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There is no Morality

Entry 1592, on 2013-11-15 at 21:50:40 (Rating 4, Religion)

Yesterday I talked about the "weird stuff" which we see when looking at wave-particle duality. I got this topic from a discussion at the Quora web site and there were a few other similar subjects on the same page. So let's try another: where morality comes from.

This is an interesting one because many religious people claim we need a god to have morality. At least they claim this is a requirement for an "objective morality" which I interpret as being rules on how to behave properly which come from outside the species, or world, or universe those rules apply to.

The first point is that there is not a single rule of any kind which applies in every case. So if there is an absolute morality it consists of more complex rules than "thou shalt not kill", etc. Of course there are times when killing is the right thing to so, or at least a good argument could be made for that. For example, if a terrorist was about to blow up your friend and many other innocent people and you could kill him instead would you? Most people would. But the way people apply these rules makes no sense. See my blog entries which discuss the famous "Trolley Experiments" for details.

So even if there was a god he couldn't create a reasonable set of moral rules which would be practical to communicate to everyone. There are just too many reasonable exceptions to make this practical. Look at human laws. They are ridiculously complicated and no one really understands what they mean. How could any practical rules of any kind be any different no matter where they originated?

And there is one other point here too. If a god makes up rules how do we know they are moral? There are only three ways this could happen...

1. We have some built-in understanding of what is moral and what isn't so we can judge the rules as being truly moral. But if we have this why do we need the rules? Clearly we don't.

2. The fact that the rules are moral is dictated from something higher than god. Clearly this can't work because god is supposed to be the highest power, and even if there was something still higher the same argument applies to that.

3. The god tells us that his rules are moral. But again we get into a circular argument here. The rule that a god's rules are moral is itself a moral rule. How do we know that is moral? Again, clearly we don't because we end up with another circular argument.

So I think I have shown that absolute objective morality cannot logically exist. This means we get to two other models: one which is a set of rules invented by a church and the other a set of practical guidelines agreed on by all socially well-adjusted (yes, I know, hard to define) people and subject to modification as society changes. I know which I would rather follow!


Comment 9 (3740) by OJB on 2013-11-29 at 09:35:18: (view earlier comments)

You seem to be moving on to an argument about the origin of the universe so let me briefly comment on that. Many cosmologists think that the Big Bang was not the real beginning of the universe but just the start of a local part of it. The idea that there is a metaverse which is probably infinite in time and space is becoming more accepted. And there are possible ways to test this idea which are being worked on now.

Another factor to consider is that time and space were created in the Big Bang so asking what happened before that makes no sense. The counter to this is that some physical "laws" must have existed in order for time and space to be created.

The point is that if you require some eternal structure, physical law, quantum field, whatever there is no problem with that in science. There is absolutely no need at all to invoke the supernatural. By Occam's Razor we should use the explanations involving the least wild speculation and the least change to existing understanding. That would be a purely naturalistic explanation.

So on to your arguments involving absolute morality. Your definition is that absolute morality is objective morality. So you substitute one poorly defined work for another. A property of the rule is that it is true. That itself is a moral rule, where does that come from? See, you cannot escape this trap!

You don't think other species can contemplate moral value? Maybe you should look at some of the research done on other "higher" species.

If one single higher authority exists that is all that is needed to establish absolute morality? How do we know that even if that entity existed that it was moral? Because it said so? A circular argument again maybe?

So you say that god's rules are moral because a definition of god is that he can only create moral rules. You're just playing with words. Accept it: just like everything else, nothing is absolute. We can never be completely sure and therefore absolute morality cannot exist.

International laws and the Geneva Convention are arbitrary rules designed to try to place some controls on extreme human behaviour. They are often ignored and manipulated by various groups. Just like all rules and laws, there is nothing absolute there.


Comment 10 (3743) by richard on 2013-11-30 at 12:10:24:

I wasn't meaning to distract by moving onto a cosmological argument. I was just using that as a parallel example to describe the similar issue to that in this post, which is that you have used an arbitrary definition of 'absolute' morality simply for its usefulness in producing a circular argument, but that definition has no more 'necessity' in the real world than mine, which solves the problem. In response you have simply repeated the same question and re-asserted your alternative definition. This is precisely why I predicted my response wouldn't satisfy you.

To accept that there are no absolutes (wrt morality specifically), you must accept a reality that says ANY chosen behaviour I pick, has no observed moral properties. Rape and torture of babies for example, literally has no 'objective' moral quality, and while we declare may not like it, is is not objectively 'wrong'. This is quite simply a denial of reality. I don't know of any countries that endorse rape, despite it being a behaviour you could expect to be actively encouraged from a naturalistic evolutionary point of view where getting your genes into the next generation is the ultimate goal.

