Sunday, February 9, 2014

Euthyphro and the pigeon, a guest post

Some of you are likely to have noticed that over many of the last several posts here, a small group of dedicated commenters "discussing" the famous Euthyphro Dilemma. I put the scare quotes around "discussing" because the discussion was decidedly one sided. One side was seeking to discuss while the other was simply attempting to assert their way past the dilemma with theological nonsense.

One commenter, Brad Lencioni, engaged more than perhaps anyone else in the discussion side of this comment festival and has written up a short scene, like a play, about this discussion to showcase what was going on. He has asked me to present it here as a guest post, and so it will be the bulk of this (long) blog entry. It's worth reading if you, like Brad, are frustrated with the disingenuous attempts by theologians to skirt around the Euthyphro Dilemma or if you want to know more about the dilemma itself.

Before presenting Brad's piece, I'll note that I feel like the apologists who showed up on the comments sections of those posts are an excellent (though frustrating and exasperating to read) example of the points of the posts I wrote. That point is that however good a tool philosophy is at dismantling religious arguments, it is a door for theologians and apologists to keep trying to argue because theologians and apologists use philosophical-style arguments (if not outright corrupted philosophy) to make their case, and the Sophisticated Theologians(TM) among them often consider themselves to be philosophers.

I thank them for making my point for me, and now I'll turn the rest of this over to Brad's play, which I have not edited from his original phrasing, though I had to do a little formatting on it. My prediction is that the theist mentioned will probably blow up over this in the comments.


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The scene is a modern 21st century internet blog forum—a typical hub of debauchery and intellectual sin which makes up humanities monument of corruption, the internet. In this forum of discussion, a heretic dullard, whom we shall simply refer to as “Pagan”, joins a discussion about science, God, and the nature of morality. Whereby, his thoughts and inquiries are revealed for the idiocy and uselessness that they could not but consist of (given the heretics Godlessness) by a pious Christian religious zealot, whom we shall simply refer to as “Theist”.

~~~

Pagan: A function for determining what behavior a person OUGHT to perform is one which necessitates the input of facts, i.e. “is” statements. While, as Hume demonstrates, one cannot logically deduce a statement with an “ought” predicate from statements with “is” predicates (i.e. is-statements), one likewise cannot derive an ought statement without facts and is-statements. And the rational sciences represent humanities greatest and most successful effort for discovering what is true about our world. So science is of necessary import to ethics, it seems.

And what is true is that there are physically, psychologically and socially healthier and unhealthier, better and worse ways to go about living. And if a person maintains that these facts do not constitute the subject of “Morality” and ought to inform us in our decision making, then I do not know what a person means by the word ‘moral’.

Therefore, to sum things up: (1) Observation tells us that there are physically, psychologically and socially healthier and unhealthier, better and worse ways to go about living. (2) Ethics is the study of this, with the goal of deriving principles for how the former states of being might be maximized over the latter. And (3) one is said to be conducting their life “ethically” (or “morally”) if their decisions and behaviors are consistent with such principles.

The details of this are quite complicated, for sure. But I think that the idea of a metaphysical, objective moral framework of the universe that many theists are obsessed with is incoherent and not part of these details.

Theist: What a vile dullard you are, Pagan.

You have given us a bunch of Godless assertions which do not explain the foundation of those “principles” of morality which we seek in producing a meaningful theory of ethics. Nor have you given a reason for why one should desire to conduct their life in such a “moral” way. And you cannot possibly succeed in doing so, you fool, without my conception of God: a necessarily existing bodiless person who lives as a spirit outside of and prior to the physical construct of space-time and who necessarily is eternal, immutable, perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and the creator of all things!

For if God does not exist, then moral terms are actually incoherent, our moral intuitions are nonsense and untrustworthy, and there does not exist objective moral principles—or anything at all, really. God is the Authoritative Lawgiver, who has created us all for a purpose. We are not compelled to obey him though, as you aptly demonstrate in your heathen ways, Pagan. Because we were all created with a freewill to choose either to accept to live as we should and as God has commanded—commands which come through ancient prophecies and revelations and which are recorded in this book of sacred scripture, the Bible— or to choose to reject these scriptures, God and His laws.

This is the nature of morality, Pagan. Those actions which are “good” and “right” are the ones which are commanded by God; and those actions which are “evil” and “wrong” are those forbidden by God. And the imperative to obey God exists in an inescapable final reckoning: where everyone will be held accountable and Judged.

Science doesn't tell us to do anything—though you Godless heretics still act like you have some sort of magical ultimate goal you “ought” to fulfill. But you are all deluded in your purposeless, valueless, non-rational, unintelligent, unconscious nature-did-it mechanism worshipping. And you will be punished for your immoral false idolizing, Pagan.

Pagan: Holy cow! You have me very concerned, Theist. For these are some serious claims you are making, and it seems that one of us is direly confused...

Hmmm...

There seems to be really only one thing for us to do. Let us see, Theist, if we cannot inquire further into the nature of morality and make sense of our apparently wildly diverging views. There must be a confusion somewhere in our thinking which is responsible for our disagreement.

So to begin: First, let us assume that your God does exist and your scriptural sources are coherent and reliable.

Theist: Yes, now you are beginning to think clearly! You just may end up getting saved after all, Pagan.

