Friday, October 05, 2012

Creationism or atheism

http://creation.com/answering-reasonable-atheist-philosophical-questions

19 comments:

  1. I disagree with Safarti's claims about morality on atheism (as the majority of moral philosophers do too), and here's one moral ontology I-as an atheist-would bet on:

    http://philpapers.org/archive/WIEIDO.1.pdf

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    1. If, on atheism, objective morality exists, how is objective morality knowable? Further, how is objective morality obligatory?

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    2. Wrt your first question, it would seem we know moral truths in much the same way we know non-moral truths: sometimes on the basis of referent authority, other times through directly intuiting them, still other times through inferring from more general ethical propositions. If we can have epistemic access to abstracta on atheism, morality should be no problem! :P

      If I understand the second question correctly, it's asking why should we be moral on atheism. Ontologically, I'd say our duty to fulfil our moral obligations on atheism is grounded by the rights of others. Epistemologically speaking, we ought to be moral on atheism for a variety of reasons. Most importantly (to me), because we *really* do have ethical responsibilities, and that *is* a reason for performing them: certain states of affairs genuinely do exemplify objective moral properties. One of the few times I'll agree with Kant.

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    3. In an atheistic universe with objective morality, what higher authority could you appeal to than a moral ought? (I'm just anticipating a response going 'wut? We ought to be moral because we ought to be moral?')

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    4. Philothumper

      "Wrt your first question, it would seem we know moral truths in much the same way we know non-moral truths: sometimes on the basis of referent authority, other times through directly intuiting them, still other times through inferring from more general ethical propositions. If we can have epistemic access to abstracta on atheism, morality should be no problem!"

      i) You're confusing a sense of moral obligation with whether there is anything that objectively corresponds to our sense of moral obligation. Even if atheism can explain our moral sensibilities (e.g. evolutionary and/or cultural conditioning), that doesn't ground our moral sensibilities in actual moral facts.

      ii) Of course, Christianity can explain why unbelievers have moral intuitions. They must continue to live in a divinely-defined reality, even if they deny God's existence.

      "Ontologically, I'd say our duty to fulfil our moral obligations on atheism is grounded by the rights of others."

      That begs the question of whether humans have rights.

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    5. Philothumper

      "In an atheistic universe with objective morality, what higher authority could you appeal to than a moral ought?"

      Of course, that's a loaded question, for your question contains a tendentious premise. Christians don't grant objective morality in an atheistic universe. For that matter, many secular philosophers agree with Christians on that score.

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    6. You may disagree, but you fail to interact with his specific arguments.

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    7. steve: Rocking asked me how objective morality was *knowable* on atheism (i.e., by what means could we know moral truths?), not what moral facts ground our moral sensibilities. So, I think your 'i)' is off topic.

      Finally, I'll take your claim that "Christians don't grant objective morality in an atheistic universe" as an exaggeration since many Christians do, including (famously) Richard Swinburne, and practically all Christian Natural Law theorists. Unless rocking is a Christian who doesn't "grant objective morality in an atheistic universe" I think it's a fair question: supposing objective morality exits and atheism is true, what higher authority *could* be appealed to?

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    8. Philothumper

      "If we can have epistemic access to abstracta on atheism, morality should be no problem!"

      You seem to be alluding to a sort of moral Platonism. If that's what you have in mind:

      i) What makes you think abstract objects exist in a Godless reality?

      ii) Assuming (ex hypothesi) that they exist, what makes you think impersonal abstracta can obligate human beings?

      iii) What makes you think human biological organisms are the kind of entity that can be the property-bearer of rights or obligations?

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    9. I just meant we shouldn't find epistemic access to objective morality on atheism strange at all if we're ok with epistemic access to abstracta on atheism. But, in the interest of defending a major moral ontology for other atheists, I'll answer your questions.

      "i) What makes you think abstract objects exist in a Godless reality?"

