Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Morality Part One: The Burden of Proof

Does morality come from gods? Of course it doesn't. Have you read the holy books recently? Aside from being utterly repugnant and morally retarded, they're actually quite hilarious. For the sake of my largely Christian readers I'll explore the moral philosophy of the Bible and argue for why it is not a source for morality in any reasonable sense. But first, I want to spend some time talking again about the burden of proof and honest discourse.

For centuries one of the pillars of Christian apologetics has been the assertion that without Christianity there would be no source for morality. In other words, we're all brutes who need a cosmic authority to say "Thou shall not murder" in order to know that wanton murder is detrimental to society. More sophisticated theologians will talk about how non-believers are capable of morality, but unable to rationally justify morality with a natural explanation.

Here's the deal. The inability of a non-believer to justify morality doesn't even make the Christian explanation more plausible, let alone true. To claim absolute morality (which the orthodox Christian does) the burden of proof is on the Christian to substantiate their claims. In my many formal and informal debates with Christians there always comes a point when they look at me and ask me to explain morality. When I point out that it is not necessary they believe they have won some sort of philosophical victory.

Well, I happily call bullshit.

It just so happens that I have a naturalistic explanation for morality. I subscribe to an objective (note: not absolute) provisional morality. It's objective because it belongs to the species, not the individual, and it's provisional because morality evolves with our understanding of pain and well being.

This is the first (and briefest) of a three part series on morality. Next I will discuss the moral philosophy of the Bible and argue that it cannot be any viable source for morality. Lastly I will outline a reasonable, naturalistic account of human morality.

For now I hope you will thoughtfully consider the burden of proof.

In reason,

Clint Wells


Robert said...

Clint - if morality is provisional and "belongs to the species" how do you handle disagreements? Or, put another way, how do you know when someone has sinned?

Clint Wells said...

Robert - as stated I will explain my views on morality on detail in the third part of this series.

The idea on the table now is the issue of burden of proof. If you make the extraordinary claims that a.) absolute morality exists and b.) it comes from your god then you must prove this.

My point is that although I have a moral philosophy, one is not needed in order to reject the claim of absolute morality due to insufficient evidence.

Do you agree?

Robert said...

Clint - you said: "My point is that although I have a moral philosophy, one is not needed in order to reject the claim of absolute morality due to insufficient evidence."

Further questions to help us clarify as we continue:

a) "the claim of absolute morality." I think we need to avoid confusing our terms. Please help me understand what you mean when you use the terms objective and absolute when speaking about morality. How do these ideas differ?

b) "due to insufficient evidence." Again, for the sake of a productive conversation, we need to define what constitutes evidence for morality.

The laws of morality, like the laws of logic, are immaterial rather than material. Therefore the scientific method cannot be applied, nor can the standard evidential laws of the courtroom be used. We need to talk in philosophical terms. Agreed?

Anonymous said...

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with atheism or any religion. But in order to assist you, Clint, I have a couple of points to share.

First, your use of the term "objective" seems out of sync with philosophical usage. Perhaps you will flesh out your use of this term, but it seems problematic to say that morality that is provisional and belong to the species is also "objective." By definition, objectivity has to do with that which is outside of the subject. In other words, it is true or false apart from the provision of a subject (either corporate or individual).

Second, the claim from religious folk (such as Christians) that only their god(s) can account for objective morality is not as irrational as you assert on the surface. The argument (in its best form) is not:

1. Christianity is the basis for objective morality
2. Therefore, Christianity is true.

Rather, it is...

1. Objective morality exists.
2. If Christianity isn't true, then objective morality doesn't exist.
3. Therefore, Christianity is true.

Now, the latter argument may be unsound (many secularists and pearlists may object to proposition 1, or even proposition number 2. Although, many secularists in history, and even today, grant the veracity of 2), but it is valid. That distinction needs to be made at some point.

Finally, you may need to criticize secularists, agnostics, and atheists who agree with the religious person regarding the basis for morality. These folk are nihilists and postmoderns. You are coming from a wholly different angle, but their arguments need to be answered as well.

Best of luck on your intellectual meanderings, Clint.

Clint Wells said...

Noted. Also - Anonymous posts are LAME.

God they are so fucking lame.

Anonymous said...

First, regarding the syllogism presented by the previous anonymous poster:
1. Objective morality exists.
2. If Christianity isn't true, then objective morality doesn't exist.
3. Therefore, Christianity is true.
This is advanced as a sound argument for the truth of Christianity following from the premise of objective morality. As a syllogism of the ‘A, if A then B, therefore B’ variety it is logically consistent, but is only as valid as the premise and the conditional.

