Who Are You To Say?

What is it about the subject of morality that causes people to retreat to preference from prescription?  When assessing moral actions, many people will make every attempt to avoid making moral judgements on the actions of others.  Why is it so hard to say “that is morally wrong”, is there something wrong with being right?  It seems to me that some actions are truly wrong.  Of course not everyone will agree on what is right and wrong, but does it follow that no one does, or can know true right from wrong?

Dilbert by Scott Adams

When I think about the disagreements people have when it comes to moral standards, I think there is less disagreement than what is vocalized.  If you listen carefully to people who will not condemn what you or I believe to be  immoral behavior, the arguments are generally defensive in nature.  They offer reasons why you should not condemn the behavior, rather than why the behavior is morally good or benign.  What I mean is, they are defending something they believe to be immoral behavior in order to protect themselves to a fashion.  For example, I think there are people who defend abortion even though they oppose it because either they have had an abortion, or someone they care about has had an abortion, and by condemning it they are condemning themselves or their loved one. 

So, I believe it is this defensive nature in people; that they do not like being assessed as immoral by others.  It makes them hesitant to assess other’s behaviors as immoral, “if I don’t say you’re immoral, you can’t say I’m immoral, deal?”.  No one likes being judged, including myself, but that does not mean the judgements are not valid. The uncomfortable feelings which are provoked by being judged should not prevent anyone from being able to properly differentiate between moral and immoral behaviors.

I found myself in agreement with a point made by Sam Harris in his most recent book, The Moral Landscape In science, when there is disagreement of conclusions drawn from certain facts, we don’t throw our hands up and infer there is no right answer.  Why then do people do this with morality?  It  seems to be a bit of circular reasoning.  Unless you begin with moral relativism already decided, why would you conclude moral relativism  based on disagreement?

Comments

  1. To whatever extent this was an underhanded dig at me, I feel like I should mention: I have never had an abortion, nor do I know anyone personally who (to my knowledge) has had one. I have heard snippets about one or two friends of friends who allegedly had one. I’m sure there are more people out there who just don’t tell me about that sort of thing.

    I think you are correct that some people define their morality in this way. The converse is also true; there are people who seem to reason along the lines of, “I don’t know anyone who this judgment would harm, so I will be as judgmental as I feel like.” And when they actually meet people who fall into the judged group (e.g. GLBT folks, most notably) and see how nice and normal they are (no horns, don’t eat babies, etc.), they become a lot less judgmental. Sometimes thinking about how something affects your friends makes you make better moral judgments, and sometimes it makes you make worse ones.

    • This was not directed at you at all, I actually had this as a draft for almost a week with 2 others, but have been in a writing drought and had neither the motivation or the time to finish this one until today since I’m off from work.

      I only used the example of abortion because that is an issue where there are many people who believe “I think it is wrong, and I would never have one, but if other people want to, who am I to say they shouldn’t”, that’s all. I’m also not saying everyone who is for abortion defends their support for this reason of their own or a loved one. Don’t take it personally, if your recent article motivated me to write this, I’d have said so and linked to you just as I have in the past with other blogs. I like your site and the way you write and would be more than happy to send people your way.

      I think you are correct with your point about converse reasoning. I don’t think that is a valid way to determine right from wrong. Something is either right or wrong regardless of who you are assessing.

  2. Terrance H. says:

    It’s easy to debate those kind of people, John. You can quite clearly illustrate the ridiculousness of their position by two simple words, peppered with a little explanation.

    Moral Relativism.

    Those who believe one should not force their morals on another profess, in a sense, a belief in moral relativism; i.e., that is, what is right for you may not be right for that person, and vice versa.

    Sounds simple. Easy. Rather liberal. Rather liberating.

    But rather ridiculous.

    Don’t Like Slavery? Don’t Own A Slave. You have no right to force your morality on me!

    End of discussion.

  3. Good to hear, John. :) Just some amusing synchronicity, then.

    I completely agree that “Something is either right or wrong regardless of who you are assessing.” I guess the point I intended to make (which didn’t really come across, now that I read my previous comment) is that sometimes knowing people actually provides more evidence for the calculation. If your argument includes something like, “Abortion is severely traumatic for the woman, no matter what!” and then you meet some women who have had abortions and they seem pretty chill about it and will even talk about it comfortably with you — well, that’s a few data points worth factoring in. If you’re worried that gay people are all crazed sex fiends who want to indoctrinate children into their depraved lifestyle, and then you find out that the responsible teenage boy next door who makes the honor roll every term and shovels snow from your sidewalk without being asked is actually gay, well, maybe your assumptions deserve a closer look.

    It’s definitely bad to argue for the moral permissibility of something just because you want to avoid negative consequences for yourself and your friends. At the same time, I wouldn’t consider a gay marriage opponent’s views necessarily more logical than a gay marriage advocate’s just because the former isn’t gay and doesn’t have any gay friends and therefore can’t be influenced by concern for them. Sometimes your experiences and the people you know provide useful moral insights.

    • But “Abortion is severely traumatic for the woman, no matter what!” is not a moral assessment, and neither is the belief that “gay people are all crazed sex fiends who want to indoctrinate children into their depraved lifestyle”. “Abortion is morally wrong in all circumstances save the life of the mother” is a moral assessment and so is “homosexual behaviors however manifested are immoral”. I realize I’m probably nitpicking, but I just like to be clear, you stated the “is” and I stated the “ought”. However, I get your point and it is well taken, and I believe true as far as your intended understanding.

      When I first read your first comment, immediately what came to mind was parents who believe homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage is immoral…until their child comes out. Then all of a sudden it’s not that bad.

  4. rautakyy says:

    “Abortion is morally wrong in all circumstances save the life of the mother” and “homosexual behaviors however manifested are immoral”, are not moral assesments. They are comments based on moralistic doctrine.

