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Ch. 2 - "God and Morality" 
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Post Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"

Please discuss Ch. 2 within this thread.



Mon Dec 19, 2005 9:30 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
Major points

1. W's argument for the logical priority of morality over God depends on a theistic view that places God within the scheme of the universe rather than outside it. This may be consistent with some theisms -- classical Greek paganism, for instance, or some forms of Buddhism -- but it is inconsistent with the pure monotheism of Rabinnic Judaism and most forms of Christianity. For example, W writes, "What is crazy about the story is precisely the idea that a being could be powerful enough to make it the case that, for instance, the slaughter of innocents is fantastically good. There simply is no amount of power that would enable a being to make that true." If morality is ontologically prior to God, that argument makes good sense. But where it is held that God is the source of all morality -- that God creates good -- the argument fails.

Until now, W has considered the problem of secular ethics as against systems that posit God as the source of ethics. But in this chapter he seems to have switched, with no overt recognition of that change in emphasis, to considering theistic schemes that make God a contingent being subject to the causal relationships of the universe. There have been, as W points out, theologians that have argued as though morality were ontologically prior to God, but that is not a necessary facet of theism or even of Christian theism. Thus, W's refutation of the "control thesis" depends upon a relationship between power and morality that he has yet to demonstrate. He merely assumes a priori that morality -- specifically morality as we, contingent beings that we are, recognize it -- precedes power.

2. Following from the previous point:

If "these necessary ethical truths... are part of the furniture of the universe" (p. 52) -- that is, implicit as a part of the natural world;

and

God is subject to ethical truths;

then

it follows that God is part of the natural world.

But W originally set out to argue against claims premised on a super-natural deity. He seems to have confused the terms of his own argument. So long as he maintains that God must be subject to ethical truths, he is no longer arguing naturalism in preference to super-natural theism, but one brand of naturalism in preference to another, with the latter assuming the existence of naturally occurring gods.

W gives stronger expression to what he calls the correct "order of priority between a personal God and ethical truth" at the end of the chapter (p. 67), but that should not be mistaken for an argument. So far as I can tell, W provides no logical justification for that assertion.

3. W's assertion that "We often find ourselves faced with certain obligations because of how we are related to others" (p. 53) is insufficiently critical of the concept of obligation (see major point 1. in my post on Chapter One). W accepts the idea of obligation without considering the categories of relation and how they are predicated. Marriage, for example, is an artifically constructed category with explicit roots in religious observance. Even if we ignore the historical foundation of marriage in religion, we have no particular naturalistic reason to unquestioningly accept it as a moral category. Does pair bonding obligate other primates to behave in conformity with intrinsic morality? Even the parental relationship is culturally, rather than biologically, constructed.

W's assertion that "some of these relationship seem to be essential to the human condition" depends entirely on what is implied by the phrase "human condition". These are issues that ought to be familiar to anyone who participated in last quarter's reading of "The Ethical Brain". What constitutes "human" isn't always as hard and fast a rule as we'd like in our moral considerations. Beyond which, cultural anthropology has demonstrated the mutability of these "essential" relationships in different circumstances. How can we be certain of our obligations to members of our own family when those obligations differ in cultures not that far removed from our own? If the spousal and parental relationships are "essential to the human condition," then are we to except from the category of human the Netselik Eskimo, who tolerate infanticide, or certain Arab cultures, whose spousal subjugation is a tradition that long precedes the advent of Islam? A question of major importance is, to whom does it seem that these relationships are essential, and what gives them the authority to decide for humanity, when there's not clear criteria for determining what is an aberration and what fits within the range of normative relationships?

And in fact, W has offered no argument for obligation. He merely assumes the validity of obligation and our ability to discern such obligations.

Minor points
Passim: From where does W derive the Control and Dependency Theses? He employs them as though they are clearly operative in Hicks and Plantinga, but they seem to be his own formulations. If the latter is the case, they may not be entirely operative to either theologian, much less to theistic morality in general.

