You, Me and the Bible

From euthanasia to the gospel

Euthanasia is a topic that is not likely to go away any time soon. Our friend or colleague, normally keen to avoid thinking about their own death, may now be talking about their right to end their life at some point. So how can we move a conversation about assisted suicide to the gospel? Tony Payne has some practical (and humorous) advice in an article first published in The Briefing in 1995.

You’ve invited the neighbours over for dinner. Dessert has been successfully concluded, and the kids have retired to their bedroom where they are conducting experiments in paint durability under various impact scenarios. The coffee orders are being taken. As it so often does, the conversation is meandering down loosely connected paths and byways, and your dreams of perhaps talking about the gospel (or even something vaguely Christian) seem to be fading faster than the paint in the kids’ bedroom.

Then all of a sudden your neighbour passes from a heated discussion of Paul Keating’s pig farm to the euthanasia debate. You are struck with inspiration. Euthanasia! Here’s your chance to talk about life and death issues. Surely you could score a few points for the gospel here.

But how? With the advice of I’d like an argument, please ringing in your ears, you want to tread carefully.

You don’t want to wade straight in with the utilitarian argument, for example, partly because you can’t quite remember what ‘utilitarian’ means. (Reminder: a utilitarian argument focuses on the consequences of a particular action; it is about whether it will produce, in the end, good effects or bad effects.) The utilitarian argument on euthanasia is a telling one, but even if you succeeded in establishing the point you wouldn’t be very much closer to the gospel. The best you could expect is a grudging admission that your proposal might cause less overall harm to society than his proposal. No, perhaps you ought to avoid the utilitarian argument on utilitarian grounds.

Read the full article online (1123 words).

57 thoughts on “From euthanasia to the gospel

  1. Tony Payne thinks that it is not “right and just for a person to be allowed to control their own death”, but he thinks he should have the right to control someone else’s death. Who gave him the right to control other people’s lives?

    From the article:
    “Without God, there are no ‘rights’, for in a purely materialist world what happens is simply what happens.”
    He doesn’t seem to understand where the rights come from (who gave the women the right to vote?) and does not understand “materialist world”.

    From the article:
    “Pain and suffering are just words we give to certain kinds of activity in our nerve endings.”
    I bet he has never seen a terminally ill loved one in morphine and still in extreme pain.

    The article shows how Christians want to force their supernatural views on others. Who gave them that right?

  2. I don’t see how he is forcing “supernatural” belief on anyone, unless it is “forced” by logic and reason – but you might call this “proof” instead.

    Tony here is merely questioning the an argument used for Euthansia.

  3. Malcolm,

    Tony Payne claims that my “rights” (euthanasia, voting or no-fault divorce) somehow depend on his God. That is a supernatural claim.

    He is advocating that I should not have a “right” to euthanasia because of his supernatural belief.

    Note that he does not want only to control his own behaviour. He also does not want people to have a freedom of choice. He wants to control other people’s behaviour.

    People who believe in same supernatural claims have powerful well funded lobby in Canberra who force their euthanasia views on others, and try even block pro-euthanasia website with their internet filter.

    So let’s be honest here. He is not saying non-Christian should have a choice on the matter. He as an Anglican opinion maker wants to force his morals on others.

  4. Really you need to counter his claim by showing his logic is false, or by providing a counter example.

    I think your current ideas/ beliefs on this are making you jump a bit to far.
    He hasn’t actually put forward an argument against Euthanisia. He is criteqing a way some people argue against for Euthansia.

    I guess the question is: Do you think people have the right to end their life? If so why? How do you determine they have this right.

  5. Malcolm,

    You said that “He hasn’t actually put forward an argument against Euthanasia”. However if you read the article you know that Tony Payne links his God to “right” and mentioned “right of self-determination” (=euthanasia for example) as one of those. So Tony Payne argues that his God has something to say about my right to euthanasia.

    I don’t need to counter his logic because his premise is wrong. If my God reveals to me that all Christians must abandon Christianity because they have no “right” to be Christians, would you comply? Surely you don’t advocate a logical fallacy of special pleading?

    You asked “Do you think people have the right to end their life? The broader question is obviously whose life is it? If you don’t have the right to decide about your life, who should? Should someone else have right to decide when your life should continue or end? Always on sometimes?

    Think it as this way:
    Do you think people have the right to be Christians? If so why? How do you determine they have this right? (Remember my God said that you don’t have a right to be a Christian)

  6. You are right the broader question is who’s life is it. Well from the Christian perspective, it is God’s life! Not ours!

    And no one has the ‘right’ to be a Christian, it is all up to our God’s mercy.

    While pain and suffering is a horrible and disgusting thing, which is so blatantly obvious when we look around at our marvellous but broken world, the Christian knows that this will be fixed one day, and have that hope to hold on to.

    It is a terrible tragedy to watch a loved one who is terminally ill, even if they are on pain killers. What if they are allergic to Morphine?! or codine or oxycontin or many other painkillers! Do we then end their life because it hurts them too much? What about the community around them and the pain they feel? What about the emotionally scarring effects a premature death can have on loved ones, the regrets and lifelong pain this may cause?

    It is not as simple as “I want the right to end my life”.

  7. Hi Peter,

    Tony wasn’t really making an argument about euthanasia one way or the other.  He was giving a ‘worked example’ about how Christians could move from a discussion of a moral question to encouraging someone to reflect whether they had any ground for moral absolutes – as a way of getting people with a more secular perspective to give some thought to God.  His argument works just as well on someone who rejects euthanasia as on someone who approves of it.

    I agree that the premise behind the argument is that God matters to moral questions and that human beings should act and refrain from acting in line with what God has determined and then told us.  Whether or not someone believes in God, the world God made is the only world one has to live in, and so right and wrong is already determined for you by him. 

    That’s no more ‘imposing’ things on people who don’t share my beliefs than believing that gravity exists, the world is round, and that smoking is likely to kill you earlier than if you didn’t smoke are an imposition on people who don’t share those beliefs.  Reality is what it is and it is that for everybody, whether their beliefs about it are true or false.

    So, the problem with your counter-example is your use of ‘my god’ :

    I don’t need to counter his logic because his premise is wrong. If my God reveals to me that all Christians must abandon Christianity because they have no “right” to be Christians, would you comply? Surely you don’t advocate a logical fallacy of special pleading?

    Take ‘God’ out of that paragraph and put in ‘my reason’ or ‘my moral intuition’ or ‘my take on reality’ and you’ll see the problem with your argument.  There is no ‘my God’ – there’s just God, and if he’s ‘mine’ it’s only in the sense that he’s graciously brought me into relationship with him through the Lord Jesus Christ.  God isn’t private any more than reason or intution is – all describe the same objective reality that we all share and exist in. 

    Imagine if I said, ‘my personal reason and my personal moral intution tells me that you should be a Christian and you don’t have a right not to be’.  How would you respond to that?  It’s not ‘reason’, it’s ‘my personal reason’ that is giving the orders.

    Looking at what you’ve written so far, I expect you’ll either say, “there’s no such thing as ‘my reason’ – there’s just reason, that everyone can access to some degree.”  You’ll want to say that reason gives us access to public facts – a commonly shared world so we can have a genuine discussion and try to persuade each other on the basis of what reason shows us.

    Or you’ll say, “Yep, there’s no way to know what’s right and wrong, which is why we need to aim for maximum freedom for everyone to do whatever they want and try not to harm each other too much in the process.  Everyone’s reason comes up with different answers and we can’t impose on people’s views.” 

    You seem to have partially backed both ideas in different places so far.

    Let’s take the second idea then.  If we say that we human beings can’t discover absolute, univerally true, right and wrong, then why is it wrong for some people to impose their personal view on others?  Why are you so outraged at the possibility that Christians are exercising some sinister control over democratically elected representatives to force a Christian view on what could be a secular paradise?  If there is no absolute right or wrong, or if we can’t know it, why then must we give everyone freedom of choice?  Where does that ‘must’ come from?

    (For the record, I could whimsically wish you were right on that point and Christians did have a well funded lobby exercising influence over MPs – I think that lobbying is an entirely valid aspect of a representative democracy and can help balance the influence of other lobby groups with special rights in a democracy, such as the judiciary and the media.  I am pretty sceptical that’s the case though, this isn’t the U.S. and there isn’t the numerical size, political interest, or giving, among Australian Christians to produce such a phenomenom.  Australian Christians work almost entirely through persuasion, when they choose to get involved in politics at all, there isn’t the money or institutional power to do otherwise even if they wanted to.)

    to be concluded

  8. Let’s take the first option – you think there are moral certainties, and we can know them.  People should be able to end their lives because it’s their body and (I presume) we should have almost infinite rights over ‘our’ body. 

    But that’s hardly self-evident.  Just because I am a living agent doesn’t mean that I have infinite property rights to dispose of my life as though it is simply something ‘I’ possess.  Death is, for the secular person, most likely the extinguishing of ‘I’.  ‘I’ cease to exist when I die.  So choosing to die is not simply deciding to do something with a body that ‘I’ ‘own’.  It’s a choice to cease to be, and to cease to be ‘I’.  It is a decision to remove from existence a person, a moral agent, a consciousness.

    I could argue that it is quite reasonable to say that it cuts against the grain of being alive to choose not to be alive – that life is, by its very nature, an ultimately futile attempt to push back death as long as possible.  Life is, by its very nature, lived in the teeth of death’s long shadow – life is the defiance of death.  That life is to be lived, and the choice to die is such a fundamental rejection of what it means to be alive that it should not be given any legal framework or recognition by the state. 

    Or I could invoke John Dun and the poem attributed to him:

    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.
    Each is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manner of thine own
    Or of thine friend’s were.
    Each man’s death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.

    And observe that we are not just a bunch of individuals cut off from each other and making our own way through life.  We are connected, we live together in the same world and are connected to each other.  A natural disaster hits another part of the world and Aussies give to aid relief – we don’t just say, ‘that’s got nothing to do with us’.  We get angry, we rejoice, we grieve, over things that happen to people we’ve never met.

    And so there is no ‘right to die’ – death isn’t something personal, like choosing to buy a Ford over a Mitsubishi.  It’s public, it affects us all.  We are all lessened by the death of any one of us, and so none of us have the right to lessen everyone else.  Our interconnection is never shown more clearly than our common heritage as mortals who are born and who die.  Birth and death involves us all.

    Now, both of those arguments are ‘reason’.  You don’t need to recognise the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ to understand them and either agree or disagree with them. 

    But they’re also expressions of someone who looks at this world through glasses shaped by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the knowledge that God made the world through him. 

    And that’s the big, terrifying, ‘imposition of supernatural beliefs’ that you complain about.  To the degree that Christians like Tony Payne think that Christians should be getting involved in big legislative questions, I think most of us think that we have to do more than say, ‘the Bible says’.  We have to show why what the Bible says makes good sense of life and human experience.  People will then either be persuaded or not by the why bit, even if they don’t yet acknowledge God himself.  It’s an exercise in persuasion, in saying ‘reality looks like this on this question’.

    And for people who deny the reality of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will continue to ask – “But what is the ground of your moral conviction on this question?  What makes something right or wrong?  And why does it make it right or wrong?”  Because as Tony says, there’s not many options, and none of them other God himself can bear much weight.

    Do you think there is objective ground for your moral position, Peter?  And if so, what is it – and why isn’t an imposition on people who don’t agree with you about it?

  9. Callan,

    I do understand the Christian perspective. I tried to show how bankrupt it is by pointing out that Christians want to impose their God’s morals to others, while rejecting other people’s God’s influence on Christians. I’m happy for you to follow the ideas of your God, but let me follow the ideas of my God. I thought the Bible has a golden rule in it?

    You asked: “Do we then end their life because it hurts them too much?”
    I don’t think we should. The person should do it himself or perhaps have pre-arranged written third party held agreement (or similar).

    You asked: “What about the emotionally scarring effects a premature death can have on loved ones”
    What about them? What about the emotionally scarring effects of seeing your mother going from a healthy 80kg person to a less than 50kg ghost because of a cancer, and staying by her the last three weeks while she is crying, screaming and begging in pain to be killed every time morphine levels go down enough for her to be barely conscience. Eventually you realise that you are the one with the dilemma how much pain should she suffer (when she slowly becomes more conscience and pain level goes up, when do you call the nurse in understaffed hospital to give the next dosage, and can you leave her there alone overnight?)

    Please do tell me about the emotional scarring “a premature death” compared to sitting three weeks on a bed side of terminally ill loved one. Can you also compare the emotional scarring “a premature death” to the pain suffered by a terminally ill cancer sufferer screaming in pain based on your experience?

  10. Mark,

    You said that Tony Payne’s argument works just as well on someone who rejects euthanasia as on someone who approves of it. I don’t get it. Can you please explain how his argument works for someone rejecting euthanasia?

    I don’t really understand what these “moral absolutes” are? Is not lying, not killing or stoning adulterous women “moral absolutes”? Can you give me an example and how do I know those are absolute?

    You claimed “that’s no more ‘imposing’ things on people who don’t share my beliefs than believing that gravity exists”. This is logical fallacy of false analogy. We can measure and test gravity and people agree on existence of gravity. Your beliefs are subjective and how can we test your God related claims?

    You said “Take ‘God’ out of that paragraph and put in ‘my reason’ or ‘my moral intuition’ or ‘my take on reality’ and you’ll see the problem with your argument.”
    Why are you trying to dismiss my God’s view? On the other hand why don’t you apply this same logic to Tony Payne’s article and you might see the inconsistency of Christian view.

    You asked “If we say that we human beings can’t discover absolute, universally true, right and wrong, then why is it wrong for some people to impose their personal view on others?”
    This is fallacy of non-sequitur. Even if we can’t agree on absolute true we can collectively agree not imposing something on others by making laws or agreements. You also make a false assumption that we need and absolute truth to evaluate a yes/no question.
    Can you tell me what the absolute truth is about “imposing personal view on others”?

    You continued with “If there is no absolute right or wrong, or if we can’t know it, why then must we give everyone freedom of choice?”
    What is the absolute right or wrong regarding freedom of choice? And why is it for someone else to give it in the first place? (I reject you premise, so please justify it)

    You said that “We are connected, we live together in the same world and are connected to each other”… “And so there is no ‘right to die’”
    This is a fallacy of non-sequitur. Just because all/some of us are connected it does not follow that a particular right does/does not automatically exist. If our computers are connected why would you have a right over my computer’s power switch?

    You continued: “death isn’t something personal,… It’s public, it affects us all. We are all lessened by the death of any one of us, and so none of us have the right to lessen everyone else.”
    Again this is a fallacy of non-sequitur. Just because your life is “public” it does not mean everyone else has rights to your life. I really thought I have personal life and death…

    You asked: “for people who deny the reality of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will continue to ask – “But what is the ground of your moral conviction on this question?”
    This is a fallacy of special pleading
    The obvious answer is “for people who deny the reality of the God Osiris, we will continue to ask – “But what is the ground of your moral conviction on this question?”
    Once you provide a proof that morals depend on your God you get the seat on the table (in fact then you get all the seats).

    Secular people will ground their morals on humanity creating laws, ethics and customs. As imperfect it sometimes might be it is far better than absolute truths about stoning homosexuals and adulterous, forcing religious laws on others, shunning and killing non-believers, excommunications, curses and wars. History has shown and it is daily displayed in the Middle East and around the world where religious absolutes take us.

    Religious freedom can only exist in secular society, but religions are biting the hand that feeds them. More secular a society is less crime there is, better educated it is, less teen pregnancies are there, more religious freedom there is and happier people are.

    You asked me “Do you think there is objective ground for your moral position?”
    My euthanasia position is of course subjective. However if a position is a law it is objective in a sense it does not change based on my existence (*both subject to change). I don’t advocate imposing a rule on others rather giving more freedom to people. My view is not really imposing euthanasia on anyone because even if you accept my view and you don’t want to have a freedom of euthanasia you have the freedom to reject it. (Note to myself: can I impose a freedom)

    It is sad to see that Christian opinions are an avalanche of logical fallacies and that Christians might think that those are actually valid points. Sorry.

  11. Peter, I understand that pain all too well. And I’m very saddened if this is your experience too.

    So, based on my past experience, I would say watching my dad deteriorate at a ripe age of 55 from cancer for a year, then seeing the 3 weeks of palliative care while he slowly lost function of all his body systems, whilst the pain remained, at the same time watching another ripe aged sibling of 25 go through his 3rd stroke in 5 years and knowing there will be years and years of hard rehab just to get him back to a stage where he can feed himself without his whole right side trembling, all the while thinking his dad and mum are already dead…I wont go on, it will clog up too much space. But I have and do feel that pain very deeply.

    Based on my past experience I would say that I still, and those relatives in question, would choose life for as long as they could, to be with and share with the ones they love, despite the pain. To tie up loose ends even though they are aware their body is shutting down on them. To sacrifice all they can in their last moments to care for the ones they love, and be cared for by those that love them.

