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Neil DeGrasse Tyson Shows Why Science Can’t Build a Utopia

Atheist astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted, “Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” I did my best in 140 characters to show how this sentiment is the exact of opposite of profound. I said, “@neiltyson ‘Rationalia’ is as useless as ‘Correctistan,’ or a country whose constitution says, 'Always make the correct decisions.'"

Obviously, public policy should rationally consider all the relevant facts and circumstances. But it is naïve to think that all it takes to create a just society is a scientific mindset that “follows the evidence where it leads.”

That’s because the “evidence” we need includes not just facts Dr. Tyson and other scientists can confirm in a laboratory but values that help us interpret those facts and come to correct conclusions. In fact, a tragedy that took place last week perfectly illustrates how we can’t solve every problem with a facile appeal to scientific reasoning.

The Driverless Car Dilemma

Shortly after Dr. Tyson's tweet, Joshua Brown became the first fatality in an accident involving a car using autopilot mode. This won’t spell the end of driverless cars any more than the very first automobile crash kept the horse and buggy in business, but the technology does raise important questions related to ethics and highway safety regulations. For example, a recently published article in the journal Science revealed the attitude of 2,000 people towards this dilemma:

"A driverless car is about to run over ten people, and there is not enough time to for the car to stop. The only the way the car can avoid killing the pedestrians is to swerve into a wall, which will probably kill one or more of the vehicle’s passengers. Should driverless cars be programmed to save as many lives as possible in an accident (utilitarian programming)? Or should they be programmed to do what is necessary to protect their passengers?"

The survey revealed that 76 percent of people believe it is more moral for a driverless car to receive utilitarian programming. In other words, most people think it’s better if a car’s computer sacrificed the vehicle’s passengers in order to save as many lives as possible. But the survey also revealed that 81 percent of respondents would not purchase a driverless car with such programming. Instead, they would prefer a car programmed to protect them and their passengers at all costs.

This brings us back to Dr. Tyson’s suggestion that we follow “the weight of the evidence.” How should Rationalia’s transportation authority deal with the problem of highway fatalities? Should it mandate utilitarian programming in driverless cars in order to achieve the goal of reducing highway fatalities? Or should it allow drivers to choose which programming they want in order to achieve the goal of respecting civil liberties, even if it causes an increase in traffic fatalities?

The “evidence,” or facts and statistical relations, can support both policies, so an appeal to facts alone doesn’t tell us what we ought to do. The “Rationalia” approach won’t resolve dilemmas like this, because ethical disputes tend to be about the values people hold and not just thefacts they observe. This means Rationalia’s anemic constitution cannot resolve societal disputes any more than your GPS unit can resolve a fight your family has over a summer vacation.

In both cases science can give us facts that describe what is, but only philosophical reflection can tell us what we ought to do.

The Myth of Objectivity

In a video, Dr. Tyson explained in more detail why something like Rationalia is necessary. He said, “It is unstable to build a government on a belief system.” [Audience applauds] “What you want is objectively verifiable truths, that we can all agree—that’s what you build your economic system on, your government system.”

What does he mean by “belief system”? In the video Dr. Tyson is clearly referring to religion. He says those kinds of belief systems are unstable, because religious people disagree with one another. Instead, we should build public policy on “objectively verifiable truths,” which are apparently secular in nature. I agree that public policy should not simply mirror what is found in divine revelation (something natural law theorists like St. Thomas Aquinas have known for millennia). But the materialistic, utilitarian thinking that motivates scientists like Dr. Tyson is not exempt from this critique.

Many people, religious and nonreligious, disagree with that belief system. Furthermore, the truth of this value system can’t be “objectively verified” with a scientific instrument. In other words, you can’t build a political philosophy, even one as simple as Rationalia’s, out of something like the periodic table of elements. You need objectively true values or moral facts that can be known only through nonscientific means like intuition or ethical reflection. Since God is pure goodness itself and can be known through reason, we can build equitable societies on moral principles derived from the natural law that compliment the special moral principles we receive from the same source in divine revelation.

There’s nothing wrong with someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson encouraging us to be rational when we debate important social issues. What is objectionable is the claim that because some scientists are successful at solving practical problems we should adopt their personal value systems. We should instead critically examine these value systems and apply nonscientific (but equally valid) philosophical tests to see if they support just societies and affirm the intrinsic dignity of the human person.

Trent Horn

Written by

Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

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  • Valence

    Out of curiosity, what would be the Catholic approach to programming morality in AI (such as a self-driving car). Would virtue ethics be workable? The virtuous self-driving car does have a ring to it :)

    • neil_pogi

      and who's gonna program it? atheists or not?

      • Valence

        In my experience most people in tech are atheists or agnostic, if that's what you are asking.

        • neil_pogi

          of course, the designers of 'driverless cars'should have their own worldview in order to make or create that 'driverless cars'.

    • Mark Neal

      As a computer programmer myself, I would answer by saying that you cannot "program morality" in any meaningful sense of the term. People can argue about whether it is more ethical to drive a car into a wall or a crowd of people. And people can argue for or against virtue ethics, or utilitarian ethics, or what have you.

      And people can prefer one software program over another based on their ethical beliefs, but those ethics cannot be part of the software program itself. Rather, the ethical questions have to be addressed separately and then the computer is programmed according to the answers to those questions.

      I think the article may have been a bit misleading when it talked about the transportation authority mandating "utilitarian programming," because there is no such thing. Rather, the traffic authority would be adhering to utilitarian ethics and then mandating certain software based on those ethics.

      As far as virtue ethics in an AI, based on what I said above, I think you would first have to specify how virtue ethics applies to driving. That is, what does mean for a person to "drive virtuously," and once you've answered that, then you'd ask how to program the car to drive in that manner.

      I hope this helps!

      • Valence

        I also program, and the field is so huge at this point that one must be careful in thinking their experience in a specific area applies to programming in general. If we define morality per the dictionary: "principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior" then certainly we can program a system to get the behavior we want in specific contexts. This does not imply that the system engages in the same kind of decision making as a human, but it is a moral decision based on a behavioral definition which is appropriate here.

        think the article may have been a bit misleading when it talked about the transportation authority mandating "utilitarian programming," because there is no such thing.

        This isn't correct. Here is a paper on the subject, though utilitarian programming is far from fully developed:

        http://web.tepper.cmu.edu/jnh/equity5mspost.pdf

        Getting ethical programming right is a huge task going forward in the field of AI, and it's generally known that we humans lack a good understanding of morality in that there is no agreement on how to approach ethics, and every extant ethic system has shortcomings in specific contexts (or at least, they go against our intuitions which we tend to rely on fundamentally for moral decision making). Utilitarianism has the huge advantage of being mathematically explicit (with some assumptions, of course), that is why it is currently the approach of choice for more advanced decision making systems.
        Machine learning, as opposed to expert systems (I'll assume you are aware of the difference) typically depends on reward signals, and managing these signals is key to learning what we think is moral. Humans seem to have a certain level of moral hardwiring, but there is much that learned, see cultural moral differences.

        That is, what does mean for a person to "drive virtuously," and once you've answered that, then you'd ask how to program the car to drive in that manner.

        Is there a definitive answer to this under virtue ethics? It almost seems that virtue ethics isn't equipped to answer that kind of problem. Utilitarianism can, but we might often dislike the answer...I'm not sure if that says more about us or more about utilitarianism.

        • Here is a paper on the subject, though utilitarian programming is far from fully developed:

          [Combining Equity and Utilitarianism in a Mathematical Programming Model (18 'citations')]

          Do you know of anywhere that Hooker and Williams' paper is being put into practice (partially or fully)? It sounds interesting, but reality always has a way of messing with theory. I'm especially interested in how the critiques of utilitarianism brought by the likes of Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre might show up—or not show up—in attempted implementations. It does seem that we will be stuck being utilitarian for a while, even if it is like the divorce certificates spoken of by the OT—never meant to be, but the best possible solutions to a temporary, terrible situation.

          Furthermore, I see that the paper cites John Rawls' A Theory of Justice; do you know if the alterations Rawls made in his subsequent Political Liberalism are relevant to the paper?

  • ClayJames
    • Valence

      FWIW I would want to be aborted before I was born with down syndrome or other serious genetic disease. If we follow the Golden Rule here.
      I think calling the decision to have the child "immoral" is off-base. It would be a hard decision, for most people, in any case.

      • "FWIW I would want to be aborted before I was born with down syndrome or other serious genetic disease."

        Please tell me I've misunderstood you, Valence, but it seems you're implying that it would better--at least for you--to be dead rather than live with Down Syndrome. Is this really what you believe?

        If so, how do you think someone with Down Syndrome would interpret that position? How about a relative of someone with Down Syndrome?

        • Valence

          Yes I'd rather be dead than have down syndrome and anyone can interpret that how they want. Why? Because I wouldn't live a full life, and I wouldn't want to put a huge burden on my family. That burden would likely prevent them from having other children, which would be a step away from killing them. Should I lie about it? I simply speak the truth.

          • Rob Abney

            “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

            ― Thomas Merton

            You probably won't agree but many parents of persons with Down Syndrome have a "full life" because they've had the opportunity to love someone with special needs.

          • Valence

            I have no problem with this. Simply relaying my perspective.

          • neil_pogi

            that's what atheists want. life without hardships. and if they think that God's creations is full of errors... then.. why not built a utopia?

          • David Nickol

            You probably won't agree but many parents of persons with Down Syndrome have a "full life" because they've had the opportunity to love someone with special needs.

            You obviously did not read Valence's earlier post in which he said the following:

            This is a very personal perspective, and I have no doubt that many families of children with down syndrome think they are well worth the additional care, and if I had a child with the disorder, I'm sure I would love them and never tell them they were a burden. Still, if I could choose (and obviously an embryo can't choose), I would choose to
            be removed to make way for a normal child.

          • Rob Abney

            I did read it, I was wondering if he considered his parents' perspective if he had been able to deny them the chance to love a child with Down Syndrome.

          • David Nickol

            I don't see any sign that you read it when you begin, "You probably won't agree . . . " and then go on to say something very similar to what Valence already said.

            I have sometimes noticed a tendency in discussions like this for some people (I am not necessarily saying you) to romanticize those with Down Syndrome, as if they were little angels. (We generally see only cute Down Syndrome children in "propaganda" about the disorder.) When you say "deny them the chance to love a child with Down Syndrome," you make it sound like some kind of blessing to have a Down Syndrome baby. It isn't.

          • Rob Abney

            you make it sound like some kind of blessing to have a Down Syndrome baby. It isn't.

            That is where we disagree.

          • Valence

            Are you saying that, given the choice, you would intentionally give one of your children Down Syndrome?

          • Rob Abney

            No

          • Valence

            So you mean the child is the blessing, not the Down Syndrome, right? I can go with that. Would you prefer to have the next Albert Einstein? Would it be reasonably to say that more intelligent children are generally more of a blessing? Certainly the work ever very intelligent people has greatly benefited all of mankind.

          • David Nickol

            What would you think of a married couple who hoped and prayed to conceive a Down Syndrome baby on the theory that to have one was a blessing?

            Do you think God looks down and says to himself, "I see my faithful servants George and Martha are trying to have a baby. I will bless them by giving them a Down Syndrome child"? And I am asking here if you think that in every instance where a mother give birth to a Down Syndrome baby, it was because God decided it should be so.

            Do you feel it is a sign that God is withholding blessings from parents to whom he does not grant Down Syndrome children?

            Do you think Down Syndrome is in some special category, or do you think every child with a serious birth defect (e.g., spina bifida, anencephaly, microcephaly [e.g., Zika babies] , cleft palate) is a blessing from God?

          • Rob Abney

            My opinion is that all life is a blessing but those with special needs are the ones who enable us to meet the tenets put forth at the sermon on the mount.
            Did God decide to cause Down Syndrome? I believe He is the first cause but I would consider Down Syndrome to be a secondary cause.
            I do have some friends who have Down Syndrome, they are real joy!

          • David Nickol

            Please respond to this part of my post:

            What would you think of a married couple who hoped and prayed to conceive a Down Syndrome baby on the theory that to have one was a blessing?

            You say:

            Did God decide to cause Down Syndrome? I believe He is the first cause but I would consider Down Syndrome to be a secondary cause.

            What does that mean?

            I do have some friends who have Down Syndrome, they are real joy!

            Once again, I ask, do you see Down Syndrome as a thing apart, or would you put other serious birth defects in the same category? Please answer this part of my message:

            Do you think Down Syndrome is in some special category, or do you think every child with a serious birth defect (e.g., spina bifida, anencephaly, microcephaly [e.g., Zika babies] , cleft palate) is a blessing from God?

          • Rob Abney

            What would you think of a married couple who hoped and prayed to conceive a Down Syndrome baby on the theory that to have one was a blessing?
            I'm not sure, I'd need more information about them.

            God as a secondary cause means that God didn't directly cause it but made it possible.

            I would put all humans with special needs in the same category, and thank God for the opportunity.

          • David Nickol

            I would put all humans with special needs in the same category, and thank God for the opportunity.

            What about starving children? Do you thank God for the opportunity to try to save some of them? I think you are sentimentalizing disabilities, and I think that is very disturbing.

          • Rob Abney

            I'm sorry to disturb you. I'm not sure what you mean about sentimentalizing disabilities. We have all been given different gifts, those with fully functioning physical and mental capacities have a responsibility and an opportunity to help those with less than full capacities.
            I think starving children are in a different category though.

          • Peter A.

            God as a secondary cause means that God didn't directly cause it but made it possible.

            ...but the fact that it was allowed to occur in the first place, in a realm over which God has complete control, means that God in fact was ultimately responsible. If God is truly omniscient and omnipotent, then 'He' is ultimately responsible for everything that occurs, regardless of whether or not 'He' was "directly" responsible.

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, and we understand that He can use everything that occurs, ultimately, for the good.

          • David Nickol

            Yes, and we understand that He can use everything that occurs, ultimately, for the good.

            But that implies, does it not, that God quite routinely interferes in human affairs. You said that God is the first cause of everything because he is the creator, but you seemed to say that he was the secondary cause of Down Syndrome. If you keep the role of God confined to being the first cause (creator), how does he "use everything that occurs, ultimately, for the good"?

          • Rob Abney

            From today's gospel reading, Luke chapter 8: The seed is the word of God. But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perserverance.

            So, He uses everything ultimately for good with our cooperation to align our will with His.

          • Peter A.

            My opinion is that all life is a blessing but those with special needs are the ones who enable us to meet the tenets put forth at the sermon on the mount.

            So... those with 'special needs' are here for a reason, that reason being that it helps the rest (i.e. those who are normal) to live up to the Sermon on the Mount, and that the MISERY that is directly caused by conditions like Down's Syndrome is straight from God, and that because of this it should be considered to be a 'blessing'.

            Have I got that right? No concern whatsoever is shown here by you towards those who are actually suffering, which to me is just unbelievably callous. Well, if this is an example of what your 'god' gets up to, then I would rather worship the Devil. At least He doesn't kill the whole of humanity in a flood, and cause other atrocities like the extirpation of the Amalekites.

          • Rob Abney

            I didn't say that they are here for that reason, I said because they do exist we have the opportunity to care for them.

          • Peter A.

            So do you agree that the world would be a much better place if people didn't have conditions that impaired their ability to live a normal, full and healthy life, and that if science can eliminate these conditions it should, and without hesitation?

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, I agree.

          • VicqRuiz

            So if God causes a child to be born with Downs' syndrome, that's for the good, and if science could somehow figure out a way to reverse the effects of Downs', that would be for the good, too?

          • Rob Abney

            I don't agree that God is primarily the cause of Down Syndrome. If a child is born it is good. If he has DS then he has special needs that need to be met by others so that he can survive. The child with DS and the ones caring for him benefit from the opportunity.
            As for my opinion regarding scientific elimination of the genetic cause of DS, as a matter of improving health it would be good, but that would come at the cost of eliminating the beneficial interactions that persons with DS provide, most of the persons with DS that I know are the "good soil" from Luke chap 8.

          • Valence

            The human body has evolved to miscarry defective embryos:

            Because most pregnancies positive for Down syndrome naturally miscarry. Reports vary on the percentages, but the ones that I’m familiar with state that 50% of pregnancies carrying a child with Down syndrome miscarry in the first trimester and 40% of those pregnancies that make it to the second trimester miscarry. This means, receiving a CVS result in the first trimester means the pregnancy has as much of a chance of miscarrying as continuing into the second trimester. Once the pregnancy is into the second trimester, when an amniocentesis can be performed, the odds of giving birth to a child with Down syndrome are still 6 out of 10.

            http://www.downsyndromeprenataltesting.com/what-are-the-odds-that-you-are-having-a-child-with-down-syndrome/

            So we can look at the formation of a down syndrome embryo as a defect, but we can also look at carrying the child to full term as a defect in the body systems that should cause the pregnancy to miscarry. One can genuinely look at aborting a down syndrome embryo/fetus as setting things as they "should be" if multiple things were not defective.

            If the human form is supposed to possess rationality, then certainly a change in form that drastically reduces rationality is not good, even on Catholic philosophy.

          • Rob Abney

            One can genuinely look at aborting a down syndrome embryo/fetus as setting things as they "should be" if multiple things were not defective.

            William, Why would you kill a growing human who has survived such odds?

            I don't agree that the Catholic view is that anyone with drastically reduced rationality (whatever that means) is not good.

          • Valence

            Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.

            Why don't intelligent apes have rational souls? What criteria do we use to judge if the soul is rational? Drastic changes in DNA certainly alter the form and nature of an organism.

          • Rob Abney

            I know that the intellect and the rational soul are subjects that you like to discuss, let me recommend a book for you. Mortimer J. Adler's book, Ten Philosophical Mistakes. I found it at a half-price bookstore, it was published more than 30 years ago. Adler was not a Catholic until very late in his life, he considered himself to be a pagan.

          • David Nickol

            we have the opportunity to care for them

            Saying we have the opportunity to care for the disabled makes it sound like their misfortune works to our benefit. How lucky we are to have the disabled!

            Earlier, you said:

            I do have some friends who have Down Syndrome, they are real joy!

            For Down Syndrome, substitute African American or Jewish or the name of some other group, and you may begin to understand what I am saying about sentimentalizing.

          • VicqRuiz

            "we have the opportunity to care for the disabled"

            Of course, when theists say this sort of thing, they don't necessarily mean I have the opportunity. Usually, it winds up as someone else has the opportunity.

          • Rob Abney

            "we" means I and someone else

          • Rob Abney

            We are not lucky to have the disabled, but we are lucky to have someone to love and even more lucky when they routinely show us love unconditionally.
            Instead of substituting African American or Jewish, I would substitute more like this: I do have friends who give unconditional love, they are a real joy!

          • David Nickol

            We are not lucky to have the disabled, but we are lucky to have someone to love and even more lucky when they routinely show us love unconditionally.

            Are you saying those who are disabled are more likely to show unconditional love than those who are not? You did not seem to understand what I was talking about when I mentioned "sentimentalizing" Down Syndrome individuals. One way they are sentimentalized is as being sweet, happy, and angelic. That is a stereotype, and I don't think it is helpful either to those with Down Syndrome or anyone else.

          • Rob Abney

            The disabled persons that I am referring to have one factor in common, they require some assistance daily to meet basic needs. That means they have a relationship with another person on a daily basis, usually a family member, and the relationship is essential to their well-being. And I am sure that the person receiving the assistance is not always happy, or angelic, or sweet. But he/she is not getting assistance because of those traits anyway, he/she is getting assistance because someone loves him/her no matter how trying the circumstances may be. And the person receiving the assistance loves the person providing the assistance even if he/she can poorly show it. That's not sentimental.

            Would such persons be allowed to live in NDT's utopia?

          • David Nickol

            It is altogether a good thing for caregivers to help people who in various ways cannot help themselves. Bless them for their good work. However, I would certainly not say it is somehow a better world because there are disabled people who need caregivers. And I would point out that by far not all the disabled people get the care they need. The more successful medical science can be in preventing disabling birth defects or diseases, the better. Therefore, I don't see how disabilities (or disabled persons, per se) can in any way be considered a blessing.

            When bad things happen, it is good that some people selflessly step forward and do what they can to help. However, one should never hope that bad things happen, or be thankful that they happen so that good people have an "opportunity" to selflessly help out.

            None of us can pretend to know the mind of God (if there is a God), but it is my strongly held belief that, if there is a God, he does not cause disabilities (or other unpredictable and unfortunate occurrences, such as hurricanes and tsunamis) with the intention of providing good people with opportunities to help the afflicted. That is, God does not intervene in the natural order to cause disabilities or other misfortunes that would otherwise have occurred without his intervention.

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, I agree with your last sentence, I never intended to imply that He puts special tests in the world. There are already unlimited tests without divine intervention.

          • David Nickol

            Would such persons be allowed to live in NDT's utopia?

            I can find no evidence in any of Tyson's comments that he believes his suggestions would in any way lead to a utopia. Any talk of utopia in connection with "Rationalia" is one very enormous straw man. Nothing is going to bring about a utopia on earth. This goes for Catholic Social Teaching, American Democracy, "scientism," philosophy, or anything else you could name. If I were to attempt to discredit Catholic Social Teaching by writing a post entitled "The Pope Shows Why Catholic Social Teaching Can't Build a Utopia," the theists here would no doubt point out more than one serious problem with it.

          • Rob Abney

            I used the wrong term, I meant Rationalia instead of utopia. What would be the rationale for allowing such people to live if we weighed the evidence?

          • David Nickol

            What would be the rationale for allowing such people to live if we weighed the evidence?

            I think the problem with NDG's "Rationalia" proposal is not that it leads to the conclusion that the disabled should be disposed of rather than cared for. The problem with it is that a purely scientific approach can't answer that question (and a multitude of other questions) one way or the other. It is not that the "Rationalia" proposal is evil. It is simply wildly inadequate as a proposal for government. Take a look at what is in the American Constitution and compare it to the proposed one-line constitution, "All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” Would "Rationalia" have executive, legislative, and judicial branches? How would citizenship be determined? Who would be responsible for making policy? Would "Rationalia" be a democracy?

            I think part of the problem with the critique of "Rationalia" is that it is a proposal for a virtual country, not a real one. For NDT's audience (basically the English-speaking world, especially the USA, Canada, and Great Britain), all the institutions of government are already in place, and what Tyson is saying is, "Join me in my virtual country and wherever you are, make policy based on empirical evidence." There are still many problems with the Tweet—and let us keep in mind that it was only a Tweet—one of which is that political affiliation so colors people's thinking that they can't even agree on empirical evidence.

          • Peter A.

            Did God decide to cause Down Syndrome? I believe He is the first cause but I would consider Down Syndrome to be a secondary cause.

            Thus absolving 'God' of the responsibility? How convenient.

          • Rob Abney

            That doesn't make sense to me.

          • Peter A.

            God, being omniscient and omnipotent, simply MUST be responsible for everything that occurs, regardless of whether or not the thing in question is primary or secondary. God, remember, is apparently all powerful and all knowing, so there isn't anything - logically speaking - that 'He' could not ultimately be responsible for.

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, I agree that ultimately God is responsible for everything, but if you say He is directly responsible then you are saying He is the first cause of everything, which would then preclude cause and effect. Because cause and effect exist we can use reason to understand the world better.

          • Valence

            FWIW

            The most important predictors of maternal health were children's behavioral difficulties, everyday functioning and current health status. Mothers of children with Down syndrome appear to experience poorer mental health and may require greater support and services to improve behavior management skills for their child and their own psychological well-being.

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18534233

            If 65-70% of families are doing fine, there are 30-35% of families who are showing signs of considerable stress or distress, for a variety of reasons.[18,19] In these families, brothers, sisters and the child with Down syndrome are more likely to show behaviour difficulties. Parents are more likely to be struggling to cope and experiencing depression or health problems. All family relationships will be strained and family life affected. Some of the reasons that lead to families having a hard time have been identified and this information may be able to help parents, extended families and services to pinpoint their needs and ways to improve their situation if life is difficult to manage at present.

            https://www.down-syndrome.org/information/family/overview/?page=3

            Down-syndrome.org does a good job of finding silver linings, but still.

          • One option is to abort all fetuses with Down Syndrome, while another is to learn how to counteract the problems you indicate, here. (These aren't the only options, either—but they help "span the space", as it were.) What is the logic you employ to pick one course of action over the other?

          • Valence

            while another is to learn how to counteract the problems you indicate, here.

            Many people have been trying for a very long time, and continue to try.

          • Valence

            Just wanted to add that I think this has gone excessively off topic and I probably shouldn't say much more on this thread, at least.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            A friend of mine was told that his wife was pregnant with a Downs Syndrome baby and was urged to abort it. He refused. The baby was born. And was entirely normal. So there is a problem with acting on the 'best available evidence.'

          • Lazarus

            That was our experience also, fifteen years ago. The doctor "insisted" (his word) that we abort. We refused and today Matthew is a bright, normal teenager.

          • Valence

            I certainly think insisting is a mistake, however I will offer a counter anecdote.

            My wife had a friend who's fetus tested positive for a rare genetic disorder, and doctor's recommended that the pregnancy be terminated. She continued, and the baby was born but with a huge level of complication. The baby was in and out of hospitals, with the final month of it's life in intensive care. Many experimental remedies were tried, all failed, and the baby passed away at around 6 months basically from slow suffocation. In addition to funeral expenses (we attended the funeral), the couple was left with over $100,000 in medical expenses. They vowed that if they decided to try for another baby, it would only be through IVF to ensure the next child would not end up in such a sad state, though they have not tried again in several years...I suppose they are trying to get the medical bills paid, but they may have been traumatized enough as to want to avoid having children for some time. It's entirely possible that if they had gone with the doctor's recommendation, they would have a healthy child right now, but as it is...

          • Lazarus

            I accept that, and do not in any way wish to make light of the difficulties inherent in this decision. I am however advocating a very cautious and conservative approach to the evidence. This is also where Catholics leave these decisions up to prayer and God's will, an option only available to some of us ;)

          • Valence

            In such a situation that involves risk and uncertainty in any decision, advice from an omniscient being would be very helpful :)

          • ClayJames

            That is amazing, thank you for sharing.

          • Peter A.

            You probably won't agree but many parents of persons with Down Syndrome have a "full life" because they've had the opportunity to love someone with special needs.

            ...but what about the person with the 'special needs'? What about how they feel about all of this? It may sound noble to devote one's life to the care of someone else, and many will argue that it is 'character-building', but I'm quite sure that, if given the choice, the vast, overwhelming majority of people with conditions like this would gladly live without them.

            It's very easy to be cavalier and dismiss the concerns of people who are handicapped, when you yourself do not suffer - yes, SUFFER - the way they do. Consider yourself fortunate to be normal, that's what I say, because I have personal, first-hand experience of what it's like to be an outsider that everyone thinks is 'weird', and therefore to be avoided.

          • David Nickol

            Agreed! It is creepy to believe that some people were made disabled so that "normal" people could become virtuous by taking care of them. If we suddenly, by whatever means, had no more babies born with serious disabilities, there would still be plenty of other people in the world who needed help. If someday science could prevent all birth defects from conception onward, that would not be a sad day.

            It is most definitely a good thing to help the disabled, the poor, and the sick. It is not a good thing that people are born disabled or become disabled, poor, or sick.

          • Rob Abney

            I don't think that I said it is a "good" thing that people are born this way, I said it is a good opportunity for others to help. It is a "realistic" thing that people ARE born this way.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm sorry but so much of this seems like a deliberate attempt to catch Rob in a "gotcha" where he says things the wrong way. Unless I missed it, he never said that disabilities are a blessing. He has said that people with disabilities are a blessing. The relevant comparison in this regard is not one of a life lived with disabilities versus a a life lived without them. The relevant comparison is a life lived with disabilities versus a life not lived at all.

            I would hope that no one would presume to tell a person with disabilities that he should be thankful, or even that you should acquiesce, or that the purpose of his life was to be a pawn toward which others can direct their love. The point is simply: no matter your disabilities or your suffering, it is better that you are here. It is better that we are all here, together.

          • Peter A.

            people with disabilities are a blessing.

            "People with disabilities" are not means to an end (ex. a way for others to live up to the Sermon on the Mount). They are PEOPLE full stop! Enough with this disgusting objectification of those who are disabled!

            We are NOT "a blessing", or "cute", or "weird". Got it? We are NOT here for a purpose, to fulfill the egotistical desires of the holier-than-thou crowd who want to be seen as being morally superior, or anything else like this. Conditions like Down's (and Asperger's) Syndrome are genetic accidents, not tests from God. Accidents happen, which is what one would expect in a universe where the Christian god is clearly absent.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Peter, I am not saying that you, or anyone else, is a means to an end. That is precisely the point: your being here, our being here together, that is the end. We are not here together as a means to an end, as if there is some other purpose. Being here together is the purpose.

          • Peter A.

            ...our being here together, that is the end

            So there's no after-life? :)

            Yes, I got a bit carried away there, got quite angry at where this discussion was going. Sorry :(

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No problem. I'm no stranger to hot-headedness myself.

            The "afterlife", or as some might say, the "beyond-life", such as I understand it, refers to a complete fulfillment of our "togetherness". We can only express togetherness imperfectly in this life, but we are striving together towards some ultimate belonging, some complete togetherness.

            To add a bit of "incarnational" nuance, there is also the idea that we already partake in that complete togetherness, or we have a "foretaste" of it, to the extent that we "strive together toward togetherness", in this life.

          • David Nickol

            Unless I missed it, he never said that disabilities are a blessing. He has said that people with disabilities are a blessing.

            And I find that objectionable. A blessing from whom? A blessing for whom?

            I'm sorry but so much of this seems like a deliberate attempt to catch Rob in a "gotcha" where he says things the wrong way.

            I disagree completely. He is not making himself at all clear. I am not finding he responses to requests for clarification adequate. If he truly means, as you say, that people with disabilities are a blessing, I wonder how many people with disabilities would be pleased to hear that?

          • Peter A.

            If he truly means, as you say, that people with disabilities are a blessing, I wonder how many people with disabilities would be pleased to hear that?

            My guess would be "not one".

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think if one understands what it means "to be a blessing" then it is hard to find it objectionable. To say "you are a blessing" is simply to say: "it is good that you are here". How can that be a bad thing to say?

          • David Nickol

            This is a Catholic-sponsored forum. My first thought when a professed Catholic such as Rob says, in this forum, something is a "blessing" is that it is a gift from God. Blessing to me does not merely imply good. It implies given or granted good. It implies a plus. Rob seems to be saying we are fortunate to have disabled people in the world, because that gives us the "opportunity" (his word) to help them. He said:

            My opinion is that all life is a blessing but those with special needs are the ones who enable us to meet the tenets put forth at the sermon on the mount.

            Perhaps he intended to use "special needs" in a much broader sense than I interpret, but in the context of a discussion focusing on Down Syndrome, special needs is reasonably interpreted to have the following definition: "In the United States, special needs is a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological." I can only conclude, from what he has said, the he believes Jesus gave us the Sermon on the Mount to teach us how to treat people with "special needs," and that God blessed us with people with special needs to give us the "opportunity" to act according to the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.

            It does not make sense to me to say that we have the disabled, the sick, the poor, the persecuted, the elderly, the widows, or any other group as an "opportunity."

            Now, if someone thinks that, I do not condemn them. I disagree with them. I do not believe God inflicts disabilities or any other misfortunes on people for their own good or the good of others. However, it is certainly a belief I have run into. A trivial conversation has stuck in my head for probably about fifty years now in which my mother was being told by a woman about her daughter's misfortunes, and the mother said she had told her daughter, "The Lord must really love you because he makes you suffer so much." I may be wrong, but I just don't believe how things work. I have heard many stories in which someone (although no one I have know personally) has undergone a terrible tragedy and said it was the best thing that ever happened to them because it helped them in such-and-such a way. I don't doubt that for some people, a tragedy may be a positive turning point in their lives. However, I really don't believe that God causes you to lose a child, or get cancer, or have a terrible automobile accident, or have a massive coronary for your own good. But plenty of people seem to believe that kind of thing. Perhaps it is odd of me to think otherwise.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            My first thought when a professed Catholic such as Rob says, in this forum, something is a "blessing" is that it is a gift from God.

            Yes, of course. But for exactly the same reason (because this is a Catholic forum), let's recognize that we Catholics simply don't work within a conceptual framework that can make sense of this distinction:

            Blessing to me does not merely imply good. It implies given or granted good. It implies a plus.