Page 44: Mackie's Criticism of the Free Will Defense, "1. It is possible that there are beings who are free to choose between right and wrong and always freely do the right thing." Maybe so; but if the fact of their always choosing the right thing is due to the nature of their creation, how is their choice free? The idea that we could have been created both free and morally perfect tends towards self-contradiction, especially if morality is defined simply as God's will. The error becomes clear when you rephrase criticism thus: "1. It is possible that God could have created beings who are free to choose between God's will and their own will and always choose freely to do God's will."

p 45: "... the free will defense relies on the tacit assumption that there are certain ethical truths that are not under God's control." No, it admits that as a possibility, but does not necessarily assume it. "Logical consistency" may also be contingent on God's sanction.

p. 47: W ignores a very important aspect of the Christian moral scheme: the limited place of "this world" in the eternal, infinite moral scheme. In doing so, he seems to be applying the standards of naturalism to the Christian framework, which is not a consistent way of evaluating that framework. Thus, in the schema "there is some thing G, such that (a) G is a great good and (b) it may be (or is) the case that God cannot introduce G into the world without also permitting some evil in the world," the evil is operative only in the limited scheme of Creation, while G is eternally and infinitely operative. The control thesis can be maintained as operative in Creation without implying its absolute validity. Because of that distinction, the apparant intrinsic contradiction is limited to the locality of the finite and impermanent.

p. 50: Pain, it seems, is not an intrinsic evil, as W claims. Pain is a good in as much as it allows us to avoid greater evil. Eg. pain alerts us to a wound, which may allow us to avoid further wounds or to treat that wound. We learn from pain. Pain can even lead to pleasure -- the ache of exertion, for instance.

p. 50: W quotes Kai Nielson: "More generally, even if we can make nothing of the concept of God, we can redily come to appreciate... that, if anything is evil, inflicting or tolerating unnecessary and pointless suffering is evil...." The catch is the phrase "unnecessary and pointless" -- if suffering can be judged in reference to its necessity or "point," then it must be conditional, not intrinsic.

p. 51: "It is the essential character of 2 and 5, and of the relations of addition and identity, that make it the case that necessarily 2+2 is not equal to 5." Is W a Platonist? He seems to want it both ways, such that he can assert naturalism in opposition to a supernatural God, but such that he can also make reference to a non-material reality that is, because intrinsic, more real than a God with the same non-material qualities. Why one and not the other? Wouldn't a strict naturalism posit mathematic relationships as descriptions of material reality that have no intrinsic significance of their own?

p. 60: Unlike the God as Source of Ethics Argument, the God as Commander theses (and where are these arguments coming from? see the passim minor point above) do not necessarily imply that divine morality will be, or even ought to be, consistent with the causal and material limitations placed on finite creatures. Such a Commander God may well be inclined to impose obligations that we are, by our nature, unable to meet, as with Descartes' malicious imp supposition. Option (1) offered by W is by no means the only option consistent with te Commander Argument, nor need such a God meet the criteria supplied by Adams and W -- eg. issuance of a command with divine credentials -- for the simple reason that such a God need not be just.

p. 63: It is not assured, as W implies, that moral obligations are binding only when recognized. His assertion is maintained solely by analogy to a given social situation, the validity of which may be denied with equal plausibility. By way of counter-example, the obligations imposed by physical law are binding regardless of whether or not they are recognized. Gravity works whether or not you're aware of gravity as a physical property of the natural world. If morality is a feature of the natural world, as W implies, then the physical analogy seems more apt than the social analogy.

p. 63-64: "We can conclude, therefore, that the presence of naturalists in the world... teaches us that there are some moral obligations that are not derived from divine commands." This is a bit of a non sequitur argument, reminiscent of the misuses of the anthropic principle that we've discussed in another forum. That some naturalists assume that there are moral obligations does not prove that their assumption is true anymore than the presence of some theists proves the existence of God. It's curious that W present this "proof" with such aplomb, given its obvious similarity to the theoretical proofs for the existence of God, which even most serious theologians are apt to dismiss.



