The Extraordinary Claims of Materialism

tall2Nearly all the materialists I know would agree with the statement “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

This strikes me as very strange, in that materialism involves so many extraordinary claims that tend to be presented without any evidence at all.

For the sake of honesty, there are some caveats that should be added to that slogan, but it is true that wildly improbable claims should be supported. Still, those defending materialism are consistently forced into the position of making these claims:

1. Something can come from nothing
2. Applying logic to questions about God’s existence (i.e. metaphysics) is useless
3. The principles that are the basis of science (such as Ockham’s Razor) aren’t true
4. Having directly experienced a thing is no reason to think it exists
5. People are no more conscious than computers
6. People only think what we’re programmed to think, rationality is an illusion
7. A reason to think a thing can be dismissed with “I don’t know, and I’m okay with remaining ignorant”.

These claims seem pretty extraordinary to me. To the end that one agrees with the above mantra, one should demand an overwhelming amount of evidence before accepting that materialism (which requires these things) is true. And, given how much evidence there is against them, I’d say that it can’t be done.

In fact, any set of ideas this counter to the real world in which we live could only be called a (disturbing) fantasy world.

The fact remains, however, that most materialists seem very confused when I ask for support for materialism, and the kinds of things it leads to. It doesn’t seem to occur to many that it shouldn’t simply be the default position – true without evidence unless something else can be proved.

But if there is a position that should prompt us to ask for some support, surely, it is materialism.


52 responses to “The Extraordinary Claims of Materialism

  • paarsurrey

    Reblogged this on paarsurrey and commented:
    Paarsurrey says:

    I agree with you.
    Those who believe in materialism; they should provide the evidence of the question raised by you.

  • Arkenaten

    In the interests of honesty that you appear to cherish, you might have at least included citation of your materialist claims.
    Or was that just a little too hard to do….seeing as it would have included doing something overtly material, like click on Google for instance.
    Or even provide a dictionary definition.

    • john zande

      Ark, shame on you! This is a brilliant Strawman! No references required… Misrepresentation is the Christian way 🙂

    • Debilis

      This blog is thematic. That is to say, I’ve argued for all of these claims in other posts. If you claim that a specific one does not follow from materialism, or hasn’t been claimed, I’m willing to discuss. But simply demanding evidence without providing support for your own position is exactly the problem I was addressing here.

      In fact, I see a chain of rejecting metaphysics here–which is, precisely, one of my points. It seems that you are providing the very evidence you request.

      That being the case, it would be a better challenge to present yourself as an example of a materialist who is willing to provide evidence.

      • Arkenaten

        Again I reiterate. Your position stems from the belief that biblical claims are true. Thus everything you base you faith on directly influences your stance on materialism.
        To state that my position is wrong/false/untenable you have to demonstrate why and to this end merely criticizing materialism is ridiculous.
        As Holly has noted elsewhere:
        Your stance comes from the position that your ‘god exists’.
        It is easy to argue from a position of such certainty.
        All I ask is that you justify this by demonstrating the veracity of the source of this belief.
        And you can do that by using the bible.
        If you have any shred of integrity you will accept that this is a valid and honest request and that you now have the opportunity to demonstrate the claims you deem irrefutable.
        If you are willing to do this then we can move forward.
        Otherwise, you are merely espousing hot air.
        The choice is entirely up to you.

    • Debilis

      You can claim that this is the source of my belief, but, as I’ve never offered biblical texts as support of anything, that is simply an unsupported claim.

      But I have provided support for everything I’ve said. It is in many places on this blog. If you ask me about a specific claim, I don’t mind repeating it.

      However, materialism is not true until I can provide reasons why it is not (though I have done that in the past). The lack of support being presented for it is a very serious problem.

      So, again, this is simply a demand that I prove your position false. That is properly known as argumentum ad ignoratium. The complete lack of support offered for materialism is one of my main reasons for dismissing it.

      • Arkenaten

        You miss the point.
        You are arguing from the position of a Christian. This will inevitably influence the way you approach such matters.
        Thus, it is incumbent on you to demonstrate that the way you think and WHAT you base this thought process on is valid.

        It is disingenuous to reject something like materialism when what you believe is based solely on the bible, as erroneous and fallacious a set of documents one is likely to find anywhere.

        If you cannot grasp this then maybe you need to take a long hard look at your ‘faith’?

        Once you can do this; strip away every single bit of crap that is the bible then you are in a position to offer a genuine opinion about other’s worldviews.

        To put it bluntly: what you believe in is rubbish.
        Recognize this then your other views will not be so jaundiced.

