July 10, 2020

The Council

A modern day council!

    Recently an unbelieving buddy of mine, with whom I chat over the net rather frequently, invited me to a thread over on The Thinking Atheist. The topic reads, Challenge to proponents of objective morality, and the OP sets up a trifold “challenge” for proponents of moral realism. Based on the contributing minds over at The Thinking Atheist forums as well as comments following the OP, it remains dubious to me whether anyone has a clear idea what is even meant by “objectivity” under the topic of (meta-) ethics, but nevertheless, my buddy convinced me to throw in two cents as a Reformed apologist. What follows, then, is some of the conversation which unfolded over on that forum and my comments on it.

Robvalue:

This is a challenge to anyone who thinks that morality is objective, whatever morality may mean to them.

1) Define what morality means. How do you determine how moral or immoral an action is?

2) Describe any situation you like, which contains some sort of conflict of interest between outcomes.

3) Explain how you can resolve this situation according to your definition of morality, to find the objectively most moral (or perhaps least immoral) action to take.

My posted reply, One Christian Response:

    Good questions; this is an important topic. Before I present my view, I’d like to preface by noting that this isn’t a peer-reviewed journal or funded blog or anything like that. In fact, the questions are clothed in every-day, commonsense language, not precise philosophic terminology (e.g., moral realism). What I will be proposing is a brief introduction which should not be thought exhaustive. (And for the record, I don’t take any issue with this layman context because I am a layman myself.)

I am a Christian of the Reformed variety who takes a form of Divine Command Theory (DCT). Much else could be said, but one factor seems vital to point out here: covenantalism. Covenantalism is a view of anthropology, a view about the nature and place of human beings in the cosmos.

    By covenantalism, I mean that the Christian God voluntarily contracts Himself to the world and He does this by creating beings in His image (cf. Gen 1:26-30). To put it more simply, God creates the world and He creates human beings to be His representatives in that world, which we are capable of doing because of our being made in God’s image. The nature of God’s relationship to humankind is that of suzerainty, a covenant, a sovereign contract wherein the Sovereign has promised blessings to human beings which obligates their obedience and worship. Hence, you see in Genesis, God’s design of humankind simultaneously blesses and obligates us (e.g., “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen 1:28)).

    Paraphrased, Genesis is saying, “God made you a rational person capable of enjoying knowledge, lordship over the universe, relationships to other human beings, and above all, a relationship to God. Therefore, carry out these things.” This covenantal perspective means that morality, God’s law which obligates our obedience, is tied to and explained by our being made according to the likness of God.

However, God’s contract with humankind has been hampered by sin. In the Garden of Eden, Adam was our federal representative, and since he failed to fulfill God’s law, since he failed to fulfill his covenant duties to God, he nearly ruined the human race. Now, people are, by nature, born sinners, inheriting a state of condemnation from Adam’s disobedience, and so turn to idols instead of worshiping the Triune Yahweh. However, God became a man to save people under a New Covenant, a Covenant of grace for all who entrust themselves to the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

    To sum up: God creates human beings in His image, an image that bears repercussions for how humans ought to conduct their lives. Adam failed to follow through with his covenant responsibilities and so threw the entire human race into a state of evil. But(!) God, in His infinite grace, has provided a way to be good, to enjoy good, and to enjoy the consequences of virtue again; He has accomplished redemption and renewal of human beings through the saving work of Jesus.

So, with this very brief and simple backdrop in mind, I’ll answer your questions as best I can, Rob:

1.)     “Morality” refers to the Law of the Christian God which (a) acts to express the beauteous character of God; which (b) constitutes obligations tied to our covenantal nature; which © condemns sinners, showing our need for the Messiah Jesus; which (d) overlaps with wisdom broadly; and which (e) is set down in detail throughout the Christian Scriptures, summarized by God Himself: “Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Though there are multiple ways to determine whether something is moral or immoral, point (e) covers the best way to discern good from evil: identifying it on the basis of God’s inscripturated word.

2.)     One conflict of interest is this topic itself. For if moral realism is not the case, then there is no fact of the matter whether one ought to be a moral antirealist or not. In other words, if morality is not objective then there is no fact of the matter about whether it’s right or wrong to believe morality is not objective. In fact, there would be no fact of the matter whether we ought to believe anything at all!