    The pain felt through the weeks and years of suffering is horrible, and would not be wished upon those whom are my enemies! However, the shock, the pain of regret, as well as the total uncertainty that dying brings is comparable, it is still people, living beings that experience this pain, and live on though it too. For example, you don’t know what or how you will mourn and grieve, you don’t know many regrets till someone is gone. Whilst thinking I had said all I needed to say, there is still too much to be said! It is not, and those in question knew this, as simple as one persons wish, people are all in relationship with each other, we are not individual beings as much as we wish it.

    A further note, while I can see that when tragedy happens it is a result of this messed up world, regardless of whether it is messed up because sin has broken the world, or selfish genes bent on being immortal as well as climatic events make this world see horrors, I can see God’s wonderful provision in making a bad situation play out as best it could. Not everyone can make that claim but in God’s incredible mercy, he has done this.

  12. Hi Peter,
    Thanks for your response. 

    I think Tony Payne’s argument works just as well on someone who rejects euthanasia because if someone said, “I think we shouldn’t introduce voluntary euthanasia,” Tony could then say, “That’s interesting, I happen to agree with you, but what ground to you have for that position?”  And the rest of the process of showing how any other ground other than God can’t give any moral absolutes then follows.  Is that any clearer?

    I don’t really understand what these “moral absolutes” are? Is not lying, not killing or stoning adulterous women “moral absolutes”? Can you give me an example and how do I know those are absolute?

    Well, at the moment, I’m trying to work out whether you think such things as moral absolutes exist at all.  What should be included in that category and how we might know that they are to be in that category would be the next stage.  I think you know what the term ‘moral absolute’ means, Peter, so give me a straight and clear answer – are there such things as moral absolutes?  ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Sort of, with these nuances’ are all acceptable answers.

    In the meantime, my answers to your questions.  Not lying is a moral absolute.  Stoning adulterous women is not a moral absolute, but not committing adultery is a moral absolute. 

    I’d also argue that not murdering is a moral absolute, and not torturing people or animals for pleasure is a moral absolute.  Do you disagree?  Is it possible for it not to be wong for a human being to murder someone or torture them for pleasure?  Could people create a rule that says, “It’s okay to murder” or “it’s okay to torture people for pleasure” and that make it right?

    And, if you think they are absolutely wrong, are you able to answer your own question – what led to that conclusion?

    You claimed “that’s no more ‘imposing’ things on people who don’t share my beliefs than believing that gravity exists”. This is logical fallacy of false analogy. We can measure and test gravity and people agree on existence of gravity. Your beliefs are subjective and how can we test your God related claims?

    Heh.  People agree on the existence of gravity so therefore belief in gravity isn’t subjective?  What, once we hit some critical threshold of people believing something, that belief then clicks over from subjective to objective?

    We believe lots of things that we can’t measure and test.  I believe that I exist, and that the world I experience really is there.  That can’t be tested or measured – any test or measurement is part of that experience of a world that I’m not sure exists.  I believe in love, in beauty, in inalienable human rights – and none of those can be measured or tested.

    So, not convinced that I’ve offered a false analogy.  Your argument here would eliminate too much richness from human experience. 

    You said “Take ‘God’ out of that paragraph and put in ‘my reason’ or ‘my moral intuition’ or ‘my take on reality’ and you’ll see the problem with your argument.”
    Why are you trying to dismiss my God’s view? On the other hand why don’t you apply this same logic to Tony Payne’s article and you might see the inconsistency of Christian view.

    I don’t reject “your God’s views” as such.  I reject the idea that belief in God is purely subjective – if God exists, or does not exist, that is true for everyone and everything.  So your whole argument reads like saying ‘my personal gravity’ or ‘my personal love’ – gravity and love are common phenomena, not ‘mine’ in the sense you use.  Your whole argument here assumes that God doesn’t exist and so belief in him has no substance to it beyond the fervor of the believer.

    Obviously if you think that then you’ll struggle with a view that is grounded on the view that God really, in the reality we live in, exists and can be known.  But there’s nothing inconsistent with that view in what I’ve said.

    To say, “Ah but what about my god Osiris?”  as a rejection of the objective reality of God, is like me saying, “What about the existence of Holocaust deniers?” to deny the objective reality of history.

    God is either there or he isn’t.  History is either there or it isn’t. 
    to be continued

  13. This next section is confusing – if I get something wrong, please explain more clearly what you are and are not saying:

    Even if we can’t agree on absolute true we can collectively agree not imposing something on others by making laws or agreements. You also make a false assumption that we need and absolute truth to evaluate a yes/no question….

    What is the absolute right or wrong regarding freedom of choice? And why is it for someone else to give it in the first place? (I reject you premise, so please justify it)

    Okay, this reads to me as you saying:

    +There is no absolute truth (or we don’t need to agree on what it is) but even without it we can agree not to impose something on people – and that this is somehow an answer to my question as to whether it is wrong to impose things on people when they don’t agree with it.

    +There is no absolute right or wrong to do with freedom of choice, and freedom of choice is just basic – no-one gives it to anyone.  (that’s a stab in the mists, if not quite the dark – that last paragraph was hard to make out).

    If this is basically what you’re saying, then I’m not sure you’ve really offered much here. 

    I didn’t ask ‘can we agree on some laws’ – I asked, ‘You seem to think that we should not impose subjective views on poeople.  If there are no absolutes, where does the ‘should’ come from?” 

    You’ve called a foul on the question and said it is non sequitur, but you haven’t shown any reason why except for the observation that we can still agree on creating some laws. 

    Big deal.  You keep talking about ‘should’, and ‘should not’ either explicitly or implicitly.  If there’s no absolutes, where is this ‘should’ coming from?

    As to whether or not freedom of choice is given – that’s just an observation that people enjoy different freedoms in different countries and different times. 

    Again this is a fallacy of non-sequitur. Just because your life is “public” it does not mean everyone else has rights to your life. I really thought I have personal life and death…

    Okay, I might have made the point a little clearer if I had said, “purely private” rather than “personal”, but I think the basic point is clear enough.  Your argument for euthanasia, so far seems to be:
    1. I have a right to dispose of my life as I want – it’s my property.

    2. I’m not harming anyone else if I dispose of it.  My exercise of my rights does not affect the exercise of anyone else’s rights.

    As it stands, this looks like a commitment to moral absolutes – you’re giving a reasoned argument why we should legally allow euthanasia.

    I offered one argument to refute 1., which you haven’t contested, and the argument you’re classifying as a non-sequitur is aimed at 2, not 1. 

    I quoted a well known poem that most people find captures something about life that they agree with to say – your death lessens us all, and no-one has the right to deliberately lessen everyone.  The exercise of your alleged right to dispose of your life will cause harm to everyone else and so infringe on their rights.

    The irony, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate this, is that I think your response might be the first actual non-sequitur in the conversation so far.  For you say my argument is wrong by reasserting 1 – you have a right to dispose of your life as you see fit. 

    And reasserting 1, all on its own, is irrelevant to your claim at point 2.  You need to offer more to explain why your alleged right to dispose of your life should entitle you to harm others in the exercise of it.  Or you need to show why John Donne is incorrect and the death of anyone does not lessen us all.  Or some other way forward.  But just reasserting 1?  Irrelevant to my point.

    You asked: “for people who deny the reality of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will continue to ask – “But what is the ground of your moral conviction on this question?”
    This is a fallacy of special pleading

    Heh, you realise that there is a difference between asking a question and making an argument?  A question can’t be a fallacy – you can say that the question isn’t a great question to ask, that it betrays a category error or the like.  But it can’t be a fallacy.  I can ask someone, “What is the ground of your moral conviction on this question?”  There can’t be a fallacy there – it is a question, whatever views I might hold that prompt that question.

  14. Secular people will ground their morals on humanity creating laws, ethics and customs.

    Poppycock.  Some secular people will ground their morals on humanity creating laws, ethics, and customs. Others believe in absolutes, others (like absurdists) believe that human beings have an innate sense of morality and meaning that is not created by humans, but has no objective existence either.

    As imperfect it sometimes might be it is far better than absolute truths about stoning homosexuals and adulterous, forcing religious laws on others, shunning and killing non-believers…[etc.]

    Religious absolutes are the source of only evil, and secularism is the source of only good. 

    The real world is more complex than you’re acknowledging here.

    Communist countries, and the various Fascist regimes, also have to be included as secular societies – you can’t just take the nice democratic ones, and leave the others.  And they were and are not great paragons of human dignity and freedom, religious or otherwise.

    And religion is also the force for a lot of good that you don’t acknowledge – religious people are more likely to get married, and make their marriages work – both of which have better outcomes for the next generation.  They are less likely to have abortions – and most people want abortions to be rare, if not non-existent.  Religious people are less likely to lie or take revenge in their personal lives, are more likely to give of their money and time to charitable causes, are less likely to be depressed, are less likely to commit suicide.  Religion also often fuels unpopular moral stances – Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery, or the Confessing Christians’ resistance to Nazism were products of religious conviction.

    Going, “religion bad – I’ll just mention the bad points.  And secularism good – I’ll just mention the highlights” isn’t a particularly reflective way of making your case. 

    You asked me “Do you think there is objective ground for your moral position?”
    My euthanasia position is of course subjective. However if a position is a law it is objective in a sense it does not change based on my existence (*both subject to change).</blockquote>

    If I’ve got you right, you’re saying there’s no such thing as right and wrong in any absolute sense – they’re human creations.  And so you say that anything you believe is morally right is subjective ‘of course’.  <em>But making something a law, means that it is now not subjective but ‘objective’ because it doesn’t reflect one person’s take on things – it reflects a bunch of people’s take on things.

    In response:

    1) Why then should we allow euthanasia?  Your belief in euthanasia is subjective, and the law that forbids it is objective.  Why should we reject an objective moral position for your subjective moral view?

    2) Does that mean that footbinding of women is objectively right in those countries that have those laws, or burning widows, or executing apostates?  It’s objectively wrong in Australia, but is objectively right in another country?

    3) The whole civil rights movement that opposed racial discrimination, which was set in law, is grounded on a conviction that the law does not make a view objective.  There can be unjust laws.  We can appeal to a set of moral standards to critique laws – which isn’t possible if those moral standards are all just subjective views.

    I don’t advocate imposing a rule on others rather giving more freedom to people. My view is not really imposing euthanasia on anyone because even if you accept my view and you don’t want to have a freedom of euthanasia you have the freedom to reject it.

    You are imposing a rule on others – it mightn’t seem that way to you, but voluntary euthanasia does impose a rule, it says, “A person has the right to end their own life.”  That’s a rule.

    If I’m depressed, or dealing with a depressed teenager, I and they are now aware that from the point of view of society there is little moral difference in us ending our life or keeping on going.  If the pain is too much (and only the person can determine that) then it’s okay to kill yourself. 

    The existence of the choice will make it harder for some people to keep on living – some people (who knows how many) will find that, now that social stigma on killing oneself has been significantly weakened, that killing themselves is a more rational decision.  I might have loved parents, or children who one day kill themselves rather than keep on going – even if they don’t have a terminal illness – because we’ve said that people have a right to end their life.

  15. Callan,

    Sorry to hear about your experience.

    You said “Based on my past experience I would say that I still, and those relatives in question, would choose life for as long as they could.”

    You talk about choosing life but the sad thing is that you would not let them choose life. You would force them. I would let them choose life.

  16. Mark,

    Dictionarish definitions:
    “Moral absolutism is the ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of other contexts such as their consequences or the intentions behind them.” Moral behavior is often referred as “correct code of conduct” or “right way to behave”.
    My view: There are no moral absolutes. If you show a good counter example I can change my mind.

    If I could save your relative by lying should I lie? I think it is morally right to lie to save an innocent life. Same with murder. If you can save million people by murdering one I think it is moral thing to do.

    You said “any test or measurement is part of that experience of a world that I’m not sure exists.”
    I bet you are sure that God exist. You world view seems to be self contradictory. If you are not sure that I exist why are you arguing with me?

    As I wrote before I don’t need to know “absolute wrong” to come to the conclusion that killing million people is more wrong than killing on person. Would you lie to save a life of your relative?

    You said “People agree on the existence of gravity so therefore belief in gravity isn’t subjective?  What, once we hit some critical threshold of people believing something, that belief then clicks over from subjective to objective?”
    No, gravity is objectively true because anyone can test it. We can’t test your God. It is still a false analogy.

    You said: To say, “Ah but what about my god Osiris?”  as a rejection of the objective reality of God, is like me saying, “What about the existence of Holocaust deniers?” to deny the objective reality of history.

    I don’t get you. We have good historical record of Osiris and his divinity. Why are you denying it? Aren’t you like the Holocaust deniers?

    Regarding “I’m not sure you’ve really offered much here” comment:
    I rejected you premises. Please show why we need absolute truth to evaluate a yes/no question. And please tell us what the absolute right or wrong is regarding freedom of choice?

    You asked “if there are no absolutes, where does the ‘should’ come from?”
    “Should” comes from the “is” meaning it often comes from a situation. Usually this requires value (if I value my life/reputation/well being is should…)

    My position is “I have a right to dispose of my life as I want – it’s my property” as long as you don’t commit a crime doing it (suicide bomber), as long as it is agreed/documented, as long it is a terminal illness, etc. Hardly an absolute position. I see euthanasia as human right just like a freedom of religious. The exercise of your religious freedom causes harm to others (I feel lessened) so do you think it infringes on their rights? If you really believe what you write and you are consistent you need to give up your right to be a Christian. Inconsistent thinking is a sign of a failed argument.

    You claimed: “A question can’t be a fallacy”
    Do you still beat your wife?

    Regarding “Poppycock.  Some secular people…”
    You got me, you are right. I actually know an atheist who believes in an intelligent designer. When I said “Secular people” I referred the most common view I hear from secular people, not all of them.

    You claimed: “Communist countries, and the various Fascist regimes, also have to be included as secular societies.”
    This is not true. Secular societies are usually described as ones with “freedom of religion”. Fascist regimes are known to be backed by Christians while closing down freethinkers. Nice try.

    I did not try to say that religion – bad & secularism – good. My point was the religious absolutism is bad and secular societies seem to doing best.

    Responses to your 1), 2) & 3)
    1) Euthanasia is a human right just like freedom of religion. Once you understand why we allow freedom of religion then you understand the euthanasia question?

    2) If compulsory footbinding is the law somewhere, it is independent of me. If in that sense it is objective it does not mean it is objectively right (or wrong).

    3) The whole LGBT movement opposes racial discrimination and unjust laws. They can subjectively critique any law, and their subjective views are based on different ethical systems. Do you have non-subjective views?

    I don’t advocate freedom of euthanasia for non-terminally ill people. I think our society can and must do better than that. The biggest cause of teenage suicides is the pressure and guilt put on homosexuality, and we all know where that comes from.

  17. Mark,

    One reason why I started to doubt and left Christianity was how much wrong and completely one-sided information Christian apologists offer knowingly or unknowingly. And Christians just don’t do fact checking. Let me show you claims from a single paragraph of yours:

    You wrote “religious people are more likely to get married… which have better outcomes for the next generation”
    Less people are getting married in northern European countries and those countries are the healthiest in the world by most measures. So please show me the evidence to back you case.

    You wrote “religious people make their marriages work”
    Wrong. The US divorce stats show that atheists have lower divorce rate than Christians. Generally Muslims have the lowest average divorce rates.

    You wrote “religious people are less likely to have abortions”
    To expand this Muslims have lower abortion rates than Christians. Secular western Europe has lower abortion rate than more Christian United States. Additionally teen pregnancies go up in more religious areas in the US.

    You wrote “Religious people are less likely to lie”
    Evidence or that’s a lie wink A study showed that Church goers more likely to steal if they know they can get a way with it.

    You wrote “take revenge in their personal lives”
    Evidence or take it back. Religious people are more likely to support capital punishment.

    You wrote “Religious people are more likely to give of their money and time to charitable causes”
    Misleading. If you take out in-group giving there is no difference. For example 90% of Mormon Charity goes to Mormon causes. And less religious countries give more aid.

    You wrote “Religious people are less likely to be depressed”
    Evidence please. Tell my why Utah is called the Prozac capital of the nation in the US?

    You wrote “Religious people are less likely to commit suicide”
    Misleading. Muslims and Catholic yes. But Protestant and secular people seem to have about same rates.

    You wrote “Religion also often fuels unpopular moral stances”
    True. Westboro Baptists and KKK are not popular.

    You wrote “Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery”
    Misleading hedging your bets. Wilberforce didn’t argue against Muslims or secular people. He argued against Bible believing Christians. And remember it was 1500 years of slavery under Christianity and now you want the credit for abolishing it. Nice try.