    • Debilis

      Let me turn that around:

      You are arguing from the perspective of an atheist (a materialistic New Atheist, it would seem). This will inevitably influence the way you approach such matters.
      Thus, it is incumbent on you to demonstrate that the way you think and WHAT you base this thought process on is valid.

      It is disingenuous to reject something like Christianity when whay you believe is based solely on the current zeitgeist, as erroneous and fallacious a set of cultural prejudices one is likely to find anywhere.

      If you cannot grasp this then maybe you need to take a long hard look at your unquestioned beliefs?

      Once you can do this; strip away every single thing bit of crap that is being repeated by Dawkins’ fans then you are in a position to offer a genuine opinion about others’ worldviews.

      Okay, now that we’ve both pointed out that the other person has a specific perspective, can we get to the actual reasons why we each have that perspective. I’ve been sharing mine. I’ve been looking at the matter and showing the exact reasons why theism is more reasonable than materialism.

      This is taking a long time to get to the specific details about my beliefs, but:

      1. You are assuming that I don’t have reasons for them. You don’t seem even to consider the idea that all the facts I keep pointing out (and you keep dismissing) are the exact reasons you’re demanding.

      The argument will take several book-lenghts, but you seem ready to give up after the first paragraph.

      2. You’re quite a bit further behind than I am. I’ve been showing the general idea behind Christianity (theism) to be a more reasonable approach than the alternative.

      Because you’ve only ever attacked Christianity, you’ve done nothing to defend materialism.

      • Arkenaten

        Smile…I don’t need to defend materialism, it was around before your jumped up religion made an appearance and brutally forced itself onto the world.
        You have to demonstrate why I should not only disregard my atheism but why I should embrace your Christianity.
        Off you go…show me irrefutable evidence….

    • Debilis

      Two problems here:
      1. What is the evidence that materialism is older than Christianity? (I don’t seem to be aware of any)
      2. What reason is there to think that the older idea doesn’t need to be defended? (Are you agreeing that, if Christianity can be shown to be older than your view, I don’t need to defend it?)

      So, after I’ve listed the strange things that follow from materialism, shown it to be self-contradictory, pointed out the utter lack of evidence in support of it, and shown that theism is a more plausible view, your response is simply to claim that you don’t need to defend your view?

      It does seem to suggest that you don’t actually have defense for materialism. At least, that explains why you are insisting, without any evidence, that your position is magically correct until someone else offers “irrefutable evidence”, rather than giving me some “irrefutable evidence” of your own.

      That being the case, there’s no reason at all to accept materialism, and every reason to dismiss it.

      • john zande

        If i mau, I’ll just jump in here quickly on your rather absurd first point. In fact, it’s so bizarre I’m thinking you can’t possibly be serious. That, or you simply don’t know anything about classical history. As it’s so odd I’ll cite just one example: Leucippus, 5th century BCE, the first atomist, was unquestionably a materialist.

        • Debilis

          You’re certainly allowed to jump in. Feel free!

          I wouldn’t count Leucippus a materialist in anything like the modern sense of the word. The conception of the material we have really didn’t exist before Descartes.

          But, the central point is, of course, that the age of an idea does not determine whether or not it need be defended.

  • holly

    Followed the link from Ark’s blog. Are you interested in open honest discussion about your claims? or…are you just ranting? 😉
    If the latter, I shall happily leave you to your rants, and please ignore the following honest inquiry.
    First off, are you speaking to strictly…”materialists”? or do you include naturalists, secular humanists, agnostics/atheists?
    And if the latter, why do you lump them under…”materialist”? How do you define the term?

    I generally go with the label, agnostic/atheist/humanist , and I see no evidence warranting belief in the “supernatural” .
    I would completely agree with the statement ““extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.
    As to your further claims, I don’t know any that avoid metaphysics…
    I find that allegation just silly.
    What you may perhaps be missing is that metaphysics deals also with “possibilities” and asking questions, not firm answers.

    Take the claim, “1. Something can come from nothing”
    That is not a firm claim. It is a possibility that continues to be tested.
    In the realm of metaphysics, we can play with possibilities all we want.
    But, we also have the ability to distinguish between probability and possibility.

    “2. Applying logic to questions about God’s existence (i.e. metaphysics) is useless”

    Nothing is useless in discussions, questions, or the way we approach studying what is, what is there, and what it is like. Most especially applying logic to assumptions. You are beginning with the premise that “god exists”… that logical?

    “3. The principles that are the basis of science (such as Ockham’s Razor) aren’t true” again…i have never heard anyone state this.
    care to explain?

    “4. Having directly experienced a thing is no reason to think it exists”
    Oh come now, surely you realize you understate?
    Do you consider a Muslim, or Hindu’s experience or answer to prayer, etc etc to be proof that their particular god exists?
    Do you also believe that every alien abduction, big foot sighting, and fairy sighting should be left unquestioned and accepted?