      Well, first I would establish atheism, but I take an abstract object to be a non-spatial, a-temporal and non-causal object. I think you'll find the arguments for these creatures in the literature of metaphysics rarely (if ever?) mentions God. I would basically take the approach of Chris Swoyer in Sider, Hawthorne, and Zimmerman's Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2008. On a costs and benefits analysis, abstract objects seem highly valuable for the *work* in philosophy they by explaining things like mathematics, or closer to experience, 'shared' properties.

      "ii) Assuming (ex hypothesi) that they exist, what makes you think impersonal abstracta can obligate human beings?"

      I think the moral Platonist could say moral properties supervene on non-moral properties, the latter revealing the former to us by exemplifying them-much in the same way a box reveals the form 'squareness' by exemplifying it. Once we've gained epistemic access to the moral obligation exemplified through the non-moral properties, a relation would obtain via belief formation wherein the Platonic form would persist.

      "iii) What makes you think human biological organisms are the kind of entity that can be the property-bearer of rights or obligations?"

      I take a moral agent to be the kind of thing whose actions belong to her in such a way that she would deserve blame if the action were morally wrong, and she would deserve credit or perhaps praise if it were morally exemplary. Only moral agents can be the relata of rights and obligations, and human persons are moral agents.

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    10. I am a little unclear on what you think the relation is between rights, abstract objects, and non-normative properties. You say that moral duties are grounded in rights. Let's keep the grounding relation distinct from the supervenience relation as - since you want to toss around names - say, Fine and Koslicki do. OK. So rights are grounded in non-moral properties? Is that the story, i.e., that normative properties are grounded in non-normative properties? Which non-normative properties would those be, and how exactly do those normative properties depend on them? This isn't even an objection - they are just questions. (If you want to just say this, "I accept Russ Shafer-Landua's view," just say so and I'll move on.)

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    11. Fair questions James. I espouse the position outlined in the Wielenberg paper I linked earlier, I'm just defending moral Platonism here to show it's reasonable and available to the atheist. So, personally I'd go with Wielenberg and say our 'unalienable' rights aren't grounded in anything extrinsic: they're metaphysically necessarily brute. Alienable rights are grounded by these 'foundations'.

      I think the moral Platonist would say something similar.

      Is that Landua's view?

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    12. That view is a lot like RSL's view, except that I don't remember RSL bringing in rights. I'm not exactly sure what to say about these views yet. I don't think I have an adequate enough grip on them to start tossing out objections. For example, you said earlier that rights are grounded in non-normative properties. But Wielenberg treats them as metaphysically brute, and that sounds to me like they are not grounded in anything at all but are irreducibly foundational constituents of the universe. Anyway, at this point I will bounce out.

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    13. Philothumper

      “Well, first I would establish atheism, but I take an abstract object to be a non-spatial, a-temporal and non-causal object. I think you'll find the arguments for these creatures in the literature of metaphysics rarely (if ever?) mentions God. I would basically take the approach of Chris Swoyer in Sider, Hawthorne, and Zimmerman's Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2008.”

      There are familiar problems with platonic realism. For instance:

      i) What are abstract objects? According to platonic realism, abstract aren’t physical or mental. They are some tertium quid. But there’s nothing analogous in human experience to that. We understand minds, and we understand matter (at least at a pretheoretical level). But a postulated entity that isn’t physical or mental is an unintelligible postulate.

      ii) Conversely, there’s a theistic explanation. Abstract objects are divine ideas. Possible worlds are imagined worlds. Worlds which inhere in God’s mind. Constituted by God’s ability to conceive alternate possibilities.

      That’s a coherent notion, and it’s received detailed exposition from Christian philosophers like Brian Leftow, Greg Welty, and Alexander Pruss.

      “On a costs and benefits analysis, abstract objects seem highly valuable for the *work* in philosophy they by explaining things like mathematics, or closer to experience, 'shared' properties.”

