I checked with Reg before posting this, but if any mods feel it's contrary to house rules, I understand if it needs to be deleted.

I've been a member here for more than a year, though I don't post often. I mostly read the "Sunday School" links, but I've appreciated the thoughtful and civil conversation the few times I've jumped into a thread with a Christian perspective. I'm a part-time Christian blogger and podcaster, and I've wanted for some time to do a debate/discussion video series with folks coming from different perspectives. Sort of a "2am at college"-style informal debate where both sides can respectfully discuss disagreements. I finally have time to put something like that together and TA came to mind because of the quality of discussion here.

I want to invite anyone who is interested to join me in a recorded debate/discussion via Skype which I would then post to YouTube. I'd also post the link here for discussion, if anyone wanted. Ideally, the video would include a split-screen webcam view of both of us, since that's more interesting to watch, but it's fine if you would rather stay anonymous.

The format I have in mind is that we pick a general topic and each come up with a couple questions to get the conversation started. We share the questions ahead of time so it's not gotcha stuff. Then we schedule a Skype call and talk about your questions and then mine, or vice versa. Some topics might work better with a different format -- I'm not wedded to that exact approach. 

Here's my YouTube channel, though it doesn't have much there at this point. If you are interested in this, let me know at david@davidvogel.net. My blog is at davidvogel.net. (I share it for informational rather than self-promotional purposes, as I'm pretty sure none of you will be interested in becoming regular readers. :-) [Though I do welcome constructive criticism.])

Possible topic ideas:

* Christian vs. atheist understanding of morality
* Evidence for God's existence
* Historicity of the Bible
* Possibility of miracles
* Anything else you want to talk about

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I think a lot of discussions about any divine origin of morality are obsoleted by modern civil and criminal law, at least in liberal democracies such as ours. Religion and tradition still have their value in countries that don't have sufficiently evolved political systems. I'm glad that FGM is illegal here in the USA. Yet religously based penile circumcision still exists.

Those are tangents, and discussion of "Christian" or Catholic views on abortion would take even further into undesirable rabbit hole threads, but my point again is that discussion about moral epistemology is an emotionally overrated diversion from recognizing today's mostly successful legal systems. And the fact that abortion is not one of God's purportedly sacred topics is quite indicative of how obsolete or currently irrelevant scripture can be, requiring humans to fill the gaps with general consensus.

It doesn't even matter any more what the original source of morality is, unless we need to prepare for some kind of tragic disintegration of civilization.The reason we think morality is such a currently profound topic is because it feels so important, and that feeling is evidently also present in varying amounts in lesser animals... "written in their hearts", if you will.

Its pretty well established that the original source of morality was social interaction.

This is why morals if you will are not universal in specifics, and are primarily geographical/cultural in nature.

Monkeys, etc, were social, and, display morals.  And so forth.  Monkeys did not have bibles, or even verbal history they could pass on about ancient myths, to guide them in their morality.

They simply evolved the ability to empathize with others in their social groups, and act in ways that lead to the group's survival.

Being a nice monkey lead to stronger social bonds, and, proportionally, happier monkeys overall.

We are all still trying to be nice monkeys.  Well, except, for example,  the one's who figured they were going to hell anyway, so, why bother.

:D

Alright everyone, I'm almost at the point where I feel like I'll just waste everyone's time if I keep repeating myself, but I was on the road a long time today and was thinking about this, and I think I came up with a helpful analogy to explain what I've been trying to ask. Suppose you say that something is yellow. What does that mean? You're saying that you recognize in that object an example of some idea of "yellowness" which you already know and recognize. If you were colorblind, or simply blind altogether, "yellow" would be meaningless to you. You need the general idea to identify the particular instance.

I keep asking about the general idea of "right" and I feel like y'all keep responding with particular instances of it. I do not dispute the fact that you, me, and everyone can generally recognize right when we see it. My question is how you can explain the prior idea of it which allows you to recognize its particular instantiations (in a merciful deed, for example).

If morality is entirely rooted in evolution, then your idea of "right" is merely an evolutionary relic with no real moral weight. It merely describes conditions which helped your ancestors survive. Why would any rational person use that to guide their actions today?

If morality is rooted in social consensus, then either (1) whatever any culture says is right is right (hello, cannibalism and FGM!) or (2) we need to judge whether the social consensus is actually right, in which case we haven't explained where the standard of "right" comes from after all.

I can explain my idea of right by saying there is a supernatural being with authority to judge who determines it (and implants knowledge of it in every person). I don't see how an atheistic framework can provide a similar explanation for the idea of rightness which you have. I know you can recognize instances of right things, but I don't see how you explain the knowledge of "right" which you have and which allows you to identify that things like mercy are in fact better than cruelty, for example. If neither morality nor social consensus can yield a meaningful standard of what is right, it seems like we've encountered a pretty significant phenomenon which we all experience which demands an explanation which atheism cannot supply.

