Monday, August 17, 2015

Grounding morality, the Golden Rule, Atheism, Theism

While discussing morality on Uncommon Descent it became the point of one commenter that morality only needs the Golden Rule to ground and make morals objective and imperative. I replied that it was hard to see how this could be the case, especially since not even the Golden Rule was, per se, a moral imperative itself. I spoke of the morality of "fairness", and afterward thought that wasn't the best way to put things. Further thought revealed to me that, though it wasn't the best way to put things, it wasn't particularly bad, either.

The question to be resolved was whether, minus a transcendent source, i.e. God, to ground morals and make them actually binding --- to give them real oughtness --- morality was anything more than a system that is really governed by man and his whims, making them utterly arbitrary. If the latter was the case, then, I contend morality reduces obviously to, "Man governs morality, and morality doesn't govern men."

Now, when we talk of grounding morality, we are really asking for the source of morals. But we need to be very careful, because to one that may be saying something more than to another. Firstly, there needs to be agreement that morals are actually binding at all; are we really, cosmically, required to keep some set of rules? Most people simply intuitively and reflexively mean just that when they say "morality". Morality, to them, can be nothing other than that which is required of man, full stop. If someone denies that morality is objectively about what men ought to practice, then discussion needs to focus elsewhere; at that point, the source is irrelevant. If, however, there is agreement that men are really required to keep these moral rules, then, one may proceed to an argument for the necessity of those morals being grounded in something which can give meaning to any idea of an actual oughtness, or requirement in keeping, said rules. If we agree that men really ought to behave morally, then where could possibly such a binding requirement have come from?

Hoping that the preceding has set the table for the main points to follow, let me examine the point of said commenter above, that the Golden Rule is the source that gives weight to the oughtness of morality.

The Golden Rule, that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us, can be viewed in two ways. Neither of those ways, however, addresses the question being asked.

In one way, the Golden Rule is simply a maxim that tells us how to apply the rules. However, what it doesn't tell us, is whether there are any rules that need to be applied; only that, IF there are any rules that ACTUALLY need to be applied, this is an easy way of knowing HOW to apply them. This way of seeing the Golden Rule, therefore, simply does not speak to the existence of moral laws, which clearly means it is not a source for the moral laws either.

In the second way, however, you might say that the Golden Rule itself is one of the rules that needs to be applied; it is, in itself, one of the moral rules that we ought to follow (fairness, not putting one's self first). However, if this is the case, then it doesn't speak to the question of the source of the moral law at all, but is simply an instance of what the moral law might say. It, in fact, would then be one of the rules in need of explanation itself.

I think both ways of thinking of the Golden Rule are correct. It is both one of the laws itself, and a fitting maxim that tells us how to apply the moral law(s). What it clearly isn't, though, is a fitting candidate as the source, the ground, of morality.

The reason the Golden Rule may be mistaken as a fitting source of the moral law is this, that in one sense, it may actually get near to the source of man knowing the moral law, not only as a maxim to help apply it, but also in how one may naturally come to realize that other human beings should be regarded as worthy as one's self as deserving to being treated well and equitably (i.e., fairness). But do you see that? To explain how the Golden Rule gets close to being a proposed source of the moral law, I had to invoke some yet more base moral laws to uphold it; namely that of treating others well and equitably. If the Golden Rule itself must rely on other base moral laws even to make it appear as a serious candidate for the source of the moral law, clearly it fails. The Golden Rule, then, may be likened to a teacher that "learned us our 'rithmetic". The teacher clearly isn't the source of arithmetic, only how we came to know, understand, and apply the arithmetical rules.

Additionally, this is a type of genetic fallacy, perhaps not easy to see. In this case, the fallacy is that if we explain how people came to know or understand something that would itself add an objective factual foundation that the belief was true (without questioning why or how it could be true), while clearly it is possible to have confidence in how we came to know something and have it be false after all, or perhaps true but not fully in accord with how or why we thought it to be true.

