Showing posts with label Morality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Morality. Show all posts

Direct Evidence Of Moral Behavior From Evolution

My working hypothesis is that Game Theory and simple rules derived from self-interest are sufficient to generate self-organized behavior that is labeled as "Morality". Here's more evidence to back that up.

Evolution Guides Cooperative Turn-taking, Game Theory-based Computer Simulations Show,

"We published indirect evidence for this in 2004; we have now shown it directly and found a simple explanation for it. Our findings confirm that cooperation does not always require benevolence or deliberate planning. This form of cooperation, at least, is guided by an ‘invisible hand’, as happens so often in Darwin’s theory of natural selection.”

Morality Is A Category Of Acts Of Mutual Self-Interest

In my view debates about Morality derive from the tendency of people to attribute and misinterpret intent and intelligence in self-organizing phenomena. To me it is obvious that Morality fits in a category of phenomena that derive from self-organization. Self-organization is commonly spoken about, even by scientists whether they mean to or not, as having some kind of intent or intelligence behind it.

I think we do this because we are used to talking and thinking about objects. So we use those common patterns of speech as pre-made patterns of phrases to express ourselves because it is convenient for the speaker and the listener. It's so embedded in the English language and culture, in the heuristics we use day to day, even skilled thinkers such as scientists speak as though processes have intent.

In a way Morality is like math.
It is a representation of concepts that have natural relationships that exist and must be discovered to appreciate. In fact, in the days of Pythagoras, math was considered mystical, even divine, being objective and having "forms", and "essence". Its legacy in philosophy can be traced to the concept of the "essence" of humans, or "the soul". But that's a topic for another article half-done in my Googledocs.

Math is the process of applying values to representations of objects and intangibles to manipulate the relationships between them to assess different outcomes. The rules of Math are not so much "invented" as discovered. The rules of math are observations recorded for re-use. In the same way that mathematical rules are recorded observations of the interactions of their properties, the interactions between self-interested agents that have common properties can be recorded and given the name "Morality". Does this mean that "moral" acts can be predicted or assessed mathematically? I think the fact that people are comfortable predicting what someone would do in a given circumstance demonstrates that it is done informally on a day to day basis, and should someone take the time to capture that process mathematically, then I think it could be done probabilistically, similar to Game Theory.

- Mirror neurons,
"A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially conspecific) animal.[1] Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting." Mirror neurons have been shown to have a relationship to intentions, empathy and language.
Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 2008. 04 Mar. 2009.
- An observed event.
One agent observes another agent experiencing some event.
- A Change of State of the feelings of the observer
- The Feeling causes an Emotion
such as "compassion" or "empathy". Additionally, emotion can be stimulated by input from our senses or by artificial stimulation using probes and electricity, or in some cases mirror neurons.
- Desire
The emotion causes a desire
- Thinking
The desire causes thinking processes.
- How do we think about this stuff?
We use mental images, we use language, we use the processes in our brains, and we can only use what we've stored up to the moment. How we think about things is completely dependent on our inventory of thoughts and experiences up to the point. Additionally there is evidence that shows across cultures that people have some parameters for behavior hardwired into the brain. The Trolly Problem demonstrates that people across cultures and categories seem to have a biological algorithm for dealing with situations that distinguishes intentional and unintentional harm during a rescue.

A Theory of Moral Grammar
Harvard University's Cognitive Evolution Laboratory was established to study moral decision making and has a "moral sense test" set up for visitors to test their "moral sense". Marc D. Hauser, a biologist at Harvard, is testing a theory that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their minds by evolution. In his book, “Moral Minds”, he shows that instant moral judgments seem to be generated by the "moral grammar" which are inaccessible to the conscious mind partly because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations.

- How do we capture it for mental storage and transmittal?
We have to have a way to think about all the facets of the event, and how to describe it to some other mind.
- The "Moral" Act
The desire and the self-talk may lead to an action and if it does then the event plus the action could be observed by a third mind and then once its all over, some value ranking goes on, judgments are made, conclusions are drawn, and now there is something to describe, to judge, and store in an inventory of experiences, to share with another mind, and either endorse, reject or ignore.
- Organizing "Moral" Acts
Once there are more than one of these events in an inventory, a way to think about them that reflects their similarities is needed, so we classify them, and we call it "Morality".

From what I can see, "morality" is a category of behaviors that result from the self-interest of many agents. It is a form of self-organization of these agents according to their mental capabilities into groups behaving according to implicit rules that will become explicit in humans and has an analogy in economics. Its like circumstances are being guided by an "Invisible Hand". "The Invisible hand" is "an economic principle, first postulated by Adam Smith, holding that the greatest benefit to a society is brought about by individuals acting freely in a competitive marketplace in the pursuit of their own self-interest."
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 04 Mar. 2009.

The difference between Self-interest and Selfishness
I see a lot of people make the claim that Adam Smith was endorsing "selfishness". Selfish is to Self-interest as Revenge is to Justice. While similar in concept, one is harmful and the other is not. Selfish and Revenge are about gaining an advantage, Self-interest and Justice are about maintaining an equilibrium.

Morality is really just a category of behaviors.
If we say that a behavior that fits in the category of morality is an action by an agent that requires an investment or risk to the benefit of another, then these behaviors can be observed to cross species boundaries and get more sophisticated with the sophistication of the species. All types of animals ranging from Apes, Whales, Dolphins, Birds, Elephants, have been documented exhibiting behavior that could be categorized as a rudimentary form of morality.

