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Why God is the Ground of Objective Morality

God

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today continues our eight-part debate on the resolution, "Does objective morality depend on the existence of God?" We'll hear from two sharp young thinkers. Joe Heschmeyer, a Catholic seminarian in Kansas City, Kansas, will argue the affirmative view. Steven Dillon, a gifted philosopher and a former Catholic seminarian, will argue the negative. The eight parts will run as follows:

Monday (11/4) - Joe's opening statement (affirmative)
Tuesday (11/5) - Steven's opening statement (negative)
Wednesday (11/6) - Joe's rebuttal (affirmative)
Thursday (11/7) - Steven's rebuttal (negative)
Friday (11/8) - Questions exchanged (three questions each)
Saturday (11/9) - Answers (Joe and Steven answer each other's questions)
Sunday (11/10) - Joe's closing statement (affirmative)
Monday (11/11) - Steven's closing statement (negative)

Today we begin the final two posts with a closing statement from Joe. Both Joe and Steven have agreed to be present in the comment boxes, so if you have a specific question for them, ask away!
 


 

In affirming the resolution, “Does objective morality depend upon God?” I’ve argued two things: (a) that objective morality can be grounded in God; and (b) that objective morality cannot be grounded in anything other than God. Steven challenged (b), claiming that moral truths like “suffering is inherently bad” are simply and intuitively true, and do not rely upon God.

In my rebuttal, I asked, “what does it mean to call agony ‘intrinsically bad,’ exactly?” If we mean that agony is inherently painful, that’s a tautology, not a moral claim. As Peter Geach explained in Good and Evil:

"[I]f I call a man a good burglar or a good cut-throat I am certainly not commending him myself; one can imagine circumstances in which these descriptions would serve to guide another man's choice (e.g. if a commando leader were choosing burglars and cut-throats for a special job), but such circumstances are rare and cannot give the primary sense of the descriptions. It ought to be clear that calling a thing a good A does not influence choice unless the one who is choosing happens to want an A; and this influence on action is not the logically primary force of the word “good”."

So, to turn “agony is intrinsically bad (painful)” into an objective moral claim, you would have to have an objective moral system (e.g., that we should always pursue pleasure and avoid painful or unpleasant things). But the terms don't carry that system within themselves, and there's no objective, non-theistic way to construct this or any other moral system.

On the other hand, if we mean that agony is an intrinsic evil, that’s false. Steven has yet to define his term, but his answer to Question 1 suggests that this is his meaning. I’ll proceed under that assumption.

To say that an act is intrinsically evil is to say that it may never be done. By “evil,” we mean that sort of thing that ought not be done; by “intrinsically,” we mean that it ought not be done of itself, without consideration of any consequences. We ought not rape, murder, etc., regardless of the good or bad consequences of an individual act of rape or murder.

But that’s not what Steven argues at all. He says that suffering can be inflicted if it is the “lesser of two evils.” I asked about the case of a woman intentionally getting pregnant, given the pains of childbirth. He says that “if a woman has to endure the excruciating pain of child-birth so that the child may be born, we should permit the suffering, otherwise a child dies.” That's telling, but not my question: if a woman chooses to get pregnant, the alternative isn’t that a child dies. It’s that a child is never conceived. So the “lesser of two evils” principle doesn’t apply. By Steven’s initial analysis, it would seem that every instance of intentional conception is evil. But now, it seems that he’ll permit agony not only to avoid greater evils, but also to achieve greater goods (like procreation).

If it is okay to inflict agony in some cases, then agony is not intrinsically evil. This refutes the claim that “agony is intrinsically bad (evil).”

At this point, Steven seems to have shifted to utilitarianism, a moral system which I rejected in my opinion statement, in a passage left unrebutted:

"[U]tilitarianism leads to unconscionable results. No action—slavery, rape, genocide, torture, etc.—could ever be described as objectively evil. We’d have to determine how much pleasure the slavemaster, rapist, genocidaire, and torturer derive (along with the pleasure or displeasure of the general public). Only after we’ve weighed all of those factors, could we determine whether the action is right or wrong."

Steven hasn’t, and can’t, show this moral framework to be true, or binding upon anyone.

Stepping back from the particulars of the claim “agony is intrinsically bad,” is the broader problem of moral intuitionism, which I raised in my rebuttal: namely, that it's not an objective moral code, since intuitions differ from person to person; that it provides no basis for rational decision-making, because there's no mechanism for resolving competing values; and that all true moral intuition relies upon God.

Steven gives an intriguing illustration of the moral system he's defending:

"Think of a tall skyscraper. What grounds it? Well, you might say its foundation. And what grounds its foundation? You could say the land in which it is built in or upon. And what grounds the land? You could continue asking of each proposed grounding structure what grounds it. Assuming this cannot continue on indefinitely, you’ll reach a point where there simply is no deeper grounding structure: you’ve struck rock bottom. I’m saying that moral facts are grounded by other moral facts, and so on until we reach moral facts so foundational there’s just no further to go. This is radically different from saying that there is no rock bottom, and moral facts just sort of...free-float."

I largely agree with this view. In fact, it's virtually identical to the first three of Thomas' Five Ways. But Steven stops too soon in his digging into the foundation: you can't logically conclude that there are several rock bottoms. Even the moral claims he's arguing that are irreducibly fundamental aren't. If they were, he couldn't say that they are permissible in some cases. To say that a certain truth is foundational, if it means anything, means that it's not just true in certain situations.

This is why moral intuitionism provides no capacity for rational moral decision-making: if both equitable distribution of goods and respect for private property are irreducibly foundational moral principles, what do we do when they clash? It's an irresistible force and an unmovable object: a contradiction that exposes the incoherence of the intuitionist worldview. Likewise, in saying that agony is sometimes permissible, Steven shows that it's not a foundational principle that agony is inherently evil.

Still, I agree with his impulse, to dig further and further into the metaphysical foundations. And the solution is to dig deeper, to the First Cause. There must be a single First Cause, or you can't get this moral system off the ground. This First Cause can't be anyone other than God (as we've seen, all other alternatives fail to create an objective moral system). That's what I meant in the rebuttal about all forms of intuitionism relying upon God.

Steven objects that it doesn't make sense to claim that objective morality depends upon God because we don't have anything literal to say about God. Here, I must raise an objection: Steven complains that God isn't reducible to the unaided human intellect. But a being that could be comprehended by the unaided human intellect would be, in some way, smaller than the intellect, and therefore, not God.

What Do We Mean By God?

 
We can affirm that God is Pure Being, Pure Goodness, etc., but we can’t tell you, short of encountering God directly, what that is like. It would be irrational to expect us to be able to. Furthermore, we must ask a question: is it true that the only concepts we can know of are ones that we can make literal, positive statements about? It seems to me there is at least one that breaks the mold, acknowledged by both theists and atheists alike: infinity.

Just as we often mistake God for a really big being (instead of Subsistent Being Itself, the Ground of all Being), we often misunderstand infinity as a really big number. Not so, says mathematician Raymond Nickerson:

"[I]n fact infinity is not a very large number; it is not a number at all, and such phrases as ‘approaching infinity,’ ‘an almost infinite number,’ and ‘nearly infinite in extent’ are contradictions in terms. Think of the largest number you can imagine. How close is this to infinity? Not close. […] Between it—our largest number—and infinity there will remain a gulf of infinite extent, and there is nothing we can do to decrease it."