    You wrote “Confessing Christians’ resistance to Nazism were products of religious conviction”
    Misleading again. German Christians “The Deutsche Christen” support to Nazism were products of religious conviction. Same with brown priests. Nazism was founded by a Christian man, and let’s not forget the Reichskonkordat.

    The truth is truly lost in Christianity.

  18. I don’t think is forcing them to choose. In one sense we all make individual choices we are all made to have free choice. But our choices are never as simple as effecting us and only us, and that only our comfort matters.

    They have already made the free choice over intervention. Despite not WANTING them to pass away, I respect their choice to let nature take its course. In fact thats much more natural than modern medicine. Not too long ago we didn’t have anything near the modern marvels of medicine, and while it is amazing, its job is to extend life, not keep us alive forever. So a very different choice is to say, “thats enough of medicine, I going to just let myself go”. When suddenly this wonderful thing that is bent on saving and extending life, says “we have another solution – death” it will change the face of medicine. A ‘solution’ to the problem is to get rid of what the problem is in. It can slowly creep up to being the solution for more things. What about mentally disabled, or physically disabled, even though its ‘our choice’, judgements on quality of life will be made, and ‘solutions’ put forth. While a simple individual choice it seems now, it is not, and this is getting back to what I was saying before, just affecting the individual.

    Anyway, thanks for the chat smile

  19. Hi Peter,
    I hate to think how long this response is going to be in convering all the issues you raise – especially your demand that I present evidence for various claims.  If the conversation keeps going, I will probably not quote and respond to each bit you say, next time around, but try and put forward something that deals with just the key points we’re covering.

    My view: There are no moral absolutes. If you show a good counter example I can change my mind.

    Sure.  Here’s one: It’s always morally wrong to torture a person or animal simply for one’s own pleasure.
    And you yourself offered some other ones:

    If I could save your relative by lying should I lie? I think it is morally right to lie to save an innocent life. Same with murder. If you can save million people by murdering one I think it is moral thing to do.

    You’re saying it’s always morally right to save someone by lying.  It’s the ‘moral thing to do’ to save a million people by murdering one.

    If you think those three things are always true, then you have three examples of moral absolutes. 

    You said “any test or measurement is part of that experience of a world that I’m not sure exists.”
    I bet you are sure that God exist. You world view seems to be self contradictory. If you are not sure that I exist why are you arguing with me?

    ‘I’m not sure exists” was hypothetical, not a position I actually hold to – as the context of that quote clearly indicated.  Even if you thought what I said there was a bit odd, and missed that it was hypothetical, why didn’t you tackle my point that your view that only empirically testable things are real robs us of any objective reality to things like love and beauty and even whether there is any such thing as ‘I’? 

    As I wrote before I don’t need to know “absolute wrong” to come to the conclusion that killing million people is more wrong than killing on person. Would you lie to save a life of your relative?

    No, you don’t need to know ‘absolute wrong’ to know that it would be absolutely ‘more wrong’ to kill a million people than to kill one.  When you say it is ‘more wrong’, is that an absolute judgement?  It really, truly, always is more wrong to kill one million than to kill one?  Or is that only true sometimes, or is not really true at all – in the sense that gravity is true.  It can’t be measured or tested, it’s a human creation, and so is ‘true’ only in a very limited sense?

    No, gravity is objectively true because anyone can test it. We can’t test your God. It is still a false analogy.

    Okay, so you’ve dropped the idea that objectivity is determined democratically, and are limiting objectivity to just what can be tested quantitatively.  That’s progress.
    But you’re still basically confused here.  From a dictionary:

    Objective:
    1. Of or having to do with a material object.
    2. Having actual existence or reality.
    3. a. Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices.
    b. Based on observable phenomena; presented factually.

    Subjective:

    1.
    a. Proceeding from or taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world.
    b. Particular to a given person; personal.
    2. Moodily introspective.
    3. Existing only in the mind; illusory.

    Objectivity and subjectivity don’t have to do with whether something can be tested or not – unless you are going to claim that 1. and 3b. for ‘objective’ are the only valid meanings of the word and the dictionary is wrong to include 2 and 2a as possible meanings.

    Subjective is something that only exists in the mind and is purely particular to the subject.  Objective is something that exists irrespective of a subject’s beliefs.

    In and of itself, the word ‘objective’ is not committed to your view that only things that can be tested really exist.  It can mean that, but it also means ‘existing in reality’ with no commitments as to whether only testable things are real.

    As all theists, whether Christians or Osirsians, claim that God is objective – really, truly exists in reality the analogy is not false.  The claim may be wrong, in which case the argument fails, but the analogy itself is not false. 

    So, once more with feeling.  In light of all I’ve just pointed out from the dictionary, Tony’s argument, and mine, is not inherently self-contradictory at this point.

  20. I don’t get you. We have good historical record of Osiris and his divinity. Why are you denying it? Aren’t you like the Holocaust deniers?

    My apologies for not making that argument clearer, I’m trying to keep these comments from being utterly unwieldy. 

    You were trying to say, “Look, two different groups claim to know who God is and they can’t be both right, so it’s just a subjective belief.” 

    So I said, “Look two different groups claim to know what really happened in the past and they can’t be both right, so it’s just a subjective belief.” 

    Feel free to be the historian and I can be the Holocaust denier if you like – my point wasn’t about tying us to one or the other person.  It was to say your whole argument here is another expression of your confusion of about what it means to say something is ‘objective’.  The fact people disagree as to who God is, doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist – that was my point. To point to disagreement to claim that a belief is subjective is not a good argument.

    It means that whole of the humanities are just subjective, that there’s no objective reality to history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy etc. 

    Regarding “I’m not sure you’ve really offered much here” comment:
    I rejected you premises. Please show why we need absolute truth to evaluate a yes/no question. And please tell us what the absolute right or wrong is regarding freedom of choice?

    Peter, I tried, really, really tried to understand that statement the first time around and give a substantial answer.  All you’ve done is restate the same two sentences in the same words.  If there’s something here that really matters, you’re going to have to help me out more to see it.  Try using more sentences and different words.

    You asked “if there are no absolutes, where does the ‘should’ come from?”
    “Should” comes from the “is” meaning it often comes from a situation. Usually this requires value (if I value my life/reputation/well being is should…)

    Okay, so if I don’t value my life/reputation/well being then there is no ‘should’?  Moral obligations only exist for people who value certain things, and those who don’t value those things aren’t doing anything wrong by acting differently?  If you’re not saying that, what did you mean here?

    My position is “I have a right to dispose of my life as I want – it’s my property” as long as you don’t commit a crime doing it (suicide bomber), as long as it is agreed/documented, as long it is a terminal illness, etc. Hardly an absolute position. I see euthanasia as human right just like a freedom of religious. The exercise of your religious freedom causes harm to others (I feel lessened) so do you think it infringes on their rights?

    No, the concept of the right to religious freedom contains the idea that my exercise of it (or non-exercise of it, to be non-religious, as well) is a positive good for society and should not, in general, affect other people’s rights.  You don’t have a right not to be offended, or to not feel lessened, or not to be criticised.  So the exercise of free speech doesn’t affect your rights, even it has that effect on you.  That’s Democracy 101, pal.

    So the analogy doesn’t work, and so my argument from Donne still works.  You don’t have the right to lessen everyone else by the exercise of your alleged right to end your life.

    And if you seriously think people have the right to end their life, why can they only exercise that right if there’s a terminal illness?  They either have the right or they don’t.  If it doesn’t harm others’ rights, it doesn’t harm others’ rights.  What gives you the right to say ‘the right only exists when you have a terminal illness’?

    You claimed: “A question can’t be a fallacy”
    Do you still beat your wife?

    A question can’t be a fallacy.  Just putting a question mark at the end of a sentence doesn’t make it a real question.  A ‘rhetorical question’ is, as you well know, not a question – it’s just a not-so-clever way of making an assertion. 

    An open-ended question like ‘What is your ground for you moral conviction?’ is a question and so cannot be a fallacy. As you showed when you answered it. You can’t answer a fallacy.

  21. You claimed: “Communist countries, and the various Fascist regimes, also have to be included as secular societies.”
    This is not true. Secular societies are usually described as ones with “freedom of religion”. Fascist regimes are known to be backed by Christians while closing down freethinkers. Nice try.

    Wikipedia, like many, define a ‘secular state’ as one that has no state religion, and that purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion.  Whether a regime is backed by Christians or closes down freethinkers is irrelevant as to whether it is secular – most secular democracies are backed by Christians as well, and some have probably had histories of closing down some kinds of freethinkers out on the margins of radical social thought (people promoting paedophilia or cannibalism might be some current examples – there’s not a lot of taboos left for freethinkers to take a stand against).  So some fascist countries would be counted ‘secular states’ on some, quite reasonable, definitions.
     
    And you missed communist countries.  Wiki, like most people I think, lists communist countries as secular societies.  So I think your cheerleading for secular societies applies only to some secular democracies. 

    You also miss that some of those secular democracies have chequered records on religious freedom – France is not so much interested in religious freedom, as in promoting secularism as a substantial creed. It’s not really neutral about religion and irreligion – it actively promotes non-religion in the public square. And when people like Richard Dawkins can imply that teaching religion to children is a form of child abuse, it’s not that clear that secularists are universally keen to promote religious freedom.

    I did not try to say that religion – bad & secularism – good. My point was the religious absolutism is bad and secular societies seem to doing best.

    Yes, I see that now, thanks for the correction.  You compared apples and oranges – you didn’t compare religious absolutism and a secular worldview, you compared two things that are quite different: a diffuse range of things you could pin on religious absolutism and how some secular democracies are going in some areas.  I should have criticised that as well for being the kind of comparison that would make any social scientist have conniptions over.  Consider that done now.

    Responses to your 1), 2) & 3)
    1) Euthanasia is a human right just like freedom of religion. Once you understand why we allow freedom of religion then you understand the euthanasia question?

    Please expand.  Why is it a human right just like freedom of religion?  In what sense is at a ‘human right’?  What does ‘human right’ mean for you, and where do you get it from?

    2) If compulsory footbinding is the law somewhere, it is independent of me. If in that sense it is objective it does not mean it is objectively right (or wrong).

    Okay, thank you.  What does make something like footbinding, or death penalty for apostates, objectively right or wrong?

    3) The whole LGBT movement opposes racial discrimination and unjust laws. They can subjectively critique any law, and their subjective views are based on different ethical systems. Do you have non-subjective views?

    Yes, they can do that.  But why should anyone listen to their subjective views?  Why should anyone less to anyone’s subjective views?  If they’re purely subjective why should I change on the basis of them?  Why should the law?  That’s what I don’t get in your rejection of moral absolutes.  Why should we privilege one set of moral views and arguments over another if they’re all just purely subjective?

    The biggest cause of teenage suicides is the pressure and guilt put on homosexuality, and we all know where that comes from.

    I don’t think teen suicide, or homosexuals who feel depressed should be the subject of debating points.  But if you’re going to make the claims, please show evidence that ‘the biggest cause of teenage suicide is the pressure and guilt put on homosexuality’ and that (which is what I presume you are claiming) that that pressure and guilt comes from the opposition by religions to homosexual sexual behaviour.

    One reason why I started to doubt and left Christianity was how much wrong and completely one-sided information Christian apologists offer knowingly or unknowingly.

    Thank you for letting me know.  This isn’t tit for tat, but that’s also a reason why atheism, especially New Atheism, has little attraction to me.  It’s proponents come across like fundamentalists in their behaviour and argumentation, even if they don’t have supernatural beliefs.

  22. At this point the thread is going to get completely unwieldy, for you finished by demanding evidence for every claim I made about good outcomes related to religiousity. 

    You wrote “religious people are more likely to get married… which have better outcomes for the next generation”
    Less people are getting married in northern European countries and those countries are the healthiest in the world by most measures. So please show me the evidence to back you case.

    From the Population Resource Bureau, http://www.prb.org/Articles/2010/usmarriagedecline.aspx , a non-partisan body, in their conclusion to a study on the drop in marriage rates among young adults in the U.S.:

    These trends are significant because marriage is associated with many benefits for families and individuals, including higher income, better health, and longer life expectancy. One reason for these benefits may be that people with higher potential earnings and better health are “selected” into marriage, resulting in better outcomes for married couples. However, most researchers agree that marriage also has an independent, positive effect on well-being.11 Therefore, the recent decline in marriage may contribute to worse outcomes for less educated individuals, beyond those resulting from the recent recession.

    The decline in marriage may also affect conditions for the younger generation, because of the growing number of children born to unmarried parents. In 2008, nonmarital births accounted for 41 percent of all births in the United States. Although roughly half of these nonmarital births are to cohabiting couples, these unions tend to be less stable and have fewer economic resources compared with married couples.12 Therefore, declining marriage rates put more children at risk of growing up poor, which can have lasting consequences for their health and future economic prospects.

    As the PRB says, most researchers tend to agree that marriage itself has ‘an independent, positive effect on well-being’. 

    The 2005 report “State of our Unions” by the Marriage Institute, connected to the University of Virginia, http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/pdfs/SOOU2005.pdf
    a non-partisan body, has this to say about Sweden’s experience of marriage and child outcomes:

    If a society deinstitutionalizes marriage, as Sweden has done through its tax and benefit policies and the secularization of its culture, marriage will weaken. In addition, because most adults still like to live as couples, human pairbonding doesn’t disappear when this happens. Rather, the institution of marriage is replaced by nonmarital cohabitation—marriage lite. Then, if one institutionalizes nonmarital cohabitation in the laws and government policies, as Sweden has also done, making it the virtual equivalent of marriage, marriage will decline still further.

    In the modern world people are reluctant to make strong commitments if they don’t have to; it’s easier to hang loose. The problem is that society ends up with adult intimate relationships that are much more fragile. It is, indeed, surprising that Sweden has such a high a level of couple breakup, because it is the kind of society—stable,homogeneous, and egalitarian—where one would expect such breakups to be minimal. Yet the high breakup level is testimony to the fragility of modern marriage in which most of the institutional bonds have been stripped away—economic dependence, legal definitions, religious sentiments, and family pressures—leaving marriage and other pair-bonds held together solely by the thin and unstable reed of affection.

    The losers in this social trend, of course, are the children. They are highly dependent for their development and success in life on the family in which they are born and raised, and a convincing mass of scientific evidence now exists pointing to the fact that not growing up in an intact nuclear family is one of the most deleterious events that can befall a child. In Sweden, just as in the United States, children from nonintact families—compared to those from intact families—have two to three times the number of serious problems in life.8 We can only speculate about the extent of psychological damage that future generations will suffer owing to today’s family trends.(emphasis mine)

    Interestingly, they argue that children in Sweden have better outcomes than children in the U.S. (the comparison they’re investigating) – but that is because of other factors between the two countries and their social policies that outweigh the enormous drag created by low marriage rates and impermanent adult relationships.  My point that marriage is linked to better outcomes for everyone therefore has good data for it.  Even in Sweden married couples are more likely to stay together, and not staying together is two to three times more likely to adversely affect the next generation.

  23. You wrote “religious people make their marriages work”
    Wrong. The US divorce stats show that atheists have lower divorce rate than Christians. Generally Muslims have the lowest average divorce rates.

    Thank you for proving my point.  Muslims have the lowest average divorce rates.  And they are believers in religious absolutes.  So religious people make their marriages work.  Much obliged, pardnah.

    However, the study by George Barna that concluded that atheists have a lower divorce rate than Christians is true, insofar as it goes, (probably, there’s some other data that indicates that it mightn’t be, but we’ll assume it was) but didn’t take into account two other factors:

    1) atheists have the lowest rate of marriage, Christians have a much higher rate, and atheists are far more likely to have cohabited first.

    2) atheists have the highest rate of cohabitation (51%) and are most likely to see that as being equivalent to marriage – a long-term, stable, committed relationship. 

    And those de facto arrangements are highly likely to break-up – some 45% or so break up over any five year period is the kind of figure I see in places – compared to something more like 25% for marriages in a five year period.

    So to get a real sense of relationship stability, you can’t just compare marriages of atheists to marriages of Christians (or other religious people), you have to look out at the cohabiting data as well.  When those extra bits of data are factored in, we get something more like 66% of atheists experience the break-up of at least one relationship in their lives. 

    And that is a staggeringly high, much higher than even U.S. Christians – which is itself an admitted scandal.

    I’ll admit that I worded the statement clumsily, and would have covered myself better if I had said, ‘religious people are more likely to make their relationship work’ or even ‘religious people are more likely to get married and stay married’.  Consider this a corrective nuancing.

    You wrote “religious people are less likely to have abortions”
    To expand this Muslims have lower abortion rates than Christians. Secular western Europe has lower abortion rate than more Christian United States. Additionally teen pregnancies go up in more religious areas in the US.