The real question is where does the behavior come from?
Lets trace it from its origins in an example taken from one of my experiences. I saw a person walking their dog on a leash. A stray dog attacked the dog on the leash and the person was struggling with separating them and not getting bit. It made me uncomfortable. I felt like I wanted to do something about it. From that feeling rose an emotion that caused me to start a process of thinking. My self-talk was something like "that's not right". I could relate to the person, and I knew how I would feel. I could relate to the dog, it was in danger from an aggressor and at a disadvantage. Through my emotion, self-talk, and narration creation process, I derived a strategy of dealing with the world. So it seems like the feeling came from the stimulus of a situation that was "unjust" or "out of place". The person was doing the right thing, the dog wasn't harming anyone and the stray was loose and aggressive. I made the choice to stop my car, get out and kick the stray dog to make it leave. But it had everything to do with visual and audible stimulus that came in through my biological receptors (eyes and ears) to set some biological process in motion that gave me the feeling, that caused the emotion, that caused me to derive a strategy for engagement with the world that I decided to take action on.

If God, then which God and how much is he involved in "Moral" behavior in non-humans?
If someone wants to inject God into that scenario then one has a lot of explaining to do. Since morality emerges in other species, other cultures and religions, then if God is injected into the situation above then he has to be injected into all the other situations including those of animals and Atheists. Why is God needed to explain it? Where does God Fit? Which god are we talking about? How does one know which god? How can someone else verify that it is being attributed to the proper God? If God has more to do with some situations than others, where are the boundaries for understanding when and how much God is involved and when he's not? Where is the tipping point or turning point when we can say that God is responsible for such and such moral event? And if the claim is "the bible says" then why should anyone trust the bible when the time of origin, the place of origin, the authors, the credentials of the authors are unknown, and there are is a lot of wrong data, even inconsistent data in the bible? The information in the Bible is of demonstrably poor quality when assessed using sound principles for information quality.

Consider these examples of moral behaviors derived from self interest
- I don't hit you because I don't want to get hit back.
- I grow vegetables well, Jill farms animals well, Harry is a good hunter, John makes good pants, and we all trade amongst ourselves for the things we need creating and equilibrium. It is not in our self-interest to allow one of the other participants to feel they are at a disadvantage by becoming selfish.
- I love Jill and when she is sad it bothers me so i try to cheer her up. Cheering her up makes me feel better.
- I trade with harry and he feels bad so he's not hunting, so I try to make harry feel better so I can get more meat
- Momma ain't happy so nobody's happy, so we try to make her happy.

Self-Interest Related to Relations
- We have biological emotional attachments to our children, and families, these are documented in research. Our desires to benefit them are derived in part from our emotions. The initiation of an emotion is not controllable for the most part, but we can do things to reduce the likelihood of their occurrence, or calm down, or work ourselves up, or decide to behave under the influence of the desires brought on by emotion.

It Just Ain't Right!
I don't need the police to do anything with my son when he takes a twenty out of my wallet, and I don't need the church to teach my son that his behavior is unacceptable on many levels.

It Just Feels Like The Right Thing To Do
And what is the origin of the desire to help an "enemy"? An uncomfortable feeling. Helping the enemy helps to resolve that uncomfortable feeling. It just "feels like the right thing to do".

Examples of Aiding the Enemy
- Christmas Truce and Informal Armistice
- Americal Civil War had many reports of aiding the enemy
- The American Underground Railroad for rescuing slaves

Language: Naming, organizing, classifying and categorizing.
Once the agents observe a phenomena and identify what it is they want to talk about, they must give the phenomena names in order to communicate what is going on in their mind. For example they have to give "sharing" a name, give "empathy" a name then they have to define what it is that is going on. The have to capture the phenomena in language so it can be discussed, then they can take steps to refine it and make it better, to set some parameters and boundaries, make some rules. They have to create a mental object from an intangible in order to work with it in a discussion to manipulate it according to parameters to make predictions about it. It's like verbal math working out the details of a moral equation.

The Aggregate Sum Of The Values Of THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS
Over time, the Value of "Pride" has changed in the moral equation. Pride used to be a virtue during the time of the Illiad, then Pope Gregory listed it as a deadly sin, then it re-emerged relatively recently as a behavior with positive and negative characteristics. The process of classification of morality continues to this day. You can see it in the news stories about legislative debates, most notably of late, legislation about the rights of homosexuals. Its a kind of an "Evolution of Morality" similar to the idea of Evolution of Coorperation

Justification For Morality Without God
The Justification for how "morality" came about is its inherent utility. The explanation starts with the feeling that causes the emotion, that creates the desire to act, which causes the action, and the result is beneficial whether it is realized or not by the agent. If it is realized, by humans for example, then we can further organize and classify it as a moral act and manipulate it to create a rule that can be used as a "tool".

The study of "Morality" seems to me to similar to a few other fields of study that I've listed below. I endorse the reader to take some time to become familiar with them. I've used Wikipedia for the links below and throughout not because it is a highly reliable source, but because it is a good place to start.

- Evolution of Cooperation
- Spontaneous Order
- Emergence
- Self-organization
- Game Theory
- Economics
- Harvards Moral Sense Test
- Marc D. Hauser
- Link to all DC's articles on Morality

Anyone that wants to argue that god has anything to do with morality has a very narrow point of view and is ignoring a ton of disconfirming qualifiers.

Morality is just plain good Economics.
Morality is ultimately an act of self-interest.
It Just feels right, and logically creates better outcomes for all agents.

Measuring Morality, The Highlighter Test


Since Logic is necessary to understand God, we can apply sound principles derived from reasoning, using logic grounded in experience and evidence to other areas of our lives. We can derive a list of sound moral principles in this way. We can take our list of sound moral principles and apply them to other cultures, other time periods and stories in the bible to see if they meet, beat or break the principles.

