Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Feb 26, 2014 in Atheism, Featured, Morality, Philosophy of Religion, Problem of Evil | 111 comments

The Problem with Divine Command Theory #1

Divine Command Theory (DCT) is the idea that morality is grounded in God or God’s nature such that what God commands is necessarily morally good. Historically speaking, the Euthyphro Dilemma has been used to combat such a position. Are moral acts willed by God because they are good, or are they good because they are willed by God?  Another way of saying it is, does God say that things are moral because they are by nature moral, or do they become moral because God declares them to be? DCT comes in several forms and is adhered to by a good many theologians and apologists.

tough

http://www.jesusandmo.net/2007/08/17/tough/

And so it is that DCT is very often attacked, and for good reason, since the whole affair seems dreadfully circular, even when theists apply the “God’s nature” move of saying commands are good because they come from God’s necessarily good nature.

Richard Carrier has recently written a rebuttal to apologist Matthew Flannagan which appeared in Philo. I must say, the article is brilliant; it offers such a good riposte to Flannagan’s own critique [1] of and defence against Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s [2] own critique of DCT. I will produce some of the article here [3] and comment on it, but I advise anyone to read it in full (if and when that is possible).

The first problem with any DCT is that we have no evidence that there even is the requisite God, much less which God’s commands are the commands of that God. There are hundreds of different ethical systems attributed to “God.” This is so even within the umbrella of Christian theism; all the more so when we consider other theisms. Indeed, even within the Bible there is a vast plethora of not only contradictory moral advice, but many moral commandments that we now all deem fundamentally immoral, such as commandments to make and keep slaves (Leviticus 25:44–46) or force women into marriage (Deuteronomy 21:10–12, 22:28–29; Numbers 31:15–18), or the commandments to execute apostates and blasphemers (Deuteronomy 12:1–13:16, Leviticus 24:11–16), as well as rape victims (Deuteronomy 22:23–30) and gay men (Leviticus 20:13; lesbians are okay).4 History demonstrates that morals change over time, and without special revelations from any god. That it is moral to let women vote and hold office (against the advice of the Bible: 1 Corinthians 14:34–35, 1 Timothy 2:11–15), or that it is immoral to keep slaves, are, for example, not morals we derive from the Bible, or any divine communication at all.

This is a powerful point which is often overlooked and is taken for granted by Christian theists who posit DCT as the only way of making sense of morality. DCT obviously, and yet rather arrogantly, perhaps, assumes not only the existence of God, but a particular God, and not just that, but that particular pronouncements (moral commands) are true.

What appears to be commonplace is that the historicity of such biblical quotes is granted, and the particular god with them, and thus the commands of said god, from the quotes, are granted as being morally good. Of course, this means that we see an awful lot of post hoc rationalisation. This after-the-fact approach to reason means that God, in effect, could have ordered any atrocity imaginable, and theists, in their desire to see said God as real, have to argue that there must be some reason as to why such seemingly horrific commands can be logically deemed as morally good. This is, of course, the basis of theodicies and skeptical theism. We don’t know the mind of God, and we don’t know that it could be done any other way.

This is the core of commenters’, like Luke Breuer, thesis. We can’t question such commands as undermining God’s existence since we can’t know what would be a better scenario. For example:

What I said before, that your God model is designed to be absolutely impossible to disprove and simultaneously designed to get all the credit for things it has no logical connection to, is a consequences of the language you use. When you describe how your model could be falsified for example, the key terms are left maximally vague – what is “humble” enough? What is “loving” enough? How close to “Gods desires” do your desires have to be and how can you even know that? And so on and so forth – no amount of failure can prove your model wrong, there is always a safety hatch for god that allows you to blame the failure on humans for not being biblical enough, not submitting to god enough, not loving each other enough, not what have you enough – and since there is no defined threshold of “enough”, your God is at exactly zero risk of being refuted. And the same with giving credit to God where it doesn´t belong – the vague language allows you to give all the credit for all kinds of things to God, although there is absolutely no logical connection between your model and the things you give god credit for.

But this line of thinking can be applied in reverse. There is no end to the suffering that God could command that would invalidate God’s existence. This problem of evil remains firmly logically dodgeable. For instance, God could command the torture of every human on earth for a billion years, and the theist is duty bound to still claim, “well, there could be a reason as to why this might happen; there could be a greater good’”. God becomes logically irrefutable. Thus the evidential problem of evil becomes so much more powerful. What most probably explains the plethora of suffering of billions of humans and animals, of carnivourousness, over billions of years? God or no god? Luke also claims, very pertinently to the discussion at hand:

If there is any realm of life where one’s residual misconceptions or illogical reasoning would show up, it would probably be in religious experiences and thinking of what “the greatest possible being” (a) is like; (b) would do. It seems to me that religious thinking and experience are the most ‘holistic’ activities in which one can engage, and thus the activities least protected from e.g. compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance.

This is certainly true, one cannot claim to know what God is like or would do with any kind of surety. But that cuts both ways, because Luke is claiming that he knows enough about God to assure me that there is a greater good to rationalise all of the suffering and weirdly atrocious commands.

To think that God’s commands either dictate goodness or are themselves dictated by the overflowing good nature of God is terribly circular, and Carrier does a brilliant job in pointing this out in the article. Here, he returns to the problem that theists have in demonstrating a more coherent account of morality over and above naturalism and secular ethics.

DCT is therefore unlivable, even if it were correct. It puts moral truth inside an inaccessible black box, the mind of one particular God, whom we cannot identify or communicate with in any globally or historically reliable or consistent way. We therefore cannot know what is moral, even if DCT were true. The supernaturalist is stuck in the exact same position as the ethical naturalist: attempting to ascertain from observable facts what the best way is to live. Should women be allowed to vote and hold office? Is slavery immoral? We cannot answer these questions with DCT. We can only answer them by modeling inside our imaginations our own ideal moral agent (the “God” of our own mental construction), applying that model to the discoverable facts of the world, and then asking it what’s right. But we cannot demonstrate that the “God” (or “ideal agent”) we have thus modeled in our mind or intuition is the “one true” God or not, except by appeal to natural facts that require no actual God to exist. Otherwise, we cannot know the God informing the intuition of Islamic suicide bombers is the incorrect God. It could just as well be the other way around.5 Likewise, maybe the God who commanded slavery and the execution of apostates, blasphemers, homosexuals, and rape victims was the real God, and the God we imagine in our heads now (who, we’re sure for some unspecifiable reason, abhors these things) is one we just made up.

This is hugely important. That we cannot know the mind of God, as in skeptical theism, and yet still rely on God to underwrite morality means that morality appears to be a-rational and unknowable. That we have no real idea of why God commanded, or countenanced through command, slavery, genocide and general death, only that God did gives us no real understanding of morality or lessons in what a good moral entity looks like. We are certainly not expected, surely, to go around allowing rape in certain contexts, slavery and death for working on Sundays, as well as propagating the imbalance of gender?! We certainly receive mixed messages from the Bible.

DCT therefore cannot be the basis for any moral system, even if the God it imagines exists and has opinions in the matter of morality. That DCT-advocates just have to end up acting like ethical naturalists does not bode well for any contention that ethical naturalism is less plausible than supernaturalism.

DCT truly struggles to appear anywhere near as robust or pragmatic as rival ethical systems. As Carrier goes on to point out, if we can, using our God given rationality, decipher morality in some secular sense, as we do on a daily basis, if this was not in some way accurate, then it appears God would be setting things up to deceive us as to what is good or bad. Thus God appears unjust and unloving. And yet if that moral rationality is correct, we do not need God!

If we are to assume, as DCT advocates do, that God is loving and just, and that his commands are reflections of that, then the theist is in a quandary, since:

To successfully argue that “loving and just” decisions are moral requires (i) appealing to the consequences of “loving and just” decisions and the consequences of “unloving or unjust” decisions, and then (ii) appealing to which of those consequences the moral agent prefers. But DCT can accomplish neither, except in exactly the same way ethical naturalism does. Therefore, DCT reduces to ethical naturalism in practical fact. It therefore cannot be an improvement on it.

DCT is either synonymous with, or defers to, secular ethical systems, and there seems to be no way around this. In the second commentary on Carrier’s paper, I will look more closely at this last quote, and Carrier’s analysis of what it entails.

NOTES

1. Matthew Flannagan, “Is Ethical Naturalism more Plausible than Super -naturalism? A Reply to Walter Sinnott-Armstrong,” Philo 15, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 2012), pp. 19–37.

2. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong “Why Traditional Theism Cannot Provide an Adequate Foundation for Morality” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough: A Debate on Faith, Secularism and Ethics, Eds. Robert K Garcia and Nathan L King (Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2008)

[3] It turns out that Philo is undermanned at the moment, so I do not know when this paper will be officially released and, as such, will not paginate references as this will change, no doubt, on eventual publication.

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    Ask the theist, “If your god knocked on your door and said, “to properly follow me, you must kill and consume a human baby.” What’s your response?”

    A) He would never ask that. In that case, there is a morality higher than god, which even he must follow.
    B) No. Good, you’ve realized that you don’t have to have god to be moral.
    C) Pass the Ketchup. This is the only possible response for a true believer. And if they answer this, then run.

    • Luke Breuer

      Sadly, this is not a hypothetical scenario; there is archaeological evidence that the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice. I don’t think anyone knows whether they ate the babies.

      To some extent, the question seems to be what God, or at least God-concept, one wishes to follow. The following was not in any way academic:

      “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

      Choose whom you will serve. Perhaps a secular way to phrase this is: choose what your goal is, what you are building toward. In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre argues that without a unifying, communal telos, morality is simply a Nietzschean imposition of the will, of the few on the many. So, will you serve a god who demands that children be sacrificed? Sadly, the Israelites did end up worshipping that god. And then people think that Yahweh is ridiculous for being picky about which god his people served…

      • Andy_Schueler

        Sadly, this is not a hypothetical scenario; there is archaeological evidence that the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice. I don’t think anyone knows whether they ate the babies.