Tue Dec 27, 2005 4:12 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
i have just started reading the chapter, so i have not formulated thoughts for discussion yet. but i did want to bring to the discussion a quote from page 42 that is completely asinine:

Quote:
There is just one problem with all this: The story in question in crazy. What is crazy about the story is precisely the idea that a being could be powerful enough to make it the case that, for instance, the slaughter of innocents is fantastically good. There simply is no amount of power that would enable a being to make that true.

i disagree on the highest level. this happens all the time. there are parts of the world where this is currently happening. the most obvious example in modern history is of course the nazis and hitler. any genocide is started from the premise that slaughtering innocents is fantastically good. i will exclude war from genocide as war is mass slaughter but is not viewed as fantastically good but rather as a necissary evil based on moral and value arguements. i asked this question in chapter one discussion and i ask it again now: how else can people kill innocent civilians on a mass level such as a genocide without a leader and a moral over tone that it is a good and proper thing to do?

Quote:
This story seems to get things backward by making morality subject to power.

this topic was also hit upon in chapter one discussion. wielenberg seems to be making the arguement, or at least laying the foundation for an arguement, that this is and/or can be inherent values and virtues and morality that are independant of people, place, and time in a world without a god or diety to dictate them. i believe this is fundamentally wrong and not a valid arguement. i was hoping that wielengerg would argue in this book that man can create value and virtue and bring meaning to their lives without a god to dictate them. instead, i think the author is contradicting is own arguements and evidence that he is putting forth in the book (unless i am reading some passages wrong). he seems to want to have his cake and eat it too.

more thoughts to follow on the conclusion of the chapter. after reading that page, i simply could not continue reading without comment.




Fri Dec 30, 2005 9:09 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
this is a hard chapter to make it through. almost there, but i came across this gem i wanted to comment on right away:

Quote:
...a metaphysics that leads to the conclusion that falling in love is not intrinsically good, or that pain is not intrinsically evil, should be rejected.

::11

in previous discussion, we have already mentioned the problems with such examples. pain CAN be a good thing. i know this first hand as i am currently in physical therapy to rehab my broken elbow. the therapist causes me great pain on occasion by streching out my arm at the point that it most resist flexation or extension. that is hardly evil! if that is not done, i will never regain full or near full range of motion. the author has yet to make a case that falling in love is intrinsically good. in a matter of fact, the author has yet to make a case for intrinsic value! how can the author discard a theory (one i also disagree with for other reasons) without supporting his reasoning!?!? the author would have done much better by keeping the book on topic in suggesting how value and virtue can exist in a godless world instead of trying to refute theories that prove god's existance or values instilled by a god's existance. this books is nothing like i thought it would be so far.::75




Sat Dec 31, 2005 8:07 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
I couldn't follow the discussion of Bill and Ted's Excellent Theology.

I'll try again after a good night's sleep.




Tue Jan 03, 2006 2:52 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
This chapter has some interesting concepts, but E.W.'s arguments weren't convincing.

He views God as an executive taking action or a legislature making rules. Instead, a believer could view God as a judge who determines ethical guidelines. Just as it makes sense for a child to follow the advice of his parents, it makes sense for a person to follow the ethical principles set forth by a wise and omniscient God.

Much of E.W.'s argument boils down to the fact the he recognizes self-evident ethical truths independent of religion. For example, while following my ethical principles during my adult life, I have avoided violence, donated to charities, engaged in pre-martial sex, and refused to pray. A theist could claim that my ethical principles aren't valid, since some of my actions violate God's law. That claim seems logically consistent, though I obviously disagree with it.