In this way we can compare our list of sound moral principles to those displayed as evidence and compare them. In this way we can see what percentage of our list of moral principles are met, and then measure how much our morality matches another. I suggest we all take a highlighter and go to the bible and highlight all the verses that do not match our list of morals and see what we have at the end.

I think Christians will agree that their set of morals don't really come from the bible.

Fruit Of The Spirit And The Problem Of The Heap


This article discusses the Flawed Principle of identifying Christians by their outward characteristics.
The problem of the heap, sometimes called the problem of the Beard is stated something like this. When you drop one grain of sand on another, when do you have a heap? Or if a man lets his facial hair grow out when do you call it a beard?

The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. They are the characteristics that sum up the nine visible attributes of a true Christian life. That's a nice pile of Rhetoric and very appealing to the ego and very convincing if we don't put much thought into it. But each of these in themselves suffer from the problem of the heap as much as they all do together.

Does everyone agree on exactly what love is? When is a person experiencing Joy? What if they drift out of Joy into happiness or just apathy? How much suffering is long-suffering? How much is gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance? If we say that these only apply to Christians, do we really believe that? Aren't there people out there that are not Christians that exhibit these? I think I exhibit them, and some Christian thinkers have admitted their crises in faith. How much faith do they have? Enough to keep their positions that's for sure.

What is the difference between them and me? In some cases they are dishonest to themselves, and sometimes to others, at least I don't profess to be a Christian. I would say that if I went back to church and avoided talking about God, nodded my head and smiled politely in a tolerant politically correct kind of way, no one would know the difference. My fruits would look fine to them.

In any case, if Christians make up a third of the population of the world, and these characteristics can be applied to all categories of people, then the defining characteristic must be Faith because in this context, it would be faith in God. So what we really mean to say is that "you will know them because they profess a belief in Jesus".

So now, back to the heap, how much faith in Jesus is enough? And additionally how much faith in Jesus and how much of any of the rest of the fruits are enough? It seems to me that I could disqualify most of the Christians in any given church I walk into using this criteria. So if those that have enough fruit to be called Christians are few, and you don't know how much is enough, then you don't really know if you are leading a true christian life or not.

All this uncertainty about being a 'true Christian' and not appearing like a Christian to other Christians seems to defy reason. I think we could say that using these criteria is meaningless and I wonder, with all things being equal, why be a Christian? Why participate in the protocol? Most Christians in that 30% probably aren't leading a truly Christian life and as a result are as lost as I am. Its a narrow road, many are called but few are taken, is that how it goes? So of the billions of people on the planet since god allegedly made himself known, less than 30% are chosen. What is the point in that? That's a lot of needless suffering for someone to permit, when he set the conditions ahead of time and knew the outcome before he started. That sounds like predestination to me, and in that case, no matter what you do, you are either saved or not, your name is in the book of life or not. So how much is enough, and are you really saved or do you just think you are? Would another Christian say you are a real Christian? How do they know? By your fruits? But don't your fruits seem fine to you? How do they look to your friends?

"When Our Vices Get the Better of Us"


This article weakens the claims regarding Gods Justice, Mercy, freewill and Human Accountability.

As humans, we have limited resources to control ourselves, researchers say; all acts of control draw from one source. So when using this resource in one domain, such as dieting, we’re more likely to run out of it in another domain, like studying hard.
Inzlicht and Gutsell asked participants to suppress their emotions while watching an upsetting movie. The idea was to deplete their resources for selfcontrol. The participants reported their ability to suppress their feelings on a scale from one to nine. Then, they completed a Stroop task, which involves naming the color of printed words (i.e. saying red when reading the word “green” written in red), yet another task that requires selfcontrol.

The researchers found that those who suppressed their emotions performed worse on the task, indicating that they had used up their selfcontrol resources while holding back their tears during the film.

An electroencephalogram (EEG), a recording of electrical activity in the brain, confirmed the results, they said. Normally, when a person deviates from their goals (in this case, wanting to read the word, not the color of the font), increased activity occurs in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which alerts the person that they are offtrack. The researchers found weaker activity in this brain region during the Stroop task in those who had suppressed their feelings. In other words, after engaging in one act of selfcontrol this brain system seems to fail during the next act, they said.

If we are expected to make moral decisions and are going to be held eternally accountable for them, we have a poor mechanism to do it with. Our brains design is such that it is more likely in any given situation that we will make an error in judgment.

Schizophrenia Candidate Genes Affect Even Healthy Individuals


This is an article providing information about Biological Bases for Behavior.
It is intended as evidence to weaken the doctrine of punishment for sin as a result of freewill and the concept of an absolute freewill.

In the largest study of its kind to date, scheduled for publication in the October 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry, researchers sought to examine the impact of a few particular genes, known to be associated with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, on a healthy population.....
In other words, they found that the healthy individuals who possessed the risk variants within the DNTBP1, NRG1, and DAAO genes exhibited small reductions in their cognitive performance and had atypical experiences that might be associated with schizophrenia.....
Dr. Stefanis, explaining the importance of this study, comments that "these findings support the notion that even at the general population level, the genetic liability to psychosis may be expressed as minute and 'undetected to the naked eye' alterations in brain information processing capacity and behavior." Dr. Krystal adds, "Consistent with a growing body of evidence, this study suggests that there may be subtle cognitive impairments that are present when these common risk gene variants are present in the general population." Clearly, these findings will have an important impact on the future genetic work in this area.

I couldn't have said it better.

This casts doubt on the principle of punishment for sin is a better principle than nurturing remediation. Where is god when you need him? Oh yea, everything happens in gods time.
And the check is in the mail.