        I think it is extremely likely that some people in that geographical area actually did sacrifice people to Gods because else it would make no sense to come up with laws against it (this however implies not necessarily the Canaanites, it could also mean that the hebrews used to do it in pre-OT times or early-OT times (before they came up with laws against it)).
        I´m actually curious if there really is archaeological evidence to back this up. Christians bring this up all the time as a defense when skeptics point to the atrocities described in the OT, but this is rarely backed up by citations.
        I remember a recent case where a Christian provided a citation from an alleged historian, this historian however turned out to have no actual credentials in history or acheaoogy (he was a theologian) and he simply lied about the archaeological studies he cited, there was one study that implied child sacrifice going on and a later study that examined the same site and concluded that it was much more likely that children were buried at this site, not sacrificed.

        It also never ceases to amaze me why so many christians think that “the canaanites were evil, they even sacrificed children” would be a valid defense for indiscriminately slaughtering Canaanites and their children. It really sounds like “they are evil because they kill their children, we should thus kill them and their children, unless they have some virgin daughters that we can take as fucktoys for our brave soldiers”.

        • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

          Also, even according to the Christian’s own divine command morality, if our moral duties come from god’s commandments, then at that time since god was only communicating with the Israelites, then all other societies were free to do what they wanted, since in absence of god commanding them not to practice child sacrifice, it was morally permissible. So even in theory DCT fails to justify why it was wrong for the Canaanites to permit child sacrifice – they had no command from god forbidding it. Check mate Christians!

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Yes, one would have to ad hoc argue that that command was relevant only to those people at that time.And yet.if that is not explicit in that verse, then there is no way of clearly reaching that conclusion. Which is why morality is a should be secular.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Even WLC argues that OT morality was only for the ancient Israelites at that time and place and was not intended to be a universal code of ethics for all people. So the excuse that the Canaanites were evil because they practiced child sacrifice (which the Israelites did too) presupposes that the Canaanites were bound by the moral obligations of the Israelites, which they were’t since they received no commands from Yahweh.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            He just holds up Copan’s shoddy book and defers to it. Even he knows to pick his battles, which rather shows the fragility of his position. He does claim the first thing to go would be the truth of such OT claims, without actually saying he would or does do this, so to remain onside with his literalist followers.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Copan..don’t even get me started. And Craig’s balancing act on OT morality is hilarious. He recommends minimalism, but still argues for inerrancy. Go figure.

          • Luke Breuer

            Not all Christians hold to this. So please stop broad-brushing, and say “some Christians believe in the DCT, and this is bad because…” It would be even better if you could provide particulars, like quotations from WLC. This advances the state of the conversation, and allows for nucleation points for deeper discussion and investigation.

            At this level of vagueness, you don’t really enhance our understanding of reality, you just say things that your buddies can agree with and all feel good about yourselves.

            Oh, I doubt WLC actually agrees with your analysis. See Rom 2:12-16.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Now you’re lecturing me about vagueness? Please Luke, you’re in no position to tell me this. I was making a generalized statement about the implications for DCT that most Christians believe and drawing out the logical conclusions of the ethical theory that religions like Christianity requires. So the point I was making was to show how stupid DCT is when you consider its logical conclusion.

            And since you’ve got a problem with vagueness, tell me what your ethical theory is and provide detail.

          • Luke Breuer

            Now you’re lecturing me about vagueness? Please Luke, you’re in no position to tell me this.

            Excellent use of the fallacy tu quoque. I’m going to quote three Bible passages at you and argue precise, specific, reality-connecting points out of them which are relevant to this precise situation.

            A “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Mt 7:1-5)

            B Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Mt 23:1-4)

            C Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. (Gal 6:1-5)

            You have routinely judged me to be vague and imprecise, and yet you routinely over-generalize and broad-brush Christianity, frequently imputing to people views they do not hold. You’ve done this to me, repeatedly. There was no “most Christians” in [1]. And I wonder, if one extreme is ‘vague’, the other extreme is ‘simplistic’. So perhaps we both have logs in our eyes. For you to claim that you have no such problem, no log in your eye, is just fallacious. If you aren’t going to admit that you have any log, then why ought I continue to discuss with you? As long as you have a log, A applies: you will see projections of your log and think they exist in the other person when they may exist only in yourself. See the mind projection fallacy and psychological projection. The truth of A—at least important parts—has been established, scientifically.

            Next, you routinely do B. You tell me what to do differently, but you do not lift a finger to help me. You don’t show me the better version. If anything, you show me the opposite extreme of the ‘vague’ ↔ ‘simplistic’ spectrum. That doesn’t help me become less vague. Human cognition does not work this way; that you think it does is simply evidence that you aren’t as connected to reality as you think. I suggest reading the article Unknowable and incommunicable and the book The Lost Art of Listening. It is extremely hard for someone to learn from B-technique. I just don’t want to do it with you. I don’t want to expend the tremendous amount of energy it would take.

            An articulation on A can be found in C. The way you help someone overcome a problem they are having is to “fulfill the law of Christ”—a very strong phrase! What is this law? To bear another’s burden, for a time. Think of the apprentice model, whereby the teacher helps the student along, showing him excellent examples and helping the student get better and better at reproducing those examples. You, The Binary Thinker, do not do this. You demand perfection, and reject anything less than it, either with a mere FAIL, or with slightly more information, FAIL at line number N. This is the B-protocol, not the C-protocol. The B-protocol is a shitty way to treat people. The C-protocol is so much better that the difference is night and day. I’ve had enough B-protocol in my life, The Thinker. I don’t want more of it. If all you can bring yourself to do is B, then go do it to someone else.

            [1] The Thinker

            Also, even according to the Christian’s own divine command morality, if our moral duties come from god’s commandments, then at that time since god was only communicating with the Israelites, then all other societies were free to do what they wanted, since in absence of god commanding them not to practice child sacrifice, it was morally permissible. So even in theory DCT fails to justify why it was wrong for the Canaanites to permit child sacrifice – they had no command from god forbidding it. Check mate Christians!

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            This unfortunately does nothing to refute my argument that you quoted me saying above. All it is is a whining marathon about how I don’t take into consideration every single nuanced Christian perspective. It’s granted that not all Christians agree with everything. What I was criticizing was the traditional, mainstream view within Christian moral thinking and it’s implications. Try criticizing that for once, and without crying a river.

            And again, until you can offer me your alternative ethical theory to DCT, you aren’t a part of this conversation.

          • Luke Breuer

            If you think that the comment you’re replying to was attempting to refute your argument, you have reading comprehension issues.

            What I was criticizing was the traditional, mainstream view within Christian moral thinking and it’s implications.

            And where do you get the idea that it is “the traditional, mainstream view”? What evidence are you basing this off of? I actually have no idea what the traditional view is, or even if there is one traditional view. There’s a lot of diversity to Christian thought, more than most people realize, and I mean strictly within what is considered orthodox!

            And again, until you can offer me your alternative ethical theory to DCT, you aren’t a part of this conversation.

            I’ll let @johnnyp76:disqus set the terms of discussion on his blog, thank you very much.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            And where do you get the idea that it is “the traditional, mainstream view”? What evidence are you basing this off of?

            Umm, your favorite book, the Bible. You know, the book that you hold tightly in your arms every night when you go to sleep.

            I actually have no idea what the traditional view is, or even if there is one traditional view.

            Then where you get the balls telling me that I’ve mischaracterized the traditional, mainstream view within Christian moral thinking?

            Christianity, along with all the other Abrahamic religions, is based on DCT. Offer me an alternative if you can.

          • Luke Breuer

            Umm, your favorite book, the Bible. You know, the book that you hold tightly in your arms every night when you go to sleep.

            Oh, so the fact that you see DCT as the only plausible model for biblical morality means that it is the sole, mainstream, traditional Christian view? And this is even assuming that there is one, single meta-ethical framework undergirding all of the library that is the Bible, which is a big question in and of itself. You sound like a fundamentalist in how you interpret the Bible. You know that no single theology accurately describes it, right?

            Then where you get the balls telling me that I’ve mischaracterized the traditional, mainstream view within Christian moral thinking?

            As I pointed out, in your original comment you made no such indication, that you were talking about a specific subset of Christianity.

            Christianity, along with all the other Abrahamic religions, is based on DCT. Offer me an alternative if you can.

            Burden of proof is on you to show that DCT is the single, mainstream, traditional view of morality in the Bible, not on me. Support your positive claims or stop making them. Don’t shift the burden of proof onto me. Isn’t that what Christians allegedly do all of the time?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Luke, I think I’ve had enough of you. You seem to take issues with the things that every mainstream Christians has no problem with. And then you flat out refuse to offer an alternative view. I’m not playing this game with you anymore. I once thought that you might have had a more sophisticated take on Christianity, but now it turns out I was wrong. Either man up and stop being an intellectual wuss, or we’re done.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Thinker,

            I don’t know if it is this thread, or another in the last day with Nerdsamwich, where Luke essentially laid out a secular morality which was initially created by God. If I understand it correctly, it goes like this, and has a very ID unfalsifiable feel:

            1) God designs the physical world in such a way that morality will emerge from the physical
            2) God creates the physical world
            3) morality emerges

            As you can see, this emergentism is essentially secular. Just like guided vs unguided evolution with IDers, Luke has us discovering a (guided) morality in the way God intended.

            Is that about right, Luke?