Look at the sort of claims that we can make about infinity: its very name is a negation (denying that it possesses finitude). Whether we call it infinite, boundless, limitless, etc., we’re making negative claims. But these negative claims still tell us something concrete about what infinity is, by showing us what it isn’t.

St. Anselm properly defines God as “that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.” This sounds like unnecessary verbiage, and the philosopher Descartes opts for the simpler formulation that God is a “supremely perfect being.” But the difference between Anselm’s and Descartes’ definitions of God turns out to be infinite. Anselm’s definition, like infinity, is a negative claim: it defines what God isn’t, and gives us a hint (but little more than a hint) of what He is, as a result.

Therefore the proposition "God exists" can be affirmed without directly knowing the nature of God, just as we can say that Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa without knowing what he was like. And just as we can know that there is such a thing as infinity, even if we’re unsatisfied with the limitations of our knowledge of the limitless, we can say that there is such a thing as God, even if we’re unsatisfied with the limitations of our knowledge of Him.

Fortunately, unlike with infinity, God reveals Himself to us, enabling us to know Him in a way that we would never be able to by unaided human reason. This relationship with Him, followed to its logical conclusion, terminates in the Beatific Vision, in which we take on divinity in some way: we know God with God’s own knowledge of Himself.

Conclusion

 
Without God, all of reality is literally pointless: it’s a random cosmic accident, and there’s no objective, morally-binding reason to do good and avoid evil. The two logical conclusions from this are either that “God exists” or that objective morality doesn’t exist. Steven gives good reasons, based upon moral intuition, to reject the second option. But that’s a proof for the existence of God.

Yet once that we’ve established that God exists, what can we say? Hopefully, it is now clear that since God is infinite, our unaided knowledge of Him is limited to negative and analogical statements. Yet our minds crave a deeper knowledge of God than these statements provide. This is a preamble, and an invitation to accept His offer of a relationship.

Thanks again to Steven for a civil and worthwhile debate, and for Brandon and the folks at Strange Notions for hosting!

 
 
(Image credit: Cognitive Disinhibition)

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  • Tim Dacey

    "...objective morality cannot be grounded in anything other than God."

    Joe, I am inclined to agree with you, but this might be too strong of a claim. Consider:

    P1. Moral properties are identical to natural properties (i.e., moral naturalism)

    P2. God is not a natural property

    C. Therefore ~ (objective morality cannot be grounded in anything other than God.)

    If P1 is true, and a lot of philosophers think it is (including some Christian ones), Christians like us needn't be too worried. We can amend the argument that moral naturalism and Christian views of morality can be harmonious.

  • Ben Posin

    Joe: I'm starting to feel like a broken record. When you tell us that god is pure goodness, you are not providing us information about goodness or God. For that you need to explain what it means for God to be good, what attributes about God make God good, something you haven't done save for a circular definition earlier from Aquinas about good things being those that have a property of being worthy of being desired. And THEN you would have to explain how this goodness is in some way god dependent.

    I think at some level you are starting to recognize this basic problem, which is why you add the throw away line about how while we cab say god is pure goodness it would be irrational to be able to tell us what that is like without encountering God. To me, the only rational response to your statement is to take it as an admission that you don't actually have any sort of coherent model or referent in mind when you. Employ your rhetoric here. It's just you playing with empty or circular definitions, meaning and argument free.

    Josh previously dismantled your attempt here to avoid this conclusion with your reliance on anselm's sophistry. You and Anselm are asserting that there is some ultimate, non-contingent being greater than anything we can imagine, and that we could not coneive of as not existing. But that's just an empty box you're trying to fill through definition alone. You can't point to anything in the chain of causes or existence that has these qualities, can't explain how anything could have these qualities, or as seen above what the qualities of your god even mean. Your assertion that such a thing must exist is absurd.

    • Loreen Lee

      I don't believe what I think is Anselm's version of the ontological argument is 'absurd', completely, although even when it is accepted as a proof of God's existence, I don't see any evidence within the argument as presented that relate any proof of God's existence, with the purpose of this article: that is, to find a necessary correlation between the existence of God and morality. The linki, has not been established I believe.
      In any case, I much prefer Descartes' ontological proof for the very opposite reason to the negativity found with Anselm, as it gives me 'hope' that there is a 'perfection' at least which can be achieved: something to aim for. It grounds the proof of God's perfect consciousness on the intellectual characteristic of clear and distinct ideas. Although there are arguments which demonstrate the circularity of Descartes argument and the reality of certainty has been disproved I understand with Godel's arguments, I still find coherence within it. Enough to at least give me some confidence that my thought can be substantiated through evidence and argument.
      The other proof of God's existence based on the evidence of our conscious thought, is of course, Kant argument from morality. This would give a proof based on the sapient power of our intuitive thought and teleological aspects of his third critique.
      As Kant demonstrated, however, both truth, (Descartes' intelligibility) and beauty/order/teleology, (the primary element in Kant Moral argument) are required in the attempt to develop an appreciation, a coherent understanding of what indeed 'constitutes' goodness, even within a merely human perspective..

      • Geena Safire

        Anselm's Ontological Argument was completely refuted by hundreds of years ago by several renowned philosophers, most famously by Kant: because 'existence' is not a predicate. Here's a great simple-language version of that refutation courtesy of Skeptico:

        Anselm’s mistake will become clearer if we define his terms in a less ambiguous way. I will rename Anselm’s different versions of God, as God-1 and God-2:

        God-1 = God who exists in reality (the thing whose existence we are trying to prove).
        God-2 = a God who exists only as an idea in the mind.

        Now we can rephrase the argument:
        1. Nothing greater than God-1 can be imagined
        2. God-2 exists.
        3. God-1 is greater than God-2
        4. If God-1 does not exist then we can imagine
          something greater than God-2 (i.e., God-1)
        5. But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God-1
        6. Therefore God-1 exists"

        (More recently came Plantinga's Modal Ontological Argument, which you can look up. It is refuted because it switches between different versions of logic -- "possible" means two extremely different things: subjunctive possibility (modal) and epistemic possibility (the one we use as everyday meaning). Premise 3 is not a valid modal-logic subjunctive-possibility premise unless its modal opposite has been proven that is not possible that it is impossible for God to exist. (Theophage provides a good explanation of this.) (Even Plantinga acknowledged that this "proof" would not be convincing for anyone else except for someone who is already a believer.)

        • Loreen Lee

          "possible" means two extremely different things: subjunctive possibility (modal) and epistemic possibility (the one we use as everyday meaning).

          Interesting arguments. But I should have to refer you to Kant who places modality as the fourth set within his categorical a priori 'truths'. The categories rare derived from Aristotle's logic: and thus their basis is logic: Problematic, Assetoric, Apodeictic. These are adapted through the transcendental deduction (or something) to become the transcendental basis of the categories of our understanding: of modality and our ability to classify objects within the world within the categories possibility-impossibility, existence, nonexistence, necessity-contingency. The logic of the modality, is thus adapted through the 'transcendental deduction' I believe it's called, to define the ability of mind to understand the world through 'pure reason.