    The moral antirealist must not only be willing to admit that theft, rape, mutilation, and murder are not factually evil, that they are mere social constructs or evolved behaviors or deceptive buzzwords used for self-preservation or whatever. Moral antirealists must also give up the idea that rationality itself is factually good or that irrationality is factually evil. To put it more starkly, on moral antirealism, there is no such thing as “rationality,” since the term connotates a value judgment about certain intellectual states over others. If there is no fact of the matter about whether we ought to think one way over another, then “rationality,” “knowledge,” and so forth are vacuous terms.

3.)     Christian DCT resolves the issue. On the above model I proposed, there is an extramental state of affairs which demands we humans be rational to the best of our ability. Namely, the Christian God has blessed human beings with their cognitive faculties and has given us the duty of using those faculties toward the worship of God, affectionate understanding and care for other human beings, and stewardship of God’s creation.

To this one of the “contributors,” DLJ, responded in approximately ten minutes, and I’m not sure whether I should be insulted by the drive-by response he afforded or that he took those 10 minutes to skim read and reply not even a full sentence. He only cited one line of my post, “1.) ‘Morality’ refers to the Law of the Christian God which. . .

… which is subjective to that god.
Angel

Now, this is not promising for hopes of fruitful discussion. In the first place, this response lacks any specific, meaningful interaction with the system I set forth. Worse, however, it is just poor thinking to equivocate “subjectivity” as used in the context of moral realism vs “subjectivity” in the context of theistic determinism/meta-ethical creationism. Excuse my misplaced optimism as I attempted to give a thorough response. Here it is:

    True, but that seems to me the quintessence of deepity. A deepity is a statement which has two senses, one which is true but utterly trivial, another which would be significant if it were true but which turns out to be false. (I believe Dennett coined the term.) You are correct — it is true that morality, like the rest of the universe, is subject to God’s thought/will. At least that is my position as a Christian determinist.

However, the question of moral realism is whether there are extramental facts of value (e.g., you ought not murder) just like there are extramental facts about what numeric value belongs in “2 + 2 = x,” which direction the sun is spinning relative to Earth, or whether Lincoln was the US’s 16th president. Regardless whether those ethical and nomological facts are embedded in theism or not, they are either not subject to human mental states and therefore objective (in that sense), or they aren’t. The objectivity of morality is a question about whether it is subject to human opinion, not whether it is created/determined by or grounded in God. (This is obviously the case for any orthodox Christian Theism, and almost always the case with general theism anyway.)

To push back at you, DLJ, you have falsely assumed words like “subjective” carry univocal import on meta-ethics (or metaphysics in general, for that matter). You have falsely assumed that because something is determined by God (a more precise way of specifying how morality is “subject” to Him) that it is somehow “subjective” simpliciter, without any metaphysical qualification or distinction between Creator and creation, as if reality were some abstract container to which both creature and Creator are subject. This means you’d be under an awkward, controversial burden to show that DCT inherently precludes moral realism, contra centuries of philosophic history and, frankly, the majority of Divine Command Theorists. Moreover, and much worse, it puts you in the position of merely neglecting or rejecting the Reformed Christian metaphysic. (If the latter, the conversation moves to whether Christianity, and its meta-ethics, or your worldview, and its meta-ethics, is true.)

Of course, going back to Point (2) of my previous post, what exactly does it mean to say, “Morality is subjective,” if there is no fact of the matter whether we ought to believe as much. If moral antirealism is the case, then there is no reason why we oughtto believe anything, including that the concept of [antirealism] is even a coherent one or that “rationality” is (significantly) distinct from “irrationality.” To make clear the gravity of this problem, observe: on moral antirealism, there is no reason why we ought not to believe that anytime DLJ says something, he really means, “Christianity is true.” Without moral realism, there are no moral facts of the matter, and therewith disappear facts of any matter at all, metaphysical, epistemic, semantic, etc. And without Reformed Christian DCT, what cogent moral realism is there to be had at all?

It is at this point that DLJ settled for even less than his former post. I won’t quote him in full, but just look at this clincher:

As I have advised many on this site before… even though I am always right, never believe what I say and never take my advice.

Thumbsup

Now I’m a bit confused. Do I believe what he says, follow his advice, and so ignore his gibberish? Thankfully, Robvalue responded graciously. Here follows his response to my original post (my words bold, his blockquoted):

    Good questions; this is an important topic.

Thank you, and welcome!

 

    1.) “Morality” refers to the Law of the Christian God. . .

