Tag Archives: Morality

Argument from Morality: Bible-Free Apologetics

Christians apologists have a list of very common, centuries-old Bible-free arguments. Bible arguments (by bibliolatrists) try and show that the Bible itself is always right and therefore so are its conclusion that the Christian god (Yahweh-Jesus) exists. On the other hand, “Bible-free arguments” try to argue generally for God without reference to the Bible. Bible-free apologetics is a sort of “pre-evangelism”: prepping the hearer to be more open to hearing “the Word of God” (the Bible).  Some of the most common “Bible-Free” apologetic arguments are:

  • The Cosmological Argument (Kalam’s)
  • The Ontological Argument
  • The Teleological Argument
  • Argument from Morality
  • The Design Argument
  • The Argument from Miracles
  • The Argument from Personal Experience

Of these, the new favorite is the Argument from Morality (AfM) — Evangelical’s favorite apologist William Craig uses it in almost each of his debates.  The argument goes back to Kant and Aquinas (not usual Christian intellectual diet — nor mine). Christians study up on these Bible-free popular apologetics and try their best to replicate their heroes’ arguments again and again on blog threads. The many variants of the argument and the hidden presuppositions which are characteristically not laid out clearly can lead both the atheists and the theists to jump around forever talking past each other on blogs. I find reading such things tedious thought many people enjoy them.

To that end, I am using this post to index links to others who discuss the AfM with a bit more organization than occurs on blog threads. Interestingly, the AfM is in a class of apologetic arguments the rely on intuitions: consciousness, aesthetics, evil, rationality, desire, religious experience and morality.  Intuitions arguments say, “look, since we have these things, there must be a god”. To me these are all incredible failures, but I won’t discuss them here.

Knowledge progresses by sharing advances and failures in tested theories. But recognizing failures of an argument is important. And to recognize failures, you must have know of those who went before you.  And you must organize carefully and exhaustively the various detours of arguments to help extinguish confusion. As I said, it is a tedious task and one reason I never finished my Ph.D. in philosophy.

To best understand arguments, you need to read both sides and the best of both sides. Unfortunately most theists have not read the other side, but only their own in-house material. And worse, not only is their argument “Bible-free” but also “Science-free” — they come in with very little background in mathematics and biology which are pre-requisites for understand god-free arguments.  This is not true for all theists, however.

I find the AfM argument (like the other Bible-free apologetics) to be completely lacking, but I have no ambition to try to replicate the long, almost-always unproductive arguments on my threads though I invite others to knock themselves out. I may, in future posts, try to visually illustrate some of the common options to aid discussion. But for now, here I begin a list of others who have spent pages delineating the issue (please suggest more):

God-Free Arguments:

  • Luke Muehlhauser: now archived, Common Sense Atheism, this link is to a critique of: Mark Linville’s Paper “The Moral Poverty of Evolutionary Naturalism”. Linville has a PhD in Philosophy (Madison, Wisc), BA in Biblical Studies (Florida Christian College).
  • Luke Muehlhauser: On “Desirism” and Theist Morality by Sean McDowell (son of Josh McDowell-my go-to apologist when I was a Christian)
  • The Secular Web: with link to other posts
  • Debunking Christianity: site of former minister, apologist. (info)
  • NonStampCollector : (video) Objective Morality vs. Christianity [William Lane Craig]. Takes tack of granting objective reality, argues that it can’t be Yahweh that determines it.
  • Iron Chariots : anti-apologetics site

God-Dependent Arguments:

Miscellaneous:

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: the last line being: “For if there is no God, morality is a more perilous enterprise than if there is.” Which is indeed an intuition for many — though not I. I’m not sure of the position of the author (whose name is not given).

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Inner vs. Outer Morality

Inner_Outer_Morality_Selves

One aspect of my view of morality is the Inner vs. Outer Morality. As many of my posts here show, I view our minds as having many-selves. This many-self view effects my view of morality. I think that the habits of relationships we practice with our inner selves, can affect similar relationships in our outer world. For habits are habits. If we are mean to ourselves, it is easier to be mean to others. When we suppress and silence parts of ourselves, it is easier for us to do so to others.