    “5. People are no more conscious than computers”


    “6. People only think what we’re programmed to think, rationality is an illusion”
    not sure why i am responding to this one even…care to explain it a bit more? must not be too many “materialists” claiming it as I have never heard it before…
    Ah…perhaps you are talking about the “free will illusion”?
    you have rather missed it if you are…and it is not a “materialist” position only…some take it some do not, (calvinists take it too… 😉 )

    “7. A reason to think a thing can be dismissed with “I don’t know, and I’m okay with remaining ignorant”.”

    oh come now….I am allergic to bullshite…. 😉

    • makagutu

      what a nice response Holly. I will wait for a response to the questions you ask

    • Debilis

      Responses, particularly thoughtful responses like this one, are always welcome.

      To respond, then:
      I am referring to materialists. That is, I’m referring to anyone who, overtly or tacitly, assumes that the physical is all that exists. In my experience, that includes the overwhelming majority of atheists and secular humanists, but I’m not assuming that the two are logically equivalent.

      If you’d like an example of the mocking of metaphysics, it’s actually occurring on this thread, where there is reference to “the vaporous thought exercises of metaphysics”. I’ve run into this many times, personally, but am glad to hear that you have not. I hope that it isn’t as far spread at it appears to me.

      But metaphysics seeks answers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of controversy (this is true of all subjects), nor does it mean that there aren’t principles that are clearly more likely to be true than false.

      In fact, take point number 1, that is a possibility that has been tested many times, and, so far, always found to be false. It is also opposed to all inquiry and rational search for knowledge. Science, for instance, operates under the assumption that things don’t simply happen for no reason. I’d say that it is a safe bet that it is false.

      Regarding 2, I agree with your statements except to wonder what I’ve said that requires the premise “God exists”. I definitely agree that would be circular, but nothing I claim rests on that.

      3: I’ve heard it. People call it into question quite often. The most frequent case is in discussing the Kalam. Opponents of it are very quick to attack sufficient reason in that discussion.

      4: Your response here is about the limited use of testimony. I was speaking about something that a person experiences directly. If you, personally, experience something directly, that is strong evidence for you, personally, to believe it. Your word may not be enough evidence for another person to believe you, of course, but that is a different topic.

      5: Yes, I’ve heard this. I’ve written about the idea that materialistic notions of consciousness break down, and have been directly told that our minds are no more than computers–that we only “think” that we are thinking, that consciousness is an illusion.

      If you think that sounds strange, I agree with you. But I’ve written on the idea that it follows from materialism.

      6: Yes, I am talking about determinism.
      Whether or not all materialists happen to be determinists, a rejection of determinism is inconsistent with materialism (as I’ve argued elsewhere).

      And I’m not a Calvinist. Were I debating with one, I’d not rely on that argument, but I’ll leave them to defend themselves.

      7: I have heard this one, many times. “I’m okay with not knowing” can be found even on this site from some of the materialist contributors (and I’ve heard it many times elsewhere). But, I agree that it is not a requirement–that it does not follow logically. Reading over, I can see how what I’ve written implies that, and agree that I should have been more careful in my wording.

      Okay, I think that is quite long enough.
      So, I’ll end it with a thank you for a thoughtful response:
      Thank you.

      • john zande

        “the vaporous thought exercises of metaphysics”

        Yes, i stand by that statement, and if you can show me some “tangible metaphysics” i’d be happy to review it.

        Can you, or are we left with vaporous thought exercises?

        • Debilis

          That’s like asking for immaterial matter. It’s a contradiction in terms, and a good understanding of what metaphysics actually is would show someone why this is an unrealistic demand.

          But I think it strange that you would simply dismiss all metaphysics. Are you aware that science is founded on metaphysical ideas like Ockham’s Razor and Sufficient Reason?

        • john zande

          Ockham’s Razor is a method, a thought exercise, not a process or a law or enquiry, Debilis. It’s a way of guessing and will always lean toward a material explanation in sciences’ continued quest to be less-wrong. That’s all that science is: a process of being less wrong.

          OK, let’s approach the metaphysics thing from another angle: to suppose something exists (in this case, metaphysics, whatever that is) one must have some hints, clues, observations, a smell or two to go by, right? My mind is open, I never rule anything out, so tell me what these hints/clues are. Point me in the direction where you are. There must be something tangible or you wouldn’t have reason to believe in something that has never been recorded/observed in all of human history.

        • Debilis

          I don’t remember claiming that Ockham’s Razor was a process or law. Are you under the impression that all metaphysical principles are processes or laws?