    I’m looking for real world examples where you can demonstrate your own system to be objective, which includes competing factors.

Morality, as a concept, is certainly not objective as it can be defined in lots of different ways. The best you can do is argue that one moral system is “better” than the others, and since morality is already concerned with what is “better”, I don’t see how you do this without being circular.

You seem to be confusing value judgements and logical thinking here. Value judgements are concerned with deciding how important something is, or how one ought to act. That’s totally different from determining the most efficient way to achieve the goals you have decided on, or objectively analysing information or abstract systems. The latter is rationality. It’s a tool. Value judgements can be subjective and still be useful, because we can have discussions and build common ground. This is something that happens, in reality. What also happens is that different cultures have different moralities, and one of those just declaring that theirs is “the best” doesn’t achieve anything, especially since the other can turn around and do the same thing. You point at your authority (as discussed below) and they can point at theirs, or simply dismiss your authority as I would do.

 

    3.) Christian DCT resolves the issue. On the above model I proposed, there is an extramental state of affairs which demands we humans be rational to the best of our ability. Namely, the Christian God has blessed human beings with their cognitive faculties and has given us the duty of using those faculties toward the worship of God, affectionate understanding and care for other human beings, and stewardship of God’s creation.

    Well, it defers the issue to an authority. So basically, what God thinks is most moral, is most moral. It could be said to be objective in that only God’s opinion matters now, but God could change his mind. We also have the problem that since God hasn’t been shown to exist, nor any communication from him been confirmed to be genuine, we have nothing to go on. Even if we assumed any particular thing was from God, it’s still then wildly open to interpretation without him there to judge each particular situation. There’s no way you can cover anything that can possibly happen with one book.

 

    As an aside, I’d like to offer anyone voice-chat over the topic. Actually, I was invited here by [Naielis]. This question of morality is so vast and complex that it’s difficult to adequately cover the issue in a short forum post – besides, this is already getting long, I suspect. Feel free to PM me to talk to me and others (including unbelievers) about the issue of the “objectivity” of morality.

    I appreciate your input, and I hope you continue to chat with us. It’s nice to have polite, respectful theists on the forum! Sadly this is rather rare.

I’m afraid my eyes cloud over at much of what you’ve written, as your points of reference are so far removed from mine. But I’ve done the best to address what you’ve written.

I’d be very interested to see if you could produce a real-world example which can’t be trivially resolved, and then show how your system produces the “correct” action.

The slightly worrying thing is that your definition of morality doesn’t seem to include very much about the well-being of humans. The nearest thing is, “Love thy neighbour”. I don’t know why loving God or doing what he says is desirable. Could you explain why, and what that even means in relation to morality? Is morality concerned with the wellbeing of humans, in your estimation? Is that the ultimate goal? If not, how much does it factor in?

Many thanks!

For starters, this is polite, fruitful discourse. (If you’re reading this as a participant in the debate of these topics and you have not shown the common courtesy required to interact with people in society just because this is the internet, take notes.) However, despite Robvalue‘s sincerity and civility, I take major difference to his commentary; I spent a over five hours writing up some clarification about the DCT model I’m proposing and to point out where I believe Rob fails to grasp the weight of my objection to moral antirealism (Point 2). So long was the resulting post Rob pleasantly declined to move on – and in the context of these forums, who can blame him?

What follows is my last lengthy post on the subject (my words in bold, Rob’s quoteblocked):

    Thanks Rob, the sentiment is mutual. I look forward to more discussion and friendly disagreement. It is indeed rare, but as a Christian, I don’t believe I can afford to be hypocritical in a discussion about morality.

Section 1: Clarification

    I’m afraid my eyes cloud over at much of what you’ve written, as your points of reference are so far removed from mine. But I’ve done the best to address what you’ve written.

    Yes, that seems indisputable. Case in point, your response to my original Point (3) reads:

    It defers the issue to an authority. So basically, what God thinks is most moral, is most moral. It could be said to be objective in that only God’s opinion matters now, but God could change his mind. We also have the problem that since God hasn’t been shown to exist, nor any communication from him been confirmed to be genuine, we have nothing to go on. Even if we assumed any particular thing was from God, it’s still then wildly open to interpretation without him there to judge each particular situation. There’s no way you can cover anything that can possibly happen with one book.