References Mind and Brain Brain and Behavior

Brain Atrophy In Elderly Leads To Unintended Racism, Depression And Problem Gambling


This is an article providing information about Biological Bases for Behavior.
It is intended as evidence to weaken the doctrine of sin as a result of freewill and the concept of an absolute freewill.

"Science Daily — As we age, our brains slowly shrink in volume and weight. This includes significant atrophy within the frontal lobes, the seat of executive functioning. Executive functions include planning, controlling, and inhibiting thought and behavior. In the aging population, an inability to inhibit unwanted thoughts and behavior causes several social behaviors and cognitions to go awry.

In a study appearing in the October issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, University of Queensland psychologist, Bill von Hippel, reports that decreased inhibitory ability in late adulthood can lead to unintended prejudice, social inappropriateness, depression, and gambling problems."

Peoples behavior, decisions, choices, attitude, temperament, etc are shaped by many factors. Some of the more important ones are Genetics, Environment and Physiology.

If we cannot do what we prefer because the brains cognitive mechanism can be influenced externally, then freewill is impeded. If we do things that we would prefer not to, or would not normally do if the cognitive mechanism supported it, then we should not be held culpable by a God on the basis of freewill. I think this can be extrapolated proportionally from the extreme to the average person.

At what point would be "convicted of sin"? Would it be better to kill ourselves when we think we are at our most "righteous" and hope for the best?

I am going to continue to post these types of news articles as I find them.

Study In "Journal of Religion and Society" Finds Societies Worse Off With Religion.

More morality news (albeit from Sep. 2005!), thanks to recent commenter "The Alpha".
"Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'" from the online edition of The Times.
The original study is here. Thanks Prup!.


Humans Hard-Wired To Be Generous

[Revision 1. Placed another link to more news like this after the article]
An update on research into morality as an evolutionary adaptation. I'm just waiting for the old "God wrote it on our hearts..." rejoinder....

The problem with that claim is the following.

As a general principle, if god exists, then he wrote it on our hearts just as the bible says.
But the problems are
* there is no credible evidence that God had anything to do with the Bible
* there is no credible evidence that God exists
* it would suggest that if god did write it on our hearts, then he 'hedged' the freewill question
* and this type of morality is not sophisticated enough to be considered some type of divine manipulation.


Science Daily

Humans hard-wired to be generous

WASHINGTON, May 28 (UPI) -- A study by government scientists in Washington indicates humans are hard-wired to be unselfish.

Neuroscientists Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman of the National Institutes of Health say experiments they conducted have led them to conclude unselfishness is not a matter of morality, The Washington Post reports.

Rather, the two say altruism is something that makes people feel good, lighting up a primitive part of the human brain that usually responds to food or sex.

Grafman and Moll have been scanning the brains of volunteers who were asked to think about a scenario involving either donating a sum of money to charity or keeping it for themselves.

They are among scientists across the United States using imaging and psychological experiments to study whether the brain has a built-in moral compass.

The results are showing many aspects of morality appear to be hard-wired in the brain, opening up a new window on what it means to be good.

Copyright 2007 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

Here's another related link with more information on this type of research. On that page, on the right hand side are even more links to this type of research news.

The Morality of Atheism and Lying.

One of the biggest reasons why Christians will not consider rejecting their faith has to do the morality of atheism. Christians do not think atheism provides an “ultimate” basis for morality. They will grant that many atheists can and do act morally, in that they can and do behave kindly and truthfully, but they have no “ultimate” standard for doing so. Their claim is that the morality of the atheist in today’s world is a borrowed morality from Christianity. Without the Christian set of morals atheistic morality degenerates into murder and pillage and mayhem as typified by Lenin, Hitler, and Stalin.

Several things can be said about this. I’ve already written about it before. Let me add to it:

In the first place I have argued that punting to God as the standard of morality has many problems. I previously argued the Christian does not have a superior basis for morality. Christians cannot even say “God is good.” They can only say that God is, well, God, and that’s it. If they recoil from the suggestion that “man is the measure of all things,” they should equally recoil at the suggestion that “God is the measure of all things.” I don’t think Christians fully understand this problem.

But let’s say there is an ultimate moral standard based in God and the Bible. Then what? Well, it means little or nothing that I can see. Just as there is no such thing to us as logic in the abstract (we are not logic machines), there is no such thing as an abstract moral standard (it is always a moral standard as understood by fallible humans). It means nothing to say the Bible provides a moral standard that an atheist doesn't have, for what they need to say is that their particular interpretation of the Bible is the ultimate moral standard, and that's something Christians cannot legitimately do, although they have slaughtered many people while claiming this. Which interpretation of Biblical morality is the ultimate standard, given the various ones Christians have espoused down through the centuries? Spell it out for us all. Professing Christians (the only kind we ever see) have justified American slavery, Crusades, and the killing of heretics and witches from the Bible. What makes them so sure they now have it right when the history of the church is a history of atrocities? I just don't think Christians fully understand this problem, either.

In truth, the way Christians interpret the Bible is what I call logical gerrymandering. Sam Harris called it “cherry-picking.” “Christians decide what is good is the Good Book,” he said. And how they do this is dependent on the social/political factors of which they live and breath. Today’s Christians would have been burned at the stake for believing heretics should not be killed, or that witches should not be punished, among a host of other things.

In any case, anyone who tries to show that no society can be a good society without Christianity needs a history lesson. He needs to study some of the great societies of the past, like Greece during the golden ages, or The Roman Empire, or several of the dynasties in ancient China, or the Islamic Empire under Muhammad, or the historic Japanese culture. None of these societies were influenced by Christianity, but they were great societies by all standards of history.