If we want to change ourselves, we should practice good outer behavior.  If we want to change our outer relationships, working on ourselves can be very useful.

See my other posts on Morality.

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Backyard Morality

Why Morality?
Modular_God_medium

Morality is one of the main modules within religion and their gods. See my post here on “Your Modular God“.

Morality is the agreed rules (implicit or explicit) that humans use to guide social behavior. “Morality” and “ethics” are just words we use to discuss our desires or agreements on behaviour. To add punch to the rules (and the words), religions add supernatural threats and promises while governments offer rewards and penalties. Religions and governments are social tools. Societies evolve and devolve depending on the success of her various rules in their given situations.

Many religious folks feel “morality” come from god(s) — and some go as far as to claim that good morality only come from their god(s). For those religious folks, nonbelievers are usually viewed as immoral, dirty, disgusting and need to be converted or else they are only worthy of avoidance, rejection, expulsion or murder.

So any discussion with religious folks eventually lands on morality. As a nonbeliever (though a former believer), I try to expose the artificial nature of god stories and/or show the real nature of morality so as to open the discussion on morality (our behavior preferences) to rational exploration and creative, flexible solutions.

One analogy I use to explain morality is games kids play in our backyard. I am quickly jotting out this post to get my ideas down so when discussing morality with blogging theists, I can link to this page and not clog their comment thread.

Backyard Games
kids_game

When the neighborhood kids play a game in our 3-acre backyard, they either play an established game, make up new variants or occasionally, the hardest effort, make a new game from scratch. In all cases the games have rules. We live on top of a hill and have an small orchard, a large chicken pen, an old dilapidated shed, and woods all around our property — so games at our place get pretty creative. The best games are at night while the adults site around a big campfire and the kids create their fantastic worlds.

The rules change as the kids decide what works best for them. Some rule sets end up in too many fights and those games aren’t played again because the kids don’t want to fight or get together for those sorts of encounters. This process is how games evolve.

Organisms reproduce and multiply when they have mechanisms that work. Social organisms evolve methods of relating (games) that aid that successful survival and some of those methods end up in the organism’s genes.

Morality evolved similar to games. In the kids games, you don’t have to obey the rules, but no one will play with you. Rules trump rules only if there are a big movement of followers over to another yard to play another game.

So all actions are not of equal value — they are judged by game rules. The rules don’t evolve by blind chance, they evolve through the kids’ experiences and preferences played over the long haul.

Concerning “Evil”
chimp_violence

Remember, we invented the word “evil” to label behavior (rule breaking) that we detest. To then try and go out and “discover” what “evil” is shows a misunderstanding of language. See my posts here on “The limitations of Abstractions”.

Consider “rape”: Violence and rape occurs in the behavior of other primates.  Chimps have fights and deaths over rape — just like humans. Humans and chimps share common ancestors.  As human cultures have evolved, they have often come to agreement that outlawing rape stabilized society — made for a better game to play. That is because violence, death and suffering are obvious things organisms will try to avoid — and as an organism, we have cultural memory to help us. There will always be rule breakers for lots of reasons.  And sometimes, societies become unstable as a whole and the rules are thrown to the wind as the culture tries to re-stabilize (or die).

Humans, being organisms, have natural limitations, thus there will be some natural sets of rules of engagement we see that co-evolve in otherwise unconnected cultures — rules against rape, for instance.

So we don’t “discover” evil, we label behavior as ‘evil’ that harms the type of society (games) we wish to participate in (play). We discover rules that are useful and fun.

Obstacles to discussing Morality

Even if I am wrong, I find it very difficult to explain my view of morality to people who:

    • don’t understand evolutionary biology and mathematics
    • lack of reading in ethnology and ethology
    • are too invested in their parochial interests or religious stories
    • don’t understand the nature of games
    • have lived in only one culture, who don’t have kids or who don’t have a backyard!  🙂

Note: HT to kid picture, HT for chimp pic.

