain things are wrong and others are right. Call it gut instinct, moral intuition, a sixth sense, or an innate sense of right and wrong.

I won’t deny that many people have such a thing. And as Stephen Pinker and other moral psychologists make clear, these are distinct feelings from sentiments, judgments of taste, or raw emotions. With taste or emotions, we confine our sensation to our own experience. I might find oysters disgusting, but I don’t think it’s wrong for you to eat them. With moral judgments, however, my sense of the matter goes beyond me. We feel that if someone else violates these principles, then they deserve to be punished or reprimanded. They haven’t merely done something that I find disturbing or upsetting. The sensation is that they have violated something larger than my feelings about the matter and it needs to be set right.

What could a reasonable person infer from these sorts of sensations? From the inside, could one tell whether or not they are innate? I don’t think so. One might expect innate feelings to always be present, and that they would not shift or change. But in fact, for most people, a distinct sense of right and wrong comes rather late in their development. And they tend to drift over the years. Consider how attitudes about homosexuality have shifted or smoking. But that’s all consistent with some sort of innate faculty, however.

From the inside, could one tell if one’s moral sentiments were from God? They might feel like they are. One might have an overwhelming sense that God wants X or God disapproves of Y. It may even seem like God is talking to you. And we should acknowledge that people can have some persuasive experiences that are very hard to deny.

Since one is not able to independently confirm the source of these sensations, figuring out what’s going on becomes a matter of carefully considering all of the competing, alternative hypotheses that would explain it. Let’s grant that God’s installing an innate, inuitive sense of morality is one of the explanations on the table. What about others?

Here’s the crucial question: if 4 billion years of evolution had cultivated a strong set of moral dispositions such as fairness, sensitivity to pain or harm to oneself and others, respect for authority, and so on, what would it feel like to be subject to those feelings? It would feel innate, immediate and distinct. From the inside, I can’t see how one would be able to distinguish whether evolution or God was the source of the moral intuitions. And the same goes for the wide range of other hypotheses that are often raised to explain them.

Furthermore, the evidence is mounting that just those moral sentiments and some others are present in a wide range of non-human animals. Monkeys show accute sensitivity to standards of fairness. Monkeys, rats, and others feel the pain of others as if it were contagious. Rats will starve themselves rather than eat if their eating seems to inflict electric shocks on another rat. The examples go on. And as for hearing the voice of one’s moral conscience, or even God himself, a recent study concluded that as many as 70% of undergraduates had experienced auditory hallucinations.

The God explanation might have been sufficient 500 years ago, if one knew no better and had no other explanations available. But now, knowing what we know, one can’t simply conclude upon having a strong gut instinct about some moral matter that God is responsible. Furthermore, given the flexibility of these sentiments, their drift over time, and their known fallibility, the naturalistic hypothesis fits much better. Also notice that if one is seeking to show the existence of God from moral intuitions as evidence, then it won’t do to intuit that God is the author of the feelings. We don’t have any more reason to assume that that intuition is correct than the others. And it would be foolish to argue, perhaps like Descartes, that I have a powerful idea that God exists. I also have a powerful idea that God would guarantee the truth of my powerful ideas. Therefore, God must actually exist.


Anonymous said...

What a great post professor. I think you have carefully considered the alternative position. No doubt there is a good case for morality being based on evolution. But i dont think threre is a disjunction, either G or E

e: evolution

G: God

regardless of the alignment of the two positions by atheist and theist i do not see any conflict. It could be G and E or G -> E

Evolution is a drop in the bucket for an omni god - a mere algorithm

Anonymous said...

San Harris presented the evolutionary argument rather well in a review of a book by Francis Collins in 2006:
Sam Harris: The Language of Ignorance
According to Collins, the moral law applies exclusively to human beings:

"Though other animals may at times appear to show glimmerings of a moral sense, they are certainly not widespread, and in many instances other species' behavior seems to be in dramatic contrast to any sense of universal rightness."

One wonders if the author has ever read a newspaper. The behavior of humans offers no such "dramatic contrast." How badly must human beings behave to put this "sense of universal rightness" in doubt? And just how widespread must "glimmerings" of morality be among other animals before Collins—who, after all, knows a thing or two about genes—begins to wonder whether our moral sense has evolutionary precursors in the natural world? What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) Wouldn't these be precisely the sorts of findings one would expect if our morality were the product of evolution?

