Monday, August 27, 2012

Is this a good answer? What do you think?

A twitter conversation I recently had with a christian apologist, Brett Kunkle, has been featured on his ministry's website for their weekly apologetics challenge. We were talking about morality, and whether it was objective or not. Brett was claiming that objectivity of moral values (It's wrong to torture babies for fun, no matter if anyone agrees with it or not) is self-evident. I was objecting to the use of moral intuitions or gut feelings as evidence that there actually are objective moral values in reality. I claim that this connection between what we intuit and what is actually real is not clear cut, at least when it comes to our moral sense.

Part of their challenge format is a video answer given by Brett a few days after the readers have chewed on it a bit. Today Brett released his answer to my objection. What do you think? Did he adequately answer the question that I posed:

"Why would the fact that I intuit something to be true be considered evidence that it really is true?"

Please read my original objection here. The discussion of my challenge (with clarifications) at STRPlace is here. Reading those will make my objection seem clearer, and save me time walking newcomers through the finer points. Thank you for reading, and please feel free to leave your thoughts about this in the comments!

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Anonymous said...

His argument on "how we know what we know?" is weak, in my opinion. Society influences our everyday interactions and behaviors, which ultimately form the type of person we become. If one lives in the Middle East, odds are they will react much different to a particular event that is much different from how you or I react. Intuition is subjective, it's based upon past experiences and how one handles a situation. The "gut feeling" is based upon years of evolution training us to fear, or react, in a particular way based upon the circumstances. All of this goes back to sociology, which states-- "perception is reality, reality is language, and language is perception" (goes in a giant circle).

Chris said...

Say this posted to twitter a few minutes ago while perusing the #atheism tag. Anyway, I agree with Anonymous up there. This argument is weak. He's going way out of his way to explain his position. He's saying a lot, but he's not really saying anything. This argument reminds me of the argument that William Lane Craig put to Hitch. But at least Craig didn't take 500 years to explain it.

To me, morality is derived from what is good for the sort of tribe. We've had 100,000+ years to figure out what's good for the tribe and what isn't. I don't think it would take long to realize killing, lying and stealing are wrong as well as a host of other things.

I've been planning to post on this, so perhaps this is a good kick in the ass to write it.

Gonna put you on my follow list, sir...good stuff.

Sam said...

I agree with Brett's point of view. Unless there are foundational items of knowledge that are a priori it would be impossible to know anything at all. But the question, really, is whether morality is part of that foundation. If something is part of that foundation, then it can't be proved, because it's a priori. It's just something you see or you don't see, and if somebody else doesn't see it, you can't really show it to them. But that's no reason for you to doubt what you see.

Sam said...

Speaking of which, I posted some comments on Brett's blog addressed to you, Eric. Brett directed me here, so I'm just going to cut and paste what I said:

Doubting Eric, if you're reading this, I had some questions and comments for you. I just got done reading the original twitter you made that gave rise to this challenge as well as re-reading some of the comments you made on the challenge that Brett is responding to here. Although you were questioning how we could know there really are objective morals just because we intuit them or "feel" them, I couldn't tell whether you doubted the existence of objective morals or not. Maybe you believed in them, but didn't think intuition was how you justified them. Or maybe you didn't believe in them. I couldn't tell. One thing you said on the twitter was, "There is no reliable way of determining if there are moral values and duties that are actually objective," which makes it sound like you might be agnostic on the question of whether there are any objective morals.

I also read your blog post, "I'm Sorry For Being Homophobic". If I had not already read your challenge to knowing objective morality, I would have gotten the distinct impression that you do believe in objective morality. Here are a few things you said in that post that puzzled me:

I deeply regret voting the way I did, and I am sorry for it. It was wrong, and I am still ashamed of it.

Are you saying it's wrong for you, or that it would be wrong for anybody? If somebody else voted differently than you, did they actually do something they should not have done, or did they just do something that you happen to disapprove of?

I am happy to say that I have made good progress.

Is it really possible to make moral progress if there are no objective morals? If morality is subjective, or even relative to culture, it seems like individuals or cultures can change, but they can't really improve.

I still remember having a conversation with my girlfriend at the time about just how absolutely wrong it is to withhold rights from other human beings because of something so ridiculous.

"Absolutely wrong"??? Do you really believe in moral absolutes, or is this a figure of speech? What did you really mean when you said this? And do you really believe people have "rights" that they can be denied? If the law forbids somebody to do something, and you say the law is denying them a right that they have, aren't you assuming that people have rights apart from the law? What does that mean?

I saw very clearly then that if I didn't believe in this christian god, I then had the capacity to be a much more moral person.

This makes it sound like you believe in objective morality. How can you become more of a moral person unless there's some objective standard of morality? Granted you can change, but how can you become more moral? If you are a moral subjectivist or relativist, how should I understand phrases like, "a more moral person"?

to be continued... (word limit and all)

Sam said...

Geesh, it took me six times to get that security code right.

I am now able to follow the dictates of my own conscience and make moral decisions without having to consult an ancient book written by superstitious, bigoted, ignorant and illiterate tribesmen.

But you seem to be in serious doubt that your conscience is a reliable guide to morality. This whole challenge was over whether our moral intuitions can really get us in touch with objective moral truth. Do you just mean to say that you're free to follow your own conscience, regardless of whether it's telling you anything objectively true? Kind of like being free to eat the ice cream you like best and not having to eat the ice cream some book tells you to eat?

You used words like "bigoted" in a pejorative sense in your post on homophobia. Do you think there's really anything wrong with being a bigot, or is it just something you don't prefer?

You referred to your previous prejudice against homosexuality as a "backward belief." What do you mean by that? If morality is a matter of subjective opinion, how can one person's sense of morality be backwards and another person's sense of morality not be backwards? Aren't they just different?

I considered posting this in the comment section of your homophobia post, but it's really beside the point you were making there. You weren't discussion the subjectivity/objectivity of morality in that post. I posted it here instead since that is the topic here.

I realize that's a lot of questions, so if you don't want to answer them all, there's just one question I'd like you to answer: Do you believe there are any objective morals at all?

Eric Burton said...

Thanks for the comments. I will respond to the video response and Sam's comments soon, but right now I am pretty busy. So stay tuned!

Eric Burton said...

I posted a response to the video here

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