          I personally hold that the proofs based on the evidence of our own 'human consciousness' give the best proofs for the existence of God. However, I prefer the Cartesian cogito and Kant's Moral argument to the others that I have looked at. But I also believe that these two arguments must be taken together as they represent in the first case the intelligence, and in the second case, our judgment (of particulars and purpose). I have written more extensively on this in another post. I have yet to find a 'proof' of God's 'Goodness'!!!!!

          I hesitantly put forward my individual personal specific response to Anselm's proof in another comment on this post. When you read it, I trust you will do so with a little bit of humor!!! Thank you.

          • Ben Posin

            The classic ontological argument is a bit silly, and smarter people than I have shown it to be fallacious over the years. Would that it did make sense! I'd be sitting on the ultimate island, greater than which no island can be conceived, (which therefore must by definition exist, right, because if it didn't, it wouldn't be the greatest island!). But before I book a plane to this perfect place (would the flights to there be really cheap by definition too?), let me have a swig of the ultimate beer, which naturally is in my hand as we speak, as if a beer is not in my hand, it is not the greatest beer I can imagine.

          • picklefactory

            The ultimate flight to the ultimate island naturally costs nothing and runs entirely on high-octane post-hoc reasoning, which as you know is a renewable resource.

          • Geena Safire

            ...Kant who places modality as the fourth set within...

            Today's modal logic, particularly modal axiom S5, emerged more than a century after Kant. So whatever he said that includes words with the stem 'modal-' has nothing to do with Plantinga's Modal Ontological Argument.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks you Geena. The recent development of this study is definitely beyond my ken. I don't have the background for it. The difficulty with Plantinga's argument I find, is that I don't believe you can go from 'some' to 'all'. However, I am very delighted that Modal argument includes semantics. Indeed my rhetoric generally favors this approach over more formal logical approaches. However, the original definitions of this I found are still based on the work of Aristotle and Kant.

        • Steven Dillon

          My favorite objection to Anselm's argument is that it's false that what is understood exists in the understanding. We understand the greatest prime number, but it doesn't exist in the mind because of that: it's impossible.

          • Loreen Lee

            The question is: does 'consciousness/ideas/ideals' 'exist'. The functional theory of mathematics claims that numbers are real, that they exist. We have The Angel Doctor. We have 'awareness' of our consciousness. And for Ben. - if we didn't have that consciousness could we have any 'idea' that the beer we hold in our hands is real, let alone the best.

            That's what I like about Descartes' cogito and Kant's a priori - they establish (I repeat) a priority to consciousness in determining 'what' is real and thus the basis of our scientific 'observations' of nature.. The 'idea' of God just places that 'reality' within an eternal transcendental sphere. omniscience - the intellect - the Word, omnipotence, the power of sapient thought, and thus the possibility of 'intuition' of space and time, and omnibenevolence, which unfortunately because of the difficulty of finding it within human consciousness has never succeeded as an independent proof. (grin grin)

            However, I am still 'wondering' about the implications of the 'as if' that Kant establishes as the context of the categorical imperative. I become more and more convinced over time that he is indeed a naturalist, which explains why the Church is opposed to his teachings, as well as Cartesian dualism.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Ben,

      I certainly understand the confusion over the Thomistic definition of "good," and I'm sorry that I haven't clarified it to your liking. I don't see how Aquinas' definition is circular, though: can you defend this claim?

      There are really two sides to this debate: (1) whether we can have objective morality without God, and (2) whether we can have objective morality with God. Steven and I focused on (1) in our debate, while the comments have been more interested in (2).

      You declare Geena the winner of the debate: are you satisfied with a purely evolutionary explanation of morality? Do you now believe that our evolutionary impulses actually are morally-binding?

      I addressed in one of the earlier statements that this would seem to logically entail eschewing contraception and anything else contrary to survival of the fittest ... as well as removing the safety net that cares for our least "evolutionarily-fit" brothers and sisters. Do you think that this is correct?

      I.X.,

      Joe

      • Ben Posin

        " I don't see how Aquinas' definition is circular, though: can you defend this claim?"

        Joe, an actual definition gives me information about something, it let's me pick that thing out when I encounter it, it let's me narrow the set of things in the universe that the term refers to. Telling me that good=having the quality of being worthy of being desired does none of these things. There's no referent involved in your supposed explanation, I have no criteria for determining whether something is good or worthy of being desired. And you really don't see that the word "worthy" is a way of sneaking "good" onto both sides of the equation?

        "There are really two sides to this debate: (1) whether we can have objective morality without God, and (2) whether we can have objective morality with God. Steven and I focused on (1) in our debate, while the comments have been more interested in (2)"

        This sounds a bit like whining, Joe, but it's certainly true in my case. This website is filled with articles about how love, meaning, morality, beauty etc. can't exist if God doesn't exist. But from my perspective, guess what: there's no reason to think God exists! So all the actual things you see in the world, all the feelings that you have, that mean love, beauty, meaning, morality, whatever, are already actually rooted in things other than God. So I'm less interested in trying to prove that these things are "objective" than demonstrating that the concept of God doesn't actually add anything to the mix. The power was inside you all along, Joe!

        "I addressed in one of the earlier statements that this would seem to logically entail eschewing contraception and anything else contrary to survival of the fittest ... as well as removing the safety net that cares for our least "evolutionarily-fit" brothers and sisters. Do you think that this is correct?"

        To the extent that *I* understand Geena's theory of morality, it's clear to me that you don't. The idea is not that evolution=morality. It's that mankind's shared evolutionary history has created a common neurological platform that allows certain mental phenomena which serve as the basis for morality. There's a really important distinction between evolution (which you suggestively summarize as "survival of the fittest") and the mental traits we are endowed with as a result of evolution. So, no, my empathy, reasoning ability, and sense of fairness, which result from mankind's evolutionary history, do NOT lead me to think that we should eschew contraception, or cease helping those less fortunate than ourselves.

  • David Nickol

    We ought not rape, murder, etc., regardless of the good or bad consequences of an individual act of rape or murder.

    It seems to me that we ought not to rape, murder, steal, etc. is as much—if not more—tautological than saying agony is bad, because raping, murdering, and stealing are acts that, by definition, are wrong. If you translate the Fifth Commandment as, "You shall not kill," it is far too broad a statement to take moral guidance from, but if you translate it as, "You shall not murder," it is purely tautological, because there are all kinds of circumstances under which killing of human beings is permitted that are not murder. "You shall not steal" does not define what stealing is, and there are all kind of circumstances in which it is not considered immoral to take the property of someone against his or her objection. I do not want to get into the complexities of defining rape, but suffice it to say that there have been times and cultures where acts that in 21st century America we would condemn as rape that would not have been considered rape by the people of those time and cultures. It is only within the past fifty or sixty years that, in legal terms at least, it has increasingly been thought that a man forcing his lawful wife to have sex could be classified as rape.

    So it seems to me that saying murder, rape, and stealing are morally wrong is tautological, because these are the words we use for wrongful acts of killing, wrongful coerced sexual intercourse, and wrongful taking of property. As we have seen in some debates here in the past, there is no solid agreement on the statement, "Lying is wrong," since many would argue that it is moral to tell the Nazis you are not hiding Anne Frank in your attic if they come seeking her in order to kill her.