          • Luke Breuer

            Whoops, you’ll have to @LukeBreuer:disqus me if you want my response, otherwise I sometimes miss these. You can only @ someone if they’ve posted in that thread, FYI. I think I agree with this! I think it’s incredibly biblical, to boot. You might like my later comment, where I argue that DCT is for children. I’m beginning to think that the New Covenant is really a leaving behind of DCT, like a child leaves behind his/her comfort blanket. There’s some deep stuff here with “perfect love casts out fear”, but I’ll only elaborate if requested.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            The problem being, Luke, that you would then be duty bound to assert that God’s ‘childish’ moral revelation to the OTers was the best he could do- the most perfect moral revelation for the job at hand. That seems a little implausible, no?

            Or would it be the ubiquitous “well, it would have been too much of a paradigm shift to have shown those people then everything” etc, whilst at the same time claiming the truth of Jesus, pretty much a 180 paradigm shift in himself.

          • Luke Breuer

            The problem being, Luke, that you would then be duty bound to assert that God’s ‘childish’ moral revelation to the OTers was the best he could do- the most perfect moral revelation for the job at hand. That seems a little implausible, no?

            Given my observations of society today, with all the available collected wisdom (see As We May Think, especially the last two paragraphs), it is not the slightest bit implausible. I will note that there are hints of non-DCT well before the prophets. Deut 5 can be seen as God resigning himself to the fact that the general populace is not yet read for non-DCT.

            Perhaps I take a darker view of human nature than you? Can you fully account for (i) Stanford prison experiment; (ii) Milgram experiment; (iii) The Third Wave, in your model of humans? These experiments, plus general observation of humans and reading of folks like Os Guinness (The Gravedigger File is fantastic—it’s like Screwtape Letters targeting the Church), lead me to a model of humans that transforms your understatement of “a little implausible” → “incredibly plausible”.

            Or would it be the ubiquitous “well, it would have been too much of a paradigm shift to have shown those people then everything” etc, whilst at the same time claiming the truth of Jesus, pretty much a 180 paradigm shift in himself.

            Jesus is only a 180° paradigm shift if you are a legalist. Take 1 John 3:4, “sin is lawlessness”. Legalism is a degenerate form of not-lawlessness. The Pharisees had degenerated into legalism, as did Israel many times in the OT. The book of Amos includes fantastic mockery and satire on this very point. But there is a way to read the OT which is not legalist. This is very like what Jesus did on the “Road to Emmaus”.

            I’ve been arguing over here (search for ‘invert’) that it is very common for people to completely invert the truth. Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, calls this “flying upside-down”. This 180° thing is actually really common, I think throughout history. I’m increasingly seeing the Bible as a Rorschach test, pushing people to either (a) the truth; or (b) the anti-truth.

            I keep returning to my comment on “How can we mere mortals state what God SHOULD do?” I argue that

                 (1) research into objective reality
                 (2) research into objective morality.

            are never-ending projects. This is the solution to the Charybdis of lawlessness and Scylla of legalism. We think that finite systems of law can completely capture (1) and (2); I hold this to be false. You have lower-case-’l’ law, which is an approximation of reality, and upper-case-’L’ Law, which is the true description of how reality works. If we do it right, we can make ‘law’ → ‘Law’, via the process of ‘wrong’ → ‘less wrong’. However, there are many ways for this to fail, as we all know very well. It is easy to get stuck at local maxima, unable to jump out of those into higher and higher maxima. This is one fascinating version of the fires of hell; simulated annealing is a method of finding global minima/maxima, and requires ‘heating up’ to do so. I digress.

            I’m actively looking more into this 180° paradigm shift idea, so if I haven’t been clear enough or detailed enough, feel free to push me—but please do it productively, instead of merely asking for more. :-p

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Perhaps I take a darker view of human nature than you? Can you fully account for (i) Stanford prison experiment; (ii) Milgram experiment; (iii) The Third Wave, in your model of humans?

            I think our worldviews explain that, prima facie, fairly similarly, given your morality thesis. Given mine is absent of a creator god, the notion that we are as close to stark darkness as we seem to be is of no surprise, given the viciousness of the animal kingdom of which we are a part. When you see chimps ripping other chimps and monkeys to bits over power, resources and in group out group psychology, it all makes sense. With your extra entity, you have to contrive a whole host of extra reasons why that is 1) allowed and 2) designed into the system.

            As for the rest, given the sophistication of the Greeks and of muh of the writing/authors in the Bible, I think the claim that the OTers couldn’t cope with being shown ‘proper’ morality via revelation is just rubbish.

            Because if God was willing to ‘come down’ and zap someone for picking up sticks and dropping the covenant and all the other instance things he purportedly showed up to reveal, then a simple “slavery is bad, period” and other such things would not be “too much for those parochials”. If God turned up and face to face told me that slavery and exploitation of others was properly bad, I would understand that. You know, face to face.

          • Luke Breuer

            With your extra entity, you have to contrive a whole host of extra reasons why that is 1) allowed and 2) designed into the system.

            What precisely do you mean by “you have to”? For example, do you mean in order to have a complete explanation, or merely a viable explanation? There is a question here, of how much ‘mystery’ (as-of-yet unexplored parts) there can be in a given model of reality and have it still be cognitive useful (or more strongly, cognitively optimal of what exists so far).

            As for the rest, given the sophistication of the Greeks and of muh of the writing/authors in the Bible, I think the claim that the OTers couldn’t cope with being shown ‘proper’ morality via revelation is just rubbish.

            The Greeks lived after much of OT history, and they were relatively rare. I suppose you could point to the Ebla city-state. But your point doesn’t necessarily stand even then: you cannot reform an entire people group in a generation, at least so far. Maybe we’ll figure that out, but it’s a pretty hard problem. There’s still a ton of repeating of history, even in the West, with all of its smarts.

            Jonathan, I think you just have a rosier view of people than I do.

            “slavery is bad, period”

            Not this again. Take a read of Christian Thinktank’s OT slavery and NT slavery pages. They’re not perfect, but if you really, truly want to say that you have honestly investigated both sides of the issue, these are better than anything else I’ve come across out there.

            If God turned up and face to face told me that slavery and exploitation of others was properly bad, I would understand that.

            Wait, is this an argument for DCT, or just that God could correct your idea of how reality (i) is; (ii) ought to be, and you can guarantee that you’d believe him? (or something else?)

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Luke

            I have had the slavery debate so many times. I don’t buy the Copan/Miller approach to slavery – I am with Thom Stark on this. I suggest reading his two chapters on slavery here, where he takes Copan (and by extension Miller and the ThinkTank) to pieces:
            http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf
            The chapter starts:

            “Copan’s chapters on slavery in the Bible seek to sugarcoat the in- stitution of slavery through a number of spurious arguments that once again (1) pay little attention to the actual text of the Hebrew Bible and (2) misrepresent the other ancient Near Eastern sources. Copan argues that biblical slavery should not be called “slavery,” but rather “indentured servitude.” It’s true that Hebrew male slaves served only a term of six years, to be released in the seventh, but this was emphatically not true of any and all non- Hebrew slaves, despite Copan’s attempts to force the text to say otherwise. Moreover, most ancient Near Eastern societies had re- lease laws comparable to Israel’s mandates, and while a six year term of service was stipulated in the laws of Moses, only a three year term of service was permitted in the Code of Hammurabi!

            Copan quotes John Goldingay, who writes that “there is noth- ing inherently lowly or undignified about being an ‘ebed [slave].” Copan adds, astoundingly, that the term “slave” is even an re- spectable, noble designation (125). This is about as far from the truth as one can get. The reality is that slaves in Israelite society had limited rights, could be physically abused, were legally worth less than free-persons, and lived in shame.”

          • Luke Breuer

            Every time I look into this stuff, I find bits and pieces that each side is ignoring. It is very frustrating. At some point in the future I would love to build some sort of website that lets each do the best job it can in making an argument, and then critique the other’s argument. You could compare which facts each side employs, the solidity of those facts, etc. Importantly, you could see which facts are ignored. That would perhaps be the most interesting part!

            I read Copan’s book, and I found it quite a stretch at multiple places. But it is equally a stretch to go all the way in the other direction. The Christian Thinktank guy (Glenn) has presented evidence I find compelling, arguing that what Biblical slavery is not analogous to New World slavery on several important fronts.

            Finally, a solution was needed for those who (a) fell on hard times; (b) were willfully incompetent and lazy. It was a subsistence-based economy; famines were frequent. Who goes without food during famine time? Times were brutal, and if we don’t properly deal with those times, we plant ourselves firmly in fantasy-land. I choose reality, including all of its hard decisions. Many who discuss slavery in the Bible don’t want to live in reality, for reality is dark at times. Barbaric times are barbaric; viewing them anachronistically whitewashes them and whitewashes human nature.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I do not claim it is necessarily analogous to new world slavery. All it takes is one divinely countenanced slave treated in such a way to make the point.

            This is brilliiant:

            Finally, a solution was needed for those who (a) fell on hard times; (b) were willfully incompetent and lazy.

            Wow. Wilfully lazy people deserve slavery? There is no other option? I don’t think you would ever utter such a ridiculous claim were in not in the context of defending such a holy book close to your heart. You would be condemning much of society to slavery….

            I think you don’t quite see how apologists are the ones who think times were rosier than they were, who see it in rose tinted special pleading glasses. If the Geneva Convention, defined by secular men, can shit ll over divine countenance and law, then that has to be a worry for you.

          • Luke Breuer

            You quote-chopped me; here’s the full version:

            Finally, a solution was needed for those who (a) fell on hard times; (b) were willfully incompetent and lazy. It was a subsistence-based economy; famines were frequent. Who goes without food during famine time? Times were brutal, and if we don’t properly deal with those times, we plant ourselves firmly in fantasy-land.

            I never said how many people were (b); that’s actually in principle unknowable. Ability to discern between (a) and (b) will vary based on situation. I know it’s a common caricature of conservatives in the US, that poor people are lazy; maybe it is in England as well. Whether this is true, I don’t know, and it’s not actually clear that it matters, biblically. I recall reading something in Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs which argues that will is largely irrelevant.