Pagan: ...Okay. For the sake of our inquiry, we will continue to operate under this assumption and see if you have not provided as sound of a basis for morality as you have preached: In the definition of ‘God’, one of God’s properties is “perfect goodness.” But then you claim, Theist, that to be “good” and moral is to act in accordance with God’s commands and purpose. I hope you will please excuse my ignorance, but it is not clear to me what you actually mean with the term ‘good’. In other words, your definitions seem circular and arbitrary, where “to be good” is to behave as God wills, and where God is thought to be “perfectly good”—presumably because he can behave in no other way.

So what I would like is for you to clear up the following dilemma for me, which seems rather troubling: Is something good simply because God says so, or does God command what is good for the reasons that such things are good? Or, put another way, God either has no reasons at all for what He commands, or He has at least some reason for why he decides to command what He does. This is a necessarily true statement which is of the form: either A or not A. One of the statements disjuncts must be true.

I hope you might clear this up for me, Theist, because this dilemma has some apparently serious consequences for what you originally claimed: The first horn of the dilemma entails that ‘good’ means whatever God commands, where God has no reasons for why He commands one thing and not another. So His decisions (commands, creations, etc.) are random and His “perfect goodness” is meaningless in this case. This surely is not consistent with what you originally claimed, Theist. Surely this is not what you think.

The second horn of the dilemma seems to be what those of faith intend. In this case, God does indeed have reasons motivating His decisions and commandments. He commands, with His perfect wisdom, that people behave in particular ways (e.g. to be charitable and to not commit murder) for the reasons that those behaviors are morally good (e.g. because such behaviors produce personal and social prosperity and inhibit self-destruction).

However, a second problem now exists. While it is no longer meaningless for God and His commands to be good, in providing God’s will with reasons outside Himself we have rendered your conception of God, Theist, to be unnecessary and superfluous to our theory of morality. What ultimately explains an actions moral quality and defines what is ‘good’ are those very same reasons God would refer to in formulating His commandments.

So now you see my concern with what you have claimed, Theist. A moral rationale independent to the conception of God must be accepted.

Theist: I see how you could be confused by this, Pagan. Your ignorance is a product of the fact that your cognitive faculties have become entirely corrupted by sin. Oh how I pity you and your foolish blindness and false intuitions...

Your “dilemma” originates from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato and his dialogue titled “Euthyphro.” It is an exceedingly boring argument, which has been thoroughly destroyed by theists ages ago. I don’t know how anyone can still find this simple minded and meaningless dilemma relevant. But it would please me none the less to take down this horrible objection to God for you, Pagan.

The problem is that you have presented a false dilemma! God’s character, or being, is immutable. Thus, He cannot arbitrarily command one thing and then another. So this denies the first horn of the dilemma. But God’s character is also necessarily good! Thus, God’s commands are necessarily non-arbitrary and morally good for the reason that they are determined by (or rooted in) His immutable, perfectly good character. And this denies the second horn of the dilemma. Therefore, God’s commands are not arbitrary, but are good—For. The. Reason.—that His character is perfectly good. The horns of the dilemma have been split, and morality is not anterior or prior to God.

QED

Now can we get to discussing things more theologically important and less boring, such as how many angels can actually sit on the head of a pin? Or maybe how many pins there will be prodding you and your forsaken brethren in the ass upon Judgement? Uh-hahahahaha...

Pagan: Not quite yet, Theist...

I still don’t think you have successfully demonstrated the coherence of your thesis, nor do I think you have split the horns of the dilemma and meaningfully told me what ‘good’ means in a theological sense. Please excuse my building exasperation, Theist, but you speak with such conviction. Yet you seem to me to be playing rhetorical games rather than answering the question.

I accept that you may reject the first horn of the dilemma by defining ‘God’ as a character of immutable moral quality. God’s commands would then indeed be non-arbitrary and necessarily trustworthy (so long as you can get them straight from the source). But I do not accept your claim, Theist, that you have successfully rejected the second horn. Merely referring to the definition of ‘God’ as a perfectly good being begs the question to—and so does not rationally make meaningful—why God and His commands are “good."

Theist: You are the one who refuses Truth, imbecile. There can be no moral standards independent of God. Such a god that would have an obligation to some external moral standard would not meet the definition of ‘God.’ It is true that God’s commands – far from being arbitrary – are in accordance with God’s necessarily good personhood. So when God acts, he simply does what is right.

Therefore, I have eviscerated this over blown objection!

Pagan: But...

Theist: My goodness, man. Do you really still want to press this???

Pagan: If you insist on explaining the goodness of God’s commands and character, Theist, by referring to the definition of God as an immutably and necessarily good being, then you have not provided the term ‘good’ with a meaning and, as a result, you have not provided God with adequate reasons for His commands. And without such reasons, you have adopted the first horn of the dilemma.

You have not proven the dilemma to be false, Theist! Rather you are jumping between horns, dodging the threat of one by hoping to the next while engaging in circular reasoning:

If you would provide ‘good’ with an independent definition, Theist, then what you say would no longer be meaningless. But then, with such a definition, you will have provided a meaning to moral terms and a standard of ethics independent to your conception of God.

Theist: If God has to be held to some outside standard, then I don’t see why we should call this being ‘God’ at all. I don’t see how such a god could possibly be worthy of the definition, because for all we know there could be a spirit that does ground ethics. And this being is what I am referring to as “God”—not this weak god that you are discussing.

