Q: When is a person like a rock? A: When there’s no God

C. Michael Patton writes honestly about the day he lost his faith, and how it came back again. One paragraph of his struck me: “My new affair with atheism, carried with it the sudden burden of ultimate meaninglessness. People were no different than the rocks if there is no God. Not one thing has claim to be more value than another.”

It’s a popular line of thought, but so far as I can tell, not well founded. If you think Patton was right, you think that the statements:
1. There is no God.
2. People are of greater moral value than rocks.
are incompatible: if one is true, the other cannot be. But, on the face of it, I see no reason to think that. To make an argument, you’d need to introduce other, related, statements and back them up. (If you spend a lot of time debating this sort of stuff, you’ll noticed I’ve taken a leaf from William Lane Craig’s book. My response is pretty similar to his response to the logical Argument from Evil, where he points out that his opponents have just made statements without showing how the statements are logically related).

I mentioned this in the comments on Patton’s post, and have been discussing it with The 27th Comrade. Comrade makes the weaker claim that “If God doesn’t exist, it is not necessarily true that people are not rocks”. He then goes on to claim that a person’s value can only depend on a transcendent, immutable opinion; and that without God, there can be no objective moral values.

But I see no reason why, if there are moral facts independent of human opinions, they would be defined by the opinions of a (non-human) person. I also don’t see how this makes values objective, since that word usually means “independent of anyone’s opinion”.

On the horns of a dilemma

At this point, I mentioned the Euthyphro dilemma (which I apparently introduced to William: I’m glad someone’s learning something from my ramblings). If God sets what is moral by his opinions, they seem arbitrary: God could have made anything moral by fiat. If God’s moral opinions reflect some other independent facts (as my opinion that “the sky is blue” does, say), while God may well know the facts better than we do, the facts would still be facts if he did not exist.

If you’ve had some evangelism training, you’ll know there’s a popular response to the dilemma, which is to say that goodness is part of God’s essential nature: not external to him, but not something he chooses. Craig adds that we understand what words like “good” mean without reference to God; it is informative, rather than tautologous, to learn that “God is essentially good”. But it seems then that any being which had the morally good properties God is claimed to have would be good, whether or not that being existed. As John D says, “All that Craig is doing is ascribing certain moral properties to God, but it is these moral properties that provide the foundation for morality, not God. He is talking about necessary moral truths, not necessary theistic truths. In other words, morality is still not ‘up to God’, it merely inheres in him.”

Comrade seems to have got diverted by my examples of horrifying things God could have made good by fiat. I was unclear here, and unfortunately I chose as examples some of the horrifying things the Christian God actually does in the Bible, which Comrade then felt compelled to defend (I often run into this problem with theists: with hindsight, I should have avoided the sensitive subject of racism when talking to robhu about complementarianism, but I had trouble thinking of an example of discrimination which evangelicals don’t already think is a good thing). But that wasn’t my point, which was rather that, if morality is based solely on God’s opinion, there’s no reason to suppose that God’s opinion is anything like what we mean by “good” (notice that Craig is cannier here).

Comrade asserts that (edited: if there is no God) we have no basis to judge anything that has evolved as wrong, referring to Orgel’s Second Rule: “evolution is cleverer than you are”. But again, I see no more reason to identify “what has evolved” with “good” than I do to identify “God’s opinion” with “good”. Evolution may be clever, but clever isn’t the same as good.

The psychology of moral arguments

What I take from this is that some people want different things from moral values than I do. Some people just intuitively feel that if there isn’t a God, they can’t get those things. What they seem to want is:

  • Moral values must be “objective”: this means they cannot be pure opinion, unless it’s the opinion of someone they can always trust and who has much higher status than them.
  • Moral values must be unchanging.
  • Moral values must be “grounded”: this word is often used. It’s not clear what it means for morality to be grounded, but it gives us a strong visual image of grounded objects (at least, I assume you’re also seeing a tree with an extensive root system underground), so suppose it does well as an intuition pump. God is supposed to be pretty solid, in non-physical sort of way: I hear he’s a bit like a rock.

66 thoughts on “Q: When is a person like a rock? A: When there’s no God”

    1. I’m working through it now. You’re right, it’s interesting (to me, of course: I make no claims as to its objective interest value).

  1. carried with it the sudden burden of ultimate meaninglessness

    When people make this sort of argument, it always strikes me as purest wishful thinking. “If there is no God, then { everything is meaningless | humans are no ‘better’ than rocks | etc }, and I don’t want that to be the case, so I will believe in God”.

    The more alert proponents of such arguments tend to write “and I feel strongly that { life does have meaning | objective moral values do exist | etc }” so that it won’t be totally obvious from the literal meaning of their written words that the thinking is wishful, but it nonetheless often seems to me that that’s what the underlying thought process is likely to have been. (How would you have a strong inner feeling that life has meaning anyway?) The less alert don’t even bother dressing it up, and are happy to use wishful-thinking arguments explicitly, apparently with no awareness that they themselves would dismiss the same arguments as obviously invalid if they were used in favour of any more tangible proposition.

    1. Oh, very very well put.

      OTOH, I suppose I am in favour of choosing to find SOME meaning in life, even without objective evidence; but that I’d prefer to find one more universal and with less baggage than “follow God”, such as “be excellent to each other”.

  2. I’ve yet to hear any good definitions of “moral” that aren’t relative. So far as I can tell the word pretty much means “That way which I would prefer the world to be” or “That way which I think the world should be” (which basically boils down to the same thing).

    1. If you think it’s the way the world should be (rather than just the way you should be) you’re claiming non-relativity, aren’t you? You’re claiming that other people should follow your ideas of how they should behave.

      (The key word in what you wrote is ‘should’.)

      S.

      1. Hence why I said that th “should” and “would like” were functionally identical. Imagine someone saying “People should do X” in a petulant tone of voice and you’ve got my viewpoint on that way of thinking :->

  3. Subject: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
    Hello, Paul Wright:
    I like your blog. There are things to correct, however, in how you got what I was saying at Pen and Parchment. Also, I see that I did not get an answer to the question that I asked, and that you seem to think is central here, bothered as it is with the moral question that you like.

    Comrade makes the weaker claim that “If God doesn’t exist, it is not necessarily true that people are not rocks”. He then goes on to claim that a person’s value can only depend on a transcendent, immutable opinion; and that without God, there can be no objective moral values.

    As oft-repeated at the other blog by me, it is not objective values per se, but rather objective anything. What I am saying is that there is no objective truth, unless there is an entity that we understand to be God. That there are no objective moral values, for example, is just something that follows from the absence of objective anything, given that there is no God. Like I said on the other side, absent an authority whose opinion is necessarily true, we lack axioms; we lack an opinion in light of which right and wrong can be known.

    But I see no reason why, if there are moral facts independent of human opinions, they would be defined by the opinions of a (non-human) person.

    Once again, it is not moral facts per se; it is facts generally-speaking. If you have a human whose word you deem incontrovertibly-true—the Roman Catholics, for instance, have the Pope, and many old monarchies had their sovereigns, and the Romans, I believe, had the Cæsar, and the Japanese had the Emperor—you can have a human whose opinion anchors truth; whose opinion defines what is objectively true. It doesn’t have to be a transcendent person; but there is a direct link between having this (shall we call it) priviledge and divinity.
    It just follows, at any rate, that absent such an entity—who we understand to be God—every opinion is subjective. Do you not agree with this? If not, why not? How do you have objective truths—about morals, values, the meaning of “red”, and the point of life—from a situation where, by definition, there is no entity to set that? (You can here make the claim that the objective truths “set themselves,” and embrace the attendant contradictions.)

    Also, I hope you realise the problem posed for your position (in the event that you do defend it) by the fact (d’après Wittgenstein) that we cannot have a single-user language; so it follows necessarily that all language-using entities agree that there are some objective truths. Therefore, if it also true that objective truths need to be set by an entity (we shall not deal here with whether that entity is human), then it follows that all language-using entities agree that there exists a sufficiently-priviledged entity. (You, like my ancestors, can just label this entity “The Ancients”, and move the problem to their domain.)

    I also don’t see how this makes values objective, since that word usually means “independent of anyone’s opinion”.

    I spent quite some time on the other blog pointing out that the opinion of this entity—of God—would be necessarily different from your opinion (if you are not God). You did not refute my claim that modern understanding of “That’s your opinion” is wrong, because it is fallaciously taken to be equivalent to “Your opinion isn’t the truth.” The truth can be an opinion (such as my opinion that this blog post is the result of design by a mind of admirable amounts of intelligence; whether or not I can account for it based on a genetic algorithm due).
    Also, my point all along is that “objective” does not mean “Independent of anyone’s opinion”. What you are saying is essentially “You are wrong, because you are wrong.” I am saying that “objective” means “Dependent on a transcendent opinion”, which I (d’apès Sir Isaac Newton) would call “God’s opinion.” Objective truth is not independent of God’s opinion.

    [continued; apologies for the prolixity]

    1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

      If God sets what is moral by his opinions, they seem arbitrary: God could have made anything moral by fiat.

      That’s not my position. (Leaving aside the “objective moral,” again, and going with “objective anything”.) God, for example, could never (and can never) make it objectively true that He doesn’t exist. (This, among other things, is why the atheist is in a harder place than any of us gibbering, uneducated, knuckle-dragging animists.) And since He exists, it follows that, for example, if it is also a moral obligation to love Him, He cannot make it moral (for example), by fiat, to not love Him. God acts in accordance with Himself. (In this is a lot of assurance for those who, like St. Paul, have trusted Him “to keep that which [they] have committed unto Him against that Day.”)
      If God seems arbitrary, that does nothing to affect the objectivity of His opinion. To us God cannot be anything other than arbitrary. But then, all axioms are necessarily and irreducibly-arbitrary. (Indeed, if you draw a functor between logical structures and information theory, the Kolmogorov complexity of axioms would match “maximally-random”, which I guess would map to “irreducibly-arbitrary”.)

      If God’s moral opinions reflect some other independent facts … the facts would still be facts if he did not exist.

      They would not; just as Gödel’s theorems would not exist if the laws of logical structures to which they refer (“about which they have opinions”) did not exist. Ipsum esse subsistens, and so on. When God refers to truths about Himself, the human mind listening inevitably falls into an infinite loop. We are not well-kitted for understanding things like God too well; “I Am who I Am” is a valid definition, but being tightly-recursive, we are allowed to know only little of it. (The limits of our ape brains just strongly underline the futility of trying to be “rational”; without even being able to know if it is true that “It is irrational to be rational.”) God’s opinion sets the facts; it doesn’t reflect them. This is why, absent such an entity of transcendent opinion, these facts are never ever set. Since you like Euthyphro, the pious is set by the gods, and they like it necessarily because it reflects them.

      … it is informative, rather than tautologous, to learn that “God is essentially good”.

      I am of the view that we understand good by natural revelation, and it points to God. When we are told “God is good”, it is informative in the sense of further revelation; just as “Meet John, that long-lost brother of yours” presupposes an understanding of “that long-lost brother of yours”, even as it introduces that self-same long-lost brother of yours, “John.”

      Comrade seems to have got diverted by my examples of horrifying things God could have made good by fiat.

      As I explained (but got no response, here or there), those things were not made good by God. Bad things—things we know to be bad, and which are objectively-bad—are so precisely because God also thinks they are bad. Do you understand this now, Paul (or, at least, my position on it)?

      (I’ve just experienced a déjà-vu; why is there so little documentation about this phenomenon?)

      [continued; further apologies for the obscene and disrespectful length—I’m glad there are no objective rules against long comments … right?]