    It seems to me the principle that it is always forbidden to do evil, no matter what good may come of it, is severely weakened in actual practice, since when what would otherwise be considered evil is considered neutral or good when it is done to effect some good. "You shall not kill" does not prohibit killing in self-defense, killing in battle, or killing by the state in the form of capital punishment. So a great deal what at first glance might seem moral statements are tautological, because the prohibit acts within fairly well defined circumstances that are already agree to be wrong.

    It is not very easy—or at least I am having difficulty as I write this—to name a specific act that is always wrong. For example, it is not always wrong to cut open a man's chest with a knife, otherwise we would not permit surgeons to do it. We might be scornful of someone of normal weight eating so much food that they gained a hundred pounds in a short period of time, but if such a person were an film actor gaining weight for a part, we would think very differently about it.

    On the other hand, I don't think the statement, "Agony is bad," is indefensible or tautological, although I don't see it as a moral statement. A certain amount of pain may serve a useful function, but agony, as I look at it, is pain of such intensity that it cannot have a good purpose. It may be necessary under circumstances to tolerate agony if a good end cannot be achieved without it (e.g., lifesaving battlefield amputations when when no anesthesia is available), but I don't think it would be wrong to wish that agony could be altogether eliminated from the world, which of course is what medical science is trying to do with drugs and pain-management techniques. If we could eliminate agony as we have eliminated small pox, surely we would do it. So I would say it makes sense to say small pox and agony are both "bad." It seems to me, then. that we can make true statements that do not need to be "grounded in God," and although "Small pox is bad" is not a moral statement, I am not sure statements about what is morally good or bad are so different from other good/bad designations that they need some special "grounding" to be true.

    • Loreen Lee

      In response to the limitations of Kant's categorical imperative and 'natural "law", I think the golden rule expresses well the need for love/care/compassion within the application of our will.

      On the limitation of law, I would also consider the criteria of judgment as related to 'particulars within the context of universals, known or not known', as it gives me at least some indication of the importance of beauty/order/grace/what have you.

      On the bad: maybe the bad often provides the incentive; something we need to overcome in order to attain a good, even only within a utilitarian context.

      I believe, by the way, that all ethical codes of conduct serve a purpose, but that they can be classified as more or less personal.

      • Loreen Lee

        Just had a thought: Isn't 'justice' (if this is understood as application of rule/law/maxim often tempered by mercy/(grace and beauty) within individual cases?

        I am also wondering too whether God's will is 'revealed' within the development of natural law/and/or deontology/rule/maxim on the individual level? But I might get into trouble for thinking this!!!!!!

  • Steven Dillon

    St. Anselm properly defines God as “that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.”

    As Ed Feser explains on p. 130 of Aquinas, Thomas Aquinas rejects Anselm's definition of God as the greatest conceivable being because to define something you must identify its genus and difference, but there is no distinction in God between genus and difference to identify. But, perhaps we can just take Anselm's definition as an accurate description of what God would be like if he existed.

    • Loreen Lee

      What if I had the megalomaniac idea that I was a god because nothing greater than "I" could possibly exist?

      • Steven Dillon

        Well, I think most people would write you off as megalomaniac in that case. :P

        But, in all seriousness, that makes me wonder about Jesus. Let's suppose that he thought he was a god. It seems we should therefore assume he suffered from megalomania unless there is really good evidence to the contrary. I mean, how much evidence would it take to convince us that you weren't megalomaniac? I bet quite a lot.

        • Loreen Lee

          Very interesting. I actually thought after using my 'self' as a reference that I might be laying myself open for such a comment. But I thought - "That's OK. I can take it". Which led me to consider the possibility that it is not improbable that an identification with the existence of even a Cartesian perfect God could be the basis for an assumed knowledge by 'ordinary mortals' regarding Divine/Moral/- and even Natural law. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why I appreciate Kant saying that his criteria of objectivity is merely regulative rather than constitutive. We can indeed assume that if we say, "this trust constitutes law" that we are indeed affecting reality just through our 'word'. While thinking this thought decades ago I once closed my book with a bang thinking that will be the end of it. As it was not I immediately came to the realization that I was not a 'god' and that my 'word' could not directly affect 'reality'. So I do note that the word of god, is made Word of God, which should remind us that the capital letters point to a 'transcendence' or eternal context that is 'beyond' the spheres of space and time in the sense that the Truth, as Christianity teaches, can be identified with natural knowledge, which raises again the question of the efficacy of "Natural' law..

          But the really serious difficulty I have had with this issue of megalomania is that indeed I am guilty of the ''sin' of actually questioning the issue of 'sanity' in regard to Jesus, after rereading the gospel of John in the last year. I assuaged this feeling of guilt by recalling that -who was it Chesterton or C.S. Lewis? also had come up with the same thought. Indeed on closer inspection I realized that this was a not uncommon reaction to Jesus within scripture - at least by the Sadducee? and indeed in one scripture do not even his 'brothers?' question his sanity. (I don't have the reference, so please correct me if my memory is the cause of error).

          I have resolved this issue with the perspective that indeed I do find (the) 'Truth' within the sayings of the gospel. But it has made it 'necessary' for me to closely examine scripture in the hope that I can 'understand' Jesus. I told this to my brother and he said that it is enough to 'trust' Jesus. But this is not enough for me because I have as much need to attempt to understand the metaphorical and almost seemingly contradictory sayings (this is the wrong word- vague maybe would be better, but that's not the word I'm looking for either) of Jesus, as I do to understand the DE-ontological or law governed ethics of Kant which is the closest comparison I have to the original law-governed ethics of the bible. I do have with Kant, at least the assurance that any 'natural law' is indeed the basis of a naturalization of Christian thought. But in any case, you will understand better why this whole 'morality' issue is of such interest to me.

          In any case, Jesus is understood to be both Human and Divine, so perhaps I will run across someone who is trained in Christology to help me. I do believe that it is most difficult to clearly define or understand the distinction between divinity and the 'human' characteristics of Jesus in scripture. To avoid any extended problem, therefore, I merely assume that scripture deals 'only' or 'primarily' with the 'divine'. But yes, I will admit that I very often feel quite vulnerable to the ease with which one can assume a megalomania.

  • Geena Safire

    Without God, all of reality is literally pointless: it’s a random cosmic accident, and there’s no objective, morally-binding reason to do good and avoid evil.

    Well then, Joe, it's probably a good idea for the rest of us that you remain a Christian since, if you ever lose your faith, you're as likely as not to start killing and raping because 'why not?'. (On the other hand, you might save us from that by committing suicide due to the unbearable agony of existential despair.)

    Yet, surprisingly, the vast majority of agnostics and atheists and Buddhists and Confucians and others who believe in no god-claim somehow find similar objective, morally-binding reasons to perform moral acts and avoid immoral acts. Call me crazy, but that's just the way I roll. Because we are physical beings in a physical universe living with other people and our actions have consequences.

    Plus, absent deity-based meaning and purpose, we develop deep meaning and purpose in our lives.

    One of my favorite videos on secular morality is from Scott Clifton (aka Theoretical Bullshit).

    Scott says "A particular action or choice is moral or right if it somehow promotes happiness, well-being or healthy or it somehow minimizes unnecessary harm or suffering or it does both."

    He also discusses the same frustration I have felt in reading your circular, abstruse arguments in this debate. You can listen to his, but here's mine.