Never the less, Theism has demonstrated this dilemma to be egregiously absurd. In fact, the dilemma has made my faith even stronger! So thank you—this is surely the reason why God has introduced me to you and your wicked tongue, Pagan.

Pagan: There could not logically be such a spirit which grounds morality in the way you claim, Theist. Unless, are you dismissing logic? If so, then surely the dilemma would dissipate—but, obviously, not without some serious consequences.

But if not, then you must provide reasons outside of your conception of God, Theist, for moral terms to have any non-arbitrary meaning. But doing so renders your conception of God unnecessary to the meaningfulness of ethics. And since it is unnecessary, Theist, you were wrong in your claim, “If God does not exist, then moral terms are actually incoherent, our moral intuitions are nonsense and untrustworthy, and there does not exist objective moral principles.”

Furthermore, you were wrong in holding yourself above my atheistic and scientific conception of the world, and berating me for its lack of meaning and purpose. I expect that you will not continue in this insulting behavior, Theist.

Theist: Well I can turn the dilemma back on you! How would the atheist fare any better in providing an objective metaphysical standard of ethics? 

Pagan: Now you are coming to understand what I initially said about morality, Theist. And what I said was that I did not think such a metaphysical conception of morality is coherent; metaphysically, I think everything probably must reduce to arbitrary randomness (i.e. the first horn of the dilemma). But there are higher level (emergent?) facts than this—including those about physically, psychologically and socially healthier and unhealthier, better and worse ways to go about living in this world. And we can derive epistemologically—epistemologically, I reiterate—objective principles for maximizing healthy living. This is what ethics is really about. And what obligates a person to follow these principles is, not a fear of Judgement and hellfire (or at least it shouldn’t be), but pain and death.

In other words, the world naturally inhabits itself with those who behave according to such principles—no metaphysical spirits needed. Those who are not geared to fundamentally value wellbeing and life—and include this value in their decision function for determining oughts from is-statements— die out and do not propagate. And so will their ideas of ethics die out, as they will reveal themselves to be useless or non-optimal to those who do value life and wellbeing.

Theist: Now don’t tell me you believe in unguided evolution!
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[*Note: It has not been my intention to imply that all theists are so unpleasant, nor that all atheists are so well behaved. Rather, the dialogue was a characterization of some common conversations I have had about the philosophy of ethics and the Euthyphro Dilemma.]

References
Cornell Anthony. “’Scientism’ is a harmful distraction: comments section” God Doesn’t;We Do. Blog operated by author James Lindsay: goddoesnt.blogspot.com

Herman Philipse. God in the Age of Science? A Critique of Religious Reason. Oxford University Press. 2012

James Rachels. “Does Morality depend on Religion?” Online Essay.

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23 comments:

  1. Awesome, thanks James!!!

    Obviously I was having some fun in this. My intent, though, is to provoke sober and respectful philosophical dialogue. So if one has an objection to a point in an argument I delivered, then please try to formulate it into a counter-argument for our mutual analysis. Or if something is not clear, then ask and I will try my best to explain. But if your simply going to be disagreeable and rude, then don't expect any participation from me...

    I think the Euthyphro dilemma provides a valuable insight into moral philosophy. What do you think?

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  2. Ah I love it when I argue with someone to the point where the 'passive aggression' comes out after the debate, and yet we a sore loser thread that follows. I guess I really got under your skin eh James? I feel happy, as I know you dedicate your purposeless existence to mocking Christians as it gives you comfort in this pointless universe. I've never encountered someone who was so obsessed with hating Theists lol, well I'm glad I can help! Now let's expose this overblown caricature misrepresntation of what I was actually arguing and start from the beginning. 1st objection. I ask naturalists who accept moral facts. 'Are these moral facts good simply because they are good, or is there an independent standard of goodness to which they conform? Oh and one more for James.....I really got you good didn't I. :)

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  3. Lol, yes this article is obviously a sore-loser response on your part. You also grossly distorted many important points that I made, in which I 'll address piece by piece. Lying for nature will not get you very far I'm afraid. Also I thought you weren't going to waste anymore time with me? But yet you make an article with the intention to mock lol. This is priceless!

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    Replies
    1. Well, I like this hobby as it makes me smile when people have to resort to mocking me in a thread with caricature and strawmen caricature just because they had a tough time arguing against me in a previous debate.

      So, I’m going to rename this scene into an ignoramus meets a non-fundamentalTheist in an ethical discussion (though I’ll keep the Pagan name) Now we can see HOW I WOULD REALLY ANSWER. I’ll continuously beat up on the OP as my time is a bit limited this week.

      Pagan says “A function for determining what behavior a person OUGHT to perform is one which necessitates the input of facts, i.e. “is” statements. While, as Hume demonstrates, one cannot logically deduce a statement with an “ought” predicate from statements with “is” predicates (i.e. is-statements), one likewise cannot derive an ought statement without facts and is-statements.”

      Theist replies:

      And let’s also add the fact that Hume also thought that sympathy was a key factor in human nature and that ethics depended on that sympathy. Hume sought in some way to ground ethics in human nature and psychology and so could be said to a espouse a version of naturalism. (theories which define value terms as equivalent to expressions describing a natural fact, such as theories that state that ‘good’ means the same as ‘pleasant’ or ‘desired’.