Anonymous said...

No doubt there is a good case for morality being based on evolution. But I don't think there is a disjunction, either G or E...

None was claimed. What McCormick presented was a rebuttal to the claim that the existence of a universal "moral sense" was evidence for the existence of God.

Anonymous said...


Fine. No disjunct. then god created evolution. that was my point...

Matt McCormick said...

Proponents of the "moral realism, therefore, God exists," argument take the view that evolution cannot adequately explain the presence of moral proclivities in human beings. And since we find this innate moral sense in us, it must have come from some source other than evolution, hence the inference to God. If one grants that evolution could and/or did produce our moral sense, then the "moral realism, therefore God" argument is sunk, which was part of my point.

The problems with crediting God with evolution are numerous. First, what reasons do we have to think that God did it? If blind, natural forces are sufficient through natural selection to bring about living organisms like us and the rest, then what work is the addition of God doing for us? What is adding God here explaining that we couldn't explain without him? What exactly is the causal mechanism whereby a transcendent, maybe timeless being is able to intrude into physical time and space and bring about some events? Which events were those? Is the claim that they wouldn't have happened without God? What reasons do we have to accept that that is true? Imagine that the mechanic concludes that the gears in my transmission are worn out because the fluid leaked out. The fluid leaked out because the drain plug worked loose and fell out. And then the mechanic adds, and some invisible, intangible, infinitely powerful elves did it. "But it's not that the gears didn't go dry. The elf hypothesis isn't in conflict with the missing plug hypothesis. They ruined the transmission too."

The problem isn't that the elves contradict the causal story, it's that they are completely extraneous and unfounded on the evidence. Either the evolutionary story is adequate to explain life, or it's not. If it's not, then we need to some good reasons to think that some other forces were at work. If it's adequate, then what motivations could we have for unnecessarily complicating the story with the spiritual account?


The chall

Anonymous said...

sorry matt but i think your mixing up just what exactly evolution attempts to explain. Evolution does not claim to explain existence (human or otherwise) nor does it explain how its own mechanism was put inot effect....evolution cannot beget itself least it is supernatural. natural things must have a causal account.

You aak what reason do we have to accept that god created evolution. Well I really cannot give you an answer that you would accept. i think your question is framed within a caertain framework that does not allow the very reasons for why I and others believe god is the creator.

God is the creator, the alpha and omega, therefore he created all that is...evolution is included.

Its possible to believe in things that we merely grasp and yet not prove ie infinity,church thesis...

Just curious Dr. Matt, do you think everything needs a proof?

Anonymous said...

Why using modal logic to disprove god fails...

because god is a necessary being and elves are not thus we have:

P1 If there are elves then they have pointed ears
elves exists

The arg above is invalid


If there is a god he is necessary
God exists

This is a sound arg

thus god also is the creator via his assigned attribute....

God is omni and creator of universe. Since god has already been proven via the arg above then he must have created evolution (it is part of creation)


Eric Sotnak said...

anonymous wrote:
"If there is a god he is necessary
God exists

This is a sound arg"

Actually not.

The logical form of this is:

p -> Np

Think of the following analogous argument:

If pi is non-terminating, then, necessarily pi is non-terminating.

Therefore, pi is non-terminating.

Josh May said...

Yeah, I think this issue (about whether the moral sense is the product of evolution alone or God) just relies on Divine Command Theory (or some other view that morality is essentially divine).

The only reason people are so quick to say God is obviously required for the existence of a moral sense, but not for other mechanisms like visual perception, is that there is supposed to be something special about what the mechanism is supposed to detect (namely, moral facts). So it's not an assumption about the divinity of the moral sense that is doing the work, but an assumption about the divinity of morality itself. Theists, I think, think that the mechanism has to be divine only if it's supposed to be actually detecting divine moral facts.

But this, of course, is a poor assumption.

Anonymous said...

RE: Erick

I am sorry but you have no idea what you are talking about. Snow is white IFF snow is white has nothing to do with the arg. You are confused somehow with whats being claimed.

The only way the arg can be rewritten is using modus ponens

A -> B

A: God exists
B: god is necessary

You can try and deny the consequent but there is no real good reason. Atheist should have no problem with God having the attribute of a necessary being anymore then elves have pointy ears or Santa Claus has a red coat. Just ask your atheist god professor matt. I am sure he'll tell you can have meaningful talk about things people don’t believe exist…

The arg is not mine but created by a theist logician FYI

Anonymous said...