    Morals are based on assesments of situation (ethics), not doctrines based on, say an old book. To know wrong from right is to define what kind of harm our actions or inaction may cause. The pro-life argumentation is that harm is done to the unborn. The pro-choise argumentation is that harm is done to the mother. I have not had an abortion (I am a man) and am not aware if any people I know, have had one. I see that the needs of the existing person, who is the mother, overweight the needs of the fetus who is only about to become a person. What harm does homosexual behaviour cause? None of my friends who are homosexuals have caused harm by that to anyone as far as I know. I have no information that would point out that homosexuality in it self causes any harm. In comparrison their sexuality does not lead to unwanted pregnancies. Owning a slave causes harm to the enslaved, by depriving his/her freedom, so obviously it is wrong.

    Passing judgement is easy. People do it all the time. They judge other people even by the appearance of passers by on streets. If person feels any responsibility of making informed desicions, they are not so eager to make rapid judgement by gut instinct or by moralistic doctrine. What is really hard, is to find out what is right and what is wrong.

    Some people hate the insecurity they feel when they do not have the absolute certain knowledge of right or wrong in every situation and right away, and make hasty judgement based on moralism. But the world is complex and we often lack all the knowledge to make moral desicions. To make moral desicions you need to find about the facts. Moralistic opinions are often backed up by research into the facts, but the desicion was made before the research. That is what makes them moralistic.

    Moralism is actually relativist in itself, because it is often based on culture and laws of ancient religions, whose original purpose to the societes they were formed in, were totally different to the world today. Morals evolves by the education and research of human philosophy. It was culturally correct to have slaves in biblical times, but we know as well as the slave owners in those days knew, it caused such harm as loss of freedom at least to the slaves. So it was wrong in them days as well. But people in those days could allways refer to the moralism of their own day and claim that the gods have given them right to own slaves by the scriptures of some ancient tome or other form of divine lore.

    I have to thank for John Barron Jr, for bravely taking up issues that are often morally not so easy to define. After all, discussion and seeking for facts are the only ways for us to find out about “the truth in politics & religion”, that are the major arenas where moral desicions are made every day.

  5. rautakyy says:

    Nor did I specify any books. I mentioned holy books as a source for moralistic doctrines. As they are often used in such ways. As you know.

    There exists absolute consepts of right and wrong, and we should strive to make our evaluation of situations according to them, but we should not need to look them up from ancient tomes if our “emotional compas” is working. However, we should be aware of our own cultural history and the evolution of culture, not to make hasty judgements. We usually go for the lesser of two evils in the real world. Do we not?

    It is allways the dividing line between absolute evil and absolute good on which people struggle to understand what is good and what is not. This twilight is a wast plane, and well meaning people often end up choosing wrong, because of their cultural backround. That is why in retrospect evil committed or at least allowed by nations is often personified in their leaders. There is the level of personal responsibility, however. It lies in questions like: “Grandpa, what did you do to stop torture and political imprisonment at Guantanamo?”

    Yes, there is relativism in the levels and reasons we take action or choose inaction. The french have incorporated this in their laws as crimes of passion. It has been ridiculed by other nations, but the point is that they think it is in human nature, to be aggravated by emotional abuse. Are they wrong?

    It is relative wether a killing of a person happened as self defence, on a battlefield, a bar brawl, or as a premeditated murder. Was the murder to gain economical or political power, or was it to stop a long term emotional and physical abuse by a familymember, makes all the difference. Does it not?

    • If there exists absolute concepts as I agree, then moral precepts are true regardless of how old they are or where we discover them. It seems as if you are willing to dismiss a holy book as having an answer, as though “if it’s in a holy book, it’s wrong and irrelevant”. But if it is true that people still attempt to discover moral good, which implies we as cultures and individuals don’t have all the answers, how can you reject one option of discovery? If you were honestly searching for the truth, you shouldn’t care where it be found.

      I disagree that “It is relative wether a killing of a person happened as self defence, on a battlefield, a bar brawl, or as a premeditated murder”. It’s not relative at all. The taking of the life is either murder (the taking of a life without proper justification) or it is something else (self-defense, casualty of war, etc.). Just because there may be some disagreement does not mean it is relative.

  6. What makes something moral or immoral? When it comes to science there are plenty of things we could point to that make things absolute and when science changes it’s just because new evidence has arisen that shows we were wrong to begin with. But morality doesn’t really function this ways. People change their minds on things, but a lot of time that’s the only thing changing whether society as a whole views things as moral or immoral. And if morality is up to the whims of society it might be better to decide things on other grounds. I’m not saying people shouldn’t keep and live by their own morality, but maybe try to be open minded to the possibility that how you choose to live your life doesn’t have to be how everyone must live. (the you is not directed at anyone in particular) And instead look at practical reasons for things.

    • People changing their minds has no bearing on whether a thing is moral or not. Colonial American slavery is either morally good or morally bad, regardless of what 18th-19th century Americans thought. Just because most thought it was good did not make it so, and just because societal consensus changed to thinking it was bad didn’t make it bad. Unless there are foundational principles which all start with the nature of human ontology, it is all up for grabs to whoever is in power, and that is not morality. Blacks were made slaves for practical reasons. People are murdered for practical reasons. Many evils are committed for practical reasons.

  7. Terrance H. says:

    The Left deracinates society with their philosophies on life and culture. I don’t understand how you can continue bothering yourself with such people.

    Clearly, they have no concept of the necessary characteristics a society requires in order to function properly. Some things are just plain wrong; they’re wrong all the time, in every situation. Slavery wasn’t magically O.K. just because society accepted it, like you said John. And society ceased functioning properly because of it. If I recall, a war was fought, in part, because of it.

  8. rautakyy says:

    I did not claim moral concepts are wrong because they are found in a holy book. Did I? Again, nothing is right or wrong just because it says so in any holy book. Wrong and right has to be evaluated by each and every situation. As help we have some ethical principles. For example the UN declaration of human rights is such an attempt for the modern world.