      Though this still doesn’t succeed in avoiding the “is” to “ought” problem as C.S Lewis pointed out

      “a conclusion in the imperative mood out of the premises in the indicative mood: and though he continues trying to all eternity he cannot succeed, for the thing is impossible’

      Cf: “The Abolition of Man by C.S Lewis

      Pagan says “And the rational sciences represent humanities greatest and most successful effort for discovering what is true about our world. So science is of necessary import to ethics, it seems.”

      Theist replies:

      This is demonstrably false, pace John Lennox of course science can tell us how much pain an animal is in to shape a judgment on animal testing, though the judgment is made on the basis of a prior moral conviction, that pain and misery is a bad thing. Science can tell us that if you put poison in your grandfather’s coffee it will kill him, but it still cannot tell you whether you ought or out not to do so in order to get your hands on his property.

      Let’s tackle this a bit more “So science is of necessary import to ethics, it seems.”

      I don't know if I agree with this, perhaps "necessary" is too strong of a word here. It’s ironic how much fail to realize how overrated science is in certain areas, one of those areas just happens to be ethics.

      Sam Harris (cf: Moral Landscape) takes the same if not a very similar approach to the comment I’m critiquing, and he has been rightly critiqued

      Kwame Anthony Appiah states “How do we know that the morally right act is, as Harris posits, the one that does the most to increase well-being, defined in terms of our conscious states of mind? Has science really revealed that? If it hasn’t, then the premise of Harris’ all-we-need-is-science argument must have non-scientific origins.”

      cf: ‘Science knows best’ by Kwame Anthony Appiah The New York Times, 1 October 2010

      Biologist P.Z Myers also weighs in: (I’m definitely not too fond of Myers, but he is correct here)

      “I don’t think Harris’s criterion – that we can use science to justify maximizing the well-being of individuals – is valid. We can’t. We can certainly use science to say HOW we can maximize well-being, once we define well being….although even that might be a bit more slippery than he portrays it. Harris is smuggling in an unscientific prior in his category of well-being”

      Cf:

      http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/sam_harris_v_sean_carroll.php?

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    2. Part 2

      I saved the best for last, I think we all know who this man is

      “Even the greatest forces and abilities don’t seem to carry any clear instructions on how to use them. As an example, the great accumulation of understanding as to how the physical world behaves only convinces one that this behavior has a kind of meaninglessness about it. The sciences do not directly teach good or bad”

      Richard Feynman ‘The Meaning of it all’ London, Penguin 2007 pg 32




      Useful? Probably to some ethical theories, but necessary is too much of a stretch. So I don’t science is necessary, nor has it ever been necessary. Ethics is and always will be a Philosophical topic > Scientific topic

      Pagan says “And what is true is that there are physically, psychologically and socially healthier and unhealthier, better and worse ways to go about living.”

      Theist replies:

      Ahh so there are better and worse ways to go about living, this implies moral facts exist, you are also one who denies the existence of God, and now you fall into Euthyphro dilemma against your position which is non-theistic moral realism

      Matthew flannagan states it perfectly

      “is an action right because it promotes well-being or does it promote well-being because it is right?

      If ethical naturalists take the second horn of this dilemma and claim that something promotes well-being because it is right then things are right prior to, and hence independently of, whether they promote human welfare; so the ethical naturalists’ position here is false.

      If the ethical naturalists take the former horn then morality is arbitrary. If rape or murder or cruelty for fun had the natural property of promoting happiness then rape and murder and cruelty for fun would be morally required but it is impossible for these things to be morally required; so ethical naturalism is clearly absurd.

      Moreover, if things are right because they have natural properties, like promoting well-being, then one cannot meaningfully say that well-being is good. To say “well-being” is good is just to say that ”well-being is well-being,” which is just an empty tautology. “

      QED

      That’s just one problem, take better ways to living and plug it into a society, well an advantage to society is quite difficult to determine. Something looked at one way and deemed to be a detriment, can be looked at another way and be deemed a benefit. And how is it exactly that such values are embedded on every person on the face of the earth?

      Pagan says “And if a person maintains that these facts do not constitute the subject of “Morality” and ought to inform us in our decision making, then I do not know what a person means by the word ‘moral’.”

      If you want an answer to what someone means by ‘moral’ try picking up an introductory book in ethics, have you done that? Moral philosophy breaks down into the three parts:

      1. Value theory – what is the good life? What is worth pursuing for its own sake? How do we improve our lot in life?

      2. Normative ethics – what are our fundamental moral duties? What kinds of actions are required if we hope to behave ethically? How should we relate to one another? Which character traits count as virtues, which as vices and why? Who should our role models be? Do the ends always justify the means, or are there certain types of action that should never be done under any circumstance?

      3. Metaethics – What is the status of moral claims and advice? Can ethical theories, moral principles, or specific moral verdicts be true? If so, what makes them true? Can we gain moral wisdom? If so, how? Do we always have a good reason to do our moral duty?

      cf: ‘The Fundamentals of Ethics’ Russ Shafer Landau

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    3. Part 3 (final for the night)

      Pagan says “Therefore, to sum things up: (1) Observation tells us that there are physically, psychologically and socially healthier and unhealthier, better and worse ways to go about living.”

      Theist replies:

      But this gets us nowhere unless though the judgment is made on the basis of a prior moral conviction, that states the fact that being in the state of healthiness is a good thing whilst being healthiness is a bad thing.