            There is no other option?

            Present one. Argue your counterfactual, and provide a convincing case instead of a bare assertion, which I have taken to calling “waving the omni-wand”. Counterfactuals can be remarkably hard to argue. If you don’t do it right, you can make up whatever you want, assert that an omni-god would do it, note that it hasn’t been done, and thus deny the existence of the omni-god. Surely it is clear that this is wrong?

            I think you don’t quite see how apologists are the ones who think times were rosier than they were, who see it in rose tinted special pleading glasses. If the Geneva Convention, defined by secular men, can shit ll over divine countenance and law, then that has to be a worry for you.

            You mistakenly think that I hold to DCT, and/or that I believe that God must have given perfect moral law to people living in barbaric times. Consider the scientific analogy: is it evil that we had to start with F = ma, instead of immediately starting with GR? Or is it evil that we don’t yet have a theory of quantum gravity? If none of these are evils, then perhaps successive approximation in the moral realm is acceptable, as well.

            As to the Geneva Convention, people are a product of their times. You can push and pull people somewhat from the situation in which they were born, but usually you cannot push that much. If the men who went to the Geneva Convention had been born in the time King David allegedly lived, I doubt they would have drafted the same thing.

            Finally, you seem to be very pro-DCT in all of this. Do you see this?

            I do not claim it is necessarily analogous to new world slavery. All it takes is one divinely countenanced slave treated in such a way to make the point.

            If the definition of a term varies enough between the most common conception and the conception being discussed, it is very important to identify this. Otherwise you can use rhetoric to your advantage, and be less truth-seeking and more bullshitting.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I think to claim that humanity was unable to understand that slavery was morally bad, when you had earlier societies ABOLISHING it (China 221 BCE and again in 17CE, and the Maruya civilisation in 269BCE abolished slave trading), is utterly implausible. Especially when God can do anything and can visit people directly as he apparently had been doing for far less important reasons for the 2000 years previously!

          • Luke Breuer

            Then why couldn’t the Greeks and Romans understand how terrible slavery was? And what’s this with 221 BC? The slave codes in the Bible allegedly arose before the Babylonian exile. I don’t know my *-criticism, so I can’t say what our best estimate is of what time was actually being described. But you have passages like this which truly are mitigating:

            “Is not this the fast that I choose:
                to loose the bonds of wickedness,
                to undo the straps of the yoke,
            to let the oppressed go free,
                and to break every yoke?
            Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
                and bring the homeless poor into your house;
            when you see the naked, to cover him,
                and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
            Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
                and your healing shall spring up speedily;
            your righteousness shall go before you;
                the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
            Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
                you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
            If you take away the yoke from your midst,
                the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
            if you pour yourself out for the hungry
                and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
            then shall your light rise in the darkness
                and your gloom be as the noonday.
            And the LORD will guide you continually
                and satisfy your desire in scorched places
                and make your bones strong;
            and you shall be like a watered garden,
                like a spring of water,
                whose waters do not fail.
            And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
                you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
            you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
                the restorer of streets to dwell in.
            (Isaiah 58:6-12 ESV)

            Let’s sample the Bible properly, and not just pick out the worst parts.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Apparently Jesus couldn’t come down and say slavery was reet bad like, because it was too much of a paradigm shift, even though slavery had been banned in other parts of the world some 220 years before.

            And you accuse me of only picking out the worst parts, whilst you apparently pick out the best? But, as many Christian know, it is the worst parts which need most explaining. It is the slaughter of the Amelakites which needs explaining. Slavery and why it was not obviously outlawed needs explaining..

          • Luke Breuer

            What are the best sources on biblical slavery which you have read, which argue against your held position? Mine are the Christian Thinktank articles. I know they have potential problems, but I also haven’t sought out scholarly literature. Have you?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I have read those articles, albeit some time ago. I argued about them with my theologian friend. Have you read Thom Stark?

          • Luke Breuer

            Some; you wrote this, and I responded:

            Every time I look into this stuff, I find bits and pieces that each side is ignoring. It is very frustrating. At some point in the future I would love to build some sort of website that lets each do the best job it can in making an argument, and then critique the other’s argument. You could compare which facts each side employs, the solidity of those facts, etc. Importantly, you could see which facts are ignored. That would perhaps be the most interesting part!

            I’m not happy viewing any single source. Humans are really shitty these days, frequently ignoring everything that doesn’t fit their view except perhaps for a caricature, overstating their cases, not admitting weak spots, etc. etc. etc. It’s terrible.

            What I can say is that Glenn over at the Christian Thinktank made a compelling case that slavery in the OT was not nearly as horrible as many people make it out to be. Furthermore, it may have been a pretty decent system given the subsistence-based economy and frequent famines which swept the land. To add to Glenn’s statements (I just don’t remember if he said the following), there is a ‘moral trajectory’ in the Bible, which is well-explained by the fact that pretty much every human can be “pulled toward moral perfection” only so much per unit time. So many of these discussions imagine perfection in one step. Or they insist that “there must have been another way!” without doing any of the legwork required to show this.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            The problem with this approach (TT) is that it is cherry picking rose tinted fallacy. You need to not concentrate on the less bad parts of slavery and how it could be good, or not so horrible, but concentrate on the worst parts, because these are the bits that need explaining. This is one of the most obvious criticisms of apologetic approaches and what Stark looks to combat.

            eg

            ” And stacking up positive laws one after the other, as Copan does, in order to give a sense of how progressive Israel was, does absolutely noth- ing to justify or legitimate Israel’s multitudinous unjust and im- moral laws. Copan complains that critics focus on all the negatives and on none of the positives. But this is a juvenile defense. Good laws should be taken for granted. We don’t praise a society for do- ing what’s right. That’s what a society is supposed to do. That’s the absolute least that’s expected. But we have a moral obligation to condemn societies for systemic injustice, and when we engage in special pleading and sleight of hand apologetics to defend the immoral laws, to give them a positive spin, we become immoral, even if we think we’re doing it for a good cause.

            Every society in history has had immoral laws, and every society in history has had immoral defenders of those immoral laws, propagandists and spin doctors who forge careers convincing the masses that things aren’t as bad as they seem, that such laws are “necessary” for this or that reason. Politicians and their support- ers engage in this sort of thing incessantly, defending immoral policies and laws in the name of this or that ideology, or attempt- ing to hide their existence by distracting attention. This is what Paul Copan does, alongside so many other Christian apologists, and Christians need to get wise and stop accepting dishonest an- swers just because they’re the kind of answers we’d like to hear. If our faith is such that we have to be dishonest in order to maintain it, then woe to us!”

            There is a lot of italicised emphasis there that I don’t have time to format. Worth at least skim reading his two chapters.

          • Luke Breuer

            The problem with this approach (TT) is that it is cherry picking rose tinted fallacy. You need to not concentrate on the less bad parts of slavery and how it could be good, or not so horrible, but concentrate on the worst parts, because these are the bits that need explaining. This is one of the most obvious criticisms of apologetic approaches and what Stark looks to combat.

            How about instead of an either/or, we do a both/and? One kind of intellectual maturity means being able to see the good and the bad in something simultaneously. Chris Hallquist’s How much you like someone is a poor predictor of their ethical behavior is a great example of people who have not reached this maturity level:

            Having observed such conflicts play out a few times, a common thread seems to be: “I know S. S is a good person. S would never do the thing they’ve been accused of.” But this reasoning so often produces the wrong result.

            What you must do, to maintain your argument, is argue a counterfactual like the following:

                 (1) If Yahweh had banned slavery, the world would be a better place, now.

            Right? Can you argue that? Can you give convincing support? If not, you’re waving your omni-wand.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Essentially, it seems Miller and Copan have pretty much identical views, an reading Glenn’s piece on a quick skim again, I got the exact same anger I got when I last read it! It’s all ‘most’ slavery ‘could’ mean this and then concentrating on the more benign slavery rather than picking the worst cases that DID exist and seeking to explain that. Stark, being a Christian himself (don’t know if you new that) picks a really honest path. I rate him, and think his slavery chapters are a great rebuttal to Copan and Glenn.

            Right, off to bed.

          • Luke Breuer

            Almost every atheist and skeptic who argues about slavery in the Bible paints it in the worst light possible. This is reprehensible if done without the opposite. Have you ever been viewed in the worst possible light by another human being? If so, you know how soul-crushing it can be. I got that treatment from many for the first 21 years of my life. It is absolutely, morally, reprehensible. It is not a truth-seeking behavior. It is a self-justifying behavior. It is the behavior of people who value themselves by how many other people they are better-than. It is evil.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            No, no, no, no, no, no, no. You couldn’t be more wrong. You are not seeing things correctly here. If I have a murderer up in court, I need him to explain why he committed that atrocity. I don’t need to know that he helped a granny across the road at another time in his life. Or to more correctly analogise, I don’t need to know why someone else unconnected to him was nice at another point in time.

            If a general is up for war crimes in The Hague, we don’t need to know how often he visited the local primary school to see how they are doing, we need to know how often he ordered the death of ethnic minorities, and why,

            As I keep saying, we actually most need the worst parts of the Bible explaining. This was the rationale for Unebelievable picking the Slaughter of the Amelakites to debate on Premier Christian radio, because to make sure the Bible is coherent, you need to pick the worst parts and see how they are rationalised. They declared that that was the most challenging section in the Bible to believers, and so is the part that needs to be most explained.

          • Luke Breuer

            Well, I don’t have an explanation that will suit you. So this can be your irreducible complexity, the thing that if the other side cannot explain, his theory is false, regardless of what his theory can explain.