CORRECTION- the arg cannot be rewritten in MP since premsie 2 cna be false. thus you cannot rewrite arg in MP or MT.


the orignal form is:

God is necessary

God exists

the only premsie to the top arg is true and the conclusion follows----->>> valid + all true premises = sound arg

I intiallly put the arg in a form that may appear MP but I was trying to show that gods attribute of existence is conditional. Once the conditional is accepted then the conclusion (god exists) is certain. I cannot see any way out for the atheist here. you cnanot deny a conditional unless you remove a good portion of first order logic ie conditional proofs, reductio proofs etc.

Anonymous said...

CORRECTION - "that gods attribute of necessarily is conditional' i typo "existence".

Anonymous said...

Wow anon,that's a pretty tired argument that has been done to death, since it is essentially the ontological argument. Let me say there is a perfect car, and part of that perfection includes existence.

If there is a perfect car, then it is necessary, therefore a perfect car exists.

In fact, your argument is just as asinine considering you assume it in your antecedent and then conclude the antecedent. You aren't saying A→B, A, therefore B. You're saying A→B, therefore A, doing a slight of hand about the relationship between A and B, but if you already have established God's existence in A→B, your saying A is trite and nothing new was inferred. In fact, you can, given what you are suggesting, just as well say B→A since "if God is necessary, then he exists" and as you said, no one is going to argue that a conception of God is going to say "he's contingent", therefore you've proven somehow he exists? That's laughable.

Let me go with the previous math example about pi. Let me say there is a perfect irrational number that has necessary existence, but a perfect number is one that is terminating, I mean, infinite decimals just suck. Therefore, this perfect number is terminating, therefore it is terminating. But then that contradicts it is an irrational number (which is an infinite decimal).

Not that I'm trying to egg on your trolling, but people should be aware of the kind of argument you are making and the hand waving involved.

Eric Sotnak said...

anonymous wrote:

"I am sorry but you have no idea what you are talking about."

Ah. Thanks for straightening me out there. Here I thought that you had said:

"If there is a god he is necessary
God exists

This is a sound arg"

(I sure thought I had cut and pasted that correctly)

And then I thought (unreasonably, I suppose) that this had meant:

If God exists, then he is necessary. Therefore God exists.

which can be symbolically represented as

(God exists) -> N(God exists)
(God exists)

which sure LOOKS like it fits the pattern

p -> Np

and then I foolishly thought (like everyone else who has ever studied modal logic) that this was an invalid argument form! Imagine that! I hadn't realized you were proposing a whole new system of modal logic that is apparently set to revolutionize human thought. That is so cool.

Oh, but wait, the subtleties of your thought that you reveal in your later comments show that maybe you had meant to say something else. Well, we all make that mistake, so let's see what you say there (hope I can cut and paste this accurately):

"God is necessary

God exists"

Hey, you're right! From "God necessarily exists", you certainly can derive "God exists". And you can even do this without reinventing modal logic (awww).

But that isn't a very interesting argument is it?

Anonymous said...

I am sorry you are dim bulb erick.

Its simply either you accept or deny the premies of the arg or deny that it follows. i really dont think you know what modal logic is by your use of it as jargon and not implementing it into how it relates to the arg.

Again, the arg is sound and not circular as you also try to state.

your angry attitude seems like a desperate and defeated atheist to me.

The arg as I stated was developed by a well known logican Alvin Plantinga.

So when you keep attributing the arg to me after I claimed it was from theist logician shows you dont read other peoples post that well

Anonymous said...

Hey bryan,

You're incorrect. It is not the onotlogical arg. that arg is from anselm. the arg i present is from a modern theist. once again you show your ignorance in claiming to know about something you do not know.

Also, bryan said

"If there is a perfect car, then it is necessary, therefore a perfect car exists."

A perfect car bryan in no way entails it necessarily existing. the car could ahve existed for a moment and yet been perfect.

You are missing the point. i think your reaction as well as ericks just shows how much bias atheist carry. i offered a sound arg and I get hostile remarks that are so far from refuting the arg.