            On Catholicism, every created good is a "plus" ; every created good is gratuitous ; I don't think there is any such thing as a logically necessary created good (and if there is, I'd say: "Well, that's just a given" ). And of course, on Catholicism every created thing comes, ultimately, from God. So, to say that a created thing is "from God" is to add zero information content. So again I would maintain that, on Catholic terms, to say "you are a blessing from God" is semantically equivalent to saying "it is good that you are here".

            With regard to the rest, I am 100% with you in your objection to the "suffering is somehow good" line of thinking. People, certainly including Catholics, say all sorts of really screwy and hurtful things when it comes to interpreting the meaning of suffering. It is a thin line between saying, on the one hand, "the opportunity that God gives me to respond to suffering is a gift" and saying, on the other hand, "my suffering is a gift from God" or (even worse) "the purpose of my suffering is to provide the precondition for the virtuous response of others". In my view, many people fall off the balance beam while trying to walk the line between these two subtly different, but very significantly different, modes of thought.

          • Rob Abney

            Thanks Jim, you said that very well.

          • David Nickol

            A tornado touches down in an American city, and as tornadoes sometimes do, it largely destroys the houses on one side of the street, and leaves the houses on the other side of the street only slightly damaged. A woman on the evening news whose house is suffers only minor damage thanks "the Lord" for sparing her house. There is a woman on the other side of the street whose house has been destroyed, and whose husband, two children, and dog have been killed. What should be her attitude toward "the Lord" and also toward the woman who thanked "the Lord" for saving her? Did "the Lord" indeed save one side of the street and let the other side get destroyed?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            In itself, I think there is no problem at all with saved-house-woman being grateful to God that her house is still standing. The continued existence of her intact house is ultimately attributable to God, and that's a fine reason to give thanks. Where I think things can go very wrong is if saved-house-woman claims to know the mind of God, specifically interpreting her good fortune as some sort of reward for her prior righteousness, or as some sort of retribution for the lack of righteousness in her neighbors. It's a fairly consistent biblical message that that is a no-no. (Job, obviously, or Luke 13:2-5 for a NT example).

            As to whether we hold God responsible for what happens on both sides of the street, I say ultimately, yes. I tried to elaborate on this in my answer to your Zika question.

          • David Nickol

            Is the Zika virus a blessing? Ultimately, it comes from God. Are you maintaining that everything is a blessing because ultimately everything came from God? Or are you maintaining if it's good it came from God and is a blessing, but if it is not good, it somehow is not God's "fault."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I assume that your question is whether being infected with the Zika virus is a blessing. To that I say, most definitely "no".

            Without getting into issues around secondary causality and freedom of created things, I would simply say that, yes, God ultimately has to take responsibility for our suffering, including infections with Zika virus and tornado-destroyed houses. That doesn't mean that God wants our suffering, but I do think he is sort of "on the hook" to make things right. In all blasphemous presumption, I demand that of Him.

            I would say it this way: I think that all suffering is an act of co-creation with God. Our suffering is the experience of a void that we, with God, are filling. The void is not good. The void is not God's plan. The void is not meant to remain. Infection with the Zika virus is an encounter with the void. Destruction of your house by a tornado is an encounter with the void. We, with God, are meant to fill the void. That God steps back and leaves us to fill the void, to serve as co-creators, I interpret that as God's desire for our theosis. If God filled the void without our active participation, he would be denying us a degree of communion with him. To fill the void without us would be an act without us, which would be an inherently void-full approach, an inherent denial of what He desires for us.

          • Upon what empirical evidence is your reasoning based? For example, have you looked at any empirical studies as to how happy people with Down Syndrome are? How about how happy parents of people with Down Syndrome are? It seems quite rational to ask whether you have the appropriate resources to properly simulate how either party would think and feel about the situation.

          • Valence
          • Thanks. But that doesn't actually tell me how to properly simulate the thoughts and feelings of either parents of Down Syndrome children, or Down Syndrome children themselves. Some people who have greater struggles also have greater joys. For example, Jane McGonigal gave a TED talk on how the consequences of a traumatic brain injury actually improved her life, and the lives of many others.

          • Valence

            Well, considering how many other posts are on this topic, a couple more can't hurt.

            Some people who have greater struggles also have greater joys.

            That may be, but notice the use of "some"people. It's a decision so embedded in the context of a persons circumstances that only the parents can make the decision. No doubt someone with greater financial resources will have a much better time of it than someone without those resources. I don't don't doubt Jane McGonigal, but I don't think it's a very good comparison to down syndrome. People recover from brain injury, there is no cure for down syndrome in sight, as the solution would be significant genetic alteration, as far as I can tell. A concussion is a very different kind of thing.

          • I didn't mean to suggest that people with Down Syndrome can somehow get over it. Instead, I meant to question the idea that "more suffering" ⇒ "worse life".

          • Jonathan Brumley

            Then why are there individuals with such severe disabilities that they cannot love in any meaningful sense of the word?

            These individuals exist to call the rest of us to compassion and love.

          • David Nickol

            These individuals exist to call the rest of us to compassion and love.

            It is one thing to say that we ought to have compassion and love for such individuals (and, of course, to act on our compassion and love by taking care of them). It is quite another thing to say they "exist to call the rest of us to compassion and love." Doesn't that imply that God creates some people as ends in themselves, and other people (the profoundly disabled) as means to someone else's ends? Does God create anencephalic babies (who generally live only a few hours) merely to give others the "opportunity" to display compassion and love?

          • Valence

            These individuals exist to call the rest of us to compassion and love.

            I'm not sure you are responding to the right person (I didn't write what you have in italics), but how can you be confident that's why they exist? Is this divine revelation or just your personal opinion. Obviously there are plenty of better ways to "call us to compassion and love" than birth defects...I think we are back to using disabled people as a tool...

          • Not a full life? This takes us down to what about being human is valuable? Is it something you can measure? Is it something you can point to others and say they have less of it or none of it? What makes human life worth something?

            Full disclosure. I have a child with Down's Syndrome.

          • Valence

            I'd propose contribution to the common good as an important measure:

            1913 "Participation" is the voluntary and generous engagement of a person in social interchange. It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person.

            1914 Participation is achieved first of all by taking charge of the areas for which one assumes personal responsibility: by the care taken for the education of his family, by conscientious work, and so forth, man participates in the good of others and of society.31

            1915 As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life. The manner of this participation may vary from one country or culture to another. "One must pay tribute to those nations whose systems permit the largest possible number of the citizens to take part in public life in a climate of genuine freedom."

            Personally, I think one of the biggest and longest lasting contributions to the common good is in the form of increasing the human races knowledge and wisdom. From this perspective, people like Plato/Aristotle, Einstein, and Edison have lived the fullest lives.
            One can also add having and taking care of a family as part of a full life...I'm pretty sure Catholics would agree with that. Can a person with severe cognitive disability (not just Down Syndrome) do any of those things?

          • So a person who cannot do those things has no human dignity? A person who does less has less dignity? If your own ability to do these things degrades for some reason then your value as a human person declines accordingly? Would it not follow then when you love that you don't love the whole person but love this particular ability they have? If Einstein has a stroke he can go from top of the heap to almost worthless, can he not?

            I would not agree that my son can't do any of those things. He is 8 years old so much of his ability is yet to be determined. Yet he can engage in a voluntary and generous social interchange just to name one item.

            I do think that measuring human worth by any measure that has some people on one side of the bell curve and some people on the other is a frightening prospect. It warps you relationships with those above you and with those below you. It also warps your view of yourself. Much of your most intimate self becomes useless or even a liability.

          • David Nickol

            I think it is very unfortunate that the discussion has used Down Syndrome almost exclusive as an example of a disability, since merely knowing a person has Down Syndrome tells you little or nothing of importance about the person.

            However, I have problems with the concept of "human dignity." Exactly how does it apply in cases of profound disability like anencephaly? How can a baby born without a brain, destined to die within hours, have "human dignity"? While it makes sense to me to treat an anencephalic baby much the same as any other baby that is born (that is, let it live its very short life in as much comfort as can be provided), requiring that in the name of "human dignity" makes very little sense to me. If "human dignity" is a trait that anything even remotely human possesses, then "human dignity" seems redundant. All one need say is "humanity."

          • Dawkins focused on Down's Syndrome. If we can agree that his position is gravely immoral that would be progress.

            So does any notion of human dignity make sense to you? You say "it makes sense to me to treat an anencephalic baby much the same as any other baby." Is that not asserting some level of human dignity to such a child? I believe Catholic moral theology would say such a baby may or may not have a human soul. It would still say any doubt should be resolved in favour of the child. Survivable human babies definitely have a soul so there is a distinction.

          • David Nickol

            Dawkins focused on Down's Syndrome. If we can agree that his position is gravely immoral that would be progress.

            From the little I have read about the controversial statement Dawkins made about Down Syndrome, it strikes me as gravely immoral.

            So does any notion of human dignity make sense to you?

            As I said, if anything remotely human has "human dignity," then the concept doesn't make sense to me, since "humanity" would seem enough to cover the concept. I do not see how a fertilized egg has dignity in any sense of the word, although I can certainly understand the position that if a fertilized egg is truly a human person, no one has a right to kill it. But for me, for a fertilized egg to be a human person, it would have to possess something like a "spiritual soul," and I still have grave difficulty seeing how that is not a "ghost in a machine." So I regard the idea of a fertilized egg having a spiritual soul as a religious belief. It may be a true religious belief, but as a religious belief, there is no way to prove it. It is a matter of faith.

          • Michael Murray

            From the little I have read about the controversial statement Dawkins made about Down Syndrome, it strikes me as gravely immoral.

            My understanding of the discussion on twitter is

            The geneticist's latest Twitter row broke out after he responded to another user who said she would be faced with "a real ethical dilemma" if she became pregnant with a baby with Down's syndrome.

            Dawkins tweeted: "Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice."

            I am wondering which bit of this you find gravely immoral. I imagine it could be: (a) the way he offers the advice (b) the actual advice offered or (c) the reasons he gives for the advice (that not terminating would itself be immoral) ?

            Personally I would hesitate to offer others any advice at all on such an issue but I certainly wouldn't condemn termination on the grounds of a positive Downs diagnosis as immoral as I am pretty sure that is what we would have done. But the tests came back negative.

          • David Nickol

            Personally, I have never been in a position to make a choice for or against aborting a baby, and without going out on a limb, I can confidently say I never will be. So my position is pretty much a political position of being "pro-choice," which I would maintain is not the same as being pro-abortion. The standard pro-choice line is that the choice of an abortion should be left to the pregnant woman, her doctor, and others within her personal circle whom she may rely on to make important decisions. Just as I find it repellent that some anti-abortion activists surround abortion clinics and try to insert themselves into personal decisions of the clients, I think it is repellent for an outsider to pressure a woman into choosing an abortion.

            I think abortion is a very tough issue, and I am troubled by it. I am not troubled by arguments that abortion may be permissible in some situations. I am troubled that anyone would argue it is immoral not to have an abortion. If that became the predominant political position, would there then be arguments requiring pregnant women to undergo tests and requiring them to abort babies with genetic anomalies?

            A quick Google search tells me there are 400,000 people in the United States right now, most of whom, I would suspect, are perfectly capable of understanding that Richard Dawkins claims it was "immoral" for their mothers not to abort them. If they should have been aborted—if it was immoral not to abort them—ought they not to be killed now? What is the argument for keeping them alive? Why are their lives any more valuable now than in the womb?

          • Valence

            In view, for whatever it's worth, their lives are much more valuable now because they have minds, can feel pain, they have people who love them and a will to live. If they were brain dead but breathing, their wouldn't be a difference for me.
            I think there is certainly a biological argument that embryos with defective genes are supposed to miscarry, so forcing what should happen biological is a far cry from aborting a normal human.
            All that said, I hard time understanding how someone could think not aborting a child is immoral... who are we to tell someone else what to do here? I just expect the same respect from the other side and not to be called a "baby killer" for making what I really think would be the right decision. If that's moral relativism than so be it.

          • David Nickol

            In view, for whatever it's worth, their lives are much more valuable now because they have minds, can feel pain, they have people who love them and a will to live.

            But the reason for aborting them was that they would not have lives worth living. To the extent that you would not kill them as children or adults because their lives have become worthwhile, to that extent it was an erroneous prediction that their lives would not be worth living. It is impossible to predict that a baby in the womb discovered to have Down Syndrome will have a life that is not worth living should it be born.

            I think there is certainly a biological argument that embryos with defective genes are supposed to miscarry, so forcing what should happen biological is a far cry from aborting a normal human.

            How does one find a supposed to in nature? A great deal of modern medicine—in fact, a great deal in human civilization—involves figuring out how to thwart the "intentions" of mother nature. Small pox is "supposed to" kill you. That is why the small pox vaccine was invented.

          • Valence

            But the reason for aborting them was that they would not have lives worth living. To the extent that you would not kill them as children or adults because their lives have become worthwhile, to that extent it was an erroneous prediction that their lives would not be worth living. It is impossible to predict that a baby in the womb discovered to have Down Syndrome will have a life that is not worth living should it be born.

            In reality people can only afford so many children. Abortion of a disabled fetus allows for the birth of a normal child in it's stead. This point is often missed. Once that fetus passes the point of viability and has a primitive form of a mind, I believe it should have rights. Can I prove that? Of course not, just as those who disagree can't prove their position, we mostly create arguments that conform to our intuitions. Again one must consider that fact that continuing with the pregnancy will replace the economic slot that would otherwise be taken by a normal child. Once born, the slot is taken. It's possible that a special needs child would take the slots of 2 children, as healthcare cost are much higher, and special care may be necessary that is quite expensive. If it really does take 2 slots, it's obvious where a utilitarian would end up.

            How does one find a supposed to in nature?

            It's a critical approach in biology. The skin is supposed to protect the body from invading bacteria. The heart is supposed to pump blood, if it fails to do so it isn't working properly. The brain is supposed to do all sorts of things, and brain regions are mapped in terms of what they are supposed to do (functionalism). The very idea of a birth defect is based on the idea that babies are supposed to be born some ways, and not others. Notice I never said we can prove we ought to do something based on how the body is supposed to work, but one can certainly use it in an argument. What else to have to go on? To support my claim:

            Some embryos fail to implant in the womb, while others implant successfully, leading to pregnancy, and a new study sheds light on why that's the case.

            In the study, researchers found that human embryos typically produce a chemical called trypsin, which signals the womb to prepare its lining for implantation.

            But in embryos with significant genetic abnormalities, this chemical signal was altered, and it produced a stress response in the womb that could make implantation unlikely, the researchers said.
            MORE
            Fate of a Fertilized Egg: Why Some Embryos Don't Implant
            An illustration of a sperm cell penetrating an egg.
            Credit: Jezper, Shutterstock
            Some embryos fail to implant in the womb, while others implant successfully, leading to pregnancy, and a new study sheds light on why that's the case.

            In the study, researchers found that human embryos typically produce a chemical called trypsin, which signals the womb to prepare its lining for implantation.

            But in embryos with significant genetic abnormalities, this chemical signal was altered, and it produced a stress response in the womb that could make implantation unlikely, the researchers said. [9 Conditions That Pregnancy May Bring]

            Advertisement

            The researchers likened this process to an "entrance exam" set by the womb — an embryo needs to pass this test in order to implant.

            But sometimes, the womb may make this exam too difficult or too easy, which could lead to the rejection of healthy embryos, or the implantation of embryos with development problems, the researchers said.

            http://www.livescience.com/13724-cell-division-abnormality-miscarriage-birth-defects.html

            So if your embryo entrance exam is too easy, things aren't working as they are "supposed" to in the functionalist paradigm that is required to make sense out of biology. Imagine conceptualization organs without this idea...it would be impossible.

            A great deal of modern medicine—in fact, a great deal in human civilization—involves figuring out how to thwart the "intentions" of mother nature. Small pox is "supposed to" kill you. That is why the small pox vaccine was invented.

            Are we supposed to get small pox? Wouldn't a truly perfected immune system be able to defeat small pox? Vaccines remedy cases where our immune system doesn't do what it is supposed to, which is defend us from invading parasites. Of course one could try to take the virus's point of view...but who wants to side with the enemy, and I pretty sure viruses don't deserve rights.

          • Valence

            I thought it was surprising that the Dalai Lama takes a similar position to mine, even though Buddhists are generally against abortion:

            Of course, abortion, from a Buddhist viewpoint, is an act of killing and is negative, generally speaking. But it depends on the circumstances.
            If the unborn child will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent, these are cases where there can be an exception. I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance.
            Dalai Lama, New York Times, 28/11/1993

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/buddhistethics/abortion.shtml

            It might disturb people, but I personally think that embryo selection for cognitive enhancement, and I think it is a logical consequence of accepting abortion for cognitive defects. I also think that embryos are just cells and have no rights, which is obviously controversial. It isn't gene editing which is too new and potential side effects are unknown, it's just selecting the best genes you and your spouse have and ensuring they get passed on to the next generation. If it's a negative to have less intelligent children, isn't it a positive to intentionally have more intelligent ones? Certainly society would benefit, just as would be significantly harmed is we dropped the average IQ by 30 points across the board. These are things more people need to be thinking about...

            http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/embryo.pdf

          • Rob Abney

            Dalai Lama takes a similar position to mine

            If what we can know (truth) is in the middle with two extremes, one being extreme skepticism (on the left) and will to power (on the right), then I would not be surprised that your viewpoint which seems to be on the right is aligned with his which seems to be on the left.

          • Valence

            If what we can know (truth) is in the middle with two extremes, one being extreme skepticism (on the left) and will to power (on the right)

            It seems to related to compromise which makes sense under pragmatic theories of truth as opposed to correspondence versions. Aristotle is credited for beginning the correspondence theory, but it seems to fail to capture truth in creative subjects like engineering (IEEE specifications don't correspond to anything in external reality but none of our electronic devices would be compatible with each other if we didn't have such pragmatic truths.

          • Rob Abney

            Explain that to me, I'm not sure what you are referring to

          • ClayJames

            To say that it is immoral to bring a baby with Down Syndrome into the world is immoral. I have a hard time believing that you wouldn´t agree.

          • David Nickol

            To say that it is immoral to bring a baby with Down Syndrome into the world is immoral.

            I am having a hard time unraveling the implications of this statement. I can see the argument that it is mistaken, or incorrect, or erroneous to say it is immoral to bring a Down Syndrome baby into the world. But it is quite another thing to accuse those who make a certain moral judgment of being immoral for making and stating that judgment. It cannot be immoral (it seems to me) to be mistaken in one's judgment.

          • ClayJames

            Are any of these statements immoral?:
            ¨It is immoral to allow Jews to live and not put them in concentration camps¨?
            ¨You should not allow Jews to live and you should put them in concentration camps¨

          • David Nickol

            My point is that I don't think it makes sense to call any moral claim immoral. If there are indeed moral facts, then moral claims are either correct or incorrect. It is immoral to advocate killing Jews (simply because they are Jews) and putting them in concentration camps. Here's a statement from Aquinas:

            [T]he Jews by reason of their fault are sentenced to perpetual servitude and thus the lords of the lands in which they dwell may take things from them as though they were their own . . .

            Is this an immoral statement? Was it immoral of Thomas Aquinas to say it? The more I think about it, the less sure I am what it means to describe a statement as immoral. Behavior is moral or immoral. Statements about morality are either right or wrong (if there is such a thing as objective morality, a question I don't know the answer to).

            Objectively, Aquinas was wrong to advocate expropriating property of Jews. But I am wary of calling him, or even his statements, "immoral." It would be immoral to try to persuade people of an moral position you did not believe in yourself in order to get some gain out of it. But I don't know how it can be argued that moral judgments themselves, sincerely made, are immoral.

          • Valence

            To say homosexuality is immoral is immoral. I have a hard time believing that you would disagree. Would you?

          • ClayJames

            I would agree if homosexuality was not immoral. The Dawkins example is so much worse since it asserts that one should abort a child with down syndrome.

            EDIT: the first line is supposed to read ¨not immoral¨

          • Valence

            How do you know homosexuality is immoral? Could you be wrong?

          • ClayJames

            Sure I could, which is why If I am going to tell hundreds of thousands of people that it is immoral, I should have solid ground to stand on.

          • Valence

            If you are wrong, does that mean saying homosexuality is immoral is itself immoral? It seems to be what you are saying wrt Dawkins.

          • ClayJames

            I think so. The question of culpability is different beast all together.

          • David Nickol

            To say homosexuality is immoral is immoral. I have a hard time believing that you would disagree. Would you?

            I have to be consistent here and say that I think it is mistaken to call a moral judgment, no matter how much we may disagree with it, "immoral." What does it even mean to say that "I assert that X is immoral" is itself immoral?

          • Valence

            I agree, I was making a parody of his comment to make a point.

          • Michael Murray

            Interesting how everyone finds it so hard to quote Richard Dawkins accurately. You have lost the words "if you have the choice".

            I would be concerned if Dawkins had offered the advice unsolicited but he was asked and he gave his opinion. I don't really have an issue with that.

            But my problem, as you can see from what I wrote, was with the words "gravely immoral". I guess it all comes down to how you calibrate your immorality meter. Where is the "gravely" marker ? Somewhere near meat on Fridays ?

            I have a hard time believing that you wouldn´t agree.

            I am an atheist without an absolute moral code. Who knows what I might think!

            EDIT: By coincidence I just read this article. It seems the choice will be simpler now.

            https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/oct/01/do-we-really-want-a-world-without-downs-syndrome-ds-prenatal-test#comment-84420858

          • ClayJames

            As opposed to it being immoral if you don´t have a choice? How can someone who has no choice act morally?
            The point here is that rationalia can say absolutely nothing about Dawkins´ moral conclusion. If the moral imperative is to decrease, by all means, the existence of down syndrome, then maybe he has a point. If we actually value children with down syndrome and not reduce them to their conditon, then he is wrong. The moral of this story is that New Atheists love to throw science around to explain non-scientific questions. It is extremely ignorant and should be criticized and called out by all, especially fellow atheists.

          • Alexandra

            ...I certainly wouldn't condemn termination on the grounds of a positive Downs diagnosis as immoral...

            Saying that we "terminated because of Down Syndrome" is morally equivalent to saying we "terminated because it was a girl". Morally there's no difference, and neither reason is just. In other words, if that's how you think, you have no basis to condemn gender selection abortions either. (As you know, I think there is never a reason to end the life of a child in the womb.)

            Does one love their children for who they actually are, or must they first fullfill our expectations of who they should be?
            Shouldn't we strive to love our children unconditionally?
            Yet, why are these children being rejected and abandoned by their own parents?

            Exactly what do people have against these children? Is it because they have a low I.Q. or because of how they look, or both?
            Are we going to create prenatal tests for low IQ too? What's the right IQ number that says you have the right to live? What is the right way to look?

            If you are unable or unwilling to provide a loving home for your own child, so many others would gladly do so:

            http://abcnews.go.com/US/church-flooded-calls-posting-syndrome-baby-adoption-plea/story?id=19629473

          • David Nickol

            Saying that we "terminated because of Down Syndrome" is morally equivalent to saying we "terminated because it was a girl".

            While I can't personally endorse the choice to abort a Down syndrome baby, I think you go much too far here. Down syndrome is a genetic disorder. Gender is not. Even if I believed there was never a sufficient reason to abort a baby, I don't see how I could conclude that any reason was morally equivalent to any other reason.

            I would not take the article you linked to as proof positive that there are always potential adoptive parents for known but unborn Down syndrome babies.

          • Alexandra

            I responded to Michael, which covers some of your points too.

            The moral equivalency is in the action, not the criteria, - as explained to Michael.

            Regarding adoptive parents,
            Yes, I can imagine in impoverished countries, this would especially be the case. The preference is the child staying with its family.

          • Michael Murray

            There are a number of issues with Down Syndrome children that do not apply to female children or to low IQ children:

            Firstly there is a risk that they will be severely disabled both physically and mentally. Not all Downs Syndrome children are the same. I've not seen data on how high this risk is but there was a long discussion about this on The Guardian website and some very interesting posts from people with Downs Syndrome relatives. Unfortunately it seems that we can test for Downs but not for the degree of disability. Secondly any Downs Syndrome child has the potential to create a burden on the family which impacts on the other children you may have already. Thirdly, and this is the one that would worry me the most and I think from reading the discussions I referred to above is often a deciding factor for people thinking about abortion, who looks after my child when I am old an infirm and they are middle-aged, disabled and very difficult to deal with?

            So your moral equivalence just doesn't work for me. Nor the thin edge of the wedge argument. Nor the rhetorical questions.

          • Alexandra

            Thanks for your responses, , and I'm moved by the comment about concern as to who would take care of the child. I will respond.

            I'll focus first only on my main point from my first comment.

            Let me state my argument in another way:

            You will abort the child if it has Down syndrome and keep normal children.

            Another couple will keep Down syndrome children and abort all normal children.

            Your criteria and reasoning will be different, but you are both doing the morally equivalent action: You are evaluating the child and those deemed deficient to your specific criteria are aborted.

            So irrespective of the reasons, or even the results, you are doing the same moral action. That's what I mean by moral equivalent.

            So then extend it out. Couple C aborts all normal girls.

            Couple D aborts all boys with Down Syndrome.

            You are all still all doing the same morally equivalent action.

            All couples may eventually come to consensus as to the criteria. All will be like couple B only. That doesn't mean the moral equivalency has changed.

          • Valence

            In my metaphysics, an embryo/fetus isn't a child, it's a potential child. This makes a huge difference as an unfertilized egg/sperm is also a potential child, just not quite as far along a path to childhood as the embryo/fetus. Replacing a potential child with serious birth defects with a new potential child that doesn't have those issues is quite moral from where I sit. In Aristotle's metaphysics, which Catholics often claim they use, the soul is the form of the body. An embryo/fetus simply does not possess the form of a child until late in pregnancy and does not possess a rational soul until a few years old, again we must talk in terms of potential. I would also argue that a normal child has much greater potential for good than a child with severe birth defects, thus giving birth to a normal child is a greater good than giving birth to one with severe deficiencies.
            In addition, one can accurately argue that giving birth to a down syndrome child is costly, and that cost may prevent the parent from being able to provide for two additional children, thus 2 potential children would be lost. I can't see how that's good.
            You can certainly disagree with metaphysics I'm using, but you certainly can't prove that your approach to it and mine is wrong (I'm well versed in the philosophy). Thus, your confidence in your moral position isn't warranted by reason. It must come from faith in the correctness of the Catholic belief system (recall I am using Aristotle's metaphysics). To recap, I disagree with what you claim counts as a child, and also on the potential of a normal girl/boy verse the potential of a down syndrome or other child with birth defects (many are worse).

          • Alexandra

            In my argument, everywhere where I used "child" change it to "potential teenager".

            Yet my argument still holds. What your doing is no different than the gender selection abortionists, you're just giving different reasons for doing it. That's my point.

          • Valence

            You did not address the substance of my comment in the least, not surprising I suppose.

          • Alexandra

            Sorry. Thought I had.
            So then the "potential child", isn't your main point, is that correct?

          • Valence

            There are multiple points but the idea that a normal child has more potential than one with serious birth defects is critical and makes aborting such! = to aborting a normal child. I suppose in some countries females don't have the same economic potential as males, but I'd argue that is a different kind of potential.

          • Alexandra

            So you're eliminating the "inferior" (by your standards) subgroup, just like couples A-D in my example.
            It's still a selection abortion.

          • Valence

            It's still a selection abortion.

            Yes, and you still haven't given a good reason to claim it's wrong.

          • Alexandra

            OK. Which do you need explained as to why it's wrong? :

            a) eliminating a subgroup
            b) judging a group as inferior
            c) selection abortions

            And is it fair to say you don't see anything wrong with these things?

          • Valence

            I've made my case and I think it is quite ethical to eliminate disease, and Down syndrome is clearly a disease. I see no point in further discussion as it would accomplish nothing. In general I've got the impression that Catholics here have no interesting in learning alternative positions but only evangelizing, so I will no longer waste time here.

          • David Nickol

            I've made my case and I think it is quite ethical to eliminate disease, and Down syndrome is clearly a disease.

            I don't really think that it is ethical to eliminate disease by killing the people with the disease. If this is your closing argument, it is woefully inadequate.

            In general I've got the impression that Catholics here have no interesting in learning alternative positions but only evangelizing, so I will no longer waste time here.

            Although I was raised Catholic, I do not identify as a Catholic on Strange Notions. There are many others here who are not Catholic. As someone who is not opposed to abortion under all circumstances—that is, who does not take the Catholic position—I have found your arguments weak. There is certainly a lot to be said for bowing out of an exchange when you feel you are arguing with a brick wall. But I don't think your arguments (or Alexandra's, for that matter) have done justice to the issue.

          • Alexandra

            If I'm wrong- I've at worst inconvenienced people, maybe hurt the economy, etc., and there will be more Down Syndrome children in this world. If you're wrong, you're advocating for killing a group people. A high percentage of these children are already being eliminated thanks to people who think like you. Who has more of the onus to consider the other side?

            Down syndrome people are being aborted because of their low IQs. If they only looked different, but had normal IQ's, we wouldn't be having this discussion. It is discrimination over something they have no choice over, and it is wrong.
            Disability doesn't define a person. Someone may be in a wheelchair, but that doesn't define them. Everyone is of equal dignity and worth, no matter who you are. Everyone deserves to be loved and protected, especially the innocents and weaker among us. So no, you don't have the right to label an entire group of people as "burdens", and do away with them.

          • Valence

            Your comment shows you haven't actually read my comment or don't understand what you are reading:

            In addition, one can accurately argue that giving birth to a down syndrome child is costly, and that cost may prevent the parent from being able to provide for two additional children, thus 2 potential children would be lost.

            For every Down Syndrome child you save, you may prevent the birth of two normal children, thus the onus is on you because you have killed them. It's pointless to have conversations with people like you if you aren't even going to read my comment, and just preach. Unlike you, I have the decency of not accusing you of killing the two normal children. Goodbye.

          • Alexandra

            Your comment shows you haven't actually read my comment or don't understand what you are reading:

            How many people do you say this to?:
            (For example, said to two other people:)

            "The fact that you don't understand what I'm saying and misrepresent it is just more evidence that you either have reading comprehension issues or are fumbling around with concepts you have no business fumbling with."

            "Your response indicates that you don't understand what I'm saying, so I'll go do something more productive with my time. Thanks for the attempted conversation... I think."

            [Your provided quote:]
            "In addition, one can accurately argue that giving birth to a dow syndrome child is costly, and that cost may prevent the parent from being able to provide for two additional children, thus 2 potential children would be lost."

            OK, but what decent parents would be so mercenary as to put price tags on their children's head - to the point of killing them? What's the cut off price for a life? Plus, there are plenty of families who have had other children after their DS child, so let's not exaggerate. It's possible.
            Most importantly, they are children who happen to have DS. They are entitled to equal treatment and consideration as their other siblings. Again, disability doesn't define a person.

            For every Down Syndrome child you save, you may prevent the birth of two normal children, thus the onus is on you because you have killed them.

            How exactly do you kill children that haven't yet been conceived?(!) Aren't you the one arguing that even after conception they aren't children?
            Or are they being aborted, with the parent conceiving them knowing they can't afford them? Or are they born and not provided for? And when exactly am I killing them?

            It's pointless to have conversations with people like you if you aren't even going to read my comment,

            I have read all your comments.

            and just preach.

            Can I get an AMEN, brother? ;)

            Unlike you, I have the decency of not accusing you of killing the two normal children.

            At no point did I accuse you of killing children. And it's telling that you didn't quote me. However, to paraphrase, I did say if you're wrong, then you are complicit as an advocate.

          • Valence

            How many people do you say this to?

            In real life I say it rarely because the people I'm around typically understand what I'm talking about. They also are generally well-educated and non-religious. As I said, I'm done wasting time with those I've attempted to engage so far. It would appear that the website is generally unmanned and possibly on the verge of shutdown considering it's lack of activity anyway. I did respond to one comment on utilitarian programming, as the subject is of interest.

          • Alexandra

            But you don't just say you're misunderstood- you're accusing numerous people of lacking reading comprehension -which is as baseless as your accusation that I'm killing imaginary children.

            No one deserves to be on the receiving end of negative personal judgments. It's best to stick to substantive counterarguments here. Those are the conversations that flourish, of which I am happy to see there are many here.

          • Valence

            But you don't just say you're misunderstood- you're accusing numerous people of lacking reading comprehension -which is as baseless as your accusation that I'm killing imaginary children.