    The main ethos of universal morals is that our actions should not bring more harm than they do good. This has been seen in a very different light by various ideologies, religions and cultures. Historically human cultures have had strong sense of right and wrong within their own culture, but outsiders have not been seen as part of the moral system, so moral behaviour towards them has not been seen as necessary. Frighteningly often the outsider is someone within the cultural sphere, just by beign somehow different from the main populus. Even today this kind of moralistic behaviour may be wittnessed. What is wrong for one political, racial, religious or national group of people is not seen as such for the outsiders.

    One has to understand why something is wrong before one goes about judging people. The fact that it says so in a holy book, or that a wise person told us so, does not qualify as understanding why. One has to have understanding of culture, of cultural history, and knowledge of the facts. This is exactly why people who are in posession of this kind of knowledge are usually careful not to judge other people. Where as ignorant people are the fastest ones to judge others.

    John Barron Jr, you are assesing morals in a relative degree, if you claim some killing is for the good, while killing is ultimately wrong.

    I agree with Terrance H, that some things are plain wrong, but before we decide which, we have to understand why.

    • we should not need to look them up from ancient tomes if our “emotional compas” is working.

      Even if that is not necessarily what you meant here, you have in the past suggested that holy books (specifically the bible) are antequated mythologies. Which to me suggests there is nothing in them of any substance to learn. After all, I don’t look to works of fiction to assess my moral compass.

      I am also not making a relative appeal for taking life at all. I don’t say taking life is always bad; sometimes its necessary, sometimes it’s justice. I do say the unjustified taking of human life is always wrong, and I am not inconsistant on that point.

  9. Terrance H. says:

    For example the UN declaration of human rights is such an attempt for the modern world.

    Glad you mentioned it.

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

    Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…

    What are those inalienable rights?

    Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

    What I would call moral absolutes are those things which have been, across the board, condemned by the human race for ages. Murder is one such example.

    Now, there have always been varying opinions on what constitutes murder, but the basic definition is the unjustified killing of another human being. Abortion, except to save the life of the mother, cannot be justified. This is an argument the pro-choice camp will always lose because abortion is indefensible.

  10. Kelsey B says:

    If someone tries to use my body against my will/ is using my body against my will, why can’t I call the actions I take to stop them self-defense? Why can’t I say my actions were justified?

  11. Kelsey B says:

    Why should others get to determine what I do with my body sexually? Why should others get to decide what kind of person is proper for me to marry? I don’t tell others who they should marry or who they can be intimate with.

    • Does that work for everyone? Can the pedophile and zoophile use that argument? I suppose you are against anti-prostitution, and drug prohibition laws then as well?

      Children in the womb are not tresspassing. That is their natural environment, and a natural result of sexual intercourse. You keep speaking of yet-to-be-born children as parasitic tresspassing terrorists. Why are you so hostile towards pregnancy? Why do you talk about it like it’s evil, or a disease? I hope someday you will overcome your aversion to pregnancy.

  12. Kelsey B says:

    Why is it moral to kill civilians in war with bombs? Or do we just except wars as part of life whether or not they are moral?

  13. Terrance H. says:

    If someone tries to use my body against my will/ is using my body against my will, why can’t I call the actions I take to stop them self-defense? Why can’t I say my actions were justified?

    This has been explained to you many, many times before. The natural result of sex is pregnancy. If you didn’t want to become pregnant, then you shouldn’t have engaged in act which, since the beginning of human history, has brought about pregnancy! It’s as simple as that.

    Modern women want to be treated like modern women, right? Fine. Take responsibility for your actions then.

    Why should others get to determine what I do with my body sexually?

    Who is trying to determine such a thing?

    Why should others get to decide what kind of person is proper for me to marry?

    The definition of marriage is a union between one man and one woman. As your “marriage” meets that definition, there is no problem.

    Why is it moral to kill civilians in war with bombs? Or do we just except wars as part of life whether or not they are moral?

    Who said it was moral? I didn’t. But I love it when an unthinking liberal starts ranting on about war and how unjust and immoral they all are. And yet they claim there is no such thing as moral absolutes…Hypocrites!

    License they mean when they cry, Liberty!

  14. Kelsey B says:

    And as a side note…

    UDHR Article one:
    All human beings are BORN free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

    The UDHR was written to apply to people who have made it passed birth.

    Does that mean fetuses can’t have rights necessarily? Absolutely not. The UDHR isn’t about dictating who/what doesn’t get rights. Just who it recognizes with the rights it outlines in it.

    It is personally my belief, that the UDHR takes no stance on abortion. Not because it is flawed, but because it had a separate purpose. Like with other declarations/ conventions, such as the Convention on Genocide. The Convention on genocide’s job was to talk about Genocide; it wasn’t trying to say other crimes against humanity weren’t wrong; outlining those other crimes just wasn’t its purpose. Like the Genocide convention being specific, the UDHR does specifically mention birth in its first article, so the rights it outlines are only specifically given to those past birth by it.

    So both sides are capable taking things from the UDHR that they feel works for their side, but that doesn’t mean either side is ever going to do a perfect job interpreting how the UDHR would want us to treat abortion because it never specifically talks about it.

  15. Kelsey B says:

    “This has been explained to you many, many times before. The natural result of sex is pregnancy. If you didn’t want to become pregnant, then you shouldn’t have engaged in act which, since the beginning of human history, has brought about pregnancy! It’s as simple as that.”

    Well you also said you are against abortion in the case of rape. So it apears to me, you don’t actually care whether or not the women had any say in the fetus ending up there.

  16. Kelsey B says:

    “Who said it was moral? I didn’t. But I love it when an unthinking liberal starts ranting on about war and how unjust and immoral they all are. And yet they claim there is no such thing as moral absolutes…Hypocrites!”

    hmmm, interesting I don’t recall giving any opinion on whether I thought this was moral or not. Atleast not in this thread. I just posed the question, to try to figure out what exactly is making “morality” so black and white.