    You argue that "Some things are more good, true, and beautiful than other things. This type of quality is 'non-essential' and 'non-material' in relation to its degree of perfection." In the same way, though, Joe, some things are worse, more false, and more ugly than other things. These are in the same category of qualities.

    You then write, " 'Good' and 'better' are only coherent in relation to some (perhaps implicit) 'best'." In the same way, though, 'bad' and 'worse' are only coherent in relation to some (perhaps implicit) 'worst.' (Plus, just because a set can be defined, that doesn't mean it has any members, such as the set of all two-inch tall giraffes.)

    You then rule out the possibility of an infinite regress into more and more perfect beings. I could challenge that because, simply, how the heck do you really know about how non-material stuff works? If you can 'logic' a triple-omni eternal deity into existence, why can't I 'logic' a simple infinite regress into existence because wouldn't that be the most perfect regress?!

    The other refutation is this: If there is no infinite regress, all regress of a particular quality must some arbitrary, theoretical point where Special Pleading is the only excuse. You call that Special Pleading exception "god," which must ontologically exist.

    This god you define, in part, to be at once, the mostest of every most. So then it must be the worst of all the worsts if the best of the bests, the ugliest of the ugly if the prettiest of the pretty, and so forth. Maximal in all qualities.

    But no, you claim, this god must be defined as having only the good bits, in fact being all goodness. On the other hand, every bit of evil on Earth, including physical evil such as cancer-causing cosmic rays coming from billions of light years away from a supernova before the formation of Earth, is due to an act of disobedience by two really-true physical not-yet-moral (pre-apple) humans whom this deity ensouled at some point a quarter million or so years ago during evolution and due to all our sins since then. That is, the Catholic claim is that "suffering is the penal consequence of wilful disobedience to the law of God."

    My response to that fantastic claim is, again, "Why?"

    When you are pressed on why your god must have only the good bits, either you are deliberately obtuse as you were in answering Question #1 or you lapse into ecstatic mystery: "[W]e can’t tell you, short of encountering God directly, what that is like. It would be irrational to expect us to be able to."

    So our claim of objective morality is irrational without the existence of your god, which is bad. But it is irrational for us to expect you to be able to answer our questions, which is because your god is just so awesomely, unimaginably good.

    • Ben Posin

      I'm not sure exactly where to plug this into the debate, but Scott Clifton, in discussing the problems with claiming God anchors some sort of objective morality, made a point that stuck with me: that despite Christian's claims that their morality is distinct and objective in a way that a consequentialist secular morality is not, for all intents and purposes Christian morality can be seen as consquentialist too.

      Imagine: if God suddenly appeared to the people, and gave them a list of commands, and said: "Behold, I am the source of objective morality, and tell you that obeying these commands are moral, and disobeying immoral-- even if you don't understand why these commands are moral. But be aware: if you obey these commands, you will create misery in your lives and those with whom you intereact, and when you die will unfortunately have to spend eternity in hell. But these just happen to be the necessary practical consequences of good moral behavior, which are the things that by definition one ought to do, so go forth and follow my commands."

      If this sounds absurd, if you can't imagine it possible that God would give such commmands, or don't think you'd obey them, then guess what: you're a consequentialist too.

    • joeclark77

      The argument isn't that there'd be no reason to behave morally if you didn't believe in God. The argument is that there'd be no reason to behave moraly if God actually didn't exist. You are aware of objective morality (despite the fact that such a thing logically contradicts your atheism) and you are guided by conscience, because God exists, whether you know it or not.

      • Geena Safire

        Joe, I understand that is the argument, from your point of view. But, as I have argued at great length in many comments during this debate, there are grounds for objective morality in the facts of our evolutionary history, of the neuroscientific facts about our brains, and the anthropological , psychological, and sociological findings about us and our animal cousins. Therefore, my awareness of objective morality does not logically contradict my atheism.

        That is, unless you are arguing from presupposition. That is, unless you define your terms in such a way that 'defines" your deity into existence and 'defines' objective morality as something that cannot exist without said deity's existence.

        My view, Joe, is that if two people want to have a rational, meaningful discussion, then both parties have to agree on what words mean. If you insist on definitions that are not as these words are understood today among rational people but instead what they used to mean hundreds of years ago in Latin, then congratulations -- you 'win' the argument by default -- but only in the comfy cocoon of your mind. Presuppositionalists 'win' the argument by starting from 'Let's accept definitions that mean I win and then we can start the debate.'

        If you need to proceed from the conviction that you are right, I can't stop you, but understand that it also means that, if you are actually wrong, you'll never discover it. It also means that you aren't really engaging in a dialogue.

        God exists, whether you know it or not.

        Fine. Prove it in a way that convinces me.

        If you cannot, then the only way we can have an actual discussion is if we use tentative terms wrt that deity's existence, such as 'If God exists...' or 'Whether God exists or not...'

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          Gina,

          You've accused me (and the Joe who responded to you above) of stacking the debate by using archaic definitions of terms.

          I don't think that I'm doing that, although you've accused me of it several times. But in any case, I think you are doing it. When I asked you to define "good," you defined it as an evolutionary byproduct... which, obviously, assumes that the good is only an evolutionary byproduct.

          Now, you're claiming that unless we can personally convince you that God exists, we must treat His existence as contingent:

          Fine. Prove it in a way that convinces me.

          If you cannot, then the only way we can have an actual discussion is if we use tentative terms wrt that deity's existence, such as 'If God exists...' or 'Whether God exists or not...'

          If the only way that "we can have an actual discussion" with you is by denying the necessity of God's existence, then we can't have a discussion with you. What you're demanding as a precursor or dialogue is as absurd as me demanding the opposite: that you start from assuming God's necessity. Any dialogue beginning from such false premises is bound to be fruitless.

          So I understand that you don't think God's existence is necessary (or actual), but you should understand that we think you're wrong, and that it's unreasonable to demand we renounce this before you'll engage in dialogue.

          I.X.,

          Joe

          • Geena Safire

            Joe Heschmeyer, I can't think of any functional opening here that isn't snarky, so I'll forgo one.

            In this comment, I am only addressing part of your comment, the part about what I had said to joeclark77 regarding how Catholics and atheists can have a discussion here. I'll address your other concerns in a separate comment.

            I get that you believe God exists. I get that you believe God is necessary. I get that you believe that believing in God is the most awesome thing possible in human life, else you wouldn't be at seminary.

            I think you get that I don't believe God exists. I think you get that I don't believe God is necessary.

            I think you get that I remained completely unconvinced by anthropic (natural law) arguments, teleological arguments, cosmological arguments, transcendental arguments, ontological arguments and the arguments from morality, inter alia. We could debate them, but it'll save much time if I just point you to Iron Chariots, my favorite among several counter-apologetic web sites.

            Strange Notions is about dialogue between Catholics and atheists. Yet you believe that God exists and I don't believe that. So how can we talk to each other regarding important issues in life which, for you, involve God?

            If I start by saying, "Since your god-claim is inadequate, therefore yadda-yadda", you couldn't agree to my argument, or even get past the first clause.

            If you start by saying, "Since God must exist, therefore yadda-yadda", I couldn't agree to your argument, or even get past the first clause.

