Thursday, July 20, 2006

Back to the lifeboat

Daniel Morgan said:

“That said, I don't think that any of us disagree that there are tenable positions where we start with basic human needs and say ‘we ought to do X...for the purpose of meeting human needs’, and allowing human needs (survival, food, shelter, clothing) to trump peripheral and tangential issues. This provides a frame of reference from which social contract, utilitarian, etc., ethics can be derived. The ‘common good’ can be defined in terms of basic human needs, and not human happiness, with much more objectivity than you'll admit.”

i) This begs the central question: is survival good? Is it good to supply human needs?

Even if you can objectively define human need, objective needs and objective values are not the same thing. All you’ve done, like so many others, it to reiterate the naturalistic fallacy along with the is-ought fallacy.

ii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we take the common good as our frame of reference. And let’s apply that to some specific examples:

a) Does evolutionary or utilitarian ethics justify equal rights? From a secular standpoint, why should someone with an IQ of 100 have the same rights as someone with an IQ of 140?

In a lifeboat scenario, doesn’t the smarter guy make a greater contribution to the common good?

Isn’t Bill Gates worth a lot more than the guy he employs—precisely because one Bill Gates is the source of employment for the many?

So do you believe in equal rights, or should we scrap that political dogma?

b) Should homosexuals enjoy civil rights? Aren’t they a burden on the common good? A drain on limited medical resources. Elevated rates of suicide and domestic violence, &c.

It’s not as if anal sex is the most efficient method of transmitting one’s smart genes to the next generation.

So, do you believe in homosexual rights? If so, what is your evolutionary or utilitarian justification?

c) What about women’s rights? If men generally excel women in math and the hard sciences, does that mean that men in general, are intellectually superior to women? Or, if not in general, that some men peak at a higher level than women?

If so, do you believe in equal rights for women? If so, what is your secular rationale?

“The responses that theists make to the Euthyphro Dilemma attempt to obscure the basic question: does an objective standard exist, are things good because they are, or not? Yes or no? You get into long and convoluted rabbit trails to evade the simple answer -- they must be, or else we lose all ability to use the word ‘good’ and ‘moral’, and might as well say ‘gwoeiewqnwo’. And if it is the case that they are NOT, then the question itself loses all meaning, and things just are as they are, without the ability to use reference to ‘good’ or ‘evil’.”

i) Notice that Danny is trying to take the easy way out: dismissing our arguments without having to engage our arguments.

He hasn’t shown where we go wrong.

ii) Since the Euthyphro dilemma is prejudicial in the way it frames the alternatives, we have every right to challenge the dilemma as a false dilemma.

Sometimes the first and best move is not to answer the question, but to question the question because the question is a loaded or leading question.


  1. i) Survival is a necessary value for ethics. The question is NOT whether it is a part of our ethics, but whether survival will be promoted or opposed by every moral decision/action, as it is an unavoidable aspect of our universe. If we do not frame ethics in such a way as to promote survival, then do we frame them in such a way as to oppose it?

    I am quite unclear as to how "survival is good, ethics must value human life" violates the naturalistic fallacy. I did not say "survival is good because evolution promotes survival" or some other naturalistic perspective. I am not justifying the statement by using some scientific observation. It is a premise, foundational, and self-evident.

    If we do not value survival, then do we value ethics, or even attempt to make them? If we do not care if our actions bring about our own demise, or that of others, then why do we care if our actions are "good/bad" in any other sense at all?

    In point of fact, you Christians value your own skin as well. Aaron Kinney (and others) have argued that Christians are just as egoistic as any other group. That self-interest (survival) is an innate part of all moral systems.

    Why do you obey God? Why do you avoid hell? It is certainly out of a sense of self-preservation, fear, and hope for your destiny.

    ii)-a) The wording of our Declaration of Independence is helpful here: "we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights" ("life, liberty, property," according to Locke, but Jefferson replaced the last with "pursuit of happiness")

    The basis of utilitarian ethics start with an equal value assigned to all persons, or else it is not possible to calculate the beneficence of any given action or decision. If we "tilt the scale" at the beginning, then the idea of the "common good" is a non sequitur and we go back to "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". This is clearly the view of your God with respect to the Hebrews, and even with respect to Noah, etc., throughout the Bible, as some persons were "favored" over others. Your God does not hold all persons in equal esteem. That is why our values are diametrically opposed.