      1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

        I was unclear here, and unfortunately I chose as examples some of the horrifying things the Christian God actually does in the Bible, which Comrade then felt compelled to defend (I often run into this problem with theists …

        I did not defend them. I made this clear over there, but you gave no response to it. I shall repeat myself, nonetheless.
        I hate God’s judgement more than you do. God hates it too. These bad things He did He did not intend to be understood as good. God ordered these things precisely because it is His opinion (and therefore objectively-true) that these things are bad.
        God’s actions are often horrifying, and He knows it, and the Bible is rich in recognition of the exceeding horribleness of God, when He does pass judgement.
        I told you this before, that essentially you agree with God on what is bad, but you never dealt with it. In my turn, I shall note that this is invariably the case with atheists, because their case is essentially built up as “I don’t agree with God’s moral values; therefore He doesn’t exist”. This is why it is important for them to dodge this, and pretend that God thinks of His judgement to be sweet, gentle cuddling; but He doesn’t.

        But that wasn’t my point, which was rather that, if morality is based solely on God’s opinion, there’s no reason to suppose that God’s opinion is anything like what we mean by “good” …

        When we disagree, we are wrong. For example, we may disagree because we want licence to do what is (say) immoral, or “impious” as Euthyphro puts it, but that doesn’t make us right. What is right—objectively-right—is dependent on God, necessarily.

        Comrade asserts that we have no basis to judge anything that has evolved as wrong …

        No; that was meant to show you the vapidity of the position you espouse, and why it contradicts you. I obviously do not believe that, since I hold Orgel’s Second Rule to be some of the most-foolish nonsense ever slapped together on a keyboard. How can anyone know what evolution is and then refer to it as “clever”? How can something without a mind be “clever”? This is sad, as it sneaks design assumptions into a field that is so viciously-opposed to the design hypothesis—which hypothesis, by the way, is correct. This is why Prof. Jerry Fodor’s latest book is an important contribution (even though he has been subjected to the same treatment that all who challenge the neo-Darwinian creed are given). That was not my position—of course, as it is opposed to what I am championing—but rather an assertion that, if you agree with it, commits you to failing to call anything immoral. If you disagree with it, you need God—a transcendent opinion that sets objective truth, yea, even objective moral truth—to justify your opposition to the assertion.

        My assertion there was as follows:

        “We have no basis to judge as evil or wrong an evolved phenotype; given Orgel’s Second Rule and the fact that what survives is fit, no evolved phenotype—ie., nothing in biology—can be deemed immoral.”
        Do you, Paul Wright, have a refutation for that?

        I see that my question has not been answered, so I shall pose it again: do you, Paul Wright, have a refutation for that? (You could just reject Orgel’s Second Rule, but I know that you will not, because it is what justifies reasoning to the atheist. If it is wrong, reason is an illusion.)

        But again, I see no more reason to identify “what has evolved” with “good” than I do to identify “God’s opinion” with “good”.

        You can acheive this by making evolution something transcendent; but you do not, so, yes, you (like me) have no reason to call an evolved anything good. Even evolution itself is not good. I hold God’s opinion in different light because I know something to be true that can only be true if God exists, and His opinion sets objective truth, and that thing is: there are objective truths.

        [continued; this is the second-last, and the next one is really short—my apologies.]

        1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

          Evolution may be clever, but clever does not mean good.

          You did not answer the question. Do agree that we cannot condemn any behaviour? I understand that the question may not admit of a yes-or-no, but do give it a shot, with whatever kind of answer.

          Some people just intuitively feel that if there isn’t a God, they can’t get those things.

          To live as though there are objective truths—even the moral objective truths you are interested in—without believing in a transcendent entity to set these is a contradiction resulting from a poor understanding of the implications (when followed through to its logical terminus) of atheism.


          The 27th Comrade

    2. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
      It just follows, at any rate, that absent such an entity—who we understand to be God—every opinion is subjective. Do you not agree with this? If not, why not?

      Of course not: it does not “follow” because you have not presented an argument, by which I mean a series of premises which lead to a conclusion. First you have asserted that human rulers can define what is true, then you have contradicted yourself by saying that only divine persons can do so. As it happens, neither of these assertions are well grounded: there is no reason to suppose that human rulers cannot be mistaken, let alone that they can establish truth by their words; and no reason to suppose that applying terms like “divinity” or “transcendent” improves matters.

      In your claims that all truth must flow from the opinions of a person, I was reminded of the final scenes of Orwell’s 1984: all truth flows from Big Brother, through the Party, and if they say 2 + 2 = 5, well then, so it is. But in fact, 2 + 2 is not 5: neither Big Brother nor God can make it so, and the answer remains 4 regardless of whether God exists.

      You should probably read The Simple Truth: it’s quite short, and I think you’re asking where the magic is, or at rather, claiming that without God, there can be no magic. I hope the story illustrates the error of this way of thinking.

      I am saying that “objective” means “Dependent on a transcendent opinion

      Then your use of the word differs radically from most people’s, so that you will have difficulty making yourself understood.

      1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
        Hello, Paul Wright.

        First you have asserted that human rulers can define what is true, then you have contradicted yourself by saying that only divine persons can do so.

        Yes, they are humans, in the cases I gave, precisely to point out that it doesn’t have to be God. However, these humans have to be reckoned to be transcendent. Look at the Pope’s title (“Vicarius Fili Dei”), the deification of the Cæsars, the divinity (according to Japanese tradition) of the emperor. What other example did I give? Oh, the Pharaohs, our ancient monarchs (“King by Divine Authority”). That is the use of the “transcendent” for which you say you see no purpose.

        As it happens, neither of these assertions are well grounded: there is no reason to suppose that human rulers cannot be mistaken …

        It is why I didn’t make that claim. I personally do not follow any of the entities I named. I am not a Catholic. However, when (to the followers) these people speak, they are necessarily—tautologically, even—correct, because that is the premise: when these speak, the truth has been spoken. Google for “Papal infallibility,” for example.

        … let alone that they can establish truth by their words; and no reason to suppose that applying terms like “divinity” or “transcendent” improves matters.

        I think I have explained this. They do establish truth, in the same way that your mother establishes your birthday.
        You ask her. In this situation, her opinion is the truth (whether you like it or not). This is a small equivalent of what I am talking about.

        You seem not to realise that the debate we are having is old in epistemology, and my position has a name: foundationalism.

        In your claims that all truth must flow from the opinions of a person, I was reminded of the final scenes of Orwell’s 1984 … But in fact, 2 + 2 is not 5: neither Big Brother nor God can make it so, and the answer remains 4 regardless of whether God exists.

        At this point, a capricious epistemologist will tell you that you are pretty outdated if you use the Pæno axioms, or something like that. What our debate is about is this: on whose authority should we use which axioms to render us an answer to 2 + 2?

        Incidentally, with 2 + 2 = 4 being true apart from us, you find a proof of the things I have been championing: irreducibly-arbitrary axioms (the Pæno axioms) and truths (moral or mathematical) that remain so irrespective of what we want (2 + 2 = 4, lying is a sin).

        Then your use of the word differs radically from most people’s, so that you will have difficulty making yourself understood.

        Most people are wrong. Indeed, all people who think that you can have objective truth without having an entity to decree that truth are themselves self-refuting.
        Do you have a definition of “objective” that does not use an “infallible opinion”?

        1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
          in the same way that your mother establishes your birthday.
          You ask her. In this situation, her opinion is the truth (whether you like it or not). This is a small equivalent of what I am talking about.

          No: if my mother lied about my birthday, then it is possible I’d find out: she wasn’t the only one there 🙂 The date of my birth is a fact independent of anyone’s opinion.

          You seem not to realise that the debate we are having is old in epistemology, and my position has a name: foundationalism.

          Foundationalism is an epistemic position, that there are properly basic beliefs, that is, beliefs which require no justification. I think you are making both 1) the ontological claim that facts are just identical to God’s opinions; and disagreeing with foundationalism by claiming that 2) all facts require some justification, namely that we are only justified in believing them if we know they are God’s opinion. Is this a fair summary of your ideas? I hope you’ll see that 1) has nothing to do with foundationalism (since you’re making an ontological, not an epistemic claim) and 2) means you’re not a foundationalist.

          What our debate is about is this: on whose authority should we use which axioms to render us an answer to 2 + 2?

          The fact is that “given these definitions of numbers, 2 + 2 = 4”. Now, it happens that we use these definitions because they model the world well for us: you may use other axioms if you wish, but you will then end up with dead sheep.

          Do you have a definition of “objective” that does not use an “infallible opinion”?

          I use the standard definition: objective truths are true regardless of anyone’s opinion.

          1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
            Hello, Paul Wright.

            No: if my mother lied about my birthday, then it is possible I’d find out: she wasn’t the only one there 🙂

            You can climb up the authority ladder, if you want. The other entity you will rely will have to be itself an authority. Say a camera, or a midwife whose honesty we trust.
            You made my point for me.

            Foundationalism is an epistemic position, that there are properly basic beliefs, that is, beliefs which require no justification.

            Exactly; this is what I refer to as authorities; this is why we reckon them to be “transcendent”. And so on and so forth.

            … the ontological claim that facts are just identical to God’s opinions …

            Necessarily, they are. Assuming that we are Harry Potter characters. What the author said happened to Harry Potter is indeed what happened. In that wise, the claim is a mere tautology. (This hinges on your accepting that we do, in fact, have an Author. Opposing that is absurd, but we shall see that unless you accept it, then you do not have a right to assume that any truth about any character is in fact true. Your position, like the rejection of axiomatic systems—anti-foundationalism, we can call it—leads to self-refutation.)

            … all facts require some justification, namely that we are only justified in believing them if we know they are God’s opinion.

            No. We can disagree with God, but we would be wrong. The entity to whom your authority—you axioms, if you like—is ultimately referred, that is the placeholder for God in this case. (Now with us over-assured fundies, God is indeed that authority, based on His Word. It is an easy way to humble by pointing out that all civilisations had a different entity with such privileges, so we are not necessarily correct “this time.” But it remains a valid—the only valid—epistemology: the truth is what agrees with God, whether or not you accept it as so.)

            1) has nothing to do with foundationalism (since you’re making an ontological, not an epistemic claim) and 2) means you’re not a foundationalist.

            (1) Why do you see the false dichotomy between ontology and epistemology? I don’t even think a good distinction can be drawn between them! (2) I am a foundationalist, with adjuncts. Foundherentist plus other things. But let’s remain focused.

            … you may use other axioms if you wish, but you will then end up with dead sheep.

            I should know; rejecting that the value of humans is set by a transcendent authority has left us with dead babies. (I think Eliezer Yudkowsky is brilliant, even when he is wrong. I have followed him from Overcoming Bias to Less Wrong; pity most people today have never heard of logical positivism and its dramatic failure.)

            Do you have a definition of “objective” that does not use an “infallible opinion”?

            I use the standard definition: objective truths are true regardless of anyone’s opinion.

            Do you honestly not see the irony? (The unkind word is “self-refutation”.) Do you not see how heavily you rely on authority to dismiss the relevance of authority?

            1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
              You can climb up the authority ladder, if you want. The other entity you will rely will have to be itself an authority. Say a camera, or a midwife whose honesty we trust.
              You made my point for me.

              Again, no: your point is that there is a single authority. My point is that, where there are competing authorities, my job is to work out which one to use. This isn’t problematic: it’s just what everyone does when faced with competing claims. I see no reason to suspect that there is a person whose opinions are not only correct because they’re omniscient, but in fact who sets which opinions are correct.

              Exactly; this is what I refer to as authorities; this is why we reckon them to be “transcendent”. And so on and so forth.

              Foundationalism makes no reference to external authorities, it just claims that some beliefs are properly basic, perhaps because we can “just see” them to be true (in that sense, I suppose that foundationalism claims that for these beliefs, our own minds are the “authority”).

              Your position, like the rejection of axiomatic systems—anti-foundationalism, we can call it—leads to self-refutation.

              My position is not anti-foundationalism, since yours is not foundationalism. But in any case, I don’t claim that there is a single “authority” to which all my axioms are referred. If foundationalism (in the sense in which philosophers use it) is true, there might be multiple properly basic beliefs which do not refer to each other, for example.