    Wow, that assumes a lot. To be upfront with you, I neither believe nor grant any of those claims as true or even reasonable, but let’s put that aside for a moment. The real difficulty is that I openly presented my framework starting from the assumption of Reformed Christian Theism for the purposes of answering your question in my original post (cf. “What I will be proposing is a brief introduction which should not be thought exhaustive. . .I am a Christian of the Reformed variety who takes a form of Divine Command Theory”). However, here in your response to point (3), you are speaking in neglect or mere dismissal of said Reformed Christian viewpoint. That is totally fair – I just want to make it clear, it shifts the point of discussion from an explication of my model of ethics to a demonstration of the worldview inclusive of said model.

    In the interest of making the case for my Reformed Christian ethic (viz. the Christian worldview), I will answer your other questions first – that way, it should become clearer what my model “looks like,” so to speak, and where I’m coming from in general. Then I will proceed to revamp my original Point (2) in favor of my Reformed Christian ethic.

    I’m looking for real world examples where you can demonstrate your own system to be objective, which includes competing factors.

    And later:

    I’d be very interested to see if you could produce a real-world example which can’t be trivially resolved, and then show how your system produces the “correct” action.

    Maybe I misunderstood this comment, but I think the debate over moral realism is itself a (and perhaps the best) real world example. For thousands years, it has occupied the tortured minds and heated arguments of philosophers; it has served as a stage for clash of religions; different ethics have supplied the motivation for terrorists and tyrants alike; et al. Furthermore, if my argument in Point (2) holds, the very distinction between “real world examples” and ivory-tower abstractions is not a rational one. It seems my example actually covers all real world examples possible since on a total collapse of intelligibility, there is nothing to speak of at all.

    Morality, as a concept, is certainly not objective as it can be defined in lots of different ways. The best you can do is argue that one moral system is “better” than the others, and since morality is already concerned with what is “better”, I don’t see how you do this without being circular.

    This comment seems to me a non-sequitar followed by an equivocation. Non-sequitar because (mere) definitions bear no implication on the objectivity or subjectivity of an object. Once upon a time, academic popularity conceived of the earth as flat; now we define it as not-flat; but nothing changed about Earth herself. Various religions, philosophies, and scientists disagree about the definition of human nature, but how there could be humans to disagree about the matter without a fact of the matter in the first place remains a mystery to me. Or, to say that because different people(s) have promulgated different ethical systems, therefore morality is subjective, is like saying people disagree about the age of Earth, therefore it’s subjective. It is silly to deny originals on the basis of counterfeits.

    What about the equivocation? While you were correct and it is a value judgment whether something is “better” than something else, there is an obvious difference between morally “better” behavior vs. “better” views per accuracy. You seem to assume (falsely) that arguments for both behavior and accuracy (of belief) are the same. It’s not clear, however, why they would even need to be of the same form, much less the same exact argument. Why does an argument in favor of some moral judgment about behavior need to be the same as an argument in favor of the very moral system invoked for said judgment? What is the argument for that, I wonder?

    It is also (and interconnectedly?) unclear why you think this is the only conclusion to be made. Why does the argument need to establish “better”-ness as opposed to facticity? In the first place, I do not intend to argue that my ethic is merely better. I intend to argue that it is the only rational framework whatsoever and I intend to do so, at minimum, by means of the above reductio ad absurdum I’ve already presented against moral antirealism. (Although, there are other arguments as well.) That is a tall order, but whether or not I succeed bears no import on whether or not one can only argue for “better” views of ethics.

    Worth noting, also, is how ironic it is when you affirm the indispensability of an ethical framework to value judgments about rationality (e.g., “that one moral system is ‘better’ than the others”). Would that not betray an assumption that moral facts of the matter? I’ll get to that at the end. Before we come to that argument – sorry to keep you waiting – I’d like to provide a little more clarity about my view.

    3.) Christian DCT resolves the issue of moral realism vs antirealism (added). . . .

    Well, it defers the issue to an authority. So basically, what God thinks is most moral, is most moral.

    I apologize if this seems pedantic, but your representation is not quite right, or at least there is in your comment about “defering” an ambiguity which might cause immense confusion were it to slide unnoticed.

    A mere authority figure does not have authority in virtue of being the ontological ground of the universe. My father has authority over me, but not because he determines everything about me; he’s an authority for socio-economic, cultural, religious, and moral reasons. The US has authority over me, not because they determine everything about me, but for socio-political and religious reasons. Likewise, most authority figures derive their authority from reasons/sources external to themselves. God does not.