  17. Kelsey B says:

    “Who is trying to determine such a thing?”

    Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia up till 2003 when sodomy laws were finally declared as unconstitutional and if it wasn’t for Lawrence v. Texas those states would probably still have sodomy laws to this day.

  18. Kelsey B says:

    “Can the pedophile and zoophile use that argument?”
    Good catch John. I’ll rephrase, fair enough.

    Why should others get to determine what I do with my body sexually as long as the only other people involved are consenting adults?

    zoophilia: I guess that depends on if animals have rights
    pedophilia: pedophilia violates the rights of children.

  19. Kelsey B says:

    “Why are you so hostile towards pregnancy? Why do you talk about it like it’s evil, or a disease? I hope someday you will overcome your aversion to pregnancy.”

    I feel you are being a bit dramatic, but I recognize your right to be dramatic. I too am dramatic at times.

    I’m not hostile towards pregnancy, at least not pregnancy in general. If anything I am more hostile towards the people trying to dictate that women continue their pregnancy whether or not they wish to. I will say it again, I will be happy to see the day without abortions; when no women would ever think of getting an abortion. And why will she think this way? Not because she believes she is a slave to her body or deserves whatever happens to her because she had sex, but because she wants to have a child, and knows she’ll be just fine taking care of him/her and that being pregnant will be an enjoyable means of her bonding with the fetus before it is born.

    But there is a lot more to my goal then simply making abortion illegal. And I don’t support making abortions illegal for several reasons, mostly because it won’t end abortions and I do see back alley abortions as a loose, loose situation because “getting justice” for the fetus through the mother dying doesn’t bring that fetus back to life and hasn’t deterred other women from seeking abortions.

    Also, it will deter women from trying to access the information and resources she needs, you know the information that might actually change her mind about getting an abortion or prevent her from needing another in the future. Women will be afraid of seeking out help because if she admits she’s pregnant everyone will know. She might not even tell people she’s having sex in fear people will start trying to police her body and look for signs of pregnancy whether or not they exist. Do we really want to make young women, who are starting to embrace their sexuality even more afraid of talking to people, such as the positive role models in her life, about sex? Not having information rarely stops people from having sex, and it usually ends up with people having more unsafe sex with a higher likelihood of leading to unwanted pregnancy.

    Secondly, women should never lose agency over their own bodies and especially not because is laws enforcing lose of agency. That’s not good for women, I’m not saying abortion is good for women, but telling women they must continue their pregnancies even if they don’t want to, is not good for women.

    Natural environment or not, the womb remains the property of the mother. Even if you claim sex is the same as consent, that doesn’t mean the womb looses rights to her womb. Even if I invited someone into my house, even though personally I feel I didn’t, that doesn’t mean I don’t still have the right to kick them out when I want them to leave.

    We did basically the same thing to survivors of Katrina, if we look back to 2005. Victims of the storm were not allowed to loot grocery stores where the food was going bad anyways even though they were starving to death in many areas of the city. There were even police officers ordered to shoot looters. We did this to living, breathing, conscious people, who weren’t even infringing upon another’s body but only their property.

    And I’m sure Terrance will call me out for trying to say to wrongs make a right, but it goes back to showing people are the ones deciding what rights take priority. In the Katrina case, I do disagree. I don’t believe property rights come before the right to life, but in the case of abortion I do find it justified for a women to stop the fetus from using her physical being to sustain itself. Just like I would if any person tried to use another to sustain themselves, and the person being used was saying stop.

  20. Kelsey B says:

    Is it just me, or do we all keep going off on tangents? This debate is still about morality correct, and what dictates that everything must be morally black and white, good and evil and why some feel moral relativism is absolutely unacceptable in ALL cases.

    • No, you’re right, theres many tangents, my own included. I’d prefer to discuss the issue I raised, but I’d be ignoring a lot of comments if I waited for on-topic commentary.

  21. Kelsey B says:

    “If you listen carefully to people who will not condemn what you or I believe to be immoral behavior, the arguments are generally defensive in nature. They offer reasons why you should not condemn the behavior, rather than why the behavior is morally good or benign. What I mean is, they are defending something they believe to be immoral behavior in order to protect themselves to a fashion.”
    Maybe you just think about peoples arguments differently from the way they think about them. Perhaps this person does believe they are morally right/fine, but feel insulting other peoples religious/moral beliefs is not okay. After all, as long as your beliefs have no impact on them, why should they care what beliefs you hold? Maybe they just realize their never going to convince you not to follow your book/ whatever you base your beliefs around (you not being any single person in general) and instead only asks you not try to impose your beliefs on them. Maybe Moral Relativism is actually their way of protecting you? I know very few people who do major things they find completely immoral. I won’t say these people don’t exist, I just have seen in my experience they are hard to find. For examples, people belonging to the LGBT group usually don’t see themselves as immoral. They understand that some religions see them as immoral, but that doesn’t affect how they see themselves. And when a lot of immorality things, and especially LGBT, issues are decided by what’s in a book(s) why would the first approach be to attack the book? Wouldn’t it be better for the argument to first be to ask why what the book says takes precedence over other things? Especially if it’s not the religion itself they want to change in whole, but instead an interpretation? It makes sense for atheists to attack the book, but LGBT most of the time just want others to let them live normal lives in society and care less about what people do with in their religion. And that creates the question of “so why do you care”, and if the answer is “morality” it’s better just to point to “no one says you have to agree with us, you just don’t have the right to interfere in our lives” which is the nice way of saying, “so what if your book says so, it’s not my book”.