As for your last comment, that's a mistake in logic. The absoluteness of the morality of 'rule' is not affected in the slightest, simply by choices made by various groups to ignore it. On the contrary, it's that fact that nearly all nations recognize (and legislate /endorse) the same rules is an indication of the underlying absoluteness.

Of course - you are correct though, and being 'abolutely' (LOL) consistent with your world view, when you claim that absolute or objective morality (of any definition) cannot exist - IF molecules are all there is in the universe.


Comment 11 (3745) by OJB on 2013-11-30 at 14:37:04:

Yes, I saw why you introduced the cosmological argument, and I was showing that both are examples of arguments which can easily be countered.

OK, just to make it clear. I think there is morality which is derived from social evolutionary processes. For example, it is counter-productive for a social species like ours to abuse children so that is a common moral law (don't abuse them). However there is no need for a higher power for such laws to exist.

As I keep saying: even if there is a god there still can be no absolute morality because how do we know that god represents what is morally good? He could be an evil god trying to deceive us, for example.


Comment 12 (3747) by Richard on 2013-11-30 at 19:15:38:

With respect, you (attempted to) counter the cosmological argument itself, with what actually sounds very much like 'science of the gaps' to be honest, rather than concentrate on the point I raised which was your circular argument used to reject 'absolute' morality being a straw man. On that score, you have simply repeated your original claim, (Quote: 'as you keep saying') with no new reasons for us to accept that claim.

Thanks for the clarity re social evolutionary process producing a morality. I believe I do understand that concept, and even agree with you that a general principle of social evolution that encourages 'human flourishing' sounds very 'plausible', and I even agree entirely that any and all non-absolute laws do not need a higher power to exist. They are merely a social contract. I thought the point under discussion here though is not whether the laws exist at all, as clearly they do, it is whether they actually do have any absolute moral quality. Clearly under that evolutionary scenario, they do not. Hence your post.

This notion of evolutionary morality however, has serious flaws in a purely physical universe, when trying to match it up with observable reality.

Firstly, you stated that it is 'counter productive' for a social species to abuse children (or pick any law). What does 'counter productive' actually mean' - here I assume you mean human flourishing - getting the genes into the next generation is the ONLY plausible motivation in an evolutionary model - there can be no other.

Flaw 1 - what gives human flourishing (or any flourishing) any moral quality over human disappearing? The physical universe doesn't 'care' either way - actually it doesn't have the capability to care at all. Why should any particular individual within a social species really care whether there is another generation or not. Richard Dawkins rightly labelled genes 'blind' and 'selfish' genes - they don't have moral qualities, or an ability to 'make plans to flourish', they just are either passed on or they are not.

The main question around morality is not so much even that there are laws - it's why do we have the ability to CHOOSE whether to obey them or not? Even IF our genes have somehow hard-wired us to have a 'moral compass' because it provides an evolutionary advantage - it seems far more likely that they would have hard wired us simply not to have the freedom to disobey (or even comprehend) the 'counter-productive' laws in the first place. That's has far better survival advantage. Yet we have inexplicably moved above that to a point where we can choose to be selfish individuals rather than promote flourishing. In that scenario the real question is without an absolute morality to guide us - there is no genuine (absolute) reason to act in favour of flourishing.

In fact, the whole notion of morality, (absolute or not) in a purely physical universe is illogical. This is because by definition, a purely physical universe is a completely 'determined' one. Morality is only possible where free will exists to choose to disobey a moral 'law'. Free will in a purely physical universe is about as logical as a chemical reaction 'choosing' whether to occur or not.

Flaw 2 - In such a scenario, then you have to answer for what appear to be pretty absolute (wrt to our social species) morals that appear NOT to encourage human flourishing like rape. Why is rape (for example) not accepted for what it actually provides - a more effective way to successfully pass on our genes?


Comment 13 (3748) by OJB on 2013-11-30 at 20:58:00:

OK, this is getting complicated. Can I try to simplify this debate a bit?

We agree that morality can come from social evolution if it is non-absolute. So we need to figure out what the term "absolute morality" actually means and then decide if it exists. If it exists then you have a strong case for a higher power. If it doesn't then evolution is probably a better explanation.

So can you please tell me, in a sentence or two, what "absolute morality" or "objective reality" or whatever else you want to call it, actually is.


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