      It appears that you fail to see the fact that not everyone in the world is going to agree on what’s healthy and what’s not healthy. For instance a sadist will think it’s healthy to torture his victims, so can this be a good thing? So what happens when people want to take delight in doing the most awful things?

      Pagan says “(2) Ethics is the study of this, with the goal of deriving principles for how the former states of being might be maximized over the latter. And (3) one is said to be conducting their life “ethically” (or “morally”) if their decisions and behaviors are consistent with such principles.”

      Theist replies:

      You’re leaving so much out, maximized with respect to WHO or WHAT? If well-being is to be maximized then what happens when we have to risk well-being for the sake of autonomy? Or what about those who seek well-being, and fixate on acquiring it, but yet are bound to be disappointed? Or what about when well-being is the result of false happiness, because someone ultimately lied to you? You’re aren’t really thinking this through, and I would that you’d be more skeptical of your position here.

      pagan says “The details of this are quite complicated, for sure. But I think that the idea of a metaphysical, objective moral framework of the universe that many theists are obsessed with is incoherent and not part of these details.”

      Theist replies:

      Well I hate to break it to you, but the majority of philosophers in academia are atheists, and guess what? They majority of philosophers also hold to moral realism. (philpapers.org)

      So a metaphysical moral framework isn’t just limited to Theist philosophers. In fact I have a quote right here from an atheist who states that moral truths didn’t evolve with humanity, but yet ‘are part of the furniture of the universe”

      Cf: “Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe” by Erik J. Wielenberg

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    4. Jeeze, I was hoping you might lighten up a little, Anthony.

      You responded with a couple of interesting statements, but no real coherent arguments--all of which I might respond to at once through clarifying what I argued:

      While my post was in the form of a dialogue, it still had the format of an essay. My broad and very short discussion of ethics, the is-ought distinction, and the relation of science to morality was of peripheral importance--serving to introduce and, to bring things full circle, to conclude the essay. My thesis was the Euthyphro dilemma and a critique of Christian theists claim to have explained morality--or to have fundamentally grounded it.

      Responding with a critique of the periphery issues isn't very appropriate here, because I never claimed to deliver a theory ethics. Though I do agree (and I don't think I originally implied otherwise) that a discussion and critique of these complicated topics is surely important.

      I expect James will comment on the "Moral Landscape Challenge" when it is complete, and that will be an appropriate time to sort out those issues.

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    5. Brad

      “Jeeze, I was hoping you might lighten up a little, Anthony.”

      Am I not allowed to debate? Would you like a handicap or something to help your side out?

      “You responded with a couple of interesting statements, but no real coherent arguments--all of which I might respond to at once through clarifying what I argued:”

      Blah blah blah, you might as well just say ‘you’re a Theist, so you must be wrong’

      “While my post was in the form of a dialogue, it still had the format of an essay. My broad and very short discussion of ethics, the is-ought distinction, and the relation of science to morality was of peripheral importance--serving to introduce and, to bring things full circle, to conclude the essay. My thesis was the Euthyphro dilemma and a critique of Christian theists claim to have explained morality--or to have fundamentally grounded it. “

      And I will continue to argue the fact that you are wrong, and point out how you weren’t skeptical enough of your own claims. Stay tuned during the week as I will come back from time to time.

      “Responding with a critique of the periphery issues isn't very appropriate here, because I never claimed to deliver a theory ethics. Though I do agree (and I don't think I originally implied otherwise) that a discussion and critique of these complicated topics is surely important.”

      Would you like to debate at Theologyweb then? In fact

      *****HEY JAMES*******since I’m such a scrub, let’s go to my home field and debate at theologyweb? You game?

      “I expect James will comment on the "Moral Landscape Challenge" when it is complete, and that will be an appropriate time to sort out those issues.”

      And I will be right there to pick it apart, hopefully he gives me a bit of a challenge this time.

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    6. Part 4

      Pagan says “There seems to be really only one thing for us to do. Let us see, Theist, if we cannot inquire further into the nature of morality and make sense of our apparently wildly diverging views. There must be a confusion somewhere in our thinking which is responsible for our disagreement.”

      Theist replies:

      There isn’t just disagreement between naturalists who hold to moral realism and Theists who hold to moral realism, but yet naturalists who are nihilists and reject moral facts all together. This is something we both have to deal with, so if I may ask how do you deal with this?

      The question is, what should we expect if philosophical naturalism was true and a God did not exist?

      Here are a few opinions on the matter that come directly from Non-Theists

      “The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory. - Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm

      Well yeah, I mean I believe it’s honest for me to ask what atheist philosophers such as Albert Camus spoke about when he stated:

      "There is but only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."

      "Hence the intelligence...tells me in its way that this world is absurd. Its contrary, blind reason, may well claim that all is clear...But despite so many pretentious centuries and over the heads of so many eloquent and persuasive men, I know that is false"

      - Albert Camus


      Camus contended one must rebel against the logical conclusion on an existential and practical basis so he was the most honest that it was impossible. It would mean that one could only accept personal concerns for matters but no longer be able to argue for any rightness or wrongness about any significant matters due to the fact that one could not account for values or meaning beyond one's only subjective account. The irony here is, Camus didn’t use this as an argument against Theism, but yet genuinely believed that his worldview lead to the logical implication of existentialism, so why don’t other atheists follow this? In fact it seems like the ‘new atheists’ ignore the likes of Camus and Sartre? Why? I mean, at least put out some reasons on why atheism doesn’t lead to nihilism, it’s as if the new atheists are ignorant of the fact that nihilism exists.