            It's not baseless just because you say so, and who are you to determine what anyone deserves...and I thought I was arrogant (which I am). Your fake humility is pretty annoying and "baseless"...feel free to have the last word, I'm disabling emails notifications on this account. Neither one of us is accomplishing anything here but annoying the other. No doubt you imagine yourself to be doing more...

          • Alexandra

            ...who are you to determine what anyone deserves...

            That is an incorrect assumption. It is not a rule I made up nor determined.

            See commenting guideline 4 in the "Must read" section:

            Critique ideas, not people
            ..." Instead of engaging actual arguments, the culprit criticizes, insults, belittles, judges, or mocks the person making the argument. He blasts the opponent's character, intelligence, education, background, motivations, or sometimes all of the above. "

            Again, ideas are fair game, not people. Negative personal judgements violate this.

          • David Nickol

            Given it's provenance, if I were you, I would stick clear of the concept of moral equivalence. In any case, you are not really talking about moral equivalence here. You are arguing, basically, that an abortion is an abortion, and that not only can there be no reason that justifies an abortion, but also that any specific reason given in an attempt to justify an abortion can be no better or worse than any other reason.

            So by your reasoning, an abortion to save a woman from certain death is to be condemned just as strongly as an abortion because genetic testing shows that the baby will have blue eyes, and the prospective parents want a baby with brown eyes.

            It seems you are departing from the standard pro-life line that most women who have abortions should not be held accountable for arranging for the killing of their own children because they are under stress, or that they have been lied to by Planned Parenthood, or that they are acting under duress from boyfriends or parents. If it is just as morally reprehensible to abort a child to save the life of the mother as to avoid having a girl child, or a blue-eyed child, then all women who have abortions are wanton murderers and ought to be treated as such.

            I suppose one might argue that, abortion being intrinsically evil, any abortion is just as objectively evil as any other abortion. But even God is not said to judge human acts "objectively."

          • Alexandra

            You are arguing, basically, that an abortion is an abortion, and that not only can there be no reason that justifies an abortion, but also that any specific reason given in an attempt to justify an abortion can be no better or worse than any other reason.

            No. I'm arguing aborting due to Down Syndrome is a selection abortion. Couples A-D, in my argument, are all using the characteristics of the child to abort. This is selection.

            (Although yes, I do believe you can never justify eliminating the child, no matter what the circumstances.)

          • Michael Murray

            Not unexpectedly we disagree. For me the moral content lies in the decision that was made, not in the fact that a decision was made.

          • Rob Abney

            It seems unfair either way, how can this be an act of justice, it seems as if it must be just to be moral. Do we actually have the authority to make the judgement of whether this child should be allowed to be born or not, much less that we can make the decision based upon the child's possible deficits? Do we have the authority because we are humans, because we are rational, or just because we are stronger?

          • Alexandra

            Sorry, I don't understand your second sentence. I don't follow what you are referring to.

          • Alexandra

            Sorry, I don't understand your second sentence. I don't follow what you are referring to.

          • Michael Murray

            I forgot to reply to your link. Just because people say they want to adopt a Downs Syndrome child does not convince me that they will be able to care for a 50 year old, severely disabled person when they are 70. However you do point to a way forward on this argument. If people who are contemplating abortion in response to a positive genetic test could see there was high quality care available for Downs Syndrome people of all ages that might influence their decision. A couple of hundred phone calls is a very long way from such a demonstration for me though.

          • Michael Murray

            The Guardian articles I referred to are amongst this lot

            https://www.theguardian.com/society/downs-syndrome

            They are the ones related to Sally Phillips documentary. It is the comments by people who have Downs Syndrome relatives which I found most interesting.

          • So is the idea of an adult possessing a "spiritual soul" less objectionable to you? I have no trouble calling it a religious belief but I know some will want to deny just because it is called religious. If you see adults having a spiritual dimension then it makes sense to ask when that begins. To me fertilization is problematic but the least problematic of the choices.

          • Valence

            According to A-T philosophy every organism has a soul. It is a question of whether or not that soul is rational.

          • Valence

            If your own ability to do these things degrades for some reason then your value as a human person declines accordingly?

            In my own view, yes. I am doing everything I'm aware that I can to stave off my own physical and cognitive decline. If I am able to do less for the world and the ones I live, I believe I will be less.

            If your own ability to do these things degrades for some reason then your value as a human person declines accordingly?

            Would it not follow then when you love that you don't love the whole person but love this particular ability they have?

            No, but I will be sad that there abilities decline. I watched my grandmother lose her mind slowly, and I loved my grandmother just the same. There was a point that I don't believe my grandmother was even there, just a shell of what used to be her, even though she was technically breathing.

            I would not agree that my son can't do any of those things. He is 8 years old so much of his ability is yet to be determined. Yet he can engage in a voluntary and generous social interchange just to name one item.

            Remember, this whole thing is about what I would want, and want. I don't accept making it about your son. What you and he do, is entirely up to you.

            I do think that measuring human worth by any measure that has some people on one side of the bell curve and some people on the other is a frightening prospect. It warps you relationships with those above you and with those below you. It also warps your view of yourself. Much of your most intimate self becomes useless or even a liability.

            Why are you assuming my view is warped? You wanted an attempt at an objective approach and I attempted to provide one, even using a Catholic catechism. You would need to provide an alternate approach before making such a claim, and many of your secondary claims do not follow.

            Are you proposing there be no standard, and that everyone's life is equal regardless of the life they live? I hope you don't mind if I disagree, and I certainly am not trying to convince you of anything. The way I see it you are offended by the fact that I don't agree with you.

          • I am not saying your view is warped. I am saying if you measure human dignity on some scale or other then that is going to effect you relationships with those above you on that scale and with those below you on that scale.

            Your example of your grandmother makes me think you have some notion of human dignity that transcends the abilities you describe. I get your point. My mother has Alzheimer's.

            I do think society works better if we can agree that all people are endowed with certain inalienable rights.

          • Valence

            I do think society works better if we can agree that all people are endowed with certain inalienable rights.

            No argument with this idea, we just obviously disagree on when those rights should start. I'm not sure there is any clear way to bridge the difference since we approach the topic with significantly different metaphysical views on what constitutes a person (i.e. you think a non-viable embryo/fetus counts, I don't). I certainly think born persons with disabilities should have the right to life, unless they are completely brain dead with little hope of anything more.

          • You can try and bridge differences with discussion. You don't often come to complete agreement but you can see some of the problems and advantages of your view vs another. I wonder how one gets to inalienable rights without some higher power intending them.

          • Valence

            I wonder how one gets to inalienable rights without some higher power intending them.

            According to social contract theory, it's part of the agreement members of our civilization have made with others. The higher power is that of the collective belief of the people, and enforced by the power of that state. Grounding them in God would be better and it would mean these rights exist even if we don't believe in them, but that doesn't seem to be what happens. Most people in the southern U.S. believed in God during the slave era, for example, yet they still didn't believe black people had rights...so they effectively didn't until the beliefs changed and those beliefs began to be enforced.

          • A social contract? So that can be changed at any time? Does not the agreement have to be based on something? You are right that the allegedly Christians folks of years gone by have agreed on some not very Christian principles. Still if there is no underlying philosophy that says all human beings have equal dignity then I don't see such an agreement holding up very long. Almost any way you measure humans they come out quite unequal. It seems like without something to transcend that the social contract will break down.

          • Valence

            It seems like without something to transcend that the social contract will break down.

            That is entirely possible. In the U.S., the constitution provides some protection from the whims of the majority, but it's possible for a large enough majority to amend the constitution.
            In practice people are treated unequally today due to wealth. You might technically have equal rights, but if you can afford an expensive legal team, you seem to be much more likely to have your rights protected. It's also obvious that wealth can be used to influence elections...so perhaps we are currently not nearly as equal as we would like to think.
            I agree that something that would transcend the social contract would be very helpful, but it would have to be something the majority of us agree to...which is just another social contract, isn't it?

          • Would it not help if reality actually matched what the social contract said? Even the idea of reality being better than what is agree upon as you have pointed out in cases where the social contract excluded women or blacks. If the real truth is that nobody has any dignity then coming closer to that truth is going to maker life much worse. It would mean nobody would behave morally because of their conscience. Either you would need a police state to control people or rape and murder would become common. Certainly we would still care about the well-being of family and friends much of the time but people who don't know each other would have nothing.

            The good news is atheism is not true so we don't have to go down this road. The bad news is it seems like we are going there anyway.

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me a mistake to believe that a system that cannot be traced all the way down to its "roots" (in God, or somewhere else) cannot work and must collapse in on itself. Most of what we rely on in modern life is not ultimately "grounded." The United States of America is, although there are much better words for it, a "useful fiction." If people don't credit it with existing, it doesn't exist. (This is especially apparent to those who watched this past season of The Last Ship. The system of money and banking in the United States (and consequently, most of the world) cannot be followed from a dollar bill in your pocket to the local bank to . . . the world economy, to God. The dollar is a useful fiction which, as long as people have confidence in it, functions very well indeed. But if people lose confidence in it, it's worth only the piece of paper it is printed on. In fact, for most of us, our life savings exist only as zeroes and ones in computer storage somewhere. The same goes for baseball and chess. The same for the English language. The same for table manners and etiquette in general.

          • The question is what happens when the fiction disappears. For table manners it does not matter much because the sacrifice we make is small. For baseball and chess most of us are only under the illusion that winning is everything while we play the game. We realise that tomorrow winning or losing won't matter so much. With moral it is different. We are asked to sacrifice a lot. Yet we do it because being good is really important. But what if it isn't? If being good is as fleeting a feeling as winning a chess game and nothing more? Why not cheat at chess and at everything else? If the great majority really believe that I think a lot of society breaks down.

          • David Nickol

            The point is that we are well aware that national borders, or money and banking, or the rules of baseball are all human inventions, but we abide by their conventions nevertheless. People are often willing to die for their country, but we know that countries only exist by convention. The mistake many theists make (in my opinion) is that they believe things will only be taken seriously, or even should only be taken seriously, if somehow those things can be "grounded" in a deity. It just isn't how the world works.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Speaking of ignoring key points, lots of evil is how the world works too. But we need to replace the word evil with "We Do X", as in, "Person(s) Do X". And, by your metric, we must add this: full stop. Your appeal to "is" doesn't go anywhere. Lot's of people die for lots of reasons, valuing all sorts of things. Hence, by your criteria, by your metric, it's all good. "Incorrect" is an ontic-impossibility, just as is "correct", as both reduce to (paradigmatically speaking) colliding ontological equals ~~ ad infinitum ~~

            -Cause that's how the world (really) works.

          • Valence

            I'm taking a course on Why Evil Exists:

            http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/why-evil-exists.html

            The more I learn about the subject, the sillier your comments seem.

            You also lied to me here:

            Several weeks ago when I asked for permission to comment here I had also informed Brandon that I'd stay inside of Carroll's items as that was (for me) a very interesting series and worth the try. The M.T. item came about before the final Carroll installment so I kept going there too [ with fingers crossed :-0 ] knowing that the last item for Carroll was coming up. I say this just to let you know that I won't reply to any comments outside of those items (Carroll/M.T.) as I had said as much to B. Vogt way back when. As the series is now over (it seems) I'll keep my comments inside that series but won't venture outside, though I'll certainly read your comments given that they're always worth the time as are so many others here.

            https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/was_mother_teresa_really_an_atheist/#comment-2895363493

            Surely this article is outside the series. Obviously you are entitled to comment wherever you want, but why would you tell me this if it isn't true. Why would you defend you use of "we" when it isn't true? Why would you defend you use of "causal closure" when it isn't true? Above your post a refer of the book "The Meaning of Human Existence" when I referred to the "Social Conquest of Earth". Why would you say I refer to a specific book when it isn't true? It seems you consistently peddle in untruths, and confusion.

            1 Cor 14 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.

            I John 8:44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out his desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, refusing to uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

            All I'm saying is considering how much you present untruths as truths, are you sure you are here defending God or Someone Else. Different views of Satan are interesting, and the him as the Father of Lies is a specifically Christian one :)

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Editing complete at 23 minutes. [1] of [4] You stated, “Obviously you are entitled to comment wherever you want…” That’s false. I’m entitled to comment only if the moderator permits it. Do I have your permission? May I continue? Is Sinai God’s ideal for all of mankind, forever?

            [2] You stated, “Why would you defend your use of "we" when it isn't true?”

            "We" includes me, Carroll's illusory, your paradigm, and therefore your reasoning, and a wide array of published Non-Theists and Theists. Your lack of means here is evidence of the same. The "we" of a wide array of Non-Theists / Theists who affirm that you've not the means to defend your claim via answering my questions (coming up shortly to repeat them for you) asked of you is easy enough to find. Would you like some quotes of Feser and Hart and Hume and Ruse and Rosenberg which agree with Carroll's "useful rather than true" nuances? I'm a bit surprised that you're not aware of the problem at hand given that Sean Carroll, Hume, Ruse, Rosenberg, E. Feser, David Bentley Hart, and a growing array of Theistic/Non-Theistic brands concur regarding the oh-so-painfully obvious.

            Please explain where I'm mistaken here.

            In case you forgot the content under review with said "we" and said concurrence:

            Materialism / Non-Theism, and therefore your paradigm, and therefore your reasoning, and therefore you, cannot see far enough to answer the following questions and therein justify the ontic-distinctions in the following. Plenty of published Non-Theists and Theists agree, as you're well aware. In fact many Non-Theists are quite forceful in said agreement about drawing "ontic-distinctions". Here's the questions:

            [A] What is the fundamental nature of the history of the ontic-becoming of "Dirt-To-Man"?

            [B] What is the fundamental nature of the history of the ontic-becoming of "Dirt-To-The-Adamic"?

            [C] Where in your paradigm's seamless continuum of particle (or whatever) in motion do you differentiate the fundamental nature of said continuum from the fundamental nature of humanity?

            [D] Point to where those fundamental natures irreducibly part ways. If you can.

            [E] Then tell us what's broken, or lacking, if anything, in said ontic-becomings. What is your metaphysical (ontic, irreducible, etc...) referent for "broken", for "lacking"?

            Please show me where I am mistaken there.

            [3] You said, “Why would you defend your use of "causal closure" when it isn't true?”

            I stand by my claim on CC. Given causal closure, a purely physical system ought to be able to demonstrate such, but I don't think a materialist (or anyone) can demonstrate it. Why? Because the immaterial weighs in "also", and, so, without that included in the loop, the loop can never be coherently closed. Incoherent closure is easy enough, and that's all that was given, and such was done in a very Carroll-esc fashion.

            Please explain where I'm mistaken here.

            [4] You said, “I referred to the "Social Conquest of Earth”…..”

            Yes, I wanted to reference the author (and therefore his ontic-means), and the review I linked to gives much better insight into just what is being offered (vs. what I found elsewhere) on this author. You do have my apologies for not being specific as to my point and referencing “the author suggested to you earlier”. I got too focused on my linked review about said author and said means. Coming full circle then: I stand by the content on the author *you* suggested in a discussion about human morality.

            Please show me where I am mistaken there. You may reference any book by E. Wilson if you think it will help establish "morality" in any intelligible sense.

            You said, “you present untruths as truths….”

            Please explain in [1] through [4] where the untruth is. On opportunities to comment here I continue to be grateful. Is that okay with you? Is Sinai God’s ideal, for all of mankind, forever? On my referencing a specific book rather than the author and his means/ends, that was an oversight via my focus on my linked review which, now corrected, brings us full circle to the point at hand regarding said author and said content with respect to evolutionary morality (a phrase of equivocation). You may reference any book by E. Wilson if you think it will help establish "morality" in any intelligible sense.

            Please show me where I am mistaken there.

          • Valence

            Please explain where I'm mistaken here.

            I've already tried, on more than one occasion, and you just switch topics when pressed. At this point I'm just messing with you, and as far as I can tell, that's all you are doing with anyone you write to, lol.

            I've told you before I'm not an atheist, I'm an agnostic though I lean toward monism. Sad that we can't even get past that.

            You do have my apologies for not being specific as to my point and referencing “the author suggested to you earlier”. I stand by the content on the author *you* suggested in a discussion about human morality.

            Thank you, I appreciate it! I haven't read the book you referenced, only the social conquest of earth. I'll probably give it a shot.
            There are such a wide array of approaches to evil that it's hard to know where to begin, whether under theism or non-theism. Many approaches are basically agnostic to whether God exists, such as Freud's "Death Drive". Camus was an atheist student of Augustine who largely agreed with him on the concept of original sin but rejected God and salvation. Karl Marx though material concerns like poverty were the source of all evil but his solutions seem to be deeply problematic. Kant grounds morality in agency and points to selfishness being the root of most agents moral evil, though selfishness, in itself isn't enough for radical evil. Kant and Wilson's approaches are fully compatible, as one can ground the existence of agency in either God or blind evolutionary processes. Any psychological theory can point to the importance of conscience, and the source of conscious can logically be naturalistic or theistic. One can think one source makes more sense than the other, or have a deistic hybrid of both (again compatible with Kant). One well versed in philosophy realizes that opposing views here aren't based on any issue of logic, but based on the indeterminacy of the available evidence...hence my agnosticism which is greek for "without knowledge".

          • LHRMSCBrown

            [Edited at 11 hours] Monism/Dualism in a bit, but first: One only needs to deal with the data at hand. Not with the unknown. Allowing evidence and logic to drive the show is what it's all about. Avoiding absurdity and so on. It's not called messing with folks, it's called thinking through to coherent ends given all available data. I think the views you mention are all coherent but it takes a kind of zooming the lens in far enough..... a bit of an ostrich with respect to [Box A] and so on. But all views are, or should be, forced to deal with science, and in particular physics as it's so far reaching given what we know now. Kant and Marx and so on, I mean. "That" is true of all views. The concept of evil cannot float above physics, or outside of it, or simply not interface with it in any "ontic-sense".

            Monism of a non-theistic bend might have a shot if one dives into Idealism perhaps, but a full blown Idealism of the Berkeley flavor fails (if non-thestic) in many of the same ways Hindu Pantheism fails (in theism). The Divine Mind ends all regress, both in dualism and in idealism (in its monism) with some obvious differences.

            Spinoza-esc pantheisms are nothing more than materialism by another name, with the syntax of "material" replaced by whatever the latest trend happens to prefer and so carries all of the same metaphysical baggage.

            As a monist (or sort of etc.) you may find the following interesting: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3142477 and its title is "Philosophical Idealism and Christian Theology" (by James Snowden). The PDF should open up and be online. It's about 8 pages I think and ends with this bridge into monistic contours:

            “…..theology in the hands of the early Fathers, such as Augustine, and of many of its greatest theologians…. ..was based on Idealistic philosophy. But in modern times it has drifted away from this foundation and out of its native air to a dualistic basis and into an uncongenial atmosphere that have involved it in grave difficulties. By thrusting an opaque world between God and man it has, in a measure, screened God off from us and made him seem remote and in accessible, whereas the Bible and the old theologians bring God near and make him vital and warm to us, our very breath and life. Theology is necessarily conservative, but it is now responding to the great idealistic movement that set in with Descartes and Kant and is being quickened in this more genial air. Skepticism, that found such a vulnerable part in dualism, is being met with a more solid front and matched with keener weapons. All the doctrines of Christian theology are being restated in the light of monistic philosophy, and they are more deeply and rationally grounded, cohere in a stronger system, and are enhanced in power as integral parts of the spiritual world-order. Our whole modern thinking is being permeated and molded by the idea of the divine immanence, and this is the root of idealism.”

          • LHRMSCBrown

            See edit, the James Snowden quote from his "Philosophical Idealism and Christian Theology" etc....

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Monism/Dualism: In addition to the James Snowden edit/addition, the following two books may be of interest to you (given substance monism and Christianity etc.). Amazon has them in book and kindle formats. [1] Joshua R. Farris and S. Mark Hamilton. Idealism and Christian Theology: Idealism and Christianity Volume 1. Bloomsbury Publishing. [2] Steven B. Cowan and James S. Spiegel. Idealism and Christian Philosophy: Idealism and Christianity Volume 2. Bloomsbury Publishing.

          • David Nickol

            I really don't understand what you are saying about 90% of the time. I could point out the vocabulary that you employ quite regularly, which others here employ only rarely, if at all, but I can't imagine you are not already aware. It's certainly possible you are just smarter and more well read than I am or than anyone else here. More power to you. But I am reluctant to get into an exchange with you, unless perhaps someone wants to take on the role of interpreter and translate your messages for me. Or perhaps you could just dumb it down yourself.

            Perhaps you could clear up one thing for me. Is "our non-Theistic friends" meant to imply disdain? It certainly appears that way to me.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            David all you've done is stated that Person A does act X and takes it seriously. That's fine, but then all Acts of all Persons meet your criteria and count as moral/good so long as said Person takes it seriously when he does Act X. Which isn't really saying anything other than telling us that people have strong emotions tied to their acts (Act X, etc.). The problem with fiction in that particular market is that every book is ipso facto published. Strong emotions tied to actions. That metric carries us all right back to Hume and Sean Carroll and others, as in Hume's (paraphrased) pesky little opener:

            -Tis virtuous (morally reasonable) to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of one’s finger….. as Sean Carroll, Hume, Ruse, Rosenberg, E. Feser, David Bentley Hart, and a growing array of Theistic/Non-Theistic brands concur regarding the oh-so-painfully obvious: "The lack of an ultimate objective scientific grounding for morality can be worrisome. It implies that people with whom we have moral disagreements—whether it's Hitler, the Taliban, or schoolyard bullies who beat up smaller children—aren't wrong in the same sense that it's wrong to deny Darwinian evolution or the expansion of the universe....But that's how the world is." (S. Carroll) "Hume was right. We have no objective guidance on how to distinguish right from wrong: not from God, not from nature, not from the pure force of reason itself....Morality exists only insofar as we make it so, and other people might not pass judgments in the same way we do." (S. Carroll)

            “Morality is just a matter of emotions, like liking ice cream and sex and hating toothaches and marking student papers. But it is, and has to be, a funny kind of emotion. It has to pretend that it is not that at all! If we thought that morality was no more than liking or not liking spinach, then pretty quickly it would break down. Before long, we would find ourselves saying something like: "Well, morality is a jolly good thing from a personal point of view. When I am hungry or sick, I can rely on my fellow humans to help me. But really it is all bulls__t, so when they need help I can and should avoid putting myself out. There is nothing there for me." The trouble is that everyone would start saying this, and so very quickly there would be no morality and society would collapse and each and every one of us would suffer. So morality has to come across as something that is more than emotion. It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective. "Why should I be good? Why should you be good? Because that is what morality demands of us. It is bigger than the both of us. It is laid on us and we must accept it, just like we must accept that 2 + 2 = 4." I am not saying that we always are moral, but that we always know that we should be moral. Am I now giving the game away? Now you know that morality is an illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator, what's to stop you behaving like an ancient Roman? Well, nothing in an objective sense." (Michael Ruse)

            “Pressing on through Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, we come to Rosenberg’s treatment of morality. Followed out consistently, Rosenberg says, scientism entails nihilism. As Rosenberg is keen to emphasize, this is not the same as moral relativism or moral skepticism. It is not the claim that moral truth is relative, or that it is real but unknowable. Nor is it the claim that everything is morally permitted. It is a far more radical and disturbing claim than any of these views. Nihilism, as Rosenberg understands it, is the view that there is no such thing as being “morally permitted” or “morally prohibited” in the first place. For there is, given Rosenberg’s scientism, no intrinsic value in the world of the sort that is necessary for morality to be intelligible. Morality -- not just commonsense or traditional morality, not just religious morality, but all morality, morality as such, including any purported secular, liberal, permissive morality -- is therefore an illusion.” (…from http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/02/reading-rosenberg-part-vii.html and etc….)

          • David Nickol

            It was not my intention to say anything about what is moral or what is not moral. My point was that I do not think it is credible to claim that if morality cannot be "grounded" in the divine, then what is conventionally considered moral and immoral has such little force that humanity is doomed to chaos. My point is that many behaviors, customs, institutions, and so on are self-evidently human creations, and knowing that does not cause them to collapse. I say that for a number of reasons, but perhaps largely because I am currently reading The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy by Mervyn King. That money and banking are purely human creations is a fact beyond dispute, and yet it would be difficult to find a rational human being who would claim that since money and banking were "made up," and not "grounded" in a deity, if people only realized this, the world economy would collapse.

            It would be foolish to decide that, since the English language was a human creation, and one that was not even fixed by any authority, that it is a waste of time to learn English. The English language survives very well without being "grounded" in anything. Indeed, if the rules of grammar or pronunciation are broken by a sufficient number of people, what was once "wrong" becomes "right." Perhaps one day it will be considered correct English to utter such abominations as "between you and I." God, I presume, takes no position on matters of grammar and usage, and yet those of us who take correct English seriously would not find it unfair to flunk students out of college for using incorrect English.

          • Lazarus

            I'm sure that God does not bother much with language and grammar and banking, but does it ever occur to you why these things exist, why we are so very different from the rest of creation? Even though they are so obviously human creations - look at us, look at the things we get up to.

            Not my best argument (the Argument from Banking ;) ) but still, when it comes to "grounding" my own worldview I sometimes potter around with those types of thoughts.

          • David Nickol

            I'm sure that God does not bother much with language and grammar and banking, but does it ever occur to you why these things exist, why we are so very different from the rest of creation?

            Sure it occurs to me, but you are completely changing the subject.

          • Lazarus

            I didn't think so, but my apologies then.

          • Valence

            why we are so very different from the rest of creation?

            FWIW I think this is a fascinating question. Not only are we better at modeling and predicting than our closest relatives, but we seem to have a unique ability to create things, like banking, machines, ect. In a real sense, we are creators, so it isn't surprising to think there is a master creator.
            One them of evil in the Hebrew Bible is our creativity causing us to rival God (like some views of Satan). The Tower of Babel is an obvious case, but one interpretation of the Garden of Eden is that God wanted to keep man ignorant of good and evil to keep him becoming more powerful (like the Greek gods didn't want man to have fire). I don't think Christianity has a definitive answer as to why God didn't want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit in the garden, but obviously the serpent wanted them to.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Man is fated to know the whole, and therefore he'll ipso facto know the part. Regardless of his choices in Eden. Either Tree. Of course, that means knowledge is good, but equating and/or conflating pre-Eden and Eden and Privation and Heaven gets folks confused with the particulars within each set of logical necessities.

          • Valence

            Of course, that means knowledge is good, but equating and/or conflating pre-Eden and Eden and Privation and Heaven gets folks confused with the particulars within each set of logical necessities.

            I was primarily referencing a Jewish interpretation of the Torah. Are you saying Jews are confused about their own scripture? They certainly do not accept privation as the source of evil, they believe God creates evil. As usual, you seem to be the one who is confused.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            I'm sorry. I thought you knew there was a difference between Christianity and Judaism wrt OT exegeses.

            Random question: Is Sinai God's ideal, for all mankind, forever?

          • Valence

            The point of my comment was that there is a difference, and talking about a Jewish interpretation isn't confusion. Communicating with you seems next to impossible.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            I'm curious, did Judaism count Sinai as God's ideal, for all of mankind, forever? Skeptics seem to. Even on Christian blogs, which is odd. Prophecy points to the Messiah (etc.) so there is a "greater yet to come", as it were, but the nature of that "greater" and of that "come" are always interesting.

          • David Nickol

            Prophecy points to the Messiah (etc.)

            I find the claims of Old Testament prophecy of Jesus as the coming Messiah to be not credible. I would find Christian claims of a gradual revelation of God's plan for mankind much more credible if it were also not the Christian (or Catholic) claim that "public" revelation came to an abrupt halt with the death of the last apostle (and "private" revelation is not binding).

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Our inventions are fine and have nothing to do with morality. You're still agreeing with Hume's rational Man.

            "...the questioner and the issue he or she questions always involve the essential value of a person. That is, you can never talk of morality in abstraction. Persons are implicit to the question and the object of the question..." (R. Zacharias)

          • Valence

            I'm pretty confident that Brown's inability to communicate isn't due to higher intelligence but I'll leave that alone for a funny quote from American priest John McKenzie that certainly makes me think of Brown:

            ”I think my colleagues in theology and exegesis are open to the charge that they have become mandarins, who speak only to other mandarins about topics which are of interest only to mandarins in a style of discourse which is gibberish to any except mandarins, and one sometimes wonders about them too. Scholarship is and ought to be a form of public service and not an expensive enterprise dedicated to the production of a few more mandarins who can spend a leisurely life in the production of other mandarins”.

            Perhaps he's just read too many mandarin books :)

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Why are you impressed with a premise telling us that people have strong emotions tied to their acts, inventions, or language and about varying longevities of said inventions within a discussion about morality? Our inventions are not moral entities. Longevity is not morality. Nor are strong emotions moral because they are strongly felt. We (the individual) are moral entities, and going on about our strong emotions wrt to said inventions misses the point of all moral questions: the intrinsic worth of people. Why does the metric of strong emotions tied to our acts/inventions miss the point? Because that metric carries us all right back to Hume and Sean Carroll and Rosenberg and others (whom no one within Non-Theism's mindset here as effectively refuted), as in Hume's (paraphrased) pesky little opener:

            -Tis virtuous (morally reasonable) to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of one’s finger….. How does the world "work"? (....how the world works was put forth as relevant to the premise....) Well the institution of crime (murder, or whatever, etc...) is alive and strong and done with strong emotions. And so on. It all comes full circle to a smooth, flat surface populated with ontologically equal acts/emotions.

            Hence Hume is correct: it's not, and can't be, morally unreasonable to prefer ABC over and above DEF, etc.

            On the question of morality:

            1. we invent things
            2. many inventions have stellar longevity
            3. we feel strongly about said inventions

            ....are all irrelevant.

            Perhaps you or David can explain otherwise.

          • Valence

            This comment isn't relevant to anything we've said.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Why are you impressed with a premise telling us that people have strong emotions tied to their acts, inventions, or language and about varying longevities of said inventions within a discussion about morality?

          • Valence

            Quote sections of my comments to demonstrate what you are referring to.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            I only repeated the question to see if you were able to understand my words in my question asking you about your being impressed by (or lack thereof) the premises of strong emotions, and inventions, and longevity, and so on, not to accuse you of anything. Should I reword it? This was the initial part etc. "Why are you impressed with a premise telling us that people have strong emotions tied to their acts, inventions, or language and about varying longevities of said inventions within a discussion about morality?"

          • David Nickol

            Perhaps he's just read too many mandarin books :)

            這當然是一種可能性。

            American priest John McKenzie

            I have the greatest respect for Fr. McKenzie. His Dictionary of the Bible is among the first books I consult on biblical matters. It is a great quote!

          • Valence

            這當然是一種可能性。

            我想我們永遠不會知道。當然,這並不難翻譯這些日子的感謝傳達給谷歌翻譯

          • David Nickol

            開懷大笑

          • LHRMSCBrown

            On morality, why do you reference 1. that we invent things and 2. that many inventions have stellar longevity and 3. that we have strong emotions tied to said inventions and to many of our acts? None of that actualizes morality. Nor does (per Carroll and others) the full force of all our reasoning. Is it that you don't know the difference about what your three observations reference vs. what S. Carroll (and Christians) are referencing when speaking of right and wrong? Or is it that you do know the difference but you think there is a way to salvage something by referencing your three observations?

          • David Nickol

            What I am claiming is that systems that are purely human creations have "rules" and rights and wrongs that are not "grounded" and yet are obeyed in ways similar to moral rules. What I am denying is the scare tactic of Our Theist Friends who say that if there is no divine origin of morality, it is bound to collapse, and if people discover morality is not from God, they will decide that "everything is permitted" and will do whatever they can get away with.

            A huge portion of what we call morality is internalized in childhood (as the superego, if you take Freud seriously). As an agnostic, I acknowledge that morality could be from God, but it also seems perfectly possible to me that what we call morality (in fact, what is morality) arose with the development of homo sapiens as a part of culture.

          • David Nickol

            Let me also add that one curious thing about God-given morality is that moral strictures that are extremely powerful for those who believe in them can be powerless or even abhorrent to people who don't. "Bad" moral rules can be just as powerful as "good" ones. For example, people who think interracial marriage is against the will of God are just as morally outraged by it (if not more so) than people who think racial discrimination is wrong. If you are raised to believe that playing cards is sinful, then you are likely to feel guilty if you give in to peer pressure and play cards. For Orthodox Jews, it is quite possible that many would react with the same guilt for eating pork as they would to something we all would consider a real moral offense (say, cannibalism, although that is a bit extreme).