            Either of these two ways, a discussion between you and me cannot occur. All we could do is argue back and forth: "Yes, He does!" "No, it doesn't" "Must!" "Can't!" "Yes!" "No!" "Ya-huh!" "Nuh-uh!" Until Brandon steps in to break the clinch.

            Given this preamble, now reread what I wrote:

            If you [joeclark77] cannot [convince me that God exists], then the only way we can have an actual discussion is if we use tentative terms wrt that deity's existence, such as 'If God exists...' or 'Whether God exists or not...'

            Note that I said "we." Note that I was talking about you and me having a discussion.

            You wrote: "Now, you're claiming that unless we can personally convince you that God exists, we must treat His existence as contingent."

            Yes, Joe, I am claiming that.

            I am claiming that for a fruitful and respectful dialogue here at Strange Notions, I must word discussions regarding God's existence in tentative terms, and you must word discussions regarding God's existence in tentative terms.

            Do you have an alternative to propose?

            (You are free, of course, to be as insulting and incredulous as you like regarding atheists at your Shameless Popery blog.)

          • Geena Safire

            Joe Heschmeyer, this is my second reply, also to part of your comment. There will be (at least) one more comment after this one, regarding 'good' and 'morality' and 'evolutionary byproduct.'

            You've accused me (and the Joe who responded to you above) of stacking the debate by using archaic definitions of terms.

            I never accused you of 'stacking the debate', which is trying to win a debate by unfair initial conditions. That's a straw man, Joe.

            (Plus, since joeclark77 wasn't part of the debate, how could he have 'stacked the debate'?)

            I've complained inter alia about your writing being abstruse, especially the parts describing God as indescribable, and using archaic wording regarding Aquinas' views. I did say you were deliberately obtuse regarding Steven's proposal that "agony is bad." I did make note at least one logical fallacy in this article – an equivocation fallacy wrt 'law.' (There were others, but they were less egregious than those in your previous 'Question of Evil' article.) I also pointed out definitional flaws in your water/liquid/wet analogy. I noted several points where you seemed to be engaging in presupposition or "____anything awesome____ therefore God exists" or faulty/circular reasoning. I responded to your complaint that we were 'blithely dismiss[ing] all metaphysics and ontology because [we] don't understand it' by noting that we disagree about their importance plus subscribe to a different metaphysics, and also this is not a philosophy exam. I also complained that you treat atheists as objects of, alternately, derision and pity.

            There were likely other things, but this list seems at least representative.

            My main point, however, is this: If part of your goal is to evangelize to atheists (as is the underlying goal of Strange Notions), and if what I've read in this debate and, especially, your previous article reflects how you will continue to write here, despite the massive comment thrashing negative feedback you've received each time,then you're gonna have a bad time.

          • Geena Safire

            This is my third comment to you, regarding evolutionary byproducts

            But in any case, I think you are doing it
            [using archaic definitions]. When I asked you to define "good," you defined it as an evolutionary byproduct... which, obviously, assumes that the good is only an evolutionary byproduct.

            You might think, Joe, as some do, that each result of
            evolutionary change is only a byproduct, as a kind of snide synonym for random chance, ignoring the driving force of adaptive selection. That is not the correct use of that word, however, in the context of evolutionary biology.

            A little background on evolutionary byproducts might be
            helpful to start. In evolutionary biology, a spandrel is a phenotypic characteristic (a gene expressed in a species) is a byproduct of the evolution of some other characteristic, rather than a direct product of adaptive selection.

            A spandrel might occur because a gene that was selected for lies very close to the spandrel gene on DNA and so the latter 'came along for the ride.' A spandrel might also occur because the expressed gene causes several effects*, not all of which are adaptively selected. That is, a gene might have one effect in brain cells and another effect in intestinal cells. The intestinal effect might be very positive while the brain effect might be modestly negative. There are some other ways a spandrel can occur.

            Another important aspect of a spandrel is that it may have
            originally been present as a byproduct but, later during evolution, that feature might gain a selective value. (This is one type of exaptive adaptation.)

            I did not say "good" or "morality"* is a spandrel; quite the opposite. I believe they have been adaptively selected. We need to recognize and be motivated to do what is good for us, for survival. We need to recognize and be motivated to do what is good for attached others and our community (morality) in order to be social.

            What is an example of a spandrel?

            Religion, is widely viewed, in the cognitive science of religion, as a spandrel, an evolutionary byproduct. But it may have "subsequently [been] co-opted for adaptive purposes."

            Perhaps you were intending to say that if our innate sense (recognition and drive) of 'good' and 'morality' is a product of evolution, then it is just a product of evolution. But whether or not these are part of some ultimate plan for the universe, they are still essential to who we are and how we can be together as humans.

            ________

            * I discussed "morality" in evolutionary terms in
            this thread, in this thread, in this thread, in this thread, this thread, and in this thread.

            I described morality from a biological/evolutionary/neuroscientific POV, in line with the views of Patricia
            Churchland
            , the pioneer of neurophilosophy.

        • joeclark77

          Gina, discourse is impossible if you demand that the other side prove and re-prove every step of its argument as a prefix to any and all comments on related matters. Imagine if I were to cite an average of some statistic, and you were to reply by demanding that I provide a fresh proof of the central limit theorem.
          The purpose of my comment was to correct your misunderstanding of an argument concerning atheists and moral behavior. You thought that the Christian position was "X", that one cannot behave morally if one does not believe in God, and the actual position is "Y", that one could not behave morally if God did not in fact exist. I trust that I have conveyed this point now. (Or are you going to insist that the Christian side doesn't have the right to state its own argument?)

          • Geena Safire

            The purpose of my comment was to correct your misunderstanding...

            First, joeclark77, if you'll reread my comment, you'll see I didn't misunderstand the Catholic position. Second, if you reread your comment just above, you'll see that you are misstating the Catholic position. So, no, joeclark77, you haven't conveyed bupkus.

            Third, the person on the Christian side has the right to make any claim s/he wants. But s/he does not have the right to say that claim must be accepted as proven if the atheist side is not convinced.

            Let me explain again the "if" business, since it has you baffled.

            It is inappropriate, in a discussion with atheists -- by defintion, every discussion at Strange Notions -- for Christians to state as a settled premise the existence of their deity or any of its purported features. That is, joeclark77, you can say, "If God exists, then..." But you'll get nowhere if you say, "Since God exists, then..."

            Perhaps I should be kind. I can use small words and short sentences and abbreviations to help you understand. You define your deity as D. You define morality as JM -- joeclark77's morality definition. Part of your JM definition is "without D, not possible to JM."

            My reply is, "joeclark77, I reject your definition of morality, JM. I say your definition is both wrong and outdated. My definition of morality is GM. My GM is based on modern scientific facts, not 800-year-old armchair philosophy. So I think GM is better than JM. I think GM is more right than JM. My definition, GM, does not require a deity. Part of my GM definition is "GM possible, regardless of D or not-D."

            You, joeclark77, have the right not to accept my GM as your definition for morality. But you also do not have the right to either assume or insist that I accept your JM as my definition of morality.

            So, in a discussion between you and me, if you start by saying, "Because JM is true...", I'll stop you. If you start by saying, "Since D exists...", I'll stop you. (Of course, I can't actually make you stop. That is a 'figure of speech' to convey that I will not read any further. It would be as if you said, "Since potatoes can talk..." or "Since agony is good...")