And if you guys already got all that from my earlier posts, sorry for repeating myself... Thought I'd take a final try at clarifying my own position. I'm going to be at church or doing related stuff for much of tomorrow, so I'll probably not be back on the forum until Monday, but I'll check back and reply if anyone wants to continue the conversation. Have a good weekend, everyone.

Just realized my opening line sounds mad, which I'm not. Perils of written communication. :-)

I have to admit that my answers are not the best explanations of how I understand the subject of morality. I will revisit later too.

Lets keep "yellow" for now.

We all AGREE that a particular RANGE in the wavelength of light is what we agree is "yellow".  In different cultures, however, what is considered to be the most yellow, or true yellow, differs.  The same for red and blue, etc....each culture will identify a narrower part of the range as "true".

The agreed upon definition of yellow is therefore a consensus standard.  

Morality is the same way.  You may THINK there is a "right", or a "true yellow", but, others may disagree as to what that should be.

IF we evolved to care for each other, to feel empathy, and to recognize that others feel as we do under similar circumstances, the way monkeys do for example, why WOULDN'T that be correct?

The church tortured and killed people, for disagreeing with them about their merciful loving god...and, some primitive cultures ate the hearts of their adversaries to gain their strength.

I think both were "wrong".  If GOD gave us our morality, didn't he also give those cannibals their morality?, ...and, those  Inquisitors, and those Crusaders, and those mongol hoards?

Were the Spanish Inquisitors "right", and the Crusaders "right" and the Muslim's who fought back, "wrong"?

Does god only give morality to monkeys and Catholics, or Monkeys and Protestants, or Monkeys and Crusaders, or just his chosen people, the Jews (and monkeys)?

Why did he not give morality to those who acted immorally?

Why do people DISAGREE about whether being in various stages of dress/undress are immoral, or if the Spanish Inquisition or Crusades, were moral? 

I think the evidence points to the same reasons they disagree on what wavelength is "true yellow" and not a shade of yellow.

Its a consensus standard, and, the reason we agree to it is BECAUSE its a consensus standard.

The bible says its ok to beat your slave as long as he recovers in 3-4 days.  So, it was immoral if he takes 4+ days, or dies, etc...but MORAL if he recovers in 4 days.

Why is it moral if he recovers in 4 days?  Where did that come from?  God came up with that?

Why is it not 3 days, and not 3-4 days?  Why not 2 days?  Why is ONE day not too much?  Why is beating the slave OK in the first place?

Why is OWNING another human being OK, at all?

God came up with that, as "right", so "we would know what was right and what was wrong?

Is it immoral to beat your slave badly enough that it SHOULD take ~ 3-4 days to recover, but, the slave died unexpectedly the next day?

Who got to say the slave "recovered"?  God comes over and says "Yeah, I think he's ok, now", or, the MASTER says, "well, he opened his eyes, so, he recovered, so,  I'm moral"?

No.  People came up with it.  As a CONSENSUS they agreed that if the slave recovered in a few days, that was reasonable...and never questioned the morality of slavery, because, back when humans wrote it, it had not occurred to them.

ALL of the morality in the bible is pre-dated by earlier sources, so, we all KNEW what was right and wrong, even if we were "wrong" about what was right and wrong...in today's lens.

Analogously, it is likely that what was immoral or moral in today's lens will be viewed differently 3,000 years in the future.

The bible did NOT change ANY of the existing morality at that time in history...it merely codified SOME of it.

So, in summary, morality is STILL a consensus standard, and, regionally/culturally derived, as it was in pre-biblical, and, biblical, and post-biblical times.

And the same goes for "yellow".

:)

Hi TJ,

IF we evolved to care for each other, to feel empathy, and to recognize that others feel as we do under similar circumstances, the way monkeys do for example, why WOULDN'T that be correct?

"If we evolved to believe in a God, why WOULDN'T that be correct?" I trust you would not find that a convincing argument for theism? But it's the same reasoning you're using here. You are trying to turn an evolutionary accident into a statement of truth.

You are assuming, without giving any reason for it, that moral intuitions which provided a survival benefit to our ancestors have any connection to real right and wrong. But why should they? Elephant seals evolved to rape females when they head back to the water after birthing. Lions evolved to kill other males' cubs if they take over a pride. Evolution is amoral (that's amoral, not immoral), so the better question is why you WOULD expect any moral intuition you evolved to be correct?

