Re: [asa] Dawkins new book

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Mon Oct 26 2009 - 21:16:47 EDT

Heya Tom,

> At the risk of seeing this conversation degenerate into a semantic dispute,
> I’ll just say that I don’t think of objective norms or claims as being the
> expression of a transient “public opinion.” Most objective norms are deeply
> embedded in our cultural practices, and have an enduring pedigree. Perhaps
> better examples than the one I offered earlier would be rules of etiquette,
> or maybe rules of the road. It’s an objective fact (or so it seems to me)
> that we have a long tradition in the U.S. of driving on the right side of
> the road. Is that not objectively true? It’s not a universal fact, nor
> does it originate in some unimpeachable source. But wouldn’t it be odd to
> deny that, in the U.S., it’s objectively true that folks drive on the right
> side of the road?
But it seems obvious to me that moral values, purposes and intrinsic
> meanings are objective in precisely the same sense that the rules of
> Monopoly are objective. The rules of Monopoly are not universal in scope,
> the way that moral values, purposes and intrinsic meaning can be; nor are
> the rules of Monopoly promulgated by an incorrigible source. But in terms
> of objectivity, they both appear to occupy a level playing field. You
> obviously do not agree with this, and I have a hard time understanding your
> position. Can you say more about what makes the objectivity of moral
> values, purposes and intrinsic meanings substantively different from the
> objectivity of the rules of Monopoly?
 Did you just ask me to explain to you the difference between moral truths
grounded in God (whether by His existence being identical with His goodness,
or from a divine command) or the divine-like (Again, something similar to
the Tao, or perhaps some forms of Buddhism) ... and rules that come from the
good people at Hasbro corporation?

Come on - you can't really think my problem with atheist-naturalist morality
amounts to "Well, I never saw them write down a list of rules somewhere in
actual ink." or "They say killing infants is wrong, but I'm not so sure the
existence of infants can be ascertained", can you? I think I've been more
explicit than that here, so I'm having trouble taking these questions at all

> As a Christian, I’m firmly committed to an objective morality. But I’m not
> necessarily committed to a universal and transcendent morality. And your
> social contract example – “written down on a piece of paper. . .they agree
> to follow it. . .people can come up with rules” – is one I find equally
> implausible. A number of thinkers who are a lot smarter than me have held
> to an objective morality without recourse to a universal and transcendent
> morality, and without collapsing into a socially constructed morality. It’s
> surely not the case that what makes morality objective requires something
> universal and transcendent.

I may well hold a different opinion as to the smartness of those thinkers,
sadly. And very often this sort of thing devolves into word games - in the
way that an avowed nihilist can make use of words like 'good' and 'evil'
when talking about morality, purpose, etc. But upon inspection it turns out
to be little more than heavily reworked vocabulary, where "evil" and "good"
is just shorthand for "What the nihilist in question likes or dislikes at
any given moment".

Or, put another way - once God is denied, once the transcendent is denied,
and once naturalist-materialism is affirmed (I have to specify it like that
due to how slippery naturalism has become as of late - then again,
physicalism is almost as slippery), what's going to be left over for talk of
morality, purpose, etc isn't all that interesting. Oh, I'm sure someone can
come up with certain rules and so on, but what can I say. I'm just not that
interested in Monopoly.

> It’s not clear to me if you hold that an objective morality – or anything
> else truly objective – does in fact require something universal and
> transcendent. Again, could you say more about that? I appreciate your
> comments, and I’d like to hear more of them.
As I've said repeatedly here, I do not deny that (say) a
materialist-naturalist can create and subscribe to an "ethos". Nor do I deny
that an ethos can deal with "the objective" in that uninteresting, qualified
sense of "well, laws against speeding require the existence of cars - and
that's an objective fact!" or "the law against speeding is an objective fact
- you can read about it here!", etc. As ever, I'm making reference to what
these terms ultimately mean (if anything) - questions of intrinsic versus
extrinsic meaning, intrinsic versus extrinsic purpose, etc.

But perhaps you can help me. Let's start with a pretty (well, traditionally)
easy example: A couple has a 11 month old child. Healthy and so on. But,
they decide said child is actually fairly annoying - and by their
accountant's estimations, if they keep this child, they're going to have to
put off retirement for a year or two down the road. So, they arrange to have
their child killed and her organs harvested and donated (for tax break
purposes). For the sake of discussion, let's say this is legal where they
live (A couple can elect to have their child killed if they are under 3
years of age.)

Could you tell me if this is immoral? And if so, why is it immoral from your
perspective? And finally, are there any reasons for it being immoral that
would be unavailable on a materialist-naturalist worldview?

Thank you.

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Received on Mon Oct 26 21:17:24 2009

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