On a lighter note, I was amused by footnote 18, though you should first read the context on page 45 first. On page 55, E.W. quotes someone named Adams as saying that "God is our creator", or in other words, that God created Adam.

Riverc0il, E.W.'s goal, at least thus far in the book, is to rebut claims that ethics is not possible without religion. He isn't trying to explain "how value and virtue can exist in a godless world".

MadArchitect, E.W. brings up obligations to refute what he calls Karamazov's Thesis:
Quote:
This is the thesis that if God does not exist, then all human actions are morally permissible and human beings have no moral obligations at all.
If there are no obligations, Karamazov's Thesis is clearly false and no further refutation is necessary.

Edited by: JulianTheApostate at: 1/5/06 1:14 am



Wed Jan 04, 2006 1:59 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
Quote:
Riverc0il, E.W.'s goal, at least thus far in the book, is to rebut claims that ethics is not possible without religion. He isn't trying to explain "how value and virtue can exist in a godless world".

i don't think E.W. makes this case any where in the book at all, let alone in this chapter. the author certainly makes suggestions that values can exist without god but doesn't do it well or convincinglyl, that coming from an athiest just evaluting the text with an open mind.




Wed Jan 04, 2006 7:22 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
JulianTheApostate: Much of E.W.'s argument boils down to the fact the he recognizes self-evident ethical truths independent of religion. For example, while following my ethical principles during my adult life, I have avoided violence, donated to charities, engaged in pre-martial sex, and refused to pray.

Would you describe your ethical principles as "self-evident" or "instrinsic", or are they guided by some external aim on your part?

I think that Wielenberg could have very easily expounded the possibility of each person determining a person ethic -- that is, a system of conduct that is consistent within their own context. The problem with that is, that it doesn't provide for an social ethics, an ethics that we can all submit to in, or better, that we should all submit to. The reason for that is simply that an ethic in its simplest sense is merely a rationally derived rule of conduct in service of a particular goal. A diet, in that sense, is a kind of ethic: there's a clear goal, and we follow a specific and consistent conduct in order to achieve that goal.

The goal is the part played by good and evil in a moral system, and while I think Wielenberg has tacitly recognized that role, he might have done better to assert a different goal. The allure of good as a goal for a social morality is that it's possible to conceive of good as intrinsic. If you assert a goal like productivity, as a counter-example, any given person in the society might decide that they would rather serve another goal, like pleasure, rather than productivity, and you'd be hard-pressed to say why they should conform rather than serve their own ethic.

E.W.'s goal, at least thus far in the book, is to rebut claims that ethics is not possible without religion. He isn't trying to explain "how value and virtue can exist in a godless world".

Maybe so, but it's difficult to see how anyone could demonstrate the possibility of the first without first demonstrating the probability of the second.

If there are no obligations, Karamazov's Thesis is clearly false no further refutation is necessary.

No, I think Karamazov's thesis remains logically consistent if you assert that there are no obligations. The thesis states that, if there is no God, there are no obligations. If it said, there are obligations if, and only if, there is a God, then we might be able to conlude that, assuming there are no obligations, there is no God. That's not the form of the thesis, though, so even if we assume that there are no obligations, there may still be a God. If it said that, there are obligations, thus there is a god, then the absence of obligations would also indicate the absence of God, but it doesn't say that.

And either way, Wielenberg argues for the existence of moral obligations. Well, he doesn't exactly argue for them, but he states that they exist.




Wed Jan 04, 2006 2:51 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
Quote:
The thesis states that, if there is no God, there are no obligations.

that sounds different than the way it was worded in the book. i don't have my copy in front of me though, else i'd look it up. regardless, the author does a good job of falsifying the thesis as worded above. we have an obligation to our fellow man when we make a promise or agreement or contract. society itself is proof that obligations exist else the entire country would crash down upon itself in disorder and chaos. granted there are individuals and groups that do not subscribe to obligations, but they are rejected by those that do making life difficult. if taken in an intrinsic sense that thesis is completely true, there is no absolute judge so you can go nuts and do what you want. but there is an unwritten and unspoken social contract for everyone that associates with others that does obligate ourselves to certain things.