              (1) Why do you see the false dichotomy between ontology and epistemology? I don’t even think a good distinction can be drawn between them!

              Ontology is about what exists, epistemology about how we know it. Again, these are fairly standard philosophical terms. The point is that foundationalism is not a claim about what exists, but a claim about how we know about it.

              But let’s remain focused.

              You brought up foundationalism. If you don’t wish to defend your claim to be a foundationalist any futher, that’s fine.

              most people today have never heard of logical positivism and its dramatic failure

              Yudkowsky is not a positivist. He appears to be a scientific realist. Thus the failure of positivism doesn’t seem to have much to say about Yudkowsky’s philosophy.

              Do you honestly not see the irony? (The unkind word is “self-refutation”.) Do you not see how heavily you rely on authority to dismiss the relevance of authority?

              Again, this is mere assertion. If you want to convince me, present an argument.

              1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

                My point is that, where there are competing authorities, my job is to work out which one to use.

                In other words, your job is to tell God apart from the charlatans, the idols. You have made my point for me.

                I see no reason to suspect that there is a person whose opinions are not only correct because they’re omniscient, but in fact who sets which opinions are correct.

                Well, in that case why try to work out who is correct, of the competing authorities? How can you set out to find El Dorado, if you think it doesn’t exist? How do you even find this authority of whom you spoke above, who is correct where others are wrong?

                (in that sense, I suppose that foundationalism claims that for these beliefs, our own minds are the “authority”)

                I should have made it clearer that I was making an analogy; but you got it. So, do you think that your mind is the authority? If not, what is? (Either way, you get an authority. The mind being the authority is coherent on atheism; that is why “people aren’t necessarily not rocks” if it depends on my mind what they are; for you are rock, you know.)

                If foundationalism (in the sense in which philosophers use it) is true, there might be multiple properly basic beliefs which do not refer to each other, for example.

                No. All truths refer to themselves; it is due to the principle that there can be no contradiction between two truths. All truths are linked by conjuction. Same for all axioms, all properly-basic beliefs. This is why I am a foundherentist. (Although I hate the name.)

                Ontology is about what exists, epistemology about how we know it. Again, these are fairly standard philosophical terms. The point is that foundationalism is not a claim about what exists, but a claim about how we know about it.

                I do know about the philosophical terms, Paul. The point is that what exists and what is known are not necessarily disjunctive.

                Yudkowsky is not a positivist. He appears to be a scientific realist. Thus the failure of positivism doesn’t seem to have much to say about Yudkowsky’s philosophy.

                The motto of LW is the motto of the Vienna Circle. The link is easy to make.

                Again, this is mere assertion. If you want to convince me, present an argument.

                You made the argument for me. You relied on an authority to settle the matter. Did you honestly not see the irony?
                (It would help if you answered the questions; they are carefully-chosen to guide me about your position.)

                1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
                  In other words, your job is to tell God apart from the charlatans, the idols. You have made my point for me.

                  You are begging the question: the point under discussion is whether objective facts rely on God for their existence, so when I say that I have to weigh up which claims are facts, I am not making your point for you, since I do not accept that facts rely on God.

                  Well, in that case why try to work out who is correct, of the competing authorities? How can you set out to find El Dorado, if you think it doesn’t exist?

                  Because I think there are objective facts: the statement you’re responding to is a statement that I see no reason to think they require a God. So I do think that “El Dorado” exists, but God does not.

                  How do you even find this authority of whom you spoke above, who is correct where others are wrong?

                  I’m not sure what you’re asking here.

                  So, do you think that your mind is the authority? If not, what is?

                  Depends what you mean by “authority” (which is your term, not mine). My mind does not cause properly basic beliefs to be true (assuming there are such things are properly basic beliefs). Nevertheless, if I correctly “just see” something which is in fact properly basic, I don’t rely on external evidence.

                  it is due to the principle that there can be no contradiction between two truths. All truths are linked by conjuction.

                  While I agree with this (except I’d say that they can be linked by conjunction), I’d say that such truths are not derived from one central truth, if that’s what you mean by “referred to” an “authority”.

                  The point is that what exists and what is known are not necessarily disjunctive.

                  Well, of course, but foundationalism is a claim about knowledge and justification.

                  The motto of LW is the motto of the Vienna Circle. The link is easy to make.

                  So anyone dedicated to refining the art of human rationality is a logical positivist? There’s a post where Yudkowsky claims not to be a positivist, but I think he’s not understood what positivism means, as the commenters point out. Rather, my claim is that he is not a positivist because he believes it is meaningful to say that unobservables like atoms exist rather than merely serving as inference tickets in scientific theories: that is, he is a scientific realist.

                  You relied on an authority to settle the matter. Did you honestly not see the irony?

                  I don’t rely on an authority in the sense of a person, so I don’t see the irony. I find certain types of inference convincing, either because I can “just see” they work, or because they have given good results before. Bare assertions aren’t among the things I find convincing.

                  1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

                    You are begging the question: the point under discussion is whether objective facts rely on God for their existence … I do not accept that facts rely on God.

                    I am trying to get you to concede that they do rely on an authority. Because the proof relies on a reductio, you will see it as begging the question, when in fact it is pointing out that you agree with it (whether you accept that or not). At any rate, you correctly inferred that you would either hold your mind—our monkey mind—to be correct on all matters and therefore be your authority—which is the universal subjectivity that you reject, normally “Whatever your opinion is, that’s what’s true for you”—or you will, as you said, have the task of telling the One True Authority apart from the fakes (“My point is that, where there are competing authorities, my job is to work out which one to use”.)
                    There is no third way; you have even already restricted yourself by belief in objective truths—truths that remain true whether anyone else believes them to be true or not—so you really have one route here. Either you self-contradict, or you arrive at an authority. In the event that you concede the authority point, I shall show you why we have always reckoned this to be transcendent—God, in my case.

                    So I do think that “El Dorado” exists, but God does not.

                    Let me make it simpler, then: do you agree with the following sentence “Nobody is correct.” (If you do, you self-refute. If you do not, set out to find and acknowlege the One Who Does Not Err.)

                    I’m not sure what you’re asking here.

                    How do you “work out which one to use” in the case “where there are competing authorities”?

                    Depends what you mean by “authority” (which is your term, not mine).

                    I mean “the entity that is correct on this matter”. (For example, for theology the Roman Catholics have the Pope, while for science they have the scientific community and consensus.)

                    My mind does not cause properly basic beliefs to be true (assuming there are such things are properly basic beliefs).

                    The earlier un-paranthesised clause if your sentence is an example of a properly-basic belief (or whatever you relied on to arrive at it). They exist, because axioms do.

                    I’d say that such truths are not derived from one central truth, if that’s what you mean by “referred to” an “authority”.

                    The authority is the one who, if He disagrees with any other (on a truth thereby derived), He is right and the others are wrong. You can use the Kuratowski-Zorn lemma here as a way to visualise it.

                    So anyone dedicated to refining the art of human rationality is a logical positivist?

                    No, but anyone who presumes that rationality can ground everything (including, for example, holding that “it is meaningful to say that unobservables like atoms exist rather than merely serving as inference tickets in scientific theories” because it is rational), such a one is as close to the positivists as one can get.

                    I don’t rely on an authority in the sense of a person …

                    You don’t have to. I didn’t specify “person”; merely an authority. Internet Standards are authorities.

                    I find certain types of inference convincing, either because I can “just see” they work, or because they have given good results before.

                    If I disagree that those things are convincing, how would you show me that I am wrong (since you believe in objective truths)? You, or a science journal, or Einstein’s opinion, or Prof. Richard Dawkins’.
                    (I think it was Plotinus who said that because truths require a knower, and there are eternal truths, then there is an eternal knower, who he understood to be God. But we will get there.)

                    Bare assertions aren’t among the things I find convincing.

                    Interestingly, I found that bare assertion rather convincing. But after all, you are the authority on what you accept.

                    1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
                      Just in case anyone’s following along: I’ve started a new thread further down to try to summarise where we’re up to.

          1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
            O, God. Thanks for the correction! (How long have I been wrong? How many times? Why? Where did I get this horrible spelling of mine from? Who was I thinking of, when I kept writing Pæno, instead of Peano? Then again, you did act as a good authority here—and set me straight! Thanks a lot, Nick.)

    3. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
      God, for example, could never (and can never) make it objectively true that He doesn’t exist.

      But I didn’t claim that he could. I said that, if your claim that God determines what is morally right by his opinion is true, then he could make anything moral by fiat. But again, you contradict yourself, since you then claim that God could not make it moral not to love him: why could he not do this, if your claim that morality (like everything else) is entirely God’s opinion is correct? God could certainly be of the opinion that it wasn’t moral to love him: he could suffer from low self-esteem, for example.

      As I explained (but got no response, here or there), those things were not made good by God.

      I don’t claim they were: I claim that on your view, they could have been. As I said, you can pick other examples which don’t involve things you think God has done to punish people if it makes this point clearer. For example, on your view that the pious is set by the gods, God could decide that lying, theft or rape was morally right, for example.

      1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

        God could certainly be of the opinion that it wasn’t moral to love him: he could suffer from low self-esteem, for example.

        No, He couldn’t. (The problem, in the modern sphere, is thinking of God as we think of the analogous entities we use to understand Him. This is more a failure of us, humans, a limitation, than it is an indictment of any particular people or epoch.)

        I don’t claim they were: I claim that on your view, they could have been.

        No, they could not. Also, you did in fact claim that they were, by appealing to the Euthyphro dilemma.

        For example, on your view that the pious is set by the gods, God could decide that lying, theft or rape was morally right, for example.

        The pious is a reflection of God’s opinion. If is God’s opinion that lying, theft, and rape are bad, then He doesn’t condone it as a good thing. He can command it as a bad thing—in the way that a judge commands killing (a thing he knows to be bad) upon a man he has convicted of the bad crime of killing a man.
        Is this clear? (I hate to link-jack threads, but there is a post on my own blog, which you know, the latest post, and it covers this.)

        1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
          If is God’s opinion that lying, theft, and rape are bad, then He doesn’t condone it as a good thing.

          And if it were God’s opinion that those things were good, they would be, on your view. You seem to be confused between what God has done and what he could have done. The dilemma is about the latter:

          No, they could not. Also, you did in fact claim that they were, by appealing to the Euthyphro dilemma.

          But I did not: the dilemma is that the theist must either accept that God could have made these things good or accept that there is a standard of goodness independent of God. There is no point in the argument where it is claimed that God has in fact made these things we consider evil to be good.

          But, since you claim that God could not have made lying, rape and theft good, what is it that would have prevented God from doing so? Is there an external standard of goodness that he doesn’t wish to contravene, for example?

          1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

            And if it were God’s opinion that those things were good, they would be, on your view.

            Yes; if it were God’s opinion that they were good, they would be good. If it were the author’s opinion that killing Harry Potter was good, it would be. Like I said on the Parchment and Pen post:

            And in that wise, God is irreducibly arbitrary.
            This is not only the position of traditional believe in God and the gods, but also the only coherent one. Had He created a universe where dying by fire was ecstatic, we would be holding the witch-burners as selfless saints.

            I think I’ve understood what you are saying now. (We should head off and found “Overcoming Confusion”.) But you had the answer since back on the earlier thread.

            But, since you claim that God could not have made lying, rape and theft good, what is it that would have prevented God from doing so? Is there an external standard of goodness that he doesn’t wish to contravene, for example?

            If it would require that He be different, which He cannot do, then yes, He is constrained by having to be Himself. I am not a Catholic, and I do not put much weight (or recommendation) in things that want to reduce God to reason, but the Summæ of St. Thomas Aquinas make a pretty solid argument on this, along the lines of “Could God do something that goes against His Nature?” But even the low-church, unwashed, religionless Christians like myself can affirm this (for it is at the centre of the doctrine of Grace from which we draw our existence): God could never do contrary to Himself.
            And then we can dive into tautology when we say “therefore He could not have made sin pious, because it would be contrary to His Nature.” God is restricted, as it were, to being Himself.