For these reasons, the Golden Rule doesn't seem to be a valid candidate for the grounding of morality, that which actually gives rise to oughtness.

If man is the source of the moral law, then man governs the moral law, and the moral law does not govern man.

If God is the source of the moral law, then the moral law is objectively required to be adhered to by man, exactly in accord with how we perceive it to actually be.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Deny God, multiply miracles

Unthinking atheists are the quintessential example of missing the forest for the trees. They are so busy with their heads scrunched close to the books, blogs, and pretentious pop-science articles that simply take for granted a materialistic universe that they are hopelessly unable to see the impossibility of such.

With this basic twist firmly embedded in their minds, we are continuously treated to such bold and arrogant assertions of stupidity that it is a daunting challenge to respond. Why should we think, after all, any amount of correction with logically unavoidable conclusions would deter such a one? If they are that stupid, and proud of it, why bother?

But, though some will be caught in the end by their pride, there are still, hopefully, some who are able to swallow their pride and admit their folly. And pride is the problem, make no mistake. People can usually deal with being wrong, but only to a degree. When once they've proudly and loudly proclaimed something they are convinced of, no matter how clear evidence to the contrary is, the possibility that their pride will not allow them to admit their error is extremely high.

Today I'd like to deal with what is really a very basic and general first-level problem for the materialistic worldview.

What does it mean to the materialistic universe if one denies the existence of God?

Well, there really is no free lunch. If God is denied, obviously He is out as a candidate for creating and ordering the universe. All that is left for us, unless someone wants to (wimpily) attempt a semi-god argument just to avoid some tricky problems, are material causes. "Fine by me," our materialist friends would say. But nothing is fine in that case at all.

If material causes for the material universe is all we have, we have a very big problem, which is dealt with, generally, one of two ways, neither being reasonable. One way is to say that the universe literally just popped into existence out of nothing for no reason. Perhaps, philosophically speaking, we would say that this is, strictly, possible. It seems that in philosophy, and more so in the hard sciences, impossible is a word that is nearly banned. In philosophy, it seems that it is acceptable to say "impossible" when two concepts are clearly contradictory; either one or the other can be true, but not both.

So it seems to me that the universe popping into existence from nothing for no reason is really a probability problem. So what are the probabilities that such is plausible? Well, if I'm not allowing myself the word "impossible", then whatever the next least likely probability is on the scale, it would have to just barely reach it. If the universe popped into existence with no cause from nothing, then it is describing a scenario that has never, ever been seen before. And not only that, it is disconfirmed in that, what we do see, is exactly the counter of things happening without causes; namely, things are caused by material effects. And it is really even more than that that we see. We see things caused not just by any material cause, but by material causes that have the sufficient properties to explain the effects they cause. Now if this is the case (and it clearly is), then to say that the universe popped into existence, uncaused, from nothing, is essentially saying that a miracle happened. And what kind of miracle would that be? A very, very big miracle indeed, for not only was something caused by nothing, but something very great was caused, and even more, it was caused by what, by definition, did not hold the sufficient properties to cause what it supposedly did.

So, in ridding the universe of miracles and non-material causes by denying God leads to an even more improbable miracle lying at the base of our universe. For while God is clearly a miraculous being, at least this being as defined is able to cause the effects in question. Denying God does not rid the universe of the supernatural, but actually makes the universe more, and more strangely, supernatural. G.K. Chesterton said, "Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural."

So, it seems that this way is not a very convincing or appealing one for atheists. And what about the second general way to deal with a materialistic universe, then? It is a bit unmanly I think, but even if that wasn't the case, it actually does rise to the level (or stoop to the level?) of an impossibility.

First, as to why it is unmanly. What the idea really is attempting to do is simply avoid the problem and not really deal with it at all. The idea is that the universe has always existed, in some form, forever. The attempt is to just say, basically, "No reasons needed. It's just a brute fact."