Wed Jan 04, 2006 8:51 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
Quotes are from MadArchitect.
Quote:
Would you describe your ethical principles as "self-evident" or "instrinsic", or are they guided by some external aim on your part?
My strongest ethical principles are self-evident and intrinsic. At a visceral level, I believe that torturing babies is wrong (to use E.W.'s example). That belief is an emotional response, not a "rationally derived rule of conduct in service of a particular goal".

Many of E.W.'s arguments boil down to the premise that such visceral reactions are a legitimate basis for ethical behavior. As I see it, those intrinsic beliefs are the best guide we have. When a religion conflicts with my beliefs, such as the Catholic Church opposing condoms that would stop the spread of AIDS, I'll dismiss the religious claim and maintain my fundamental beliefs.
Quote:
E.W.'s goal, at least thus far in the book, is to rebut claims that ethics is not possible without religion. He isn't trying to explain "how value and virtue can exist in a godless world".
Maybe so, but it's difficult to see how anyone could demonstrate the possibility of the first without first demonstrating the probability of the second.
As part of the debate, E.W. must rebut the arguments made by the other side. As you say, he should also make a constructive case supporting his side, which he appears to do later in the book.




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Post Re: Ch. 2 - "God and Morality"
riverc0il: that sounds different than the way it was worded in the book.

Karamazov's thesis runs: "If God does not exist, then all things are permitted."

regardless, the author does a good job of falsifying the thesis as worded above. we have an obligation to our fellow man when we make a promise or agreement or contract.

That shouldn't be confused for an intrinsic obligation, though. Historically, oaths and contracts are protected by the gods -- that's certainly true in Classical Greek religion, and there's probably an equivalent in Judeo-Christian religion as well. Without that background, there's no objective obligation to maintain a promise of agreement -- it's by convention only that we hold to our word. But it seems to me that Wielenberg is arguing for intrinsic and objective obligations, particularly obligations that arise from the character of our relationships.

society itself is proof that obligations exist else the entire country would crash down upon itself in disorder and chaos.

It's proof that obligations are observed, more often than not, but it doesn't vouchsafe their independent existence.

but there is an unwritten and unspoken social contract for everyone that associates with others that does obligate ourselves to certain things.

Ooh, there's a little Rousseau behind that statement. The Social Contract is a myth in the sense of a useful story. It doesn't point to any sort of natural state of things.

JulianTheApostate: My strongest ethical principles are self-evident and intrinsic. At a visceral level, I believe that torturing babies is wrong (to use E.W.'s example). That belief is an emotional response, not a "rationally derived rule of conduct in service of a particular goal".

If it's an emotional response, then it's only intrinsic in the context of your own psychology, correct? There are others for whom torturing babies has not emotional value, so for those people it would not be an intrinsic ethical principle, it seems. Is there a basis for asserting such principles as objective, or must they be purely subjective? It seems to me that Wielenberg is arguing for objective validity.




Thu Jan 05, 2006 3:46 pm
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HarrisonWalden: Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David ThoreauExile and the Kingdom by Albert CamusOur Inner Ape by Frans de WaalYour Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThe Age of American Unreason by Susan JacobyTen Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson & David HabermanHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradThe Stuff of Thought by Stephen PinkerA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Lucifer Effect by Philip ZimbardoResponsibility and Judgment by Hannah ArendtInterventions by Noam ChomskyGodless in America by George A. RickerReligious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn S. HaimanDeep Economy by Phil McKibbenThe God Delusion by Richard DawkinsThe Third Chimpanzee by Jared DiamondThe Woman in the Dunes by Abe KoboEvolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. ScottThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI, Claudius by Robert GravesBreaking The Spell by Daniel C. DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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