            People suffer from guilt not when they do something wrong, but when they do something they think is wrong. If conscience is from God, then one might think that one should feel guilty only for doing something that is "objectively" wrong, just as one dies only from eating poison, not from eating something that they believe to be poison.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            “What I am claiming is that systems that are purely human creations have "rules" and rights and wrongs that are not "grounded" and yet are obeyed in ways similar to moral rules.”

            And yet as Carroll, Hume, Ruse, Rosenberg, Feser, Hart, and so many more Non-Theists and Theists, affirm there is nothing real (factual) about being wrong/right in any moral sense. Are you changing the definition to something other than what they are referring to (equivocation etc.)?

            “What I am denying is the scare tactic of Our Theist Friends who say that if there is no divine origin of morality, it is bound to collapse and if people discover morality is not from God, they will decide that "everything is permitted" and will do whatever they can get away with.”

            That’s not what I or any Christian who understands the moral argument claims as components of the moral argument for God, of what moral facts entail with respect to reason, reality, and truth-finding. In fact, that whole claim has *nothing* to do with the moral argument for God, about what moral facts are. “I can be good without god!!” is an unfortunate move which reveals what is at best a superficial awareness of the moral argument from the Christian end and that move also seems to think it can show us the way to the ontological ends of moral facts from the Non-Theist’s end. It affirms Ignatius’ frustration about not being able to find solid discussions. That’s a two way street and the number of straw men which show up from Non-Theists is a part of that problem.

            “A huge portion of what we call morality is internalized in childhood (as the superego, if you take Freud seriously). As an agnostic, I acknowledge that morality could be from God, but it also seems perfectly possible to me that what we call morality (in fact, what is morality) arose with the development of homo sapiens as a part of culture.”

            If you think evolutionary morality (that paradigm and its means/ends) and the Christian paradigm (it’s contours of immutable love) can both yield the same set of ontological facts about moral reality (they can both yield morality), and about reasoning about moral reality, about discovery, and about nature’s fundamental processions, then you’re simply unaware of what the two paradigms *are* claiming and *can* claim about reality. Unless, perhaps, you are saying they both yield feelings, which is true. But feelings, preference, appetite, and powerful emotions are not morality.

            “Let me also add that one curious thing about God-given morality is that moral strictures…………..” (whole paragraph there)

            Hence the obvious problem of basing what reality is actually like upon our feelings and emotions and cultural contours. True, that’s all evolutionary morality has to offer. That is why the concept of “progress” and “closer to the ideal” isn’t possible in that model, whereas, in the Christian narrative, there is such a “ontic-fact” as less-ideal, more-ideal, and ideal, and in fact perfection of the good and of man’s nature. There is the fact of the ontic end point because there *is* the Good. But evolution in the naturalistic sense (whatever that contradiction of terms is supposed to be) never stops, never aims, never gets it wrong, never gets it right, because the ontological landscape doesn’t house the necessary substrate. Hence Hume, Ruse, Carroll, Rosenberg, and… ..and.. ..and…

            The “reason” that so many Non-Theistic thinkers claim (rightly) that “the force of reasoning” is *not* able to actualize morality is because reason has to have factual ends to chase after, and when it comes to irreducible love, well there is no such thing outside of God, and there is also no such thing as man’s nature with respect to such ends. Morality is eternally open-ended (hence the painful absence of the ontic-fact of less-ideal, more-ideal, and ideal). Reason, appetites, will, and reality converge in the following:

            Quote:

            Assuming that the meaning of “good” in morality, at least in its most general aspect, is identical to its meaning outside morality, we must appeal to the fulfilment of appetite in defining the fundamental test or primary criterion of moral behavior. But that cannot be the whole story, since as argued earlier, reason and will must be essentially involved in the test. So I propose that what we end up with is the following formula:

            The fundamental test of morality is whether an act is directed by reason to man’s ultimate end.

            Now the ultimate end is just another way of talking about the ultimate appetite or essential tendency (perhaps tendencies/appetites in the plural) the fulfilment of which perfects human nature.

            To appeal to the ultimate end is, from the ontic point of view, to dismiss the idea that there can be an endless series of appetites, each one such that its fulfilment is at the same time the means to the fulfilment of the next one in the series, where the next one will be broader, more general or all-encompassing. To countenance the thought is effectively to deny that human beings can ever fulfil their natures, that they can ever be just good. Apart from the intolerable hopelessness this would inject into morality, it would involve attributing a kind of infinite nature to a manifestly finite being, which verges on metaphysical absurdity. From the practical point of view, the appeal to an ultimate end is just to endorse Aristotle’s famous doctrine that all practical reasoning must find a terminus.

            End quote. (David Oderberg, “All for the Good”)

            Aristotle's discovery (not invention) properly orients (aims) reason as truth-finder. Or whoever discovered such. Chronological epistemological movements never can define ontological (metaphysical) ownership of ultimate truths. Hence morality before Sinai – because *God*.

            “People suffer from guilt not when they do something wrong, but when they do something they think is wrong. If conscience is from God, then one might think that one should feel guilty only for doing something that is "objectively" wrong, just as one dies only from eating poison, not from eating something that they believe to be poison.”

            Hence the obvious problem of basing what reality is actually like upon our feelings and emotions and cultural contours. True, that’s all evolutionary morality has to offer. That is why the concept of “progress” and “closer to the ideal” isn’t possible in that model, whereas, in the Christian narrative, there is such a “ontic-fact” as less-ideal, more-ideal, and ideal, and in fact perfection of the good and of man’s nature. There is the fact of the ontic end point because there *is* the Good. But evolution in the naturalistic sense (whatever that contradiction of terms is supposed to be) never stops, never aims, never gets it wrong, never gets it right, because the ontological landscape doesn’t house the necessary substrate. Hence Hume, Ruse, Carroll, Rosenberg, and… ..and.. ..and…

            The immutable love of the Necessary Being saturates all possible syntax in all possible worlds with the ontic-definition reason as truth-finder chases after here within the pains of the current state of affairs.

          • David Nickol

            I'll just repeat what I said three days ago:

            I really don't understand what you are saying about 90% of the time. I could point out the vocabulary that you employ quite regularly, which others here employ only rarely, if at all, but I can't imagine you are not already aware. It's certainly possible you are just smarter and more well read than I am or than anyone else here. More power to you. But I am reluctant to get into an exchange with you, unless perhaps someone wants to take on the role of interpreter [Jim (hillclimber), maybe?] and translate your messages for me. Or perhaps you could just dumb it down yourself.

            I don't know who your intended audience is, but it certainly can't be me.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Okay let's go paragraph by paragraph and clarify. If you're not willing then I'll take it as evidence that I need not take you seriously. Here is the first statement I made in reference to where I quoted you etc., "And yet as Carroll, Hume, Ruse, Rosenberg, Feser, Hart, and so many more Non-Theists and Theists, affirm there is nothing real (factual) about being wrong/right in any moral sense. Are you changing the definition to something other than what they are referring to (equivocation etc.)?" What do you think I meant there? Take a guess and we'll start from wherever you feel comfortable.

            As a backdrop to Sean Carroll's definitions (we'll hash out Ruse, Rosenberg, Hume, and the others later) there are these two quotes:

            "The lack of an ultimate objective scientific grounding for morality can be worrisome. It implies that people with whom we have moral disagreements—whether it's Hitler, the Taliban, or schoolyard bullies who beat up smaller children—aren't wrong in the same sense that it's wrong to deny Darwinian evolution or the expansion of the universe....But that's how the world is." (S. Carroll)

            "Hume was right. We have no objective guidance on how to distinguish right from wrong..... not from nature, not from the pure force of reason itself....Morality exists only insofar as we make it so, and other people might not pass judgments in the same way we do." (S. Carroll)

          • David Nickol

            If you're not willing then I'll take it as evidence that I need not take you seriously.

            I would have been willing if you had not said this, but now I am not. So from now on, please don't take me seriously. I say this with no ill will. I just don't see how a dialogue between you and me can be productive. We seem to both come from entirely different places.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Productive dialogue isn't possible given that you're pretending to have no idea about / no comprehension of the relevance of the content of Carroll, Ruse, and Hume (and others) when juxtaposed against your content of inventions, longevity, and strong emotions. Google translations aside.

            "I can be good without God!" is revealing, as described earlier.

            Here's Ruse and Rosenberg:

            “Morality is just a matter of emotions, like liking ice cream and sex and hating toothaches and marking student papers. But it is, and has to be, a funny kind of emotion. It has to pretend that it is not that at all! If we thought that morality was no more than liking or not liking spinach, then pretty quickly it would break down. Before long, we would find ourselves saying something like: "Well, morality is a jolly good thing from a personal point of view. When I am hungry or sick, I can rely on my fellow humans to help me. But really it is all bulls__t, so when they need help I can and should avoid putting myself out. There is nothing there for me." The trouble is that everyone would start saying this, and so very quickly there would be no morality and society would collapse and each and every one of us would suffer. So morality has to come across as something that is more than emotion. It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective. "Why should I be good? Why should you be good? Because that is what morality demands of us. It is bigger than the both of us. It is laid on us and we must accept it, just like we must accept that 2 + 2 = 4." I am not saying that we always are moral, but that we always know that we should be moral. Am I now giving the game away? Now you know that morality is an illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator, what's to stop you behaving like an ancient Roman? Well, nothing in an objective sense." (Michael Ruse)

            “Pressing on through Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, we come to Rosenberg’s treatment of morality. Followed out consistently, Rosenberg says, scientism entails nihilism. As Rosenberg is keen to emphasize, this is not the same as moral relativism or moral skepticism. It is not the claim that moral truth is relative, or that it is real but unknowable. Nor is it the claim that everything is morally permitted. It is a far more radical and disturbing claim than any of these views. Nihilism, as Rosenberg understands it, is the view that there is no such thing as being “morally permitted” or “morally prohibited” in the first place. For there is, given Rosenberg’s scientism, no intrinsic value in the world of the sort that is necessary for morality to be intelligible. Morality -- not just commonsense or traditional morality, not just religious morality, but all morality, morality as such, including any purported secular, liberal, permissive morality -- is therefore an illusion.” (…from http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/02/reading-rosenberg-part-vii.html and etc….)

          • David Nickol

            Productive dialogue isn't possible given that you're pretending to have no idea about / no comprehension . . . .

            I am entirely willing to take complete responsibility for what I deem to be the impossibility of productive dialogue between you and me. However, I ask that you please don't accuse me of "pretending" to do anything, since I am being as straightforward as I know how.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Given your adept writing and astute level of thinking (in all seriousness), which is readily apparent to anyone who reads you, pretense seemed the only reasonable explanation regarding the aforementioned juxtaposition of the other's content against your content. Also, I understand the appeal that "I can be good without God!" has to many atheists (etc.), as it gets some traction, but it doesn't address the real issue and in fact gets the moral argument all wrong (which is why Carroll and friends don't find it to be a valid actualizer of moral facts). Regarding Google translators, well, I hate to admit it but it made me laugh :-0

          • People are willing to die for their country if they think their country represents some greater good like freedom or justice. Absent that you need a police state to make them die for their country. Charles Colson used to talk about cops, conscience or chaos. A philosophy that weakens conscience will produce either more chaos or more police and more prisons.

            We have seen only a hint of this so far as society does question many moral principles but very few question morality itself.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Randy,

            A brief review of the book suggested to you earlier, with a few added thoughts just for fun, as the book is nothing new:

            Review quote:

            From http://www.markrkelly.com/Blog/2014/12/03/eo-wilson-the-meaning-of-human-existence-part-5-and-last/ on Edward O. Wilson’s “The Meaning of Human Existence”,

            And Wilson concludes,

            “So, does free will exist? Yes, if not in ultimate reality, then at least in the operational sense necessary for sanity and thereby for the perpetuation of the human species.”

            In the final chapter, Chapter 15, Alone and Free in the Universe, Wilson summarizes the themes of this book that has in turn summarized themes from his many earlier books.

            Wilson hopes that our recognition that we are one species among millions, with no demonstrable destiny or purpose, means we are free, free to pursue the unity of the human race.

            End quote.

            In a discussion about prescriptive ontology it’s not at all clear why this book is suggested by our Non-Theist friends. It’s a classic enactment of Non-Theistic tradition in (first) begging the question as to what indifference values and (secondly) in the next breadth (without missing a beat of course) conflating the merely descriptive for an ontic-means by which to enter into the prescriptive. We arrive at all the same, final, conclusions regarding what such semantics actually unpack to as free will is not (ultimately) real and there’s no (demonstrable) purpose to “humanity”. And this from a book on the meaning of human existence. It’s Sean Carroll all over again as all “virtue” of this sort is found in “Every X”, or in in all that exists – that is to say that everything is equally “virtuous” once we put any weight upon the premises in play. Non-distinction amid colliding ontological equals ad infinitum just is the end of all Spinoza-esc attempts as the ontic-impossibility of the ontic-sociopath vis-à-vis Hume and the rational man stands affirmed by yet another Non-Theist.

            It’s not quite as bold, up front, and honest as Ruse or Rosenberg, but it’s a bit more to the point than most of our Non-Theistic commentators here (so far). It is, after all, the only nonsensical circle Non-Theism *can* traverse. Unfortunately, the illusory just won't do. Semantic games aren’t worth discussing unless the folks foisting such X-Box-esc graphics are able to be honest about what it is they are actually standing on top of. Rosenberg and Ruse are remarkably refreshing in that regard as sooo much time is saved.

            Meanwhile, cosmic unintelligibility and absurdity’s forced illusions aside, should one find the irreducibly Good, well then one will have found the necessary substrate for the irreducibly moral. The big picture: The Spinoza-esc and all derivatives thereof at some ontological seam somewhere sum to the illusory, void of the irreducibly Good. -Tis virtuous to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of one’s finger….. as Sean Carroll, Hume, Ruse, Rosenberg, E. Feser, David Bentley Hart, and a growing array of Theistic/Non-Theistic brands concur regarding the oh-so-painfully obvious: "The lack of an ultimate objective scientific grounding for morality can be worrisome. It implies that people with whom we have moral disagreements—whether it's Hitler, the Taliban, or schoolyard bullies who beat up smaller children—aren't wrong in the same sense that it's wrong to deny Darwinian evolution or the expansion of the universe....But that's how the world is." (S. Carroll) "Hume was right. We have no objective guidance on how to distinguish right from wrong: not from God, not from nature, not from the pure force of reason itself....Morality exists only insofar as we make it so, and other people might not pass judgments in the same way we do." (S. Carroll)

            “Morality is just a matter of emotions, like liking ice cream and sex and hating toothaches and marking student papers. But it is, and has to be, a funny kind of emotion. It has to pretend that it is not that at all! If we thought that morality was no more than liking or not liking spinach, then pretty quickly it would break down. Before long, we would find ourselves saying something like: "Well, morality is a jolly good thing from a personal point of view. When I am hungry or sick, I can rely on my fellow humans to help me. But really it is all bulls__t, so when they need help I can and should avoid putting myself out. There is nothing there for me." The trouble is that everyone would start saying this, and so very quickly there would be no morality and society would collapse and each and every one of us would suffer. So morality has to come across as something that is more than emotion. It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective. "Why should I be good? Why should you be good? Because that is what morality demands of us. It is bigger than the both of us. It is laid on us and we must accept it, just like we must accept that 2 + 2 = 4." I am not saying that we always are moral, but that we always know that we should be moral. Am I now giving the game away? Now you know that morality is an illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator, what's to stop you behaving like an ancient Roman? Well, nothing in an objective sense." (Michael Ruse)

            “Pressing on through Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, we come to Rosenberg’s treatment of morality. Followed out consistently, Rosenberg says, scientism entails nihilism. As Rosenberg is keen to emphasize, this is not the same as moral relativism or moral skepticism. It is not the claim that moral truth is relative, or that it is real but unknowable. Nor is it the claim that everything is morally permitted. It is a far more radical and disturbing claim than any of these views. Nihilism, as Rosenberg understands it, is the view that there is no such thing as being “morally permitted” or “morally prohibited” in the first place. For there is, given Rosenberg’s scientism, no intrinsic value in the world of the sort that is necessary for morality to be intelligible. Morality -- not just commonsense or traditional morality, not just religious morality, but all morality, morality as such, including any purported secular, liberal, permissive morality -- is therefore an illusion.” (…from http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/02/reading-rosenberg-part-vii.html and etc….)

          • Thanks for that. So the book does get into philosophy rather than just speculating on a possible narrative for how morality could have evolved. So he says we are more than our physical reality? It is not clear but how else does he assert free will?

            Wilson hopes that our recognition that we are one species among millions, with no demonstrable destiny or purpose, means we are free, free to pursue the unity of the human race.

            So why should we pursue the unity of the human race? What does it even mean? Christian talk about being free to do good but we have a reason why doing good is something worth sacrificing for. That is we are meant for an eternal love relationship with God and in danger of missing out. That doing evil is fundamentally putting yourself at war with your deeper self. If there is no deeper self then how does this not fall apart?

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Wilson hedges on free will: "“So, does free will exist? Yes, if not in ultimate reality, then at least in the operational sense necessary for sanity and thereby for the perpetuation of the human species.”

            It's akin to Jim's description of Sean Carroll being okay with the semantics of personal causation "but only with the understanding that this is a short-hand way of saying "complex impersonal causes"".

            Sam Harris and "...we can choose, but we cannot choose what we choose..."

            That sort of thing. To deny free will in its most fundamental sense and then to go on talking as if free will is in-play. It's a very non-theistic-esc mode of reasoning through "the stuff of reality".

          • Valence

            It doesn't necessarily follow that humans don't have dignity if atheism is true. First we have to answer the question of what dignity is, and how to tell if people have it. The way you are using dignity comes from the Enlightenment, actually.

            Moral, ethical, legal, and political discussions use the concept of dignity to express the idea that a being has an innate right to be valued, respected, and to receive ethical treatment. In the modern context dignity can function as an extension of the Enlightenment-era concepts of inherent, inalienable rights.

            Emmanual Kant made the best arguments for it:

            A philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries), Immanuel Kant held that there were things that should not be discussed in terms of value, and that these things could be said to have dignity. 'Value' is necessarily relative, because the value of something depends on a particular observer's judgment of that thing. Things that are not relative - that are "ends in themselves", in Kant's terminology - are by extension beyond all value, and a thing is an end in itself only if it has a moral dimension; if it represents a choice between right and wrong. In Kant's words: "Morality, and humanity as capable of it, is that which alone has dignity."[16] Specifically with respect to human dignity, which his writings brought from relative obscurity in Western philosophy into a focal point for philosophers, Kant held that "free will" is essential; human dignity is related to human agency, the ability of humans to choose their own actions.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dignity#Pico_della_Mirandola

            God isn't necessary for human agency, or for the concept that an agent is an end unto itself. Note that an embryo or fetus does not yet have agency. Also not that the idea that all agents have dignity does not mean all agents are necessarily equal. Agency is defined as the capacity to act in an environment, thus more intelligent organisms have greater agency (compare humans to rabbits...rabbits mostly just hop and chew, humans can act in a nearly infinite number of ways). It does support that all agents should be treated fairly, but fairness is quite complicated. Is it fair to take, with force of law, from the rich to give to the poor like Robin Hood? Is it fair to the poor that the rich not voluntarily give to them? Are some of the things individuals do unfair to society, like not educating themselves and contributing? Again, I don't see how God helps answer any of those questions.

          • The Enlightenment borrowed a lot of ideas from Christianity but removed the theological language to make them appear as secular ideas. It is unclear which of them can stand the removal of the Christian foundation that they came from. Just because guys like Kant and even modern thinkers ignore that foundation does not mean it is not there.

            I atheism is true then humans could still have dignity. It is logically possible. Really simple atheism allows for lots of possibilities. It is when people reject any non-material concept that cannot be studied by science that it becomes hard to see where any dignity comes from.

            How does God answer those questions? First and foremost, His existence makes it reasonable to expect that those questions should have answers. Is fairness something that matters? Is it something that even makes sense? Does the concept of ends make any sense?

          • Valence

            The Enlightenment borrowed a lot of ideas from Christianity but removed the theological language to make them appear as secular ideas.

            Kant was considered a Christian by many, but of the heretical sort as he thought most of the rituals of religion were just superstition. He supported the importance of religion when it came to morality though was probably closer to a deist than a theist (it's hard to put him in a specific category).
            Everyone builds on the past. Judaism borrowed a ton from Sumer, Egypt, and Babylon. Christianity borrowed a ton from Judaism and Greek philosophy. If using ideas from their predecessors is a problem, Christianity itself is in deep trouble. I don't see it as a problem, myself.

          • The problem is not when philosophies build on the past. Secularism often refuses to acknowledge it but it is OK that it does so. The problem is when significant parts of the past thinking are rejected and that leaves the remaining ideas incoherent and unsustainable. It is like communism. It can survive for a while based on what was there before but ultimately it will collapse.

          • Valence

            If you are interested, I can recommend a book on the evolution of human morality/conscience. You might not believe that's how we got here, but it's certainly plausible

            https://www.amazon.com/Social-Conquest-Earth-Edward-Wilson/dp/0871403633

            It's written by a prominent biologist who also just so happens to really dislike Richard Dawkins.

            https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jun/24/battle-of-the-professors

            I'm in Wilson's camp on this one, and he probably has made more contributions to biology than Dawkins.

          • It is good news if he differs greatly from Dawkins. I will have to dig into his idea a bit. BTW, the evolution of human morality/conscience is plausible if there is something to morality. The idea that the human mind and even animal minds might be influenced by truth and beauty and goodness seems very plausible to me if those things exist. The notion that evolution created such things and they still feel so real to us even seems a lot less plausible to me. Most science does not really address this distinction.

          • Valence

            The notion that evolution created such things and they still feel so real to us even seems a lot less plausible to me.

            Could you explain this? I don't understand how the way something came to be affects how real something feels.

          • I do think our conscious reasoning does lead us to truth. I know that if evolution is where my mind came from it should not be expected to lead me to truth. It should be expected to lead me to things that gave humans a survival advantage at some point. Yet it feels like truth exists and I can find it with my mind, however imperfectly.

            The same goes with goodness and beauty. When the Taliban says educating women is immoral I think they are simply wrong. Coming from a different culture does not make that go away. It helps explain it but they are still just wrong. Same with rape and cruelty and many other things that some people sometimes say is fine.

            So the way something came to be does not effect how real it is. Evolution does not prove morality is real or that morality is simply a psychological illusion. I think the ladder is less plausible given evolution but it is not impossible to imagine. Yet in many ways it is irrelevant.

          • Valence

            I know that if evolution is where my mind came from it should not be expected to lead me to truth. It should be expected to lead me to things that gave humans a survival advantage at some point. Yet it feels like truth exists and I can find it with my mind, however imperfectly.

            Truth has a real and (to me) obvious survival advantage. It is true that certain poisonous plants will kill me. If I don't understand that truth, and eat them anyway, I will die. Same goes for predators falling, all sorts of things that will kill me. Intelligence provides a huge survival advantage where planning is possible.
            It is true that humans have a much greater chance to survive in a group. Those who didn't understand that truth and struck out on their own in the wilderness were much less likely to survive. Many more examples can be created (perhaps a nearly infinite number) that show how understanding facts related to dangers increase a person's change of survival.
            It's know that more intelligent people live longer than less intelligent persons, even within a society that tries to protect everyone equally:

            http://www.livescience.com/51829-smart-people-live-longer.html

            That article points to genes, but it can also be shown that intelligent people are less likely to die accidentally. Accidents used to more likely to kill you than they are now, thanks to medicine. Prediction and planning are key to accident prevention. Greater intelligence allows for greater prediction and planning. Modern accident prevention and safety in construction and other related fields are all about prediction and planning:

            http://www.pmacompanies.com/pdf/MarketingMaterial/PMA_WhitePaper_Severity.pdf

          • neil_pogi

            there are at least millions of people around the world inflicted with that dreaded disorder (Down) and yet they never think of ending their life?

        • David Nickol

          Setting the matter of Down Syndrome aside (since many with Down Syndrome lead happy and productive lives), I do not think it is irrational to say being aborted would be preferable a life as a severely cognitively and physically disabled person. If this life is so important, why are so many human beings who are conceived die before birth? Some estimates put it at a majority. If the Catholic Church is right, and we may hope that the unbaptized are saved, then aborted babies go straight to heaven. What is so terrible about going straight to heaven and missing a brief, miserable existence on earth? For a person so cognitively impaired that he or she is incapable of making moral decisions, what can be the point of earthly life?

          NOTE: I am not advocating abortion here, any more than I would advocate mercy killing or suicide. I am trying to think about this in a Catholic framework, and one aspect of that is that no one has a right to take an innocent human life. That does not mean, however, that it cannot be argued that in some circumstances, death is preferable from certain viewpoints. If someone is mortally ill and suffering terribly, he or she may hope to die soon, and loved ones may licitly wish for a quick end.

          • Valence

            I personally think death is preferably to many fates. Does that mean I'm immoral or simply don't have as strong a survival instinct as some people? I can say with certainty that I would die to save a person I love, because dying would be preferable to living with the guilt of not having done everything I could. I have a very hard time seeing how that's wrong...

          • Jonathan Brumley

            To sort out these moral issues, we have to put various goods in proper order. The goods we are talking about are love, life, and freedom from suffering.

            From a Catholic perspective, the very purpose of life is to love. Therefore, the good of love is greater than the good of life. Life can be sacrificed for love. But at the same time, if life is gone, then love is no longer possible. But when you compare life and suffering, you get something different. Love can be lived out even in the presence of suffering. In fact, love almost always involves suffering.

            So dying for love can make sense, but dying only to prevent suffering does not.

            To choose death to prevent parents from suffering the care of a child is doubly mistaken, because not only is the life lost, but also the parents are denied the opportunity to love their child. The second evil is greater than the first, and neither is worth the good of preventing suffering.

          • Valence

            To choose death to prevent parents from suffering the care of a child is doubly mistaken, because not only is the life lost, but also the parents are denied the opportunity to love their child. The second evil is greater than the first, and neither is worth the good of preventing suffering.

            Your position fails to take economics into account. Not counting the cost of day to day care, the medical costs of such a child are very high. This matters because parents can only afford so many children and give them good medical care and a good education, so a down syndrome child will likely mean fewer children in the family. Even if a down syndrome child were the same cost, another child would replace the aborted embryo, meaning the same number of lives would come into existence. There is excellent philosophical reason to suppose that the key to personhood lies in minds, not cells, and until a mind develops personhood isn't realized. It's known that egg cells are totipotent, but not it looks like sperm may be too...i.e. fertilization isn't nearly as clear a mark to begin personhood as it once was.
            In general if a down syndrome embryo is replaced with a healthy one, one needs specific religious assumptions to believe anything is really lost. The same total number of lives will exist.

            Down syndrome: The medical costs for a child with Down syndrome were 12 to 13 times higher than a child without Down syndrome. If a child with Down syndrome also has a congenital heart defect, families experience even higher medical costs (3).

            http://www.cdc.gov/features/birthdefectscostly/

            http://www.popsci.com/how-to-make-baby-without-an-egg

          • David Nickol

            The second evil is greater than the first, and neither is worth the good of preventing suffering.

            Denying parents the opportunity to love a severely disabled baby is worse than murder? I certainly can't agree.

            From a Catholic perspective, the very purpose of life is to love.

            Then why are there individuals with such severe disabilities that they cannot love in any meaningful sense of the word? If the very purpose of life is to love, don't such severely disabled individuals have no purpose in life?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I certainly can't agree.

            I agree with your objection on that point.

            Then why are there individuals with such severe disabilities that they cannot love in any meaningful sense of the word?

            I'm wondering who you have in mind, and whether it's entirely clear to you what counts as meaningful in this context?

          • David Nickol

            I'm wondering who you have in mind, and whether it's entirely clear to you what counts as meaningful in this context?

            I am talking about the profoundly intellectually disabled (people most of us probably never encounter in a lifetime) who cannot speak or understand speech, and who must be cared for 24/7 in much the same way one would care for a small infant. (I think it has been a mistake to focus so much on Down Syndrome, because most individuals with Down Syndrome are not profoundly intellectually disabled.)

            Also, I would mention people with severe Alzheimer's disease. I remember seeing a very moving documentary about one family in which the mother had early-onset Alzheimer's and while the family continued to visit her in the nursing home, they said the person they had known was gone. I think severe Alzheimer's is a very difficult, heart-wrenching problem, because in many cases (as in this one) the person's life is really over, and yet the body lives on. From a Catholic point of view—as it would seem to me, in any case, once a person is no longer capable of making moral decisions, their life is effectively over.

            Now, I am sure some of "our Theist friends" will be sorely tempted to define love very broadly and claim that every human person can love. I would think that in order to love in a meaningful sense, a person would have to be capable of comforting someone else who was suffering or making a sacrifice of one's own happiness or well being (even if small) to make the other person feel better. Clearly there are profoundly disabled (or otherwise afflicted) people who cannot do this.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Now, I am sure some of "our Theist friends" will be sorely tempted to define love very broadly and claim that every human person can love. I

            Well, I might stop short of such a global claim, but sure enough, I would want to argue in that general direction, for a considerably less restrictive definition of what it means to be in love.

            I do remember sitting with my grandmother (who had Alzheimer's) when she could no longer remember my name, and when she no longer had any sense of who I was. I'm pretty sure she still liked holding my hand, and I still liked holding hers. I would quite strongly object to anyone who tried to tell me that that wasn't a mutual expression of love.

            Sad but funny aside: She said to my uncle, around that time: "You're my son??!! No wonder I like you!!" :-) Also, she still liked listening to Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan (yes, hip grandma), though somewhat regrettably she did sort of get stuck on particular tracks from Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues.

          • David Nickol

            I would quite strongly object to anyone who tried to tell me that that wasn't a mutual expression of love.

            Unfortunately, you have put things in such personal terms that I am prevented from giving a frank answer. I will just say that while one might classify your grandmother's experience (which you can only guess at) as love, is that the kind of love that is "the very purpose of life"?

            One of my earliest memories is of meeting my great grandmother, who was 93-years-old at the time and was in a kind of alternate reality. My mother pointed out that a great deal of her responses were emotionally on target. When we arrived, for example, she said, "If I'd have known you were coming, I would have made mashed potatoes!" She was quite merry the whole time we were there. My grandfather had numerous stories about her antics. She had hallucinated my grandfather in a bathtub with a naked woman and scolded him for it. There was a ceramic condiment container in the shape of a tomato, and she claimed that it had been whole once (it was hollow with a removable top) but burglars had broken it when they tried to steal it. When we left, she wished us a Merry Christmas, a Happy Easter, a happy 4th of July, and so on. I was amused (and somewhat bemused) as a child, but I am very thankful that both my mother and father remained sharp up to the moment of their deaths. My niece is severely developmentally disabled. She cannot read or write despite having gone to one of the best schools in the country. She is very much like a child, and my sister has many funny stories about her. They are often "cute" and not painful, since she is so childlike and has always been that way.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The bathtub accusation is pretty awesome :-)

            is that the kind of love that is "the very purpose of life"?

            Well, sort of, I think, yes. I mean, it was certainly an imperfect or not-competely-fulfilled expression of love in many respects, with no meeting of the minds, etc. But we are all limited in one way or another in our ability to express love. To be human is to strive toward perfect love from below, so to speak. The fullness of our humanity arrives in the perfection of the striving, not in the execution of a task. Now, I obviously can't vouch for the purity of my grandmother's striving in that moment, but I infer that it was moving in the right direction. To move in that direction, as best we can despite our limitations, I do claim that that is the highest purpose of our lives.

          • David Nickol

            My niece, whom I have said is very childlike, who can neither read nor write after finishing high school, and who never will be able to live on her own, is nevertheless in tune with certain things in an unexpected way. When she was a teenager, the movie Titanic was all the rage, and she wanted to go see it. I don't believe she had ever been to a movie before, and certainly not to a "grown-up" film that ran three hours and fifteen minutes. My sister was skeptical about her ability pay attention for that long and refrain from fidgeting. Nevertheless, my brother-in-law and sister took her. She sat through the whole thing absorbed in the film, somewhat to her parents' amazement. After they left the theater she didn't say anything for awhile, but eventually spoke up and asked, "Mom, what kind of an animal is an iceberg?"

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            :-)

            "We can love completely what we cannot completely understand." A River Runs Through It -- Norman Maclean

            In that respect, your niece and all the rest of us are in the same boat.