            1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
              Ah, so it is God’s nature, rather than God’s opinion, which defines what is good? God’s opinion is derived from his nature.

              In that case, Wes Morriston’s objection seems to apply: whatever it is about God’s nature that means that nature is good is what defines goodness. That is, assuming God’s nature is loving, just, etc. etc., the fact that God has these properties is what makes God’s nature good. But in that case, these things would be good regardless of whether God exists.

              Oddly, despite being omnipotent, God does not have the ability to change his opinion (on morality, at least). I’m interested in why this is. Many theists will assert that God cannot do something which is logically impossible. Is that your position? In that case, it seems that the laws of logic must be outside of God’s control, at least, despite your claim that all truths are just what God has decided they are. If you have another reason why God cannot change his opinion, I’d be interested to know it.

              1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

                Ah, so it is God’s nature, rather than God’s opinion, which defines what is good? God’s opinion is derived from his nature.

                If I had been a student of St. Thomas Aquinas, I would have said God’s opinion is God Himself. But I am not; I will just say that, yes, His opinion is necessarily derived from His Nature.

                But in that case, these things would be good regardless of whether God exists.

                No; what we consider good or bad comes from Him (what you are more-comfortable calling “His Nature” as opposed to “His Opinion”).

                Oddly, despite being omnipotent, God does not have the ability to change his opinion (on morality, at least). I’m interested in why this is. Many theists will assert that God cannot do something which is logically impossible. Is that your position?

                Yes; but I do not say “logically-impossible”. I say “contrary to His Nature.” Going against logic is trivial even for me (and you would likely assert that I have been successful here in your comment box—thank you for being a calm and reasoned host, by the way, Paul Wright; we could use more of you, and I hope I have not degenerated to abusing your magnanimity).

                If you have another reason why God cannot change his opinion, I’d be interested to know it.

                Yes; God is powerless to not be God. That restriction, along with whatever it entails, is among the restrictions that God labours under. In that sense, we really have Him by the tail on cases like Grace. Because our price is paid, and He has committed Himself to letting us in on His Kiddo’s ticket, He is quite literally caught. So, we can chant with St. Paul “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Not because they live exemplary lives, but because God must be God—be just, and kill all who sin, but also not make anybody pay after the payment has been made.

    4. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
      No; that was meant to show you the vapidity of the position you espouse, and why it contradicts you

      What position? I don’t espouse the position that “whatever has evolved is good”.

      ow can anyone know what evolution is and then refer to it as “clever”? How can something without a mind be “clever”?

      I believe this may be a metaphor.

      If you disagree with it, you need God—a transcendent opinion that sets objective truth, yea, even objective moral truth—to justify your opposition to the assertion.

      No I don’t: I merely observe that I see no reason to identify “whatever has evolved” with what I understand by “good”. Like your own assertion, there’s no argument or evidence there to back it up, so there’s nothing to refute. If someone says “I think whatever has evolved is good” or “I think whatever God says is good is good”, I can just say “well, how nice for you, but you’ve not given me any reason to think that”.

      You could just reject Orgel’s Second Rule, but I know that you will not, because it is what justifies reasoning to the atheist. If it is wrong, reason is an illusion.

      I don’t reject Orgel’s rule as it applies to evolution. I just don’t see what that has to do with moral claims. As I’ve said, I see no reason to identify “clever” with “good”, either.

      you (like me) have no reason to call an evolved anything good

      This is not strictly true: something evolved can be good, but there’s no necessary connection between having evolved and being good: some things which have evolved are bad.

      Do agree that we cannot condemn any behaviour? I understand that the question may not admit of a yes-or-no, but do give it a shot, with whatever kind of answer.

      No. Why would I think we cannot condemn anything which has evolved?

      To live as though there are objective truths—even the moral objective truths you are interested in—without believing in a transcendent entity to set these is a contradiction resulting from a poor understanding of the implications (when followed through to its logical terminus) of atheism.

      But you have not shown that your claim is a logical implication of atheism, so I feel perfectly happy with the idea that there is no God and that people are worth more than rocks and that there are objective facts.

      1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

        What position? I don’t espouse the position that “whatever has evolved is good”.

        But you do espouse the position that there are no objective truths (because you cannot justify their existence, having rejected the only way—foundationalism—that they can be established). That is the position I was pointing at.
        At any rate, I do not know if you take that position, as you have shied away from giving your position. So, here is a straight question: do you believe that there are objective truths? As it follows, do you believe that there are things we can condemn as immoral? We can start from there, next time, after I have got your answer.

        I believe this may be a metaphor.

        It is a metaphor, of course, but it is dishonest, misleading, and false, or it is self-refuting. This (among other things) was dealt with well by that book. Worst of all, it sneaks in intentionality where it starts out by rejecting it. Of course, I believe in evolution, but my understanding of it retains the sense in evolution being “clever” metaphorically; on the metaphysical-naturalist account, there is no such thing.

        If someone says “I think whatever has evolved is good” or “I think whatever God says is good is good”, I can just say “well, how nice for you, but you’ve not given me any reason to think that”.

        That is not what I was saying. Once again, I am not saying that “whatever has evolved is good” for I oppose that. Don’t dodge the question. It admits of an answer: do you believe that we can condemn an evolved phenotype? On what grounds? (I understand that you see where this may lead: if you do, you need an authority above all that evolved; if you do not, then …)

        This is not strictly true: something evolved can be good, but there’s no necessary connection between having evolved and being good: some things which have evolved are bad.

        Alright, then: can you defeat my assertion that whatever evolved is bad? By what authority, on what grounds?

        (I think I have hit upon a clearer way to express my position! Here it is, what I think is a better explanation of my position on objective truths and authorities: We need these infallible authorities I’ve been talking about just as we need to assume that our mental faculties work right, just as we need to assume that our most-basic axioms are correct. We don’t subject that to test without circularity.
        I hope that is a better presentation; I think it is.)

        Why would I think we cannot condemn anything which has evolved?

        Because, if you can condemn something that has evolved, it is your judgement on the other things that evolved. In other words, the only wrong thing that evolved is your moral sense. If we can condemn rape, we are wrong: we should be condemning anti-rape prudery.
        Do you have a defeater for this your defeater? (Hint: it will rest on authority, if it is there. Consistency turns you into either Prof. Peter Singer, or into something like me. If you are lucky, you will remain an inconsistent atheist, or a non-Christian believer in God and Jesus Christ like myself.)

        But you have not shown that your claim is a logical implication of atheism, so I feel perfectly happy with the idea that there is no God and that people are worth more than rocks and that there are objective facts.

        Wherein you are wrong, of course. You cannot show that you are not wrong. I have shown my claim to be logical by pointing out the necessity of axioms in reasoning, and foundational basic beliefs in epistemology. If you can have objectivity having built it on subjectivity, you should write a paper on it. Nothing can be in the result that was not in the cause. (I think this is William of Ockham, or some other brilliant Brit of a past epoch.)

        1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
          But you do espouse the position that there are no objective truths (because you cannot justify their existence, having rejected the only way—foundationalism—that they can be established). That is the position I was pointing at.

          I do not espouse the position that there are no objective truths, and I do not reject foundationalism (though I’m not convinced it’s workable, either). As I said earlier, your position does not seem to be foundationalism, and foundationalism is not the position that “there are objective truths”.

          do you believe that there are objective truths?

          Yes, in the sense that there are truths independent of anyone’s opinion.

          As it follows, do you believe that there are things we can condemn as immoral?

          Yes, we can certainly condemn things as immoral. People do it all the time.

          I suspect you meant to ask whether moral truths number among those objective truths. Well, I don’t know: but that was never the subject of the debate. Recall that CMP asserted that “if there is no God, people are of no more moral value than rocks”. My claim is that this is not well founded: if people want me believe it, they need to offer a further argument. It may still be true, but I have no reason to think so.

          Once again, I am not saying that “whatever has evolved is good” for I oppose that.

          I’ve amended the posting to make it clear that you didn’t mean to assert that, although you probably want to avoid the technique where you quote something as if you approve of it and then ask why people shouldn’t believe it: that can look as if it is your position.

          In any case, you seem to be having trouble with hypotheticals again. My point is that if someone says “Morals are what God says they are” (which you say) or “Whatever has evolved is good” (which you do not say) or “Beauty is whatever the Queen finds attractive” (which you do not say), then they’re just making a pure assertion: your assertion is like these others not in that you do assert that aesthetics is defined by royal command, but that your assertion has a similar problem. Semantically, good and beauty don’t mean the same as “what God says” or “what evolved” or “what the Queen likes”, and an argument is required to convince me that they refer to the the same things. (My argument here seems a little like Moore’s open question argument).

          do you believe that we can condemn an evolved phenotype? On what grounds? (I understand that you see where this may lead: if you do, you need an authority above all that evolved; if you do not, then …)

          Yes, on the grounds that some evolved behaviour is bad.

          if you can condemn something that has evolved, it is your judgement on the other things that evolved. In other words, the only wrong thing that evolved is your moral sense.

          I’m not sure I’d say my moral sense evolved: it’s pretty clear the socialisation had something to do with it, too. I’m not clear on what you’re saying here: why would I think that my moral sense was wrong?

          You cannot show that you are not wrong.

          I didn’t say that I could: recall, this debate started with CMP’s claim that if there is no God, people are of no more moral value than rocks. I don’t think that, and I still I see no reason to think that. CMP (and you) are the ones making the positive claim here, I’m merely saying I have no reason to believe you. As you are making the claim, you have the burden of proof.

          1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

            I do not espouse the position that there are no objective truths …

            You cannot have objective truths, if everyone is an equal authority. That, in fact, is the definition of universal subjectivity. So, pick one thing: eat the cake, or have it. Either you admit that there is some truth that is so, regardless of whether the whole World rejects it (at which point whose opinion it is will be the authority whose opinion decides objective truth—I call Him Our Father Who Art in Heaven), or you accept that what is true is decided by what we think is true (which you have rejected).
            You have rejected P ^ not-P; which leads me to ask: do you at least accept the principle of non-contradiction?

            As I said earlier, your position does not seem to be foundationalism, and foundationalism is not the position that “there are objective truths”.

            That is the definition of foundationalism. (“Your authority against mine!”—pun intended. Do you, at least, now see why we can’t not have an objective idea what “foundationalism,” for example, means, unless there is an authority?)

            Yes, we can certainly condemn things as immoral. People do it all the time.

            Those people are immoral. To condemn anything is immoral! (Can you rebut that, without relying on authority? Or does anything go, both my assertion and yours? If you fail to tell me why I am wrong for saying you are wrong it implies that you have seen the logical end of having no authority, even though you still think that you believe in objective truths. If you tell me why I am wrong, you have appealed to an authority.)

            My claim is that this is not well founded: if people want me believe it, they need to offer a further argument. It may still be true, but I have no reason to think so.

            A reductio that could show you my point is to ask: “By what authority do you say that my argument is not well-founded?”

            … you probably want to avoid the technique where you quote something as if you approve of it and then ask why people shouldn’t believe it: that can look as if it is your position.

            I am sorry; I am not gifted with rhetorical flourish. Most that I try beyond the simple will just explode in my hands. My apologies.

            Yes, on the grounds that some evolved behaviour is bad.

            That bad evolved behaviour is your behaviour here expressed: the tendency to deem the rape of your wife immoral (for example). You are immoral for deeming immoral what you do in fact deem immoral. (Do you not yet see the need for authority? How much longer?)

            I’m not sure I’d say my moral sense evolved … I’m not clear on what you’re saying here: why would I think that my moral sense was wrong?