    All true.  But none of it contradicts my point.  Muslims also count as ‘religious people’ – you implicitly used them to show the evils of religious absolutes, so you can’t have it both ways -  abortion rates differ from country to country, and from area to area within a country like the U.S., due to a range of other factors such as wealth and education levels and social policies in place, but religious people in those countries and areas will tend to have less abortions than non-religious people in those countries and areas.

    Religious people are less likely to have abortions.  Offer evidence that is genuinely counter – don’t just throw dust in the air.

    You wrote “Religious people are less likely to lie”
    Evidence or that’s a lie A study showed that Church goers more likely to steal if they know they can get a way with it.

    No, without evidence it is an unsupported claim. 

    Evidence is here: http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/16-teensnext-gen/25-young-adults-and-liberals-struggle-with-morality

    The Influence of Faith on Morality
    Examining people’s faith perspectives revealed that evangelicals were the group most likely to follow traditional morality while atheists and agnostics were the faith segment most likely to reject those ways.
    Among evangelicals, profanity (16%) and pornography (12%) were the most common transgressions. Fewer than 5% of evangelicals had engaged in gossip (4%), inappropriate sex (3%), gambling (2%), lying (1%) or drunkenness (less than one-half of one percent).

    In contrast, among skeptics atheists and agnostics) participation in the eight behaviors ranged from a low of 11% (retaliating) up to a high of 60% (using profanity). While evangelicals averaged 6% participation in each of the eight behaviors mentioned, skeptics averaged five times that level (29%). Other common acts among skeptics included exposure to pornography (50%), gossip (34%) and drunkenness (33%).

    People associated with faiths other than Christianity were twice as likely as evangelicals to engage in the behaviors explored. They were most likely to use profanity (33%), view pornography (32%) and lie (18%).
    Within the Christian community, there were few differences between Protestants and Catholics in relation to the moral behaviors tested. Catholics were somewhat more likely to gamble (25% vs. 18%) and to get drunk (16% vs. 7%).

  24. You wrote “take revenge in their personal lives”
    Evidence or take it back. Religious people are more likely to support capital punishment.

    Evidence is quoted in the last quote iin the previous comment.

    Supporting capital punishment is not, in itself, evidence of an interest in revenge.  Unless you think the justice system is not about justice, and only about rehabilitation and deterrent, being in favour of stronger punishments reflects a view about what is the just punishment for a certain crime.  Christians, in line with their high value on human life, will be more likely to want stronger sentences for certain crimes than secular people will tend to.  That’s a question about the nature of justice and the nature of judicial punishment – it’s not directly an indicator of revenge.  Atheists self-report higher levels of revenge in their personal lives.

    You wrote “Religious people are more likely to give of their money and time to charitable causes”
    Misleading. If you take out in-group giving there is no difference. For example 90% of Mormon Charity goes to Mormon causes. And less religious countries give more aid.

    No, it’s not misleading.  Religious people are more likely to give more to charitable causes and are more likely to do that through their religious societies.  The latter isn’t some scandal that undercuts the former.  Religious people are more generous with their time and money. 

    But a report from the Hoover Institute (less non-partisan than the earlier ones I’ve referenced, but still connected to a reputable university) http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/6577  suggests otherwise even about whether your claim is correct:

    Some people might object to my conflation here of religious and nonreligious charity. One might argue, for example, that religious charity is more likely to take place for non-altruistic reasons than is nonreligious giving and volunteering: Religious people might give because of social pressure, for personal gain (such as stashing away rewards in Heaven), or to finance the services that they themselves consume, such as sacramental activities. Therefore, disparities in charity might disappear when we only consider explicitly nonreligious giving and volunteering. The SCCBS data do not support this hypothesis, however: Religious people are more generous than secular people with nonreligious causes as well as with religious ones. While 68 percent of the total population gives (and 51 percent volunteers) to nonreligious causes each year, religious people are 10 points more likely to give to these causes than secularists (71 percent to 61 percent) and 21 points more likely to volunteer (60 percent to 39 percent). For example, religious people are 7 points more likely than secularists to volunteer for neighborhood and civic groups, 20 points more likely to volunteer to help the poor or elderly, and 26 points more likely to volunteer for school or youth programs. It seems fair to say that religion engenders charity in general — including nonreligious charity.

    One might also posit that informal giving (say, to family and friends) by secularists could offset charity to established causes by religious people. My own research, however, makes this look improbable. Using 1999 data on individuals from the Bureau of Labor Standards, I found that, for most people, formal and informal charity are not substitutes for each other. On the contrary, people who give formally are 21 percentage points more likely than those who do not to also give informally. That is, informal giving does not explain the underlying discrepancy; it compounds it.

  25. You wrote “Religious people are less likely to be depressed”
    Evidence please. Tell my why Utah is called the Prozac capital of the nation in the US?

    I have no idea about Utah.  I don’t really care. 

    Evidence is here, summing up a large range of psychological studies http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/display/article/10168/1508320?pageNumber=1 :

    Studies among adults reveal fairly consistent relationships between levels of religiosity and depressive disorders that are significant and inverse. Religious factors become more potent as life stress increases. Koenig and colleagues highlight the fact that before 2000, more than 100 quantitative studies examined the relationships between religion and depression. Of 93 observational studies, two-thirds found lower rates of depressive disorder with fewer depressive symptoms in persons who were more religious. In 34 studies that did not find a similar relationship, only 4 found that being religious was associated with more depression. Of 22 longitudinal studies, 15 found that greater religiousness predicted mild symptoms and faster remission at follow-up.

    Smith and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 147 studies that involved nearly 100,000 subjects. The average inverse correlation between religious involvement and depression was 20.1, which increased to 0.15 in stressed populations. Religion has been found to enhance remission in patients with medical and psychiatric disease who have established depression. The vast majority of these studies have focused on Christianity; there is a lack of research on other religious groups. Some research indicates an increased prevalence of depression among Jews.

    Depression is important to treat not just because of the emotional distress but also because of the increased risk of suicide. In a systematic review that examined 68 studies, researchers looked for a relationship between religion and suicide. Among these, 57 studies reported fewer suicides or more negative attitudes toward suicide among the more religious. In a recent Canadian cross-sectional study, religious attendance was associated with decreased suicide attempts in the general population and in those with a mental illness, independent of the effects of social supports. Religious teachings may prevent suicide, but social support, comfort, and meaning derived from religious belief also are important.
    More recent studies indicate that the relationship between religion and depression may be more complex than previously shown. All religious beliefs and variables are not necessarily related to better mental health. Factors such as denomination, race, sex, and types of religious coping may affect the relationship between religion or spirituality and depression. Negative religious coping (being angry with God, feeling let down), endorsing negative support from the religious community, and loss of faith correlate with higher depression scores. As Pargament and colleagues23(p521) state, “It is not enough to know that the individual prays, attends church, or watches religious television. Measures of religious coping should specify how the individual is making use of religion to understand and deal with stressors.”

    The last paragraph is important – there maybe some more complexity between religion and depression that earlier studies haven’t illuminated yet.  But it’s not suggesting that the basic correlation they’ve consistently shown isn’t there.  Religious people are less likely to be depressed.

    You wrote “Religious people are less likely to commit suicide”
    Misleading. Muslims and Catholic yes. But Protestant and secular people seem to have about same rates.

    Not really – cast your eyes over the various details on this webpage: http://www.adherents.com/misc/religion_suicide.html nonreligious affiliated people at risk for suicide have significantly more suicide attempts, and secular societies have much worse suicide rates than religious ones.  Although I’m sure you’ll also enjoy the final sentence in the document as well smile, I’ll leave it to you to chase it down and have a chuckle over it.

    When you factor in that depression is the single biggest factor to predict suicide (not homosexuality as you claimed), and that religious people are less likely to be depressed as well as less likely to commit suicide when at risk, the combined effect would be fairly pronounced.

  26. Concluding!

    You wrote “Religion also often fuels unpopular moral stances”
    True. Westboro Baptists and KKK are not popular.
    You wrote “Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery”
    Misleading hedging your bets. Wilberforce didn’t argue against Muslims or secular people. He argued against Bible believing Christians. And remember it was 1500 years of slavery under Christianity and now you want the credit for abolishing it. Nice try.
    You wrote “Confessing Christians’ resistance to Nazism were products of religious conviction”
    Misleading again. German Christians “The Deutsche Christen” support to Nazism were products of religious conviction. Same with brown priests. Nazism was founded by a Christian man, and let’s not forget the Reichskonkordat.

    Entirely irrelevant.  You said religious absolutism is bad.  I gave two examples of good outcomes linked to religious absolutism.  You don’t overturn them by showing still more bad outcomes linked to religious absolutism – I never disagreed that there are bad outcomes, only that that is not the whole story.  There is also good outcomes associated with religious absolutism – Wilberforce and slavery, the Confessing Christians resistance to Nazism.  They are genuinely counter evidence to your thesis that religious absolutism is always bad.

    The truth is truly lost in Christianity.

    Do you have to keep making your confession of faith at the end of every reply?  You rejected Christianity because you think we all commit fallacies whenever you disagree with an argument we make and are selective with the truth when we make a claim you disagree with.  I get it: I’m dumb and a liar (or incompetent) and you’re very smart and only ever speak the truth.  Can we move on? 

    Do we need the absolute declarations about Christianity’s bankruptcy being constantly deduced at the end of each of your responses from my personal inadequacies as one representative of it? 

    It’d be like me saying ‘A love of camembert cheese has truly been lost in Atheism’ at the end of every one of my responses – both conclusions are non sequiturs from the preceeding discussion. Just make your arguments and let’s see where the conversation takes us.

  27. Hi Mark
    Please help me to understand what you mean by ‘moral absolutes’.  I have a few questions which I hope you can answer for me.
    1.  Would you tell me how you believe that one knows that a given moral judgment is a moral absolute. 
    2.  You say that not lying is a moral absolute.  Can you confirm that you believe that there can never be a reason which would make lying a right action?
    3.  You seem to suggest (though here I am unsure of your position) that one cannot make valid moral judgements unless one holds certain moral absolutes.  Here I’m thinking of your comment: ‘If there’s no absolutes, where is this ‘should’ coming from?’  Is it your view that a moral absolute is a necessary condition of all valid moral judgements?  If so, why do you believe this?
    Cheers
    Brian

  28. Hi Brian,

    Welcome along.  It’ll probably help me a bit if you show your hand that’s behind your questions.  The interchange with Peter is taking a lot of time, and I have two other threads that I’m interested in, so if another front is going to be opened up on this thread, I’d like to expedite the opening moves a bit.

    When you say:

    Please help me to understand what you mean by ‘moral absolutes’.

    Is this indicating that your questions are genuine expressions of an inability to understand what I mean by ‘moral absolutes’?  You haven’t given a concept of morality much thought, and you genuinely don’t understand what ‘moral absolutes’ might mean?

    If so, while I have problems with big chunks of it, the wikipedia article on moral absolutes is worth reading, while I answer your three questions.

    Or is it more of a rhetorical device (which is fine if it is) and your questions are expressions of a thought-through rejection of moral absolutes in favour of some other view about morality?

    If it’s the latter, could you offer up a brief explanation of your view on morality and why you reject moral absolutes?  Particularly, in light of your question 1, whether you believe in the non-existence of moral absolutes or whether you think that we can’t know whether or not they exist and, if they do, what they are.  Depending on where you stand there, question 1 is either really important or a waste of time.

    With that ‘on the table’ alongside what I’ve said about my position (which I’m also happy to expand at your request) – I’d be quite willing to answer your three questions above and any others you’d like to add (within reason please, not another, “please give evidence for every claim”) and we can explore each other’s understanding, as I’ll obviously have some questions for you too.

  29. Thanks for your reply Mark.
    I have a background in philosophical ethics – applied ethics, for the most – though haven’t worked in the area for some time.  I am interested in how religious-based ethics deal with specific moral problems – particularly in the context of a liberal, secular society (hence why my interest was taken by this article and the subsequent discussion). 

    While I’m familiar with formal definitions of a moral absolute, I’m more interested in how thoughtful religious people understand and apply the notion.  I don’t reject the formal notion tout court and suppose that certain moral principles are in some respects unconditional.

    I’m happy to elaborate my point of view further, though I’m not looking for a contest.  I understand if you don’t have the time or inclination to answer my questions, please don’t hesitate to say if that is so.
    Cheers
    Brian

  30. Mark,

    I appreciate your long and research answers.

    “It’s always morally wrong to torture a person simply for one’s own pleasure”
    Act: to torture; reason: for pleasure
    You wrote “always” so I assume there are many possible other variations/additional reasons.
    - I think it is ok to torture a person simply for one’s own pleasure if torturing would also review a location of nuclear bomb about to go off or if God told to do it.
    - I think it is not ok to torture a person simply for one’s own pleasure and for $100.
    If you say I can’t add any other reason it becomes meaningless without any options. Like: I think it is ok to drink simply for being thirsty (act: to drink; reason being thirsty).

    “It’s the ‘moral thing to do’ to save a million people by murdering one” is not a moral absolute just like above. What you need to focus on is a moral “act”, not “act+reason” pair. Would you lie to save a life of your relative?

    Sorry I’m not sure about “the empirically testable things real robs us of any objective reality”. My view is that if you can test (gravity like) it is objective. If you or I can not observe/image something (God Orisis for example) it can not be compared to testable things. Love, beauty, concepts fall in between those.

    You asked: “When you say it is ‘more wrong’, is that an absolute judgment?”
    No, “more” is relative to something. And the sentence it self is a judgment (subjective) not absolute judgment.

    Sorry if I was not clear before. I never meant that objectivity is determined democratically. I meant the laws are objective in a sense that those independent of me. Law actual exists. I think I agree with you on everything else wrote about objective/subjective. I think the comparison is wrong because you compare supernatural thing (God) to real world observable thing (gravity).

    You said “The fact people disagree as to who God is, doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist”. Here is your confusion. The God of the Bible and Orisis are not the same, and some people think neither one of them exist. So:
    “The fact people disagree as to who God is, doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist”
    is true and
    “The fact people disagree as to who God is, doesn’t mean he does exist”
    is also true. There is no objective test either. So your point is irrelevant.

    If you don’t value your life/reputation/well being then you have reach the point that “should” might disappear. This sometimes happens to people and they commit suicide. Everyone values things, they eat to stay alive, they avoid cars crossing the street etc. Correct behaviours are useful trying to survive. If you don’t pay back a loan as you promised it tends to make your situation worse.

    You claimed “is a positive good for society and should not, in general, affect other people’s rights”
    Remember your tax supported church does have right to discriminate based on religion even when you are hiring a computer technician. I finance your discrimination against me, so how is that generally good for me?

    First you said:
    “You don’t have a right not to be offended, or to not feel lessened, or not to be criticised.”
    and then you followed by:
    “You don’t have the right to lessen everyone else…”
    Absolute Fail. Inconsistency is a sign of a failed argument.

    You asked:
    “And if you seriously think people have the right to end their life, why can they only exercise that right if there’s a terminal illness?”
    My position is that if suicide is not illegal, I’m ok with the situation. We can’t really stop it either. Only some terminal ill people often don’t have this choice.

    You keep on insisting “A question can’t be a fallacy.”
    Google “loaded question fallacy”

    You are right that I’m not a cheerleader of fascism or communism. I only cheerlead for secular countries that promote freedom of religion. I’m not sure what your beef with France is. Last time I checked they have a freedom of religion.

    Re: religion – bad & secularism – good”
    You are right that I should have made a deeper and more elegant writing about my opinion. It’s maybe a topic for another discussion, so I withdraw my comparison and the point I made.

    Re: Human rights. Why is freedom of religion a human right and where are the boundaries of it? Once you understand this, you’ll understand the euthanasia issue.

    You asked “Why should anyone less to anyone’s subjective views?”
    I don’t understand this. Do you have other type of views?

    You keep on going to “moral absolutes” but are unable to produce them. Can’t you just answer: would you lie to save your family member’s life? or how do you know which things are absolute like “Stoning adulterous women is not a moral absolute, but not committing adultery is a moral absolute.” Is stoning adulterous women a relativistic law from God?

  31. Mark,

    … this did not fit in.

    You asked: “please show evidence that ‘the biggest cause of teenage suicide is the pressure and guilt put on homosexuality”:
    Google studies:
    -“Sexual Orientation and Risk of Suicide Attempts Among a Representative Sample of Youth”
    -“The relationship between suicide risk and sexual orientation: results of a population-based study.”
    -“Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults”
    Every week we hear a “Tyler Clementi” type of cases and if you don’t know where the pressure comes form, please read the articles Sydney Anglican leaders write. To get another perspective Google “it gets better project”.

    Sorry I missed couple of your questions and points as you made quite a few of them.