        • Valence

          Perhaps I can help you understand a bit better with this. My life has meaning through the people I help, and the hope that my work and life will leave the world a little bit better than it was then when I arrived. If I had a severe cognitive disability, not only would I be unable to accomplish this, I believe that I would leave the world in a somewhat worse place because of the burden on my family, the state, and other charities that would be necessary to maintain my survival. Would I rather be dead than make the world slightly worse than it was? Again, the answer is yes.
          This is a very personal perspective, and I have no doubt that many families of children with down syndrome think they are well worth the additional care, and if I had a child with the disorder, I'm sure I would love them and never tell them they were a burden. Still, if I could choose (and obviously an embryo can't choose), I would choose to be removed to make way for a normal child.

        • I wouldn't want to live as a quadriplegic, or in agonizing pain. There's probably dozens of conditions where I would rather be dead.

          People with those conditions and their relatives can make their own decisions about that, at least, I would want them to be able to.

        • Peter A.

          Forget Down's Syndrome, what about Asperger's Syndrome? Now THAT is hard to live with, and the sooner a treatment or cure is found the better.

      • Mike

        why before you were born? wouldn't it not make a difference to you if you were 'put to sleep' say a couple of weeks after being born? or even a month or 2?

        • David Nickol

          why before you were born?

          That is the customary time for an abortion.

          • Mike

            seems like an arbitrary custom.

          • Valence

            You might not agree with it, but it certainly isn't arbitrary:

            Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), is a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. It was decided simultaneously with a companion case, Doe v. Bolton. The Court ruled 7–2 that a right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion, but that this right must be balanced against the state's two legitimate interests in regulating abortions: protecting women's health and protecting the potentiality of human life.[1] Arguing that these state interests became stronger over the course of a pregnancy, the Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the third trimester of pregnancy.

            Later, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Court rejected Roe's trimester framework while affirming its central holding that a woman has a right to abortion until fetal viability.[2] The Roe decision defined "viable" as "potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid."[3] Justices in Casey acknowledged that viability may occur at 23 or 24 weeks, or sometimes even earlier, in light of medical advances.[4]

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roe_v._Wade

          • Mike

            you only mentioned being born not being viable which made me wonder as to how you came up with that distinction. i agree that viability w/aid is not arbitrary but 'being born' is.

      • ClayJames

        That is worth nothing to the point at hand. We do not kill other human beings simply because we would want to be killed if we shared something in common.

        • Valence

          I reject the idea that an embryo or fetus with no mind, thus no agency, is a human being.

          • ClayJames

            I see no reason to accept this.

          • Valence

            Then we agree to disagree. I'm fine with that.

          • Lazarus

            And so these arguments go, round and round. We must each follow our consciences in answering this big question.

          • David Nickol

            I think a good argument can be made that an early embryo or fetus with no mind is not a human person. (The argument can be made that a human being is not necessarily a human person, but a human person is always a human being.) But the problem comes in defining what a human person is. Definitions of personhood vary.

            The question to ask in this case is, I think, is whether a developing embryo or fetus, even if not technically a person has any value at all. Surely it does. Is it moral to kill a potential person for any reason at all? I think almost everyone agrees that it is not justifiable to have an abortion because the unborn baby is a girl and you want a boy. So the unborn child certainly has some value.

          • ClayJames

            I have not seen a good reason to believe that a fetus with no mind is not a human person (we also need to start out by defining what you mean by mind).
            The important point that most people that are in favor of abortion fail to understand is that the burden of proof is on the person legalizing the killing. A fetus is a human life so we should start off by protecting its right to live. We do not send people to the electric chair because we cannot show that they are innocent and we don´t destroy a building if we cannot show that there is someone inside. In these examples, we must show that the suspect is guilty and we must show that the building is empty. If one side cannot show that the fetus is not a human person with a right to live, then abortion should be illegal until they can show this. Saying that this is a woman´s right to chose completely side steps the issue at hand so we are off to bad start (culturally speaking).
            So even starting off, the burden of proof is squarely on the person (or human being) trying to defend the killing of this human life.

          • David Nickol

            The important point that most people that are in favor of abortion fail
            to understand is that the burden of proof is on the person legalizing
            the killing.

            I don't think we will get anywhere in another abortion debate, but I will make two brief points. First, arguments about which side has the burden of proof are just silly. Second, nobody—certainly not the Supreme Court—"legalized killing," since for several hundred years in our legal tradition, abortion was never regarded as the killing of a human person, even when it was criminalized. In our legal tradition, human life begins at birth.

          • ClayJames

            First, arguments about which side has the burden of proof are just silly.

            I think disregarding the burden of proof is silly. You would not say that it is silly to require a burden of proof when sending a human to prison for a couple of months but you think it is silly to require a burden of proof when ending a human life? Now that is silly.
            Just like you shouldn´t enslave humans because you are an agnostic about their personhood, you should not kill humans for the same reason. The burden of proof absolutely falls on the side legalizing the killing.

            Second, nobody—certainly not the Supreme Court—"legalized killing," since for several hundred years in our legal tradition, abortion was never regarded as the killing of a human person, even when it was criminalized. In our legal tradition, human life begins at birth.

            There is so much wrong here. It is a fact that the legalization of abortion is the legalization of killing of human lives. Even if a fetus is not a person (which there is no valid reason to accept) abortion is still ¨legalized killing¨. Secondly, it is a scientific fact that a fetus is alive and that it is a homo sapien and therefore it is a human life. If you meant that in our legal tradition, a human becomes a person at birth then that too would not be true since legally a person can be charged and convicted of homocide for killing a human life in the womb.

          • David Nickol

            I think disregarding the burden of proof is silly. You would not say that it is silly to require a burden of proof when sending a human to prison for a couple of months but you think it is silly to require a burden of proof when ending a human life?

            Silly was not perhaps the best word to use, but I'll stick with it anyway. The abortion debate has been going on at pretty much full tilt for forty years. It is silly (ineffective, quixotic, pointless) to involve oneself in an argument about how the argument should be conducted (a meta-argument?). When you are in the thick of an argument, it is just silly to take a step back from the argument itself and try to argue about the burden of proof.

            The burden of proof in our legal system is well defined, and anyone who goes into a trial has in effect accepted and agreed with the system's requirement that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. But the abortion debate in forums like this bears no resemblance to an American trial. (And, I would note for what it's worth, the abortion debate in the American legal system has been going on for decades, and abortion is still a constitutional right.) I am completely uninterested, when it comes to a debate such as this one on Strange Notions, as to who has the burden of proof. It's a meaningless question.

          • ClayJames

            The burden of proof in our legal system is well defined, and anyone who goes into a trial has in effect accepted and agreed with the system's requirement that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. But the abortion debate in forums like this bears no resemblance to an American trial.

            The legal system is set up in that way in order to err on the side of a human´s most basic rights, whether that be their freedom or their life. Most people would agree that the burden of proof is correctly defined for exactly this reason. Similarly, if someone wants to allow people to kill other humans, it is up to them to show why this should be the case. I have trouble seeing how this is in any way controversial and saying ¨but we are not in a court room¨ completely misses the point.
            Everything else you said is irrelevant. I am not talking about how the argument should be conducted, I am talking about what one should prove in order to kill another human. I would love to see your reaction to being called silly because you require theists to shoulder the burden of proof simply because its silly to talk about how the argument should be conducted. Also, when you use the phrase ¨for what its worth¨ I think you actually mean ¨this is irrelevant, tangential and does nothing to defend my claim¨.

          • David Nickol

            I would love to see your reaction to being called silly . . . .

            I have been called worse! But let's be clear here. I did not call you silly. I said, "First, arguments about which side has the burden of proof are just silly." Item 4 of the guidelines for the site is as follows: Critique ideas, not people. That's what I am doing.

          • ClayJames

            I didn´t mean to imply that you were not critiquing ideas. My main problem with your critique of this idea is that I don´t think it stands up to scrutiny.

          • David Nickol

            Debating abortion is pretty much futile in itself, but debating who (pro-life or pro-choice) has the burden of proof is pointless. Both sides are going to debate abortion anyway, so they might as well just get on with it. In America, the debate over abortion itself has been going on for well over forty years now, and of course millions and millions of abortions have been performed. It just strikes me as far too late to argue about who has the burden of proof.

            Now, that is just my opinion. You are free to disagree.

          • ClayJames

            Yes, I do disagree that questions about the burden of proof are pointless if people are going to debate the issues anyway, the debate has been going on for more tan forty years and millions of people have been affected by the believing the wrong side of that debate. I am actually surprised that you or any atheist would agree with what you just said. I would prefer you saying ¨I just don´t want to talk about it¨ instead of trying to rationalize its irrelevance in the bizzare way you just did.

          • David Nickol

            I am not an atheist.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I think you were right to bring this up, as it gets to the heart of the matter. It touches on the same topic that arose in the Mother Teresa discussions: What is the highest ethic? If, in Rationalia, we are going to deploy our rational thinking to pursue something, it would be nice to understand what we are pursuing. Is it the reduction of suffering? Or is the highest ethic that of communion of self and other? Or something else?

      If the highest ethic is that of communion of self and other, then existence, even if laden with suffering, is better than non-existence, insofar as the physical existence of the self creates the condition for a fuller communion of self and other.

      If the highest ethic is the reduction of suffering, then yes, we should abort those who have Down Syndrome. And not be dramatic, but it would also follow that many of us who are healthy should also kill ourselves. I realize that this is not some brilliant new insight, and that many people reject the reduction of suffering as the highest ethic because they know it leads to this unacceptable conclusion. Nonetheless, there seem to be some people (many I would say) who speak and act as if reduction of suffering is the highest ethic. I think that it is obvious that that is a bad principle on which to ground a belief system, but it is especially problematic when that grounding goes unspoken.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I agree with the main point made in this article - that science and rationality alone cannot derive values and ethics.

    But I think Trent Horn is reading way more into Neil DeGrasse Tyson's words than is actually there. Tyson never said that "Rationalia" would instantly build a "just society" or a utopia. The way I read it, he simply said that policies should be required to follow evidence. The evidence is a starting point.

    Keep in mind that Tyson lives in a country where a significant portion (maybe even majority?) of politicians do not accept the reality of climate change, despite the evidence. Many deny evolution, despite the evidence. Others want to ban GMO's for their perceived lack of safety, despite the evidence to the contrary. These are not questions of values but questions of fact. To build sound policy you gotta at least get the facts right.

    And yes..many times this evidence is denied because of beliefs. Senator James Inhofe has said that climate change is disproven by the Bible. Representative John Shimkus denies climate change because he believes that God promised Noah to never flood the world again. Evolution denial is largely religion based, and GMO fears are often because of the belief that natural automatically means good.

    So a country that requires the evidence to be followed would certainly be an improvement. No it wouldn't be a utopia, but I'm not sure that anyone claimed that it would.

    • “…policies should be required to follow evidence.”
      Should all people be treated equally under the law as public policy? If I can show empirically how some humans are superior to others in all the ways science can measure, is this not clear empirical evidence that some people are superior to others? If your neighbor is stronger and faster than you in every measurable way, has a higher IQ in every kind of IQ test, has more assets, more friends, more people who say they love and respect him, how could anyone possibly say he is not a superior human being? What evidence would you have to prove otherwise?

      So if we can prove empirically that we are not equal, what is the rational basis for saying all people should be treated equally if not grounded in some immaterial reality? For example, your neighbor makes more money, pays more taxes and has a higher IQ than you. Should that person’s vote in an election count more than your vote does? Does this not make perfect sense based on the empirical evidence? Policies should be required to follow evidence. A country that requires the evidence to be followed would certainly be an improvement. Agreed?

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        No...not at all what I was getting at. I think I should bold some of what I said to clarify:
        As I said: " ...science and rationality alone cannot derive values and ethics."

        "The way I read it, he simply said that policies should [at the least] be required to follow evidence. The evidence is a starting point."

        (I added [at the least] to my quote above, in case that point wasn't clear in the original.)

        I agree with Horn that values and ethics are required as well. I have never said that we should simply follow evidence to make policy. I said that we have to at least start with what the evidence says (ie regarding climate change) and then apply values and ethics from there. It would be great if politicians could say "Climate change is real, so what should we do about it?" Right now, many are still struggling with the first part of that sentence.

        In your examples you are jumping from an "is" to an "ought". Sure, you can prove empirically that my neighbor is smarter and richer than me, but we cannot prove what we ought to do with that and whether her vote should count more. So no, it does not "make perfect sense based on the empirical evidence."

        • I disagree about the starting point. Belief systems are the starting point and ultimately determine the "ought". People then twist the empirical evidence to match the belief system or maybe just ignore it. "We hold these truths to be self-evident" is about the "oughts" for the U.S. Ex: If one is Pro-Choice, showing human life begins at conception is irrelevant data. If one is Pro-Life showing that human life begins at some other measure is irrelevant data.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Sure, in practice people often twist the evidence to match their belief systems. But isn't that a bad thing? Wouldn't it be better if we didn't do that? I think Tyson was talking about how things could be made better, not about how things are now.

          • It's only bad if the belief system is bad. Look at what you said above; "you can prove empirically that my neighbor is smarter and richer than me, but we cannot prove what we ought to do with that" So what do we do in the end? It always falls back on a belief system about right or wrong (or Justice).

            And so...we should explore how reasonable a belief system is when pressed under deliberate questioning. In my experience Catholicism stands up well under hard scrutiny, while other religions and belief systems (including atheism) do not.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Yes, ethics are informed largely by belief systems, I agree. I am not saying that beliefs are irrelevant, but that evidence is relevant. It should not be ignored as it often seems to be. We can't even start the conversation on climate change until we look at the evidence on whether or not it is real. And when looking at the options we should look at what evidence we have regarding the outcomes of those options (Will strategy X work? Will it have other consequences?) I agree that beliefs about right or wrong will play a huge role along with evidence.

            Interesting that you seem to be using reason in order to examine your religious beliefs. That sounds like something that would be done in "Rationalia". You are not starting with your belief that Catholicism is true and then picking and choosing the evidence and reasoning that supports it while discarding the rest. You are using reason as a starting point and it has lead you to Catholicism.

          • Right. I was born Catholic, but was basically agnostic until my late 20's (I'm 47 now) when I started to look at ALL the data (both material and immaterial). I wrote manuscript about it and was offered a book contract. It's at the printer now. If no errors come up, it should be out fairly soon. It's called "Faith with Good Reason".
            http://2catholicmen.blogspot.com/2016/05/book-update-ii-contract.html

          • Valence

            Good luck with your book.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Cool! Congrats on being published!

          • Valence

            Atheism isn't a belief system. Do you mean humanism?

          • Both. What we think determines what we do, and if I choose to live as if there is no God, this will result in a belief system based on the premise of "no God". You can call it whatever you want.

          • Valence

            There are plenty of atheists who aren't humanists, and one can believe in God and be a humanist.

        • Michel

          You just proved his point with your last paragraph, there is no way to determine if something is objectively good or bad, all de can do is to turn into law those things that the majority of the population agree

          • David Nickol

            How often in government (especially in a democracy) is the task to determine if something is objectively good or bad? In a democracy with majority rule, laws are made based on what the majority of the populations agrees upon. When has there ever been a Supreme Court case in which the objective was to determine what was objectively good or bad?

          • Michel

            I missed one sentence in muy original response, there is no way to know if something is objectively right or wrong, all we can do is to turn into law whetever the majority agrees is good (or affects them the least)

          • David Nickol

            Oh, okay. Then we don't disagree!

          • Michel

            Although your last point was quite interesting, the Supreme Court in Mexico decided that regardless of what the majority may say, LGBT rights were human rights and thus couldnt be denied to anyone even by democratic ways, however, one may say that protecting certain rights from majorities is something that most citizens agree on, because while an individual may dislike gay marriages, that individual would appreciate protection from majorities that may want to deny him other privileges so they yield in order to avoid a double standard

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Well both Ben and I agree that science and reason alone can't determine if something is good or bad. So, sure.. I proved his point along with my own.

      • Valence

        One problem is that higher IQ does not guarantee superior decision making, as IQ tests are fairly limited in what they measure. More persuasive people do have more votes because they influence others to vote their way. Personally I would like to see a return to the elector system for president as president by popular vote turns out to be a popularity campaigned, often highly based on misinformation and smears. Vote for the wisest person in your error, and let them figure out who should be president.
        Note that we currently restrict felons from voting, so perhaps we believe they are not quite equal to the rest of us?

  • Trent first starts by criticizing the implication that science can found a utopian society because science cannot identify social or moral values. With this, I would fervently agree. But then he goes off the rails.

    "You need objectively true values or moral facts that can be known only
    through nonscientific means like intuition or ethical reflection"

    Think about this statement. Objectively true values can be known through intuition? So a value that is intuitive is objectively true? Would it not be better to say, a value derived from intuition is intuitively true? What if we have different intuitions? How do you distinguish those that are objectively true from those intuitions that are wrong? Intuition? Reason? Empiricism? Mysticism? Divination?

    Or ethical reflection? What if different ethical reflections reach different conclusions? How do you tell the ones that are objectively true from those that are wrong? We would look for flaw in the reasoning right? We would only accept those that are rational.

    The answer he gives is... God. God's pure goodness known through... reason! Great! So why do we need intuition and ethical reflection then? Why not just say reason? We can use our reason to determine whether God exists and what moral values are.

    Wait, also divine revelation! Ok, but surely not just any divine revelation, like Joseph Smith's or Muhammad's. Only true divine revelation. Great! How do we determine the true revelation from the false ones? Reason right? Awesome.

    So let us consider the methods advanced for determining if God exists and what moral values are.

    Cosmological argument, depends on scientific fact of the Big Bang theory as well as philosophical inferences.

    Fine Tuning Argument, depends on the specificity of cosmological constants, as well as philosophical inferences.

    Moral Argument, we know there are objective moral truths that can only come from God. So basically, this leads us back to does God exist and what are His values? See the other arguments.

    Argument from Scripture, relies on historians being objective and making logical arguments that Jesus really rose from the dead and the New Testament documents are history, not fiction. This tells us what revelation was real, and its content.

    Aquinas' arguments, ontological arguments. All pure philosophy, or also some empirical observations.

    All of these above employ the following: science, or reason/philosophy/logic, or rational empirical inferences (history).

    So what we have is a way to determine our moral values by using science and reason don't we? There is nothing in any apologetic that does not refer to either pure reason, science, or history.

    So is this really different from what Tyson is advocating? That we use reason and evidence to ground our values and decisions?

    No one would advocate blind faith, authority, or tradition to ground values, would they?

    So isn't the real question here, have theists rationally demonstrated God exists and accordingly what are the proper values are?

    • Doug Shaver

      have theists rationally demonstrated God exists and accordingly what are the proper values are?

      A few of them say they have.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Objectively true values can be known through intuition? So a value that is intuitive is objectively true?

      Why would that second idea follow from the first? The point is that intuition provides a (fallible) means by which the truth can be apprehended, not that everything that one intuits is necessarily true. Having just seen The Man Who Knew Infinity, I can't help but think of Ramanujan's stunning leaps of intuition as examples of this.

      What if we have different intuitions? How do you distinguish those that are objectively true from those intuitions that are wrong?

      Roughly speaking, I think:
      1. You start with the moral intuitions that everyone can agree on: "it's wrong to kill cute little kittens unless you are really really hungry", "it's wrong to buy the rights to a life-saving cancer therapy and jack up the price to what the market can bear", "it's good to teach children to read", etc.
      2. Then you look at what all these putative "moral facts" have in common, and then you reason inductively or abductively to some moral theory that makes sense of all (or many) of those putative moral facts in a relatively economical way.
      3. The you deductively reason down from your theory to its implications. You see if those implications are consistent with other moral intuitions.
      4. Where you find conflicts between the putative facts and the tentative theory, you either
      4a. Go back and revise your theory, or
      4b. Start questioning whether some of your putative moral facts weren't actually that factual after all, whether they were perhaps projections of your own desires, for example.

      Our tentative theories cannot automatically trump our putative facts, nor can our putative facts automatically trump our tentative theories. It is a dialogue, where you try to account for most of the facts with a reasonably economical theory (and of course, you always try to do better, accounting for more facts with more economical theories). I think this is what is meant by "ethical reflection". It's not something that is in contrast to reason. It is just reasoning based on non-empirical facts.

  • Doug Shaver

    But it is naïve to think that all it takes to create a just society is a scientific mindset that “follows the evidence where it leads.”

    Yes, that is naive. It's also irrelevant to a critique of what Tyson said.

  • I repeat the question posed below by Valence. I think the issue raise about a self-driving car is a real moral quandary. Do we program it to save the driver over others? This is basically the trolley problem, our intuitions tell us different things based on slightly different moral questions, even though the actual consequences are the same. Is it better to save one life over ten? What if the one is your daughter? Should this change the morality of it? This shows our intuitions are not reliable moral guides.

    Similarly the most recent Radio Lab on "Playing God" raised similar issues. In disaster and war zones, clinicians must decide who to provide life saving care to, knowing their decision will decide who lives and who dies. Many rational and intelligent people look at this and it seems no good answers through science, reason, philosophy, ethical reflection AND religion.

    How does religion answer these questions? How does Catholicism say to program the car or triage in disaster zones? How do you know you got it right?

    • Michel

      Quite easy actually, freedom is a fundational part of almost all laws and religions, one should be free to decide wether or not to save those people in order for the act to be considered moral. Not that there is an objective way to say that something is good or bad, it is all bases on what the majority decides is good which doesnt mean it is actually good. Future societies mayor see is us as a bunch of barbarians. Therefore there is no way that a society can be based on evidence only, even the most secular society has a dogma, not necessarily a religious one

      • Well, you have described secular moral relativism quite well, but you haven't answered the question of how Catholicism would program the car or why.

        • Michel

          As I said, the programming is irrelevant, the Catholic church recognized free will, therefore the driver should be free to choose what to do in those cases so that programming should let the driver decide or at the very least put a giant warning informing of the contrary otherwise it would be immoral, if he wants to save his life he should be free to do so, that doesnt mean he should, we are free to sin anyway.

  • David Nickol

    Doesn't the "driverless car dilemma" just demonstrate that people are not willing to practice what they preach? They think the right thing to do is to program the cars to save the maximum number of lives . . . except if they personally are involved, in which case their lives are more valuable than other people's. The problem isn't a moral dilemma. The problem is that people are hypocrites!

  • Jordan Phillips

    I don't see the problem with Tyson's thinking. As stated elsewhere, I think Trent is reading too far into it. Catholic's have always believed strongly in religious liberty, which would leave the state up to decisions made based on reason. Aquinas might largely agree with Tyson on this as well. Aquinas defines law as, "an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care for the community, and promulgated." Emphasis on the ordinance of reason part.

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2090.htm

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      If Rationalia is a place that is devoted to the rational pursuit of those goals that we all can agree on, then yes, I think Aquinas would sign up for that. I, in any case, would sign up for that.

      I think the problem is in the way that Tyson articulates things. He speaks of "belief systems" as things we can tack on after we have done the more foundational work of rationally pursuing our common goals. In speaking that way I think he fails to either recognize or acknowledge just how fundamental belief systems are -- that they are not just random assortments of dogmatic propositions and rituals and morals, but that they define our very orientation to reality at the deepest level. In so doing, he also fails to advert to the fact that he himself has an (implicit) belief system that precedes and gives direction to his Rationalia project.

      Common goals lie at the intersection of multiple belief systems. There is no such thing as common goals (or goals at all, for that matter) that exist in a vacuum, without any cocoon of belief. I think it is a bit scary when people talk as if they are able to look at reality directly, without the aid of an interpretive lens. We all experience reality through interpretive lenses. Better to advert to it explicitly.

    • Michel

      There is a huuuuge problem, the thing is that Tyson doesnt know much of philosophy. All countries base their laws on morality which is NOT objective it is simply a bunch of ethical principles shared by the majority of the populatipn (democracy). Forma example there is no evidence that show that stealing is objectivelt bad, or that an economic policy is bad (it only shows that it develops poorly on certain economic indicators) but to say that superavit is good simply means that the majority of the population benefits from that (which again is morally neutral). Sorry for the typos

    • Catholic's have always believed strongly in religious liberty

      Huh? It's condemned in the Syllabus of Errors as one of the Americanist heresies. Catholic states, like other states, did not grant religious liberty till modern times.

  • David Nickol

    Isn't it important to determine what Tyson mean by virtual country?

  • David Nickol

    In the brief video mentioned in the above post, it sounds to me like all Tyson is advocating is separation of church and state. This is something most Americans agree on (including Catholics), so I don't see a problem with it. I know that a minority objects to the requirement that all laws must have a secular purpose, but that is the system we have and which most of us cherish. I don't think Tyson is advocating (even implicitly) a value-free society.

  • Peter A.

    Since God is pure goodness itself and can be known through reason, we can build equitable societies on moral principles derived from the natural law that compliment the special moral principles we receive from the same source in divine revelation.

    As you would put it: "Many people, religious and nonreligious, disagree with that belief system."

    First of all, no one has thus far established with certainty the existence of "God". Many of us may have good reasons to believe that something like this can, or even must, exist, but the mere fact that there exist atheists in this world demonstrates, at the very least, that not everyone is convinced of this proposition.

    Secondly, even if we accept for argument's sake the existence of "God", we cannot from this infer that this God must therefore also be "good", if only because we would first have to define what it is that we mean by "good" in the first place. Is there anyone here who can demonstrate the "goodness" of God? Is there anyone who can even tell me what it means to be good? Then of course there is the Euthyphro Dilemma. Now, I have heard many say in response to this that this is a false dilemma, because God IS, by definition, good. It's an aspect of "His" nature, they say, but the problem with that answer is that one can then ask the question, "Is God's nature something that 'He' can control, or is God's nature an aspect of 'Himself' that even 'He' has no power over?".

    Thirdly, the claim is made here that the 'goodness of God' can be known through reason. Well, no actually, it can't. If it can, then I challenge anyone who thinks they can demonstrate this to do so, right here. I've visited many times the Edward Feser website where he has discussions like this, and I have yet to see any argument that can actually do the job. It is often said that the mere fact that we tend to have a sense of justice, that when someone does wrong we instinctively know about it, and, what's more, that the mere existence of evil and the fact that we recognise something as being evil, demonstrates the reality of the objective existence of that which is good (i.e. God), is sufficient, but there are many problems with this claim, one of those problems being the fact that what many, perhaps even an overwhelming majority, may consider to be good, others with just as much conviction (and reasoning) will point out as being bad. For example, the issue of euthanasia.

    Number four - "moral principles derived from the natural law". No, sorry, but I don't want to live my life according to precepts set down in Medieval times by the Catholic Church. I'm not Catholic, don't believe in the existence of the Christian God (who has the personality of a psychopathic monster - so much for "the goodness of God"), and believe first and foremost that people should be allowed to live as they see fit as long as it doesn't harm anyone else. THAT should form the basis of our legal system, not this 'natural law' nonsense.

    Fifth - "divine revelation". Seriously?! You simply MUST be joking. Are we to believe that the prophets and patriarchs of old heard messages from God and, what's more, we should believe they did because it says so in a musty old book? Get real.

    • Michel

      You would first need to define in an objective and irrefutable way what is goodness. For some God is beyond moral and ethics

  • bdlaacmm

    "Objectively verifiable facts" gave us the architectural drawings used to build Auschwitz. They gave us the design for B-29 aircraft that firebombed Japan, resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilians being burnt to death or asphyxiated. "Objectively verifiable facts" were the underpinning of Stalinism and the Gulag. They guided the "best and the brightest" in the prosecution of the War in Vietnam. "Objectively verifiable facts" gave us mass incarceration of minorities in this country, and racial profiling. They gave us urban sprawl, our consumer culture, and reality TV. They're probably behind Pokemon Go.

    • Peter A.

      "Objectively verifiable facts" are just that - value neutral. The fact that the Earth orbits the Sun is not going to give us death camps, gas chambers and atom bombs, or anything similar. It is what people do with the discoveries that are made that is what should be discussed, not the fact that objective reality exists and we have access to it (via scientific method).

      • bdlaacmm

        Precisely! Which is why Tyson's imaginary country would not necessarily do any better than the examples I cited. It might (and probably would) do even worse.

        (It seems we agree on that.)

        • Michel

          It will do nothing at all. You can prove for example that certain ecomomic policy will create more jobs, but that wouldnt intrinsically be better than one that doesnt because facts are just that, cold information that doesnt tell You what you should do of You dont have any objective, it is moral and ethics what defines what a society wants and that is not something objective and free of ideology

        • Doug Shaver

          Tyson's imaginary country would not necessarily do any better than the examples I cited.

          The people running that country would get what they wanted more often than the people running this country.

          • bdlaacmm

            "The people running that country would get what they wanted more often than the people running this country."

            Is this a Freudian slip? Yes, the people running such a country would most likely get what they wanted... but what about the people being run? Perhaps not so much for them?

            I think it was C.S. Lewis who wrote something like "Man's mastery over science equates to the mastery of some men over others." (quoted from memory - not an exact quote)

          • Doug Shaver

            Is this a Freudian slip?

            No. Are you suggesting that there could be a country with no government?

          • bdlaacmm

            No, I'm suggesting that a country run on supposed "objectively verifiable facts" (and just who's being "objective" here? and who's doing the verifying?) and not on values would probably be a nightmare for all but the Ruling Class.

          • Doug Shaver

            What if the people themselves were the ruling class? Like, the way it's supposed to be in a democracy?

          • bdlaacmm

            "What if the people themselves were the ruling class?"

            You must believe in the multiverse! Because there sure ain't no such place in this one.

            But seriously, that's a nice "what if". The problem is that's all it's ever going to be. Even here in the USA where we supposedly have a government "of the people" etc., what we have in fact is a government of the corporate and financial interests with a handful of politicians thrown in the mix whose purpose seems to be mainly to throw us off the scent.

            "The People" are never going to rule, nowhere, no how. Not gonna happen.

            So what we need, and always will need, are strong values to hold our rulers in check. And where's the only realistic source of such values?... (Rather than spoon feeding you the answer, I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.)

          • Doug Shaver

            there sure ain't no such place in this one.

            That is why I said, "Like, the way it's supposed to be."

            "The People" are never going to rule, nowhere, no how.

            The topic of this thread is a proposal for how the government ought to function. Do you believe that the government ought to be of the people, by the people, and for the people?

          • bdlaacmm

            My reply is directly pertinent to the topic. Since "the people" are never, ever going to be in charge, but will always and forever be at the mercy of the rulers, it behooves us to make sure that those rulers are guided by ethical principles and strong values - and not by some allegedly objectively verifiable facts (which are only "objective" in the eye of the beholder).

            "Do you believe that the government ought to be of the people, by the people, and for the people?"

            Irrelevant. Such a thing is like perpetual motion or the philosopher's stone. It's like asking, "Do you believe people should never sin?"

          • Doug Shaver

            it behooves us to make sure that those rulers are guided by ethical principles and strong values

            Is that another way of saying that the rulers ought to be guided by ethical principles and strong values?

          • bdlaacmm

            But of course. "Ought", by the way, is a great word that can never be arrived at using "objectively verifiable facts" alone.

          • Doug Shaver

            So you don't believe that any moral principle is an objectively verifiable fact?

          • bdlaacmm

            "So you don't believe that any moral principle is an objectively verifiable fact?"

            Not in the sense that the advocates of scientism use the term.

          • Doug Shaver

            What do you think advocates of scientism mean when they talk about objectively verifiable facts, and what do you mean when you use that expression?

          • bdlaacmm

            Advocates of scientism hold that "Science!" is the one and only objective way to arrive at meaningful truth. I, on the other hand, hold that science is but one means of doing so, and is not always the appropriate tool to use. Equally valid truths are discerned through art, music, literature, history, personal experience, friendships, architecture, prayer, liturgy, philosophy, etc. And sometimes these tools (and in one sense, that is what they are) are the best, or even the only, way of getting at the facts.

            Used of the term "objectively verifiable facts" is often a sign of one begging the question.

          • Doug Shaver

            I know what scientism is supposed to be. You didn't answer my question.

          • Valence

            But seriously, that's a nice "what if". The problem is that's all it's ever going to be. Even here in the USA where we supposedly have a government "of the people" etc., what we have in fact is a government of the corporate and financial interests with a handful of politicians thrown in the mix whose purpose seems to be mainly to throw us off the scent.

            This only works because the people allow themselves to be fooled by television adds, ect. The people still vote in the officials, so it's still the people's government even though they allow themselves to be manipulated.
            To a certain extent, corporate and financial interests are our interests to the extent that we depend on such things for our economy and employment. Considering the education level of the general population, it's also not clear that the people always getting what they think they want would be a good thing. Imagine if the libertarians actually managed to shut down the federal reserve...the entire economy would implode, likely resulting in civil unrest, perhaps starvation...