    “I think there are people who defend abortion even though they oppose it because either they have had an abortion, or someone they care about has had an abortion, and by condemning it they are condemning themselves or their loved one.”
    I think some people are capable of supporting other people making their own choices, even if it’s not a choice they would ever choose for themselves. And are even capable of recognizing after the fact they made a bad choice for themselves, but just because they had negative consequences from their decision doesn’t mean every women will and they can still tell others their own experience, but still say but the choice is still yours to make. Or they oppose abortion, but support choice because it allows for a more realistic platform for actually ending abortion some day, and doesn’t set women back when they still have far to come. And once you have a choice, you have the power to refuse to choose. To realize what obstacles exist that would make you feel you need to choice abortion. You own it. And if you choice life, it’s an empower choice not a forced choice, giving one an even better starting point to eventually raise that child.

    • Sorry, Kelsey, but every argument against same-sex marriage and abortion has been done without any appeal to the bible. So it is not strictly a “religious” objection.

      ” think some people are capable of supporting other people making their own choices, even if it’s not a choice they would ever choose for themselves. And are even capable of recognizing after the fact they made a bad choice for themselves”

      Are we only talking abortion here, or should everyone be able to make all their own choices unhindered? I still find it puzzling how you find nothing strange about your support and arguementation in favor of murder.

  22. John,
    I am a moral realist, and I am glad to hear that you found something to agree with in Sam Harris’ treatise on morality. I just finished his book as well, and though I don’t by necessity agree with everything he said, I certainly find much of his ideas agreeable.

    I think that moral relativism is the result of sloppy logic, where people take a truth about moral judgements (that values are variable and impact peoples ethical preferences) and apply this to morality proper (that there are objective truths about right and wrong). The issues around morality are difficult for many people because morality is a subject of much personal and emotional attachment, coupled with the difficulties of it being a seemingly abstract concept. To agree with Harris, this does not mean that we ought to resign ourselves to the opinion that morality is personal or unique to a specific time, place or group. Morality is grounded in a goal (the flourishing of a social species) and formed with facts, so there is both a metric and a purpose.
    I don’t believe that most atheists are moral relativists, and I don’t see this phenomenon as any more common among atheists as theists. There is good reason to believe that religious morality is more subjective than no-religious morality, given that right and wrong is essentially delegated to a third-party opinion on the matter.

    I think I have discussed my personal feelings on abortion and homosexuality with you, so I won’t rehash them here unless prompted to do so. I will caution that, especially with homosexuality, there really is not a good argument that does not boil down to a religious prescription. We might make a series of spurious arguments about legal rights and limitations,but the facts bare out that opposition to homosexuality is a personal preference and not grounded in an objective moral truth.

    • I don’t think most Atheists are moral relativists in the strict sense of the term. I think there may be a prevailence in Atheists to “tolerate” others moral choices while advocating for true right and wrong, and I personally would view that as a form of moral relativism. I’m not going to debate this particular issue (specificlly Atheist moral relativism) here, and I do agree some form of relativism is found in Theists as often (maybe even more so) as Atheists.

      But no, you have never commented on any of my commentaries concerning homosexuality/same-sex marriage or abortion. I do not think the immorality of homosexual behavior or abortion must be argued from religion, especially given a Darwinian view of the world.

  23. I think that the crux here is that atheists are vocally against moral absolutism (rightfully so) and divine command theory (which is an extension of most theistic moral constructs) but not necessarily moral realism. There is, I think, a huge amount of confusion in some circles as to the difference between objective moral truths and moral realism on the one hand and the assumption that this is synonymous with moral absolutism. My impression of many people I have discussed this with (especially presuppositional moral apologists) is that they are incapable of divorcing the two.

    In the case of abortion, I am pro-choice(I’m sure you’re not surprised), though I do believe that abortion is a moral wrong. In the case of homosexuality, I am quite vocally for the rights of humans to choose to be in a consensual loving relationship, and for the right of those people to marry the person they each consensually love, regardless of the gender of the two parties concerned. I would not advocate churches or religious people being impelled to marry people if they do not agree. This would even go so far as to not impel a civil servant with religious or moral objections to perform a wedding ceremony, though I do believe that the state must reasonably provide such a service to all peoples.

    My concern with your last comment is that if the only argument against the moral justness of homosexuality or abortion is a religious one, then I question whether we can derive any objective moral truth about a stand against either practice. It seems to me that if a religious prescription cannot be reasoned against reality, it is purely subjective and not seriously worthy of consideration. I would caution you though, that I think you are wrong about whether abortion can be reasoned to be morally unjust.

  24. Terrance H. says:

    The word “born” was is used often in the Bible as well. That does not indicate, however, that abortion was acceptable; it clearly was not. Various other statements made it clear that God made us in His image in the womb.

    Similarly, the phrasing of the UDHR to include the word born in a single statement does not, in and of itself, incline one to ignore all members of the human family.

    Neither one has anything to do with the legality of abortion, of course. But the point is to show that a single word doesn’t prove your point.

    I don’t care one way or the other about the UDHR, except for when unthinking liberals attempt to use it to justify their pro-abortion stance. It boils down to a matter of nomenclature. But, again, I wasn’t the one who mentioned the UDHR; that, as I recall, was a pro-choicer.

    Well you also said you are against abortion in the case of rape. So it apears to me, you don’t actually care whether or not the women had any say in the fetus ending up there.

    That’s not what I said. I believe there are other ways by which to handle such a circumstance without abortion.

    Sodomy laws are unconstitutional, so why you’re ranting on about them is beyond me. Nobody is trying to dictate who you sleep with.

  25. “That’s not what I said. I believe there are other ways by which to handle such a circumstance without abortion.”
    Interesting. What are your other ways? And how do they not end with forcing the women to keep the pregnancy if she still wishes to end it?

    “That does not indicate, however, that abortion was acceptable; it clearly was not.” There are passages in the bible which directly address abortion? If not, how can you say that what you take from the bible isn’t clearly interpretation? Of course, like you not caring what the UDHR has to say, I really don’t care what the bible has to say. And while the term “born” is clear in it’s meaning, “all members of the human family” is not specifically clear as it does not specifically outline what makes someone a member of the human family. Are all primates members of the human family? Some actually do argue it does, or at least grant other species rights based on how close they are to humans. Family is a vague term. It didn’t specifically say ALL members of the Homo Sapien species.