Even if Christianity was the main motivator in starting most all early American universities, most all of our hospitals and many food kitchens, and the like, these things still would have been started anyway, if for no reason other than necessity. Every society has these kinds of things in it, even those not dominated by Christianity. It just so happened to be that Christianity is the dominant religion in America for a couple of centuries, that’s all. Besides, these things were probably not started by Christian churches out of altruism, or any desire for a better society, but as a way for those churches to convert people. After all, who are most vulnerable to the Christian message? They are the sick (hospitals), the poor (food kitchens) and young people leaving home for the first time to enter universities (which were mostly started to train preachers).

Take the moral issue of lying as a practical example. The ninth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is used as the basis for condemning lying in the Bible, but Hammarabi had already condemned it in law #3: “If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.” The Code of Hammurabi predates the Ten Commandments by about 500 years. Most scholars think the Mosaic law was adapted from the Code of Hammurabi, and if you look at it you can see why they think this. My point is that even if God condemned lying, humans already knew not to lie.

Even though lying is condemned as wrong, the Bible only gives a few examples of when lying was justified, as in Rahab and Abraham’s cases. How else do we decide when lying is okay and when it is wrong? Sissela Bok wrote the classic book on the topic, which can be found here. She discusses practically every issue raised by lying and makes some very reasonable conclusions about when lying is justifiable and when it isn’t, conclusions that I accepted even when I was a Christian. She makes these points based upon reason alone. We don’t need God to spell out when lying is justified either. Therefore, since we don’t need God to tell us lying is wrong and we don’t need God to tell us when lying is justified, we don't need God to tell us what is good!

Why is lying wrong? Lying is wrong because telling the truth coincides with our own self-interest, and it’s wrong because we ought to tell the truth. Let me very briefly comment on these two reasons why lying is wrong. I’ll save most of my comments about this for a later post.

Just think right now what would happen if you started lying to people, whether they are strangers, loved ones, friends, co-workers, customers, and/or bosses. When you think this through it’s really not in your own self-interest to do so. Why? You might get what you want from people initially, but they would catch on, and when they do you'll lose their respect, just as J.P. Holding has lost my respect for being dishonest. They will no longer trust what you say. So the price for some initial gains would be a greater loss to you down the road. Trust, friendship and social respect is much more valuable to rational people than the ill gotten gains from lying. Eventually you would make enemies, be lonely, and lose your self-esteem due to mental stress and the guilt of it all. If you sear your conscience by lying all of the time you will also lose track of what is real and true.

The more a person lies the less he can trust other people, and trust is the backbone for any relationship. He will think people are lying to him if he always lies to other people. Then too as we help to create an environment of lies people in turn will lie to us, since a liar forfeits his right to the truth. So he is helping to create an environment that does not benefit him, since he still would like people to be truthful to him. Lying to people is also tougher than not doing so, for if we lie to people we also have to remember what lies we told, and to whom. There is also the fear of being found out, and psychologists tell us such a fear is not healthy for us.

For all of these reasons I can also say that we ought to tell the truth, and I think this kind of reasoning can apply to the other basic moral issues we face as people.

Christians Have No Ultimate Standard of Morality!

I just don't see where a Christian ethic based in a divine commander has any fewer problems than a Godless ethic, especially when Christians have understood so many different ways of obeying those historically conditioned commands down through the centuries. It just looks like a human enterprise to me, which has similar serious problems.

What we know is that down through the ages we have all come to better understandings about how to get along in our world. Not that there are still backward people who want to blow up abortion clinics and become suicide bombers, only that civilized people are, on the whole, better people than those of the past. There have been certain ethical improvements over the years which makes Hitler look better when compared to Genghis Khan; our problems with regard to racism seem "slight" by comparison to the evils of slavery in the South (and sanctioned from the Bible); and we no longer lynch people without a trial (when convicted, our death penalty is that we simply put them to sleep); the problem of equal pay for equal work for women is small when compared to the day when women couldn't vote and were regarded as chattel. With each successive improvement Christians began reading the Bible in light of these social developments, but for the most part they were against every one of them. Present day Christians stand on the shoulders of earlier Christians who interpreted the Bible in inhumane ways, and yet they claim they wouldn't have done so. That's just not probable.

So where does that leave us? In the same boat. Trying to get along with one another, to live decent and happy lives with one another the best we can. The problem is that Christians (and other religions of the book) believe the way we should live our lives is commanded and sanctioned in the Bible. That's the only difference. I think such a claim is a farce, given the history of the church. Just because Christian ethics have evolved in the same direction as civilized society has traveled doesn't mean the Christian can claim her ethic is better. I think a strong case can be made that the way society has traveled in turn changed how the church interpreted Biblical ethics, not vice versa.

Christians repeatedly argue that as atheists we have no reason not to murder others, or create mayhem. They claim we don’t have an ultimate standard for knowing right from wrong, or for abolishing such things as slavery.

But Christians are not off the hook here. Christian, as a believer in God, upon what basis does your God make the ethical and moral judgments he's made? On what basis does he apparently seem to consider Hitler and Genghis Khan in the wrong?

The philosophical Euthypro dilemma applies wherever the buck stops, with us, or with your God. That's why Erik J. Wielenberg talks about eternal Platonic values, in his book Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe. You must assume some eternal standard that exists apart from God if you wish to continue calling God "good." For if the word "good" means anything at all when applied to God, it means he's conforming to some standards of goodness. If not, then God is, well, God. He can command anything and call it "good" simply because he commands it.