This idea is simply untenable, however. It is well understood that an actual infinite is an impossibility. It leads to intractable problems --- contradictions. If the universe has always existed, for example, it would mean that there was an infinite number of seconds, or moments, prior to this moment. Now what that means is that it is not possible to ever reach, from eternity past, to the present moment. To think about it from the present, imagine trying to go back to eternity. Let's say you jump in a time machine and travel back 300 trillion years. When you arrive, how much closer to eternity past will you be? Will you have traveled half way? A quarter? Actually, you'll have made no progress at all. You'll still have an eternity to go. And no matter how far back you travel, you'll never get closer than an eternity. You'll always still have an eternity to go.

Obviously, the problem is the same in either direction. Without an absolute beginning, a starting point in a finite past, we are unable to get to the present. And yet, here we are.

So, the second general way of dealing with denying God is not only a weak attempt at sweeping the problem under the rug, but when it is thought about for half a moment we see that it's just not possible anyway.

I've pointed this out to many atheists, and what most often comes back is either that they are not interested in OOL, origin of life theories (I don't know why they don't say OOU, but . . .), or that the multiverse theory has dealt with this problem. Unfortunately for them, not being interested in a problem for your worldview doesn't stave it off, and the multiverse theory doesn't solve the problem for an absolute beginning necessary to the material universe. The multiverse theory is just a fancy idea of what an eternally existing universe might look like, but it is still positing an eternally existing universe, even if there is some supposed "universe generator" mechanism churning out universes by the billions a second. Either the material universe started a finite time ago, or it has existed forever. It has not, because it cannot have, existed forever, so it started a finite time ago.

This, then, kicks us back to idea number one, that the universe began a finite time ago, but it came into existence, uncaused, from nothing. That, my friend, again, is just a strange miracle that makes immeasurably less sense than God.

So, it seems, to deny God, you are still faced with a miracle. But let's call this miracle Miracle Number 1. There, then, follow uncountable other miracles if God is denied.

 If the universe came into existence, uncaused, from nothing, then the order we observe in the universe is inexplicable except by yet another strange miracle. Why should planets orbit stars? You'll laugh and say it is due to gravity and laws of motion, and, depending on your education in astrophysics, a longer or shorter list of other things. But this is only an observation of what things we find in association with planets orbiting stars, and not an answer as pertains to cause. When we spill a jar of marbles on the floor, there is a real sense in saying that gravity caused them to go randomly to their resting place. But we are not asking this question. Rather, we are asking how it is that the universe, being dumb and with no properties before it came into existence, suddenly produced not just the physical universe, but one that has certain properties that make things act the way they do, and especially when that then enables yet further grand possibilities like life to exist. Answer for the materialist? Just lucky. This will be Miracle Number 2.

Further, keeping with the uncaused universe idea, how about what I like to call reciprocal chance occurrences? If this universe is comprised of unguided chance physical particles randomly bumping into each other which cause a domino-effect of further unguided causes and effects, how is it that some --- actually very, very many --- of those chance occurrences happen in concert with one another, and that they not only happen together at the same time, but make sense together, and would make no sense if they hadn't happened together? This is a very strange miracle indeed.

For instance, when I speak to my friend and our conversation includes questions such that his answers only make sense when they follow the question, that, in the God denied universe, must be only two chance occurrences; my question followed by his answer. But how do two randomly happening occurrences, together, form a coherent unity? In the materialistic explanation of the universe, the explosion into existence, uncaused, from nothing, has now produced particles of matter, several billion years later, that randomly bump into each other meaningfully. That is a strange miracle too, Miracle Number 3.

The rain that causes the grass to grow, Miracle Number 4. The grass that feeds the cows that feed us, Miracle Number 5. The egg that turns into a chicken, Miracle Number 6. Name a phenomenon, and I'll name you another miracle. A strange miracle.

When you deny God, the particle itself is a miracle, no different than if God had made it. But when you allow God to be the source of the miracle, it is much more natural, for God could have made it to act in precisely the way it does, rather than needed further ad hoc explanations for the amazing feats it achieves. In this way, the universe is full of many more, and many more strange miracles, when we deny the miraculous God.