Of course, you recognize that "caring for each other, feeling empathy, and recognizing that others feel as we do" are good things, but that is itself a moral assessment. You are using some other moral standard to determine that these intuitions which you believe we evolved are good intuitions. Where did you get that moral standard?

The church tortured and killed people, for disagreeing with them about their merciful loving god...and, some primitive cultures ate the hearts of their adversaries to gain their strength.

I think both were "wrong".  If GOD gave us our morality, didn't he also give those cannibals their morality?, ...and, those  Inquisitors, and those Crusaders, and those mongol hoards?

As I've said elsewhere in this thread, having moral intuitions is not the same as behaving morally. The Fall corrupted our understanding of the moral law and also our ability/inclination to follow it. My argument does not assert that anyone either perfectly knows or perfectly follows the moral law; merely that everyone intuitively recognizes its rough outlines.

Its a consensus standard, and, the reason we agree to it is BECAUSE its a consensus standard.

So, as I asked above, which is your position: (a) the social consensus is always correct and points to the right thing to do or (b) sometimes the social consensus is wrong?

The bible says its ok to beat your slave as long as he recovers in 3-4 days.  So, it was immoral if he takes 4+ days, or dies, etc...but MORAL if he recovers in 4 days.

I started to respond to this, but I just deleted what I had written. My short answer is that you're misunderstanding what Exodus 21 is about. (I assume that is Exodus 21:20-21 are what you're talking about? That's the only part of the Bible which says anything similar to this.) I wouldn't mind giving a longer answer later, but I would rather finish interacting with your points about how morality could emerge from either evolution or social consensus, before pursuing another digression.

David,

The context is being shifted here.

I am not saying that if it evolved it is moral, I am saying it is morality.

I gave some examples in this thread, trying to get this concept across, I'll try again:

In some cultures, it is immoral for a woman to expose her face in public.

In some cultures it is ok to show the face, but not nipples.

In some cultures, its OK to show nipples, on men, but not woman.

So, In some cultures, a woman exposing her nipples is acting immorally.

In other cultures, nipples are OK, but not genitalia...exposing one's genitalia is immoral.

In some cultures, being naked is not immoral.

And so forth.

These are culturally evolved morality.

YOU or I may consider some, all or none of this to be "right or wrong"...morally, but, we ARE aware of what happens if we go outside in public naked, where we work or live...and that its morality/public lewdness laws we will be charged with breaking.

If a child sees us, we may even be charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a sex crime, etc...unless we live in the Congo, etc, where it would be normal and no one would notice.

So, society has a consensus as to what is moral, and, that is their morality.

The REASON you feel that something is moral, as in right or wrong, is because you can tell if something is fair, or unfair....and, you consider things that are fair to be OK/not wrong.

You can feel empathy for others, and understand what they might feel based upon your own, or another's actions. 

IE: If you see me about to throw a rock at Reg, you understand that the rock would hurt him, and, you would feel that me hurting him was not fair, unless Reg was about to shoot me, etc.

So, you can decide if it is moral for me to throw the rock or not...based upon the context...because you have the ability to imagine how others can feel in that context.

If we lived in the Congo/a place where everyone ran about naked because of the weather, lack of malls, etc...and a child saw your genitalia while you were sunning yourself...you would have a different context than if you were laying naked in a local park when the child saw you.

The rock scenario would be similar in the Congo, even if Reg or I were in various stages of dress/undress.

And so forth.

Humans have the ability to understand the context, and whether, overall, harm or benefit is being done...and doing harm is universally considered as wrong/immoral.

Your ABILITY to understand is where your sense of right and wrong is derived...you can TELL the difference, because you CAN imagine other's feelings/impact upon them etc.

You don't need a supernatural power to understand that Reg getting hit with a rock would hurt, and, that would be bad.

You don't need a supernatural power to understand that naked in the Congo is different than naked at the mall.

You HAVE that power, naturally. 

:D

Hi David - I think we both do a weekly Sunday School?? In my one I try to cover stories and articles about the popular more blogs from during the week. Here is one from yesterday.

Science and moral intuitions.

Hey Reg, yes, I saw that link and read it. (I read the Sunday School posts religiously, or, er, something.) I wondered if you thought of this discussion when you posted it. To me, the article seemed to illustrate what I'm talking about, the impossibility of moral reasoning unless you have some ultimate moral standard: 

Deontologists could turn the tables by claiming that the factors their intuitions respond to are the morally relevant ones. This disagreement about which aspects of a case are morally relevant is precisely what’s at issue between consequentialists and deontologists. [...]

[D]ifferent people often have different intuitions about the same case. What do we do then? Since disagreement is a possibility, why should we think intuitions track the truth? There are no easy answers to these questions. The problem is not merely that people disagree, but that their differing intuitions have the same authority. The most our intuitions can do, it seems, is tell us about ourselves and our own ways of thinking, not about the facts they’re supposedly ‘about’. [...]