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Why do Good? – A Naturalistic Moral Model

goodboyTheists are right to be concerned about morality. We should all be concerned about morality.  But one of theists biggest shortcomings is when they think their beliefs and worldview give them a corner on either being moral or understanding morality.  In fact, studies shows that theists find atheist to be morally repugnant even before getting to know them.

In my previous post, I suggested six ways to counter the moral disgust of theists toward atheists.  The sixth strategy was to offer a Naturalistic Moral Model to describe how we atheists talk to ourselves about morality without gods, spirits or demons. Each atheist (just as each theist) has a different internal model, of course, but this post describes my naturalistic moral model — the model I use when I think about the important question of “Why do Good“?

CAVEAT: First, let me register a very important caveat  As I written before, I feel what motivates people to do good are rarely the reasons they tell themselves or others, though we are all tempted to think otherwise.  Morality doesn’t work like that.  With that dismissing caveat on the table, here is the three-pronged (post-hoc rationalization) model that my mind uses to answer the question “Why do Good?“:

  1. Outer Happiness and Success: pragmatic survival skill
         “Doing Good”(DG) is a skill. Having the ability to do good can be very useful at times. But Doing Good can often, from a pragmatic perspective, be much more effective than doing bad.
    For example, I use practice a martial art called “Aikido”. Some people are drawn to Aikido because they see it as a gentle method of self-defense when you use an opponent’s energy against the opponent and thus do not initiate violence. They see the techniques themselves as gentle. Such people are very hard to train. It does not take long in Aikido to see how dangerous the techniques can be. And I think the real power in Aikido is to know how to use a technique to be BOTH gentle and harmful. The power of the practitioner is the ability to do both and then the wisdom to know when to use which. It is an effort when teaching macho men or women how to be flexible, soft and gentle. Likewise, it is almost harder to teach a pathology soft people how to be strong, truly protective or damaging. Pathologically soft people may have all sorts of complex psychological reasons (wrapped in ideology) of why they are averse to power, winning and damaging others.
  2. Internal Happiness: the macro affects the micro
         A model I use to understand myself and others is the multiple-self model (see here). Using this model, I feel that as I recognize my other selves and act toward them as: understanding yet discerning; kind but firm; thoughtful but wise; generous but careful … then I will increase the likelihood of my own happiness. Now, I also feel that if I practice these moral skills in my external relationships I will strengthen these habits to improve my internal happiness.
  3. Habituating the Moral Muscle: practice, practice, practice
         Doing good does not often come naturally. Doing Good is a hard skill to establish. So you should practice doing good even at times with others will not notice and in small things so that it becomes a strong, reflexive skill that you can count on when otherwise it would be very hard to will into action. Doing Good is a muscle.

Oooops: I am sure you have noticed that I have not disclosed exactly what actions I feel are “moral” or “good”. Yep, that is a whole other discussion for the distant future. Sorry! 🙂

Further reading: See my other Personal Morality posts here.

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Personal Morality & Ethics

This is an annotated index of posts addressing my personal morality and ethics. I have a separate index for “politics” which I consider the attempt to legislate and enforce morality on others.  We should be very careful to differentiate our personal morality (personal choices) from our public morality (enforced morality).

Morality & Theists

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The Moral Mind

This is part of my series on “How to Make a Christian“.   In that post, I illustrated what an adult’s modular mind looks like before they become a Christian (seen to the right).  This post elaborates on the inner workings of our Moral Minds.  Keep in mind that the Tribal Mind supplies the Moral Mind with classifications of how to value the various people addressed in our moral calculations (thus the arrow).

In the diagram below I have enlarged the Moral Mind to illustrate some of its inner workings.  You will note that, like the mind itself (above), this module is also composed of sub-modules.  These modules often work rather independently of each other (except where arrows show otherwise) and thus our minds are often divided when it comes to moral behavior.

The Moral Mind


If you have ever taken an ethics class, you have learned these three common ethical systems:

  • Utilitarian Ethics:  “The greatest good for the greatest number.”  Here, the outcome matters.  (Consequentialism)
  • Deontological Ethics:  “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (and similar rules).  Here, the action matters. (Kant, Natural Law)
  • Virtue Ethics:  “The virtuous person is the moral person.”  Here, the person’s heart  is what matters.