So, we're in the same boat. Christians just fail to see it. It's ignorance on their part to say otherwise. Some things are just obvious, and that's all one can say about them.

Again, the bottom line is that Christians cannot say God is "good" without comparing him to a standard that is outside of himself, otherwise all they can say is that God is, well, God, and that's it. The characteristic of goodness is meaningless to God. God does what he does and calls it "good," no matter what he does. Anyone, including God, can call his actions and commands "good," if he defines the word good.

For all you know God has done evil in the past, or presently does evil, or will do evil in the future and simply call what he does "good." At that point we have no clue as the precise definition of the term as ascribed to God except to see how he behaves (and when we look at this world it doesn't look like God is good all). The fact that Christians believe God "doesn't lie" because he says so, doesn't mean he cannot lie, since whatever he does is by definition "good." If he lies about not lying and calls it "good," there is nothing we can say against his actions because he defines the word. Christians have no basis for believing what he says...none. God is, well, God, and that's it.

And to think Christians complain because as an atheist I don't have an “ultimate” standard for morality. Christians have no ultimate standard of morality too! No one does, not even your God.

So don't go pontificating to me anymore about how atheists have no reason to commit murder and mayhem if you cannot exonerate your God from doing likewise. If Christians want to maintain that God can do whatever he wants to us, then it merely means he's more powerful than any of us. It doesn't mean that what he does is truly good.

There is no ultimate anything, for anyone. Christians only claim the moral high ground. But claiming something doesn't make it true. They haven't been fully consistent or forthright about what it means to say God is the ultimate standard for goodness. It doesn't make any rational sense, the only sense God purportedly created in us, which is all we have to assess the claim that he is the ultimate standard of goodness.

Either none of us do, or all of us do (located in eternal metaphysical moral truths)! It's that simple. Sink or swim, that's our choice.

Moral Knowledge vs. Christianity

If someone thinks that they can come to know moral truths through reflection on what they have good reason to believe, they should not be a Christian. Ironically, I think that by holding to Christianity, Christians have to suppress moral knowledge (in contrast to Romans 1:22-23). Authors like Sam Harris and John Loftus are rightly concerned when they see Christians excusing acts that are clearly wrong.

There may be good arguments that an objective morality and knowledge requires some supernatural causality. If there is a being that is identifiable with the source of objective morality and knowledge, a reasonable person should conclude that the being is not Jesus or the God of the Old Testament. (For convenience, I will refer to this being as God throughout the remainder of the post.) Further, this gives one reason to think the resurrection did not happen.

Presume that we had knowledge that a resurrection occurred. By resurrection, I mean that not only that a person who was dead has come back to life, but they had a body that would not incur disease or injury, and it exhibited supernatural powers. If that really did occur, I think it would be reasonable to take the teaching of that individual seriously. I can see how one would think that only God would do this, so a resurrection would constitute endorsement by God.

This view is echoed in Romans 1:3-4 which states "regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord."

It is also echoed in Acts 2:22-24 where it says "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him."

In other words the premise:
  • Premise 1. If Jesus endorsed or attributed to God any writings that God would repudiate, then God wouldn’t have raised him from the dead.
seems quite reasonable to me if one grants theistic assumptions. I have actually talked to an atheist who disputes this premise, but I don’t know how a Christian could dispute the premise while remaining orthodox.

It is also very clear to me that Jesus endorsed the Old Testament as God’s word. He quoted from Exodus and said "have you not read what God said to you" in Matthew 22:30-32 (also Mark 12:26-27). In those passages, he was arguing a theological point about the resurrection based upon the tense of the verb in the Old Testament. His argument presumes both that the work is authoritive and that there is a very high degree of accuracy in the record.

In Matthew 12:2-3 Jesus argued for the correctness of the actions of his disciples by appealing to 1 Samuel 21. In John 10:34-36, Jesus quoted Psalm 82:6 and called it scripture.

The most significant endorsement was Matthew 5:17-20 (also Luke 16:16-17)
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."

If these passages don’t constitute a wholehearted endorsement, I don’t know what would. It seems that in order to deny this premise, you would have to admit either a) the Gospel writers did not accurately convey what Jesus said or intended, or b) God doesn’t mind if faulty guidance is attributed to his name.

The first denial seems unacceptable for most Christians because the implies 1) The gospels are known to be unreliable, in which case we would have little reason to trust them when they report the resurrection and 2) we really have no idea what Jesus really said and was trying to convey.

Denying that God cares about misrepresenting his word would lead me to think that we shouldn’t believe something just because God says it. This denial would also be difficult to reconcile with Deuteronomy 13:1-6. If the Gospels can be taken as somewhat historically reliable, then it seems reasonable to accept Premise 2a.
  • Premise 2a. Jesus endorsed the entire Law and Prophets as God’s word.
I think that an ultimate source of morality and knowledge would repudiate any error attributed to his guidance. Thus I think that any error found in the Old Testament makes belief in the resurrection unreasonable. However, it is not necessary to go that far. Even if one doesn’t think that inerrancy itself invalidates the resurrection, a known serious moral error in the Old Testament would constitute a passage that a source of the moral law would repudiate.

It isn’t too hard to find clear moral mistakes in the Old Testament. If we know anything about morality we know that killing infants because of what their long dead ancestors did is wrong. But that is exactly the rational attributed to God by Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:2-3. There may be good reasons for killing infants and nursing children and women, but not the reason attributed to God here. Even the Old Testament law acknowledges this is a bad reason in Deuteronomy 24:16.