Again, there is a difference between a thing existed necessarily and the necessity of the true value ie continget entities are true IFF they are true. Same as necessary claims but both have much different implications in ontology - which is the study of modern metapyhsics

Anonymous said...

i would like to see matt give his thoughts on the arg. he seems to be the only atheist with brains on here...

Anonymous said...

P.S. Bryan

denying the antecedent is a fallacy


confirming the antecedent is NOT



IS A VALID arg BUT what does it have to do with the arg I offered???

Matt McCormick said...

Sorry, anonymous, but I'm not finding responding to you to be interesting or helpful for me or anyone else. The rants and pseudo arguments you're giving, coupled with all of the nasty personal attacks make me think that trying to talk to you reasonably about this stuff is hopeless. I don't find most of your claims, especially the strange argument for God's existence from necessity to be even intelligible. And I know Plantinga's work very well. I also know a few things about logic and modus ponens. And Eric, who you've also insulted as being ignorant, is a highly trained professional philosopher who knows modal logic inside and out. That's not an argument that he must be right, but it is a good reason to listen and not dismiss his points with an insult. You could actually learn something from some people here, even me, if I dare say so. Given that you don't seem to be very interested in listening or learning anything from people who have a broader and clearer grasp of the issues than you, it's realy an act of charity that they are responding to you at all.

And now what I suspect will follow is another slanderous personal attack on me because I am stupid and unqualified. If I'm stupid and unqualified along with all the other people who've responded to you, those are good reasons for you to go find some folks who are worthy of your insights and knowledge.

But I must say that I think you have single handedly elevated the Google ranking for my blog quite a bit with all your posts, which is very cool. Thanks.


Anonymous said...


I never denied the antecedent because I never made the argument {P→Q,¬P} ├ ¬Q. I was simply pointing out your argument makes gross assumptions about the relationship between God, necessity and existence that aren't captured by the logic of your argument. You are correct, it isn't the ontological argument. In most forms it is spelled out much better than your presentation of it.

Nevertheless, we should all be clear on one fact, your argument is valid. Validity is only part of what is required for an argument to be sound. It is sound iff the argument is valid given its semantics (maintains truth under a given interpretation), and the premises are true. It is precisely the question about the truth of these premises that is under question. Assuming God exists begs the very question to be answered. You can say it is sound in a very loose sense, just as I can say, "if I clap my hands, then a star blows up, I clapped, therefore a star blew up," is sound, but that doesn't imply anything about the empirical, the ontological, truth of the matter. A valid argument says nothing necessarily about ontology.

Furthermore, I wouldn't classify myself as an atheist (others might, though), so trying to make more ad hominems based on compartmentalizing me just goes to show you have no real argument and as we have all pointed out, you seem to only aim at trolling McCormick's blog for who-knows-what motive. As Matt suggested, if we're all so stupid then wtf are you here talking to stupid people for? You don't have better things to do with your time? Do it to make yourself feel better like a fat man standing next to an even fatter man to make himself feel skinny? You obviously get nothing intellectual out of this exchange then, and we all clearly get nothing out of your belligerent trolling. Have some tact and remove yourself from the conversation if you can't act like a mature adult.

Anonymous said...


that's funny because I just looked at my usual "proving the negative" google search to get here and apparently Carrier is on the rise again, his article on it has taken the lead again!

Anonymous said...

well matt i didnt realize that you would respond in the same childish manner as your followers. i asked for an opinion and i got attacks from you. perhaps you are incompetent in logic? your expertise was not in Nortre dame logic courses but ass kissing at rochester?

But slapping and back patting is not very professional.

I dont care if you think erick knows X. he doesnt know Y...

Since you want to appeal to authority then i appeal to plantinga. he is much smarter then you and your group of philosophical rejects.

God is necessary = T
God exists = T

Someone tell me why P1 is false or why the conclusion does not follow...

Anonymous said...

Ok bryan so the arg is valid. well then tell me why the premise is false...

and no rubbling about semantics deos not make sense. An arg that is sound does in fact establish an ontology. this is where you are mistaken. descartes cogito if in fact accepted sound establishes a real tangible world - an external world. try proving an external world bryan with only evidence ie the evidence proves itself...

i think you have under estimated my knowledge of the given subject. you need to look past the fact that i am a janitor and have many typos...

also, you speak of trolling but you are the one who likes to attack people. matts entire blog is bent on telling people how silly us theist are which is acedemically dishonest. many if not all of matts post are diatribes that speak volumes of his insecuirty with religion. there are way too manny bright theist out there to be calling them crazy...