            More specifically, if you say, "Geena claims she acts JM. If JM, then D. Therefore D. Ha! Checkmate, atheist!", I will stop you at the first premise, because it is false. I reject the first premise, because Geena claims she acts GM.

            You cannot define God into existence. By extension, you cannot define terms that define God into existence.

          • joeclark77

            Geena, let me shorten it for you. We said "Y" and you said "You're saying X". That's called a straw-man. You have also insisted, in almost every comment I've seen you post on this blog, that you won't even have a conversation with anyone who doesn't attach, as an appendix, a brand new proof of P, Q, and R, to every comment. I don't know what the latin name for that fallacy is, but it's simply atrocious manners.

          • Geena Safire

            Now you're just making stuff up. Sheesh! I'm going to assume that you got up on the wrong side of the bed today. Maybe we'll start again tomorrow.

        • Vasco Gama

          Geena,

          Morality is defined by what we are (or by our human nature if you prefer). The evolution as nothing to do with morality (at most if it was possible to know how we were and what kind of morality we had before becoming humans maybe we could explain the differences in morality).

          Morality didn't suffer any dramatic change in recent history, and we didn't evolve recently either, so there is no reason to dismiss (in this sense claiming it is archaic is meaningless as it doesn't show that it is wrong) what was correctly recognized in the past.

          I come to realize what Joe understands by objective morality (although I disagree with him), but I have some doubts how you come to define the "objective morality" you claim to hold.

          • Andre Boillot

            "Morality didn't suffer any dramatic change in recent history"

            How are you defining 'dramatic' or 'recent'?

          • Vasco Gama

            in the same way as you, I guess

          • Geena Safire

            My use of the word 'archaic' refers to relying on Aquinas' writings and definitions, and those of other ancients, to prove a point, in cases where their presumptions or definitions are no longer valid given today's scientific knowledge or word usage.

            A word or phrase is not archaic just by virtue of being old. It is archaic when what it meant then does not mean the same thing today.

            If you haven't read my other comments, during the debate, regarding the evolutionary emergence of mammalian and human morality, then my reference won't make sense to you.

          • Vasco Gama

            To the best of my knowledge the medieval Aquinas thoughts were not proven to be wrong (although there are circumstantial errors due to the scientific knowledge of his time).

            I do realize what you mean by 'archaic', even if the words and terminology doesn't mean exactly the same things, and if language changed a bit, the ideas and thoughts are actual and valid, unless you are able to prove that that is not the case. In this case saying that something is 'archaic' doesn't mean more than saying that you don't agree with the ideas. That is so silly as to dismiss the philosophical work of Plato or Aristotle claiming it is archaic.

            I really don't need to read anything to disagree with a pretence explanation of morality in terms of evolution (or neuroscience, or …) it tells us nothing we don’t already know about morality. Morality comes from our knowledge of ourselves (not from how we came to be what we are, that is completely irrelevant to this matter).

            However you failed to give me any insight (not a moral code or anything of the sort) about your objective grounds for morality.

          • Geena Safire

            You'll note that I wrote: "in cases where their presumptions or definitions are no longer valid given today's scientific knowledge or word usage."

            That is, I call the ones that are "no longer valid" no longer valid. Not all of them.

            (although there are circumstantial errors due to the scientific knowledge of his time).

            Like these ones.

            If you want me to engage with you in a discussion on morality, find one of my other more detailed descriptions and comment there. I won't discuss it any more here.

          • Vasco Gama

            Geena,

            I don't want to discuss morality with you (or anyone else), I just fail to understand what you mean with the "objective morality" you claim to hold.

            My previous comments addressed only your insights about the origin (as due to evolution or whatever) or the grounds (as to neuroscience or psychology, or …) that I consider irrelevant to the fact that moral can be objectively grounded (and that was what really was in debated in these last posts). Those would be interesting issues if we were debating the existence of morality, but that was not the case.

          • Geena Safire

            Discussing a posited origin of morality or a proposed grounds for morality is discussing morality.

            I don't want to discuss morality with you

            Then this is your lucky day.

          • Rick DeLano

            "their presumptions or definitions are no longer valid given today's scientific knowledge"

            More accurately, the metaphysical superiority of the medievals over the modernists is now beginning to disclose itself abundantly, in the rapidly-multiplying patches invented out of whole cloth and proposed for the assent of faith:

            1. Big Bang
            2. Inflation
            3. Curved spacetime
            4. Dark matter
            5. Dark energy
            6. Multiverse

            All of which are to be understood under the superior Thomist metaphysics as what they in fact are- science of the gaps.

          • Geena Safire

            Cute, Rick. Really! (You left out string theory.)

            But you inappropriately shortened what I wrote:

            in cases where their presumptions or definitions are no longer valid given today's scientific knowledge or word usage.

          • Rick DeLano

            Cute, Rick. Really! (You left out string theory.)

            >> Subsumed under "multiverse".

            Got any presumptions or definitions of the Dumb Ox that are no longer valid, given today's scientific *knowledge*?

          • Geena Safire

            'Prime mover' vs. 17th century physics.

          • Rick DeLano

            Can you be a bit more specific? Newton, of course, completely accepts the notion of a Prime Mover, and his physics collapsed once the Michelson Morley experiment falsified one or the other of its foundational assumptions:

            1. Absolute space
            2. An annual motion of Earth around Sun.

            Relativity chose to interpret MMX as falsifying Door Number One and here we are today, faced with a universe with a preferred direction pointing directly at Earth.....

          • Paul Boillot

            You want so much woo-woo to be inferred from that closing ellipsis. The earth doesn't move around the sun?

            Magical thinking is magical.

          • Rick DeLano

            "The struggle, so violent in the early days of science, between the views of Ptolemy and Copernicus would then be quite meaningless. Either CS [coordinate system] could be used with equal justification. The two sentences, 'the sun is at rest and the earth moves', or 'the sun moves and the earth is at rest', would simply mean two different conventions concerning two different CS [coordinate systems]."---"The Evolution of Physics: From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta, Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, New York, Simon and Schuster 1938, 1966 p.212

            Yes, magical thinking is magical.

          • Paul Boillot

            A foolish choice of quote.

            If I choose to center my coordinate system on the thirty second hair of my left eyebrow, I can intelligibly plot the motion of every object in the universe in relation to that center. That has zero relevance to the question of what the physical mechanism which keeps bodies in motion around each other.

            Interchangeability of coordinate systems is a non sequitur, well done, you've proven your grasp of the subject admirably.

            Woo-woo

          • Rick DeLano

            To the contrary, Paul.

            The quote is foolish.

            It's choice apt.

            Magical thinking is indeed magical.

          • Rick DeLano

            As to the *assumption* embedded within your thirty second hair assertion, it is indeed foundational to standard cosmology, all of standard cosmology bases its mathematical solutions to Einstein's equations on this *assumption*; which is isotropy and homogeneity on largest scales ("Copernican/ cosmological Principle").

            But the assumption has been observationally falsified, and this has been known for quite some time now:

            http://arxiv.org/pdf/1104.0539v1.pdf

            Excerpt:

            "Alignment of low multipoles in the CMB angular power spectrum: The normals to the octopole and quadrupole planes are aligned with the direction of the cosmological dipole at a level inconsistent with Gaussian random, statistically isotropic skies at 99.7% (Copi et. al., 2010)."

