More Objective Morality Stupidity


I know I bring this up time and time again but that’s because it comes up time and time again and, at least in my view, it just keeps getting more and more absurd.  On an episode of The Atheist Experience, I can’t say the most recent anymore because by the time this actually posts, it will be a distant memory, but people called in challenging Matt Dillahunty’s view of morality and, as shocking as it might be, I think the people who challenged him were a lot more correct than Matt is!  I’ve talked about it before, you can go read my fundamental disagreements of his position

The problem is, Matt is choosing a view to look at morality and then imposing it on everyone.  He is adopting a standard, in this case “suffering” and expecting that it is the only standard that anyone ought to deal with. Take his personal bugaboo, slavery, for a moment.  He is personally choosing a criteria by which he is evaluating morality and then declaring anyone who chooses a different criteria to be objectively wrong.  However, take a look at it from the perspective of a slave owner.  Their own criteria, I would assume, would make Matt wrong in their eyes. I suspect Matt doesn’t care, but to watch him rant and not even recognize that his own choice of a criteria is subjective is really absurd. Matt picks a criteria that matches his personal views, just like the slave owner would pick a criteria that matches his personal views.  It’s all opinion and while I’m certain that Matt thinks his opinion is best, that doesn’t mean it actually is, it’s just the one he favors.

The fact remains, there is no objective morality at all!  That doesn’t mean that there is a relative morality, that everyone is right in whatever moral view they choose, simply because it appeals to them, but that *NOBODY* is right! Right and wrong don’t even enter into it.  There is no single correct moral standard on any question you can ask.  Unfortunately, this makes a lot of people uncomfortable for reasons I’ve detailed in the past.  Most people don’t want to constantly re-evaluate their morality.  They don’t want to constantly re-evaluate their beliefs.  They just want something that they can cling to for the long term that they don’t have to think about on a daily or weekly basis.  They desperately want to believe that they’ve got the truth all locked up and never have to worry about it again.  That’s not a rational position to hold.

MosesMoralityWhat Matt doesn’t seem to recognize is that he’s doing the exact same thing as the theists.  They select a moral criteria that appeals to them.  He did so himself when he was a Christian.  When he stopped being a Christian, he selected a different criteria, probably several of them as he transitioned from a Southern Baptist to an atheist.  I am sure that, during each and every phase of that transition, his moral views were absolutely correct and true, but clearly that wasn’t the case as he ended up rejecting each of them in turn for something that he thought, at the time, was better.  Theists believe that whatever moral standards that are laid down by their deity are true.  If they are ever convinced to change religions, say from Christianity to Islam or Buddhism or whatever, those moral standards will change.  Does that mean that they didn’t think that the moral standards they believed at the time were true?  Of course not.  It just means that they changed their mind.  Matt can also change his mind, he’s already proven that.  Does that mean that, when he was a Southern Baptist, he knew that the morals he was following at that time were false?  Certainly not, I doubt he would have followed them if he did.

Ultimately, rights and morals only come out of the collective decision-making of a culture or society.  There was a time in America where owning slaves was perfectly fine, it was legal and moral and slaves had few if any rights.  Times changed.  Society stopped accepting one view and started accepting another view.  Today, we have a diametrically opposite moral opinion than we did several hundred years ago.  Does that make the old view inherently wrong?  Absolutely not, any more than if, in the future, American society again adopts slavery, that makes our views today inherently wrong.  There was a time when women had no rights.  The fact that they do today does not mean that the people in the past were wrong all along, it just means that we have different views. There was a time when Jews were hated in Germany, among other places, and that went on for hundreds of years, leading up to the Holocaust.  Today, we find that abhorrent but that doesn’t change the views of the past, nor make them objectively wrong.  The reality is that morals evolve and change constantly as the whims of society change.  When it change, it doesn’t alter the reality of the old views, it just means we don’t think that way anymore and, unfortunately, people are supremely convinced that what they think right this second is automatically what everyone ought to have always thought everywhere.

This really comes into play when you have two societies with entirely different views on morality that come into conflict.  Who is right?  Who is wrong?  It doesn’t matter.  There have been plenty of wars fought over morality, from the Civil War in America to World War II and in both cases, the bigger guns won the war but didn’t really prove that the losing morals were actually any worse.  Bigger guns do not have anything to say about objective morality.

In the end, these debates on morality only work if people are willing to accept each other’s basic premises.  If not, people need to be willing to debate which, if either, premises is correct.  The whole point of The Atheist Experience is “what do you believe and why”, but apparently that doesn’t apply to Matt’s views on morality because he’s shown himself to be unwilling to debate the “why” behind his moral position.  In fact, he’s proven himself to get entirely and irrationally emotional whenever someone questions is views.  He hangs up on people. That’s not how you debate.  If you cannot support your views with something better than “I like this”, is it really a rational view to have?

14 thoughts on “More Objective Morality Stupidity

  1. Morality is a broad definition, commonly: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Matt is referring to specific principles that may be applied objectively. I'd say a well defined moral code may be applied objectively, but morality cannot.
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    1. Once you've got that code, sure, but the code itself is not objective and that's the point. Ultimately it comes down to picking something that you personally prefer, based on a set of criteria that you define. That's the point that I keep making and very few people seem to understand it.