            Are you trying to say that there is even the smallest sliver of possibility that there is something about you that is did not evolve? I want to know for certain—a confession, as it were—before I send you to the gallows.
            You moral sense is wrong by the same authority—“mere” evolved human opinion—that you deem other evolved things wrong. (You can set up a heirarchy, and arrive at a sufficiently-priviledged opinion—“transcendent”—to settle the matter. Otherwise you are condemned just as you condemn the serial rapist, for example.)

            CMP (and you) are the ones making the positive claim here, I’m merely saying I have no reason to believe you. As you are making the claim, you have the burden of proof.

            Every statement is a positive claim. You should be able to prove that “humans are not X” within your axioms. After all, how did you arrive at a position that opposes any other? You also have the burden of proof. (Or, if you disagree, you can appeal to an authority we are both subject to, to settle the matter of who has the burden of proof. But that is itself the proof of my position.)

            1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
              You cannot have objective truths, if everyone is an equal authority.

              But I have not claimed that everyone is an equal authority.

              You have rejected P ^ not-P; which leads me to ask: do you at least accept the principle of non-contradiction?

              No I haven’t, and yes I do.

              That is the definition of foundationalism

              No, the definition of foundationalism is that there are properly basic beliefs. Of course, you’re free to make up your own definition, but you’ll then be unclear when talking to people who use the common definition.

              Do you, at least, now see why we can’t not have an objective idea what “foundationalism,” for example, means, unless there is an authority?

              In this case, foundationalism means what philosophers have agreed by the term. So it is their authority which determines the meaning. I’m not sure how this fits in with your idea that such facts are determined by God.

              I would say that it is objectively true that “most analytic philosophers use ‘foundationalism’ to mean ‘X'”. It’s not clear that there’s a fact about what foundationalism means outside that truth: the meaning of the word isn’t itself an objective truth.

              To condemn anything is immoral! (Can you rebut that, without relying on authority? Or does anything go, both my assertion and yours? If you fail to tell me why I am wrong for saying you are wrong it implies that you have seen the logical end of having no authority, even though you still think that you believe in objective truths. If you tell me why I am wrong, you have appealed to an authority.)

              I see no reason to think that “to condemn anything is immoral”. If you can tell me what reason you have for thinking that (not that you do actually think it, but for the sake of argument, I mean), there is something to rebut. Otherwise, you’ve just made an assertion which I don’t agree with, and I feel free to ignore it.

              In any case, my assertion was that people do in fact condemn things as immoral, not that they are moral to do so (I think in some cases they are and in some cases they aren’t). It’s pretty clear from observation that my assertion is correct. 🙂

              But as I said, I suspect what you meant was “can people consistently do this?” not “is it physically possible?” My response is that if there are moral facts independent of anyone’s opinion, they clearly can, at least in some cases (where they are condemning things which are in fact immoral). I don’t know whether there are moral facts, but the fact that there’s no God does not imply that there are not moral facts.

              1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

                But I have not claimed that everyone is an equal authority.

                If no authority is above any other, all that remains is that all are equal authorities. Anyway, if you reject that everyone is an equal authority, what do you use to decide who is correct and who isn’t, as is required by your position? (Don’t worry; I am not opposed to using “gut-feeling” to arrive at truths.)

                No, the definition of foundationalism is that there are properly basic beliefs.

                This time, I tried to make the irony attempt very bare, that you may see the “trap” in it for you. To quote the comment you’re replying to:

                That is the definition of foundationalism. (“Your authority against mine!”—pun intended. Do you, at least, now see why we can’t not have an objective idea what “foundationalism,” for example, means, unless there is an authority?)

                I repeat: Do you, at least, now see why we can’t not have an objective idea what “foundationalism,” for example, means, unless there is an authority?

                So it is their authority which determines the meaning. I’m not sure how this fits in with your idea that such facts are determined by God.

                They are God. Do you see it, now? (You agree, don’t you, that they are infallible on this matter. They are God. Do you have a knock-down?)

                … the meaning of the word isn’t itself an objective truth.

                In other words, my use of it was correct, then? In other words, nobody can condemn my use of it, since the condemner is not objectively correct? If I say that I am correct and the philosophers are wrong, are you justified in listening to me at all? If not, you have found you god—the one who is right of the two of us—or you do not really believe in objective truths. But you contradict yourself with every second comment, so I put the questions here and see where it ends up.

                If you can tell me what reason you have for thinking that…, there is something to rebut.

                The great Prof. Peter Singer has done my work for me. I shall summarise by saying that: since there is no authority above me, my opinion that nothing is immoral is, in fact, correct. If you disagree you are wrong. (This is where we end up, when we have no authority.)

                Otherwise, you’ve just made an assertion which I don’t agree with, and I feel free to ignore it.

                Universal subjectivity, then? For I have done unto thee as you do unto me. We both ignore each other, and head right on. (If one of us is right, it is because of the backing of one greater than us, as was the case with the “foundationalism” fiasco. Do you have another God to beat me by?)

                In any case, my assertion was that people do in fact condemn things as immoral, not that they are moral to do so …

                Well, now you know that they are immoral to do so, and that they should not do it.

                It’s pretty clear from observation that my assertion is correct.

                Observation has a long history of being an authority. You are in solid company here.

                I don’t know whether there are moral facts, but the fact that there’s no God does not imply that there are not moral facts.

                Unless there is a constitution (or Constitution), there is no crime. Unless there is a law (says St. Paul) there is no sin imputed. (St. Paul goes on to say that Jesus frees us from the law, so that we are not condemned.) Whatever you rely on to decide who is objectively morally-wrong (assuming you believe that one can be morally-wrong), that is God. (Me, I don’t believe that, without special revelation, one can always know this. Natural law goes only so far.)

            2. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
              That bad evolved behaviour is your behaviour here expressed: the tendency to deem the rape of your wife immoral (for example). You are immoral for deeming immoral what you do in fact deem immoral. (Do you not yet see the need for authority? How much longer?)

              I see no reason to think that. Again, if you have a reason why you think that assertion is true (not that you do, but for the sake of argument), I would be interested to hear it.

              Also, I don’t take kindly to analogies involving people hurting my family. Please refrain from that sort of thing if you want this discussion to continue.

              Are you trying to say that there is even the smallest sliver of possibility that there is something about you that is did not evolve? I want to know for certain—a confession, as it were—before I send you to the gallows.
              You moral sense is wrong by the same authority—“mere” evolved human opinion—that you deem other evolved things wrong. (You can set up a heirarchy, and arrive at a sufficiently-priviledged opinion—“transcendent”—to settle the matter. Otherwise you are condemned just as you condemn the serial rapist, for example.)

              There are plenty of things about me which did not evolve: things which resulted from my upbringing, for example.

              If there are moral facts, then I don’t think they evolved. Those moral facts are the moral authority. There is the question of how we can know these facts, of course, but you seem to be talking about moral ontology, not moral epistemology.

              If there are no moral facts, then my opinion is that certain things are wrong. If other people disagree with me, they will either have to get me out of the way by force, or find a way to persuade me based on some common assumptions (for example, that suffering is generally a bad thing).

              In either case, introducing a God doesn’t help: if there are moral facts, they exist independently of him (as Morriston argues) and if there are not, there is no reason to think that God’s moral opinions are privileged (though we might consult him on the best way to achieve moral goals we agree on).

              You should be able to prove that “humans are not X” within your axioms. After all, how did you arrive at a position that opposes any other?

              CMP’s statement is that 1) “the absence of God implies that humans aren’t morally valuable”. This is a different statement from the statement that 2) “humans are morally valuable”. For example, if 1) is false, this doesn’t imply anything about 2) (though there are links: if 1) is true and there’s no God, 2) is false).

              My claim is that there’s no reason to believe 1). Getting into 2) wasn’t my intention here, although it might merit a separate post, I suppose.

              1. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

                Also, I don’t take kindly to analogies involving people hurting my family. Please refrain from that sort of thing if you want this discussion to continue.

                I hope you accept my sincere apologies. My inner voice warned me against that; but I rebelled. I should have known to respect you more. (Too long discussing with the very dregs of the Internet, and one loses such civility.) I am truly sorry indeed. I shall put this alone, to better-express my regret about this issue, and I promise not be so improper again (with you, or with anybody else). So help me, O God. (My beliefs compel that last addendum; I hope it is not too pungent.)

              2. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God

                Again, if you have a reason why you think that assertion is true …, I would be interested to hear it.

                I am a greater authority than you are (for example, I am more-hairy! —and I can kill you before you can kill me! —and the the eminent Prof. Peter Singer agrees with me!). So, you should subject your morals to mine. (Whatever you use to overthrow me, that is your authority.)

                There are plenty of things about me which did not evolve: things which resulted from my upbringing, for example.

                Your upbringing evolved.

                If there are moral facts, then I don’t think they evolved. Those moral facts are the moral authority.

                As my friend once said, “Anything but God!” My moral fact, that no morality exists and it is only the creation of superstitious, prudish, Judeo-Christian geocentrist celibate monks (in which I am with the eminent Prof. Michel Onfray) contends with yours. Who is correct? What you use to arrive at the answer is the authority. (I am okay with just appealing to “gut feeling”.) When you terminate in an authority for whom being correct is part of existing, then you have found God. Now, set about dismissing Prof. Michel Onfray and myself.

                If other people disagree with me, they will either have to get me out of the way by force, or find a way to persuade me based on some common assumptions (for example, that suffering is generally a bad thing).

                I think I will elect to get you out of the way. After all, suffering is a good thing. I doubt that I am descended from Genghis Khan, but I am heartened by the suffering around me, especially when I cause it. (Just joking; but it is me you are facing off with, you might as well deal with the dregs of possibility. I’m also certainly not a Genghisid.) I don’t persuade. I erase. And that is the moral thing to do—delete morality (and religion) like the mal-adaptive brain virus it is. Quarantine and burn.

                In either case, introducing a God doesn’t help: if there are moral facts, they exist independently of him (as Morriston argues) …

                They are not. 10° centigrade doesn’t exist independent of the authority who sets the centigrade; this should sound tautological to a perceptive ear. (In ancient Egypt, they used the Pharaoh’s finger as the unit of length. Some say we’ve degenerated since then.)

                … there is no reason to think that God’s moral opinions are privileged …

                The privileged entity, you will find, is God. (In the modern World, it is the scientist. Back then, it was the priest. Thank God that age is gone; may God hasten the end of this one. In the prehistoric, it may have been “The culture of the Ancients,” or the like. Whatever it is, you will likely end up giving it offerings and prayers. My hope is that you find the One True God in the search—when you find the objective truth.)

          2. Subject: Re: Q: When is a Person Like Anything Else? A: When There is No God
            Let me try to synthesise it better, having better-understood your position—hopefully. Do you reject the following sentence: “There is an opinion that is correct, regardless of whether anybody else holds it.” (You could reject it by starting off with a re-jigging of the definition of “fact”; after all, no authorities exist to decide if your definition contra mine—if they differ—is wrong or right.) Another idea I have got: “gay” would mean “happy mood; person in such a mood” if the gods—Merriam and Webster—decided so. Or, of course, it could mean “homosexual (usu. male); characteristic of such a one” if the gods—American culture, Wikipedia—decided so. We are the clay; the gods are (in my case, God is) the potter.

    5. Subject: An aside on Fodor and the design hypothesis
      which hypothesis, by the way, is correct.

      I’d say not, but even if it is, we have little reason to suppose that there is a single designer who is the God of classical theism. I’d recommend Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: you can read it on the web or read the second half of Alex Byrne’s article, which is a fair summary.

      This is why Prof. Jerry Fodor’s latest book is an important contribution (even though he has been subjected to the same treatment that all who challenge the neo-Darwinian creed are given).

      Fodor’s objections to evolution are that it does not fit within a certain philosophy of scientific explanation, as I understand it. The fact that some scientists and some creationists have decided it forms part of the debate on religion is neither here nor there: Fodor’s book is not an argument about religion, since to reason that “if evolution is false, Christianity is true” is a bad argument.