      So what gives? Why disagree with Fredrick Neitzsche when he stated: "I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism."

      His support for this was making an argument about morality being nothing more than the herd instinct of an individual.

      Therefore, there is a good philosophical attack to be made on atheism that if it is consistent with its presuppositions that it logically leads to nihilism. Since this nihilism is completely contrary to the human experience [even of the supposed nihilists themselves] and contrary to facts about living then this is a good philosophical way of critiquing and criticizing atheism. You could say these atheists are being honest about where atheism leads. So do you have any response to nihilism or will you just simply ignore it, because it makes you feel uncomfortable?


      Pagan says “So to begin: First, let us assume that your God does exist and your scriptural sources are coherent and reliable.”

      Theist replies:

      The Moral Argument for God, is not an argument for any specific religion, but yet an argument for Theism.

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    7. Pagan says “Okay. For the sake of our inquiry, we will continue to operate under this assumption and see if you have not provided as sound of a basis for morality as you have preached: In the definition of ‘God’, one of God’s properties is “perfect goodness.” But then you claim, Theist, that to be “good” and moral is to act in accordance with God’s commands and purpose.”

      Theist replies

      You’re on the right track, (as far as my argument goes) though I want to make my argument clear. Goodness is rooted in God’s personhood, not his divine commands.

      Pagan says “I hope you will please excuse my ignorance, but it is not clear to me what you actually mean with the term ‘good’. In other words, your definitions seem circular and arbitrary, where “to be good” is to behave as God wills, and where God is thought to be “perfectly good”—presumably because he can behave in no other way.”

      Theist replies

      So let’s go a bit into what sort of good is at issue here

      Let’s use Plato here for a bit of clarity

      “For whoever has been educated to this point in the things of love, beholding the beautiful things in order and rightly, coming to the completion of the things of love, will suddenly perceive something astonishingly beautiful in its nature. All his previous labors, Socrates, were for the sake of this” - Plato, Symposium 210 E
      So when I speak of the ‘good’ I don’t mean usefulness, or merely instrumental goodness. I don’t mean well-being, or what is good for a person. It is rather the goodness of that which is worthy of love or admiration. I believe there are obvious points of affinity between Platonism and Theism.

      Pace, Robert M. Adams

      Aspiration for a transcendent good is central both, and so is the focus of Theism. So the role that belongs to the Form of the Good in Plato’s thought is assigned to God, and the goodness of other things is understood in terms of their standing in some relation, usually conceived as a sort of resemblance to God.

      Keep in mind that this will be a theory of value, not a theory of universals. Therefore if God is the Good itself, then the Good is not an abstract object but a concrete (though not physical) individual.

      Pagan says “So what I would like is for you to clear up the following dilemma for me, which seems rather troubling: Is something good simply because God says so, or does God command what is good for the reasons that such things are good? “

      Theist replies:

      Neither, because as I mentioned before the Euthyphro dilemma fails to distinguish between moral good (an axiological category) and moral right (a deontic category, denoting obligation/duty). That is to say, giving all one’s possessions to the poor may be good, but this doesn’t entail a universal obligation. This good-right distinction enables us to determine what good (supererogatory) actions rise above the obligatory. Again, what is good is not identical to what God commands, but what God commands will ultimately be good.

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    8. Part 6

      Pagan says “Or, put another way, God either has no reasons at all for what He commands, or He has at least some reason for why he decides to command what He does. This is a necessarily true statement which is of the form: either A or not A. One of the statements disjuncts must be true.”

      Theist replies

      I disagree, God cannot command that which he hates, even though it is within his power. Whatever God commands is right, and torturing people for fun could never be right because God would never command it, nor would his character, his nature and his desire permit him to. For instance, if God is benevolent, then he does not command that which is repugnant to benevolence. Therefore God has a nature and is subject to it.

      Pagan says “I hope you might clear this up for me, Theist, because this dilemma has some apparently serious consequences for what you originally claimed: The first horn of the dilemma entails that ‘good’ means whatever God commands, where God has no reasons for why He commands one thing and not another. So His decisions (commands, creations, etc.) are random and His “perfect goodness” is meaningless in this case. This surely is not consistent with what you originally claimed, Theist. Surely this is not what you think.”

      Theist replies

      Nope this entails a sort of voluntarism, and I don’t hold to that.

      Pagan says “The second horn of the dilemma seems to be what those of faith intend. In this case, God does indeed have reasons motivating His decisions and commandments. He commands, with His perfect wisdom, that people behave in particular ways (e.g. to be charitable and to not commit murder) for the reasons that those behaviors are morally good (e.g. because such behaviors produce personal and social prosperity and inhibit self-destruction).”

      Theist replies:

      Well, I’d argue that divine commands may strengthen or reinforce moral motivation. Take for instance the fact that sometimes we know what to do intellectually, but the gentle prodding or even strong rebuke of a caring friend may be just what we need to spur us into action. Beyond this, we know that commands often add greater weight or seriousness to moral obligations of which we are aware. We may be familiar with general ethical principles, but the command of a genuine moral authority often assists in our taking our duties more seriously than if we merely had a theoretical knowledge of general moral principles.