    Also would the opposite hold true if Article one said “conception” instead of birth? Would that one word be enough to shut down all conversation? Just because you don’t agree with what the UDHR is saying, doesn’t mean you get to change what it says when it is in fact specifically stated. The UDHR was written in the 1940s, while abortion was still illegal almost everywhere in the world. If they had felt the need to give fetuses rights they could have, and it would have been as easy as saying “conception”. But the fact is it doesn’t. It specifically says BORN and in a crucial place. As a side note, I’m okay with giving the bible the benefit of the drought in terms of condemning abortion because it was written by people who did not have the benefit of modern science. In that age it was still thought that the sperm was like the seed and the womb only the soil for it to grow in, and that birth was the only place to start defining humanity, so if it’s dedicated interpreters say the bible would have said differently if they had know the actuality of things, I see no problem with that. I still personally give the bible no role in dictating my life, but recognize that others still have the right to live by it if they so choose to. But it’s not fair to compare the bible to the UDHR in terms of both mentioning birth because the two were written in completely different contexts.

    The UDHR says BORN in the first article, the one that defines why we are recognizing Humans with these rights. The UDHR was written to protect the rights of those after they are BORN. And including fetuses as a group protected by the UDHR is completely interpretation. We can also look at the next part of article one: “They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. Reason, Chnscienceness, acting towards one another in a spirt of brotherhood; these are all things that correspond with Humans, but not those in the fetal stage.

    “Sodomy laws are unconstitutional, so why you’re ranting on about them is beyond me. Nobody is trying to dictate who you sleep with.”
    I just find it interesting. Sodomy is specifically mentioned in the bible, while marriage between two people of the same-sex is not mentioned. Yet, we now recognize interfering with other peoples sexual lives is not our place, while it is still out place to dictate their marriages. But the bible dictates religious marriages, how marriage should be conducted by the followers of the bible. But there are still plenty of marriages that aren’t religious marriages, and no one is trying to change religious ones. So my question is how long will it take our society to realize it is not their place to dictate other peoples marriages anymore then it is to dictate other peoples sex lives? It took till 2003 for sodomy laws to finally be declared as unconstitutional, so it appears to me it will also only be time till DOMA is found unconstitutional. If the current trend in events continues.

  26. Terrance H. says:

    Interesting. What are your other ways? And how do they not end with forcing the women to keep the pregnancy if she still wishes to end it?

    I’ve mentioned before my belief that some form of a morning-after pill should be made available over-the-counter at a low cost. This morning-after pill would have to be low dose in order for me to support it, however.

    But more important than my opinion on rape and abortion is the incredibly absurd notion of justifying 99% of abortions with a circumstance which accounts for less than 1% of all abortions. Do you not see how utterly ridiculous the rape/incest argument is?

    There are passages in the bible which directly address abortion?

    Did I say that? Or, did I say the Bible says we are made in the image of God in the womb? Regardless, I don’t use the Bible to justify my pro-life position – ever.

    Because you obviously missed the point I was making, let me lay it out for you one more time.

    Most religious scholars, pastors, priests, or anyone with even the faintest understanding of the Bible will tell you that abortion is prohibited. However, the word “born” still appears quite often in statements like “From the time I was born,” or “Since I was born,” and so on. Just like in the UDHR, the term “born” is used and doesn’t necessarily indicate that birth is when we human beings become worthy of rights. We are granted rights the moment we are created, something the Declaration of Independence acknowledges.

    And while the term “born” is clear in it’s meaning, “all members of the human family” is not specifically clear as it does not specifically outline what makes someone a member of the human family.

    How about being human beings? Do you think that’s clear enough? I certainly do. And clearly you’re intelligent enough to recognize that the term family as used in the UDHR is not a scientific classification, but a general term. So why you felt the need to rant and rave about species and what “some people argue” is beyond me.

    I also take issue with this idea that the term “born” is clear in it’s definition. By definition, it means “to come into existence,” but unborn children already exist. So, what does it mean, exactly? Is a child who came into this world via C-Section “born,” or what?

    Your other paragraph went ignored because it’s more pseduo-philosophical ranting. I don’t bother myself with it. If you can’t make your point without jumbling words together, then you have no business debating the issue because you haven’t the good sense God gave a goose.

    What the Bible says about marriage is not something I concern myself with in a debate such as this. I don’t use the Bible to justify my political views. The definition of marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman – legally. Not changing the definition is not discrimination or a violation of any kind. Gay people can still marry; they just can’t marry a member of the same sex, the same as straight people.

    What enjoyment do you honestly get by being made a fool of repeatedly?

    • “you haven’t the good sense God gave a goose”
      “What enjoyment do you honestly get by being made a fool of repeatedly?”

      In the interest of equity I have to let you know I have banned at least one Atheist for personal attacks like these. I know it’s overwhelmingly frustrating, but we need to remain civil.

  27. Terrance H. says:

    Yes, yes, John. My apologies. Sometimes I forget I am no longer on the political forums. Discourse there was generally limited to “You’re an idiot.” “No, you are!”

  28. At risk of being banned here for beating a dead horse for the sake of humour, may I say John, that I am glad that you had the good sense not to ironically ignore Terrence’s comments in a post about morality.

    I’m wondering, John, did you edit your comment to me above? I’m sure (and I remember re-reading the statement more than twice) that your final sentence in your comment above read

    “I do think the immorality of homosexual behavior or abortion must be argued from religion, especially given a Darwinian view of the world.

    which prompted my comment, and when I now read the statement as “I do not think the immorality of…..” it makes my comment nonsensical and changes the meaning of my final statement. I do in fact believe that there are non-religious arguments for the unjust morality surrounding abortion. I just don’t particularly ascribe to them.
    My problem with how I now read your comment is that I don’t understand what you mean by “given a Darwinian view of the world”, which made sense if your first half of the sentence affirmed the religious nature of the arguments against, but makes little sense with the word “not” injected into it. If there are in point of fact non-religious arguments against homosexuality and abortion that are
    especially true given a Darwinian worldview, then I am not privy to them. Could you explain this statement to me?
    If you did not edit your comments and I misread your original comment, I apologize for my misunderstanding. However, how I now read your comments leaves me without any understanding, either misread or comprehensive.