  32. Mark,

    Re: better outcomes:
    You did not address my criticism. How has lower marriage rates in Sweden and Denmark hurt the next generation? In Sweden and Denmark half of kids are born out of wedlock yet societies seem to be thriving more than the US. I do agree in more religious countries (the US south, Saudis) marriage helps to survive, but please address my original criticism Show how cohabiting hurts Sweden, where you are not ostracized for not being married like in the US south. You emphasised “We can only speculate..” shows that there is no supporting data just speculations.

    From your link “Minnesota—the most Scandinavian-settled U.S. state—was recently ranked the number one state in the nation for child wellbeing by the Kids Count Data Book.” Scandinavian low marriage rate style works for kids in the US too.

    You said: “Muslims have the lowest average divorce rates. And they are believers in religious absolutes. So religious people make their marriages work.”
    Right. Muslims make religious people look good on average because Christian ruining religious stats. You take credit from people who you think has a wrong world view, nice defense! You are actually confusing correlation and causality. Do you have any evidence that Muslims make their marriage work and they are not forced to say together?

    First you claimed “religious people are more likely to get married”
    but when challenged you changed to:
    “you can’t just compare marriages of atheists to marriages of Christians”
    This is exactly what I tend to see from Christian apologists. They tend to believe in absolutes and contradictions.

    Re abortion. Again Muslims make religious people look good on average because Christian ruining the stats. Nice defense! I pointed out the Christianity has created a situation (teen pregnancies) in the US which causes more abortions that secular Europe. Your assertion was one sided. Is abortion always absolute wrong like you claimed? Is abortion ok if we know the pregnancy will kill both mother and the child?

    Re lying; from your link: “~1% of evangelicals had engaged in lying”. This is the problem about self reporting phone interview studies. How do you know if they are lying about lying? Maybe non-Christians were more honest reporting it. It seems unlikely that only 1% of these Christians “engage in lying”.

    This is the circularity of Christian science:
    - Christians claim they lie very little.
    - Phone interview confirms that Christians say they lie very little.
    - The study becomes a “Christian fact” that Christians lie very little.
    It puzzles me that you think that this is some kind of evidence. No wonder science and religion have trouble getting married. Google “Churchgoers more likely to steal” to get a real objective study.

    Re suicide:
    Your link does not take into account that for example Finno-Ugric countries (Finland, Estonia & Hungary) have always had high suicide rates, but in the last 20 years when Christianity has started to disappear suicide rates have gone down in Finland. Why is that?

    Your link also tells us that highly religious Utah has higher suicide rates. Less religious UK has lower suicide rate than more religious US. If religious people have lower suicide rates, why are non-religious people killing themselves in highly religious areas? As I pointed out your argument was one sided again.

    Re revenge: Again you go to self reporting studies. Somehow Christian opinion has become a fact.

    Eye-for-eye type harder punishment system based on revenge and supported more by religious people. Where is the Christian forgiveness and turning the other cheek; secular people are better at that.

    Re charity: I agree that giving through their religious societies is not a scandal that undercuts the former. It is just not pure altruism as your group status is linked to it. For example over 82% of evangelical Protestant charity goes to other evangelical Protestants. You said “Religious people are more generous than secular people with nonreligious causes as well as with religious ones.” It is true, but again it is mostly in-group charity. Blood donation is a type of charity which benefits everyone randomly, even people not in your group. A study has shown that there is no relationship between giving blood and religiousness. And secular Scandinavian countries give most to the international aid. Again your charity comment was misleading.

    Re depression: I find it odd that in the US the most religious state has the highest usage of Prozac and you didn’t want to investigate this. I don’t generally like meta analysis without checking the best studies, but you provided well research study and so I’ll have to agree with your view.

    I agree that Wilberforce & Confessing Christians were not bad examples of religious absolutism.

    In year 2100 Christians will boast how one Christian was for LGBT rights because of his religious absolutism and they use it as defense of Christianity with it.

  33. Hi Brian,

    Not having a contest is a good thing.  I don’t think they’re particularly profitable.  I’m quite happy to try and answer the questions you’re asking.  I’d be interested to hear anything you thought in response.

    1. I think the nature of morality, in general, suggests absolutes.  ‘Good’ and ‘evil’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are like ‘true’ and ‘false’ – unless you’re a relativist and/or believe that human beings create distinctly human aspirations like beauty, truth and good, and that has shaped your subjective experience of morality, then we experience morality as something outside us and beyond us to which we then appeal to justify some decisions and acts and criticise others.  That experience of morality as something outside us carries with it the sense that it exists independently of us, and so carries with it the sense that the moral norms are ‘absolute’ – in the sense that they don’t change based on circumstances or on my subjective qualities.

    So, I think the act of making a moral judgement is to appeal to a moral absolute some way or other.  There aren’t two sets of moral judgements – one which you say ‘this is wrong’ but it isn’t objectively/absolutely wrong, and one where you say ‘this is wrong’ and it is objectively/absolutely wrong.  A moral judgement might need to be very sophisticated, weigh up a large range of factors and the like, but to say ,’this is wrong’ is to say something absolute, just like saying ‘this is true’ is to say something absolute. 

    Even guys like Richard Dawkins seems to fall into this way of thinking – I’ve read him in interviews saying that human beings shouldn’t get their ethics from evolution, that we should actually behave contrary to evolution and help the weak and suffering.  The ‘should’ in that sentence, when he uses it, seems to have the feel of an absolute.  He’s not saying, ‘Only those Englishmen who care about a good reputation with The Times should do this.’ or ‘Only Englishmen should do this.’  He’s saying that all human beings should act this way, whether they realise it or not, agree with that or not.  That’s a moral absolute, offered by someone who thinks that our desire for meaning and purpose is a category error, yet still thinks that our sense of morality is an absolute.

    How do we know that a particular moral judgement correctly reflects a moral absolute?  That’s more how I’d word question 1 to reflect where I’m coming from.  That’s a big question, which I’m happy to tackle next time around if you want to take it further.

    2. Yes not lying is a moral absolute.  However, I’m not sure I can confirm that I believe that there can never be a reason which would make lying a right action.  There’s three factors at work here that make the issue a bit complex when we move off to those highly unusual and extreme cases that people like to use:

    a) I think definitions of lying like ‘intending to deceive’ are a bit too broad.  They’re good enough to cover most instances, but they miss an aspect that I think is important.  I think knowing things is an issue of authority.  I think (for theological reasons) that part of humanity’s dominion over the created order is that we can know things – that we know things because we have authority over things.  To be able to name something – see what it really is – is an expression of mastery of it, and enables you to use it in line with its nature and realise its possibilities.  Less theologically, there’s a link between being a tool-user and being capable of abstract knowledge.  And I find Heidegger’s account of this in Being and Time particularly illuminating. 

    I am fairly sure, that there are situations where people demand knowledge from me that they do not have the authority to justify that demand.  In those situations, (like when a crazed guy with an axe demands me to tell him where the scared eight year old girl is who ran past me a minute earlier) I can say something that is not true, and deliberately so, and it is not a lie.  There are two instances in the Bible where I think that that is the best way of explaining what was going on there.

  34. b) I think moral principles have an order to them – they aren’t all equal.  My responsibility to be my brother’s keeper may, in some situations, outweigh my responsibility to tell the truth (and the opposite as well – there are situations where I can’t discharge both obligations, one gets trumped). 

    I have heard that there is a strand of Christian ethical teaching that says that to steal only what you need to live on when you have no other option and when you leave enough from the person you’re taking from for them to live on is not theft at all.  That the moral right to own personal property is not ‘absolute’ but exists as part of one’s right to live.  And so that right cannot stand when it gets in the way of someone else’s right to live. 

    c) I think that we don’t have perfect or exhaustive knowledge of the moral field.  Like all of reality, it discloses itself to us as we find ways to tune ourselves to it and so perceive it more clearly.  That means that, in principle, I can’t say in advance that ‘there will never be an instance where x is okay’ – the ability to say that suggests a more foundationalist approach where I can work out a couple of fundamental moral principles in abstract, then use them to generate more concrete moral principles – a bit like Kant I suppose.  I agree more with Hegel on this: that formalist and abstract approach lacks moral content.  Morality works more from the concrete out, then the abstract in.  I know we shouldn’t murder, that’s an objective (and so ‘absolute’) moral principle.  But there may be situations where something is not murder that might be otherwise (one million innocent people will be killed, but if I pull the trigger on one of that one million people, then the rest will be spared.  In that situation it might not be murder to kill someone who is going to be die anyway).  Part of my view of ‘knowledge’ is that we can know things and still be surprised by the object of our knowledge.  We don’t know yet what we don’t know about physics, and some of what we discover may revise what we currently thought.  It’s the same with morality.  The possibility of greater knowledge doesn’t make what we have now nothing.

    3. I found this question a bit hard to quite get what you were asking, I’ll give it a stab, and hopefully say something illuminating even if it isn’t what you wanted. 

    I think people need to have a sense that morality really exists to be able to make moral judgements – to do ethics.  In the same way, I think people need to do science believing that there is an objective world that they are encountering through their discipline, that doctors need to believe that medicine has an objective existence, and that someone studying theology can only really do it properly if they undertake it with a sense that God genuinely exists.  These disciplines are all means by which we seek to perceive an objective that exists outside of our subjective state, and a conviction that it really exists is one necessary, but not sufficient, precondition to engage in that discipline in a way that is true to the discipline.

    So, someone who believes that there is no objective morality, that our sense of moral obligation is an illusion, and right and wrong are grounded in neither the universe itself, nor in our basic human nature, but is simply something we create for ourselves – either as individuals, or as a tribe, or as a species as a product of evolutionary biology and the need to function as a social species (the three main contenders at the moment it seems to me), isn’t really giving a moral judgement at all when they say something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, anymore than someone who believes in a flat earth can really adjudicate between different astronomical theories and weigh up the evidence for them. 

    So, in my ‘contest’ with Peter, at the moment I find his position a bit confusing – since that seems to be what you’re looking at for your questions.  He seems to be saying that there is no objective morality – it’s a human creation, and to say something is ‘right’ really means something like ‘this is the best course of action if you value the outcomes that this action is most likely to produce’.  But then he also seems to get upset at some kinds of behaviour by Christians.  And that ‘upset at’ seems to be an expression of some sense that we have transgressed a norm that applies to us even if we don’t value the outcomes that that action is most likely to produce.  That upsetness is the bit I think betrays an underlying conviction of an objective moral field, that I find constantly with New Atheists, even though few of them have the philosophical training or interest to see it.  And I’m having my usual track record with New Atheists in getting anywhere in trying to bring that out as something we can talk about.  smile

    Hope that helps.

  35. Hi Peter,

    Okay, I think we might be now in a position to talk more briefly, and possibly start bringing this conversation to an end.  In my response to Brian, I’ve spelt out to some degree where I’m coming from on morality. 

    As far as I can see from your position, you don’t believe in moral absolutes – good and evil, right and wrong, are not objectively existing things, they’re human creations, ways of saying, ‘If you value this, then this course of action is most likely to bring it about’ – honesty is ‘good’ in the sense that it is often the best policy for most people given their goals and values.  But if you don’t have those goals and values there is nothing wrong about not being honest.  Morality is basically an expression of enlightened self-interest.

    If there’s something important I haven’t captured there in your position, please let me know. 

    If that’s substantially right, then I think you actually function to support Tony Payne’s argument in his original article – you have rejected belief in the objective existence of God, and you have rejected belief in the objective existence of morality.  You only really accept consequentialist arguments as being rational and persuasive – and then only for people who want those outcomes (and there’s no reason why someone should want those outcomes, the wanting or not wanting is itself purely subjective). 

    So, you’re an example of one outcome of trying the strategy – the person says, “Yes, obviously you can only ground moral absolutes upon God, but there aren’t any moral absolutes any more than there is a God.  They’re both mirages.”

    Given we’ve got to that point, I can’t see much point in taking things too much further.  I think we’ve demonstrated the possibilities and limitations of Tony’s approach, as a means of moving from morality to God, and it’s hard to see how I could persuade you that morality objectively exists when I can’t offer any tests for it, in light of your next point:

    Sorry I’m not sure about “the empirically testable things real robs us of any objective reality”. My view is that if you can test (gravity like) it is objective. If you or I can not observe/image something (God Orisis for example) it can not be compared to testable things. Love, beauty, concepts fall in between those.

    Well, I suppose I could try and push how you can have something that falls inbetween objective and subjective – that’s kind of an either-or pairing there.  But I don’t think we’d get that far.  Why don’t I just observe that I believe that things can objectively exist even if they can’t be tested.  How one comes to know a particular object (epistemology) does not, itself, determine ontological questions of whether it does or does not exist. 
    Again, we could discuss that, but I doubt we’d get far there either.  I’ve studied David Hume and so am convinced that empiricism is a trainwreck.  You either haven’t, or think that he fundamentally misunderstood the implications of his own epistemology.  I’m not going to be convinced that empiricism has legs, and my experience suggests that modern empiricists are rarely helped to see the problems of their epistemology by having arguments about God.  Let’s note that the atheist thinks that the only reality is testable objects – anything that can’t be tested can’t really be compared to such objects, and the theist thinks that reality is more than testable objects.  That’s not a groundbreaking insight, but it does reinforce a basic difference that regularly appears between atheists and, well, almost everyone who is not an atheist.

    That covers the heart of our debate, in my view, but there’s a bunch of little things left from your last comment to mop up that I’ll turn to next.

  36. Turning to the other points:

    You keep on insisting “A question can’t be a fallacy.”
    Google “loaded question fallacy”

    Well, once again we go to Wiki as our first cab off the ranks.  It describes a loaded question as a ‘fallacy’ as you do, but also says it is a rhetorical maneuver, like I do.  When we look at the two external sources it offers, (also numbers two and three on the google search) we get:
    http://www.sjsu.edu/depts/itl/graphics/adhom/loaded.html:
    Which says:

    The relationship between the speaker and the responder, and the situation in which the question is asked, greatly affects the “success” of a loaded question. But just as important is that the question must be constructed in a way that clearly prompts a “yes” or “no” answer, and that the least agreeable element of complexity be buried in the sentence.

    My question was not constructed to clearly prompt a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but to encourage a thoughtful and considered, and possibly interestingly nuanced, answer.  It was an open ended question.  So my question is a long way from the kind of thing being concerned about.  This document too uses the word ‘fallacy’ to describe a loaded question.
    We also get http://www.fallacyfiles.org/loadques.html :

    Since a question is not an argument, simply asking a loaded question is not a fallacious argument..

    Which backs my point – a question is not an argument, so it can’t be a fallacy.  As the wiki article references this as an external link to go to, I think wiki is probably using ‘fallacy’ a bit loosely, and getting at the fact that a loaded question – in it’s ‘yes/no’ format is not a question at all, it’s an argument, the whole point of ‘asking’ it is to introduce a controverted presuppostion into an argument by trickery, the actual answer is irrelevant.  That wasn’t what I was doing.  A real genuine question can’t be an argument, and so can’t commit a fallacy.

    First you said:
    “You don’t have a right not to be offended, or to not feel lessened, or not to be criticised.”
    and then you followed by:
    “You don’t have the right to lessen everyone else…”
    Absolute Fail. Inconsistency is a sign of a failed argument.

    I’ll be generous and assume that this is probably because you don’t believe in the objective existence of untestable realities.  I said you don’t have a right to feel lessened.  “Feel” is a sign that we are speaking of subjective realities.  Almost anything could possibly make you feel lessened, which is one reason why we shouldn’t have laws that say that people can’t do things that hurt other people’s feelings. 

    I also said that you don’t have a right to lessen everyone else.  The absence of any subjective code words there was an indicator that I was speaking of objective realities.  You don’t have a right to do something that objectively lessens everyone else. 

    So no fail, no inconsistency, no failed argument.  Donne wasn’t saying, ‘We all feel lessened when another human being dies’ – which would be patently false and would defeat the whole point of the poem.  He was saying, ‘We really are lessened when another human dies whether you feel that or not.’ 

    My position is that if suicide is not illegal, I’m ok with the situation.

    Yes, so the argument that we should make euthanasia legal is also an argument that it’s okay to commit suicide as long as there’s no law against it.  Which I think is both a bad moral principle, and one that, if it is embodied in law by the legalising of euthanasia, will likely lead to more depressed people committing suicide who would otherwise have gotten past their depression (because a sense of the wrongness of suicide can help people at risk not commit suicide) and had many more years of life.

  37. Thank you for the suggestions on what to look up on Google about homosexuality and suicide. 

    First, these studies show that teens who self-identify as homosexual/bi/unsure are far more likely to attempt suicide than those who self-identify as heterosexual.  I doubt anyone finds that a surprise – I certainly didn’t.  But you claimed:

    The biggest cause of teenage suicides is the pressure and guilt put on homosexuality, and we all know where that comes from.