          • Luke Breuer

            “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

            I choose to focus on the good and beauty in the Bible, and trust that I will understand the other bits, the bits that currently seem ‘irreducibly complex’, in due time.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Your situation may have been reprehensible, but that is a false analogy. I am not doing an overall character assessment of the personality of the Bible (that is the limit to my own analogies in the previous comments) I am seeking to analyse the Biblical approach to slavery.

            What apologists do is look at the cases where the type and impact of slavery is different, more benign. Well, great, but that is a red herring, because it does nothing (even if it is a bona fide claim) to explain the worst cases of slavery in the Bible which still need explaining nonetheless. This is a point which Stark makes, and which seems pertinently obvious to me, and so it frustrates the hell out of me when apologists (including yourself here) opt for the charitable approach at the expense of even acknowledging the continued existence of the worst types of slavery.

            eg Glenn Miller continually using “most” to refer to slaves, whilst conveniently forgetting the rest in that equation (even if his claims about the most stand, which is arguable).

          • Luke Breuer

            I have no need to whitewash the Bible, because doing so whitewashes human nature. I refuse to do that; I know what is in the heart of man. It is vile and terrible. Not in the Hitler-sense, but in the small, insidious, not-enough-good-intention sense. Almost no drunk driver intends to maim and kill people. I have no need for Glenn’s version to be perfect; it merely set up a tension against the worst-possible-interpretations. I knew there was more to the story than was being told by others. What the exact nature of that story is, I do not expect to find without a lot of work.

            You think that all the Israelites needed was better commands. This is an implicit acceptance of the DCT, one which I myself am not willing to make. You say there was a better way, and yet have not given sound reason to think that this is so. You’ve made a few assertions, once which I do not find at all convincing. As far as I can tell, you have a rosy picture of human nature, one which does not stand the test of the evidence.

            It is not that I am viewing the Bible with rose-colored glasses, you are viewing human nature with rose-colored glasses. Surely it cannot be that bad, can it?

          • Luke Breuer

            You didn’t talk about how you praised “sophistication of the Greeks” even though they were ok with permanent slavery of entire races. I wonder if you are being much more critical of the ancient Hebrews than any other ancient culture, expecting them not to merely be a bit better than everyone else, but remarkably better. This seems like a pretty iffy standard; I can justify “a bit better”, but remarkably better? Could you shed some light on the precise nature of the comparison you are making, here?

          • Luke Breuer

            Why are you ignoring the Greeks’ implicit acceptance of slavery, of ‘lesser races’? You seem to be, and I would say this was a huge error on the part of the Greeks and Romans that [apparently] necessitated the utter destruction of both cultures.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            They were sophisticate enough to understand that it was bad given the right philosophy. That they thought it was ok is another issue. Hey, it’s not that extremist Muslims now COULDN’T understand that suicide bombing and terrorist atrocities are a bad thing. It is the case that in their individual positions, they don’t. With a divine revelation, they sure could!

          • Luke Breuer

            They were sophisticate enough to understand that it was bad given the right philosophy.

            Why do you believe this? I believe people are more than just Turing machines, which need the right code (philosophy) in order to be good. Do you disagree?

            With a divine revelation, they sure could!

            You realize that I don’t hold to what seems to be your version of DCT, right? Among other things, I believe that love does not compel (1 Cor 13:5), and that God is love (1 Jn somewhere).

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Hang on, in all the brilliance (and crazy shit) of all the Greek philosophy, they were cognitively unable to understand that slavery could be bad? Wow.

          • Luke Breuer

            Why does it matter if they could cognitive understand the statement “slavery could be bad”? It only matters if they would actually believe it and act on it.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Gentlemen….

            CALM DOWN!

            I know things can get frustrating when you an’t feasibly fathom why another rational being can’t see things like you when assessing the same evidence, but….

          • Luke Breuer

            And since you’ve got a problem with vagueness, tell me what your ethical theory is and provide detail.

            Heh, and dance the same dance we’ve done for weeks now? No thanks. Unless I can provide you a working computer simulation with sentient digital lifeforms, you’ll throw your favorite v-word at anything I say. Go find another dance partner. You’ll always win at this game. Nothing will be good enough for you. Except your own little theory of compassion and empathy, as if that’s good enough to build an ethical model on. But no, you won’t show what it’s like to present a rigorous, detailed, precise theory of ethics—that would show your vague hand! And so you merely demand to know what I think, so you can criticize it.

            No thanks!

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Luke you’re really embarrassing yourself, and it shows what weak footing you have to stand on.

            You’re refusal to provide detail is not because you feel it wouldn’t be good enough for me, it’s because you probably don’t have it. I’m willing to be proved wrong with a detailed response to you. All you like to do is criticize other’s beliefs yet you’re scared to step up to the plate and expose your own.

            And no, my ethics are not based on my “own little theory of emotion and empathy” – total straw man on your part, and a sign of how pathetic you are (which it seems many others agree). That was merely my definition of evil, which you asked me. And now you’re making an absurd accusation that it’s my entire ethical model.

            How many Christians does it take to destroy a man made of straw?

          • Luke Breuer

            Luke you’re really embarrassing yourself, and it shows what weak footing you have to stand on.

            Does this goading technique work often for you?

            And no, my ethics are not based on my “own little theory of emotion and empathy” – total straw man on your part, and a sign of how pathetic you are (which it seems many others agree). That was merely my definition of evil, which you asked me. And now you’re making an absurd accusation that it’s my entire ethical model.

            May apologies for misrepresenting your position. (See how easy that was?)

        • Luke Breuer

          I´m actually curious if there really is archaeological evidence to back this up.

          Search for “Sadly, Yes.” at A Christian Thinktank’s How could a God of Love order the massacre/annihilation of the Canaanites? I recognize that this site is probably suspect (if for no other reason, due to biases and lack of peer-review), but then again, I don’t predicate anything upon it especially, so my world won’t be rocked if this evidence is bad.

          I remember a recent case where a Christian provided a citation from an alleged historian, this historian however turned out to have no actual credentials in history or acheaoogy (he was a theologian) and he simply lied about the archaeological studies he cited, there was one study that implied child sacrifice going on and a later study that examined the same site and concluded that it was much more likely that children were buried at this site, not sacrificed.

          Sadly, Christians these days don’t seem to care much for the truth. It has infected New Atheists as well; search for “Tertullian” at aRemonstrant’sRamblings ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists’ Part 4: Epistemology: both Dawkins and Boghossian flagrantly misquote Tertullian, a la creationist quote-mining. We must be better than this!

          It also never ceases to amaze me why so many christians think that “the canaanites were evil, they even sacrificed children” would be a valid defense for indiscriminately slaughtering Canaanites and their children. It really sounds like “they are evil because they kill their children, we should thus kill them and their children, unless they have some virgin daughters that we can take as fucktoys for our brave soldiers”.

          If you read the text anachronistically, yes. If you read it in context, noting that the Israelites were being ‘pulled’ from their conception of tribal deities toward the true conception of God, and that this wouldn’t happen in a night, and that “utterly decimate” might have been a figure of speech, and that Deuteronomy may have issued the first rules for [more than ever before] humane warfare, things change. I suggest watching 5-10m of the 2014-02-08 Veritas Forum The Loud Absence: Where is God in Suffering? John Lennox and Margaret Battin – University of Utah, starting at 35m.

          I’m not sure how clear I have made it, but I generally agree with stuff like Peter Enns’ Inerrancy: I think someone forgot to tell the Bible. A lot of the inerrancy shtick depends for its existence on the following false dichotomy:

               (1) either the Bible is without error
               (2) or it is not the Word of God

          This is hilariously false, as we experience every day when we are able to observe patterns despite noise and spurious data. I love the sociologist’s study described in the Wired article Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up, which found labs discarding 25-50% of collected data. The better versions of ‘faith’ involve the rejection of spurious data, not all data. The OT and NT are incredibly empirical: they say to follow Yahweh and Jesus because of what God has done in particle-and-field reality.

          The instability and being tossed to and fro discussed in Ja 1:5-8 and Eph 4:14 are based on a person not having a strong enough grip on reality, such that he/she changes opinion radically upon receiving every new piece of evidence, rather than having a kind of inertia, such that one can filter out the good data from the bad data. People do need a rigid structure to start out on (at the very earliest, we give kids rules that they are just told to obey), but the goal is to get people off of this binaryness ASAP. Heb 5:11-6:3 expresses frustration at still being stuck at baby-stage.

          • Andy_Schueler

            If you read the text anachronistically, yes. If you read it in context, noting that the Israelites were being ‘pulled’ from their conception of tribal deities toward the true conception of God, and that this wouldn’t happen in a night, and that “utterly decimate” might have been a figure of speech, and that Deuteronomy may have issued the first rules for [more than ever before] humane warfare, things change.

            1. This is simply the magic context wand. Demonstrate that commands to slaughter everyone, including all children except for virgin girls, did not actually mean that but rather are metaphors for the “hebrews being pulled to a true conception of God”.
            2. In what ways was warfare as described in deuteronomy more humane than warfare as it was conducted by other ANE tribes?

            I’m not sure how clear I have made it, but I generally agree with stuff like Peter Enns’Inerrancy: I think someone forgot to tell the Bible. A lot of the inerrancy shtick depends for its existence on the following false dichotomy

            I don´t presume any form of biblical inerrancy, if I would, there would be no reason to discuss the Bible at all. Some people think it is valuable to educate fundagelicals on why inerrancy is obviously false, but every fundagelical who has thought about this matter seriously and remains a fundagelical is simply being willfully obtuse and discussing with them is a waste of time, unless you do it for your personal amusement.

            The OT and NT are incredibly empirical: they say to follow Yahweh and Jesus because of what God has done in particle-and-field reality.

            That is your interpretation, and it is incredibly problematic for a non-YEC view, the OT is nothing but mythology for the first three books – if the reason for following Yahweh is supposed to be what he allegedly did, then there is no reason to follow Yahweh even within your own framework.