    • No, it was edited, the “not” was intended the first time.

      Given a Darwinian view of the world, homosexuality and abortion ought to be opposed. Neither supports nor propagates the species. In fact both, from a Darwinian perspective hinder the species. Homosexual behavior is harmful objectively to the health of the homosexual community; a breeding ground for disease and sickness. There are instences of STDs present in the homoxesual community which are exponentially higher than in any other demographic, even if we remove HIV from the consideration, one only need to consult the CDC for the stats.

      And abortion, well, kills members of the human species. It intentionally prevents the procreative process.

      And, if you notice, none of the arguments against abortion and same-sex marriage use religious arguments, nor have I ever cited a Bible verse.

  29. rautakyy says:

    John Barron Jr, I agree with you on the necessity of taking a life sometimes. It has to be justified. It is not allways justified by the actions of the victim, like in an abortion or an arial raid, but in other terms, like the rights of the mother, her capability to support the child and winning a war. We define human life sometimes as less valuable, when it is enemies, criminals, fetuses or simply citizens of an enemy nation. I hope this answers also to Terrance H.

    John Barron Jr wrote: “Even if that is not necessarily what you meant here, you have in the past suggested that holy books (specifically the bible) are antequated mythologies. Which to me suggests there is nothing in them of any substance to learn. After all, I don’t look to works of fiction to assess my moral compass.”

    Most holy books are very old products of cultures long past. They have had great impact on the world during centuries. Not all of the ideas presented in them are outdated, but some clearly are. There is much to learn from “antiquated mythologies”. Humanity should know its cultural history, not to repeat the mistakes of the past. For example, the modern japanese have ignored the ancient pedestals in old villages warning, that one should not build houses below a certain marker because of the possibility of tsunami. Now houses build below the markers are destroyed. Overpopulation has lead them into this tragedy and will continue to cause tragedies and catastrophies around the world, but no holy book warns us of that. It is something we have to cope with now and here. We owe it to the future generations.

    I take constant inspiration from works of fiction. Many fictional stories tell lessons on morality. Among these is the bible, but I do not hold it in greater esteem than for example the Iliad & Odyssey. If my memory serves right, it was Cicero, who once said something on the lines of people to be vary of men who look guidance from only one book. Reading books (fictional or non-fiction) is a great way to develope ones “emotional compas”. It is to learn from the wisdom (or stupidity) of others. A short quote from a well known work of fiction may fit here: “Many who live would deserve to die. And some who die, would deserve to live. Can you give it to them?” Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

    Referring to old or new books, however, does not remove the personal responsibility we all hold to our conciences, to people we know, to humanity, to nature and universe itself (you may call the latter by the name of your chosen god if you wish) of making informed desicions; like judgements. Before judging others, we should be aware of the consequenses of our judgement. The same applies to all our actions and inaction. Good or bad consequenses define the morality of our actions and inaction. The road to Hell is pawed with good intentions…

    Because I do not know when I will have time to comment here again, I would like to add that to me Kelsey has not “ranted”, but written very adequate defence of a position. And she has taken up some point of views that I had not considered before. Thank you Kelsey and thank you John Barron Jr for opening these conversations on difficult issues.

  30. John,

    A couple of comments on what has been posted so far on this thread.

    1) at one point you accuse kelsey of advocating murder, and I assume you are referring to her defense of abortion. However reading her comments it seems to me she is not advocating abortion, and would much prefer to live in a world without abortion. Rather I believe she is saying making abortion illegal is not how to solve the problem, but rather the problem should be solved by providing adequate information on safe sex practices, sufficient pre-natal support, elimination of judgment of women who do get pregnant, and the elimination of rape; helping create a culture where abortion is no longer necessary, rather than just moving abortions to back alley clinics and not solving the underlying problems. Its possible I am putting words in Kelsey’s mouth, but that is what I understood from her argument.

    2) As someone who has studied biology and natural selection, your interpretation of Darwinism is a bit flawed. Darwin solely studied the passing on of genetic material to offspring, which he referred to as reproductive fitness. Most STDs, with exceptions obviously, when treated do not change a persons ability to reproduce and create viable offspring, and even if they did, it would not impede the passing on of genes from people not affected by the STDs, and humanity as a whole would still be fine, and would not interfere with the reproductive fitness of the human population as a whole.

    3) While not explicetly stated, I also want to respond to your implied comment that homosexuals are just naturally at higher risk for STDs by virtue of engaging in homosexual behavior. While I will not argue with the CDC stats, I believe the causation to be a bit different. The reason rates of STD infection are higher in that population I would argue is not because people attracted to the same gender are innately promiscuous and unsafe, but because society creates a situation in which they have access to less information about safe sex practices, especially for same-gendered encounters, where they often feel embarrassed or ashamed and thus talk about sex and safe sex practices less, are less likely to be in a committed monogamous relationship before coming out because of fear of social stigma, and where they feel safer having annonymous sex rather than a committed relationship because one can have annonymous sex and hide it from one’s loved ones, but it is much harder and more emotionally traumitizing to try and hide a relationship. I would argue once these social issues are fixed, incidence of STDs in the homosexual population would decrease and probably mirror STD incidence in the heterosexual population.

    • Kelsey: To be honest, I was never arguing for abortion. I think abortion is murder.

      Here is where Kelsey said she believes abortion is murder. Though she may not be arguing for abortion in this particular article (which I disagree with in part) she has in all the other posts about abortion, and rather passionately I might add. So even though I consider abortion to be murder, I was not importing my view onto my question to Kelsey, she had said it herself.