The slavery discussion is relevant here. Who would make the argument that slaves should be treated differently based upon their race? Apparently anyone who thinks that Leviticus 25:44-46 should serve as guidance. Here children of Jewish slaves are to be freed, but not children of slaves of other races. Who thinks that this is something the ultimate source of morality would claim as his idea?

If you believe there is such a thing as moral knowledge, it seems clear that:
  • Premise 2b. The Law and Prophets contain passages that God would repudiate.
In order to deny this premise, you have to suppress what you know about morality. (I summarized a lecture about “How we know what we know” here.) If we have moral knowledge we can know that treating slaves on the basis of race is wrong.

Another option is to deny that we have moral knowledge, but that is in conflict with Roman 1 as well as not addressing the argument about how we know what we know.

The argument against the resurrection of Jesus is summarized below.
  • Premise 1. If Jesus endorsed or attributed to God any writings that God would repudiate, then God wouldn’t have raised him from the dead.
  • Premise 2a. Jesus endorsed the entire Law and Prophets as God’s word.
  • Premise 2b. The Law and Prophets contain passages that God would repudiate.
  • Conclusion: God would not have raised Jesus from the dead.
I think a Christian would most likely deny premise 2b in this argument. But if I can’t know that kill infants for the crimes committed by their ancestors is wrong, I don’t see how it is possible to have any moral knowledge. A Christian certainly can’t condemn an adherent of any other faith immoral teachings. It seems to me that in order to affirm Christianity, one has to deny what they know about morality. If you are a Christian, I seriously hope you reconsider your belief. Is the evidence for the resurrection stronger than the evidence against the resurrection given here? I concluded that the argument presented here was sufficient to overcome the evidence presented for the resurrection. Further study continues to confirm this belief.

A Double Standard for Morality?

This started out as a response to a commenter but I thought it was important enough to use as a post for an article. I noticed in the recent Loftus-Wood ‘cross-fire’ debate on the infidelguy show, that Wood seemed to be using the argument that God has a different standard for morality than us. I seem to see this argument a lot. In fact, a recent commenter seemed to be using it against John, and then when I countered it, a different commenter defended it. I wonder how can it be justified that the Abrahamic God should not be expected to adhere to the same rules that we are expected to adhere to with respect to morality.

A father that smokes and tells his son not to smoke creates a problem in his credibility. While it is true that smoking is not healthy and the son is not justified in disregarding that advice, the fact that it can be shown empirically that smoking is unhealthy supports the fathers claim and weakens the effect of the charge of inconsistency. I don't see how anyone can support the claim that God should not be expected to adhere to the same rules that we are expected to adhere to with respect to morality. I don't see how anyone can support a double standard for morality. My argument is an argument from ignorance intended to show that it is more plausible that there should not be a double standard for morality.

The only way that I can see for the believer to refute it is to say something like God is a mystery and that we can not expect to dictate what God can do. This would be a mischaracterization and an appeal to the supernatural, specifically God, but the presumption of God and the supernatural is controversial. In the case that the believer says that God is a special case, for whatever reason, would be a case of special pleading, and they would have to show why morality rules for us don't apply to God. In the end, their presumption is still that God exists and as I said before this is a weak premise in that it is controversial on two, maybe three, points.
1. that there is a god
2. that it is the Abrahamic god
3. Possibly irrelevant, but that he had anything to do with scripture.

In the case that they choose that strategy, it would be an argument from ignorance as well, but weaker because its premises are controversial. I am not suggesting that I have authority to decide or dictate what God can or cannot do, I can only say what he should or should not do using informal logic and defeasible reasoning schemes.

The exchange in the forums went as follows.

Commenter1: have you ever stopped to realize how infinitely gracious God is to not have annihilated the entire human race?

Lee: Would you say that my dogs should be infinitely grateful that I don't kill them when I get up in the morning?

I cant see the dog analogy as a viable one…Its an argument of proportion.

My point was that that there is a strong presumption that God shouldn't kill us therefore it doesn't follow that we should be grateful that he doesn't. For him to kill us would be immoral or criminal. There is a weaker presumption that I shouldn't kill my dog. It would be more immoral for God to kill me than it would be for me to kill my dog. I think this argument should expose the 'double standard' for morals that I see being argued by believers for humans and God. What follows is a 'dizzying' defense of that claim.

Most analogies are flawed, that is why they are a defeasible form of argument. But when analogies can be shown to be similar enough to a situation, they can be used to increase the plausibility of a position.
The dog analogy is not similar in the fact that I am not a God and my dog is not a human and I didn't create the dog.
The dog analogy works because of the relationship, not because of the proportion.

When a Christian says that we should be grateful that God lets us live, that sets up the relationship. In theory, God created us, he is more powerful than us, he has control of whether we live or die, we should thank him for our daily bread (which creates the presumption that he has some control over it), and we should thank him that he lets us live.

When I say that my dog should be grateful that I let him live, In reality, I did not create him (negative analogy), I am more powerful than him (positive), I am in control of whether he lives or dies (pos.), he should thank me for his food (pos.), and he should thank me that I let him live.

The discrepency in my analogy (that I did not create the dog), is actually a negative for the believers argument. Here's why. I should have used my son instead of my dog, because it would have been more appropriate but I didn't think about it. In a way, I created my son, or at least I was a catalyst for his existence.

Here is the rough hierarchy for that analogy, dog < son < me < God. For me to kill my dog is less criminal than for me to kill my son, therefore, I should be expected to be less likely to kill my son than my dog. Therefore, to say that my dog should be happy that I let him live has more force than to say to my son that he should be happy that I let him live, and it should have less force to say that I should be happy that God lets me live. It should be less likely that God would kill me than I would kill my son. Therefore, if God were to kill me, it would be more criminal / immoral than if I were to kill my son, or my dog.