      1. Subject: Re: An aside on Fodor and the design hypothesis

        I’d say not, but even if it is, we have little reason to suppose that there is a single designer who is the God of classical theism.

        The design hypothesis is impossible to refute without self-refuting. Therefore it is correct, it is axiomatic. (It is what you base on to believe that a human who believes in God is writing this, not an agnostic chimpanzee; and you are correct. Although I do feel like a chimpanzee from time to time. I even look like one, I’ve been told.)

        I’d recommend Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion …

        I’d recommend Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz’ Théodicée, in my turn. We cannot verify any of Hume’s assertions without assuming that we know all possible systems. At any rate, his only valid assertion was what he felt design flaws (anatomically, as is the case with those who use this argument today—recurrent laryngeal nerve!—and systemically, as is the case with, say, predation and pain). The problem—fatal problem—for Hume’s assertion is that it pretends that God has to conform to Hume’s idea of good. In it, you see the seeds of moderns like ourselves, you and me, saying “God ordered a massacre; therefore He is bad; therefore He doesn’t exist”. For all we know, God did, in fact, create such a world, with such problems, knowingly, for His purposes. Your system has the kill(1) command; I hope you feel bad about that process you killed! I hope you realise that this implies Unix was not designed by a good programmer, since—I, Hume, insist—“a good programmer would never have designed this kind of thing.”

        Fodor’s book is not an argument about religion, since to reason that “if evolution is false, Christianity is true” is a bad argument.

        Are there people making such an argument? Sadly for them, evolution is true. Neo-Darwinian evolution, though, is false. And anything that claims that purposeful design is absent in nature, as does Prof. Richard Dawkins, is wrong. Christianity is true, regardless.
        Of course Fodor’s book is not an argument about religion; but you should see the responses he is getting. He has been called a creationist a number of times! He is just arguing that neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory is insufficient; but this has been known to many since before the last century. There is a reason L‘Evolution Créatrice helped someone to a Nobel.

        1. Subject: Re: An aside on Fodor and the design hypothesis
          The design hypothesis is impossible to refute without self-refuting. Therefore it is correct, it is axiomatic. (It is what you base on to believe that a human who believes in God is writing this,

          No, I base my belief that a human is writing your comments on the fact that it is that specifies of effect (comments on my blog) I have observed to proceed from that cause (humans writing them). No design hypothesis is required.

          Now, you may mean that “just as we assume comments have human authors, so we should assume that the universe (or humans) are the products of design”. But this is precisely the argument that Hume rebuts:

          If we see a house, CLEANTHES, we conclude, with the greatest certainty, that it had an architect or builder; because this is precisely that species of effect which we have experienced to proceed from that species of cause. But surely you will not affirm, that the universe bears such a resemblance to a house, that we can with the same certainty infer a similar cause, or that the analogy is here entire and perfect. The dissimilitude is so striking, that the utmost you can here pretend to is a guess, a conjecture, a presumption concerning a similar cause; and how that pretension will be received in the world, I leave you to consider.

          1. Subject: Re: An aside on Fodor and the design hypothesis

            No, I base my belief that a human is writing your comments on the fact that it is that specifies of effect (comments on my blog) I have observed to proceed from that cause (humans writing them). No design hypothesis is required.

            You know well that software can write things. A genetic algorithm can generate this comment. Why do you think that this is impossible? (Curious position from one who wrote a spam system—if memory serves, and you are the same Paul Wright—that relied on a design hypothesis, albeit differently-named. About that system, I think your software pre-dated Paul Graham’s essay on Bayesian filtering, though it used the same principle. Am I right? Now that I got to talk to you, I can put this trivia to rest once and for all.)

            The dissimilitude is so striking, that the utmost you can here pretend to is a guess, a conjecture, a presumption concerning a similar cause; and how that pretension will be received in the world, I leave you to consider.This is where Hume goes wrong. After all, the people who correctly infer that the Hubble Space Telescope is designed, only having seen spear-heads designed, are correct. Hume forgot to realise that his thoughts are only trustworthy insofar as they are correctly-inferred to be the result of design (as opposed to, say, LSD doses). And the dissimilitude between the great Scot’s thoughts and a simple two-dimensional drawing, I leave you to consider.

            1. Subject: Re: An aside on Fodor and the design hypothesis
              I’ve never written a Bayesian spam filter: I did write some software to filter spam another way.

              So far, we have not produced convincing AIs. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible, but since there aren’t any yet, I think I’m justified in assuming you’re a human.

              After all, the people who correctly infer that the Hubble Space Telescope is designed, only having seen spear-heads designed, are correct

              One could argue that if such people existed, they might well not be justified in believing the HST was designed (although in fact they would be correct: the question is one of justification, not truth). If that seems too much of a bullet to bite, one could argue that people who have seen simple machines designed are justified in assuming more complex ones were also designed. Hume’s point is that the universe is very unlike anything else we’ve seen designed.

              Hume forgot to realise that his thoughts are only trustworthy insofar as they are correctly-inferred to be the result of design

              No, they’re trustworthy insofar as they are produced in a way which produces truths. To say that only design does this requires more work, I think: Plantinga has had a go, for example.

              1. Subject: Re: An aside on Fodor and the design hypothesis

                I did write some software to filter spam another way.

                Ah. So I was wrong in my debate long ago on this issue. (I know someone did, but obviously it is not you. The authority has settled it.)

                I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible, but since there aren’t any yet, I think I’m justified in assuming you’re a human.

                Well, I am informing you now that you are discussing with merely a very rare occurrence of random generation that has only been lightly aided by “dictionary selection” (wherein we kill of the unfit randomly-generated words; the words that are not in the dictionary).
                The reason you will reject this claim (which is analogous to random mutation plus natural selection) is the same reason I think that refuting design hypotheses is self-refuting.

                … although in fact they would be correct: the question is one of justification, not truth …

                The naïve principle that “What looks like purposeful design is indeed purposeful design” is their justification.

                Hume’s point is that the universe is very unlike anything else we’ve seen designed.

                In which he is wrong. The universe displays design—especially to us, 21st-century apes—that we are only now beginning to understand because of our own increased powers of design. All along, however, the naïve beliefs of design that were held by the ancients were right. For example, the Greeks thought the brain is for cooling the blood. If you can think that there is a delicate cooling system—on top of sweating, say—and you infer design, you are right. Biology is part of the observable universe. The same goes for the ancient and modern understandings of the cosmos.

                No, they’re trustworthy insofar as they are produced in a way which produces truths.

                Which are only provided by purposeful design. (I should note here that I do not agree with the Intelligent Design movement; certainly not with their methods. I think that what they arrive at is true, but Baconian science cannot get you there; and they seem not to know this.)

                To say that only design does this requires more work, I think: Plantinga has had a go, for example.

                I first encountered C.S. Lewis on this, where he said

                Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.

                In those days, I had not yet learnt modesty, and I thought I was being original. Like most sceptics, I trusted too unduly much in my own “intelligence”; but he had said it better.

        2. Subject: Re: An aside on Fodor and the design hypothesis
          We cannot verify any of Hume’s assertions without assuming that we know all possible systems.

          But you’re showing that you haven’t read the book, or Byrne’s summary. Most of Hume’s rebuttal to the Design Argument does not rest on an argument that the design is imperfect (though that is one of the arguments he makes, it is not the only one).

          But, since we are now talking about Hume’s arguments from bad design (as opposed to his other arguments), it’s worth mentioning that Hume does not assume that we “know all possible systems”. In fact, he agrees that we do not, and in fact he says that a being of limited intelligence who was assured that the world was the work of a benevolent creator should not abandon that assurance in the face of the world’s apparent imperfections. As he writes:

          It must, I think, be allowed, that if a very limited intelligence, whom we shall suppose utterly unacquainted with the universe, were assured, that it were the production of a very good, wise, and powerful Being, however finite, he would, from his conjectures, form beforehand a different notion of it from what we find it to be by experience; nor would he ever imagine, merely from these attributes of the cause, of which he is informed, that the effect could be so full of vice and misery and disorder, as it appears in this life. Supposing now, that this person were brought into the world, still assured that it was the workmanship of such a sublime and benevolent Being; he might, perhaps, be surprised at the disappointment; but would never retract his former belief, if founded on any very solid argument; since such a limited intelligence must be sensible of his own blindness and ignorance, and must allow, that there may be many solutions of those phenomena, which will for ever escape his comprehension.

          Rather, his argument is that we are only justified in thinking that the designers are as powerful, or as good, as is apparent from what they designed. The designers may be omnipotent or omnibenevolent, but a belief that they are must be justified by other means. But the more you say “humans just don’t know anything about how a benevolent God would act”, the harder it is to justify those beliefs. How can we justify assertions about omnipotence or omnibenevolence? He goes on to say:

          But supposing, which is the real case with regard to man, that this creature is not antecedently convinced of a supreme intelligence, benevolent, and powerful, but is left to gather such a belief from the appearances of things; this entirely alters the case, nor will he ever find any reason for such a conclusion. He may be fully convinced of the narrow limits of his understanding; but this will not help him in forming an inference concerning the goodness of superior powers, since he must form that inference from what he knows, not from what he is ignorant of. The more you exaggerate his weakness and ignorance, the more diffident you render him, and give him the greater suspicion that such subjects are beyond the reach of his faculties. You are obliged, therefore, to reason with him merely from the known phenomena, and to drop every arbitrary supposition or conjecture.

          1. Subject: Re: An aside on Fodor and the design hypothesis
            Pardon me that terrible formatting of the previous comment.

            But you’re showing that you haven’t read the book, or Byrne’s summary.

            You inferred wrong. (Which does more to rescue your position than does Hume.)

            Most of Hume’s rebuttal to the Design Argument does not rest on an argument that the design is imperfect (though that is one of the arguments he makes, it is not the only one).

            I know that; my contention was (and is) that only the argument from dysteleology approaches success. The rest of it is self-refuting acrobatics.

            Rather, his argument is that we are only justified in thinking that the designers are as powerful, or as good, as is apparent from what they designed.

            The real question, of course, being if we are correct in making such a judgement. If he maintains that we are (as he does), then he is correct. Me, I distrust my ability to judge system design, having as I do many failed systems in my past. This is also why I said it is only this argument of his that approaches success.

            You are obliged, therefore, to reason with him merely from the known phenomena, and to drop every arbitrary supposition or conjecture.

            Like I put it, we are only justified in thinking that the jailer is harsh if he is obliged to be kind and doesn’t. That the man is a murderer, if he can avoid being but does go ahead and murder.
            I did refer you to the post on my own blog (which I shall not link to, for the benefit of your readers); there is a post there where I explain why God’s Grace—and all attendant attributes, such as God’s selfish parading of the insane extents of His mercy—calls for a world similar to this.

            1. Subject: Re: An aside on Fodor and the design hypothesis
              The rest of it is self-refuting acrobatics.

              But you’ve not rebutted the rest of it, and indeed, Hume’s arguments seem convincing to me and Dialogues is apparently regarded by professional philosophers as some of Hume’s best work, so I see no reason to think it is self-refuting.

              Like I put it, we are only justified in thinking that the jailer is harsh if he is obliged to be kind and doesn’t.

              Well of course. On what basis do you then judge that the designer is omnipotent, benevolent, and omniscient? Hume’s point is if we make an admission that we aren’t competent to judge how a god with a particular character would behave, we are in no position to judge whether the designer is benevolent or malevolent, omniscient or not, or omnipotent or not.

              Stephen Law makes a similar argument to this when he points out that theists are inconsistent if they reject “theodicies” which defend the notion that God is evil but accept theodicies which defend the notion that God is good (the similarity is that “we cannot understand God’s ways” is one of the theodicies). See the God of Eth.

              1. Subject: Re: An aside on Fodor and the design hypothesis

                Hume’s point is if we make an admission that we aren’t competent to judge … we are in no position to judge whether the designer is benevolent or malevolent, omniscient or not, or omnipotent or not.