          • Luke Breuer

            1. This is simply the magic context wand. Demonstrate that commands to slaughter everyone, including all children except for virgin girls, did not actually mean that but rather are metaphors for the “hebrews being pulled to a true conception of God”.

            2. In what ways was warfare as described in deuteronomy more humane than warfare as it was conducted by other ANE tribes?

            I refer you to this Veritas dialogue, starting at 35m. I honestly am not sure I have the patience to spend more hours on this stuff, past what I have in the past, at least for right now. It’s just not interesting enough to me; it doesn’t really matter much to how I act these days. Enough other bits of the Bible make sense for me to be confident this will make sense, somehow. See, for example, Peter Enns’ Inerrancy: I think someone forgot to tell the Bible.

            That is your interpretation, and it is incredibly problematic for a non-YEC view, the OT is nothing but mythology for the first three books – if the reason for following Yahweh is supposed to be what he allegedly did, then there is no reason to follow Yahweh even within your own framework.

            This ‘problematic’ is likely anachronistic; I’ve heard convincing arguments from John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis One, as well as other places. And in terms of “what he allegedly did”, replace that with “Did Jesus die and three days later rise from the dead?” This is the crux of the matter for me.

          • Andy_Schueler

            This ‘problematic’ is likely anachronistic; I’ve heard convincing arguments from John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis One, as well as other places.

            So much for “The OT and NT are incredibly empirical”.

            And in terms of “what he allegedly did”, replace that with “Did Jesus die and three days later rise from the dead?”This is the crux of the matter for me.

            That´s new, last time you told me that it would not change anything for you if this never actually happened.

          • Luke Breuer

            So much for “The OT and NT are incredibly empirical”.

            Whether or not the stuff happened, the characters in the Bible are empirical. They value what they think actually happened, perhaps modulo Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, which argues that some of our conceptions of how OT people looked at the world are fundamentally different from our own. It is apparently a contentious book, and I only made it a little way in before getting distracted and never picking the book up again. I could look into it more, but I already have so many threads going. My original point stands: the ancient Israelites are portrayed as caring about what actually happened.

            That´s new, last time you told me that it would not change anything for you if this never actually happened.

            I do not recall saying this, so I suspect you are misremembering or misunderstood me. Stupid Disqus and no search.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Whether or not the stuff happened, the characters in the Bible are empirical.

            My original point stands: the ancient Israelites are portrayed as caring aboutwhat actually happened.

            Erm. Yes. And you could say the exact same for the characters in Harry Potter.

          • Luke Breuer

            My impression is that many of the contemporary religions around Israel were not like this. Some of this impression comes from sermons over time (which I realize are fairly unreliable, sadly), and from my wife’s summaries of Jon Levenson’s Sinai and Zion. But I’ll add this to my list, to be more rigorous about religions being empirical or not. Gnosticism, for example is not.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I refer you to Reasonable Doubts Justin Schieber debating the Amelakite slaughter on Premier Christian Radio:

            http://www.doubtcast.org/podcast/rd_extra_debating_the_amalekite_genocide.mp3

            The response to Randal Rauser’s response to that (clever Hermeneutics):

            http://www.doubtcast.org/podcast/rd110_clever_hermeneutics.mp3

            And definitely the Summer Genocide series (RD 88 and 89):

            http://feeds2.feedburner.com/reasonabledoubts/Msxh

          • Luke Breuer

            Thanks; I’ve saved this comment in my disqus_links.txt, for when I next get near this thing. It’s terribly complex; see all this research, for example. Very time consuming to examine properly!

      • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

        The Israelites also practiced human sacrifice early on. They also worshiped one of the same gods as the Canaanites did – Yahweh.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Yes, something I was going to mention in response to Luke – that Jews, qua Christians, practised human sacrifice as per the OT. Yes, Christians try to deny this (Jepthah’s daughter etc), but it pretty evident.

        • Luke Breuer

          The Bible agrees with you. Abraham was called out of the land of Ur—do you think he didn’t have gods there?

          And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. (Joshua 24:2-3)

          “they served other gods”! As to child sacrifice:

          Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind—therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. (Jer 19:4-6)

          “nor did it come into my mind”! And yet the ancient Hebrews still did it.

          • GearHedEd

            Abraham was called out of the land of Ur—do you think he didn’t have gods there?

            Of course Abraham had gods in Ur. And he abandoned them because they did nothing, only to find that he had jumped ship to another g0d that does nothing.

            But that’s only a valid argument if we accept that Abraham was a real person, which is far from proved.

          • Luke Breuer

            So you’re allowed to make claims about the Bible, which are irrespective of whether it is an accurate portrayal of history, and I can only rebut them with the Bible, if the Bible is true? Something’s wrong with that…

          • GearHedEd

            Absolutely!

            I can make claims without evidence to back them just as easily as you do. And if my claim is bogus due to a lack of evidence, then so is yours.

  • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

    “DCT comes in several forms and is adhered to by a good many theologians and apologists.”

    You might find it useful to refer your readers to my taxonomy of theistic metaethics.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks Jeff, have checked it out. CVan it be reposted here as an addendum, with reference (obviously) to its source and link?

      • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

        Sure.

  • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling Bryant Cody Rudisill

    Kai Nielsen had a wonderful article published in the Journal of Religious Ethics titled “God and the Basis of Morality” in which he argues for a secular foundation to Christian ethics. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, and it’s about 30 years old, but still potent.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Hey mate, long time no hear. Good to hear from you, will check it out.

  • Luke Breuer

    First, did God choose the laws of nature? Let’s postpone the morality bit for a moment, and ask that question. It seems obviously true that he could choose them, at least from the logically possible worlds. Another way to think about this is programming a simulated reality: it seems that you’d have a lot of flexibility in what you could make.

    Now, one can ask whether God can arbitrarily set the morality for some given set of laws of nature. Euthyphro seems possibly valid, here. But what if morality is fully determined by the laws of nature? In that case, does Euthyphro have any teeth, at all?

    • Nerdsamwich

      That is exactly the question Euthyphro wants answered: does god define what is moral, or merely recognize and transmit it? All you(and then I) have done is rephrase the question.

      • Luke Breuer

        I’m sorry, I gave two possibilities:

             (1) chosen physical laws ⇒ moral laws
             (2) chosen physical laws ⇏ moral laws

        Are you saying that Euthyphro applies to both (1) and (2), or just (2)? Under (1), God can could change the moral rules, but only by also changing the physical laws. Both (1) and (2) allow God freedom. Does Euthyphro apply to (1)?

        It strikes me that while (2) might be possible, it could be argued that it is against God’s nature. On (2), we have no way to derive objective moral laws. You might like my Phil.SE questions How could ‘objective morality’ be known/investigated? and Are there laws which govern minds? Anyhow, (2) would require divine revelation for us to know what is right and wrong, instead of it being empirically discoverable. That seems a bit icky to me.

        Romans 1:18-20 could be seen as an endorsement of (1). But what about the is–ought gap or the naturalistic fallacy? It seems to me that there is a kind of error in this thinking that I get at with my “laws which govern minds” question. Consider this: if you want to drive safely, you ought to obey traffic regulations. In a sense, this gives you the option of whether to obey a combination of the laws of physics and human-constructed protocol. I see objective morality as the same: if you want to e.g. do science, you must value honesty. There is definite “structure” to morality, which I believe is what makes it objective. Another way to think of it is rules for constructing buildings of various heights which will survive earthquakes of some magnitude.

        Massimo Pigliucci’s Essays on emergence, part I provides possible support for morality being an emergent property of physical laws. He talks about phase changes in matter, and how there are certain aspects of phase changes which do not depend on the particular substructure of matter. It’s a pretty neat idea, and indicates more solid isolation between levels of abstraction than many have believed. It is a strike against reductionism, and a powerful one in my opinion.

        Ok, that was quite a bit of digression. I leave you with a question: can we imagine up a logically possible world where people enjoy being taken advantage of? I swear I read something like this somewhere, so I won’t claim it’s original to me. But it seems like this would be a world with a different morality than our own.

        P.S. “moral laws” in my (1-2) can be replaced with “what is beautiful”.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Luke

          Are you, then, making the claim that God has created physical laws such that they imbue life with moral laws, which are in turn discoverable by humans? (rather than there being some kind of platonic realm of objective moral laws, or something)

          If so, then what is the ontology of morality? Do physical things (and this is exactly the same problem that such an aesthetic thesis has) have another property, a property of morality? However, it is actions that have moral property, and actions are difficult to define accurately. So, therefore, it seems like mental intentions are the things of moral evaluation?

          • Luke Breuer

            I am definitely inclined in the direction of (1) chosen physical laws ⇒ moral laws. But I also haven’t had a chance to talk about the issue much, so my position is not a firm one!

            I think you’re right: actions aren’t enough for morality. Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue argues that a shared telos is required for morality to be anything other than a Nietzschean imposition of will of the strong upon the weak. So in a sense, ‘morality’ is the set of rules that a team agrees on in order to work together. You could even model it as ‘fields’, with people being ‘particles’, and do a little simulation. With the right ‘fields’, you can get higher-order structures, like a scientific enterprise.

            As to ontic status, I’m not sure. MacIntyre points out that ‘practices’, of which science is one, requires certain virtues in order to be sustained. This sets up a hypothetical imperative: “If you want to do science, you must e.g. maintain a minimum level of honesty.” This seems to answer ‘yes’ to my Are there laws which govern minds? So actually, I’d be tempted to say that moral laws have the same ontic status as physical laws: mathematics. Whether or not there is a physical system which is well-approximated by a given set of mathematics seems in some sense, irrelevant.

          • Nerdsamwich

            That’s a whole lot of words to wind up saying, “maybe”.