    The most the studies you quoted were prepared to run with was that around 20% (low twenties) of teen suicides are caused by teens who self-identify as homosexual/bi/unsure.  That is a long way short of ‘biggest cause’ – as a bit under 80% of teen suicides are caused by teens who self-identify as heterosexual.

    And they didn’t break that 20+% down into anything like how much comes from the ‘pressure and guilt put on homosexuality’.  One report said,

    Prior studies of bisexual/homosexual male adolescents have found that increased rates of suicide attempts were not universal, but were associated with particular
    risk factors, such as self-identification as homosexual at younger ages, substance abuse, female gender role, family
    dysfunction, interpersonal conflict regarding sexual orientation, and nondisclosure of sexual orientation to others.’

    Which suggests a complex range of factors at work in suicide risk, of which interpersonal conflict regarding sexual orientation – which is probably where ‘guilt and pressure’ is mostly likely to come in, is just one factor.  I’m not suggesting that that isn’t a factor.  I queried whether that experience among the 1-3.5% of teens who self-identify as something other than heterosexual was the leading cause of suicide among all teenagers.

    Every week we hear a “Tyler Clementi” type of cases and if you don’t know where the pressure comes form, please read the articles Sydney Anglican leaders write.

    The studies make no such suggestion. 

    I haven’t been following the Tyler Clementi case closely, but what I’ve seen seems to fit patterns I’ve seen.  He was subjected to a gross invasion of personal privacy.  One that many heterosexual liasons are subjected to these days without anyone considering it a hate crime.  I haven’t seen anything that suggests that the action was religiously motivated, or that Tyler Clementi was feeling lots of guilt because Christians thought his pattern of life was wrong. 

    My experience of growing up was that the people most likely to bully anyone they thought was homosexual were also most likely to bully anyone they thought was a God botherer (in fact, they would often accuse the latter group of being ‘gay’).  They never struck me as being motivated by anything religion said – they expressed contempt for religious people almost as much as they expressed hatred for gays.  Just because there is such a thing as homophobia, and it has some ideas in common with a Christian rejection of homosexual sexual activity, does not mean that homophobia is produced by Christian teaching. 

    Certainly not today, when such a small percentage of Australians are actively involved in church, and when someone like Costello finds his Catholic past more of a liability than Gillard finds her atheist present. 

    My limited experience of irreligious homosexuals, like my broader experience of heterosexual irrelgious people, means that I’m sceptical that Christian teaching creates guilt in people who reject the truth of Christianity.  These days when a Christian leader says, ‘This is wrong, repent!’, the most likely response by most non-Christians is to say, “You’re wrong to say that that is wrong.  Repent of saying repent!”

    That’s not a climate that’s likely to have much link between Christian teaching and non-Christian guilt and pressure.

    Not saying that I’m indifferent to the problem of teen suicide in all its forms, just it’s too important to not be clear and accurate about what factors are in play. 

    So, the wiki page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology_of_suicide links to a report on Norwegian adolsescents (and Norway is a highly secular country so religious causation is unlikely) which suggests that “same-sex sexual behavior, but not homosexual attraction or homosexual identity, was significantly predictive of suicide among Norwegian adolescents.”

    I’m not saying that study (if it can even be trusted) is ‘the answer’ either.  My hunch is the issue of suicide is a bringing together of a large range of factors and may vary depending on gender, race, nationality, economics and more.  It’s one reason why I think we shouldn’t use teen suicide in particular as an element in ‘the culture wars’.

    I’ll try and tackle your other comment tomorrow.

  38. Thanks for your very generous reply Mark.  It did help me get a better grasp of your view.  I still have questions, though.  Here are some:

    I am still not clear about your use of ‘absolute’.  You say that the objectivity of moral precepts entails that they are absolute – “…that’s an objective (and so ‘absolute’) moral principle.”  But there are certainly objectivists who don’t hold with absolutism – G.E. Moore would be one, I think.  At least it would seem that non-absolutism is not logically incompatible with objectivism. Could you explain how you see this entailment working? 

    You also seem to want to hold with absolutism despite not knowing whether any precepts are, in fact, unconditional – “I can’t say in advance that ‘there will never be an instance where x is okay’”.  How does this work?  Doesn’t ‘absolute’ mean ‘unconditional’?  If so, how can you propose the existence of absolutes without knowing whether they are unconditional?

    I’m interested in how you think we know about objective moral precepts.  You seem to suggest that they are intuited – “we experience morality as something outside us” and “… carries with it the sense that it exists independently of us.”  Is it by intuition (alone) that we know about moral precepts? 
    A mainstay of your justification here seems to be that objectivism/absolutism is implied in people’s everyday use of moral terms and common understandings of ethics -  “to say ,’this is wrong’ is to say something absolute” and “I think people need to have a sense that morality really exists to be able to make moral judgements – to do ethics.”  I’m not sure how people speaking as if there is an objective morality (or wishing there was one) lends much support to claims of its substantive existence.  Perhaps you are suggesting that practical judgement would be much easier if we all had access to an objective moral realm. I think you are probably right, but again, wishing it were true does not make it so.  Do you have something more in mind than this in these comments?
    Regards
    Brian

  39. Hi Peter,

    You did not address my criticism. How has lower marriage rates in Sweden and Denmark hurt the next generation?…Show how cohabiting hurts Sweden, where you are not ostracized for not being married like in the US south. You emphasised “We can only speculate..” shows that there is no supporting data just speculations.

    I did address your criticism with regards to Sweden, I’ll pass on Denmark on the interests of not blowing this out further than it has to be. 

    When you compare Sweden and the U.S. you can’t just say, “low marriage Sweden, high marriage U.S., and better results for kids in Sweden, therefore marriage doesn’t affect child outcomes.”  That really is to confuse causation and correlation.  You have to try and factor in the other issues affecting the outcomes and try and find a way to screen for those factors to find the effect of the factor that you are interested in.
     
    I acknowledged the study quite candidly states that Sweden has better outcomes for children.  It argues that this is because Sweden is more egalitarian, more homogeneous, and more communitarian. 

    But the study also indicates that Sweden would do even better if parents stayed together and that, even in Sweden married couples are more likely to stay together than unmarried couples.  To the degree that hasn’t happened, Sweden has been ‘hurt’ even though it is doing better than the U.S.
     
    The ‘We can only speculate’ is typical academic speak for extrapolating into the future on the basis of present day behaviour for which there is no information to ground the hypothesis.  Don’t try and peg your response to that.  The writer is simply saying – ‘We don’t know what the precise data is for current rates of family break-up in Sweden, so we can only hypothesise about the extent of the damage that will be revealed in the future caused by what is happening right now.’ And using an awful lot less words to say it. 

    You said: “Muslims have the lowest average divorce rates. And they are believers in religious absolutes. So religious people make their marriages work.”
    Right. Muslims make religious people look good on average because Christian ruining religious stats. You take credit from people who you think has a wrong world view, nice defense! You are actually confusing correlation and causality. Do you have any evidence that Muslims make their marriage work and they are not forced to say together?

    Yes, you’re very clever.  You originally framed your criticism this way:

    absolute truths about stoning homosexuals and adulterous, forcing religious laws on others, shunning and killing non-believers, excommunications, curses and wars. History has shown and it is daily displayed in the Middle East and around the world where religious absolutes take us.

    You lumped all religious people in together as together proponents of absolute truths.  I knew then that it was a damned if you do, damned if you don’t pair of choices before me.  I could protest and say, “No, only Christian absolute truths” – and have you ridicule that for not accepting the absolute truths of the great god Horus.  Or I could just run with being criticised for things I reject because they too can be classified as ‘religious absolutes’.  And then, of course, you’d want to say, “But you can only claim the positive outcomes for religious absolutes that come from a worldview you agree with.”

    You picked the terms of this debate – and you pointed to the Middle East as the example of your criticism of the problems of religious absolutes.  You lumped me in with Islam and Judaism, and did so quite deliberately because you thought it would make your job easier. You don’t get to criticise my position for their behaviour, and then forbid me from defending the possibility of good outcomes from religious absolutes from their behaviour.  You have to pick one strategy and stick with it.  If Muslims are an example of the problems of religious absolutes, they can also be an example of the virtues of religious absolutes.

    As far as Muslims making their marriages work when they aren’t forced to stay together.  Maybe I’ve missed something, but Muslim men can divorce their wives fairly easily according to the Koran.  I’m not an expert on civil law in most Muslim countries, but my impression is that most allow divorce.  Is there something important here about divorce laws in Muslim countries that you wish to add before I take this any further?

  40. First you claimed “religious people are more likely to get married”
    but when challenged you changed to:
    “you can’t just compare marriages of atheists to marriages of Christians”
    This is exactly what I tend to see from Christian apologists. They tend to believe in absolutes and contradictions.

    Yes, when challenged I changed my original statement as it was clearly a daft way of putting things.  But I didn’t change it to what you said – that was simply a mid-point statement along the way to my conclusion.  I changed it to something more like:

    “Christians are much less likely than atheists to experience the break-up of an intimate relationship that was initiated with the possibility that it might endure.”

    That wasn’t quite the way I put either of the two options I gave last time around, but all three are getting at the same thing.  And while it is a change to my original statement, I think someone would have to be fairly one-eyed to see that as a contradiction.

    Re abortion. Again Muslims make religious people look good on average because Christian ruining the stats. Nice defense! I pointed out the Christianity has created a situation (teen pregnancies) in the US which causes more abortions that secular Europe. Your assertion was one sided.

    Causation and correlation once again.  I think you’ll find that in the U.S. active Christians are less likely to be involved in teen pregnancies than non-active Christians.  You have to screen for the other factors going on – there’s a lot more differences between the U.S. and Europe that will affect something like teen pregnancies than just the religious/secular spectrum.

    Is abortion always absolute wrong like you claimed? Is abortion ok if we know the pregnancy will kill both mother and the child?

    No, I never claimed that abortion is always absolute wrong.  Yes, I think abortion is okay if the pregnancy is a genuine risk to the mother’s life.  I think that’s about the only circumstances in which an abortion is justified, however.  You need to have a very good reason to kill someone.

    Re lying; from your link: “~1% of evangelicals had engaged in lying”. This is the problem about self reporting phone interview studies. How do you know if they are lying about lying? Maybe non-Christians were more honest reporting it. It seems unlikely that only 1% of these Christians “engage in lying”.
    This is the circularity of Christian science:
    - Christians claim they lie very little.
    - Phone interview confirms that Christians say they lie very little.
    - The study becomes a “Christian fact” that Christians lie very little.
    It puzzles me that you think that this is some kind of evidence.

    Welcome to the social sciences.  An awful lot of what goes on is based on verbal reporting.  At least two of the three studies you offered on suicide risk for homosexual teenagers were entirely on the basis of self-reporting by teens. 

    It is true that it is possible that atheists were truthful about their lying, and Christians were lying about their lying.  I’ve seen that happen in other self-reporting contexts (such as men and women reporting about the number of sexual partners they’ve had in their lives – men tend to highball, women lowball). 

    I think that factor can sometimes bring the two figures closer together.  I think it rarely eliminates the gap in the figures, let alone reverses it.

  41. No wonder science and religion have trouble getting married. Google “Churchgoers more likely to steal” to get a real objective study.

    Yes, it’s an interesting study, if it’s the one about the newspapers, thanks for bringing it to my attention. 

    It’s certainly suggestive of your position, but is hardly sufficient to draw much in the way of conclusions from it.  The experimenters drew their conclusions from a sample size of 120 people who took newspapers.  Need I point out that that is too small a size to get really solid data?

    The experiment would need to be repeated in different countries, using much larger sample sizes, and possibly try other things than just honour systems for newspapers. 

    There may be something in particular about Austrian churchgoing culture that doesn’t reduplicate in other contexts, or maybe it holds true more broadly.  At this stage we can’t say.

    Re suicide:
    Your link does not take into account that for example Finno-Ugric countries (Finland, Estonia & Hungary) have always had high suicide rates, but in the last 20 years when Christianity has started to disappear suicide rates have gone down in Finland. Why is that?
    Your link also tells us that highly religious Utah has higher suicide rates. Less religious UK has lower suicide rate than more religious US. If religious people have lower suicide rates, why are non-religious people killing themselves in highly religious areas? As I pointed out your argument was one sided again.

    Both bits of data are interesting, but neither is relevant to the study.  If Finno-Ugric countries have been having lowered rates of depression over the last 20 years, then they’ll have reduced rates of suicide.  Utah could indicate that mormonism has a different impact on suicide risk than Christianity (the study indicated that psychologists have only tracked Christianity in any detail), or it could be non-religious people in Utah, or everyone in Utah could be at risk of suicide (e.g. depressed) for a variety of reasons and still only a small number attempt suicide but the pool at risk is so large the numbers are still very high. 

    These matters are complex, and worth looking into if you’ve got a bent that way, but they don’t affect the findings of pychological studies – when someone is at risk for suicide, some kind of religious adherence correlates to reduced the risk.

    Re revenge: Again you go to self reporting studies. Somehow Christian opinion has become a fact.
    Eye-for-eye type harder punishment system based on revenge and supported more by religious people. Where is the Christian forgiveness and turning the other cheek; secular people are better at that.

    Yes, self-reported studies, because they indicate something – unless you think Christians are all pathological liars. 

    Again, eye-for-eye punishment systems are not based on revenge, but on a concept that the punishment should fit the crime. It’s a justice question, not a revenge question.

    Re charity: I agree that giving through their religious societies is not a scandal that undercuts the former. It is just not pure altruism as your group status is linked to it. For example over 82% of evangelical Protestant charity goes to other evangelical Protestants. You said “Religious people are more generous than secular people with nonreligious causes as well as with religious ones.” It is true, but again it is mostly in-group charity. Blood donation is a type of charity which benefits everyone randomly, even people not in your group. A study has shown that there is no relationship between giving blood and religiousness. And secular Scandinavian countries give most to the international aid. Again your charity comment was misleading.

    Not really, I don’t think anything you’ve said there contradicts what I’ve said.  Religious people are more generous with their time and money.  You’ve pointed out that religion isn’t a factor in blood donations, and that a couple of secular democracies give a higher percentage of gnp to international aid.  Those are interesting, but not really relevant to my point – which is about time and money voluntarily donated by people

    Mark

  42. Mark,

    Thanks for you long comment. As you said we should move on to next topic so here is my last comment.

    Your idea that “the atheist thinks that the only reality is testable objects” is wrong. I think you should meet atheists and talk to them. Not all of them are evil. My “upsetness” or any other feeling does not need “an objective moral field” what ever that is. Maybe I’m upset the Christians made laws that allow them legally discriminate against me looking for a job. Feeling seem to be tied to evolutionary survival.

    I’m sorry that you don’t see the multi level inconsistency you have with Donne’s argument. For example if Donne’s opinion is what ever it is, it does not mean is it right. (My friend said that “‘We really are not always lessened when another human dies’). This obviously means Donne argument is wrong assuming with “we” he means “all” (otherwise it makes no sense). Donne and you feel lessened, other don’t, and remember according to you, you don’t have right to feel lessened. If you want to show actual lessening you need to do better than a poem. The other example is that if I say “We really are lessened when another human is discriminated based on religious beliefs”, does that mean you believe me or is that only my feeling. And if you believe me are you working actively to stop you church discriminative hiring policies.

    So you are worried that if suicide becomes legal more people would commit suicide. Since when did suicidal people worry about any legal aspect of their suicide? BTW suicide is not illegal in Australia so you missed the boat on that one.

    I don’t know if you try to make some kind of strange joke about ‘biggest cause’ and 80% of teen suicides are caused by teens who self-identify as heterosexual. Different kids get bullied, being heterosexual is not being different. If you are not sure if homosexuals get bullied google “youtube Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better””. Christians are the loudest group in the society vilifying gays. Does anyone else do that? I just don’t get it how you don’t see the damage Christians do to these kids. Many kids have Christian parents who will reject, shun or pressure kids. Go talk to gays and ask them where this pressure originates.

    You picked from Wikipedia “Epidemiology_of_suicide” you picked the once sentence that could support your view, but disregarded everything that goes against your view”. I feel sad when you just close your eyes to the facts:
    “In Denmark, the age-adjusted suicide mortality risk for men in registered domestic partnerships was nearly eight times greater than for men with positive histories of heterosexual marriage”

    Re Tyler Clementi: “I haven’t seen anything that suggests that the action was religiously motivated, or that Tyler Clementi was feeling lots of guilt because Christians thought his pattern of life was wrong. “
    Who has created this society where being gay is seen negatively? Christian groups apply social pressure and kids die.

    cont…

  43. Mark,

    Re Sweden and kids: You claim that I confuse causation and correlation, which I never did. The data you offered shows a NEGATIVE correlation, where you claim that there is a POSITIVE correlation. You then say without evidence that other factors reverse your negative correlation into more positive and this speculation magically makes the data to support your case. We can only speculate how the damage this kind of belief brings to mankind.