Anonymous said...

Proof for God

Axiom 1. (Dichotomy) A property is positive if and only if its negation is negative.
Axiom 2. (Closure) A property is positive if it necessarily contains a positive property.

Theorem 1. A positive property is logically consistent (i.e., possibly it has some instance.)

Definition. Something is God-like if and only if it possesses all positive properties.

Axiom 3. Being God-like is a positive property.
Axiom 4. Being a positive property is (logical, hence) necessary.

Definition. A property P is the essence of x if and only if x has P and P is necessarily minimal.

Theorem 2. If x is God-like, then being God-like is the essence of x.

Definition. NE(x) means x necessarily exists if it has an essential property.

Axiom 5. Being NE is God-like.

Theorem 3. Necessarily there is some x such that x is God-like.


I am sure that the few self proclaimed logicians on here will say this proof is stupid...

Matt McCormick said...

I don't know if it is stupid, but it is certainly plagiarized. (Pickover)

It also looks like Axiom 5 assumes the very conclusion the argument alleges to prove. We'd need independent arguments for the axioms, of course. No one doubts that if you assume the existence of a necessary being as part of your logical system, then you get the conclusion that a necessary being exists.


Anonymous said...

How is it plagiarized? I never said it was mine nor am I claiming to be anyone...

You mention that when I assume that god is necessary I get that he exists. You then must be agreeing that it is valid to conclude:

1) God exists from being a necessary being (yes redundant but necessary)

So, now you are denying the antecedent Matt i.e. If god is necessary - that is a fallacy

A: God is necessary
B: god exists

A -> B

Your only hope is to deny that god has the attribute of being necessary. That is, We cant know whether such a being possess the said property. But then you are going against conventional intuition. Oops there’s that dirty word…

Would you deny that Elves have pointy ears or Santa has a red suit? Forget whether they exist or not their alleged disposition carries an intuitive convention.


the proof in my previous post is by Kurt Gödel. essentially, he is saying that if god is possible that he then must necessary exists i.e. there is some world that has a necessary thing then all do. just like when some say that 2+2 = 4 cannot be absent in any worlds because it is a necessary truth.

Eric Sotnak said...

Oh, I know I'm wasting my time with this, but...

anonymous wrote:

"Since you want to appeal to authority then i appeal to plantinga. he is much smarter then you and your group of philosophical rejects.

God is necessary = T
God exists = T"

I'm quite familiar with Plantinga's work, in fact. He is a very fine philosopher. It is a shame you have not taken him seriously enough to understand the arguments he does present, since what you've given here is not an argument he gives. If you are going to appeal to theistic philosophers as your sources, please do them the courtesy of reading them, at least.

Everyone (even dim bulbs such as I) would agree that from

(1) Necessarily God exists

one can infer

(2) God exists

It is true that Plantinga would accept (1). But he does not BEGIN with (1) as a basic premise. To suggest that this is all there is to Plantinga's argument is unfair to him. It is clear that you have no respect for any of us who post here, but perhaps you might be induced to have enough repect for thinkers whom you do admire that you might do them the courtesy of not attributing to them facile caricatures of the views and arguments they have spent much labor advancing.

To your credit, you do get the following right:

"Your only hope is to deny that god has the attribute of being necessary."

Quite. And this is exactly wht atheists do. To be sure, they accept that it is possible to define God as a necessarily existant being, but they deny that anything exists that fits the definition.

Not only that, but, since they recognize that if it is even possible that God exists necessarily then he does exist necessarily (since whatever is possibly necessary is actually necessary), atheists will deny that it is even possible that God exists necessarily. How can they do this? By denying, for example, that ANYTHING can exist necessarily. They might hold, as some (for example Quine) have, that necessity is not a property that can be attributed to the existence of things at all.

Note, by the way, that even most theists don't believe God's existence can be shown by tinkering with modal logic (even Plantinga, if you were to read him carefully).

Anonymous said...


