Though I’m a Christian of some sort, I believe moral agnosticism is the only honest response to the question of whether or not objective moral values exist. On my worldview, objective moral values are nothing more than God’s decrees. Sure, as a theist, I believe God and His decrees exist, and in fact I can “test” the truth of their existence by noting the results when I follow them and when I don’t, but I’m of the opinion that the question is not empirically resolvable – in short because you need to know if the valuer exists before you can know if their values exist.
A clear definition of “objective” temporarily aside, the question “do objective values exist” cannot be definitively answered until we know whether or not God or some “Creator” exists. If we think of values as nothing more than parameters for behavior, then objective values for morality are really no different than the objective parameters a programmer sets for his responsive web design. There are *real* rules that determine *real* behavior for *real* things in both cases. Subjectivity does not exist in web programming.
By now I imagine most of us are familiar with the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. As a parent I anguish at the thought of what those parents must be going through. The thought of the never-to-be-opened Christmas presents is enough to bring tears to one’s eyes. It’s just so… wrong—unless of course you’re one of those atheists of the hard determinist type. If that’s the case, all you can say is that you don’t like what Adam Lanza did. Well, I guess you can say it was wrong, but that would be an equivocation of sorts because it could only be as “wrong” as a flood or hurricane. After all, on the hard determinist’s view, Adam Lanza is just another sack of matter blindly following the naturalistic laws of physics, no different than any other sack of matter. Right? That’s what Sam Harris is committed to: Lanza literally had no choice in the matter. It’s not just overconfident neuro-fetishists that espouse this view, either. This all follows from Galen Strawson’s basic argument.
Why embrace a worldview that necessarily commits one to a full abdication of ultimate moral responsibility, especially when it’s a philosophical position with no scientific grounding?
Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and it’s pretty clear that somebody is killing Iranian nuclear scientists in an effort to stop this. I felt this was interesting because it relates directly to Sam Harris’ remarks that it “may be ethical to kill people based on what they believe.” What do you think? Is it morally right to kill Iran’s nuclear scientists as a pre-emptive measure? Why or why not?
I recently expressed my belief that most atheists have a very naïve understanding of morality that goes something like, “saving lives = moral good.” A commenter asked me to explain my position, and that’s what today’s brief post is about.
cl, no offense, but I don’t think this is a common atheist ethic. I think this is a cornerstone of any common sense morality: that is to say, “this” being the principle that saving lives is good. If you hear a child crying out for help that is drowning, would you bother to save him? Would not saving him be immoral if one was totally aware of his presence/distress and capable of saving him?
My first response is that “common sense” has led us down the wrong path, countless times. “Common sense” told us the sun went around Earth. “Common sense” told us air travel and telephony were impossible. “Common sense” told us that quantum mechanics just couldn’t be true. For these reasons, “common sense” merits a low position in any rational truth-seeker’s tool shed.
This post is just a placeholder to continue this discussion from the now-defunct Common Sense Atheism blog, should any of the participants or onlookers be interested.
Naturalists and atheists generally regard empirical truth as a virtue, sometimes even the prime virtue. My ears perk whenever I hear them preach any form of moral realism, as always I’m curious to hear how they can ground what they say (I’d be a moral “error-theorist” if I were an atheist). In discussions of morality these days, many naturalists and atheists seem to grasp desperately for something like a complete morality, but I don’t think we can answer the ultimate moral question(s).
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It’s no secret that people like Luke Muehlhauser endorse the creation of superintelligent AI as a means of saving the world. For me, a few questions arise.
1) Isn’t this a direct concession that human intelligence alone is incapable of creating a “perfect” world?
2) Per 1, mustn’t people like Luke Muehlhauser agree with me that a “perfect” world must follow given obedience to an all-knowing God Who has our best interests in mind?
3) What do you think people like Luke Muehlhauser would do if superintelligent AI came to conclusions that conflicted with their own moral preferences? For example, how do you think they would respond were AI to condemn homosexuality?
So you might have heard that the Loftus put out a new book pompously titled, The End of Christianity, which includes a chapter from self-proclaimed infidel Richard Carrier, titled, Moral Facts Naturally Exist (and Science Could Find Them). Can we agree that this is an empirical claim? If so, can you imagine the consternation that might ensue if a reputable physics journal published a paper titled: The Higgs Boson Exists, And Science Could Find It?
This, more or less, is what I tend to believe about morality:
Take, for example, that which we are now doing, drinking, singing and talking—these actions are not in themselves either good or evil, but they turn out in this or that way according to the mode of performing them; and when well done they are good, and when wrongly done they are evil; and in like manner not every love, but only that which has a noble purpose, is noble and worthy of praise.
-From Plato’s Symposium
What sayest thou?