    God is a moral authority figure because He is the one who sets the terms and conditions of the universe itself, including its moral prerogatives. Yes, we Christians do defer to God, not as a mere moral authority, but as the supreme Sovereign who defines not only the burning nature of stars, not only the interworkings of our biology and the complexes of our psychology, but also He defines our moral obligations. Just as God speaks light into existence, so God speaks the moral law incumbent upon humanity into existence. And while the duty of a judge [is to] accurately interpret a case according to what laws He has been delivered, God legislates the original moral fabric underlying all our capacity to discern right and wrong.

    You seem to put it that way in the first clause of the following sentence but immediately error theologically:

    It could be said to be objective in that only God’s opinion matters now, but God could change his mind.

    No, you are speaking with a Reformed Christian for whom the doctrine of immutability applies. My God, outside of this space-and-time universe, is changeless. However, as preeminently demonstrated in the Incarnation, the same changeless God is capable of taking on a nature of changing form inside the realm of His creation. Thus, God remains consistent with His changeless nature, which is outside of time, even as He inhabits time in a changing nature. All that is to say, I’m not promoting a general theism or a generic theist ethic. Objections to a God beside the one I’m proposing aren’t objections to my view, aren’t relevant to my ethic.

    We also have the problem that since God hasn’t been shown to exist, nor any communication from him been confirmed to be genuine, we have nothing to go on.

    I am curious to know how you go about demonstrating God has never been shown to exist (your claim) or more generally, that He is not profusely evident. I am also curious to know what epistemic criteria you propose to determine whether or not any fact evinces God’s existence, nonexistence, or neither. Otherwise, while I respect your right to be an non-Christian – a right I would defend – this seems to me nothing short of a naked assertion, one which dismisses the metaphysical backdrop of my answer to your OP without providing any demonstration one way or another.

    Even if we assumed any particular thing was from God, it’s still then wildly open to interpretation without him there to judge each particular situation. There’s no way you can cover anything that can possibly happen with one book.

    With these also, I suppose I am just waiting for a basis to believe either. On a side note, it’s unclear to me why a God of “particular things” is being addressed when the God of Reformed Christianity is ever-peresent, ruling the world, both determining it from the outside, and acting as the presiding Sovereign in the incarnate Christ. Moreover, it’s obvious from this statement you reject the sufficiency of the Christian Scriptures to determine all matters of morality, but why?

    If there is a sovereign God controlling the universe, who has planned every event and fact of said universe in detail from beginning to end, who has designed the rational faculties of human creatures, and who as the Spirit has inspired the authors of given stories and texts – if that God exists, I’m a bit flabbergasted how it’s to be maintained God couldn’t cover any moral conundrum that can (and will) happen with a collection of 66 books? Why is that hard for God? Unless I’m mistaken, the problem only occurs if you assume this God doesn’t exist – but that defeats posing the hypothetical to begin with, and why assume that anyway?

    The slightly worrying thing is that your definition of morality doesn’t seem to include very much about the well-being of humans. The nearest thing is, “Love thy neighbor”. I don’t know why loving God or doing what he says is desirable. Could you explain why, and what that even means in relation to morality? Is morality concerned with the wellbeing of humans, in your estimation? Is that the ultimate goal? If not, how much does it factor in?

    I appreciate your concern for human flourishing, a concern I believe only makes sense given the ethic I have put forth, but nevertheless, I do not understand your confusion – I’ll try to explain why.

    For one thing, as briefly set forth in my original preface, we human beings are covenant creatures made in the image of God, therefore carrying the tremendous worth of our divine-representative-hood. It is for this reason that Jesus commands his audience to render unto Caesar what is Caeser’s and to God what is God’s: the image on a coin is the fleeting imprint of a fleeting figure on a fleeting object, but the image on a man is the invincible imprint of an infinite Figure on an object capable of unending joy in loving God and man, or in confused discontent hating both. In other words, to wonder why we are to love God while worrying that I haven’t emphasized altruism enough is just to miss the order and flow of value: we are to love each other tremendously because we are made in the image of our Creator whom we ought to love infinitely.