                Hence why I think that this argument is the one that approaches success (because I already grant that Hume is not perfect; therefore even if this applies to him, it does not refute him).
                For me, though, the characters of creation imply to me deliberate shortcomings invested in to provide an opportunity for God to parade His Nature at a later date. No unlike how the strongman cripples himself with hand-cuffs before he parts his arms to show that, yes, he can break steel. Not unlike how the fast-drawing shooter leaves his gun holstered until the enemy has cocked his.
                The Bible seems to indicate that this is the purpose of the creation that we are part of. At any rate, when He parades His mercy, you, Paul Wright, will be pardoned, and then we will all see that, yes, great are His mercies and His faithfulness; even when we lose faith, He remains faithful (because He is bound, as we said earlier; He is incapable of freeing Himself from His obligation to be Himself).
                If this possibility exists, the qualities that are disconsonant are not disproven (the strongman has not been subdued by cuffs).

                … theists are inconsistent if they reject “theodicies” which defend the notion that God is evil but accept theodicies which defend the notion that God is good …

                I accept (rather viciously, even obnoxiously) that God is foul. I have written twice about why I think this. Not least because the Bible makes no modern pretences about God being palatable. Correctly seen, without the Grace that Jesus enables, God must be pure, throbbing, killing evil itself. God will offend, unless Jesus is in the picture. (There is a reason sacrifice is only an artefact of religion—especially living sacrifice. Unlike murder which has convenience motives, sacrifice is, so to speak, “evil done for the sake of it, because it has to be done”. There is a reason why Jesus wanted to cop out of His sacrificial role at the last minute—“let this cup of suffering pass from me, not as I will, but as You Will.” Also, there is a reason The Passion of the Christ was ministered to by a horror movie graphics crew—or, should we say graphic crew.)

  4. Subject: My new affair with atheism, carried with it the sudden burden of ultimate meaninglessness
    Well, so what. That could be an argument for wanting to believe in God. It is no kind of argument for actually beliving in God.

    Also, surely if you are the sort of person who believes that morality stems from God, then the assertion “no god => people of no more moral value than rocks” is indeed logically perfectly coherent (except you’ve just used a word that you argue has no meaning in that context, but it can probably be rephrased to get round that).

    Moeraki: I’ve bin there, you know: http://www.flickr.com/photos/belette/sets/72157594299326864/ Sorry there is only on pic. Speaking of which: http://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/100-years-ago/40262/stoat-attacks-man-hoeing-turnips

  5. Comrade, I’ve started over with a top-level comment, because I’d like to try to draw the disparate threads on truth together, by summarising what I take to be our positions. (I hope get back to design later, but that’s a separate thread).

    First, yours:

    A. Objective truths, including moral (and logical?) truths, are just what God wills that they are.
    B. God cannot change his own nature, therefore at least some of the truths he wills could not have been otherwise.
    C. All objective truths require a personal authority which wills their existence, namely God, therefore cannot be objective truths if God does not exist.

    Is that a fair summary?

    Secondly, mine:

    1. Objective truths are true regardless of anyone’s opinion on the matter.
    2. There are such truths. For example, the truth of simple physical statements like “The cat is on the mat” do not depend on my opinion, or, as far as I can see, on anyone else’s.
    3. Such truths do not require an “authority” which makes them true: rather, the statement “The cat is on the mat” is true if and only if the cat is on the mat. The cat being on the mat is what makes the statement true.
    4. I don’t know whether any first order (i.e. normative, rather than meta-ethical) moral statements fall into this category.
    4a. But whether or not any such statements are objectively true is orthogonal to whether or not God exists: even if God does exist, the Euthyphro and Morriston’s arguments seem to show that theistic moral realists can’t avoid either saying they’d be happy to worship an omnipotent fiend (as C.S. Lewis puts it) or accepting some sort of moral platonism.

    I think there are some possible points of agreement between us, but they depend on whether I have understood you correctly.

    I agree that, were God to exist, he could “make” at least some statements true in the sense that he could say “Let the cat be on the mat!” and lo, the cat would be on the mat.

    Nevertheless, as I say in 3, even in this case, the statement that “the cat is on the mat” is true by virtue of the fact of the cat being on the mat. I can similarly “make” the statement true if I pick up the cat and place it on the mat, and I’m not God.

    God’s omnipotence would mean he could place more cats on more mats than I can, of course, but I take it that your A and C are not merely claims of God’s power over cats. I think you’re saying that “the cat is on the mat” is true not by virtue of the cat being on the mat, but by virtue of God willing it to be true. Is this correct? It seems a very odd view, if so: are you saying there could be a situation in which the cat was on the mat but the statement “The cat is on the mat” was false because God had not used the authority you say he has to make it true?

    Also, I note that what I’ve said so far is about the metaphysics of truth, if you like: the question of “what makes something true?” Many of your responses focus instead on epistemology: the question of “how can we know that the cat is in fact on the mat?” On the epistemic question, I agree that we rely on authorities all the time, and that, if we had convincing evidence that an omniscient being was talking to us and not deceiving us, that would be an excellent epistemic authority.

    But note that such epistemic authorities serve as reliable reporters: the newsreader does not make the news true. So I take it that your claim is more than that God is an omniscient and reliable reporter. Is that right?

    One final question: what makes it true that “God cannot change his own nature”?

    1. Subject: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?
      Sorry, Paul. I had something of a crisis over here for about a week, and got out of the game. I guess I am back.
      Meanwhile, I have no assurance that I got my apology accepted for the earlier infelicity (to put it very gently). All the same, I am truly sorry, and I mean that.

      Now, this new thread.

      Objective truths, including moral (and logical?) truths, are just what God wills that they are.

      More like there are objective truths, which we can only know by seeking for the truths that remain so because the one who asserts that they are so is beyond being over-ridden. (After a bit of trying to massage the point, I’m trying this angle.) This is why I brought up the “foundationalism” issue—because the axioms, the properly-basic beliefs, are beyond questioning and (dis)proof the way God is in this case—but it ended up being a terrible example.

      God cannot change his own nature, therefore at least some of the truths he wills could not have been otherwise.

      More like: God cannot be different. This is decidedly agnostic—no pun—about God’s Will, about whether He wills that He were a Heraclitean Flux on High. I understand your need to bring omnipotency in; so I will still speak of it as well: yes, some of the truths He wills could have been otherwise. Now, come in with: therefore He doesn’t set objective truths, which doesn’t follow. But come in with it anyway.

      All objective truths require a personal authority which wills their existence, namely God, therefore cannot be objective truths if God does not exist.

      Personal? Um … probably not. But still: more like all objective truths are only objective truths (whether or not they are also subjective truths, for subjective truths ∈ objective truths) because there is an authority who declares them to be truths. This authority is priviledged, and treated as defining truth. Cf. your appeal to “standard usage of the word” and “that is what modern philosophers use it as” and “philosophers consider it his best work”. I could expand this list to millions of examples, with each of the meanings of each of your words in each of your sentences being a single member of the example set. I don’t argue with Merriam & Webster.
      Now, if we find an authority, we have found God—unless there is an authority above this authority. The authority above whom none is: this we understand to be God.

      1. Subject: Re: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?

        Objective truths are true regardless of anyone’s opinion on the matter.

        Even the objective truth that is the meaning of “akatangalijja”, for instance? If you do establish the meaning of that, you will have to use an authority. So I say: the proof that this is wrong is due to the impossibility of establishing that the statement is correct without opposing it, and appealing to an opinion to establish that it is true—if it is.

        … simple physical statements like “The cat is on the mat” do not depend on my opinion …

        After Zeno of Elea is done with you … But more-importantly, if it is not the “simple physical truth” that is assailed—for even sceptics like myself respect the truth-value of a result within its system, even as we challenge the system—then it will be the assumptions leading to that “simple physical truth”. For one, I do not (for example) assault if “the cat is on the mat” (due to new kittens, I have eight cats now—and it is not even the crisis!—and there happens to be one on the mat right now), but rather I assault the expanded (“with redexes”) statement of “my facilities are accurate at this point, and I see with my poorly-evolved eyes, and process with my ape brain, that there is a cat on the mat”. It is how you manage to disqualify “God talked to me.”

        The cat being on the mat is what makes the statement true.

        The statement carries more than just that assertion. It also carries the assertion that your drink wasn’t laced with LSD. But all these we can leave for now, and assume that you are correct in saying that the statement is true independent even of anybody to announce it as being true.

        … they’d be happy to worship an omnipotent fiend …

        I worship such a one! It’s just that I cannot see Him as being bad, because He decrees what good is defined (and so my sense of good is based on His). If He decreed that “burn at the stake” was a sensual and joyful experience, I would be “burning at the stake” those I love. I think it is like arguing with the pilot over how fast you are hurtling through the air. The pilot is God in the heavens; no blasphemy intended. “We are currently over Irish skies,” and that is an objective truth from God in the heavens’ mouth. (Or seek a higher authority—GPS, say—by which to falsify him and in so doing find a new God. When you hit the terminus, bow the knee to Our Father Who Art in Heaven.)

        Now, in this exchange, you make many statements (“I can similarly “make” the statement true”) that you can only justify by digging up the forgotten roots of your Western civilisation, in particular things like “In the image of God, He made them; Man and Woman, He made them.” O, you beneficiary of your authority over creation!

        Also, I note that what I’ve said so far is about the metaphysics of truth, if you like: the question of “what makes something true?” Many of your responses focus instead on epistemology: the question of “how can we know that the cat is in fact on the mat?”

        I think that both are dealt with. After all, if we know that the cat is in fact on the mat, we can look at the guarantors of this truth and have them as the reason thereof. I know that for the moderns, such efficient causes, to say naught of final causes, are not seen in truths. But that’s their loss.

        On the epistemic question, I agree that we rely on authorities all the time, and that, if we had convincing evidence that an omniscient being was talking to us and not deceiving us, that would be an excellent epistemic authority.

        I am glad you agree, for now I can assume that when I say “The Law says!” you will not chuckle at me in a Samharrisian fashion and go “Do you have any evidence that justifies treating that as some sort of holy book? And what shall we say to those who have other legal codes?” before you compare my laws to The Iliad. And we do have such an authority by virtue of needing one necessarily, if we have objective truths. And we do have objective truths (because both the earlier clause of this sentence and its negation are objective truths, if they are true).

        1. Subject: Re: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?

          But note that such epistemic authorities serve as reliable reporters: the newsreader does not make the news true.

          I recognise this, but part of my argument is that the dichotomy between news reporter and news maker is not always valid. I see a failure to terminate, a failure to arrive at the elements that we necessarily have—this God, whose report is true simply because it is His report, Whose Word is the Truth—if we always insist that this dichotomy must hold. Anyway, this is why I rely on the example of neologisms to make this point for me. At some point, someone is the god of the word: he originates it, defines it, reports it.

          One final question: what makes it true that “God cannot change his own nature”?

          This has a recursive answer. Like His name, because it is analogous (indeed likely the same things), I Am Who I Am, this is one of those things I receive like I received my faith in reason and the power thereof. It is just so. That is, He cannot, because He cannot.

          One last thing, in my turn: as you saw from my comments on Parchment and Pen, I do not believe in reducing fundamental truths to reason; especially not if the truths include a disclaimer against precisely that. This is the original sin of the Western mindset. Life is not a mathematical proof. As sport, it is all good. But as the issue upon which we base to over-throw entire ethical structures upon which our civilisations are built … not good. We cannot prove that minds exist. But woe to the peoples who begin to act as though minds do not exist! In the first three generations, not much will shock. And then murder ceases to be wrong, because no mind was caused distress. Pardon me for being slow to let an ape—myself—do my thinking for me! Or, at least, let this ape be humble. Let it respect Kurt Gödel’s work. Above all, let it know that God is not an issue of reason, for God has to be in place before reason functions; after all, how do I know that “Illogic is bad!” unless it is decreed so? Or shall we take en masse to illogic? —In which case the irrational believer in God is justified. —And yet if he is not justified, it is because he is justified, since then the Giver of Ultimate Decrees exists.
          But people like me believe because of personal experiences that reason can neither support nor over-throw. If I am mad, at least let me be consistent in my madness. It is even disingenuous of people like me to give such debates, because we start with the assumption that “(((God) is) true)”. But all the same, my point (as is evident, perhaps, from my blog and comments here) is that the God I met is true, because He defines truth. I found that I could be a sceptic, even be non-religious as I am, but I could no longer not-believe in God because reason didn’t render Him, since I understood that reason was insufficient to render (even if good for explanations about) the God of Grace through Jesus Christ Our Lord.

