Friday, July 21, 2006

Danny's game of dodgeball, Part II

Daniel Morgan said:

“ 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?”

Danny continues to beg the question. Why is survival a value?

Many species have become extinct. According to secular projections, the earth and the universe will eventually become uninhabitable.

There are deep-green philosophers who regard the survival of the human species as a threat to the survival of every other species.

According to secularism, every member of the human species is extinguished at death. So, taken collectively and distributively, we do not survive.

Why then, on secular grounds, “should” the human race survive?

All Danny ever does it to punt the question rather than answer the question.

“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.”

How is survival a “self-evident” premise in secular ethics?

You are committing the naturalist fallacy by trying to extract values from facts when nature is your only frame of reference.

“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?”

The answer depends on whether you are directing this question to a Christian or an atheist.

“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.”

i) You continue to make an illicit move from descriptive behavior to prescriptive behavior.

The fact that both believers and unbelievers value life is descriptive, not prescriptive.

ii) The fact that we may have a survival instinct doesn’t make it right. Unlike lower animals, we are conscious of our survival instinct, and since we are conscious of our genetic programming, we are in a position to override our genetic programming (in some instances).

So why “should” we obey our instincts? Some people commit suicide.

iii) The fact that believers and unbelievers alike may regard life as valuable doesn’t mean that their respective belief-systems are equally successful in warranted these values.

iv) Danny is also blurring a critical distinction between collective survival and personal survival.

There are many real world situations in which we face a conflict between the survival of the one and the survival of the many.

From the standpoint of secular ethics, what should an individual do when he’s confronted with a choice between saving his own skin and sacrificing his life to save another or others?

“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.”

Yes, there’s some truth to that. But, of course, I have a destiny to preserve. You, by your own reckoning, do not.

“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 an absurd characterization of utilitarian ethics. If the common good is the greater good, then this prioritizes the interests of the many above the welfare of the one.

Some individuals are more productive than others. Some individuals make a disproportionate contribution to the wellbeing of the many, while other individuals are a drag on the system.

Utilitarian ethics is a logical fit for a meritocracy rather than a democracy.

In addition, if naturalistic evolution is true, then why shouldn’t the strong exploit the weak?

“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.

God doesn’t hold all “sinners” in equal esteem. At the same time, no sinner is treated unjustly.

“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).”

There’s nothing arbitrary about saying that some individuals make an unequal contribution to the welfare of the many.

So why, by utilitarian lights, should we treat everyone equally when everyone is not equal in his contribution to the common good?

“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)”

High-risk sexual behavior generates expensive medical conditions and complications. Since medical resources are limited, they need to be rationed.

On your own utilitarian grounds, why should a fractional sexual minority disproportionately overtax our scarce public and private medical resources?

“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.”

Simply begging the question, you mean.

Why, from a secular standpoint, should we treat all human beings as equal when human beings are inherently unequal in their range of aptitudes as well as their contribution, or lack thereof, to the common good?

“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?”

No, what I’m asking you as how you’d justify homosexual rights on the basis of evolutionary ethics. You are a Darwinian, right?

What’s the natural function of sex if not to perpetuate the species? To transmit our smart genes to posterity?

So, if Dawkins is right, why should homosexuals enjoy civil rights?

“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.”

This is a transparently paternalistic excuse for disparities in the performance of the sexes.

Do you deny, a priori, that male and female brains may be specialized to some degree to excel in different tasks—as part of the evolutionary division of labor? That they may process information differently?

“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...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.

i) What’s wrong, from a secular standpoint, with discrimination? It’s one thing to treat one’s equals equally. All other things being equal, treat everyone the same.

But what about innate inequalities? Is it arbitrary to say that Jim has an IQ of 90 while Tim has an IQ of 140?

Are all measures of aptitude or productivity arbitrary? Are there no fairly objective ways of testing intellectual performance or economic output?

Why should this not be allowed to figure in utilitarian ethics?

ii) Notice how Danny must take refuge in stipulative definitions. Dodgeball at its best.

iii) Even if this is how secular humanism defines social morality, there are many other versions of secularity that are either inequitable or relativistic.

“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.”

This question is ambiguous. Man’s social and personal ethics are contingent on the will of God, as a consequence of the way in which he engineered human nature.

God also has essential moral attributes.

“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)?”

God always acts is a manner concordant with his justice. The action is just because he is just.

“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.”

I’ve already answered these sorts of questions in the negative. Divine commands and divine creation are complementary. Divine commands are not an arbitrary fiat. Rather, they presuppose his creative fiat.

Danny has his own dilemma. On the one hand, he’s a social chameleon. There’s a perfect match between his secular social views and the political orthodoxy of his academic environment. The blend between what he believes and what his peers or mentors believe is indistinguishable.

On the other hand, there’s a mismatch between his secular social views and his secular theories regarding utilitarian ethics and evolutionary ethics.

There is nothing in evolution or utilitarianism which either entails or is even consistent with his politically correct egalitarianism.

Rather, he stakes out these two contradictory positions for sociological rather than intellectual reasons. It’s simply the price of admission to his social circle. Evolution and egalitarianism are the passwords for admission to the club.


  1. “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.

    Danny forgets he is talking to Calvinists here. This kind of objection only works vs. Arminians, Romanists, and others. We have two categories with respect to the ground of election. One is God's mercy and the other is God's justice.

    Daniel has overlooked the reason why these groups and individuals were favored. Were they favored due to remunerative justice or were they favored out of nothing but mercy. Election flows from God's identity as the I AM. Since all are condemned already, God can favor whoever He wishes under the rubric of His mercy. They are not favored because of something in them that merits His favor. Foreseen faith or perseverance or other such things are forms of merit.

    Ah, but did not not reward some of these people. Yes, He did, and if you pay attention, the reason He does so goes back to an administration of one or more covenants, so that reward is not a function of their merit as much as it is a part of the stipulations of the covenants, which are administrations of the overarching covenant of grace, running back as far as the first generation. God withholds punishments because He is faithful to His covenants, which are covenants of grant. Even the suzerain covenant of Moses is indexed to the Abrahamic, Noahic, and Adamic covenants, which are covenants of grant, and thus under the rubric of mercy, not remunerative justice.

  2. I only wanted to reply to this one part at the moment:

    Yes, there’s some truth to that. But, of course, I have a destiny to preserve. You, by your own reckoning, do not.

    This is ridiculous and offensive. Simply because I don't believe that my consciousness continues to exist after my body dies doesn't mean that I don't have a legacy via my life's work, children, etc. Just because I don't believe in "eternal destiny" or "preordained destiny" doesn't mean that I will have no good and worthy end, or goals, to my life. I am quite glad that I don't live in a universe in which some other Being gets to decide my fate, that I am not a vessel fitted for destruction (or grace), but a person whose decisions and character, coupled to chance and those of others, determine his fate.

  3. "Secular humanists suspect there is something more gloriously human about resisting the religious impulse; about accepting the cold truth, even if that truth is only that the universe is as indifferent to us as we are to it." Tom Flynn