    For another thing, on the Christian view of anthropology, God is intimately present with believers in history. Throughout time, He has sought them, cared for them, delivered them, despite our lapses and trespasses. The Bible presents a beautiful allegory where God is a heroic, unyielding protector and lover of the princess, and even though she whines, neglects Him, betrays Him, and wanders off unfaithfully into the bed of the dragon, God does whatever it takes, faces all odds, overcomes all obstacles to storm the room where His bride has been imprisoned, slays the dragon, and resuscitates His princess with a kiss. And then this Triune Protagonist says, “Be like me. Do that for each other.” God goes out of His way to set for us an example of what it means to protect, cherish, provide for, romance, educate, and so forth, each other – how could that lack emphasis on horizontal human-to-human love?

    Neither will I miss pointing out the irony that on moral antirealism, there’s no basis for your worry about human welfare whatsoever. On moral antirealism, whatever “reason” you have for caring about others is indistinguishable from a brief illusion set about by a bad carrot in you[r] soup. Worse – much worse – on moral antirealism, good deeds for selfish motives and an evildoer who accidentally accomplishes good are indistinguishable. Now, on a good day perhaps a Mormon or Hindu can set a case persuasive enough to fool the uncritical or maudlin, but what bearing your worry about human flourishing has once we juxtapose Reformed Christian ethics with (any form of) antirealism, it only has in light of its foundation in the Christian ethic.

    Although I know not what systems you’re familiar with, Rob, I know not of any ethical framework that comes close to a view that ferociously bent on compassion, altruism, and bravery to love even those who seek to kill you (or worse). No topic is more important or grand than God’s character, which is love itself in absolute sublime. And it is God’s lovingkindness displayed through the work of Jesus when God died as a man on the cross and rose three days later and ascended to rule the universe all for the sake of saving His enemies! The Bible presents us an awe-inspiring picture: the Fire which does not need the bush to burn freely chooses to be with the bush anyway. The Triune God who owes not and needs not, perfectly content in and of Himself, and who meanwhile holds every right to enact justice, obliterating humankind, casting them into a worse fate than Lovecraft imagined for his chilling abyss, does something unimaginable instead.

    For no motivation except His own unfathomable compassion, God stoops down to exalt the underdog, the afflicted, to transform dead people into organisms free from decay, to turn thieves into good samaritans, and, if I might delve into nerdom for a moment, to turn the Joker into Batman. Even more preposterous – indeed the outrage to all pagans – God Himself takes on the lowly nature of a man, lives an ordinary life under the scourge of Roman tyranny, faces all its dregs – hunger pains, embarrassing erections, nightmares, stubbed toes, splinters, family betrayals, friends who often failed to empathize with him — a most gritty and pitiful experience, but even during all this God-man remains morally impeccable, never lying, not lusting once, fulfilling the Old Covenant in full. The Son of God not only lives a perfect life, but then he faces one of the most excruciating forms of crucifixion known in history, and afterward the Romans bury him alongside the graves of robbers and degenerates. In the face of this impossible miracle we must ask, why in the world would the infinite, transcendent, holy whole and wholly holy “I AM” put on the clothing of human nature and die? To save the very people bent on killing him in the demonstration and glorification of His beatific character.

    Seeing us naked in the garden after our sin, God clothed us with the righteousness of His Son. Seeing us killed by our sin in the garden, God revivified us in the resurrection of His Son. Seeing us fallen from our throne where we once ruled the garden of the cosmos, God reunites us to Himself in the ascension of His Son. I would ask you to please carefully examine any and all religions, ethical frameworks, ideologies in general, at your leisure; you will find nothing approximating the kind of compassion of Christ, the grace of God, the Gospel.

    More could be said, and I want to apologize if I was unclear or misrepresented something you said here. Let me know so I can correct myself. I’m also sorry about length; these are topics which have motivated theologians and skeptics alike to write tome upon tomes. Hopefully what I’ve written thus far presents a brief and introductory explication of how a Christian sees ethics, the nature of God, and how these matters play out practically in our lives.

    In this last section, I’ll address your objection to my argument, Point (2), and recap on its applicability, its stark ramifications.

Section 2: Demonstration

 

    You seem to be confusing value judgement and logical thinking here. Value judgements are concerned with deciding how important something is, or how one ought to act. That’s totally different from determining the most efficient way to achieve the goals you have decided on, or objectively analysing information or abstract systems. . .Value judgements can be subjective and still be useful, because we can have discussions and build common ground. This is something that happens, in reality. . .You point at your authority (as discussed below) and [different cultures] can point at theirs, or simply dismiss your authority as I would do.