      The fact that abstract objects play indispensable explanatory role in theoretical metaphysics doesn’t create the slightest presumption that they either do exist or could exist in a Godless reality.

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    14. Cont.

      “I think the moral Platonist could say moral properties supervene on non-moral properties, the latter revealing the former to us by exemplifying them-much in the same way a box reveals the form 'squareness' by exemplifying it. Once we've gained epistemic access to the moral obligation exemplified through the non-moral properties, a relation would obtain via belief formation wherein the Platonic form would persist.”

      i) I still don’t see how we’d be morally obligated to submit to impersonal properties. To take a comparison, suppose a perfect stranger does me an enormous favor. I’m indebted to him. I owe him a favor in return.

      By contrast, how can an abstract object impose a duty on me? Why do I have any greater obligation to an abstract object than I have to a rock?

      ii) I also don’t see how moral properties can supervene on amoral properties. In the usual relation between an exemplar and its exempla, property-instances are fundamentally analogous to their corresponding properties, even though the mode of subsistence is different. But to say moral properties supervene on amoral properties introduces a fatal equivocation into the relation. What aspect of the property do they exemplify? If there’s no moral aspect of exemplify, because the abstract property is amoral, then how does appeal to abstract objects ground concrete moral duties? If, conversely, they don’t, then what’s the function of abstract objects in your argument? Are duties groundless? If so, why involve abstract objects? But if duties must be grounded, then invoking abstract objects is otiose when, by your own admission, abstract properties aren’t moral properties to begin with.

      iii) Likewise, you reference Wielenberg’s article to bolster your claims. Well, he talks about possible worlds. But how is that germane? How does that ground rights or duties? If I have a counterpart in one or more possible worlds, how does that confer rights on me in the actual world? What’s the connection?

      “I take a moral agent to be the kind of thing whose actions belong to her in such a way that she would deserve blame if the action were morally wrong, and she would deserve credit or perhaps praise if it were morally exemplary. Only moral agents can be the relata of rights and obligations, and human persons are moral agents.”

      i) I wasn’t asking you to define a moral agent.

      ii) To say human beings are moral agents begs the question. You’ve simply relocated the issue. Why think human biological organisms are moral agents?

      To spell this out a bit, according to the standard secular narrative, a human being is an organic entity that evolved from inorganic chemical processes. It’s a fleeting and fortuitous organization of matter. It’s replaceable by other human biological entities. It’s the byproduct of a mindless, amoral process. What makes you think this temporary, expendable, aleatory packet of matter can be the property-bearer of rights and duties?

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  2. Actually, a number of secular philosophers candidly admit that atheism logically entails moral relativism or nihilism. I often quote or cite them here.

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  3. Philothumper

    "steve: Rocking asked me how objective morality was *knowable* on atheism (i.e., by what means could we know moral truths?), not what moral facts ground our moral sensibilities. So, I think your 'i)' is off topic."

    You went beyond epistemology to make an ontological claim. So that's hardly off-topic.

    "Finally, I'll take your claim that 'Christians don't grant objective morality in an atheistic universe' as an exaggeration since many Christians do, including (famously) Richard Swinburne, and practically all Christian Natural Law theorists."

    Christian natural law theory presupposes a divine Creator and law-giver. That's not atheistic. Try again.

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  4. I haven't read the whole paper of Weilenberg yet, but so far as I can see this is his approach: he doesn't attempt to present an argument for moral truths being brute facts. His approach is to take it for granted that there are such facts and show that Craig and Moreland do too. And, if they take it for granted that there are brute ethical facts, then this is or can be true on theism too.

    Have I got that right? One thing that immediately comes to mind: I'm curious as to how the brute facts view of ethics could adjudicate between competing claims for a moral truth. Suppose Singer claims its just a brute fact that infanticide is good and someone else claims it is not the case that infanticide is good. Does the brute facts view have to rely on some further ethical theory, such as utilitarianism?

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