How Matt, or anyone, feels about religion is absolutely irrelevant to me, nor a personal matter to me, so bringing up his supposed insecurities is beside the point. As for calling bright people crazy, there is nothing problematic with that. You say your proof for God was by Godel. He was very bright. He was also one crazy SOB considering he starved himself to death in a hospital because his wife wasn't able to be there to tell him no one was trying to poison him. Being bright is also beside the point on the matter of proof.

Now, you say something being logically valid provides something ontological, how? What kind of ontology does it have? Some kind of Platonic realism? And you are mistaken to say 2+2=4 because I am not underestimating your understanding of the subject. You make a serious mistake many naive people on the subject do.

The first thing you learn in any logic text is that truth comes under an interpretation. This is the basis of model theory, and mathematics/logic searches for logical possibilities given the parameters and constraints of the language or system considered. Take your 2+2=4 is universal garbage. Really? There's nothing inherently semantical about that statement because I could just as "meaningfully" (or lack thereof) say $^$&#. Does that say anything universal? No!

You've assumed the entire algebraic number system in use for that statement to make sense. It could just as well be a modulo group of Z_4 in which case 2+2=0, but then that isn't even a 0 as it is an equivalence class being denoted by 0. You can just as well define + as the least value between the two considered, so 2+9=2, or give it predominance to order so that for any x and y, x+y=x. Whether these operations are interesting is irrelevant. The point is that 2+2=4 is a meaningless list of symbols without semantics to back them up, in which case you can only provide truth under the interpretation of the system considered, e.g., the element 2+2 in (Z,+) which happens to be 4 as standardly defined.

But since this is rather beside the point of this blog, if you wish to discuss these matters you can go to my Xanga Blog and discuss logic and truth there. I should have a post up for one of my readers about Platonism in the near future; maybe I will throw some jabs at Descartes then if you're interested. At the very least, maybe it will distract you from trolling Matt's blog for a little while? ;)

There's a fundamental flaw in Godel's argument, that having to do with the fact it doesn't apply to reality at all. Godel was a mathematical realist, at least later in life, so if God is one of these deduced "objects" then there is no necessary relation between God as a concept (like elves having pointy ears whether or not they actually exist) and God as a creator involved in the world.

Furthermore, he assumes, right off the bat, that it is purely a bivalent system we are dealing with. If God is so infinitely everything, then I would think he'd be expressed through something other than a boolean algebra, e.g., a continuum value, presented as truth on a fuzzy logical scale. At least it would lend itself to being more representable of the world. One might value that if they were trying to make this BS actually speak about things in the world.

As for the falsity in your premise: Necessary things don't exist. Let me make it a bit more clearer:

For all A, If A exists, then A is not necessary. [A→B]
God is necessary.[¬B]
Therefore God does not exist. [¬A] (MT)

Anonymous said...


By denying, for example, that ANYTHING can exist necessarily.

haha, you must have been reading my mind when I was typing up my last comment just now!

Jon said...

Thanks for the amusing discussion people... but you have kept me from my studies in the late hour, blast!

TheTheist said...

Wow. This seems to have gone of course a little bit. I say we get back to the original discussion. The argument that moral intuitions come from God is, in my opinion, true on one hand but usually represented in a completely erroneous way, hence giving it a reeking air of falsity.

The problem arises when traditional theists attempt to invoke that “ethereal” morality in which some ghostly sense of right and wrong guides us to the truth. It is hard to ignore however the naturalistic account of morality; a much more plausible case in which a sort of historical learning process over a vast evolutionary timescale has cultivated our moral sense.

This argument however should be of little concern to the modern theist. The goal of ideal religion is to explain the unknown, the mysterious. Yes, science and philosophy will continue to take these mysteries and give them a concrete existence apparently outside the necessity of God’s. Despite this, there will always be room for more religious discussion. God creating life (despite your dismissal of it MM) still seems to have a case. MM, you ask: “What reasons do we have to accept that that [God created evolution] is true?” Well, what reasons don’t we? As I understand it there is no case where we have seen life “created from scratch”. That is, evolution works great for everything after the first case of life but has nothing in the way of explaining this first case.

Invoking the fact that physical effects have always been shown to have a physical cause is irrelevant in that science is always speaking of higher order causes i.e. secondary, tertiary, and so on. First causes are different in that by virtue of being first they must have an “extraneous” explanation outside of cause and effect. I have yet to see a convincing scientific or philosophic account of a first cause that does not provoke the need for another cause. I imagine however I will now be presented with such supposed cases and am much obliged for anything anyone has to offer.