Ethical Systems

You will note that in my model, these three calculators (and others) are working simultaneously in the person’s mind.  This illustrates part of the reason why philosophers have not reached agreement on morality.  The calculators (sub-modules) have all biologically evolved to solve different sorts of behavior decisions (moral choices) depending on different environmental settings and thus they have contradictory outputs at times.  Thus Philosophers and Theologians, trying to build one, simple, coherent intellectual system, run into the problem of trying to reconcile all these into one consistent. systematic, prescriptive ethical system.    Please note:  Two other common normative ethical systems not captured in this cute illustration above are: 1) Ethical Egoism and 2) Contractualism.

My model is nowhere near complete nor accurate but instead is just my attempt to sketch for you some of the complexity that is inherent in addressing morality.  Oh yes, please note:  No gods, spirits or ghosts where used or sacrificed in the making of this model.  But I will be later discussing how these sub-modules are commandeered to serve spirits and gods.

To finish this post, let me include below this SUPERB video by Andy Thomson from the 2009 Atheist Alliance International Conference where he explains this issue of contradictory moral modules in the mind.  My model basically agrees with much of what is in Dr. Thompon’s lecture.  Dr. Thomson has a private practice of general psychiatry and forensic psychiatry as well as serving as a staff psychiatrist at the University of Virginia’s Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy and also at the Counseling and Psychological Services of the University of Virginia Student Health Services.  He has a B.A. from Duke University, and MD from University of Virginia School of Medicine.  Enjoy !

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Your Modular God

My previous post, “Spackle God“, was in preparation for this post.  There I rhetorically wondered out-loud how science-friendly Christians were able to keep their “God” intact while their “Spackle god” shrinks.  In that post I showed how a simple model did not seem to explain the phenomena.  Above is the expanded model I was hinting at.  It is the model I use to explain not only the persistence of “God” in science-friendly believers but also the nature of “God”.   I call this model “The Modular God”.

Theistic believers of all faiths use some word like “God” to capture these helpful functions or purposes in their lives.  The Spackle god is just one of the modules.  And as this improved model shows, there are many more purposes served by the concept of “God” for the believer than just the Spackle god.   In fact, it is all these other god modules that are ready to take up the slack when their Spackle god shrinks.  For as the Spackle god shrinks, these Christians re-interpret new parts of their Bible metaphorically in order to accommodate scientific findings.  But additionally, to avoid shrinkage of “God”, their other god modules are strengthened or arranged differently to allow for the absence of the Spackle god.  So that though their Spackle god is weaker, their Tribal god or their Morality god (for instance) may be strengthened or repositioned to bear the weight of the gray octagon as it tries to collapse in the absence of the Spackle god’s previous support.  In each believer the sizes and specific functions of the compensating modular gods vary depending on how the believer uses the concept of “God” in their lives.

To keep this post short, I will end by briefly describing each of the modular functions inside the believers term “God”:

  • Wishing god: offers hope for answered prayers: requests for health, prosperity, safety, happiness and more
  • Morality god: offers guidelines/rules of behavior, deters immoral behavior, motivates virtues, offers reasons for morality
  • Tribal god: offers identity, group unity to cooperate and compete, patriotism, denomination unity, meaning, stories, specialness, common enemies
  • Afterlife god: offers comfort for dead loved ones and a measure of security from the fear of their own death
  • Companion god: offers someone to talk to, acceptance, forgiveness, support and relief from loneliness
  • Spackle god:  offers supernatural explanations for the unknown gaps of their knowledge

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Related Posts:

  • How to Make a Christian: How the normal mind is transformed into a religious mind
  • The Tribal Mind:  The mind module regulating how we treat others
  • Many-Selves, No-Self :  Readers may recognize that the above model uses the modular theory of mind
  • Your Inner Theist:  Even Atheists can have a Theist side.  An example of the complexity of the modular mind.
  • Religion: A syndrome definition.  This model uses similar ideas.

Possible future posts using this model:

  • How religious people de-convert
  • Why de-converted atheists have diverse viewpoints
  • How atheists can also have a religious flavor
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