    You said “Maybe I’ve missed something, but Muslim men can divorce their wives fairly easily according to the Koran.”
    How is with women trying to divorce their Muslim husbands? Do they get to divorce, do they get half of everything, do they get anything, do they get the kids if husband want to keep them? How is the life of a divorced woman in Muslim countries, perhaps living in shame with her parents? So yes, you are missing something.

    RE: “religious people are more likely to get married”
    Now you changed you original statement for the second time. This is called moving the goal post fallacy. I’m sure if I challenge you to find study about “intimate relationships that was initiated with the possibility that it might endure” you’ll change your statement again. You will never admit that your original statement was incorrect even when the studies show you are mistaken.

    You claimed that “in the U.S. active Christians are less likely to be involved in teen pregnancies than non-active Christians”. The facts don’t support you, so you have disregarded them.
    Google “U.S. teen virgin pledges don’t work, study reports”
    Google “Global_incidence_of_teenage_pregnancy” and you notice that in the west the most religious country US has the highest teen birth rates and teen abortion numbers.
    Google “States ranked by rates of live births among women age 15-19” and you notice that most religious states in the US has the highest teen birth rates (remember Mississippi is the most religious state in the US)

    Re lying:
    Nothing wrong with the social sciences. The study correctly tells what the Christians claim that “~1% of evangelicals had engaged in lying”. Unlike social scientist you jump to the conclusion that this indicates the real level of “engaged in lying”. That’s why your argument fails.

    Re charity: Your claim that religious people are more generous with their time and money does not tell that religious giving is linked to getting something back; getting a reward. In truly altruistic giving secular people contribute the same amount. Christians try to paint too rosy picture of themselves. You dismissing of the international aid of secular democracies shows how you ignore the facts that don’t support your presuppositions.

    Re Churchgoers more likely to steal:
    Why your argument loses: You offer phone interview “study” from only one country, but then you complain that a much higher quality blinded study was not good enough and was from only one country. You disregard a better study that goes against you non-sense phone interviews. Repeated I see you disregarding data that does not support your pre-existing view. Please read about cognitive bias

    You still claim that “not lying is a moral absolute”
    Why I always win this argument: You can’t bring yourself to say that you would lie to save a family member. This would expose your case. If you are honest at least tell your friends, family members and kids that you would not lie to save their lives. Inconsistency is a sign of a failed argument. That is why you lost this argument.

    All the best

  44. Hi Brian,
    Nice set of questions, thanks for them, helps me try and be self-aware about my views in articulating a set of answers.

    I am still not clear about your use of ‘absolute’.  You say that the objectivity of moral precepts entails that they are absolute – “…that’s an objective (and so ‘absolute’) moral principle.”  But there are certainly objectivists who don’t hold with absolutism – G.E. Moore would be one, I think.  At least it would seem that non-absolutism is not logically incompatible with objectivism. Could you explain how you see this entailment working?

    This is where I might be using words too loosely because my formal study has been more in specific figures than in ethical theory in general.  Moore is a figure that I know a lot less about than I would like to, but a quick check of his wiki page (and taking it all with a grain of salt) is suggestive of some overlap between his views and mine.

    I’m not a deontologist, but I’m not a consequentialist.  And still less am I of the view that morality is just a human creation, a by-product of evolution, or any of the other dehumanising views that are thrown up today by many (but not all) people with a strong secular outlook. So my use of ‘absolute’ is aimed at rejecting views that say that morality has no objectivity to it, and those views that are based on some kind of consequentialism.  I think when I’m talking to people who aren’t philosophically trained that normally is heard that way.

    For me, ‘good’ has to do with treating things according to their nature and their purpose/end – teleological ethics.  Everything has a nature and a purpose/end – human beings, men, women, employees, work, marriage, government, God etc. (God probably doesn’t have a purpose in that sense – haven’t even thought about that before.  I’ll file it away.) Morality is acting in a concrete setting in a way that fits with the nature and purpose/end of the objects and their relationships that is involved in that concrete context. 

    So it shares things in common with consequentialism (in that context matters) and deontology (in that you aren’t basing the judgement on a calculation of what’s likely to have the best outcome, but trying to perceive a right/wrong that exists independent of outcome).

    So ‘absolute’ is getting more at that underlying principle or approach.  I’d say, love is an absolute, truth is an absolute, treating human beings in a way that reflects their inherent humanity is a moral absolute.  But that’s all very abstact – necessary, but too abstract to give much guidance.

    When we then get to concrete things like murder, lying, stealing and the like that is ‘second order’ – I find it hard to imagine how any of those could be genuinely okay, but I’m open to a very weird situation in which they might be right as a hypothetical (others with my view wouldn’t – that’s my own take on these things).  Far more likely is that under certain circumstances we see that what ‘murder’ or ‘lying’ involves is more complex than we realised and so in certain circumstances something is not a lie that would be in others – and see my response to Peter below for an example of that. 

    Below that would be another set of concrete things that would be even less absolute – ‘don’t have an abortion’, ‘don’t kill another human being’, ‘don’t get divorced’.  These capture something that’s right about 90-99+% of the time, but there are enough exceptions that they should be noted. 

    After that, I’d probably stop talking about morality as such, and introduce the concept of wisdom – guidelines that are likely to produce the good in most circumstances.

    You also seem to want to hold with absolutism despite not knowing whether any precepts are, in fact, unconditional – “I can’t say in advance that ‘there will never be an instance where x is okay’”.  How does this work?  Doesn’t ‘absolute’ mean ‘unconditional’?  If so, how can you propose the existence of absolutes without knowing whether they are unconditional?

    Well, ‘love’ is an absolute.  It’s never okay to not be motivated by love for people.

    But I believe in the constants of the universe as being ‘absolute’ even though I won’t be surprised if it turns out that they can vary in other universes that might exist, or even were different under strange conditions in the far past, or might become different again under strange conditions in the far future. My position here is more to do with recognising that human beings’ knowledge is limited, and trying to keep the a priori’s to a minimum so as to be open to the possibility of more knowledge that reframes some of what we take for granted, rather than trying to undercut a basic conviction that right and wrong can’t be trumped by an appeal to consequences, or collapsed into that.

  45. Is it by intuition (alone) that we know about moral precepts?

    No. I think the existence of morality is probably intuited alone.  I have yet to see anyone convince a New Atheist that there exists a genuine, objective, moral field – a framework of good and evil that isn’t just a human construct.  New Atheists do fit within the category of ‘reasonable person’ (less than they think they do, but still). So if they can’t be shown, by reason, what almost everyone gets irrespective of their intelligence, then the existence of morality is probably intuited.  It’s like the conviction that ‘I’ exist, that other people are ‘I’s like me, that there is a real world that I’m experiencing, and that a colour is a colour.  You either see it or you don’t, it can’t really be proved or disproved. It’s like using language to prove that language can represent reality. It can’t be done, but that’s not because it’s not rational.

    Individual precepts are I think discovered all sorts of ways – by careful rational thinking, through custom and tradition, by intuition, by reflection upon experience and how life works (and that latter one is why I think poetry and stories are often important cultural factors in moral formation.  If the author can avoid preaching, but just try and point to aspects of life and how it works, it can help people better grasp how life should be lived).

    Scripture has a critical part to play in all that. I think it uses all the above methods to form Christians as people who live good lives, but it both brings to bear resources that the normal human life doesn’t have access to (an inside knowledge of what is good and evil that can then declare it authoritatively, and a power to change people’s hearts) and uses no techniques other than exist normally for human ethical formation.

    A mainstay of your justification here seems to be that objectivism/absolutism is implied in people’s everyday use of moral terms and common understandings of ethics -  “to say ,’this is wrong’ is to say something absolute” and “I think people need to have a sense that morality really exists to be able to make moral judgements – to do ethics.”  I’m not sure how people speaking as if there is an objective morality (or wishing there was one) lends much support to claims of its substantive existence….Do you have something more in mind than this in these comments?

    Well, in a conversation – even one where the other party is committed to it being a contest – I’m trying to make it a constructive partnership in bringing the truth to light, even if that’s no more than clearly presenting the different views, why people hold them, and some possible factors involved that might be relevant when weighing them up. Hence I’ll try and see if there’s common ground to move forward on before trying to create principles that I think are foundational from scratch.

    Most people really do think that morality is objective.  Even many people who say that they don’t really do, once you prod in couple of areas they haven’t thought much about. It really is a strange thing for a human being to say, “My sense of moral outrage is just an illusion, there’s no reason for you not to act that way unless I can show you it is in your best interests to act differently. And if you don’t want that then there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing.  It’s just a problem for me.”  Some (notably, again, New Atheists) will swear blind that’s what they think.  And no argument can reach them.

    But most don’t need to be persuaded that morality exists, so why try? Point to the signpost that suggests that most people are as convinced in morality’s existence as they are in their own move on.

    But that’s not the reason why I think morality exists. I think morality exists because God made the universe and he is good, and that goodness defines the nature of the cosmos he made.  Ontology creates the ethical and a good epistemology helps us grasp both the onotology and the ethical. Tony Payne’s article, and it’s methodology, comes in here.

    From that conviction I see that most people, left to themselves, normally function as though morality exists objectively.  Most people need to be taught to lose the idea of objective right and wrong. That’s what I’d expect from my conviction, it’s a signpost of it, but it’s not ‘proof’. 

    So the way people naturally speak and think is a confirmation of something that I believe due to revelation.  Most of the time I don’t need to argue for it. But when I do arguments are pointless anyway – it’s lying trying to convince a solipsist that there is an objective world that he or she is experiencing.

    Hope that was relatively clear. Does that open up any new questions?

    Kind regards,
    Mark

  46. Hi Peter,

    Your idea that “the atheist thinks that the only reality is testable objects” is wrong.

    Let’s try,

    My view is that if you can test (gravity like) it is objective. If you or I can not observe/image something (God Orisis for example) it can not be compared to testable things. Love, beauty, concepts fall in between those.

    My sentence was trying to capture that in a single sentence.  Take out ‘reality’ and put in ‘objectively existing’ and I think I said what you said.

    My “upsetness” or any other feeling does not need “an objective moral field” what ever that is. Maybe I’m upset the Christians made laws that allow them legally discriminate against me looking for a job. Feeling seem to be tied to evolutionary survival.

    Yes, maybe you have an evolutionarily produced feeling. But you think we should change our behaviour because of that evolutionarily produced sense of survival. I think it might be hard to say why anyone should pay attention to it. Maybe their evolutionary survival is better served by ‘making laws that allow them to legally discrimintate against you looking for a job’. I think you’d still think they should change even if they’d be better of not.

    For example if Donne’s opinion is what ever it is, it does not mean is it right. (My friend said that “‘We really are not always lessened when another human dies’). This obviously means Donne argument is wrong assuming with “we” he means “all” (otherwise it makes no sense). Donne and you feel lessened, other don’t, and remember according to you, you don’t have right to feel lessened. If you want to show actual lessening you need to do better than a poem.

    Yes, you could have quoted your friend to disagree with Donne, or even done it on your own authority.  It doesn’t have any objective effect on me when another human being dies – I am only connected to some human beings, not all human beings.

    But you like the secular democracies of Europe.  And their approach to society is all based on an agreement with Donne at precisely this point. Some people agree with Margaret Thatcher that there is no such thing as a society, there’s only individuals.  Other people think that we aren’t just individuals who choose what links we have, but we are all interconnected, part of a greater whole – a society, a race.  And that we rise and fall together.

    People in the Thatcher camp hate those European democracies you like because they practice social welfare – taxing people with money to help people without. It’s a social policy that says ‘we aren’t just individuals we’re a society, and all are harmed if some suffer unnecessarily.’  The same view that Donne was articulating.

    I raised it, not because a poem proves anything, but because you probably agree with Donne to the degree that you’ve put much thought into politics and social ethics, as shown by your attraction to the secular democracies with a similar persepctive as Donne’s. It was common ground between us, and so I could use it to show you that your own moral outlook gave reasons why euthanasia might be wrong.

    Now, sure, since for you this has just been about winning a contest with me, well, congratulations, you won again. But I wasn’t trying to win any contest here, I was trying to show you that your own view about human life and its interconnectedness (because I’d be surprised if you disagree with a welfare state) has reasons why you might not agree with voluntary euthanasia.  It might lead to state determined euthanasia – where the society decides for people, but it leads away from voluntary euthanasia.  On this issue voluntary euthanasia more fits with a Thatcherite rejection of the existence of anything more than the individual and their voluntary ties to other individuals. 

    It wasn’t about ‘beating’ you, it was about getting you to reflect on the implications of your own convictions.

    So you are worried that if suicide becomes legal more people would commit suicide. Since when did suicidal people worry about any legal aspect of their suicide? BTW suicide is not illegal in Australia so you missed the boat on that one.

    Suicidal people worry about all kinds of aspects of their suicide. All sorts of factors can stop someone from committing suicide. Legalising something, however, does usually take some of the social disapproval out of it, and that is likely to be a factor in some cases.

    And while it might not be legal now, why wouldn’t it be soon if we agree that people should have the right to end their lives as it is theirs and ending it won’t hurt anyone else?  What reason would we have not to legalise it once that principle is embodied in our outlook by having voluntary euthanasia?

  47. I don’t know if you try to make some kind of strange joke about ‘biggest cause’ and 80% of teen suicides are caused by teens who self-identify as heterosexual. Different kids get bullied, being heterosexual is not being different. If you are not sure if homosexuals get bullied google “youtube Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better””.

    No, no strange joke.  I said that homosexuals are far (six to seven times according to the studies) more like to suicide than heterosexuals.  I agreed there.  But that’s not ‘biggest cause’ of suicides.  If we could bring that figure down, it would leave untouched 80% of sucides.  I’m not saying the suicide figure for homosexuals isn’t a tragedy, I’m just saying most suicides are not caused by guilt and pressure felt by homosexuals because 80% of suicides are done by heterosexuals.

    Christians are the loudest group in the society vilifying gays. Does anyone else do that? I just don’t get it how you don’t see the damage Christians do to these kids. Many kids have Christian parents who will reject, shun or pressure kids. Go talk to gays and ask them where this pressure originates.

    I think we’re the group with the largest public profile who says that homosexual sex is morally wrong.  But I think if you go out and around society you’ll find a lot of people who are homophobic (which is not the same thing) and who didn’t get that from Christianity. Eliminate Christianity’s moral opposition and I think you’ll still have a lot of homophobia to deal with.

    You picked from Wikipedia “Epidemiology_of_suicide” you picked the once sentence that could support your view, but disregarded everything that goes against your view”. I feel sad when you just close your eyes to the facts:
    “In Denmark, the age-adjusted suicide mortality risk for men in registered domestic partnerships was nearly eight times greater than for men with positive histories of heterosexual marriage”

    I didn’t disregard.  I quoted the one sentence that showed that you were trying to simplify things that are more complex than you were allowing. I didn’t say what you were saying wasn’t a factor (if I had said that your criticism here would be on the money).  I said there’s probably more factors than you’re allowing – and to do that I need to point to things that don’t line up with what you’re saying, not the things that do.
    I agree with you that guilt and pressure is a cause of homosexual suicide.  I disagree with you that that is the major cause in teenage suicides as a whole.

    Re Tyler Clementi: “I haven’t seen anything that suggests that the action was religiously motivated, or that Tyler Clementi was feeling lots of guilt because Christians thought his pattern of life was wrong. “
    Who has created this society where being gay is seen negatively? Christian groups apply social pressure and kids die.

    I think some kind of negative view on homosexuality is fairly ubiquitous in human societies in recorded history.  I don’t think it’s a purely Christian phenomena.
    But I think this is a useful indicator to suggest that the next step is likely to try and blame Christian teaching for homosexuals who suicide and so seek to restrict freedom of religion.

    Re Sweden and kids: You claim that I confuse causation and correlation, which I never did. The data you offered shows a NEGATIVE correlation, where you claim that there is a POSITIVE correlation. You then say without evidence that other factors reverse your negative correlation into more positive and this speculation magically makes the data to support your case. We can only speculate how the damage this kind of belief brings to mankind.

    I think I’ll leave it to the reader to compare our readings of the study with the study itself and draw their conclusions. How you can end up here from the study I pointed to is simply breathtaking. Nothing I said was anything other than what was in the paper itself, simply paraphrased and directed to your particular complaints.

  48. You said “Maybe I’ve missed something, but Muslim men can divorce their wives fairly easily according to the Koran.”
    How is with women trying to divorce their Muslim husbands? Do they get to divorce, do they get half of everything, do they get anything, do they get the kids if husband want to keep them? How is the life of a divorced woman in Muslim countries, perhaps living in shame with her parents? So yes, you are missing something.