In summary then, I have no problem attributing my “intuitive” morality to God while simultaneously accepting a naturalistic means of acquiring it. Unfortunately many theists are just plain uninformed, usually as a result of static religious belief, and hence deny this vital link between God and Man.

Jon said...

To thetheist, Bryan plus Carlo-I mean anon.

OK: thetheist, the first cause of evolution may be natural from natural matter. Hence inanimate matter bounced to animate matter. But, at the same time we do not know what matter/energy really is (to make things I don't know "different".

Bryan: thanks for the point/thought on "nothing is necessary", that point causes good exercise of thought about how that works or/and can work both logically, metaphysically, or physically.

Carlo-excuse me I mean anon. Don't trip. Please don't use the "Janitor" like a psuedo-epithet, which admittedly were not your intentions. It just doesn't go right by way of honesty, however you have added greatly to the discussion by having our more intellectually experienced folk (MM+Sotnak) give interesting arguments via their passion of the subject matter. Ah it's all in good project. No ad-hominem meant, just some thoughts after a Friday morning drink.

Thanks all - Cheers

Jon said...

By Janitor I mean "Good Will Hunting"

Jon said...

Excuse me Eric I meant "anything is necessary" to switch into my other post. - Damn, I need to chill on the weekend drink!

Anonymous said...

atheist liberals banning free speech...

Anonymous said...

RE: Matt mcormick


"In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proved or demonstrated but considered to be either self-evident, or subject to necessary decision. Therefore, its truth is taken for granted, and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferring other (theory dependent) truths"

UH sorry my friend but #5 is an axiom. You would know what that was if you werent to busy attacking me or my brethen. How ab out brushing up on your phil of math before you refer to an axiom as circular...LOL!!!

Anonymous said...

"It also looks like Axiom 5 assumes the very conclusion the argument alleges to prove. We'd need independent arguments for the axioms"

Ya a circular axiom...

Anonymous said...

RE: erick stiff neck

You are foolish. try reading my post before responding.

SEE my previous post


Anonymous said...

RE: hey brian


if god is necessary then he exists


Anonymous said...

RE: jondoe drink too much

What you got against the mopping?

Anonymous said...

Yes I digress...

Moral order (Kant)

The summum bonum is where moral virtue and happiness coincide.
We are rationally obliged to attain the summum bonum.
What we are obliged to attain, it must be possible for us to attain.
If there is no god or afterlife, it is not possible to attain the summum bonum.
God (or the afterlife) must exist.

Anonymous said...

The argument wasn't wrong at all. What was said was:

(1) A exists → A is not necessary
A is necessary → A does not exist (contrapositive)
(2) God is necessary
(3) God does not exist. (MP or MT depending on which form of 1 is used)

What we are trying to prove in the argument is the stand on (3). From premises (1) and (2) we get (3). You want to throw in

(4) God is necessary → God exists

but (4) contradicts (1), and there's absolutely no reason to choose one over the other without any justification. At least (1) lends some support to the fact we know of no universals! If you want to assert (4) you need to justify why (1) should not be accepted. I would say justify (4) but that is precisely what is trying to be answered. It is called a conditional proof. Once you have that theorem, then you can construct (4), but you just assumed it as a premise. No one is questioning whether the argument is valid (conclusion follows from premises), but what basis is there for accepting the premises? So until you can show the problem with (1), even a counter example would work to help you out, then you really have nothing to say.

Anonymous said...

To comment on the post topic for once, I am sure it has already been stated, but even if we have a biological account of morality, say, that does not rule out that "God did it" still applies, for if the system of morality is a natural one based on evolution, God could have manufactured that system, our evolution. Of course, that is not the argument some theists would take. They seem to see things absolutely contrasted that science is not correct, morality derives from some obscure place, through a whole impossible to describe system that all we can really say is "my intuition is.." or "God tells me..." etc. But then what are those kind of arguments positing? It certainly isn't that morality is a real thing in the world in the sense of everything else. It is like saying morality exists in a Platonic realm, the realm of the spirit world or something, and it is through some further obscured faculty that we "touch" this morality that God gives us through our spirit or soul. It is as obscure as the dualist position about the mind coming through some obscure faculty of our brain but still distinct and separate from it in some "mind realm."