          • Valence

            I think it's best just to say that it's impossible to make decisions on facts alone. Context and background theory including value priorities are required.
            Democracies have often been split by those who value the rights of the individual above all else (modern day Republicans) and those who value the interest of the community above that of the individual (modern day Democrats). It seems to me that if we take any value too far, we run into problems, so we possibly be thankful for opposing views pulling in different directions, even though it gets really messy and often frustrating.

    • Doug Shaver

      "Objectively verifiable facts" gave us the architectural drawings used to build Auschwitz.

      No, the facts didn't give us anything. They showed the people who wanted to kill lots of other people how they could accomplish their desire.

  • PianoLady

    One correction:
    "Atheist astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted,
    “Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line
    Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.”"
    Neil deGrasse Tyson is actually not atheist but agnostic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_deGrasse_Tyson#Spirituality

  • Again, I am quite surprised that the Catholics here have no answe as to how their moral system would handle the programming the AI in the car? What does objective morality require? Or any other difficult moral problem. Would their answer not be the same? They think the moral thing is to program it to save as many people as possible? And would they also not buy such a car?

    • PianoLady

      Though an interesting question, that is not the point of the article. The point is that "evidence" can only be interpreted and utilized in the light of existing moral principles (i.e. one's "belief system" or value system); one can't derive moral principles FROM evidence, as NDT seems to have been suggesting with his "Rationalia." What Catholic moral principles entail for this particular scenario (the self-driving car) is another question entirely.
      (I'm not, by the way, Catholic myself or I might take up that question; but I'll leave that to others here to address, if they'd like, though -- as I said -- it's not the topic under debate here.)

      • Quite true. See my other post on the substance of this article. It is basically this: while theists actually purport to derive values from something other than evidence, in practice this is precisely what they do. They derive values, ultimately from the evidence of their intuition, they believe they can trust this, if they use scripture and Catholic tradition as a guide, more evidence and use of reason. They believe they are justified in believing in such a god, based on apologetic arguments that rely heavily on scientific conclusions, philosophy, and history, again all evidence and reason.

        In the end both theists and Tyson use evidence and reason to derive foundational moral and societal values. Ultimately these are grounded in intuition.

        • PianoLady

          Actually, my own faith (and through it, my moral and societal values) are not founded first and foremost in intuition OR in abstract reasoning -- though both play an important role -- but instead in my own experience of God. I can't speak for others on the forum, but Christianity in general is (supposed to be) experiential as opposed to *merely* abstract or founded on intuitive hunches. In this sense, my Christianity is quite pragmatic in that it's based on something that is (from my perspective at any rate) as real and vivid as the external world (and in its essence actually more so.)

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I guess I'm a bit surprised by your surprise.

      I don't think anyone would claim that it is entirely clear what objective morality requires. No one has claimed (or no one should have claimed) to have access to a perfect moral epistemology. The claim regarding objective morality is an ontological claim, one that allows us to sensibly say things like: "I believe (fallibly) that X is (objectively) wrong", rather than just "I know (with certainty) that I do not (subjectively) like X".

      Broadly speaking, I think to design this car in the Catholic tradition would be to try to program its moral logic according to something in the ballpark of "Natural Law Theory". But there are various flavors of NLT, and in any case NLT only provides a generic scaffolding within which one can have an ethical debate. It provides very few clear conclusions with the degree of clarity that would be required for a software spec.

      • VicqRuiz

        Jim:

        On Planet A, there is a transcendent objective morality, but no one has full access to its meaning, and individuals are empowered to act on their own beliefs as to whether a given behavior is objectively wrong.

        On Planet B, there is no transcendent objective morality, but 99.5% of the population are in subjective agreement about what is right and what is wrong.

        How would a neutral observer from Planet Z be able to tell which planet he had landed upon??

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          To answer the ontological question about objective morality, Neutral Observer doesn't even need the polling numbers on those planets. He just needs to decide whether a sentence of the form, "I believe, fallibly, that X is wrong" can be, for some expression X, a coherent and meaningful sentence. If that is a coherent and meaningful sentence structure, then "wrongness" can't possibly mean the same thing as "perceived undesirableness". (Because, while one can be fallible with regard to one's true desires, one cannot sensibly be fallible with regard to one's perceived desires.) So, it's just a matter of pay to play: if you want access to that sentence structure, pay up with belief in objective morality.

          • VicqRuiz

            That's a fair point, but what I was trying to express through my scenario is that I see no observable difference between a cosmos in which there is disagreement over fallible interpretations of objective moral law and one in which there is disagreement over fallible "principles" of subjective moral law.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Oh, OK. Yeah, I agree with you on that point: there's nothing in the observable evidence that demands belief in objective morality. It is the necessary structure of moral reasoning itself, apart from any evidence, that demands belief in objective morality. If you give up belief in objective morality, you give up the conceptual framework that enables moral reasoning. All that's left in that case is realpolitik, which, obviously, many have opted for.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you give up belief in objective morality, you give up the conceptual framework that enables moral reasoning.

            I don’t see why, unless we assume your conclusion. If reasoning can only be about facts, then yes, there can be no moral reasoning if there are no moral facts. But I see no conceptual bar to reasoning about judgments, particularly when those judgments pertain to objectively verifiable consequences.

            If someone wants to kill me because he thinks it is an objective moral fact that people like me should not be allowed to live, then I have no hope of changing his mind by reasoning with him. But if he wants to kill me because he thinks the world would be a better place without people like me in it, then I do have some hope, however meager, of showing him the error of his reasoning.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If someone wants to kill me because he thinks it is an objective moral fact that people like me should not be allowed to live, then I have no hope of changing his mind by reasoning with him.

            Sure you do. Fortunately for you, he only thinks is an objective moral fact. If he knew it, you'd be in trouble. As it is, you can sit down together with a pot of tea and try to convince him that it's not a fact.

          • Doug Shaver

            you can sit down together with a pot of tea and try to convince him that it's not a fact.

            How? What kind of if-then argument works to establish whether something is a moral fact?

            Let K be the proposition that people like me should not be allowed to live. Then I would need an argument of the form, "If K, then X, but X is false, therefore K is false." And "If K, then X" would have to be something that my adversary could not avoid agreeing with. Any suggestions?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think you need to engage in the iterative cycle of data gathering --> abductive hypothesizing --> inductive learning --> deductive predicting --> more data gathering --> etc., much the way one does in science. I tried to outline in broad strokes how this might work in my response to BGA .

            When one deals with experimental data, one regularly comes across inexplicable outliers. Those outlier values are are part of the data, so they are putative facts. But when they are completely out of the range of expectation for any plausible theory that one can think up, a common, reasonable approach is to simply (document, but) ignore those outlying values, on the assumption that they arose from some malfunction or undocumented breach of experimental protocol. In such a case, theory trumps "facts". In other "black swan" type cases, it works the other way and facts override theories. There is no recipe that says it should always work in one direction, and intuition is allowed in adjudicating any given situation like this. You just keep cycling iteratively, trying to explain as many putative facts as possible with reasonably economical theories. I think something very similar can be done with respect to moral reasoning.

            Let me ask you a related question. How would you go about showing this person that his true desire was not in alignment with his perceived desire to kill you? Also, if he really has a "true desire" that is not defined by his perceptions, isn't that in some sense objective?

          • Doug Shaver

            I think you need to engage in the iterative cycle of data gathering --> abductive hypothesizing --> inductive learning --> deductive predicting --> more data gathering --> etc., much the way one does in science. I tried to outline in broad strokes how this might work in my response to BGA .

            Where should I get those data? My closest friends? My neighborhood? My ethnic group? My nation? The entire world? Should I also attempt to get data from whatever historical records I have access to?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think you would get the data, first and foremost, from direct perception, but certainly gaining confidence in your data quality to the extent your perceptions are corroborated by others. Goodness is a quality, like saltiness. You just perceive it. You go out there and taste things and take note of what tastes salty. Now, every now and then, you might find yourself saying, "this tastes salty", even while everyone else is saying "this does not taste salty". In that sort of situation, you need some theorizing: what might explain the fact that this thing tastes salty to you and not others. What is (relatively) unique about your vantage point that might explain that difference in perceptions? This happens even in measurement: we can all recall getting different measurements than our lab partners. A bit of reflection will often suggest theories ("the tall guy probably read the meniscus from a steep angle that was not level with his eye", etc). So there you enter into the dialogue of fact and theory, and prediction and testing. But it starts with direct perception, I think. ("Test everything. Retain what is good." as it says in 1 Thessalonians.)

          • Doug Shaver

            Goodness is a quality, like saltiness. You just perceive it.

            In whom? My closest friends? My neighborhood? My ethnic group? My nation? The entire world? The people described in whatever historical records I have access to?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You can perceive goodness in other people, or in their actions, or in the smell of an apple pie, or in a sunrise, or in the graceful flight of a bird ... If you are talking specifically about perceiving moral goodness, then yes, I would think you would look primarily at people, both past and present.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you are talking specifically about perceiving moral goodness, then yes, I would think you would look primarily at people, both past and present.

            Does it matter which people I look at, or how many?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The more the better, I guess? More data is better.

          • Doug Shaver

            The more the better, I guess? More data is better.

            The first 55 years of my life were quite unsettled, a consequence of which was that I got to observe people in a considerable variety of American cultures. Having supplemented those personal observations with quite a bit of historical research about Western European culture in general, I think I have compiled a pretty good data base. None of it leads me to believe that goodness, or any other abstraction, has any existence independent of human minds.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think this (common) phrase "existence independent of human minds" has at least two different interpretations, and so leads to all sorts of confusion and unnecessary disagreement.

            Here's how I work with that phrase in the context of my own thinking about morality: I'm not sure I have taken in as deep a cross section of humanity as you have, but I've been around a bit and met all sorts of people, and I've seen people doing things that I perceived to be good, and people (sometimes the same people) doing things that I perceived to be bad. Whatever those good actions had in common, I'm willing to call that moral goodness. Now, whatever that commonality is, it is not something that I conceive of as existing without reference to human minds, so in that sense it is not "independent" of human minds. It's just that the quality of goodness is not determined by what I want, nor is it determined by what those people wanted, nor is it determined by some theoretical vote in which everyone in the world participates. In the same way that you can't give something the quality of saltiness by wanting it to be salty, you can't give something the quality of goodness by wanting it to be good. It is in that sense that I think that the quality of goodness (including moral goodness) is independent of human minds.

            I think you may be pretty close to this yourself, since you are tethering the cart of morality pretty tightly to the horse of survival. Our wants, individually and collectively, do not determine what will lead to survival. There is a survival landscape that is already out there, independent of what we want. To the extent that the survival landscape determines the moral landscape, I would say that amounts to an objective moral landscape. (As a side note, I suspect that that theory of morality is overly simplistic. Nonetheless, it is something that I would conceive of as an objective theory of morality.)

          • Doug Shaver

            I think this (common) phrase "existence independent of human minds" has at least two different interpretations, and so leads to all sorts of confusion and unnecessary disagreement.

            Then I will explain what I mean with as much exactness as my writing skills will allow. To assert the existence of objective moral principles, as I understand the assertion, is to claim that statements of those principles are factually true regardless of whether any human being agrees with them or is even aware of them, in just the same sense and for the same reason as a statement affirming heliocentrism is factually true regardless of whether any human being agrees with it or is even aware of it.

            It's just that the quality of goodness is not determined by what I want, nor is it determined by what those people wanted, nor is it determined by some theoretical vote in which everyone in the world participates.

            Given any statement of the form “X is good,” if you ask me whether I agree, why I agree or disagree, and how I would judge anyone who thinks otherwise, my response would have to depend on what X is and what the word “good” is supposed to mean in the context in which the assertion “X is good” was made. For some X’s and in many contexts, the quality of goodness could very well be determined by what I want, or by what lots of other people want, or by some worldwide plebiscite. For other X’s or in other contexts, it could determined by some objective fact.

            In the same way that you can't give something the quality of saltiness by wanting it to be salty, you can't give something the quality of goodness by wanting it to be good.

            I’m not talking about changing anything by wanting it to be different.

            I think you may be pretty close to this yourself, since you are tethering the cart of morality pretty tightly to the horse of survival. Our wants, individually and collectively, do not determine what will lead to survival. There is a survival landscape that is already out there, independent of what we want. To the extent that the survival landscape determines the moral landscape, I would say that amounts to an objective moral landscape.

            It is an objective fact that we need rules of the sort that are typically classified as moral rules. We can refer to a particular set of such rules, when accepted by a particular community, as that community’s moral code. Reasonable people might disagree about whether a particular rule within that code is actually necessary for that community’s survival and, if it isn’t, whether the community might be better off, by some objective criterion, if the rule were modified or eliminated.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It is an objective fact that we need rules of the sort that are typically classified as moral rules.

            This is only an objective fact if there is objective value in survival. If survival is not an objective good (or an objective "basic good", to put it in Natural Law terms), then there is no objective "need" for rules that prevent us from devolving into chaos and self-annihilation.

            If the value of survival is determined by our perceived desire to survive, then it is not an objective value. If the value of survival is there whether we perceive it or not, it is an objective value.

          • Valence

            I don't see how it's necessary for a goal to have objective value in order for there to be objectively rules for obtaining the goal. My goal is to get drunk...not necessarily objectively good. I can objectively say that getting alcohol into my system is required for obtaining that goal, and easiest path is driving to the local grocery store, for example. Am I misunderstanding you?
            On a side note, it's also not clear that everyone's survival is objectively good, depending on the people. Would it have been objectively better if the leaders of the Third Reich had died in an accident before they launched WWII and the holocaust...I would tend to say yes. If so, the objective value, if such exists, would have some dependence on what they do with their life, which is a form of consequentialism, I think.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't disagree with your first paragraph, but I don't think any of that is apposite to the issue under discussion:

            1. The existence of objective rules, wherever they may have come from, is uncontroversial. You write some rules down, or just speak them out loud in a public forum, and from that point forward they are objective. The game of checkers has objective rules, for example.
            2. The objectivity of the link between values and rules is also pretty uncontroversial: "If there is value in X, then the optimal rules would seem to be (as determined by our best science, etc) Y".
            3. What is under discussion is the existence of objective value, which would allow us to transition from the if-then structure used in point 2., to something with the form: "There is value in X, therefore the optimal rules would seem to be (again, as determined by our best science, etc) Y".

            Your first paragraph is working in the space of points 1 and 2, which traffic in "is" concepts. We are talking about "ought" concepts.

            With regard to your second paragraph, maybe. But one could also take the perspective that there is objective value in every person's continued existence, but that that value can be outweighed by other (objective) values.

          • Valence

            I'll admit that I've always been under the assumption that everything that is objective is an "is". If objective morality exists independent of human minds, it "is" (reminds me of God saying "I am" in Exodus) right?
            Rules in chess are algorithmic and are precise enough to be unambiguous enough to have a correct interpretation in any given situation (and can also be implemented without really thinking, as in a computer program). Do you think moral rules, if completely and correctly discovered, would also be algorithmic or would we always need intuition or conscience to get it right?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I believe it is not possible to perfectly codify objective moral rules. I think codifications of morality amount to very helpful approximations or guidelines, but they will always fall short. (And in case there is any doubt, I make no exception for Catholic moral teaching in this regard.) I think this is a big part of what Paul is getting at in his extended reflections on the Mosaic Law. I think perfect morality is defined by a living (therefore, in my mind, not codifiable) relationship with the "Living God", by being alive in the Spirit of God.

          • Valence

            I think the impossibility of codifying moral rules is the primary reason many people (including myself) don't think objective morality exists, because the subjective element that is the individual making the subject, can't be extracted. Perhaps there are both objective and subjective elements to morality that give rise to the constant debate.
            I like to compare it to programming. There might be an infinite number of ways to write a program to achieve a goal. We can say that programs that fail to achieve the goal are wrong, but do we do with the myriad of ways that do work? Could we say any of those are objectively right? We can certainly judge them aesthetically, by how easy they are to understand, and by how many computational steps are required to complete, but we talking degrees...better and worse as opposed to right and wrong.
            Perhaps the debate has to back up to precisely what we think "objective" entails vs. subjective. I think codification is a requirement for objective rules, but I'll admit I haven't put a huge amount of thought into precisely what objective entails.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Totally agree with this. I indulge in "objective/subjective" terminology myself, but there is a danger in starting to think that all of reality can be segmented into those two buckets. I think goodness really arises in the relationships between subjects and objects, and in that sense we are poorly served by a conceptual landscape that forces everything to one side of the object/subject split. I think it is better to focus on the distinction between perceiving goodness and defining / determining goodness. I think there are relationships that involve us and that have a goodness that we perceive, but which goodness is not defined or determined by our perceptions. That would be the essence of what I would be trying to get at when I use the expression "objective good": not so much independent of us, but defined and determined by something other than our perceptions.

          • Valence

            In my view, theists and naturalists can find the most common ground in basing the objective part of all this in human nature. Sure, not every human has exactly the same nature, but we have enough in common to make progress. Naturalists will claim this nature is a product of evolution, theists a God given conscience but the origin of the nature may be somewhat beside the point for the purposes of argument. If I'm reading it right, this catechism seems to support the idea:

            1776 "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."

            Of course, we can still run into problems when our consciences disagree, but even shaky common ground is better than none, right?
            There is a sense where collective subjective views, if they agree, can make objective facts. Fiat currency is a great example, money really has value because enough people believe it does (plus a little help from force of state). Currency crashes can occur if enough people doubt the value of the currency, as an example of how it is dependent upon belief, but none of this changes the fact that the shared belief gives currency real value. The value is independent of any particular person's belief, but it isn't independent of everyone's belief. I think money straddles a similar line between the subjective and objective that morality does, with certain differences of course. It can be true many other things that we value them because others do (like a really expensive baseball card when I don't care about baseball).

            The biologist E.O. Wilson gave me a lot to ponder on this subject with his book "The Social Conquest of Earth", here is a relevant article. His use of ants is interesting, as it reminds me of the book of Proverbs. Anyway, morality is something I think too many take for granted, and I think better morality makes for a better world...it's just figuring out what that is and getting people to follow it.

          • Doug Shaver

            What is under discussion is the existence of objective value, which would allow us to transition from the if-then structure used in point 2., to something with the form: "There is value in X, therefore the optimal rules would seem to be (again, as determined by our best science, etc) Y".

            Human beings assign great value to their own survival. That is an objective fact, and it is not a fact that can be changed by proving how subjective the value itself is. We do want to survive, and no argument is going to make us not want to survive. There is a very good evolutionary reason why it is very difficult for terrorists to recruit volunteers for suicide missions.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Human beings assign great value to their own survival. That is an objective fact,

            I don't consider this to be a fact. I consider this to be the central point of the debate: do we really assign value to our survival, or do we instead perceive a value that is already there? Do we decide the value, or do we recognize the value?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't consider this to be a fact. I consider this to be the central point of the debate: do we really assign value to our survival, or do we instead perceive a value that is already there?

            In either case, we believe that our survival is extremely important. That is all I meant to say.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's fine, and I have no disagreement on that point, but if that's all you intended to say then you are not engaging the meat of the question. Consider the statements:

            "Many of the things we value in society are not really important.", or
            "Many of the things that we naturally value are not really important."

            If "important" = "what we have decided to value", then the first sentence is always nonsense. If "important" = "what we naturally value", the second sentence is always nonsense.

            For my part, I am fairly certain that both of those sentences are meaningful and necessary in some contexts. And, if we want access to those sentences, then we have to affirm that "important" refers to something beyond just "what we have decided to value" or "what we naturally value". I therefore conclude that the importance of things is not something we decide, but is rather something that we recognize.

          • Doug Shaver

            but if that's all you intended to say then you are not engaging the meat of the question.

            The meat of the question, as I understand the question, is whether we can talk rationally about moral principles without presupposing their objective existence.

            Consider the statements:

            "Many of the things we value in society are not really important.", or
            "Many of the things that we naturally value are not really important."

            If "important" = "what we have decided to value", then the first sentence is always nonsense. If "important" = "what we naturally value", the second sentence is always nonsense.

            I see no problem with either one of them.

            if we want access to those sentences, then we have to affirm that "important" refers to something beyond just "what we have decided to value" or "what we naturally value".

            I don’t see why.

            To begin with, as a philosophical naturalist, I see no useful distinction between “what we value” and “what we naturally value.” We are products of nature and nothing more, and so everything we do is natural.

            That noted, it makes perfect sense to me that we might occasionally realize that we have made a mistake in our judgments of how important some things are.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            it makes perfect sense to me that we might occasionally realize that we have made a mistake in our judgments of how important some things are.

            But if, as I believe you have claimed, "important" means the same thing as "we judge it to be important", it would follow that the phrase:
            "we have made a mistake in our judgement of how important some things are"
            must mean the same thing as:
            "we have made a mistake in our judgement of what our judgement is".
            How is that not nonsense?

          • Doug Shaver

            it would follow that the phrase:
            "we have made a mistake in our judgement of how important some things are"
            must mean the same thing as:
            "we have made a mistake in our judgement of what our judgement is".

            No. You are treating words as if they were terms in an algebraic expression. Language doesn't work that way, especially not when the words' referents are abstractions.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I understand that language is multivalent, but we have these sorts of conversations in order to more clearly articulate what we mean by our words in a given context. The specific semantics that you are attaching to the word "value" seem to make it impossible to coherently say: "it is possible for our value judgements to be incorrect". Please help me better unpack your meaning if I am wrong about that.

            In response to another comment you made yesterday: you are misunderstanding me if you think I am assuming that my intuition, or anyone else's, is infallible. I would gladly plead guilty to a lesser charge: namely that I have a preference for conceptual frameworks that accommodate my strong intuitions. If a given conceptual framework leads to one or more highly counterintuitive conclusions then I would need a really good reason to adopt that conceptual framework. For example, the deliverances of quantum physics are pretty counterintuitive, but there are really good counterbalancing reasons to believe that it is true, so I believe it is true (to the very limited extent that I understand those deliverances). By contrast, a conceptual framework that tautologically equates "value / importance" with "our judgements about value / importance" seems to me to lead to highly counterintuitive conclusions (such as: "it is impossible for our value judgements to be incorrect"), and yet there is no pay-off: I end up paying in the currency of incredulity, and I seem to get nothing in return for it. Can you help me understand why anyone would buy into that sort of conceptual framework?

          • Doug Shaver

            I understand that language is multivalent

            No, it isn’t, actually. Some words are multivalent. Multivalence is not a concept that can be applied to language itself.

            The specific semantics that you are attaching to the word "value" seem to make it impossible to coherently say: "it is possible for our value judgements to be incorrect". Please help me better unpack your meaning if I am wrong about that.

            I’ve been trying. I will continue to try.

            you are misunderstanding me if you think I am assuming that my intuition, or anyone else's, is infallible. I would gladly plead guilty to a lesser charge: namely that I have a preference for conceptual frameworks that accommodate my strong intuitions.

            Fair enough.

            a conceptual framework that tautologically equates "value / importance" with "our judgements about value / importance" seems to me to lead to highly counterintuitive conclusions (such as: "it is impossible for our value judgements to be incorrect")

            I don’t believe that my conceptual framework makes that tautological equation. If I have occasionally spoken as if I assumed such equivalence, then on those occasions I have been guilty of rhetorical carelessness.

            Value is an abstraction about relative utility of some kind. That utility has to be assessed if we are to give it proper consideration when making our decisions. The making of such an assessment is a judgment. Judgment is thus the perception of a value, not the value itself. If I decide that my judgment of a certain value was in error, I have concluded that the method I used to assess that value was incorrect in some way.

          • Valence

            No, it isn’t, actually. Some words are multivalent. Multivalence is not a concept that can be applied to language itself.

            Surely you must be mistaken given this definition of multivalent:

            Having or susceptible of many applications, interpretations, meanings, or values.
            ‘visually complex and multivalent work’

            https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/multivalent

            Even the word multivalent, is multivalent...Medical definition:

            (of an antigen or antibody) having several sites at which attachment to an antibody or antigen can occur.

            Chemistry: another term for polyvalent

          • Doug Shaver

            Surely you must be mistaken

            Depends on the context.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Judgment is thus the perception of a value, not the value itself.

            Exactly! There has to be some white space between our "judgement / perception of value" and the "value itself". Our "judgements and perceptions of value" are usually fairly reliable guides to "true values", but we can't collapse the first concept into the second.

            If I decide that my judgment of a certain value was in error, I have concluded that the method I used to assess that value was incorrect in some way.

            Exactly again! And in saying that we might judge the value of a thing incorrectly we are implicitly affirming that there is some (not-perfectly-known) correct value of that thing, a.k.a its objective value.

            To take an example from the measurement domain, every time we talk about the correctness of a measurement of the speed of light, we are implicitly affirming the existence some "true value" of the speed of light. No one knows (with perfect precision) what this true value is (and in that sense it is also an "abstraction"), but we have to assume that it exists or else start speaking nonsense. Similarly, our judgements and perceptions of value are good / correct in the measure that they conform to some (unseen, and unsee-able) true value.

          • Doug Shaver

            And in saying that we might judge the value of a thing incorrectly we are implicitly affirming that there is some (not-perfectly-known) correct value of that thing, a.k.a its objective value.

            In your worldview, not in mine. You're assuming your conclusion.

            Here is the statement to which you were responding [emphasis added]:

            If I decide that my judgment of a certain value was in error, I have concluded that the method I used to assess that value was incorrect in some way.

            Recall that I said value was about relative utility. The methods on which I base my decisions should result in decisions that are as useful to me as I can make them.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It has almost nothing to do with worldview. It has to do with whether the word "incorrect" means anything at all, but let's move on from that because there is a point we can converge on here:

            decisions that are as useful to me as I can make them

            I think I can work with this. That maximal utility is unknown to you, and it is not determined by you. You (imperfectly) perceive (or judge, or estimate) the maximal utility of things to you, but you do not decide what that maximal utility is. Yes?

          • Doug Shaver

            It has almost nothing to do with worldview. It has to do with whether the word "incorrect" means anything at all, but let's move on from that

            No, let's not. You are making an implicit claim about what is necessary for a word to have any meaning. That claim presupposes an Aristotelian worldview. I am trying to defend the claim that I can reject Aristotle's worldview and still be rational.

            That maximal utility is unknown to you, and it is not determined by you.

            I have no idea whether that's true or not, because I don't know what you mean by "maximal utility." I am aware of some philosophical literature about maximal utility, but I've never read any of it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I am saying that the word "incorrect" makes no sense without reference to "correctness". How does that presuppose an Aristotelian worldview? How do you define "incorrectness" without recourse to the concept of "correctness"?

            EDIT: typo correction: propose --> presuppose

          • Doug Shaver

            I am saying that the word "incorrect" makes no sense without reference to "correctness". How does that presuppose an Aristotelian worldview?

            By insisting on a mind-independent existence for correctness.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, then can you help me unpack what "mind-dependent correctness" and (more importantly) "mind-dependent incorrectness" means?

            It seems to me that a "mind-dependently correct" value statement would be one that agrees with whatever you have decided. And then a "mind-dependently incorrect" value statement would be one that does not correspond to what you have decided. And so I am struggling to see how it is logically possible to make "mind-dependently incorrect" value statements. You would have to decide on a value that disagrees with what you have decided the value to be.

          • Doug Shaver

            And so I am struggling to see how it is logically possible to make "mind-dependently incorrect" value statements.

            Lemme try coming at it from another angle. I also deny the mind-independent existence of numbers. That being so, would you say I'm being illogical if I say there is only one correct answer to the question "What is the sum of 5 and 7?"

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I would say that you are being illogical if you claim that, on standard counting axioms, 5 + 7 evaluates to more than one correct answer. But standard counting axioms are public axioms, and because they are public I have trouble conceiving of them as mind-dependent. If you say: "I am going to evaluate 5 + 7 according to standard counting axioms", and then you switch mid-computation and instead evaluate it according to the logic of modulo 10 arithmetic, then we would all have an objective basis for saying that your answer of "2" is wrong (even though, on modulo 10 arithmetic, your answer would have been correct). Once you make the rules public, they no longer depend on the whims of your mind.

            To make things analogous to the moral question (and not merely the legal / codified morality question), we would have to ask: "Is there some set of axioms that I ought to use for thinking about a given problem"? The root meaning of "axiom" is along the lines of "that which is thought fitting". So we have to ask: "fitting to what?". And I think the answer is: "fitting to whatever aspect of (mind-independent) reality we are trying to mathematically model ; conforming to some truth that we are not in control of".

          • Doug Shaver

            But standard counting axioms are public axioms

            You'll have to educate me on the difference between public axioms and whatever other kind you think there are. In all my reading about the philosophy of mathematics, I've never seen axioms called anything but just axioms -- never any reference to different kinds of axioms.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I invented the term "public axiom" to try to leave room for the possibility of "mind-dependent axioms", which your conceptual framework seems to me to require. If you don't think there is any need for such a distinction, that's great. But then don't all axioms exist objectively?

          • Lazarus

            I see that a lot of you are making words up.
            Mine is "queazewhilling". I don't know what it means yet, but it will be a verb.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Act fast. Urban dictionary is filling up quickly.

          • Doug Shaver

            But then don't all axioms exist objectively?

            Not in my worldview. Axioms are propositions, and propositions are abstractions. I don't believe any abstractions exist independently of our minds. Propositions, however, may have more or less of a correspondence to objective reality, and if they do, then they are more or less true.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Propositions are statements that may refer to abstractions, but propositions themselves are not abstractions. They are statements that have been written down or at least spoken. That act of writing them down or speaking them makes them objective. If someone says, "those aren't the axioms of Euclidean geometry", you can objectively disagree: "No, no, look here on page 3, it says these are the axioms". Your disagreement can be resolved objectively by looking at what has been written.

          • Doug Shaver

            You are conflating some notions between which logicians make distinctions. A statement is a representation, in some natural language (written or spoken), of a proposition. A proposition is the language-independent idea conveyed by the statement. For instance: The tree is green and El arbol es verde are two statements representing the same proposition. In many contexts the distinction is irrelevant, and in those contexts even logicians may use the words "statement" and "proposition" interchangeably, but in no context is it a good idea to forget the difference between a representation and that which is represented. A map is not a territory.

            Language itself is just a means of transferring information, in coded form, from one mind to another. The information itself must be in at least one mind before any transfer can occur. What you and I are debating can be viewed as an attempt to answer the question of how it gets into that first mind. Aristotle said it had to get there from somewhere outside the mind. Some of us beg to differ.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's a useful distinction between statements and propositions. Thanks.

            I'm not really staking out a position on how information or ideas get into the mind. I just don't see how one can talk about the correctness or incorrectness of an idea without reference to [something] outside of (human) minds to which the idea does or does not conform.

          • Doug Shaver

            I just don't see how one can talk about the correctness or incorrectness of an idea without reference to [something] outside of (human) minds to which the idea does or does not conform.

            It depends on the particular idea. Let me go back to numbers for an illustration. Suppose I say, in reference to some given location, “There are three frogs.” That statement has an interpretation in predicate logic that does not depend on the existence of anything but frogs. Here it is:

            There exists x such that x is a frog and there exists y such that y is a frog and there exists z such that z is a frog, and x is not identical with y and y is not identical with z and z is not identical with x.

            (For those who would prefer the logical symbols, so would I, but I haven’t figured out how to do them in Disqus.)

            That is obviously not a convenient way to define numbers, and it’s good that we have other ways that are convenient. But it proves my point that it is possible to define an abstraction such as “three” without assuming the actual existence of the abstraction itself. And the statement “There are three frogs,” if so defined, can be confirmed or falsified using logic alone. We can do it as follows.

            Let F be the statement “There are three frogs.” Is there a thing designated x that is a frog, yes or no? If no, then F is false. If yes, then is there a thing designated y, distinct from x, that is a frog, yes or no? If no, then F is false. If yes, then is there a thing designated z, distinct from both y and x, that is a frog? If no, then F is false, otherwise F is true.

            In principle (certainly not in practice, but the only the principle matters in this context), every number known to mathematicians can be defined using predicate logic in this manner without affirming the existence of even a single number. Of course, the axioms actually used by mathematicians do assume the existence of numbers, but that is for convenience, not because of logical necessity.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Your argument reminds me of the awesome Sesame Street video linked to from this article: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/from-fish-to-infinity/?_r=0

            Could I ask if you actually believe in the sort of extreme nominalism that you seem to be defending? If you don't actually believe in it, then do we need to spend time arguing about whether it is logically coherent?