Now, this might not be a problem for using moral intuitions if there were some independent way to tell when intuitions are correct. But there is no such way – and if there were, we wouldn’t need the intuitions in the first place. 

That last excerpt strikes me as key. Ultimately, moral intuitions that simply float there as unexplained facts carry no real moral weight. "I feel that X is right" doesn't mean X is right. We need a standard deeper than human consciences if we're going to make any meaningful moral judgments. Now, I'm not trying to make an appeal to consequences here. By itself, its desirability alone doesn't mean such a deeper, objective standard actually exists. However, if we do know that we make meaningful moral judgments, we can reason: 

1. If we do not have a moral standard deeper than human consciences, we cannot make meaningful moral judgments. 

2. We know we make meaningful moral judgments (e.g. FGM is wrong). 

3. Therefore, we have a moral standard deeper than human consciences (which seems inexplicable unless some moral Lawgiver exists). 

I think I've made the case as well as I can, though, so I won't belabor the point. If you respond I'll read it, but I'll only reply if I feel something new can be added to the discussion. 

1. If we do not have a moral standard deeper than human consciences, we cannot make meaningful moral judgments. 

We can make no judgements at all, about anything, without thinking.  You would not be able to TELL if a moral judgement was needed in the first place unless you recognized that a moral issue was on the table.

Name a moral in the bible that could not be derived from simply thinking about how the involved parties would be impacted, using your ability to empathize how others might feel in different scenarios...and how the action, if moral, or immoral, would impact all the parties.

2. We know we make meaningful moral judgments (e.g. FGM is wrong). 

We THINK we make meaningful moral judgements, but, it seems that what is moral is different based upon the culture and locality we are in  (e.g. Slavery is wrong).

3. Therefore, we have a moral standard deeper than human consciences (which seems inexplicable unless some moral Lawgiver exists). 

As the above premises were not proven, the conclusion is invalid. 

Additionally, the same "law giver" said to not work on Saturdays, not to eat pork, not to mix meat and dairy, not to wear two different fabrics at the same time, to stone disobedient children to death, and of his 10 commandments, FIVE were all about worshiping him.

The other five (Not the first five even), were about not killing, stealing, coveting, or bearing false witness or committing adultery. 

ALL of those that were actually morals, were already considered to be morals BEFORE the commandments were even issued....so no "supernatural" law giver was needed to get them.

He COULD have added that rape was bad.  He COULD have added that pedophilia was bad.  He COULD HAVE added that slavery was bad. And so forth.  Of course, the HUMANS back then did not THINK that those other things WERE bad.  Back then, they were pretty much NORMAL.

IF those HAD been added, or ANYTHING not ALREADY KNOWN ferchissakes, had been added, THEN the "law giver" would have been contributing to the process.  But, sadly, not a whit of new guidance.

So, NO source of morals is needed other than humans thinking and being empathetic towards each other....to explain what we HAVE as morals.

:D

Hey TJ,

We can make no judgements at all, about anything, without thinking. You would not be able to TELL if a moral judgement was needed in the first place unless you recognized that a moral issue was on the table.

Name a moral in the bible that could not be derived from simply thinking about how the involved parties would be impacted, using your ability to empathize how others might feel in different scenarios...and how the action, if moral, or immoral, would impact all the parties.

This is largely irrelevant. Yes, a moral judgment requires thinking. That does not prove that it does not also require a moral standard deeper than human consciences, as my premise states.

Regarding your second paragraph, I have agreed repeatedly in this thread that the Bible isn't the only source of moral information. Also, I would point out that when you are "thinking about how the involved parties would be impacted, using your ability to empathize how others might feel in different scenarios" you are relying on a moral standard which says empathy is right, illustrating the truth of my premise.

We THINK we make meaningful moral judgements, but, it seems that what is moral is different based upon the culture and locality we are in (e.g. Slavery is wrong).

So you're saying that it was morally fine for Muhammad to marry a nine-year-old since that was pretty normal for his culture? You don't have a problem with the Indian practice of suttee, where a widow is thrown alive on her husband's funeral pyre?

I think you are conflating the idea of "morality as what people think is right" with "morality as what is actually right." The former is strongly influenced by culture and locality, but if you ever, ever think something like child-marriage or suttee are wrong, then you are relying on a separate moral standard of "what is actually right." That latter idea is what I'm talking about, while you seem to be slipping back and forth between the two. 

Additionally, the same "law giver" said...

These points are irrelevant to my argument, which did not specifically mention the morality of the Bible at all. 

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