Sunday, July 17, 2011

I'm not a moral philosopher, but I can't resist a word concerning the first anonymous comments in the last post. (Thanks for your indulgence. The next post will return to our regularly scheduled un-PC data analysis.)

The model of God as a non-transcendent boss man who capriciously makes up moral rules is clearly incorrect. God is a transcendent being, outside space and time. He does not create morality. It is a necessary part of His essence, His nature. Objective goodness/morality that humans--even atheists--intuit (imperfectly) is in the nature of God.

Physical laws offer a nice analogy. The laws that compel matter and energy to behave in certain ways are in the nature of the universe. Similarly, the moral laws that obligate human behavior are in the nature of God.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

The model of God as a non-transcendent boss man who capriciously makes up moral rules is clearly incorrect. God is a transcendent being, outside space and time. He does not create morality. It is a necessary part of His essence, His nature. Objective goodness/morality that humans--even atheists--intuit (imperfectly) is in the nature of God.

Proclaiming God's transcendence and seperateness from the universe doesn't magically resolve the issue. This is just theological blather. I fail to see how God's "essence" resolves the is-ought problem. At the end of the day, all you can say is that God has his own subjective moral preferences and it is your subjective moral preference to follow his subjective moral preference.

B.B.

Jason said...

Isn't it a happy coincidence that the fundamental nature of the universe just happens to produce rules to maximize success of small primate groups?

Fernandinande said...

Proclaiming God's transcendence and seperateness from the universe doesn't magically resolve the issue.

It's part of the process of people fooling themselves into pretending that life has objective meaning, value, and morality.

lifeisafuckingpileofshit said...

Yeah, pretty sure I'm gonna unsubscribe to this blog. Show me data, isn't that the point of this thing?

Anonymous said...

Proclaiming God's transcendence and seperateness from the universe doesn't magically resolve the issue. This is just theological blather. I fail to see how God's "essence" resolves the is-ought problem. At the end of the day, all you can say is that God has his own subjective moral preferences and it is your subjective moral preference to follow his subjective moral preference.

An atheistic and theistic worldview are incommensurable. The is-ought problem is really only a problem for a skeptic because he/she presupposes (due to their empirical epistemology) that ontology and morality are unrelated things.

The theistic worldview does not have this dichotomy (at least not the judeo-christian kind). They are usually total systems (i.e. it encompasses cosmology, epistemology, morality, ontology, etc ...). Therefore, it is very possible for ontology to entail morality.

Of course, the concept of "God" is usually taken for granted, but once you assume it everything pretty much falls into place.

Bill said...

The model of God as a non-transcendent boss man who capriciously makes up moral rules is clearly incorrect.

Right, Anonymous is apparently projecting on all Christians a demented parody of theological voluntarism. Since Aquinas, Catholic theology has been largely non-voluntarist. As part of their rebellion, many Protestants went back to voluntarism, though they seem to be drifting away from it now.

Anonymous said ...
At the end of the day, all you can say is that God has his own subjective moral preferences

What does this statement mean? What is this "God" you speak of? If you mean the Christian God, then He does not have "moral preferences" (whatever those are). If you don't mean the Christian God, then what you are saying has no relevance.

$5 says Anonymous believes (or believed before reading this) that Medieval theologians had debates about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

Bill said...

To the posse of skeptics in the last couple of posts, here is a post on Ed Feser's blog which explains the problem with your discourse aptly.

Anonymous said...

What does this statement mean? What is this "God" you speak of? If you mean the Christian God, then He does not have "moral preferences" (whatever those are).

Wasn't Jesus speaking on God's behalf when he sermonized on morality?

B.B.

TGGP said...

When I was a believer, I thought God made up laws for his own inscrutable reasons. If there was some law above God, he couldn't have been all that omnipotent. He also seems to behave that way in the bible.

Bill said...

Wasn't Jesus speaking on God's behalf when he sermonized on morality?

B.B.


Relevance? And, no, Jesus was not speaking on God's behalf.

Bill said...

When I was a believer, I thought God made up laws for his own inscrutable reasons. If there was some law above God, he couldn't have been all that omnipotent. He also seems to behave that way in the bible.

Yes, that is a super-short summary of a strong theological voluntarism. You can read a somewhat less short summary in the Stanford Enclyclopedia of Philosophy.

This is far from the only approach to the matter, however. Voluntarists tend to have this hypertrophied idea of omnipotence. Some of them even demand that God be able to do logically impossible things like making square circles.

There are a bunch of paradoxes in the divine attributes. God is omnipotent, so can He make a rock He can't lift? God is good (and hence honest) so He can't lie, but He is omnipotent, so He must be able to lie. Omnipotent vs all-good. Just vs merciful. Omnipotent vs just. Etc. Voluntarism, just as you say, can be thought an effort to get rid of an omnipotent vs all-good paradox.

St Anselm, for example, goes on at length about these sorts of paradoxes and how to resolve them. Read him if you are interested.

Or, just read Ed Feser's book _The Last Superstition_ which is a comprehensive reply to the new atheists. The new atheists are largely ignorant jerks, and their arguments are really bad. On the other hand, their audience is so badly educated in the Western tradition generally and critical thinking particularly that you can't really blame them for being taken in, though you can blame them for being pricks.

mengbomin said...

Since I commented on the last entry without reading this one, I thought I'd make a comment here too. Like some of the previous commenters, I think that the argument from transcendence is a non sequitur for a wide array of topics relating to God, but since this is about morality, I'll stick to that.

Morality is a group coordination strategy. It requires humans (or at least multiple mutually independent agents) to be relevant. It doesn't matter if murder is wrong if there is no one to murder. An admonition against cheating is worthless if there is no one to cheat.

You likened moral rules to physical laws. While it is true that physical laws are contingent upon a physical universe, moral rules don't have the same universal attributes. They depend upon the societies from whence they come. You noted that all humans have similar intuitions regarding morality. This is true and I think that comes from our common ancestry and genetic heritage along with the fact that morality doesn't work well if each individual has separate rules.

God as a transcendent entity doesn't change this, because God's hypothetical transcendence merely sets him as independent of the universe. It does not change the fact that morality is contingent on human existence.

Furthermore, if God were indeed the source of morality, we would expect to find a fair amount more uniformity in the moral codes of the different peoples of the world. There would be no campaigns to end female circumcision, Muslims would not look at the bare legs and uncovered hair of Western women with disdain, and disputes over the proper restrictions on marriage would not exist. Physics behaves uniformly everywhere we can see, human morality does not.

What seems far more likely to me is that morality developed organically in an intelligent social species with complex societies. It's an adaptation. The broad similarity found (even, as you note, in atheists) is grounded in instincts and traditions based on the adaptive behaviors of the past. The result is messy but pragmatic.

In the case of monotheistic religion, God is a conceptual tool that provides authority for the code of the society practicing the religion. Even if a society believes their God and the moral code that He commands is written into the fabric of the universe, they have to contend with the fact that the majority of humanity disagrees with elements of their code, suggesting that 1) the given society has fallen short 2) other societies have fallen short or 3)all of humanity has fallen short of the true moral code.

The problem with falling short is that this behavior is not reflected in the laws of physics or mathematics, so that analogy cannot work.