    Yes, because I don’t say, “oh and by the way the position of Islam on divorce is terrible” then that somehow enables you to sidestep the point that Muslim men don’t seek divorce all that much even though they can and, as you say, get everything when they do? That their divorce rates are low even though they can divorce?

    Pick a topic and stick to it. Muslim rate of divorce or Muslim treatment of women. Don’t bring one in to avoid the implications of the other for your grand theory.

    RE: “religious people are more likely to get married”
    Now you changed you original statement for the second time. This is called moving the goal post fallacy. I’m sure if I challenge you to find study about “intimate relationships that was initiated with the possibility that it might endure” you’ll change your statement again. You will never admit that your original statement was incorrect even when the studies show you are mistaken.

    No, it’s not.  I accepted that I phrased the original statement wrongly.  And then corrected it to three options all of which have good grounds and which bring out diferent aspects.  There’s no goal change, because I withdrew the original claim in favour of some that were better nuanced.  So you win again: we agree that the original claim was wrong, and you have disregarded the adjusted claims because they aren’t the original claim.  That’s good contest winning, so congratulations once again.

    You claimed that “in the U.S. active Christians are less likely to be involved in teen pregnancies than non-active Christians”. The facts don’t support you, so you have disregarded them.
    Google “U.S. teen virgin pledges don’t work, study reports”
    Google “Global_incidence_of_teenage_pregnancy” and you notice that in the west the most religious country US has the highest teen birth rates and teen abortion numbers.
    Google “States ranked by rates of live births among women age 15-19” and you notice that most religious states in the US has the highest teen birth rates (remember Mississippi is the most religious state in the US)

    None of those prove the point. There are other factors involved.  Not all teen pledgers are Christian, and not all Christians take a pledge. You have to find a way to screen for everything except religion, and so track the issue across race, social class, education, rural/urban, nationality and the like.  I’ve made this point multiple times.  You have to show the effect of religon by comparing religious people to non-religious who have other factors in common with those religious people.  Just pointing to states or countries is how not to prove your point.

    Re lying:
    Nothing wrong with the social sciences. The study correctly tells what the Christians claim that “~1% of evangelicals had engaged in lying”. Unlike social scientist you jump to the conclusion that this indicates the real level of “engaged in lying”. That’s why your argument fails.

    No, I didn’t say that.  But congratulations on beating an argument that wasn’t in play.  I said that a large gulf in self-reporting will rarely turn out to go the other way – the group with the very low-ball figure turning out to do it more than the group with the very high-ball figure.  I think most social scientists would agree with that.  Self-reporting isn’t just reality.  But it isn’t nothing either.

  49. Re charity: Your claim that religious people are more generous with their time and money does not tell that religious giving is linked to getting something back; getting a reward. In truly altruistic giving secular people contribute the same amount. Christians try to paint too rosy picture of themselves. You dismissing of the international aid of secular democracies shows how you ignore the facts that don’t support your presuppositions.

    I can concede everything you say here and my point still stands and counters your claim that religion is associated with only bad causes. Nonreligious people are as likely to donate blood, and some secular democracies give a higher percentage of gnp as international aid. None of that has anything to do with my point that religious people are more generous with their time and money and that that is a good outcome associated with religion.  You picked the grand theory; showing other areas where religion seems to not be assocated with greater generosity does not address my point that there’s an area where that association does exist.

    Re Churchgoers more likely to steal:
    Why your argument loses: You offer phone interview “study” from only one country, but then you complain that a much higher quality blinded study was not good enough and was from only one country. You disregard a better study that goes against you non-sense phone interviews. Repeated I see you disregarding data that does not support your pre-existing view. Please read about cognitive bias

    I hang out in academic institutions and have been in England in three years, so I probably didn’t say it strongly enough for you.  When I say, (not a direct quote), something like, “Is certainly suggestive of your point.” That’s a big concession in your direction – that’s academic speak to say, ‘this needs to be considered’.  The fact it was a double-blind study makes it impressive.  But if you know enough to know about the implications of double-blind studies, then you know that 120 examples is at least one order of magnitude too small to be a trustworthy size.  The study pool is probably less than the margin of error for a proper scaled study, which would need to be along the lines I suggested. Then we’d be getting close to ‘proof’.
    I wasn’t dismisisng it.  I was saying, ‘we need more studies in this area as this study indicates there’s something here to be looked at’.  That’s big for a single study based on 120 examples. And if the findings went the other way you’d likely agree with me (and I’d still say it even if they went my way – there’s other studies out there that support my argument that I don’t quote because they aren’t trustworthy at all).

  50. You still claim that “not lying is a moral absolute”
    Why I always win this argument: You can’t bring yourself to say that you would lie to save a family member. This would expose your case. If you are honest at least tell your friends, family members and kids that you would not lie to save their lives. Inconsistency is a sign of a failed argument. That is why you lost this argument.

    Yes, I definitely lost the argument with you.  Congratulations once again.

    Let me make it quite clear though.  I would not lie to save a family member.  Let me give some concrete things to make this clear:

    1. If someone held a gun to my wife’s head and said, “Say white is black or I shoot her.”  I’d say, ‘white is black’ without a moment’s hesitation.  Because that wouldn’t be a lie.  It’s just a silly game to see if he can get me to jump when he says so.  And I’m happy to jump in that situation. To call that a ‘lie’ would be like saying writing a piece of fiction was a ‘lie’ because nothing in the story happened.

    2. If a man with a gun demanded I told him which way my wife ran past, I’d give him the wrong direction. He doesn’t have the right to the information, so misleading him is not a lie.

    3. If someeone with a gun demanded that I sign a piece of paper to say that a bridge was safe when it wasn’t, or to falsely testify against someone up on serious charges in court then I wouldn’t.  If Australia introduced captial punishment and my loved one murdered someone and asked me to give them an alibi or else they’d be executed, I wouldn’t.  Those would all be lies – which I’d define as something like ‘an attempt to deceive someone who depends on that information to make an important decision’.  And it would be death rather than not speak the truth under such circumstances.

    My family knows where I stand on this.  My wife would thump me around the head if I saved her life by telling a lie under scenario 3 or even if I saved my son’s life under scenario 3 (I know, I checked with her).  If our positions were reversed I know not to expect her to tell a genuine lie to save my life.

    That’s not unique to Christianity, although it is distinctive to us, as shown by the long tradition of martyrs who will seal their testimony to the truth of Jesus Christ with their and their loved one’s blood.  It’s a stance that is made easier by the hope of the resurrection from the dead and a knowledge of a final judgement day.

    But it’s not unique, even the pagans thought this was virtuous.  Plato’s presentation of the trial and death of Socrates leads us to expect that Socrates would not have changed his defense even if his loved ones would have died too.  He would have told the truth, not what the Athenians wanted to hear. His whole life was given to the pursuit of truth, irrespective of consequence for him and those he cared about.  The freethinking tradition is the same.  Fundamental to our democracy is that people will tell the truth even when they and those they care about are disadvantagd by that.  Truth trumps life.

    It’s a Christian distinctive, but it’s a gift of God’s grace to humanity generally that people realise that the truth matters more than lives, and that freedom in society is only possible when people are prepared to tell the truth even when there’s a cost.  Freedom of speech is grounded on this convicition.  Lying to save a loved one is understandable, but it’s not virtuous.  For a genuine lie means that someone else had to bear the cost of your deceit – because they acted on the basis that it was true.

    All the best

    Thank you, and may the grace of the Lord Jesus go with you.

    Mark

  51. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for another thoughtful response.  I do hope that you are finding this useful, and not just indulging me out of politeness.

    I have a few further observations to make on the basis of your clarification.  My purpose is to try and understand where your view differs from other widely held theories of morality.  Here I am suggesting that neither the absolutism nor objectivism of your view distinguishes it from prominent ‘secular’ theories such as Utilitarianism.

    Given that you see ‘absolute’ as attaching to the ‘underlying principle or approach’, your view is not in this respect different from most other prominent moral theories.  A Utilitarian would claim that ‘maximise utility’ is in the same way ‘absolute’, just as a Kantian would take ‘treat humanity as an end in itself’ or a Contractualist ‘An act is wrong such that that no one could reasonably reject …’  to be unconditional.  In any case, I’m not sure that the notion ever does much real work in normative theories and is perhaps more trouble than it’s worth.  It probably has some rhetorical impact, but doesn’t stand too much scrutiny.  Do you have other reasons to hold that your principles are differently ‘absolute’?

    I have a related concern about your (and Tony Payne’s) characterisation of the role that objectivism plays in your approach.  You propose a universalist (objectivist) approach – that there are moral judgements that are true for all people and all time – as a counter to relativism.  But you also seem to want to counter claims of a human origin for morality with this same appeal to the virtues of universalism.  The implication being that theories where moral properties are attached to human properties cannot be universalist.  But this isn’t the case.  Utilitarianism and Virtue Theory, for instance, are universalist theories which locate the moral making feature/s in human properties.  Universalism does not, in itself, distinguish your approach from Utilitarianism and the like.  You will need (or may have) independent reason to reject these views.  I would be interested in what you think these are.

    Cheers
    Brian

  52. A Utilitarian would claim that ‘maximise utility’ is in the same way ‘absolute’, just as a Kantian would take ‘treat humanity as an end in itself’ or a Contractualist ‘An act is wrong such that that no one could reasonably reject …’  to be unconditional.

    What happens when the moral view of a Kantian conflicts with the moral view of a Utilitarian?  [or the moral view of [insert-your-favourite-philosophical-ethical-system here]]? Which is then “Absolute”?

    A Christian on the other hand can say:
    It doesn’t matter what my moral view is, nor what anybody else’s moral view is, it is only the view of Jesus Christ that matters, because he alone is the only one worthy to decide the moral worth of every/any act done on Earth.

    He alone was willing to take on himself the punishment owing to those “wrong” actions, because he loved the perpetrators of those wrong actions.

    If ever a day shall come where I am to be punished for my sins – even if I am to be sent to hell – If I must be judged by someone, I would want Jesus to be the one to do it.  Because I trust his judgement – a judgement that seeks to save rather than condemn, and who is willing to take on himself the penalty owing for the sins of the world he created.

  53. Hi David
    Thanks for your response.

    You asked: “What happens when the moral view…? I would suppose probably the same things that could happen when the moral views of a Christian conflict with those of another’s system – be that another religious system or a secular one.  I guess we are all in the same boat here.  We all believe our moral systems are superior to everyone else’s.  Perhaps the task is to try and find a way of living well together despite this disagreement.

    You then ask “Which is then “Absolute”?”  My point to Mark was that I think that many of these views are equivalently absolute.

    You then say that it doesn’t matter what anyone’s moral view is because it is only the view of Jesus Christ that matters.  But that in itself is a moral view.  I presume you believe that you ought to follow Jesus’ commands and example.  Well this ‘ought’ is a moral claim just like any other.  You may believe this is the best one, but it is nonetheless a moral judgement.

    Cheers
    Brian

  54. Yes, but the Kantian, Utilitarian and other secular systems are self-consciously “man-made”. They have no authority beyond that of the holder of the system [that is the person making the moral assessment through that system - and they know that they have no authority beyond the holder(s) of that system - that is - they can only come to have [any] authority by mutual agreement. If that mutual agreement is not forthcoming, then there is no way to resolve the conflict except to resort to the exercise of power. [Who has the most power to impose their view].

    Your assessment of the Christian moral system pre-supposes that the Christian system is man-made [with no baseline that exists outside of human culture]. But when Christians do moral thinking, they just don’t think that way. They base their moral assessments on an understanding that there is a real God who exists and whose character is the definition of morality.

    They [Christians] explain the fact that even secularists have an innate sense of rightness and wrongness by the fact that – if the Christian God as revealed in the Bible really is there, then the secularists are formed in the image of God [even if they don’t believe in him] and therefore share [albeit in a garbled way] an innate understanding of the character of God.

    In Christian thinking, Love is a good thing because that is what God is like. We intuitively feel that love is good [unless we’ve been corrupted by influences of a corrupted society] because we share the character of God [again - not perfectly - but enough to be able to intuit a great many things]. That is the explanation [roughly speaking] why even non-Christians can know about what is good. To the [philosophical and highly theoretical] question “What if God said that Hate was good?” – In that instance, one would expect for human being generally to intuit that hating was a good thing. But we don’t. Because the God who is actually there is not actually like that. Therefore arguments about a God who could declare that hate is good is pointless – no such God exists.

    When a Christian comes up against someone whose moral system is in fundamental disagreement, the natural tendency for the Christian – is to then begin looking at whose God is more likely to be the God that is really there – because in Christian thinking, the baseline for morality is the nature of the God who exists. If the disagreeing person is of an alternative religion, the conversation then becomes about which God is the imposter of the God who is there. Once it is established whose God is the real God, then it becomes [merely] a question of examining what that God has to say on the matter at hand. If the person doing the moral enquiry is genuinely trying to find out what God wants [rather than merely trying to justify their own behaviour or philosophical/moral position], then in the overwhealming majority of cases, an acceptable moral decision can be identified.

    When a Christian comes in [moral] conflict with someone whose moral system is not based on an alternative religion, but rather on a secular [self-consciously] man made system which does not even claim to have authority beyond perhaps that of mutual [or majority] agreement, the issue becomes all the more perplexing – largely because experience [both my own and I think that of many others] seems to demonstrate that secularists don’t seem to ‘get’ the presuppositions that underly their own moral thinking. A Christian’s gut reaction is to ask “What are you talking about – you don’t even TRY to appeal to authority beyond either mutual agreement or exercise of power” – neither of which are legitimate to the Christian.

    When secularists examine Christian moral thinking, they presuppose it to be “just another human-made system with no more authority than their own”, whereas all Christian moral thinking presupposes that there is a real God who is the ultimate adjudicator. For Christians, morality is [ultimately] about determining what God is like in his nature, and how we can most closely emulate his character in the particular circumstances at hand, _given_ who God says we are, and who God says all the actors affected by the moral decision at hand – are.

    [to be continued]

  55. [continued from previous post]

    When Christians come across someone we disagree with – whether because they are of an alternative religion, or no religion, we can see that they are nonetheless people created in God’s image, and as such are worthy of respect, grace and dignity – even if they themselves do not understand or recognise that this is who they are. So the conversation proceeds on that basis.

    This is not to say of course, that Christians do this perfectly – because another Christian self-understanding – is that Christians [like everyone else on Earth] are “fallen” and therefore prone to all the irritations, anger, pride and related foibles that afflict the human species. So sometimes [like everyone else on earth] we get angry, or irritated, or frustrated, and this can lead to unwise, unloving [un-Christ-like] reactions when in conflict. But this behaviour is completely explainable within the Christian world-view – and comes [in the Christian world-view] with a remedy [repentance, forgiveness and a lifestyle of permanent striving for better behaviour].

  56. Thank you for your response David.

    Kant was, of course, a Christian and his moral scheme anything but man-made, self-consciously or otherwise.  Aquinas was an Aristotelian Virtue Theorist and William Paley, for one, was a Christian Utilitarian.  Great Christian thinkers have always embraced philosophical ethics as a means of elaborating Christian principles.  Mark shows an understanding of this in his recent comments here.  They they might be instructive to read.

    Cheers
    Brian

  57. You correctly identify I am severely ignorant of Western Philosophers.  If this is a debating competition, you win very convincingly – this mistake [based on my ignorance] see’s to that.  Well done.  I am an amateur at philosophy.  I need to go back and read more.

    My main point had been however to try [albeit as an amateur] to point out that any purely secular philosophy that self-consciously assumes that morality is [only] a man-made construct is [necessarily] flawed insofar as it cannot come to an *objective* truth about what is moral, because *moral* doesn’t really mean anything in those circumstances.  For example, when one [non-human] animal kills another in nature, morality is not involved.  It’s just the way it is.  In the same sense, what happens amongst human beings in the absence of a God, just is. 

    To be ultimately _objectively_ meaningful, [moral] philosophy needs to be about thinking through how to determine what God requires of us in terms of our behaviour.  If there is no God, then it comes down to mutual agreement or the exercise of power, but NOT anything that could be called objective.  My understanding of what “Objective” means [especially in the realm of moral thinking] is: something that is true whether someone/anyone agree’s with it or not.  By that definition, mere agreement amongst human beings, or the exercise of power does not qualify as being objective.

    If as you say [and I have no reason to disbelieve you] Kant and Paley were Christians, then I assume they were using their philosphical reasoning to try to understand the moral requirements of God.

    Again, my [very limited] knowledge of the enlightenment and late medieval and [the initial] enlightenment thinking is that there arose an idea that we could find out what God requires through the natural realm and through reason.  If there is no God however, then the entire enterprise is flawed, because there is no objective morality to discover – only mutual agreement [majority opinion] or the exercise of power.

    However, again, I conceed that you understand philosophy, and the history of philosophy much better than I.  Thanks for your gracious comments, putting up with an amateur such as myself.  8-)

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