If I injected God into the equation, it would have more force to say that I should be happy that God lets my dog live, less force to say that I should be happy that God lets my son live, less force to say that I should be happy that God lets me live. I know that in reality, my son and I should be equal in Gods eyes, but like I said, analogies are defeasible.

So for me to kill my dog would be less criminal than for God to kill me, and therefore it would be more criminal for God to kill me than for me to kill my dog, therefore there is a stronger PRESUMPTION that God shouldn't kill me therefore it can be EXPECTED that God shouldn't kill me, therefore it doesn't follow that we should be grateful that God doesn't kill us because there is a strong presumption that he shouldn't kill us because it would be criminal or immoral, more so than if I were to kill my dog.

Particularism and Christianity

JP Moreland has an interesting lecture on Skepticism and Epistemology here. He argues that our current society is hostile to religious and moral knowledge and perhaps even knowledge in general. One of his goals is to explain how we know what we know.

He claims that the duty of "knowers" is to simultaneously believe as many truths as possible while disbelieving as many falsehoods a possible. In other words, be capable of sorting one’s beliefs from good to bad. If our goal were simply to believe as many true things as possible, our task would be easier, we could simply believe everything. Similarly, if our goal were simply to avoid false beliefs, our task would be easy, simply don’t belief anything. The "Problem of the Criteria" is how do we separate our true beliefs from our false beliefs? How do we begin our sorting task?

There are three main answers to the knowledge sorting problem. The first view is Epistemological Methodism. This view holds that before I know something, I must start with a criterion that answers "How do I know it?" Apparently Descartes tried to postulate the criteria of "That which is clear and distinct in the mind" to answer the skeptic leading him the statement "I think therefore I am." However, this view has a problem. Before knowing proposition P, one must know the criterion C, and the fact R: "P satisfies C." This leads the question of “how do I know both C and R?” which leads to an infinite regress.

The second view is Particularism. This view is that there are specific things I know and I don’t need to know how I know them in order to know them. This view starts with particular knowledge claims, criteria may be developed by reflecting on particular knowledge. The criteria developed can be developed to help with difficult cases, but the criteria are no more basic than the particular pieces of knowledge that inspired them. For example, I know 2+2=4. By reflecting on arithmetic knowledge, I may be able to develop axioms of arithmetic. But if my axioms then show 2+2 is not 4, I would conclude my axioms are wrong, not that I don’t know 2+2 = 4.

The third view is Skepticism. Skeptics conclude that there is no solution to the problem of the criteria. They think that the “Methodists” are caught in an infinite regress and the Particularist is begging the question. However, how would the skeptic know that the Particularist is begging the question?

J.P concludes that Particularism is the correct view. That we can know things even if it’s possible we’re wrong. The mere possibility we are wrong is no reason to think we are wrong. I think his view on Epistemology has some merit.

JP goes on to make the case that a “Divine Law Giver” makes the most sense of morality and moral knowledge. (It wasn’t in his lecture, but he could have said moral laws seem like commands, and commands only make sense as communication between minds). For the sake of this post, I will grant that there is a God who makes sense of moral law.

However, I think Particularism poses some serious difficulties for Christianity as well. To see how, it is helpful to reflect on the nature of morality. In some cases, the same action can be either moral or immoral depending on the motive of the actor. For example, suppose a boy tripped someone. If he did it to enjoy seeing the tripped in pain, the action would be immoral. However, if he did it to prevent the tripped from being hit by a bus, the action is commendable.

In addition, a lack of action can be moral or immoral. If one has knowledge of a serious pending crime like terrorism, they would have a duty to report it. Neglecting to act in this case would be immoral. Where there is no motive, like in natural disasters, we may think the results are tragic, but the natural cause is not blamed. Who would blame the meteor for falling out the sky and destroying property?

By reflecting on these and other particular moral truths, I am justified in claiming that I know:
  • In order for an action (or inaction) to be moral or immoral a motive must attach to that action.
  • Punishing someone for the crimes of someone else is immoral (also see Deuteronomy 24:16)

Now examine 1 Samuel 15:2-3. Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

Samuel claims that God wants the Israelites to kill every man, woman, child, infant, cattle, etc. That in itself may not be wrong, however note the motive that Samuel attributes to God. This attack is punishment for crimes committed over 300 year prior. The sentence is carried out on infants and nursing mothers who cannot have taken part in the act that caused the judgment.

Notice that Samuel attaches an evil motive to the action. This makes the action evil. Thus, if someone believes that there is a God who is the basis for the moral law written on our hearts, they are justified in concluding that the God is not the one referred to in the Bible. If someone says “God wants you to make the board 5 feet long because 2+2 = 5.” I would conclude that person is slandering God’s intelligence. Here, I think I am justified in thinking Samuel is slandering God’s character.

There are some common rejoinders to this conclusion that I would like to address now. The first is God is within his rights to take any life and could have had a good reason the kill the infants and the killing could even be merciful. (Geisler and Howe make this point in their book “When Critics Ask.”) That is true, but misses the point. The point is that Samuel attributed a motive to God and that motive is evil. There could very well be good reasons for killing infants, but punishment for the sins of long dead ancestors is not one of them. Samuel is slandering God here. He should have offered a good reason, but he didn’t. If you are a Christian, what would Samuel have to say before you were convinced he was not speaking for God?

The second objection is that without God, I have no basis for claiming moral knowledge. Firstly, this objection confuses me (a particularist) with an epistemological Methodist. A second point is that I am not presuming God is not the basis for morality. I am merely claiming that if there is a God that is the Basis for morality, it is not the God of Samuel.