    We do not start with "what value does this person have?" and use arbitrary tests, but instead "all persons are valued equally" and use the objective measure of how any given action/decision affects every persons' needs and rights (to life and liberty).

    ii)-b) Your assertion about homosexuals being a burden should be supported by some sort of study other than the completely discredited work of one quack (Cameron)

    I don't believe in "homosexual rights" any more than I believe in "Christian rights" or "atheist rights". I subscribe to equal human rights. It's pretty simple.

    Are you asking me if we should endow governments with the authority (somehow) to prevent consenting adults from engaging in whatever sexual behaviors they choose? That of course would violate the sovereignty over ones own body, which all humans must have in a system which honors liberty, so long as persons do not use their bodies to infringe upon the rights of others. As Jefferson said, "it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg..." How does it pick your pocket, or break your leg, Steve, for gays (or anyone) to engage in anal sex if they choose to?

    ii)-c) Ditto. Women and men must be afforded equal opportunities, which does not imply that they must somehow be "rendered completely equal". We open the door of freedom so that women enjoy the same rights as men, we are not obligated to ensure that they use their freedoms and rights to pursue any particular path towards personal happiness.

    And, your assertion about the gender disparities is scientifically shown to be a function of education and not intrinsic abilities. Unfortunately, women are not encouraged and educated with equal enthusiasm to go into some fields as men are. This is the only explanation for why boy and girl children start out with equal cognitive capabilities, but over time we see an unequal distribution of adult men and women in certain occupations and career fields.

    You are trying to examine persons to see if they "qualify" for equality, whereas secular humanism defines humans as equal (in the eyes of the law and human rights), and goes from there. A simple defense of this is in discussing how we arbitrate law if otherwise than "lady justice is blind to race, sexual preference, sex, religion, etc." What we find is we obviously discriminate and infringe upon a person's rights and liberty if we define some arbitrary measurement of how they need to "qualify" to get equal access, treatment, and protections under the law.

    ii) (second ii) Frame and Bahnsen have argued that morality is both necessary and dependent upon God, and Martin has engaged their arguments. The especially relevant debates center around Martin's TANG. It seems that a false dilemma would not have garnered so much time and effort from an otherwise-bright theists, now would it? I have yet to hear you specifically commit to say that morality is contingent upon God, or that morality is necessary for God. Perhaps you can stake out your position and then we can go from there.

    Does God have the ability to choose freely among many actions and decisions? If so, when God makes that choice, and acts, or decides something, is it moral just because God chose it (moral contingency), or is it moral only if God chooses a particular set of actions/decisions, which are themselves able to be evaluated as moral/immoral (morality is necessary)?

    If God commanded child rape in the Bible, would it be good? If God commanded that we eat each other? Or, do we agree that God cannot make certain acts/decisions moral simply by acting/deciding them? Please keep the replies as on-center as possible.

  2. I know you were addressing Steve, but if I may offer a few comments....

    God has the ability to choose freely among many actions and decisions, but He always does so within the scope of His holy character and being. He is definitional of what is good. If He says or does something, it is good. God would not command child rape or cannibalism. The question, what if He did? is an empty question. God is not going to act contrary to His nature. That question is along the lines of asking, "what if a fish started living on land?" It's not going to because that would be contrary to its' nature (I know, it could evolve, right?). I think you're bringing God down to man's level and because man can be arbitrary and make both moral and immoral choices, you think of God the same way. Human nature is innately evil, God is innately good and holy. I guess that since you reject that statement this is a dilemma for you. Now what I said may bring up some other issues, I'm sure you already have some in mind, but those issues can be answered based off this fundamental premise, "God is good and holy, whatsoever He does is right." As Christians, we start there. As an atheist you have a fundamental premise too, "I will judge what is good and right", and therein lies the dilemma you're asking about...

  3. If He says or does something, it is good. God would not command child rape or cannibalism.

    Kindly explain, S&S, the difference between "child rape and cannibalism are evil, thus God could not command them," and the crux of the Euthyphro Dilemma -- that if things are good or evil by a standard apart from the deity's command to do or abstain from them, then divine command theory is false.