          • Rick DeLano

            So, as I said at first, Newton dies with MMX. Einstein proposes to eliminate absolute space, and postulates relativity with isotropy/homogeneity as the large-scale expression of the principle of Relativity (covariance).

            As is predictably the case in science, the universe declines to cooperate with the postulate and so, here we are about to learn something new.

            That something new will require us to revisit the MMX, since Relativity cannot explain its results.

          • Paul Boillot

            My apologies, Rick, you failed to respond to my comment, so I was unaware that you had continued to contribute to our discussion. In the future, if you want my attention, reply to me directly.

            Also, I'm waiting for you to walk me through the no-doubt fascinating connections between:
            A) The logical interchangeability of abstract coordinate systems. (from Earth, it looks like the Sun is moving, from the Sun, the inverse appears true -- neither is an illogical starting point for plotting space travel)
            B) Your explanation of the physics behind the Earths movement around the sun.
            C) Your understanding of privilege frames of reference.

            I suppose since you decided to go off on two other tangents, we're going to have to ask you to explain:
            D) Why you bring up the copernican principle in reference to A.
            E) What anisotropies in the CMB have to do with the copernican principle OR A.
            F) Why you believe that the theory of general or special relativity means that the universe must be isotropic.

            What I find predictable in all this is that you keep using physics terms willy nilly without grasping them, hoping that a scattergun approach will shock your audience into silence.

            Of course there are now, and have been, hundreds and thousands of bright scientists working furiously to unravel the mysteries which separate our understandings of Gravitation and Quantum Dynamics....I doubt that we're getting any close because Rick DeLano keeps shouting MMX.

          • Rick DeLano

            Paul, your attention is yours to give or not.

            It is a matter of perfect indifference to me.

            But I am happy to respond, when the points raised provide an opportunity to bring our differences into sharper relief.

            ************

            "A) The logical interchangeability of abstract coordinate systems. (from Earth, it looks like the Sun is moving, from the Sun, the inverse appears true -- neither is an illogical starting point for plotting space travel)"

            >> But it cannot be simultaneously true that A orbits B and B orbits A. To propose this as a metaphysical truth is a form of mental illness. To propose it as a scientific bootstrap is simultaneously to propose that science cannot arrive at metaphysical truth, which is a lesson this civilization is presently beginning, at long last, to recover.

            "B) Your explanation of the physics behind the Earths movement around the sun."

            >> There is no such absolute motion, as far as present-consensus physical science is concerned. Science asserts only relative motion, so the introduction of a preferred frame is simply a matter of convenience of calculation, or metaphysical preference.

            Metaphysically, one must be orbiting the other.

            Theologically, the Scriptures tell us that it is the Sun that is moving. This is a unanimous consensus of the Fathers, and was considered a matter of crucial importance for the defense of the dogma of the inerrancy of the Scriptures by Saints and Popes of the Tridentine Church.

            Nothing that they stated then has failed to stand the test of time, either as a matter of science, or as a matter of the consequences to the Faith of allowing a scientific hypothesis to be accepted as if it were of superior reliability to the Scriptures.

            "C) Your understanding of privilege frames of reference."

            >> All experiments are consistent with Earth as the absolute frame of reference. In order to make experiments consistent with a motion of the Earth, science of the gaps in the form of the Theories of Relativity are required; that is, space which is nothing must bend and stretch, time must flow at different rates, lengths must shrink, etc.

            "I suppose since you decided to go off on two other tangents, we're going to have to ask you to explain:
            D) Why you bring up the copernican principle in reference to A."

            >> Because, obviously, the Copernican Principle depends upon the *assumption* that Earth does not present us with a preferred frame. We now know this to be false, as a matter of direct, repeated, exhaustively confirmed scientific observation, as in the link I shared above, and as in others I will share below.

            "E) What anisotropies in the CMB have to do with the copernican principle OR A."

            >> The CMB anisotropies are aligned with the ecliptic and equinoxes of Earth. This is of course in violation of the Copernican Principle.

            See:

            http://arxiv.org/pdf/1201.2459v1.pdf

            Excerpt:

            "Note that the normals cluster together on the sky, implying that quadropole plane and the three octopole planes are nearly aligned. Moreover, the normals are near the ecliptic plane, implying that not only are these four planes aligned
            but the are nearly perpendicular to the ecliptic. Furthermore the normals are near the dipole, meaning that the planes are not just aligned and perpendicular to the ecliptic
            but oriented perpendicular to Solar System’s motion through the Universe."

            "F) Why you believe that the theory of general or special relativity means that the universe must be isotropic."

            >> The FLRW solution to the Einstein Field equations- that is, standard best-buy cosmology- is completely dependent upon assumed isotropy *and homogeneity*; that is, the generalized Copernican Principle, known as the "cosmological principle", for the excellent reason that all of cosmology is predicated upon this assumption, which has been observationally falsified.

            "What I find predictable in all this is that you keep using physics terms willy nilly without grasping them, hoping that a scattergun approach will shock your audience into silence."

            >> What I find predictable is that you are much better at assertion than you are at demonstration.

            "Of course there are now, and have been, hundreds and thousands of bright scientists working furiously to unravel the mysteries which separate our understandings of Gravitation and Quantum Dynamics....I doubt that we're getting any close because Rick DeLano keeps shouting MMX."

            >> To the contrary. The question of the Copernican Principle is now at the very top of the list of challenges to the cosmologists. I just interviewed a half dozen of the best in the world for my film, and when you come see it and listen to them, you will be in a position to mitigate your present tendency to use physics terms willy nilly without grasping them, hoping that a scattergun approach will shock your audience into silence.

          • Paul Boillot

            The quote makes perfect sense, in context...a context you fail to understand, and that failure leads you to use the quote in logically invalid situations.

            Much like Ron Burgundy goes around dropping the phrase "When in Rome" in the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

            Ron is our hero, our protagonist, but he's not the brightest tool in the shed. He doesn't *actually* understand what he's saying, but because he's heard other intelligent people use it, he throws it around in an attempt to garner respect.

            "When in Rome" is a real phrase, that adds real semantic value to a discourse when used properly. Similarly, Einstein's quote about the relativity of observations of motion in a 2 body system are fruitful and interesting...in the right context.

            You want us to exegete deep scientific and philosophical meaning from your throwing "annual motion of the Earth," "preferred directions," and that Einstein quote...when, unfortunately, you're simply not making any sense.

            Interchangeability of coordinates doesn't touch annular motion of the Earth around the Sun doesn't touch your quacky notions of privileged status; go ahead, make those three intelligible for us.

          • Geena Safire

            Paul, thanks for the save!

  • Vasco Gama

    Joe,

    I think that the causation of agony that is contrary to the flourishing of human nature is an objective evil (of course it is not crystal clear, but then nothing in morality is) and I can’t agree that we need to ground it on the existence of God (I really don't agree with you that morality can only be grounded in God, further it makes no sense).

  • Danny Getchell

    Joe,

    After reading your comments in this series, I am still at a loss as to what you mean by describing morality as "grounded in" God.

    Frankly, it seems to be an attempt to deny Euthypro's third definition by evading the concept that morality is "caused" by the First Cause of everything.