            In any case, I'll stipulate for the sake of argument that you can forego the existence of numbers, but when you say:

            Is there a thing designated x that is a frog, yes or no?

            you still seem to be implying the existence of a form, called "frog", to which your "thing" does or does not conform. So my questions at this point are:

            1. Do you really want to double down and argue that, not only is there no such thing as "three", but there is also no such thing as "frog"?
            2. If you do want to argue along those lines, then can the statement, "That thing there is a frog" ever be correct or incorrect in any meaningful sense?

          • Doug Shaver

            Could I ask if you actually believe in the sort of extreme nominalism that you seem to be defending?

            I’ve always had trouble remembering the definition of nominalism, so I checked again with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It says this:

            The word ‘Nominalism’, as used by contemporary philosophers in the Anglo-American tradition, is ambiguous. In one sense, its most traditional sense deriving from the Middle Ages, it implies the rejection of universals. In another, more modern but equally entrenched sense, it implies the rejection of abstract objects. To say that these are distinct senses of the word presupposes that universal and abstract object do not mean the same thing. And in fact they do not.

            As a statement of what I believe, I’m not comfortable saying that I reject either universals or abstract objects. What I reject is an ontology that attributes a mind-independent existence to either of them. I think they do exist, but only as mental constructs. And I think mental constructs exist as various neurochemical states of our brains.

            you still seem to be implying the existence of a form, called "frog", to which your "thing" does or does not conform. So my questions at this point are:

            1. Do you really want to double down and argue that, not only is there no such thing as "three", but there is also no such thing as "frog"?

            No, I don’t. That thing exists, but my calling it a frog has nothing to do with forms, either Platonic or Aristotelian. I call it a frog because everybody else in my linguistic community uses that word to refer to things that have a certain set of characteristics. If a thing doesn’t have those characteristics, we don’t call it a frog. If there is anything that it must conform to before we’ll call it a frog, it is our linguistic conventions.

            2. If you do want to argue along those lines, then can the statement, "That thing there is a frog" ever be correct or incorrect in any meaningful sense?

            I don’t want to argue for the nonexistence of frogs, but I’d like to respond to the question anyway. On the assumption that I share the conventions of my linguistic community, it is correct if the thing actually has the relevant characteristics, and incorrect if it doesn’t. And it’s meaningful in this sense: If I don’t conform to my community’s linguistic conventions, then nobody I talk to will get my meaning.

            But of course it’s not always that simple. Sometimes different linguistic communities use different sets of characteristics. For example, there are legless lizards. No herpetologist would call one of those things a snake even if nearly everybody else who saw one would say, “That thing there is a snake.”

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I am very open to the notion that universals or abstract objects don't exist in any mind-independent way. I honestly don't feel too strongly one way or the other.

            What I insist on, what I absolutely require of any conceptual framework that I might adopt, is that it allow me to coherently say things like:

            "X could be wrong even if everyone in the world thinks that X is right",

            or,

            "X could be immoral even if everyone in the world thinks that X is moral".

            It seems to me that, in order to coherently make those statements, I have to conceive of truth in a way that transcends everyone's conceptions of what truth is, and I need to conceive of morality in a way that transcends everyone's conceptions of what morality is. That might not mean that I need to conceive of those things as universals or abstract objects, but some sort of transcendence seems to be required in order to make those statements coherent.

            I still don't see how you have any conceptual framework on offer that would allow me to coherently make those two statements above. Again, I don't necessarily require abstractness or universality, but I do insist that I be able to make statements like that. Have I misunderstood? Do you have a conceptual framework that can coherently make statements like those? (And if so, could you demonstrate using an example statement that has that structure?)

          • Doug Shaver

            What I insist on, what I absolutely require of any conceptual framework that I might adopt, is that it allow me to coherently say things like:

            "X could be wrong even if everyone in the world thinks that X is right",

            or,

            "X could be immoral even if everyone in the world thinks that X is moral".

            If my conceptual framework seems inconsistent to you, then you should not adopt it. I’m not all that concerned with persuading you of its consistency. I’m more concerned with showing anybody else who is following this discussion that your claims of its inconsistency are unjustified.

            In my framework, there is no obstacle at all to saying "X could be wrong even if everyone in the world thinks that X is right", so long as X is an empirical proposition. Within my framework, I can and will say things like “Evolution is a fact even if everyone in the world thinks otherwise.” Of course it isn’t true just because I say it or anyone else says it, but it is either true false, and unambiguously so. We are, or we are not, biologically related to chimpanzees (as well as worms, for that matter) by descent with modification from a common ancestor.

            Statements of moral principles, though, are not statements of fact in my conceptual framework. They are statements of judgment — but it does not follow, just for that reason, that the statement "X could be immoral even if everyone in the world thinks that X is moral" is indefensible. What follows instead is that anyone who asserts it cannot defend it just by claiming some mystical knowledge of the objective fact of X’s immorality.

            For that matter, neither can any statement of empirical fact be defended just by insisting that it is a fact whether anyone believes it or not. I cannot defend my belief in evolution by the mere assertion “It’s a fact,” any more than I could defend my belief that torturing children is wrong by the mere assertion “It’s a fact” — even if it were an objective fact. No matter what I believe, I need a good reason to believe it, whether it is about my common ancestry with chimpanzees or about the wrongness of torturing children. Evolution happened, and torturing children is morally wrong, and I am justified in believing both. And in both cases, in my conceptual framework, justification is all I need.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            What follows instead is that anyone who asserts it cannot defend it just by claiming some mystical knowledge of the objective fact of X’s immorality.

            Well, of course. Who said otherwise?

            torturing children is morally wrong, and I am justified in believing [that]

            I'm sure you are justified in believing that, but this is getting into moral epistemology. I am trying to have a conversation with you about moral ontology. How you come to know, or justify, or judge, that torturing children is wrong is another conversation. I am trying to establish what the statement "torturing children is wrong" would even mean within your conceptual framework. Would it simply mean, "torturing children is something that we as a society don't like and have agreed to avoid", or would it mean something more?

          • Doug Shaver

            I am trying to have a conversation with you about moral ontology.

            I get that, but you seem to be arguing that I cannot have an epistemology without an ontology.

            I am trying to establish what the statement "torturing children is wrong" would even mean within your conceptual framework.

            As far as I can figure out, "wrong" means the same thing to me as it does to everyone else. If something is wrong, it's something we ought not to be doing. We should avoid doing it ourselves, and if the degree of wrongness exceeds a certain level, we as a society should also collectively coerce other people into avoiding it if we have the means of coercion.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            So you believe in real oughts, and you think it is possible that everyone in the world could be wrong about what we ought to do. I guess we agree then. In that case I just don't see where the mind-dependence comes in. If everyone in the world could be wrong about an ought statement, doesn't that imply that the truth content of the statement doesn't depend on what anyone is thinking?

          • Doug Shaver

            So you believe in real oughts, and you think it is possible that everyone in the world could be wrong about what we ought to do.

            I think it’s a fact that whenever we’re confronted with a decision whether to do or not do something, the proper exercise of reason will give due consideration to the foreseeable effects of our action or inaction on other people.

            If everyone in the world could be wrong about an ought statement, doesn't that imply that the truth content of the statement doesn't depend on what anyone is thinking?

            Whether an exercise of reason is proper or not does not depend on what anyone thinks about it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Whether an exercise of reason is proper or not does not depend on what anyone thinks about it.

            Exactly. So what does make an exercise of reason "proper"?

          • Doug Shaver

            So what does make an exercise of reason "proper"?

            The logic is valid, the premises are all true, and no relevant premises are disregarded.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, so if I could summarize what I believe you have said or implied:

            1. It is possible to make a correct moral argument (I agree).
            2. In order to do so, the premises of that argument have to be true (I agree).
            3. The truth of the premises aren't determined by what what people think (I agree).

            Yes?

          • Doug Shaver

            3. The truth of the premises aren't determined by what what people think (I agree).

            Yes?

            Depends on the premises. A premise relevant to a moral argument could be a statement about what some people think.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It could be, sure. But what you have written previously seems to imply that some moral premises are actually true, and that that is a separate issue from whether anyone actually believes in those premises. Have I misunderstood?

          • Doug Shaver

            Have I misunderstood?

            Not knowing which particular statement you're referring to, I can't be sure. If you have, though, it's not improbable that I failed to make myself clear enough. I'll try again.

            If by "moral premise" you mean a statement of the form "X is moral/immoral," I don't regard that as a statement of objective fact but as a judgment, which may be either justified or unjustified. What would be true or false, then, would be a statement of the form "We are justified in believing that X is moral/immoral."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You said that moral reasoning can sometimes be correct. You said that correct moral reasoning requires correct premises. Does it not follow from that that premises in moral arguments are sometimes correct?

          • Doug Shaver

            You said that correct moral reasoning requires correct premises.

            Not precisely. I said that the proper exercise of reason requires true premises.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Doug, gimme a break. Fine, to stick with your exact language: you implied that proper exercises of moral reasoning are sometimes possible, and you stated that proper reasoning requires true premises. It follows, notwithstanding your insistence in this particular wording, that premises that are used in exercises of moral reasoning are sometimes true.

            The point is, you cannot reasonably expect the lever of reason to do any real work unless you push down on the lever with premises that might actually be true. And also, you cannot engage in moral reasoning without moral premises. If you start with premises about what we want, or something like that, then you aren't engaging in moral reasoning at all, but rather some sort of economic or political reasoning.

            So, to paraphrase what I said at the very beginning, we either accept that some moral premises are true (we don't have to agree on which moral premises are true; that's a debate that can be deferred), or we give up on the whole project of moral reasoning. I can't see how it could possibly be otherwise.

          • Doug Shaver

            I can't see how it could possibly be otherwise.

            I think we've both exhausted our arguments. You did present me with an interesting challenge. Thank you for your patience and civility.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, good call. My thanks to you as well for your patience and civility.

          • LHRMSCBrown

            Regarding exchanges about abstractions, Hinduism, and morality: Wittgenstein-esc semantic / language games or not ideas which fail to align with reality don't stand a chance. *Every* idea will fail solipsism eventually. Even the idea of other minds. So too for any brand of Idealism born atop anything less than the Divine Mind. But absurdity just isn't a viable option. That is why reason's genuine need of a proper and final terminus is (was) a discovery of Man, not an invention of Man.

            Which is why Carroll and so many other Non-Theists and Theists alike justifiably reason that all the force of "reasoning itself" factually fails as an actualizer of morality. "We have no objective guidance on how to distinguish right from wrong: not from ....nature, not from the pure force of reason itself..."

            "Everybody" can be objectively (factually) incorrect or correct about a flat Earth, whereas "nobody" can be objectively (factually) incorrect or correct about ought love (given Non-Theism). Reason(ing) itself finds no such irreducible terminus because reality hasn't love's irreducible transcendentals.

            [1] The immutable love of the Necessary Being is non-entity if Spinoza-esc Pantheisms are unpacked, whereas [2] such processions are revealed to some (real) degree within the Hindu's Pantheism, though they blur often with the unloving, whereas [3] love's timeless reciprocity precedes all and emerges incarnate within time and physicality by and through *God's* irreducibly Trinitarian processions of All-Sufficiency's ceaseless self-outpouring. Further, [3] (and only 3) also reveals Man's true good, his final end with respect to Man's nature and thereby orients both will and reason within Man to reality both outside and within Man.

            Love's timeless self-giving subsumes reality's epicenter, and *is* therefore that which ultimately defines both the outer and the inner, both the proverbial "in here" and "out there".

            Therefore, given [1], [2], and [3] it is possible in (blurry but real) part given [2] and in full given [3] for everybody to be objectively (factually) correct or incorrect regarding the essential or intrinsic value of people.

            ".....because the questioner and the (moral) issue he or she questions always involve the essential value of a person. That is, you can never talk of morality in abstraction. Persons are implicit to the question and the object of the question......" (Zacharias). And as Carroll and others affirm, reasoning by itself (void of a final terminus) fails because the essential value referenced "....is intrinsically woven into personhood, which means it demands an intrinsically worthy person...." (Zacharias).

            The intrinsic forces ontic irreducibility and without that terminus all the force of reason (Carroll) finds *no* rational means to declare "Hume's proverbial rational Man" to be objectively (factually) incorrect.

            David Oderberg affirms Carroll's declaration that in the Non-Theistic paradigm all the force of reason(ing) isn't enough to actualize the moral:

            Quote:

            "Assuming that the meaning of “good” in morality, at least in its most general aspect, is identical to its meaning outside morality, we must appeal to the fulfilment of appetite in defining the fundamental test or primary criterion of moral behavior. But that cannot be the whole story, since as argued earlier, reason and will must be essentially involved in the test. So I propose that what we end up with is the following formula:

            The fundamental test of morality is whether an act is directed by reason to man’s ultimate end.

            Now the ultimate end is just another way of talking about the ultimate appetite or essential tendency (perhaps tendencies/appetites in the plural) the fulfilment of which perfects human nature.

            To appeal to the ultimate end is, from the ontic point of view, to dismiss the idea that there can be an endless series of appetites, each one such that its fulfilment is at the same time the means to the fulfilment of the next one in the series, where the next one will be broader, more general or all-encompassing. To countenance the thought is effectively to deny that human beings can ever fulfil their natures, that they can ever be just good. Apart from the intolerable hopelessness this would inject into morality, it would involve attributing a kind of infinite nature to a manifestly finite being, which verges on metaphysical absurdity. From the practical point of view, the appeal to an ultimate end is just to endorse Aristotle’s famous doctrine that all practical reasoning must find a terminus."

            End quote.

            Aristotle's discovery (not invention) properly orients (aims) reason as truth-finder. Or whoever discovered such. Chronological epistemological movements never can define ontological (metaphysical) ownership of ultimate truths. Hence morality before Sinai -- because *God*.

          • Doug Shaver

            The root meaning of "axiom" is along the lines of "that which is thought fitting".

            Your Aristotelianism is showing again. Words are defined by usage, nothing else. In ordinary philosophical discourse, an axiom is a proposition regarded as justifiably believed notwithstanding its unsusceptibility of noncircular proof.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Words are defined by usage, but that unavoidably includes the tradition of usage. We are in dialogue not only with our contemporaries but also with our forebears as well. We don't just sprout dictionaries de novo with every new generation. We often use words without even thinking about what they mean. One way to figure out what they really mean is to look at where the words have come from.

            But in any case, I am perfectly fine with the definition of axiom that you proposed. In fact I can't see what the substantive difference is between your definition and the one that I proposed. You say axioms are propositions regarded as justifiably believed. What would justify the use of an axiom? Is it not the (hypothesized) conformity of that axiom with some aspect of reality?

            The idea that mathematics find its genesis in something external to us is hardly just an Aristotelian notion. Ramanujan received his mathematical insights from the Goddess Namagiri. Is this because he was unduly influenced by Aristotle?

          • Doug Shaver

            Ramanujan received his mathematical insights from the Goddess Namagiri.

            You say that as if you think it's true. Do you?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Believe it or not, yes, I do.

            Where Namigiri, and other Hindu gods and goddesses might be able to fit within a Christian theology, I don't know exactly. To make a judgement along those lines requires serious cross-cultural acumen of the sort very few people have, and I certainly can't count myself among them. But as I understand it, there is a dominant thread of Hindu thinking in which many gods and goddesses are understood to be manifestations of Brahman, and certain conceptions of Brahman are pretty consistent with the "ground of all being" of Western theology. How tightly that can be correlated with the Christian notion of messengers (a.k.a. angels) of God, I wouldn't pretend to know, but the correlations are highly suggestive to me.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Where Namigiri, and other Hindu gods and goddesses might be able to fit within a Christian theology, I don't know exactly.

            Maybe that is the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking ourselves how Jesus fits into Hindu theology.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Maybe.

            As a Christian, I obviously come at it thinking in terms of what can be "fit into" Christianity. If someone else wants to come at it from a different perspective, I have no objections. In the context of dialogue with someone from another tradition, I would try to avoid talking about how "X fits into Y" or "Y fits into X" and just talk about how they can fit together.

            Obviously Christianity has certain non-negotiables. Any tradition that would deny the absolute centrality of the Gospel event in history just isn't going to be compatible with Christianity. If we can't agree, we can respectfully disagree, and that's fine. I'm just not inclined to prematurely foreclose on the possibility of compatibility.

          • Doug Shaver

            Believe it or not, yes, I do.

            Just checking. It's been a long time since anybody surprised me by telling me what they think, but that one caught me a little off guard.

          • Doug Shaver

            The idea that mathematics find its genesis in something external to us is hardly just an Aristotelian notion.

            It's usually called Platonism, actually, but this is a Catholic forum where Aristotle seems to be the big philosophical kahuna, and Aristotle accepted many of Plato's ideas, including a mind-independent ontology for ideas such as numbers and their relationships. My point is not about its uniqueness to the teachings of any particular philosopher. My point is to defend the rationality of a worldview that denies such an ontology.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It might help if I clarify again: I am not denying the personal dimension of value. I understand that the value of a thing exists in relation to you (and to me). I am just saying that you don't determine the true value of a thing to you, and I don't determine the true value of a thing to me.

            At this point I feel I am starting to repeat myself, and I don't feel I've come any closer to seeing the coherence of the conceptual framework that you are proposing. I've enjoyed the conversation and I thank you for the continued charity of your engagement. If you want to add some closing remarks, I'd propose we then let it drop.

          • Valence

            Perhaps Kant has some importance insight about the relative nature of value:

            A philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries), Immanuel Kant held that there were things that should not be discussed in terms of value, and that these things could be said to have dignity. 'Value' is necessarily relative, because the value of something depends on a particular observer's judgment of that thing. Things that are not relative - that are "ends in themselves", in Kant's terminology - are by extension beyond all value, and a thing is an end in itself only if it has a moral dimension; if it represents a choice between right and wrong. In Kant's words: "Morality, and humanity as capable of it, is that which alone has dignity."[16] Specifically with respect to human dignity, which his writings brought from relative obscurity in Western philosophy into a focal point for philosophers, Kant held that "free will" is essential; human dignity is related to human agency, the ability of humans to choose their own actions.[17]

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dignity#Kant

            Kant should probably be brought up more in these discussions (and I should probably directly read some of his works instead of just reading about them) as he is considered, by everyone I have read, as the most important philosopher of the modern era. I've read many who said he is only rivaled by Plato and Aristotle.

            Immanuel Kant (/kænt/;[4] German: [ɪˈmaːnu̯eːl kant]; 22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was a German philosopher who is considered the central figure of modern philosophy.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant

          • LHRMSCBrown

            You commented on the following syntax: [A] "we have made a mistake in our judgement of how important some things are" must mean the same thing as: [B] "we have made a mistake in our judgement of what our judgement is". How is that not nonsense? [If] that's all you intended to say then you are not engaging the meat of the question. Consider the statements: [A] "Many of the things we value in society are not really important.", or [B] "Many of the things that we naturally value are not really important." If "important" = "what we have decided to value", then the first sentence is always nonsense. If "important" = "what we naturally value", the second sentence is always nonsense.

            And you also commented on the syntax involved in this: “It seems to me that a "mind-dependently correct" value statement would be one that agrees with whatever you have decided. And then a "mind-dependently incorrect" value statement would be one that does not correspond to what you have decided. And so I am struggling to see how it is logically possible to make "mind-dependently incorrect" value statements. You would have to decide on a value that disagrees with what you have decided the value to be.” (bold mine)

            Regarding the ontological landscape of “correct” and “incorrect” and “important” and “maximal utility”, the essay “All for the Good” by David S. Oderberg, which is at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUiebWUyV25FRFZ0UWc/view , adds what might be helpful context in its 24 pages (a brief excerpt follows shortly). Obviously it’s just an unavoidable fact that the fundamental shape of reality, or reality’s irreducible processions, or contours, or whatever, await reason (as truth-finder) at the end of all of her “ontic traversing”. In such travels that the rational should be seamless with the will, that the will should arrive on scene as seamless with the moral, which is itself seamless with reality’s fundamental – irreducible – processions is an ontological landscape which is, given philosophical naturalism, sheer autohypnosis. As GM notes, "The West’s liberal ideals in a secular/atheist framework are practically mysticism. This idea of a “fundamental human right” in an evolutionary context is, as Bentham stated, “nonsense on stilts.””

            As the brief excerpt of Oderberg below alludes to, the concept of maximum utility with respect to evolutionary morality forces an absurdity. Meanwhile, ultimate ends vis-à-vis final causes (etc.) discovers reality’s irreducible contours within the immutable love of the Necessary Being. In and through that discovery, perception, (as opposed to invention, etc.) love’s timeless self-outpouring constituting Trinitarian processions *is* the absolute procession of being itself and therein, on being itself and on procession itself, we find that:

            ......love is not originally a reaction but is the ontological possibility of every ontic action, the one transcendent act, the primordial generosity that is convertible with being itself, the blissful and desiring apatheia that requires no pathos to evoke it, no evil to make it good; and this is so because, on the other hand, God's infinitely accomplished life of love is that trinitarian movement of his being that is infinitely determinate – as determinacy toward the other – and so an indestructible actus purus endlessly more dynamic than any mere motion of change could ever be.” (D. Hart)

            A brief excerpt from Oderberg:

            Assuming that the meaning of “good” in morality, at least in its most general aspect, is identical to its meaning outside morality, we must appeal to the fulfilment of appetite in defining the fundamental test or primary criterion of moral behavior. But that cannot be the whole story, since as argued earlier, reason and will must be essentially involved in the test. So I propose that what we end up with is the following formula:

            The fundamental test of morality is whether an act is directed by reason to man’s ultimate end.

            Now the ultimate end is just another way of talking about the ultimate appetite or essential tendency (perhaps tendencies/appetites in the plural) the fulfilment of which perfects human nature.

            To appeal to the ultimate end is, from the ontic point of view, to dismiss the idea that there can be an endless series of appetites, each one such that its fulfilment is at the same time the means to the fulfilment of the next one in the series, where the next one will be broader, more general or all-encompassing. To countenance the thought is effectively to deny that human beings can ever fulfil their natures, that they can ever be just good. Apart from the intolerable hopelessness this would inject into morality, it would involve attributing a kind of infinite nature to a manifestly finite being, which verges on metaphysical absurdity. From the practical point of view, the appeal to an ultimate end is just to endorse Aristotle’s famous doctrine that all practical reasoning must find a terminus.

            End excerpt.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you want to add some closing remarks, I'd propose we then let it drop.

            I agree that we seem to be repeating ourselves. I could elaborate on a point I made earlier, but I see no need to push it if you've had enough. I suspect the subject will arise again.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            By "maximal utility", I only meant to refer to your concept of things being "as useful to [you] as [you] can make them".

          • Doug Shaver

            OK. If you're saying that I don't decide what that is, I disagree. I do decide. I sometimes decide erroneously, but I do decide.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is an objective fact that we need rules of the sort that are typically classified as moral rules.

            This is only an objective fact if there is objective value in survival.

            I thought it was obvious, considering the context, that my intended meaning was: It is an objective fact that we need rules of the sort that are typically classified as moral rules if we are to survive. To say that is to say nothing about whether our survival itself has any importance of any kind. It would be consistent with what I said to also say that our extinction would be the best thing that could happen to this world.

            If survival is not an objective good (or an objective "basic good", to put it in Natural Law terms), then there is no objective "need" for rules that prevent us from devolving into chaos and self-annihilation.

            I am not the one arguing for the existence of any objective good. My argument is that we don't need one in order to defend a moral code.

            If the value of survival is determined by our perceived desire to survive, then it is not an objective value.

            Right. And therefore, what? It is not a rule of reason that we must treat as worthless whatever we cannot prove to be objectively valuable.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            My argument is that we don't need one in order to defend a moral code.

            When you say "moral code", do you basically mean "social norms and/or legal systems"? I guess I don't even understand what the world "moral" might mean if it is not making reference to objective oughts. Either survival is something that we ought to seek (i.e. it is a moral imperative) or else it is just an agreed upon convention (a "social norm") that we seek it. You seem to be saying the latter?

            If pursuit of survival is just a social norm and "morality" references only "what we have agreed to pursue", then consider the sentence:

            "The cultural norms and legal practices that we have accepted and/or agreed to are immoral."

            To your way of thinking, what could be the meaning of such a sentence, if any?

            I ask because I believe we sometimes need to make statements that convey that sort of thought. If sentences like that are meaningless, I think we are in trouble. So, would that sentence have meaning to you in some contexts?

          • Doug Shaver

            When you say "moral code", do you basically mean "social norms and/or legal systems"?

            I basically mean social norms, but without ignoring the likelihood that a society with a legal system will probably incorporate at least a portion of its social norms into that system. The fact that we have laws against murder doesn’t mean we don’t also believe murder is immoral.

            I guess I don't even understand what the world "moral" might mean if it is not making reference to objective oughts.

            That’s probably because of your Aristotelian intuition. Which is OK. Most of us have that intuition. Some of us have just learned that we can make better sense of the world while ignoring it than while assuming it to be infallible.

            Either survival is something that we ought to seek (i.e. it is a moral imperative) or else it is just an agreed upon convention (a "social norm") that we seek it. You seem to be saying the latter?

            I am saying neither. We do seek it, and it is irrelevant whether we ought to because if we don’t survive, then nothing we believe about morality is going to make a bit of difference.

            I believe that our survival instinct is just that: an instinct. Our compulsion to do just about anything in order to avoid death is almost certainly a result of its having been hard-wired into us by natural selection.

            "The cultural norms and legal practices that we have accepted and/or agreed to are immoral."

            To your way of thinking, what could be the meaning of such a sentence, if any?

            It would depend on the intended antecedent of “we.” If I say it and include myself in the “we,” then I contradict myself and the statement is simply false. But if by “we” I mean “this group of people of which I count myself as a member,” then I’m saying that I think the group collectively has made a serious mistake in reaching its consensus and I am expressing my personal disagreement with that consensus.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But I see no conceptual bar to reasoning about judgments, particularly when those judgments pertain to objectively verifiable consequences.

            That's fine. But when we make a judgement, aren't we (fallibly) judging whether something is objectively true, or objectively good? If the object of our judgements (the goodness or the true-ness of a thing or an action) is not, well, objective, then what could it mean for our judgements to be wrong? And surely our judgements are sometimes wrong, aren't they?

          • Doug Shaver

            But when we make a judgement, aren't we (fallibly) judging whether something is objectively true, or objectively good?

            I believe that if we are judging whether something is objectively true, then we are making an epistemological judgment, not a moral judgment.

            My ethical philosophy is consequentialist, and so I believe our moral judgments ought to be contingent on the objective facts about the foreseeable results of our behaviors. There are certain results we should try to avoid, if we can, and certain other results we should try to bring about, if we can.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Your way of speaking about this is strange to me in a number of different directions.

            1. You talk about epistemological judgments and moral judgements as if there is no intersection between them? Isn't there such thing as moral epistemology?

            2. Don't we use our epistemologies to make (fallible) judgements about our ontologies? If a moral epistemology doesn't refer (imperfectly) to a moral ontology, then what is the point of it?

          • Doug Shaver

            You talk about epistemological judgments and moral judgements as if there is no intersection between them? Isn't there such thing as moral epistemology?

            No matter what the specific subject is, we’re entitled to ask “What do we know? And how do we know it?” In that respect, epistemology intersects everything.

            Don't we use our epistemologies to make (fallible) judgements about our ontologies?

            Sure.

            If a moral epistemology doesn't refer (imperfectly) to a moral ontology, then what is the point of it?

            The point is that we are social animals. Our survival as individuals depends on the survival of a social order for us to inhabit. The survival of a social order depends on the formation and general acceptance of certain rules about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. It is an objectively verifiable fact that truly anarchic societies don’t survive, and no other fact is needed to explain the existence of rules.

      • Ok... so this means we are pretty much on the same page. Most atheists and theists in my experience think there is objective morality, but neither have any way of accessing it? Both go with their intuition?

        And also, you do not seem to know how to program it? The question is not vague or requiring a ballpark it is simple and straightforward. Do you tell the car to sacrifice the driver if it would save more lives.

        This question is easy for me, the answer is yes, of course you do. And you allow people the freedom to buy such cars or not. Why is it so hard for Catholics to answer this?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Sorry, I thought you were asking more generally about principles and guidelines for how to program morality into a car.

          On that specific issue, yeah, I guess I probably agree with you, though it is not so clear to me.

          I don't think it's a simple matter of counting up the number of lives. When you take someone into your car (or if you anticipate someone getting in a car that you have programmed), especially a child, there is an implicit trust that they are putting in you, and you have a serious moral obligation to live up to that very personal trust. Interpersonal trust, in itself, is a primary good, just as life is a primary good. How you weigh those two goods against each other, given the body count differential, that's a bit beyond my abilities.

          But I suppose that trust issue becomes a lot less significant if you warn everyone who gets in the car, and if you only let in people who are capable of understanding the risks. So, yeah, I think we probably net out around the same place.

        • Phil

          Hey Brian--

          Ok... so this means we are pretty much on the same page. Most atheists and theists in my experience think there is objective morality, but neither have any way of accessing it? Both go with their intuition?

          I think it would be more correct to say that objective moral principles do exist, but applying it to some concrete situations can be tricky. So in some complex circumstances, it isn't clear right away what is the objectively good thing to do.

          Even if moral principles can be black and white, real-lived life is not black and white. Life is a beautiful peacock feather assortment of colors. The example of the driverless car is one of those "peacock feather colored" situations.

          • David Nickol

            I think it would be more correct to say that objective moral principles do exist, but applying it to some concrete situations can be tricky.

            Can you (or anyone else) give an example? We have had lots of discussions that speak of "moral facts" or objective moral principles, but I don't think anyone has attempted any specific statements. (By the way, I am not picking on you. I am asking this question of everyone.)

            The reason I ask is that I am having difficulty myself coming up with something that is not a matter of definition. I tend to think there is "objective morality" or something very much like it, but so far we have talked entirely in the abstract. This very post presents a moral dilemma, although in the context of what a driverless car ought to be programmed to do, but even that has not been discussed.

            I suppose one might say "It is wrong to lie" is a moral fact, but there is a centuries' old disagreement even over that.

          • Phil

            An example of a simple objective moral principal would be that it is not a good (i.e., it is immoral) to choose to directly kill an innocent human life.

            And then the complications in daily life would come in with a situation where one is trying to determine whether it is truly an innocent life that one was choosing to take. For example, the whole issue of cops and armed/unarmed persons. There is messiness in these situations and psychology of the cops that sometimes one can't say 100% for sure whether it was immoral what they did. But that doesn't take away anything from the general objective moral principle stated above.

          • David Nickol

            Thanks. That appears to be a good example. But as you point out, it is not simple at all. In fact, one might reasonably argue that specifying "directly" and especially "innocent" pretty much reduce the principle to something like "It is immoral to take a human life that ought not to be taken." Soldiers in war, for example, may be doing their patriotic duty, especially if it is not clear that one side or the other is an unjust aggressor. There is self-defense. As I am sure you know, you can classify people into "unjust aggressors" and "materially unjust aggressors" (among other things), with a materially unjust aggressor being someone who attacks without being guilty of injustice (for example, a person who mistakes you for an intruder, a mental patient who is not morally responsible for his actions, and so on). Then we get into the meaning of "directly," and it is permissible to knowingly kill innocent people such as civilians near a vital military target who are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

            Once you get through interpreting "You shall not kill," there is not a great deal left of it!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It's fine to point out that moral theories have a hard time maintaining parsimony while achieving broad explanatory scope, but that really is a separate issue from whether there is an objective moral landscape. Even if there is precious little that we can say in complete generality with regard that moral landscape, the fact remains that our perceived desires do not define or determine the landscape. It is already there for us to explore, however fallibly. To assert otherwise is to claim that moral error is impossible, and so amounts to speaking nonsense.

          • David Nickol

            It's fine to point out that moral theories have a hard time maintaining parsimony while achieving broad explanatory scope, but that really is a separate issue from whether there is an objective moral landscape.

            I'm not sure you're wrong, but I am not sure you are right, either. If the statement "It is immoral to deliberately kill an innocent person" boils down to "It is immoral to kill a person who ought not to be killed," then I don't think we have an objective moral principle there.

            Even if there is precious little that we can say in complete generality with regard that moral landscape, the fact remains that our perceived desires do not define or determine the landscape.

