Friday, August 13, 2010

Quote of the Day: "The moral law cannot well be thought of as having any actual existence"

 "On a non-theistic view of the Universe...the moral law cannot well be thought of as having any actual existence. The objective validity of the moral law can indeed be and no doubt is asserted, believed in and acted upon without reference to any theological creed; but it cannot be defended or fully justified without the presupposition of Theism". -- Hastings Rashdall
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Hræfn said...

I would note that the quote only states that the "objective validity of the moral law" relies upon "the presupposition of Theism".

This does not undermine the subjective validity of moral law, which is what is under dispute.

It should also be noted that the "moral law" deemed to be objectively valid varies considerably depending on which "presupposition of Theism" is chosen.

P@J said...

Not sure what your point is, Rick. You keep going on about how, according to your faith system, Atheists cannot be moral creatures. But what is your point?

I am just a humble scientist, so all this objective vs. subjective stuff seems pretty silly to me. In science, objectivity is limited to mathematics and some aspects of physics; pretty much everything else is subjective. A large part of what science does is try to control for the subjectivity of observation. If you read any scientific paper, you will note how much of it is around recognizing, describing, and controlling for the subjective elements of observation. Basically, if a dozen (admittedly subjective) observers witness the same phenomenon in a dozen different ways and come up with the same conclusions, then the sum of those subjective observations approaches objectivity. At some point the pile of almost objective observations pile up to the point where casting doubt on the validity is no longer rational (classical Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics, evolution, germ theory, the periodic table of the elements, etc.). In most cases, a individual subjective observations that agrue against the model of the phenomenon creep up, and more work is needed to determine which set of subjective criteria were more or less flawed. In some cases, paradigm shifts result from an accumulation of new subjective observation (i.e Plate tectonic theory in the 1960’s, General Relativity in the 30’s), at other times, the ideas eventually are dismissed as unsupportable (Catastrophism in the 1920’s, String theory in the 2010s).

So from this point, let us look at “moral law”. Everyone has morals of some sort (even sociopaths have some set of internal codes). However, I would argue that almost no two people agree on every moral issue. Many of us feel murder is wrong, many of us feel war is wrong, some feel capital punishment is wrong, same for euthanasia, abortion, suicide, hunting, eating meat, stepping in spiders, swatting mosquitoes, or using fungicide in the garden. Just on the single act of “killing” we all put our own fuzzy grey line between right and wrong. Never mind sex, taxation, dress codes, theft, perjury, speech, education, or and of a hundred other aspects of human culture. I cannot imagine anything more subjective than morals.

This is where legislation comes in. Much like Science, the community effectively takes a mass of subjective measures, and finds a centre ground which may approach objectivity. Of course, it will never become truly objective, as the dimension of time enters the game, and time changes both individual subjective viewpoints and community viewpoints.

Making morality “objective” puts the drawing of all these lines, not fuzzy, but sharp, on a an omniscient, omnipotent God. But then the problem is figuring out which God, and whose interpretation of that God, which brings us back to subjectivity. The end result is that all morals are subjective, no matter what source you subjectively attribute them to.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"