    You seem not to grasp the severity of the problem introduced in Point (2). For if moral realism is not the case, why ought anyone to believe, “That’s totally different. . .”? If there is no moral fact of the matter, then there’s no fact about whether one ought to believe, “Value judgments can be subjective and still. . .useful”? Remember, the issue is whether there exists some moral fact of the matter prescribing rationality at all!

    Suppose you provide some (antirealist) “reason” why I should believe something you’ve claimed in your last post. You will only have moved the quicksand one step backward because the question then becomes, “Why ought one to believe that?” The problem occurs wherever your proposed answer to, “Why ought one believe anything?” begs the question in assuming we ought to believe that answer itself. Any satisfactory answer to the question must assume it is already an extramental truth that everyone ought to believe what is true, but in that case, morality is objective. Meanwhile, any answer to the question which does not assume an objective moral fact of the following kind, “You ought to believe what is true,” will beg the question against whether it is objectively true we ought to believe that answer.

    For example, when you say, “You seem to be confusing value judgement and logical thinking here,” what do you mean by “confuse” without assuming an extramental, factual value distinction between confusing ideas and not confusing them? Are you assuming it’s rational to avoid confusion as opposed to irrational? On moral antirealism, that distinction is unwarranted, and what’s interesting here is you, Rob, pointed out as much before when you said that calling a given moral system “better” than another presupposes a value by which to distinguish them. “Correction” specifically presupposes that truth is a value obliging belief – otherwise, you can’t even correct me about that claim itself!

    I could put this another way as well. Notice how you’re attempting to “correct” me. Yet notice that “correction” connotates a value judgment between forms of correct and incorrect thinking. In order to interpret you as correcting, that would place you in the camp of assuming moral realism in order to even make utterances against it. It’s meaningless to correct someone without an assumed fact of the matter about what is correct to believe/say and what is not, even if undisclosed. However, if I wanted to avoid making you a moral realist – if I wanted to interpret your comment without assuming moral [realism] I’d be free to believe you’re not correcting me, and of course, if you’re not correcting me, then what relevance does your comment have on the conversation at all anymore than the birds chirping outside my window as I write this?

    I could be wrong but I suspect you will reply something along the lines with the following: “But I’m not telling you you ought not confuse things. I’m just pointing out what you’re doing.” Oh, but you see, why ought I to believe you’re not telling me I ought not to confuse things? Why ought I to believe there’s even a difference between what you said and its opposite, or the affirmation of both what you said and its opposite, or the affirmation of neither what you said nor its opposite? Why are you assuming it’s a fact of the matter that people who read what you say are obliged to believe what you said didn’t mean, “Christianity is true?”

    Now, I am not proposing that what you said is meaningless or irrelevant. I’m suggesting it’s self-defeating to suppose you can say anything meaningful and relevant without assuming some moral facts of the matter about how we ought to interpret others, about how we ought to form our beliefs, about what we ought to consider rational or not, etc. I am not suggesting your post read unintelligibly either. I find this conversation enjoyable so far and I really appreciate the civility despite disagreements. My point is respectfully this: you’re not regarding yourself self-consciously; you’re speaking oblivious to the very intellectual commitments that make your speaking sensible. Put another way, the very moral realism you’re rejecting acts to make rejecting intelligible, distinguishable from non-rejection for example.

    So I’ll repeat myself with commentary. “Moral antirealists must also give up the idea that rationality itself is factually good or that irrationality is factually evil. To put it more starkly, on moral antirealism, there is no such thing as “rationality,” since the term connotates a value judgment about certain intellectual states over others. If there is no fact of the matter about whether we ought to think one way over another, then “rationality,” “knowledge,” and so forth are vacuous terms.” And if so, then there is no fact of the matter about whether we ought to believe your post is true, or that it’s accurate to your own beliefs, or that it’s different than its negation, or that it doesn’t mean, “Christianity is true,” etc. While I think you said something meaningful, it is literally impossible to say anything meaningful without invoking moral realism – in this case, I propose the Reformed Christian variety.

    Thanks for your time and patience, Rob.

This is a long post; if you’ve made it this far, thank you for your patience and God bless you. I hope this view into an apologetic conversation proves useful. If you would like to contact me to talk about this topic or other topics of Christianity, hit me up.

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