          • Luke Breuer

            Yep; that’s often how progress is made in thought. You throw ideas out there that you aren’t yet sure about, and get comments from others on them. Did you expect something different? The sausage is never made in a pretty way, no matter the field.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            This is interesting, because, just like the Carrier paper suggests, this IS secular morality; only, you have tagged on a designer, a sort of unfalsifiable ID approach to morality.

          • Luke Breuer

            I’m not sure about this “tagged on a designer” bit. Either there is a designer or there is not; I’m not in the business of making rationalistic arguments for the existence of God. I do think that there exist ways to justifiably know that an ontological argument-type “greatest possible being” exists and created our reality. What exactly these ways are is still a bit mysterious; perhaps Evan Fales’ Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles will help shed some light.

            I am zeroing in on the conclusion that God is real to those who have personally experienced him, a la religious experiences. I recently argued that Loftus’ RDVT is false, and why we might expect religious diversity if Christianity were true. More can be found in Keith Ward’s The Case for Religion.

            There is something almost ineffably different between relating to facts and relating to people. German and some other languages even have differing words: kennen and wißen. Science is a bag of facts. We don’t relate to it like we relate to lovers. If God exists and is not impersonal like Einstein’s God, then we will know that through the part of cognition which engages in wißen, not [merely] kennen.

            My best hack at the difference above is whether an entity has a potentially infinite purpose (defined by infinitely many non-recursively enumerable axioms). Consider the difference between treating someone as (i) a project; (ii) a person. In the former, you have an idea of what that person entity ought to be like and push toward it, shaping it into your own image. In the latter, you help the person become what he/she “was meant to be”, a la Eph 2:10.

            Interestingly enough, this links right into the teleology I just discussed. There seems to be something deep about potentially-infinite purposes, and what makes someone truly human, instead of ‘just’ a mammal or ‘just’ a biological robot. Again, wißen vs. kennen. This is, of course, tremendously important for morality. The Star Trek TNG episode The Measure of a Man gets at this wonderfully.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            But from the point of evaluating good and bad actions, from the position of how morality is evaluated, would this not be effectively secular?

            OK, so you think God created stuff, but that aside, it is the stuff from which morality emerges, and so, in some senses, your morality is secular, or identical (perhaps, depending on what ‘we’ exactly adhere to) to ours?

          • Luke Breuer

            The crucial difference is whether we ever ‘settle’ on some morality, or whether we are always seeking something better, something higher, as I get into in my comment at your How can we mere mortals state what God SHOULD do?

            The biggest danger I see for our world is finding some excellent morality, and thinking that that’s it. We’ve arrived. It’d be like science finishing, finding the theory of everything from which all emergent systems can easily (in a computationally feasible manner) be derived. Such a morality would become the law of the land, with no more questions. It would be an iron rule. We would be locked inside a philosophical dome, and it would be a dome that wouldn’t be visible to anyone. A prison without bars. I do think some people would realize that something is wrong with the world a la Neo, and I think such people would be mercilessly persecuted by the system.

          • Andy_Schueler

            There is something almost ineffably different between relating to facts and relating to people. German and some other languages even have differing words: kennen and wißen. Science is a bag of facts. We don’t relate to it like we relate to lovers.

            It´s “wissen”, not “wißen”. Also, this characterization of the words is not completely accurate. “Kennen” rather means something like “familiar with”, which can be used to refer to a person, but doesn´t have to. Examples:
            “Ich kenne Jonathan” – “I know Jonathan”
            “Ich weiss das Jonathan ein Buch über Willensfreiheit geschrieben hat” – “I know that Jonathan wrote a book on free will”
            “Ich kenne Jonathans Buch über Willensfreiheit” – “I am familiar with Jonathan´s book on free will”

          • Luke Breuer

            Thanks for the correction; I only took a few terms of German, and forgot that sometimes the infinitive doesn’t follow the ‘ss’ → ‘ß’ rule. I really do want to learn German at some point—there’s lots of good philosophy in it!

            I really did mean to key in on this precise knowledge vs. fuzzy knowledge. I think there is a pattern here:

            kennenwissen
            empirical ↔ rationalistic
            tough-minded ↔ tender-minded (James’ Pragmatism)
            object ↔ person
            particulars ↔ universals
            analytic thought ↔ holistic thought

            People who focus on “science, science, science” tend to forget the right half. People are just ugly bags of mostly water!

          • GearHedEd

            “a Nietzschean imposition of will of the strong upon the weak” doesn’t sound moral in any conception of the term “morality”. Who believes this besides those whom it serves?

          • Luke Breuer

            Many people, apparently, although they obviously don’t know that is what is going on, else they wouldn’t use the term ‘morality’. I highly suggest Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue on this topic. He deconstructs emotivism as a meta-ethical system, reducing it to “a Nietzschean imposition of will”.

        • Nerdsamwich

          Are you claiming, Greek style, that aesthetic value equals moral value? That’s deeply troubling. That would make Joseph Stalin my moral superior, simply by virtue of his greater physical attractiveness. To answer your question at the top, Euthyphro’s Dilemma is asking which of your two premises is true. I’m at a loss for how to break it down any further, Do you honestly not understand the question, or are you being deliberately disingenuous? It’s really quite a simple question. Let’s try a specific: Is adultery wrong because it’s against YHWH’s commandment, or does YHWH command me to refrain from adultery because it’s wrong? Does that help you to make better sense of the question? As for your final question, you don’t have to imagine it; there are people walking around right now who enjoy being taken advantage of, at least in certain situations. I, for one, enjoy when my friends and family take advantage of my ridiculous memory for trivia and minutiae by asking me questions about such things rather than look them up themselves; it makes me feel useful. I rather suspect that everyone enjoys being taken advantage of in some fashion.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I don’t think he is saying that morality = aesthetics, only that they use the same ontological or metaphysical structure or logic…?

          • Luke Breuer

            correct

          • Luke Breuer

            Do you honestly not understand the question, or are you being deliberately disingenuous?

            Oh good grief, not again. Do you seriously want to go down the road of questioning the other guy’s motives? I was starting to type up a response to you, and then I hit this chestnut. I shall be plain: if you choose to question my motives in this conversation, it has a high chance of causing you to interpret my statements uncharitably, requiring me to expend much more effort to have a chance of sufficiently accurately communicating with you. I don’t want to expend this effort. So choose whether you’re going to continue this ugly tactic of imputing evil motives.

          • Nerdsamwich

            Fine. I’ll retract that question. Does my more specific wording of the Dilemma at hand satisfy your question as to what precisely Euthyphro meant?

          • Luke Breuer

            To answer your question at the top, Euthyphro’s Dilemma is asking which of your two premises is true.

            What I see missing from the original formulation is the admission that God gets to choose the physical laws. On (1), this means he chooses the moral laws at the same time as he chooses the physical laws. That means that if he can make adultery right by tweaking the physical laws, then adultery would be right and he would have chosen it. But I feel like I’m cheating Euthyphro in saying this, because he didn’t [to my knowledge] consider that God could futz with how reality works on the physical law-level.

            It has always seemed to me that Euthyphro questions whether we can derive ought from is, or whether we need divine assistance. But these allegedly mutually exclusive options can be combined: the divine assistance can come in the form of creating a world of type (1) instead of type (2). One where we can learn about (i) God’s habits; (ii) God’s personality. In case you didn’t catch it, (i) what is; (ii) what ought to be.

            Now there is a potential glitch: maybe no matter the physical laws, the same morality is entailed. This could happen in the case that once you get consciousness, the substrate used (e.g. biological vs. silicon vs. other) is irrelevant. Kant anticipated this in his Groundwork, and said “rational agent” instead of “human”. Correcting this with some Descartes’ Error, we could surmise that one mind is like the next in some fundamental ways; the answer to Are there laws which govern minds? would be ‘yes’ and the laws would be the same in all worlds.

            Suppose there are just a single set of laws for how mights ought to interact for optimal goodness. This would be a single objective morality, for all possible worlds. Then God would approve of these laws because they provide for the bringing about of maximal good.

            This all being said, perhaps God really could arbitrarily dictate morality. But wouldn’t it be better for him to create a more ‘connected’ world, where what ought to be can be derived from what is?

            These are my honest thoughts on the Euthyphro dilemma. If you want to trample them, go for it. I hear that’s a thing these days—if you can tear apart someone else’s arguments and accuse them of dishonesty and irrationality and other evils, it makes you a better person.

          • Nerdsamwich

            You’re reading way too much into a simple question. All we’re asking is whether the laws of morality, as it were, are truly objective, or subject to divine whim. It’s that simple. You don’t need to delve into the nature of minds and whether the laws of morality are somehow tied into the laws of physics. All you need to do is examine whether or not you think the only distinction between right and wrong is some divine fiat. That’s all the question is asking.

          • Luke Breuer

            If you want this level of simple, I don’t want to participate. I think by simplifying, you destroy important nuance. If you want to live in a simple world, be my guest. I prefer to live in the real world, with all of its complexities, all of its nooks and crannies.

          • Nerdsamwich

            It’s not a nuanced question, really. Way to completely avoid it, though.

          • Luke Breuer

            It is nuanced because there is a difference between:

                 (1) claims about how morality would have to work in all logically possible worlds

                 (2) claims about how I think morality works in our actual world

            Conflation of these two is at the root of much of this confusion. I suggest reading this comment of mine. For theological reasons, I believe that in this world, the true natural law ⇒ the true morality. Of course, we don’t have access to the ‘true’ versions; we can only successively approximate.

            The reason (1) is interesting is that we will soon be simulating digital worlds with increasingly human lifeforms. DCT is a real possibility in those worlds. What would happen in them? I don’t think we know enough to say. But all this discussion about DCT is tremendously important in the case that we do end up simulating worlds with ‘soulish’ beings. Will we be evil demons?