      Pagan says “However, a second problem now exists. While it is no longer meaningless for God and His commands to be good, in providing God’s will with reasons outside Himself we have rendered your conception of God, Theist, to be unnecessary and superfluous to our theory of morality. What ultimately explains an actions moral quality and defines what is ‘good’ are those very same reasons God would refer to in formulating His commandments.”

      Theist replies:

      No that is false and there is not second problem. I already went over this, so I’ll do it again. The necessity of moral truths does not diminish their need for grounding in a necessary personal God, who exists in all possible world, and it definitely doesn’t become superfluous, because I don’t see any good reasons on naturalism to ground moral truths. God, who necessarily exists in all possible worlds, is the source of all necessary moral truths that stand in asymmetrical relation to God’s necessity. This can be compared to the necessary truth “consciousness necessarily exists”; this is precisely because God – a supremely self-aware being – exists in all possible worlds. God’s existence also means that objective moral facts are necessary – that is to say, they exist in all possible worlds precisely because a supremely good God exists in all possible worlds. That is, God’s existence is explanatorily PRIOR to these moral facts.

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    9. Part 7


      Pagan says “So now you see my concern with what you have claimed, Theist. A moral rationale independent to the conception of God must be accepted.”

      Theist replies

      No, I don’t see how moral facts can exist without a God, in fact I’d argue that if Theism was false, then moral nihilism is the only logical conclusion that follows.

      Why think that our moral awareness/development reflects those of preexistence moral facts?

      Mathew Flannagan points out

      I'll also argue that contemporary evolutionary psychology teaches that our basic evaluative judgments have evolved from precursors in lower primates. Evolution, however, is unconcerned with truth per se; it merely selects adaptive behaviour. As I pointed out, if God does not exist then the process evolution took is the result of numerous chance contingencies. There are a huge number of different ways evolution could have occurred.

      Each different way offers the possibility that radically different evaluative judgments of humans or any other moral agents could have emerged. Consequently, it is highly unlikely that the evaluative judgments we actually ended up making, given how the evolution did occur, just happened to be objectively true; this entails that all possible judgments that could have been made just happened to be false.
      Paul Copan makes the case again objective moral values

      How do "rights" or "values" emerge from valueless matter? Matter has properties (Shape, mass, color, texture, and so on), but moral value isn't one of them.
      If God doesn't exist, human dignity, worth, and moral duty must have emerged from valueless processes. In fact, and in contrast, from valuelessness, valuelessness comes.


      Copan adds “If intrinsic value does not exist from the outset, its emergence from non-valuable processes is difficult to explain. It doesn’t matter how many non-personal and non-valuable components we happen to stack up: from valuelessness, valuelessness comes. “

      it appears that one needs to take a leap of logic in order to even make the case for value realism,

      Goodness is bound up with personhood, and without the existence of a personal God (who created all other persons), no moral values would exist, period. Without this personal God, the source of all personhood, why think that moral values should appear on the scene? Moral values and personhood are intertwined.

      Therefore Theism just makes more sense, and the godless worldview
      ultimately fails when it comes to explaining moral facts.

      QED

      The works of Paul Copan, Robert Adams, and Matthew Flannagan were used here.

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    10. Part 8

      Pagan says “I still don’t think you have successfully demonstrated the coherence of your thesis, nor do I think you have split the horns of the dilemma and meaningfully told me what ‘good’ means in a theological sense. Please excuse my building exasperation, Theist, but you speak with such conviction. Yet you seem to me to be playing rhetorical games rather than answering the question.”

      Theist replies:

      This was answered in Part 5 (though I didn’t put Part 5 on top of my comment like I did with the others, but I’m sure you’ll figure this out

      Pagan says “I accept that you may reject the first horn of the dilemma by defining ‘God’ as a character of immutable moral quality. God’s commands would then indeed be non-arbitrary and necessarily trustworthy (so long as you can get them straight from the source). But I do not accept your claim, Theist, that you have successfully rejected the second horn. Merely referring to the definition of ‘God’ as a perfectly good being begs the question to—and so does not rationally make meaningful—why God and His commands are “good."

      Theist replies:

      If God as being entails a perfectly good being begs the question then we must apply the same skepticism to a naturalist who holds to a transcendent moral standard as well. So the naturalist’s query becomes pointless: we must eventually arrive at some self-sufficient, self-explanatory stopping point beyond which the discussion cannot go. Why is this ‘independent moral standard’ any less arbitrary a stopping point than God’s own intrinsically good personhood? Why must we bow to the naturalist’s insistence on some independent moral standard when god’s moral goodness would suffice? Any naturalist who resembles Platonism is already taking a transcendental step towards theism, conceding that something more than naturalism is required to ground moral realism. Though I think I have a good way to completely put this objection to rest, and it involves the argument that necessary abstract beings (ie: Your supposed external moral standard) cannot exist without a necessary CONCRETE being (God). Let me get back to you on this, as I think there is a way to argue the fact that all abstract beings depend for their existence on concrete beings. This of course would be an existential dependence, which would imply that there cannot be a moral standard independent of God, because even necessary abstract beings would ultimate be grounded via existential dependence in God. (remember the Euthyphro concedes God's existence for the sake of argument)

      This might take awhile, as I really want to put some time into this. I think the Euthyphro fails anyways, but I really want to destroy this overrated objection to the point where it's scattered all over the ground. So take care for now. I’ll come back from time to time to check up on this.