            How can we be sure our "perceived desires" are simply not part of our enculturation, socialization, indoctrination, and so on? Slavery, to take one example, is something that is thought to be so obviously wrong that no sane person would defend it. The immorality of slavery is blindingly obvious to us. And yet that is a relatively recent development.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I sort of agree with regard to "moral principles". I would have preferred to phrase things a bit differently than Phil did. I would rather say that there are principles that we can use to navigate an objective moral landscape. I don't think we can ever claim with certainty that those principles are objectively correct, though some seem to be very trustworthy.

            As regards slavery, that's exactly the point. Our perceived desires very often are just artifacts of our enculturation and so forth, and we recognize that those things can blind us to moral truth. But that thought would make no sense if there weren't a moral truth for us to be blind to. I'm inclined to suppose that we today probably are blind to moral abominations that approach or perhaps even surpass the moral abomination of American slavery, but I can't even coherently formulate that thought -- however non-specific it may be -- if there is no such thing objective moral wrongness.

          • Phil

            I agree with your analysis of saying that an even more general principle is that it is not a good and is unjust (i.e., it is immoral) to take a human life that ought not be taken.

            Anything that is immoral is ultimately doing something that ought not be done, and which takes away from the flourishing of the person doing it and the person to whom it was done.

  • David Nickol

    If the Founding Fathers had had Twitter, do you think any of them would have been able to say something profound about founding a new country in the 140 characters permitted by a single Tweet?

    In reading Tyson's further explanation of his Tweet on Facebook, I don't get the feeling I am reading something by the Founders or the Framers, but I also don't get the feeling I am reading something ridiculous that ought to be condemned. As I read Tyson, he is saying that if you want to institute a governmental policy, you must produce the evidence that demonstrates that the policy will work. As I understand him, he says that regarding the question of morality, we don't get our morality from the government. He gives an example of a policy of support for capital punishment as a deterrent. If you argue that we must have capital punishment, and you argue the reason why we must have it is that it is a deterrent, then evidence must show that it is a deterrent.

    Tyson seems, to me, to be saying it is necessary to back up empirically verifiable claims with empirical evidence. He is not arguing that scientists must be in charge of developing a "scientific" moral code for "Rationalia." In "Rationalia," as a democracy, the moral code would come from the people, just as in the United States, we don't get our moral code from the government.

    One might ask if it is the business of, say, the Supreme Court to decide questions of morality. I think the answer is no. The Supreme Court is there to make decisions based on the Constitution and judicial precedent.

    • PianoLady

      But that isn't what he said; he said that he wanted a country with a single-line Constitution, namely, "All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” This implies that he actually thinks that this would be a sufficient decision-making principle for a country. If he didn't want us to take him seriously, he shouldn't have tweeted it.

      • Valence

        No, for him to be saying what you claim, it would have been "All policy shall only be based on the weight of evidence". I agree he could have worded it better, such as "all evidence should be weighed before making a policy decision" but we are talking twitter.

  • George

    A catholic apologist should arrange a discussion with Tyson. Not a debate, a discussion, where they can ask him what he believes.

    • ClayJames

      Father James Martin SJ had an entertaining, and very light conversation with him on Tyson´s radio show. I believe the video is on YouTube.

    • neil_pogi

      actually, some atheist like Krauss is creating an argument for atheists, that if they ever engage debates with theists about the creative power of a 'nothing', he said;, 'do not debate them'

  • Craig Roberts

    God this is an eazy one. The car should be programmed to always kill Christians because they are going to heaven. Heathens should always be saved to avoid them going to hell and giving them a little more time to repent.

    The car needs to know that once a non-believer converts and is 'saved' they are now safe to kill.

    In fact, the car should be programmed to immediately get in a fatal crash whenever a Christian gets in the car. This makes sure they go to heaven and don't live long enough to lose their faith, become atheists, and go to hell in case of a crash.

    • Valence

      Lol, now we just need to figure out how to get lidar to detect true Christians.

      • Craig Roberts

        Yeah and Catholics that think it is a sin of presumption to ever believe you are 'saved' would have to be treated like atheists. Weird hunh?

    • Mike

      that's what God did with Noah but atheists always seem to have a big problem with it!

    • neil_pogi

      then who be the one will program the car?

      then how would the car knows if the people is atheists or not?

  • David Nickol

    Could it be true that we have gone almost two weeks without a new post because Strange Notions is working on a blockbuster story about Brad and Angelina? Let's hope it (or something new) gets posted soon. Nobody in Rationalia would be made to wait this long for a fresh topic.

    cc: Neil deGrasse Tyson

    • neil_pogi

      i thought they are perfect showbiz couple..!

  • George

    Well it's a good thing I'm not a utopian.

    • neil_pogi

      in the 1920s, U.S. has that 'eugenics'... trying to create a perfect individuals and families by using 'science' as method to eradicate diseases such as mental illnesses!

  • David Nickol

    Is management abandoning Strange Notions?

    • Peebo1

      Perhaps they've finally found their notions too strange? :3

    • Lazarus

      I complained in my best whiny voice when we were similarly abandoned over the Christmas / New Year period, but I was studiously ignored.
      Maybe your fight idea is a good one. Or we can have Trump /Clinton arguments.

    • Doug Shaver

      Pending evidence to the contrary, I'm assuming that management has been preoccupied tending to whatever obligations they have other than this website.

      • David Nickol

        Surely we must conclude that Brandon Vogt never really existed in the first place.

        • Valence

          Perhaps he was invented by Robert Barron for theological reasons. Creating a fake Internet presence isn't terribly difficult these days.

    • Sad times. I'm feeling so argumentative today. :-D

  • Gregg Collins

    Tyson is not a Scientist. He has admitted that he failed his phd program because parties were more important than study. What he is is a world class Asshat.

    • Valence

      Can you please provide a source for this claim? His PhD is from Columbia University. I'd agree he's more of a science popularizer than a research scientist, but that doesn't make him "not a scientist".

      • neil_pogi

        neil is just a 'fiction science writer'.. all his talks are nonsense, devoid of scientific evidence and experiments

        • Valence

          I have excellent reason to believe that you not a credible source, Neil.

          • neil_pogi

            if you're serious enough to study his talks, lectures, etc.. you will find that most of them are just mere theories.. 'make-believe' stories that are equally conforms with hanna barbera/s or hans christian andersen's.

            did he observe personally the birth of the universe?

          • Valence

            did he observe personally the birth of the universe?

            Did you personally observe God creating the universe? Did you observe the apostles performing miracles, or Jesus rising from the dead? Give me a break.
            The theory that predicts the Big Bang allows us to put rockets on the moon, it allows gps to work, it performs spectacularly when tested via experimentation. It has made surprising and correct predictions, such as gravity bending light. What can any of your theories do? Probably as little as your lame comments.
            Most of the theories DeGrasse discusses aren't his ideas. It seems you aren't even educated enough to understand that...have you even been to high school or even taken a science class?

          • neil_pogi

            i never observe Jesus' teachings. miracles, rising from his death because i was born only in the 1970s. witnesses have witness it, and atheists just denied it. atheists can't prove that every thing is just a product of chance and unguided process. prove first if life is a product of natural process. prove it first before i answer some of your arguments.

          • Doug Shaver

            witnesses have witness it,

            Some ancient texts say so. We don't know who wrote them or what sources they used.

          • neil_pogi

            so you never believe, too, that plato, aristotlle, josephus and other ancient writers never ever existed because 'We don't know who wrote them or what sources they used.'

            it is already proven a fact that Jesus existed historically outside the claims of the Bible

            how about the origins of the universe? do you have any credible witnesses that it started from the big bang? do you have any credible eyewitness account that a slime evolved into a human being?

          • Doug Shaver

            I was not referring to the writings of Plato, Aristotle, or Josephus.

          • neil_pogi

            You said that early writings are not to be trusted or the authors unknown.. I include some. Why cherry-pick?

          • Doug Shaver

            You said that early writings are not to be trusted or the authors unknown

            No, I didn't. I said that some early writings are not to be trusted if we do not know who the authors were. When you can show me where I have expressed trust in any ancient document while denying any knowledge of who wrote it, then you can accuse me of cherry-picking.

          • neil_pogi

            So tell me which ancient writings were not to be trusted?

          • Doug Shaver

            So tell me which ancient writings were not to be trusted?

            I have not compiled a list. Every document, ancient or modern, needs to assessed on its own evidential merits. The assessment should be based primarily on what we know or reasonably believe about the author and his sources. But in no case are we justified in thinking that either the author or his sources were incapable of making a mistake. There has never been an author of whom I would say, "If he said it, then it must be true."

            Nor is "unreliable" to be construed as "entirely false" or "unbelievable." When I say I don't believe something, I'm not claiming that it can't be true. I'm usually saying that although it could be true, I haven't seen sufficient evidence to think it actually is true.

          • neil_pogi

            One of your atheist scholar says that the Jesus' historical accounts are true!!

            And if that is so,it follows that the entire Bible's claim is true! The God that jews and christians worship is the true God!

            No wonder why the ancient jews until today worship the God of the Bible!

          • Doug Shaver

            One of your atheist scholar says that the Jesus' historical accounts are true!!

            And if that is so,it follows that the entire Bible's claim is true!

            I'll leave it to the lurkers to analyze the logic of that argument.

          • neil_pogi

            and where are the 'lurkers'?

          • Michael Murray

            lurking

          • neil_pogi

            why not just give your best shot in providing that the historical accounts of Jesus aren't true?

          • Doug Shaver

            and where are the 'lurkers'?

            Either at their computers or on their smartphones.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lurker

          • neil_pogi

            and why involve them?

          • Doug Shaver

            It is not up to me whether they get involved. They do whatever they do whether I like it or not.

        • Lazarus

          You sure you have the correct Neil there?

          • neil_pogi

            i'm referring here to neil de grasse

        • Michael Murray

          Could you maybe spend a few minutes pointing out the mistakes in one of these

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_deGrasse_Tyson#Research_publications

          Anyone will do.

          • neil_pogi

            he may be correct in other areas of astronomy (because it is proven experimentally) but his logic is far way down the hall. if he believe the universe arise from a 'nothing' then he will explain it logically, scientifically and experimentally, if not, he belongs to writers of the walking dead!

          • Michael Murray

            So on the one hand

            all his talks are nonsense, devoid of scientific evidence and experiments

            and on the other

            he may be correct in other areas of astronomy (because it is proven experimentally)

            Maybe you need to think about logic.

          • neil_pogi

            I would agree with some atheists' observations of nature and theories but would not to others.. Doesn't mean that i am double-standard?

          • Michael Murray

            You can't say that all his talks are nonsense but some of them are correct.

          • neil_pogi

            You can't say to me that all your doings,all your talks are correct too! You are a human being and subject to commit errors! Are you not affected by laws of entrophy?

          • Michael Murray

            It's just a question of logic. Let P(x) be some statement about x. The two statements

            (1) For all x, P(x) is true

            (2) For some x, P(x) is false

            are not logically compatible.

    • Michael Murray

      Tyson was a lecturer in astronomy at the University of Maryland from 1986 to 1987[19] and in 1988, he was accepted into the astronomy graduate program at Columbia University, where he earned an MPhil degree in astrophysics in 1989, and a PhD degree in astrophysics in 1991[20] under the supervision of Professor R. Michael Rich. Rich obtained funding to support Tyson's doctoral research from NASA and the ARCS foundation[21] enabling Tyson to attend international meetings in Italy, Switzerland, Chile, and South Africa[19] and to hire students to help him with data reduction.[22] In the course of his thesis work, he observed using the 0.91 m telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, where he obtained images for the Calán/Tololo Supernova Survey[23][24][25] helping to further their work in establishing Type Ia supernovae as standard candles. These papers comprised part of the discovery papers of the use of Type Ia supernovae to measure distances, which led to the improved measurement of the Hubble constant[26] and discovery of dark energy in 1998.[27][28] He was 18th author on a paper with Brian Schmidt, a future winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, in the study of the measurement of distances to Type II Supernovae and the Hubble constant.[29]

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_deGrasse_Tyson

      EDIT: I'll paste in the relevant bit and save your clicking.

  • neil_pogi

    why atheists reject the scientific proof that the universe is governed by laws (i wonder where did laws come from? from 'mindless' forces? in our daily experiences, mindless objects, such as rocks, are not conscious, lifeless and devoid of energy therefore not sources of implementing laws). i often hear them saying 'mindless forces' or 'unguided process' did it.. but these answers are just too broad, too shallow.. and not so scientific. these are just guessing..

    http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/42042/20160613/world-renowned-scientist-michio-kaku-proves-existence-god.htm

    • Doug Shaver

      and not so scientific

      How would you know? Where do you get your information about what is or is not scientific?

      • neil_pogi

        so how do you know for sure that all the processes are natural? prove first that a rock, a non-conscious entity can create laws

        • Doug Shaver

          so how do you know for sure that all the processes are natural?

          When you've answered my question, I will answer yours.

          • neil_pogi

            so what's your question?

          • Doug Shaver

            so what's your question?

            You didn't even notice I had one, did you?

            My question was: Where do you get your information about what is or is not scientific?

          • Peter

            It is not scientific to remain in a state of obstinate denial when faced with inexorably mounting evidence that the universe is revealing itself to be a supremely intelligently laid-out plan.
            The true scientist would at least open his/her mind to that possibility instead of proclaiming that there is no evidence of it.

            As for processes being natural or supernatural, I would be inclined to follow the evidence of formerly unknown processes that we now understand to be natural. This gives me confidence that, with the aid of better instrumentation, currently unknown processes will also be understood in due course to be natural.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is not scientific to remain in a state of obstinate denial when faced with inexorably mounting evidence that the universe is revealing itself to be a supremely intelligently laid-out plan.
            The true scientist would at least open his/her mind to that possibility instead of proclaiming that there is no evidence of it.

            What have I said to make you think I am in a closed-minded state of obstinate denial?

          • Peter

            At what point did I say you were? I am just responding with what I consider to be unscientific.

          • Doug Shaver

            At what point did I say you were?

            You didn't in so many words.

            I am just responding with what I consider to be unscientific.

            Sort of how a Protestant might respond to something you said with a comment that it's un-Christian to worship statues?

            [Edited to correct typo.]

          • Peter

            A Protestant may respond to me that way because I follow Catholic dogma.

            Are you a dogmatic atheist?

          • Doug Shaver

            A Protestant may respond to me that way because I follow Catholic dogma.

            But would he be responding correctly? Which Catholic dogma would it be an appropriate response to?

          • Doug Shaver

            Are you a dogmatic atheist?

            Not in my own opinion.

          • neil_pogi

            What do you think? Atheists' theories are not back up scientifically thru experimental approach. I have already cite some examples. To wit: nonliving things became living things? Prove that first before making another rounds

          • Doug Shaver

            What do you think?

            I think you evaded my question.

            Atheists' theories are not back up scientifically thru experimental approach. I have already cite some examples. To wit: nonliving things became living things? Prove that first before making another rounds

            None of that answers my question.

          • neil_pogi

            And that is always the answer i received. They all hang in the air! What an atheist experience

          • Doug Shaver

            And that is always the answer i received.

            And you're probably the only person here who doesn't know why.

          • neil_pogi

            Why not just answer my basic questions?

    • Peter

      "To me it is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance."
      Michio Kaku

      • neil_pogi

        any bright atheists to give comment on this?

    • Valence

      The conversation you linked to by Michio Kaku is about the deist God who designs the universe and leaves it to run by "mindless forces" governed by mathematical laws...it's the God of Einstein which is certainly NOT the God described by Christianity. Kaku even says that the mind of God is the strings themselves...i.e. God IS the order that makes up the universe...the Monist God. If Kaku is right, Christianity must be wrong, just fyi.

      Your question is the most difficult in the world. It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza's Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.[21]

      Here Einstein reject a personal God as superstitious:

      . . . I came—though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents—to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment—an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections. It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the 'merely personal,' from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were the friends who could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it.[3]

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein

      • Peter

        The conversation you linked to by Michio Kaku is about the deist God who designs the universe...

        To admit that the universe is designed is a significant departure from the (atheist) position that there is no evidence of design.

        Inasmuch as the atheist position is absence of belief in any gods, any admission of deistic design would contradict that belief and undermine the principle on which modern atheism is based.

        • Valence

          When I typed the comment you quoted, I actually misrepresented what Kaku was saying. His argument is that the mind of God is in the fabric of the universe. Saying the workings of the universe are the mind of God is a bit different than saying God designed the universe and is separate from it. What do you make of the corrected claim, out of curiosity? It would answer the question: "How does God think without a brain"? The universe is God's brain ;)

          • Peter

            I am not a pantheist because God is eternal and infinite and the universe is neither.

            The universe has not existed forever but has a beginning and, since it has a beginning, has been expanding for a finite amount of time which limits its spatial extent.

          • Valence

            Why do you think the universe has a beginning? Nothing in physics suggests the universe has a beginning, though it's possible time has a beginning. It's far from clear that even time has a beginning as our current models break down as we approach the initial singularity (assuming there even was a singularity). If you aren't a pantheist then you don't believe in the same God as Einstein or apparently Kaku.

            I think the Omega point theory is an interesting (though not scientific) idea that there is progress to life. Perhaps it is the future of intelligence to increase in capacity and complexity until God is physical embodied. If some form of theism is true the problem of evil is solved by the fact that God doesn't exist yet, though he will exist. Perhaps the universe must reset eventually and God tries to pick the best parameters for the new universe. I'm certainly not saying any of this is true, but we have as much reason to believe this as to believe that God is infinite and eternal. The arguments for that are based on really flawed premises, though it could be true.

          • Peter

            With respect, you may think what you like, but I believe that the time and space of the universe have a beginning.

            I prefer to follow the evidence; there is plenty of evidence that there was a beginning and none that there wasn't.

          • Valence

            If you present the evidence you talking about, I will gladly discuss it. I'm well versed in physics and cosmology.

          • Peter

            The standard model which describes a beginning is supported by observations. What observations support a universe with no beginning?

          • Valence

            I don't know if you are familiar with Don page, but he is a Christian expert in Cosmology (feel free to look him up). Here is a quote:

            In view of these beliefs of mine, I am not convinced that most philosophical arguments for the existence of God are very persuasive. In particular, I am highly skeptical of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which I shall quote here from one of your slides, Bill:

            If the universe began to exist, then there is a transcendent cause
            which brought the universe into existence.
            The universe began to exist.
            Therefore, there is a transcendent cause which brought the
            universe into existence.
            I do not believe that the first premise is metaphysically necessary, and I am also not at all sure that our universe had a beginning. (I do believe that the first premise is true in the actual world, since I do believe that God exists as a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence, but I do not see that this premise is true in all logically possible worlds.)

            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2015/03/20/guest-post-don-page-on-god-and-cosmology/

            If Don Page isn't at all sure that our universe had a beginning, it's odd that you are so confident. He would know, wouldn't he, and you can't accuse him of being a biased atheist...

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Page_(physicist)

            Think of it this way: If you see an expanding balloon, you can extrapolate that if you reverse time that the balloon will get smaller until it deflates. The balloon doesn't disappear when it deflates, however, though you are claiming that the universe does, without any evidence that I or Don Page is aware of. I'm interest to see if you have something from outside of physics, because physics truly does not support the idea that the universe began to exist. It doesn't necessarily contradict it either, but still...

          • Peter

            I am not a supporter of the Kalam argument because I am not a creationist.

            Yes, the universe began to exist but it was not necessarily conjured into being out of nothing by God. God is not a sorcerer. It may have come into existence through naturalistic processes we haven't yet discovered.

            Your claim that physics does not support a beginning is nonsense.

          • Valence

            Your claim that physics does not support a beginning is nonsense.

            Lol! I just referenced an prominent Christian physicist, and you tell me he is talking nonsense. Please provide a source for your claim. Just calling it nonsense is not an argument, and it comes off rather silly from my point of view.
            Let me make myself clear, I am saying the universe didn't begin to exist. If there was a beginning to time, the universe was there in the initial singularity. In the beginning was the initial singularity:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Initial_singularity

            Please reference a source that claims the standard model says the universe began to exist. Kalam has nothing to do with creationism. Brandon Vogt is a fan of Kalam...he's Catholic right? I'm fairly surprised you would even say that...

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambda-CDM_model

            If you search the wiki article on the standard model, the word beginning doesn't even appear.

            1. Before the Big Bang: Before space and time existed, the entity of the Universe was compressed into a singularity called space-time singularity. This singularity is a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite in a way that does not depend on the co-ordinate system.

            http://physicsanduniverse.com/standard-model-of-the-big-bang-theory/

            I can provide reference after reference to back up my claim...seriously what do you have? Could you admit it is possible that you are incorrect here?

            Here is a good video by Sean Carroll on the topic. Carroll is an expert in the field:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgpvCxDL7q4

          • Peter

            Just one example out of many. If the universe had always existed, how do you account for its current low metallicity, with hydrogen and helium making up 98 percent? Given the processes we observe, all the hydrogen and helium in an eternally existing universe would have converted to heavier elements.

            I'm not disputing that models do exist which describe an eternal universe but these are hypothetical with no observed evidence to support them. I have many examples of evidence in favour of a universe with a beginning. Again, I will ask what evidence you have of a universe without one?

          • Valence

            Your response indicates that you don't understand what I'm saying, so I'll go do something more productive with my time. Thanks for the attempted conversation... I think.

          • Peter

            If you want to believe that there exists beyond our universe an eternal scenario from which individual universes such as ours are spontaneously generated by quantum mechanics, you are welcome to do so.

            However, don't try to convince me without evidence. All I can see is one universe which has a beginning.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't like that "physicsanduniverse" quote much. I'm not even sure what the "entity of the universe" means or do they mean "entirety"? The universe wasn't compressed as the universe is four dimensional space-time.

            I prefer the wiki version:

            Extrapolation of the expansion of the universe backwards in time using general relativity yields an infinite density and temperature at a finite time in the past.[13] This singularity indicates that general relativity is not an adequate description of the laws of physics in this regime. How closely models based on general relativity alone can be used to extrapolate toward the singularity is debated—certainly no closer than the end of the Planck epoch.

            EDIT: Of course the singularity might just be bad coding in the simulation :-)

            https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/11/simulated-world-elon-musk-the-matrix

          • Peter

            In the Guardian article:

            Reasons to believe that the universe is a simulation include the fact that it behaves mathematically and is broken up into pieces (subatomic particles) like a pixelated video game. “Even things that we think of as continuous – time, energy, space, volume – all have a finite limit to their size. If that’s the case, then our universe is both computable and finite. Those properties allow the universe to be simulated,” Terrile said.

            These properties of the universe which allow it to be simulated are the hallmarks of a super-intelligent mind. If we rule out simulated, we are left with a real universe which still bears the hallmarks of a super-intelligent mind.

      • neil_pogi

        even if Kaku does not believe in christian's God, at least he acknowledge that an 'intelligent force/s' is behind the birth of the universe,and no longer by a dice

        • Valence

          Kaku acknowledges no such thing. After rewatching the video and researching it, Kaku clearly says this:

          so the goal of physics we believe is to find an equation perhaps no more than one inch long which will allow us to unify all the forces of nature and allow us to read the mind of God. And what is the key to that one inch equation? Super symmetry, a symmetry that comes out of physics, not mathematics, and has shocked the world of mathematics. But you see, all this is pure mathematics and so the final resolution could be that God is a mathematician. And when you read the mind of God, we actually have a candidate for the mind of God. The mind of God we believe is cosmic music, the music of strings resonating through 11 dimensional hyperspace. That is the mind of God.

          The article you linked was written by a liar, intentionally misleading you. Either that or that were too dumb to understand what they were hearing...

          • neil_pogi

            You may already heard it in his lips. It's not the author who said that, it is Kaku himself.

            Why not confront the author and say 'you are a damned liar'?

          • Valence

            Why not confront the author and say 'you are a damned liar'?

            Tell me how and I will ;)

          • neil_pogi

            It's not my problem. You're the who say that the author is a liar!

          • Valence

            Tell me what part of the video where Kaku says he "proves the existence of God"? He never says anything like that...he talks about reading the mind of God via string theory. He also claims the strings themselves are a candidate for the mind of God which means God is the universe. HUGE difference.
            Instead of proving God, he's talking about serious Christian heresy...In my experience creationists are incredibly dishonest, misrepresent facts, ect. Isn't lying supposed to be the work of Satan?

          • neil_pogi

            You may heard that Kaku didnt say that 'chance'did it.

          • Valence

            If determinism is true, then chance is just a function of lack of knowledge, not something that actually exists. If one has precise knowledge of die and how they are rolled, then dice rolls can be predicted, and aren't even chance...i.e. chance doesn't exist in reality.

          • neil_pogi

            Kaku didnt say 'dice', i did..

            He said something like this: 'we can no longer conclude that the physics of the universe can be attributed to chance' or someyhing like, the universe is not run by random chances, therefore it must have been designed by an intelligent mind or forces

          • Valence

            He said something like this: 'we can no longer conclude that the physics of the universe can be attributed to chance' or someyhing like, the universe is not run by random chances, therefore it must have been designed by an intelligent mind or forces

            No he does not. Read the transcript..he says nothing of the sort. Again he says:

            But you see, all this is pure mathematics and so the final resolution could be that God is a mathematician. And when you read the mind of God, we actually have a candidate for the mind of God. The mind of God we believe is cosmic music, the music of strings resonating through 11 dimensional hyperspace. That is the mind of God.

            That is ALL he says about God. The transcript is on the youtube page for verification. This is NOT saying God designed the universe this is saying the mind of God is IN the universe. A mind that is IN the universe does not design the universe. Again this is a critical difference between monist and dualistic versions of God.
            I can't really blame you for being deceived by this website, unless it's fair to blame you for your ignorance.

          • neil_pogi

            And why he frequently speaks of 'God'? Why not something else?

            Or because the concept of God really is an immaterial entity,he would compare it as, like music.

            In our every day experience.. Have you observe a nonliving,a nonconscious entity producing a physics?

          • Valence

            I see nothing producing physics, living or non living.

          • neil_pogi

            and i verily observed that a 'nothing'can't produce a 'something''... good answer!

          • neil_pogi

            you got the right answer.. a ''nothing'' can not produce a ''something''..
            you just contradicted atheists' cherished belief that a 'nothing'' can produce a ''something''

          • Valence

            My answer means I don't see physics being produced, it just is here like the earth.

          • neil_pogi

            so you mean that physics is eternal, like earth? well, maybe you should do your own researches at this time!

          • neil_pogi

            why not just make a personal inteview with him?

          • Valence

            If it helps, here is a transcript of the video from the youtube page. Show me where "proving God" comes up...

            Some people ask the question "Of what good is math?" What is the relationship between math and physics? Well, sometimes math leads. Sometimes physics leads. Sometimes they come together because, of course, there's a use for the mathematics. For example, in the 1600s Isaac Newton asked a simple question: if an apple falls then does the moon also fall? That is perhaps one of the greatest questions ever asked by a member of Homo sapiens since the six million years since we parted ways with the apes. If an apple falls, does the moon also fall?

            Isaac Newton said yes, the moon falls because of the Inverse Square Law. So does an apple. He had a unified theory of the heavens, but he didn't have the mathematics to solve the falling moon problem. So what did he do? He invented calculus. So calculus is a direct consequence of solving the falling moon problem. In fact, when you learn calculus for the first time, what is the first thing you do? The first thing you do with calculus is you calculate the motion of falling bodies, which is exactly how Newton calculated the falling moon, which opened up celestial mechanics.

            So here is a situation where math and physics were almost conjoined like Siamese twins, born together for a very practical question, how do you calculate the motion of celestial bodies? Then here comes Einstein asking a different question and that is, what is the nature and origin of gravity? Einstein said that gravity is nothing but the byproduct of curved space. So why am I sitting in this chair? A normal person would say I'm sitting in this chair because gravity pulls me to the ground, but Einstein said no, no, no, there is no such thing as gravitational pull; the earth has curved the space over my head and around my body, so space is pushing me into my chair. So to summarize Einstein's theory, gravity does not pull; space pushes. But, you see, the pushing of the fabric of space and time requires differential calculus. That is the language of curved surfaces, differential calculus, which you learn in fourth year calculus.

            So again, here is a situation where math and physics were very closely combined, but this time math came first. The theory of curved surfaces came first. Einstein took that theory of curved surfaces and then imported it into physics.

            Now we have string theory. It turns out that 100 years ago math and physics parted ways. In fact, when Einstein proposed special relativity in 1905, that was also around the time of the birth of topology, the topology of hyper-dimensional objects, spheres in 10, 11, 12, 26, whatever dimension you want, so physics and mathematics parted ways. Math went into hyperspace and mathematicians said to themselves, aha, finally we have found an area of mathematics that has no physical application whatsoever. Mathematicians pride themselves on being useless. They love being useless. It's a badge of courage being useless, and they said the most useless thing of all is a theory of differential topology and higher dimensions.

            Well, physics plotted along for many decades. We worked out atomic bombs. We worked out stars. We worked out laser beams, but recently we discovered string theory, and string theory exists in 10 and 11 dimensional hyperspace. Not only that, but these dimensions are super. They're super symmetric. A new kind of numbers that mathematicians never talked about evolved within string theory. That's how we call it "super string theory." Well, the mathematicians were floored. They were shocked because all of a sudden out of physics came new mathematics, super numbers, super topology, super differential geometry.

            All of a sudden we had super symmetric theories coming out of physics that then revolutionized mathematics, and so the goal of physics we believe is to find an equation perhaps no more than one inch long which will allow us to unify all the forces of nature and allow us to read the mind of God. And what is the key to that one inch equation? Super symmetry, a symmetry that comes out of physics, not mathematics, and has shocked the world of mathematics. But you see, all this is pure mathematics and so the final resolution could be that God is a mathematician. And when you read the mind of God, we actually have a candidate for the mind of God. The mind of God we believe is cosmic music, the music of strings resonating through 11 dimensional hyperspace. That is the mind of God.

    • Valence

      P.S. Michio Kaku and DeGrasse Tyson agree on most things with regard to cosmology...yet here you are linking to Kaku to support your ideas (and no, he hasn't proved God any more than Spinoza did 500 years ago) and dismissing Tyson as a science fiction writer. The only conclusion I can come to is that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

      • neil_pogi

        prove first that life originated from non-life.

        Kaku is now belieivng in some 'intelligent' agent because, logically, the beauty of physics is not a 'chance' game. it points to intelligent mind

        • Valence

          It's clear to me that you don't have to education to understand anything scientific even if I were to present a good case. One doesn't "prove" anything in science anyway, that's only in formal systems like math.

          • neil_pogi

            Math is different from science. That's why science is built on experiments,observations and researches. So all, i would say, atheists' hypothese on the origin of life were 'make believe' and 'just so' stories

  • neil_pogi

    So neil de grasse is askinh why science can't built a Utopia?

    Does he never knew that the universe is run by laws including the law of Entropy?

  • neil_pogi

    if Tyson wants a one-line constitution for ''rationalia'' then what happens to our free will? no more choice to make?

  • Iamreplete

    Asimov's three laws of robotics remain unsurpassed. They are-
    A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first two laws.
    Now, before our robot car can even move, it's passenger (for now we assume one only) must be properly strapped in and the seat must signal human occupancy.
    For our robot to move it must detect there is sufficient free driving space in whatever direction it is told to move, the space is free of humans and the velocity of the robot is such that it can always safely stop without harm to either passenger or road user, if a human enters it's safe driving space.
    These conditions must hold even when the robot is carrying several inebriated teenagers in any principal street in any city on the planet.

  • " - - - an appeal to facts alone doesn’t tell us what we ought to do." Of course it does if one is using reason, wisdom and humanistic values rather than any religious value. Let's examine the "objective morality" dogma: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2016/12/explanation-objective-morality-another-fail/

    • David Nickol

      I would have to agree that "an appeal to facts alone doesn't tell us what we ought to do." You actually concede the point when you go on to say, "Of course it does if one is using reason, wisdom and humanistic values. . . " The point is that facts alone—without values—don't tell us what to do.

      The problem for those skeptical of "religious values" (among which I count myself) is that humanistic values can't be deduced from "facts alone." This doesn't mean that facts may be very important in formulating humanistic values, or that a particular set of humanistic values may be extremely "reasonable" and defensible. But it does mean that all the facts you may marshal don't yield a set of values.

      • Science informs human faculties of reason, wisdom and humanism.
        Religious dogma adds NOTHING to the discussion of values. Did you read my link?

  • Wolsey

    Rationalia, it would seem, would require the extermination of the human race. The weight of evidence indicates that, at least at this time, our collective existence is a net negative for all other life on the planet. Eliminate 7 billion organisms to the benefit of trillions...what could be more rational?