          • Nerdsamwich

            The question is about this world. Here. Now. Seriously, you’re not telling me our ancient Greek buddy was talking about parallel universes?
            “True natural law==>true morality”…so, gravity has a moral component? The constancy of the speed of light is a virtue? You’re making a category mistake. Laws of nature are the hard limits of reality. They are, by definition, inviolable. “Laws of morality”, on the other hand, are–again by definition–guidelines for how you should try to act. Also, you’re talking about supernatural beings and laws of nature in the same context. They’re mutually exclusive propositions.

          • Luke Breuer

            The question is about this world. Here. Now. Seriously, you’re not telling me our ancient Greek buddy was talking about parallel universes?

            Our imagination is made up of possible worlds; it is locked to this world. Furthermore, not everything we imagine is a logically possible world; sometimes we think contradictory thoughts. So to talk about possible worlds is incredibly relevant if we’re talking about what we can imagine. See Modal logic#Development of modal logic:

            In addition to his non-modal syllogistic, Aristotle also developed a modal syllogistic in Book I of his Prior Analytics (chs 8-22), which Theophrastus attempted to improve.[7] There are also passages in Aristotle’s work, such as the famous sea-battle argument in De Interpretatione § 9, that are now seen as anticipations of the connection of modal logic with potentiality and time. In the Hellenistic period, the logicians Diodorus Cronus, Philo the Dialectician and the Stoic Chrysippus each developed a modal system that accounted for the interdefinability of possibility and necessity, accepted axiom T and combined elements of modal logic and temporal logic in attempts to solve the notorious Master Argument.[8] The earliest formal system of modal logic was developed by Avicenna, who ultimately developed a theory of “temporally modal” syllogistic.[9] Modal logic as a self-aware subject owes much to the writings of the Scholastics, in particular William of Ockham and John Duns Scotus, who reasoned informally in a modal manner, mainly to analyze statements about essence and accident.

            “True natural law==>true morality”…so, gravity has a moral component? The constancy of the speed of light is a virtue? You’re making a category mistake.

            Nope, you need to learn about emergent properties; I suggest checking out Massimo Pigliucci’s series, starting here. I am not aware of anyone explicitly talking about morality emerging from the laws of physics, but I see absolutely no argument for why they cannot necessarily do so. Perhaps you are too much of a reductionist? Those essays should fix that.

            Laws of nature are the hard limits of reality. They are, by definition, inviolable.

            Not quite true; quantum fluctuations can violate the conservation of mass-energy for short periods of time. Perhaps there is a conservation of evil-good that can simply be violated for much larger periods of time.

            “Laws of morality”, on the other hand, are–again by definition–guidelines for how you should try to act.

            In a sense. But there are hard requirements: if you want to do modern science, you need some minimum set of morals shared by enough scientists. Otherwise modern science is impossible, as far as we know.

            Also, you’re talking about supernatural beings and laws of nature in the same context.

            Yeah, because we cannot talk about the programmer of a digital simulation of sentient beings along with the program of the simulation…

          • Nerdsamwich

            Science requires ethics, not morals. See Werner von Braun.
            In a universe-scale digital simulation, there are no laws of nature, because I, the hypothetical programmer, can edit at whim any of the parameters. I can even create unique exceptions for my favored individuals. That’s no system of natural laws, that’s a system run by fiat. Any system that involves supernatural entities is necessarily so.

          • Luke Breuer

            That’s fine; I can go with ‘ethics’ instead of ‘morals’. Would you say that ‘ethics’ merely regulate outward appearance, vs. inner life? If not, how would you distinguish them?

            As to editing the parameters, some scientists think that at least some fundamental constants vary from place to place in this universe. The key, actually, is continuity (quantization at small levels is fine, perhaps required) and gradual change, if sentient beings are to detect understand what’s going on. But you can always do things the sentient beings wouldn’t understand. I personally think that would be doing a kind of evil to them.

            You might like The Simulation Argument.

  • GearHedEd

    My biggest problem with DCT (and I have said this many times before…) is that following DCT would be merely obedient, not moral in and of itself.

  • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

    Usually, the one thing DCT proponents say that god cannot do is to cause or allow gratuitous
    evil or suffering, so they invoke a kind of skeptical theism that forces them to take the position that god must have morally sufficient reasons for doing or commanding what he does but we cannot always know. The obvious problem with that line of thinking is that it can be used as an excuse to justify any amount of evil or suffering no matter how gratuitous it seems. It’s a kind of one-size-fits-all excuse for theism.

  • Luke Breuer

    After reflecting on this, I have to say that DCT is at best what you teach a child. The New Covenant has something better in mind:

    “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31:31-34)

    I know some will refuse to see what I say in the above, but if we view the Bible as God “pulling” people’s perceptions closer to accuracy (this is part of the context of “my ways are higher than your ways”), then the above is a significant step toward people wanting to do good because it is good. We can view “faith vs. works” in light of meta-ethics:

         (1) works ↔ God said so
         (2) faith ↔ I believe God that it is good

    This, of course, dashes e.g. Boghossian’s definition of faith as “pretending to know what you do not know”, but Boghossian’s definitions are manipulative rhetoric, so hopefully we can get past that. What is perhaps hilarious is that in a sense, this definition of ‘faith’ by Boghossian matches a blog post Jonathan reposted, Meaning is an Illusion. So you could say that one’s value system, what one considers ‘good’, is an illusion, in which case you could only pretend to know it. Irony of ironies.

    • dadsa

      Seems like you try to avoid Socrates’ euthyphro dilemma, and the reformed dilemma (from the comic) all together and not answer the question. Its fine, appealing to god’s nature is a tauntology anyway.

      • Luke Breuer

        If you think I’m avoiding things, read this comment.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

    Have you actually read the article Carrier responds to or just said his response was “Brilliant” without reading it?

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Actually, I have!

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Have you actually read Carrier’s response?

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        Yeah I have, actually read Carriers response.

        The
        reason I ask is because the paragraph you quote as making a “powerful point which is often overlooked” in fact does not even address what I wrote in the article in question. The first objection is that “that we
        have no evidence that there even is the requisite God, much less which
        God’s commands are the commands of that God” this assumes that a divine
        command theory assumes God exist. In the article on several occasions I pointed out that I was addressing a the conditional claim: If God exists then a divinecommand theory was plausible. I also pointed out and argued that a divine command theory does not assume theists. I can cite the page numbers where I did this if you like.

        The claim If God exists then a divine command theory is plausible is not
        actually refuted by arguing there is no reason to think God exists .It’s a basic
        point in logic that a conditional of the form if P then Q, is not shown to be
        false falsified by pointing out that the antecedant P is false. For example the claim, if I was killed yesterday I would not be alive today is not falsified by the fact I did not die today. So it’s a little suprising someone like your self cites this objection as a powerful one I over looked. So I am unsure why you
        think a logical error as blatant as this is powerful. It would only be powerful if I had not made a conditional claim, but seeing I did and pointed it out several times in the paper I assume you must have known that when you wrote the above.

        Similarly the second point in the question, does not even address the conditional I was discussing. It rather addresses the question of wether scripture is a reliable guide to what is right and wrong. But seeing I was not even addressing that question, I was rather talking about wether our moral obligations can be plausibly identified with the commands of God conceived a certain way. Nothing about whether the bible is a source of our knowledge of Gods commands was even mentioned in the article and everything I said stands or falls quite independent on that seperate question.

        So again I am not sure why you, having read the article and knowing this, cite that paragraph and suggest it makes a powerful point against what I wrote.

        Perhaps then you can explain why, seeing you have read the article, you cite two arguments which attack straw men as a powerful rebuttal of my article?

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Hi Matt

          Though it might not be immediately obvious, my comments there in particular, and the use of that paragraph citation in question, was not directed at you or your article. I introduced Carrier’s article by mentioning your paper (as context) but that piece of commentary was generalist and not aimed at you in particular.

          But even given that, the point that Carrier is making is that it is not just about this nebulous idea of God, but which particular god? There is this disconnect between theory and fact:

          “DCT is therefore unlivable, even if it were correct. It puts moral truth inside an inaccessible black box, the mind of one particular God, whom we cannot identify or communicate with in any globally or historically reliable or consistent way. We therefore cannot know what is moral, even if DCT were true. The supernaturalist is stuck in the exact same position as the ethical naturalist: attempting to ascertain from observable facts what the best way is to live. Should women be allowed to vote and hold office? Is slavery immoral? We cannot answer these questions with DCT. We can only answer them by modeling inside our imaginations our own ideal moral agent (the “God” of our own mental construction), applying that model to the discoverable facts of the world, and then asking it what’s right. But we cannot demonstrate that the “God” (or “ideal agent”) we have thus modeled in our mind or intuition is the “one true” God or not, except by appeal to natural facts that require no actual God to exist. Otherwise, we cannot know the God informing the intuition of Islamic suicide bombers is the incorrect God. It could just as well be the other way around.5 Likewise, maybe the God who
          commanded slavery and the execution of apostates, blasphemers, homosexuals, and rape victims was the real God, and the God we imagine in our heads now (who, we’re sure for some unspecifiable reason, abhors these things) is one we just made up.”

          Assuming God exists is actually a very different scenario than assuming YOUR god exists, and even without such specification, the aforemantioned issues of reliable access to commands ensue.

          You say:

          “Nothing about whether the bible is a source of our knowledge of Gods commands was even mentioned in the article and everything I said stands or falls quite independent on that seperate question.”

          Whether you mention it or not is not the point. It is a criticism of DCT, as Carrier sees it, which is relevant and crucial. In order to hold it as a justified position, you need ot overcome such challenges.

          Thanks

          JP

          You say:

          “Nothing about whether the bible is a source of our knowledge of Gods commands was even mentioned in the article and everything I said stands or falls quite independent on that seperate question.