  2. One school of philosophy, so-called Egoistic Hedonism, contends that all of a person's choices, "moral" or otherwise, are based upon perceived positive results of that choice or avoidance of maximum bad outcomes. Allowing for inadequate experience or misinterpretation of avilable information in making such choices, it follows that all "morality" is a function of hoped-for advantage or avoidance of disadvantage. The difference between application of a moral "system" or guidlines that may appear to limit personal positive outcomes and simply acting "selfishly'" is a cultural imperative that civilization imposes upon individuals if they wish to be accepted into or retained in a familyt/tribe/nation, which acceptance has clear survival value to the individual. Thus, even apparently unselfish behavior has survival value (i.e. net positive impact). Clearly, there is no such thing as objective "morality" since such behavior is always subject to the approval of some social grouping.

  3. I was having this kind of debate recently with a theist. Its ridiculous as the person assumed their morality is objective and then when I pointed out an example of why it is subjective like slavery, they just redefined objective to mean subjective. I could actually not believe what I was seeing, I pointed out the definitions, and they said I was wrong. At that point I just said, "I cant do this anymore." and I left.

    Its amazing that no matter how much you show people that morality changes with time, they just refuse to accept it. I think the problem is that people are too emotionally bound to accept that some things that happened in the past can be justified in this way. What they don't seem to realize is that it does not make it right now.
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    1. The problem is, that kind of argument seems to be getting more and more common these days. I was talking to a friend on Twitter yesterday and she was missing the days when you could have a substantive argument with a theist and actually get anywhere. You really can't find many theists these days who are willing or capable of doing that. I think to a large extent, while the Internet has made communication easier, it's also exposed most theists to fanatics like Ray Comfort and William Lane Craig and their horrible arguments. Also, being removed from the direct action, it's made a lot of theists (and atheists for that matter) pretty damn rude and obnoxious because nobody can slug them in the nose like they deserve. For every day that goes by, I am less and less interested in engaging theists. For every decent encounter I have, there are dozens of awful ones and that's just not a good batting percentage.

      1. Yes, the apologists have certainly changd the landscape of the type of debate you encounter. Seems many theists follow whateever argument the top apologist is debating. Its the same way the bible or koran is getting blindly followed.

        Regarding good debates, I also find smart phones have destoyed the friendly arguments between friends. But now I sound like scrooge.
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  4. Cephus, do you think that absolutely no moral standards can be objective? Like murder, rape, slavery, stealing, lying: based upon a consensus of (let’s agree that almost all human beings think that these actions are wrong) humanity?

    I personally am more concerned that Mr. Dillahunty doesn’t point out that biblical morality can’t be objective if it has ever changed. Thou shalt not kill…unless “God” tells you to, isn’t an objective moral stance!

    1. But I don't agree that almost all humans think those actions are wrong. You'd be surprised how many people, for instance, think that the poor stealing food to feed their family is just fine and dandy and entirely moral. The Aztecs and Mayans, for example, had no problem hacking out the hearts of their enemies to sacrifice to their gods. The point is that there isn't a single moral precept that you can find that has been universally practiced across all cultures and throughout time. There are many that are widely practiced, but not universally practiced. That's why morality is inherently subjective. I think Matt has made a point similar to yours in the past, but let's be honest, theists aren't particularly rational about such things anyhow. To many theists, morality is objective, no matter how often it changes, because they have faith that their current form of morality is the right one.

      Don't ask me, religion makes no sense.

  5. I cannot see a clear logical distinction between the terms absolute morality and objective morality.
    Is objective morality a special case of absolute morality?

    Please, enlighten me.

    1. The way I've defined objective morality in the past is a moral system which can be arrived at objectively, ie. that can be reached without resorting to emotions, opinions or requiring one to hold certain opinions or beliefs in order to come to said conclusion. It's similar to the scientific method, where you can reach a demonstrably true position by following evidence regardless of your starting position. I can see where some people might use the word absolute morality, but in most cases, people will attribute morality to a specific moral authority, they will not come to the moral decisions on their own.

      At least that's what I mean when I talk about it.

  6. Thanks for the reply.
    In that case objective morality is logically incompatible with any religious doctrine. I don't see how anyone can claim their religion is the source of subjective morality.

    I was exchanging some comments with a Christian, who I suppose, to his detriment, had watched too many William Lane Craig videos. He was arguing that Christians can/ought _decide_ what is "objectively good" in any moral dilemma, using the principles of the Bible and that people are always _working_ together toward a common objective moral code. Guess what, slavery had been "objectively wrong" in the first place! When I pointed out that he is contradicting the idea of objective morality and has basically summed up what subjective relativism implies, he got really frustrated.

    1. A theist may think that because they believe that all morality comes from their god, that it is objective, but since they can't prove their god is real in the first place, you might as well argue that morals come from unicorns or leprechauns. There simply is no objective morality period. There might be objective applications of morality once people decide on a subjective system of morals, but there simply is no way to get that system of morals from any demonstrably objective source, no matter how hard people wish they could.

      Unfortunately, theists are unable, for the most part, to even consider the possibility that their gods aren't real, or to realize that people who don't already believe in their gods are not going to be impressed with their rather silly hand-waving and empty claims without evidence. Frustration is far too common with theists.

  7. Cephus, when you were defining objective morality, you said you define it as being reached without "requiring one to hold certain opinions or beliefs". But don't scientists reach their conclusions by holding to the specific belief that truth exists? Is science then subjective? Or do you mean that "objective" when speaking of morality means something different than when "objective" is used to speak of science? I ask this on the assumption that you believe that science is objective.

    If anything I have just said is stupid, please forgive me. I'm tired.

    1. No, there is no truth, there is fact. Fact must be demonstrable, supported by evidence and testable by anyone who comes along and wants to test it without having to believe it's factual already. There is a difference between opinion and reality, between what people want to believe and what people ought to believe, based on the facts. We ought to be able to get down to what's actually true, based on something outside of humanity, instead of just doing what some people feel good about. That's what I mean by objective.

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