          1. Subject: Re: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?
            This has a recursive answer.

            Well, possibly, but you allow such self-referential truths, I see no reason why truths cannot be true by virtue of them being true, independently of whether there is a God.

            But people like me believe because of personal experiences that reason can neither support nor over-throw. If I am mad, at least let me be consistent in my madness. It is even disingenuous of people like me to give such debates, because we start with the assumption that “(((God) is) true)”

            If you believe because of personal experience, then I see no reason to regard an experience I don’t have as convincing (of course, you may not be trying to convince me).

            I’ve previously mentioned Bill Craig’s similar statement that “even in the face of evidence against God which we cannot refute, we ought to believe in God on the basis of His Spirit’s witness”. I quite like Matt McCormick’s claim to have a sensus atheistus which assures him that theism is false: while this doesn’t seem as sensible as Plantinga’s divine sense, who cares whether arguments are reasonable when you have a sensus atheistus? I can “just know” there isn’t a God, and reason can have nothing to say about this strong feeling. If you feel there is something wrong with this feeling of mine, you have grasped what is wrong with that feeling of yours 🙂

            1. Subject: Re: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?

              … I see no reason why truths cannot be true by virtue of them being true, independently of whether there is a God.

              Such non-contigent truths do not abide where there is no God, because they are God. I Am Who I Am is God. The axiom of axioms, as it were. Therefore, in the event that you grant so transcendent a truth, you also grant—necessarily—so transcendent an ontology as God.

              … I see no reason to regard an experience I don’t have as convincing …

              The real tragedy, of course, is that all atheists are rich in divine experience. You do not ever label yourself in terms of God, unless you have experienced him. There is a reason you do not define your position on “akatangalijja”. But St. Paul, as always, put it better than I can. The nature of God is apparent to all. This one plea, the plea of ignorance, is not one atheists have. You can reject what you understand as God, of course. It is called rebellion; on my blog, I call it “determining what is true based on what feels good”. People like me, who engage in this bad behaviour, are likely to reject all that offends: propriety, morals, the sanctity of life, God, Jesus Christ, faith and the need of it for salvation (the invalidation of our efforts), hierarchy, the non-primacy of ourselves, tradition, non-rational custom, and so on.

              I can “just know” there isn’t a God, and reason can have nothing to say about this strong feeling. If you feel there is something wrong with this feeling of mine, you have grasped what is wrong with that feeling of yours 🙂

              My way of dealing with atheists is not to show that they are irrational—I long ago lost faith in reason and rationalism, and I really detest the modern Scholastic tendency to want to collapse things into reason-mandate—but rather, I just try to show the atheist that he is being inconsistent. One who believes in God sans physical evidence is consistent if he also believes in the future sans empirical evidence. For such a one, the set of what exists is not the set of what he can prove to exist with his monkey senses and mind. But for the atheists who believe in the future (for example), that it exists, or even that it will exist, yet reject God because they have no physical evidence, there is an inconsistency. So, I don’t mind you being convinced that God doesn’t exist, in spite of reasons that may compel you otherwise. I only point out that you believe contradictory things. (Such as believing that reason-plus-evidence is reliable, for example, for which we cannot have reasons-plus-evidence.) There is nothing wrong with the sensus adivinitatis; there is everything wrong with it being co-extensive with, say, a sensus intellectus. I am okay, for example (no offence intended), with an unconscious person not believing in God. That one is consistent, for he also doesn’t believe in (say) love. But the inconsistent atheist is conscious—and his conscience bears witness via his inconsistency—that it can’t be true that God doesn’t exist.

        2. Subject: Re: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?
          rather I assault the expanded (“with redexes”) statement of “my facilities are accurate at this point, and I see with my poorly-evolved eyes, and process with my ape brain, that there is a cat on the mat”

          But this is not an argument against my claim that the statement “the cat is on the mat” is true by virtue of the cat being on the mat. Rather, it is scepticism about whether we can know that the statement is true. What makes it true and how we can know it is true are different questions, corresponding to the metaphysics and epistemology distinction.

          It also carries the assertion that your drink wasn’t laced with LSD.

          Again, drinks being laced with LSD are a problem for knowledge, not truth.

          But all these we can leave for now, and assume that you are correct in saying that the statement is true independent even of anybody to announce it as being true.

          We can? So you’re conceding I’m correct?

          I worship such a one!

          More fool you, then: if I were convinced that Satan existed, I certainly wouldn’t worship him. So why do you?

          Now, in this exchange, you make many statements (“I can similarly “make” the statement true”) that you can only justify by digging up the forgotten roots of your Western civilisation

          No, I can justify the claim that I can put cats on mats by putting cats on mats. My point, which you’ve not answered, is that the fact that God and I can both, by hypothesis, put cats on mats does not mean that the statement is true in virtue of our having done so: the statement would still be true if the cat were on the mat for some other reason.

          for now I can assume that when I say “The Law says!” you will not chuckle at me in a Samharrisian fashion and go “Do you have any evidence that justifies treating that as some sort of holy book?

          You cannot assume that, because you have not presented convincing evidence that an omniscient being is talking to you and not deceiving you.

          Now, I said that

          I think you’re saying that “the cat is on the mat” is true not by virtue of the cat being on the mat, but by virtue of God willing it to be true. Is this correct? It seems a very odd view, if so: are you saying there could be a situation in which the cat was on the mat but the statement “The cat is on the mat” was false because God had not used the authority you say he has to make it true?”

          What do you say to those questions?

          1. Subject: Re: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?

            Rather, it is scepticism about whether we can know that the statement is true. What makes it true and how we can know it is true are different questions, corresponding to the metaphysics and epistemology distinction.

            It is pointing out that the only way we can know it is by an authority suitably priviledged. Since we know it, we also know that we have such an authority.
            On the other issue, like I said above, the distinction between “reporter” and “news-maker” is not always valid. At the point that it collapses, that is an authority who gives the truth as reporter and news-maker. I gave you the example of the neologism; I also embedded a question in the heading of the exchange: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title? That should guide you on how I see this.

            Again, drinks being laced with LSD are a problem for knowledge, not truth.

            Maybe you could demonstrate your position better by giving me an example of a truth being without a knower. (And, no, I promise not to spring Plotinus on you. Eternal truths implying Eternal Knower and so on … I don’t like the line much myself.) When you give the example, I’ll know what you mean. But if you do not, then go to the one whose knowledge of a truth implies that it is, in fact, a truth (because He is an authority in the sense you mentioned, epistemological authority), and you will find one.

            We can? So you’re conceding I’m correct?

            No; I was healing your formulation of the statement by adding “announcing” in it. And then I dealt with it. That was meant to be taken in context of the whole comment. Did you not see that the rest of the comment disagreed with your position?

            More fool you, then: if I were convinced that Satan existed, I certainly wouldn’t worship him. So why do you?

            Heh, I’m convinced that Satan exists, but I don’t worship him. That sentence was meant to be taken together with what came after: “It’s just that I cannot see Him as being bad, because He decrees what good is defined (and so my sense of good is based on His). If He decreed that ‘burn at the stake’ was a sensual and joyful experience, I would be ‘burning at the stake’ those I love.” I mentioned this before, in the earlier thread, and also at Parchment and Pen.

            My point, which you’ve not answered, is that the fact that God and I can both, by hypothesis, put cats on mats does not mean that the statement is true in virtue of our having done so: the statement would still be true if the cat were on the mat for some other reason.

            Maybe you can consider the following as an answer, and a proof, perhaps, being as it is a recasting of the answer you say you didn’t get: I am not going to reply to you, and that is true.

            Of course, you can now say that it is true independent of my knowledge of it. I haven’t studied free will, but there is a reason why rocks don’t know any truths.
            I know that the problem in such cases is usually the conception of God. Before moderns can be atheists, they have got to think of God as being natural; restricted as they are, physical, and so on.

          2. Subject: Re: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?

            You cannot assume that, because you have not presented convincing evidence that an omniscient being is talking to you and not deceiving you.

            But this is the same thing you just rejected; the defence for this is in the comments that defend epistemic authority. The very first lot, in fact, deals with this. Many of the authorities there I do not accept; but it doesn’t affect the validity of those authorities for the people who accept them. They are authorities precisely because my evidence would have to presume that they are right. This was the reason for the “foundationalism” functor I drew: we take some things to be right, without having (or being able) to justify them. It is rather sad to see that you have not picked up the point—especially since atheistic thought, more than any other modern thought, depends strongly on this point—and that you do endorse the self-refuting Samharrisian assertions. At any rate, if you are consistent with your more-recent comments, you do not accept this. But I do not know what you are consistent with. Meanwhile, I can’t even provide evidence that evidence is trustworthy! Poor me, having to rely on evidence for everything?

            It seems a very odd view, if so: are you saying there could be a situation in which the cat was on the mat but the statement “The cat is on the mat” was false because God had not used the authority you say he has to make it true?

            The cat wouldn’t be on the mat, if God’s opinion was that it wasn’t. Or, to further explain it, I shall copy this thread’s heading, seeing as you are the blog’s God (and I am genuinely curious): What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?

        3. Subject: Re: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?
          I missed this one:

          Even the objective truth that is the meaning of “akatangalijja”, for instance?

          Words mean what people agree they mean: there is no fact about what they mean independent of the fact that “people use ‘X’ to mean ‘Y'”. But there is still a kind of fact here:

          Consider the statement that “pw201 likes chocolate ice-cream”. This is a fact independent of whatever anyone other than me thinks. But even considering myself, and assuming I have libertarian free-will over my ice-cream preferences, it still seems to me that the statement is true in virtue of the fact of my preference, and not my choice: my choosing is like placing the cat upon the mat, in my earlier example. That said, the true statement of my preferences clearly isn’t independent of that choice.

          I need to reformulate 1 to use the “in virtue of” language, I suppose.

          1. Objective facts are not true in virtue of being someone’s opinion on the matter.

          1. Subject: Re: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?

            Objective facts are not true in virtue of being someone’s opinion on the matter.

            The reason I used a neologism is because that is something where the truth of the objective fact of what it means is tied up with opinion. It is one of those things I can use to symbolise how it is that God’s opinion sets truth; it is one of those occasions where we humans are very similar to God (creating ex nihilo, and so on). And, for neologisms (and other similar cases—say, with the collapse of the wave function, or generally where our opinion sets truth, which is every case, if you are God) this is true.

            In other words, as the title of the exchange is: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?

            It should also be noted that the expression with which I opposed yours—it is not necessarily true that people are not rocks, if there is no God—is of the category of “epistemic authority”, because it only says that we cannot know that they are not rocks (though they may be—and on some mornings I feel like one). Merely that any definitive statement about what they are must presume authority.
            That said, even your argument is valid in this context, although it would be engaging an assertion (that I happen to hold) which is a bit different.

      2. Subject: Re: What’s the Objective Truth About Your Blog Title?
        Sorry, Paul. I had something of a crisis over here for about a week, and got out of the game. I guess I am back.

        No need to apologise for that: real life takes priority over discussions with strangers on the Internet 🙂

        Meanwhile, I have no assurance that I got my apology accepted for the earlier infelicity (to put it very gently). All the same, I am truly sorry, and I mean that.

        Sorry, I hadn’t realised the etiquette here: so, apology accepted. No worries.

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