The prior anonymous allowed, I think correctly, that most secularists would take issue with the premise that there exists objective morality (A). They then supposed that many secularists would grant the conditional. This, I think, is highly doubtful. The conditional is the contrapositive of, and therefore equivalent to stating “If objective morality exists, then Christianity is true”.

The only people who would likely grant this are people who can conceive of no other foundation for objective morality than Christianity. A natural consequence of this would be to assert that there could not have been pre-Christian objective morality, despite the moral edicts handed down by the old-testament deity who appeared so often and memorably therein and who is generally acknowledged by the Christians to be the same omniscient and omnipotent God they worship in the form of the trinity. After all, during pre-Christian times, there was no Christianity, and as such it was neither true nor false.

To get a secularist to buy the conditional it would have to be something like “If there exists an entity or principle with the power to instantiate an objective morality and they/it in fact did so, then there would be objective morality.” They would not accept that objective morality per se implied any particular ground, source, or creed unless there was only one possible source of objective morality. So, if you already believe that Christianity is the only possible source, that syllogism will make you feel good. If you don’t, it’s just silly.

A truly convincing argument would have to grapple with establishing logically that Christianity is the only possible source of objective morality and that would require tackling the Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Animists, Druids, etc… That is, of course, presuming that they could first agree to a pan-denominational notion of what is true about Christianity lest they first have to take on some or all of the Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Mormons, Coptics.

Second, I am disappointed that you would summarily dismiss anonymous comments as ‘lame’. Admittedly, mounting ad hominem attacks from behind the shelter of anonymity is cowardly. However, if someone wants to engage in a discussion thoughtfully, and I think the prior anonymous does, then I don’t see that their anonymity has any bearing on their arguments. It is certainly as easy to make foolish remarks with one’s own names, or a pseudonym, as it is to speak wisely and anonymously. To denigrate comments purely based on their anonymity irrespective of their content is not in keeping with the spirit of open intellectual inquiry which you generally strive to uphold.

For the record, Jonathan Swift and Thomas Malthus both published anonymously, and I’d rather they did so according to their lights than not have published at all.

Clint Wells said...

Anonymous 2 -

I am drunk in a hotel room somewhere in Wisconsin. You see, I make music for a living and can, unfortunately (seriously), only reserve a modicum of my energy arguing with folks on the internet. That is why I want to speak to your second point first as I think about how to respond to your first, and better, point.

First of all, you claim that my reaction to anonymous posts disappoints you. Well, why should I give a shit? I mean, sure, how I interact with the world may disappoint you (whoever you are) in a real way. But without knowing WHO you are (and subsequently how you influence my life) how can verbalizing this indictment mean anything to me? It simply doesn't.

Secondly, I didn't dismiss the comment. That is total bullshit. I intentionally began my response with, "noted" which is to say that Anon 1 had some interesting and helpful things to add to the dialogue.

Thirdly, you had this to say:

...if someone wants to engage in a discussion thoughtfully I don’t see that their anonymity has any bearing on their arguments. It is certainly as easy to make foolish remarks with one’s own names, or a pseudonym, as it is to speak wisely and anonymously."

I've never claimed that an argument was, itself, nullified by anonymity. I simply claimed that anonymous criticism was lame (something I still believe, despite your flaccid disappointment). Of course someone could sign as a pseudonym but the overriding principle, subjectively speaking, is that something worth saying is made more credible by honest authorship, particularly in criticism. To accuse me of dismissing an argument on account of anonymity is a confusion of two different things.

At the end of the day the critic has to deal with this issue, not me. I'm simply pointing it out.

To beat a dead horse: you claim that I "denigrated" a comment. The truth is that I acknowledged a comment and denigrated the way in which it was communicated. Two different things ye olde disappointed Anon 2.

Clint Wells said...

Lastly, in regards to Swift and Malthus, it's a goddamn travesty for you to compare yourself or Anon 1 (even inadvertently) to the anonymous writings of those two giants.

Come on folks, let's get REAL.

Anon 2: like Anon 1, I think you have some interesting things to say and I am glad you are present here on this ridiculous fucking blog. But, also like Anon 1, you're anonymous method of criticism is lame as fuck. Dig it.

P.S. This post is dealing with burden of proof. You hungry dogs will have plenty of opportunity to anonymously criticize my view of morality in part 3. For the time being let's all stop watching Jersey Shore and concentrate on the topic at hand.


Clint fucking Wells.

p.p.s. nearly all of this is tongue in cheek.

Robert said...

I've got the beginnings of a draft typed up regarding burden of proof, but then I came across these quotes today, which are too good to not share.

"It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything."


"We don’t know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable."

both by G.K. Chesterton

Clint Wells said...

I'm thrilled to take a lesson on physics from G.K. fucking Chesterton.

Give me a break.