If that is the case, if that is the kind of morality from God view the theist wants to paint, then they've basically painted themselves into a corner since they've built up their own fantasy world that isn't the one we all can share and call objective. They would have to deny there is objective morality because what they mean by objective is wholly different!

Anonymous said...

bryan the contrapositve is not equal to the arg. and yes you did give us the contrapositive which is what I have been saying. You cant MT the arg unless you are going to deny god his necessity...
but you wouldnt dney santa claus his red suit...the nature of the claim of god presumes that he is a necessary being by convention

M. Tully said...

Morality: Divine or Evolved? The Trolley Dilemma and the Evidence.

First a couple of comments. The divine intervention I will posit here is of the monotheistic Omnigod type. Other concepts of the divine could be posited that this comment does not address (e.g. a malevolent god, a well-intentioned but fallible deity, etc.) Secondly, I am an empiricist both in profession and world-view. I think philosophy is a powerful tool in determining what questions to ask, but after that you must follow where the data lead. If the data were to show that a long held rule of logic fell apart, I’d dump that rule in a heart beat and feel no emotional loss.

Having said that, let’s look at the evidence. There is an ethical thought experiment involving a trolley on a course to kill 5 workers on the tracks. In the first instance the subject is given the choice of switching the track the trolley is on so it only kills one worker and spares the original 5. In the second instance the subject is given the option of throwing a person off a bridge onto the path of the trolley that will kill the person thrown off the bridge but save the workers.

Overwhelmingly, people decide it is right to switch the tracks the train is on but wrong to throw a person off the bridge. Obviously the results are the same in both cases. So how can people come nearly universally to opposite decisions?

The Omnigod hypothesis. If an Omnigod programmed morality into humans (whether through special creation, guided evolution or setting up natural laws to achieve a result is unimportant) what would we predict? That humanity would have a consistent answer to the dilemma. Not that the “right” answer would be chosen in a real world situation, but that we must be able to know what is or is not “right or wrong.” It fails the evidence test.

The natural selection hypothesis. If human moral emotions evolved due to natural selection, what would we predict? In a social hunter-gather society direct action to harm another member of group would have resulted in condemnation and retaliation and/or expulsion from the group making one’s survival and reproductive success probability significantly lower. Remote (via technological advancement) would not have played a role. When relying on naturally selected moral emotions, there are no inconsistencies between the hypothesis and the evidence. In fact, the hypothesis predicts the evidence. For further reading web search for Joshua Greene or Jonathan Haidt.

The other question I would like answered by the Omnigod supporters who believe in divine judgment, is why would an Omnigod allow damage to the material brain affect moral decisions if the stakes were so incredibly high?

Anonymous said...

RE: tulley

I dont think you are grasping the concept of morality and autonomous agents. Moral conduct involves a free agent and not one that is compelled by some preprogrammed moral condition - nobody makes this claim. God does not fine tune our emtional faculty but he can fune tune the moral can build a great baseball stadium but it will not necessarily lead to a great team. your presumptions beg serious implications of free agency....

M. Tully said...


I don’t think your grasping my argument.

You wrote, “God does not fine tune our emtional faculty but he can fune tune the moral spectrum…”

Whether it is faculty or spectrum, should it not be at least internally consistent? As I stated, I’m referring to the omni god. I’ll grant that a fallible god could be inconsistent.

Anonymous said...

Ok tully , what is it about morality or its spectrum that you find inconsistent with god?

cannot god be both merciful and just at the same time?

A humans sure can if in the morning are a judge in small crimes court being soft on sentencing and then after lunch sit in on the felony court to impose just sentences.

if a human can do it than so can an omi god...


isnt it the fact that humans, which are small parts of god, proof that god is doing it?

Do you tully ask a human that he is inconsistent when he acts counter from one moment to the next? My left hand can do things counter to my right yet we do not count such actions as the person contradicting themselves...

M. Tully said...


You ask, "Do you tully ask a human that he is inconsistent when he acts counter from one moment to the next?"

Simple answers to simple questions. If the circumstances dictate he shouldn't, then yes, yes I do.

And when I look for an evidential based answer to that question, evolved moral emotions fit the evidence. Emotions that evolved in small hunter-gather groups that are challenged in a modern industrial society.

If there were an omnigod, by definition, it would have known modern, complex societies would develop.