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  4. When a theist declares that if God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist he is demonstrating his complete lack of understanding of the distinction between objective and subjective. It seems as though they think that as long as a human mind is involved then what that human mind thinks must necessarily be subjective. But objectivism in metaphysics means that the objects that exist external to a human consciousness are what they are and remain so no matter what the subject considering them thinks or wishes or imagines. In the language of objectivism this is known as the primacy of existence. The objects of existence hold metaphysical primacy over consciousness. But this is certainly not the orientation that a theist thinks his god holds to existence. A theist thinks that this god by its very thoughts can control whatever exists and change reality at his whim. In fact they think that the physical universe itself was brought into existence by the mere desire of this being for it to exist. This metaphysical orientation is known as primacy of consciousness and it is subjective to its core. So if one believes in an invisible magic being his so called worldview does not even support the notion of objective or truth, these are concepts which are stolen from the primacy of existence worldview which most of humanity implicitly realizes is the correct one as they go about their daily lives. It is only when considering this imaginary being, that they fail to recognize its true orientation to reality and so continue to misuse the concept of objective.

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  5. For anyone interested, see the link below. For those that aren't, or for those that think it's all meaningless nonsense, please ignore the link below.

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-obligation-and-euthyphro-dilemma.html

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    1. good stuff!

      The Euthyphro is an awful objection lol

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  6. SteveK, thank you for the link. I think it explains what Cornell Anthony has been so desperately but poorly trying to communicate.

    But I still don't accept that the dilemma has been shown to be false and a bad argument. Feser does not refute the second horn, but changes the subject:

    "But the essences that determine the ends of things – our ends, and for that matter the end of reason too as inherently directed toward the true and the good – do not exist independently of God. Rather, given the Scholastic realist understanding of universals, they pre-exist in the divine intellect as the ideas or archetypes by reference to which God creates. Hence the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma is also ruled out."

    So he is identifying moral properties as abstract universal logical truths which he wants to claim exist inside the mind of God as archetypes, perhaps over possible worlds, which God rationally refers to. But then moral terms get there meaning and legitimacy as logical truths. If a space-time singularity like the one that produced our universe were to spontaneously pop into existence--perhaps while God was napping--then the meaning of moral terms for the rational persons who would evolve after some 14 billion years would just as legitimate as 1+1=2.

    What the theist is protesting is that God is not superfluous to ethics, because nothing could exist--including people with moral values--if God didn't exist, which presumably rests upon some ontological argument or cosmological argument. This point, however, does not legitimatize that a distinct "moral argument" exists for God, where moral terms in a Godless universe would be meaningless.

    They would indeed be meaningful, but one is rejecting that such a universe is possible--a very controversial claim.

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    1. Brad,
      >> "So he is identifying moral properties as abstract universal logical truths which he wants to claim exist inside the mind of God as archetypes, perhaps over possible worlds, which God rationally refers to."

      I don't think this is what's going on. I could be wrong, but I think the answer has a lot to do with essence, existence and divine simplicity all rolled into one very complex subject - God. It's not an easy subject to follow. Regarding divine simplicity, the Feser blog article says this:

      >> ...its role in resolving the Euthyphro dilemma is one reason theists should take seriously Aquinas’s doctrine of divine simplicity.

      Some other links from the earlier Feser article you might want to read:
      --> http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/god-and-possible-worlds.html
      --> http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/11/william-lane-craig-on-divine-simplicity.html

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    2. I will look into them, thanks again.

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    3. "SteveK, thank you for the link. I think it explains what Cornell Anthony has been so desperately but poorly trying to communicate."

      I don't understand what's so poor about my communication, I've given you plenty to work with, but yet have not seen much of an attack on the substance of what I've presented. perhaps you should, I don't know, look at what I'm actually saying and tackle it head on.

      You have a problem with God and the good, but then you might as well just have a problem with God and having the property of being a necessary being, or God a possessing omnipotence. If you want to argue against a contingent God that has the property of morality being external to God, then go ahead, but don't think that every Theist holds to that form of Theism.

      The Euthyphro probably works on a contingent God, but you're going to have to look hard to find Theists defend a contingent God. Though you are on to something here:

      "What the theist is protesting is that God is not superfluous to ethics, because nothing could exist--including people with moral values--if God didn't exist, which presumably rests upon some ontological argument or cosmological argument. This point, however, does not legitimatize that a distinct "moral argument" exists for God, where moral terms in a Godless universe would be meaningless. "

      First off, Theists are arguing that they have the best answer to why moral facts exist. The DCT doesn't work if nihilism is true, or if moral relativism/subjectivism is true. Even Russ-Shafer Landau points out in his introductory book on ethics the fact that atheists who are also nihilists can use nihilism to argue against God. I'd even concede the point that moral nihilism poses the biggest threat to the DCT. I think the best route for a Theist is to argue for moral realism first, then argue the point that moral facts are best explained under Theism rather than naturalism.

      Anyways as you said, I don't necessarily need a moral argument for Theism, though some people are persuaded by it, so I still use it. Like you said I could just argue a modal OA or some form of a Cosmological argument instead, but I've noticed that 'morality' seems to be a topic that hits people harder than others, therefore I stick with it.

      I also think Thomists have a good response to the Euthyphro as well, so I would recommend Feser's blog as well. All that matters is the fact that there IS a good response to the Euthyphro that puts it on ice.

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