      That’s not really the point I’m making. From the Darwinian perspective homosexuality and abortion run contrary the biological purposes for the propagation of the species, namely reproduction and passage of genes. Homosexual relation do not produce offspring, and abortion kills your offspring.

      I am not saying there is something about the nature of same-sex attraction proper which makes someone more prone to contract STDs. What I am saying is that there is a propensity for homosexual males to be exponentially more promiscuous than lesbians and heterosexuals. And yes, it is the homosexual’s sexual lifestyle which more greatly exposes one to a greater variety of STDs due to the volume of partners, and are more likely to contract an STD by virtue of the high percentage of homosexuals who have an STD. I absolutley reject that homosexuals have less access to safe sex education or methods to account for the STD rates. I absolutely reject that they have annonymous sex with multiple partners because they feel safer emotionally.

  31. John,
    That is a questionable answer you just gave me. Let’s leave aside the reasons why that answer betrays your misunderstanding of natural selection and evolution, as well as the fact that neither of those forces inform anybody’s entire worldview.

    Let’s focus on one question: Why are your statements not in contradiction to your prior comments about the is/ought fallacy? Does your fallacy radar only apply to counter apologetics?

    • I’m not really trying to make scientific assertions. Just that if the goal of biological life is supposed to be geared towards reproduction, the passing of genes, then homosexuality and abortion do neither. So on a naturalist worldview, why would that fact not make either of those things “bad”?

      Could you be more specific, which fallacy have I committed? And as a point of fact, I think everyone’s self-fallacy radar is faulty, unless you think people intentionally use fallacious arguments. So you’ll have to point it out to me.

  32. John,
    The is/ought fallacy, if I remember correctly from what you and Neil like to point out to atheists who use it on this site, is the problem with making prescriptive statements derived from descriptive statements. When you claim that those who affirm evolution ought to have a prescriptive opinion based on what they believe are the facts, you are making a claim that you and Neil would both claim is unfair if it were made by the other side.

    Beyond this, you are living in an imaginary world where “Social Darwinism” is the default position of those who affirm evolution, when only a handful of sociopathic people throughout history have ever advocated this view. Most were, may I add, people who may or may not have been Christians; though they personally affirm themselves as such.
    Evolutionary Biology is not a holy book that we affirm or deny our moral duties and responsibilities. There is no conflict between affirming reality and being human, no matter how much some Christians wish it were so.

    Even if we were to grant your ridiculous supposition that morality for atheists ought to be grounded on natural selection to remain consistent, your points still die on the table.

    In the case of homosexuality, why should it be beneficial to have a lack of genetic diversity? On a personal level, your point may stand, an individual is not passing his/her particular genes to the next generation; but your assumption assumes that evolution selects for individuals only and not for populations. Could a “gay gene” be recessive, or the apparent benefit of effeminate instincts in child-rearing (coupled with social pressures to conform and pair bond with an opposite sex partner)offer some avenue for this behavior to propagate in a species? In social species, could the ability to release sexual aggression, in groups where the “breeders” are a small group of males, not offer less violent and aggressive and more socially beneficial behavior? I’m no evolutionary biologist, so these are all speculation. Yet they are speculations that are grounded in a better understanding of evolution then you have offered.

    With abortion, one has to ask a few more questions then you have allowed in your “best guess”. Would the potential child be well served in a home where it is unwanted and unable to be provided for? Would the pregnancy potentially harm or endanger a breeding female in the population? Would an unwanted and taxing child potentially reduce the reproductive success of the mother in the future? Again, I think you are severely oversimplifying a potential evolutionary “resistance” to abortion.

    Again, none of that really means anything; because it is wrong to believe that you can get an “ought” from an “is” (though I actually somewhat disagree that this fallacy exists-though you do and I think it’s fair game), and you can’t offer anything more than suppositions about how atheists should inform their morality. In essence, you just took a dig at your atheist readers that you can step back from later.

    • I don’t think I am committing the is/ought in this case because my “ought” is not a moral assessment. I’m saying you “ought” to oppose homosexual behavior and abortion for the sake of logical consistency. You are equivocating the word “ought”.

      In the cases where we charge ought/is, you are observing a behavior such as rape and then claiming from the observation that people don’t like it, and that it hurts people therefore you ought not. My judgement is not a moral claim, but a logic claim.

  33. John.
    John. Your “ought” is a logical assessment of what should be my moral claim. You don’t get a free pass for projection. Any moral claim made by any person is an extension of a logical claim, else it has no leg to stand on; you know, like “homosexuality is immoral”.
    You can’t project a moral claim you believe is more logically consistent on someone using the very process you claim is fallacious, and then argue you make no moral claim. You do, by projection. By using your own fallacy to create a moral claim for someone else.

    You may think you wiggled out of your own contradiction, but you’re not fooling me….

    • I don’t think I should said that you should believe same-sex relationships and abortion should be immoral, but rather I should have said you should opposed them because that better fits my intended understanding (as you can see I have been arguing as though I said “oppose” and not “believe to be immoral”) Hopefully you accept my correction. So I can apoligize for that.

      That being said, there’s a differencebetween teleological ought and moral ought. For example, if you want more money in your paycheck you ought to oppose higher taxes. That is not a moral ought. It refers to the relationship between your desired end and the means by which would best achieve it. It is an ideological ought, not a moral ought. In fact I don’t think there is any objective morality given the Naturalist worldview.

  34. I accept your correction. Though I think it makes your point moot, as least as far as this conversation is concerned.

    I would argue that you are wrong to assume that objective morality does not exist among social species. Just as I think you dangerously attempt to extend the “survival of the fittest” mentality onto people who obviously would never advocate for it. Your argument needs to presuppose what atheists should think in defiance of logic and fact.

    I don’t think there is objective morality in a Christian worldview, so I suppose we have to agree to disagree on at least two points…

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