          If so, this misunderstanding might be part of the reason why you reject metaphysics.

          Okay, let’s move onto the “hints”:
          The strongest hint is the way you know that your own thoughts exist. That is a rather obvious way to know something without a physical test. And a thought is a metaphysical entity.

          It is not tangible, of course, but it seems rather clear that it exists.

          That being the case, we can clearly know some things without reference to the physical. There’s more, of course, but that’s enough of a start, I think.

        • john zande

          Thanks for the answer, but I don’t find that at all convincing. Consciousness is simply the brain sensing its own activity; a feedback mechanism.

          But, as you said, your example is not tangible, so I don’t think we’ve moved any closer to understanding what you mean by this thing, metaphysical. Surely there’s something in this world that leads you to believe in something invisible, inaudible, tasteless and odorless.

        • Debilis

          Greetings once again (and otherwise diving right in):

          One can’t argue against this idea by claiming that consciousness is simply the brain sensing its activity for two reasons.

          1. The brain can’t make sense of its activity so long as materialism is true (that was the entire argument along those lines).
          2. (And the more important point) This requires one to assume materialism in order to argue in favor of materialism. It is dogmatic to simply insist that this is what consciousness is.

          It is also dogmatic to say that we have gained no knowledge on the grounds that the example isn’t tangible. That is only true if one assumes, from the start, that all knowledge is tangible.

          I completely agree that, if one assumes that all knowledge is tangible, then there is no non-tangible knowledge. But it seems that something has been missed here.

          This method is scientism, and it is exactly what I’m arguing against. In responding to my arguments, one can’t simply assume what one is trying to prove.

        • holly

          I am probably not as educated as you, and I am quite aware of the fact that I do not always make the same connections that others do, however, I do not follow your argument here.
          (i hope you do not mind further questions)
          It is true that we recognize that we have thoughts. We also recognize our reflections in mirrors, and we are able to recognize pain, suffering, happiness, in our self and others.
          Perhaps this in itself does not confirm a naturalist outlook, (though I am a bit thick-headed in seeing your trouble with it, apologies) But I really do not see how these things, …thoughts, consciousness are proof that there is more than what we see and experience.
          I am more than willing to attempt to understand.

    • Debilis

      I definitely don’t mind more on this. You’ve been the most thoughtful challenger I’ve had in these discussions (thank you for that!).

      I don’t know if I’d say that our thoughts are proof that there is more than what we see or experience. What I’d say is that they are proof that not everything we experience is physical.

      That is, we know that thought exists, but not because of physical evidence. We know it because we experience it.

      Also, we can’t say that thought is simply physical, because physical things can’t really be about anything unless there is an interpreter to assume this.

      The problem with saying that consciousness is simply brain-states is that we’d need to assume an interpreter of those states in order to say that they are thoughts about things. So, if thoughts are just brain states, then something else would have to exist to interpret them anyway.

      That’s the stripped-down version of the argument, anyway. The full one is very abstruse.

      Not all experts would agree with me, of course. Though I’m quick to point out that several philosophers of mind are starting to break from the materialist assumptions that used to completely dominate.

      I take this, coupled with the fact that I no of no good reason to accept materialism in the first place, as a reason to take the more common sense view: that our minds are at least partially non-physical.

      Okay, that’s quite long enough.
      Best to you, in any case.

  • holly

    Regarding metaphysics and truth….
    We can say as of yet (especially if we are willing to disregard quantum physics) that things appear to come from other things. But when you jump from this observation to “god did it” and more specifically “my particular brand of god did it” you are throwing away the very logic you accuse others of doing.
    Could there be a multiverse? Could this be a dream within a dream? Could this be a hollowgraph ? Etc these are all questions equally as unproven as saying “god did it”.

    As for experiencing something directly…I am aware that my own perception of things may be different that others. For instance if I am deaf, I will not be able to hear….does this mean no sound exists? For me yes…but I can utilize others experiences to realize there may be something more than what I do not hear.
    However, this is something that must be tested, never assumed.
    Consider the claim that seduced sir Arthur Conan Doyle, fairies exist.
    And the pictures taken by two girls who appeared to hoodwink many including Doyle.
    Appreciate the response, and the allowance of discussion of opposing points of view.

    • Debilis

      I completely agree with you that God’s existence doesn’t follow directly from sufficient reason. To that, other arguments would be needed.

      And I agree even more thoroughly that Kalam-style arguments don’t establish any particular religion as being true.

      However, I disagree that the possibilities you mention are equally probable (even among themselves). It seems a real stretch to say that they are “equally unproven”.

      I also agree that we can’t simply rely on direct personal experience, but this is no reason to universally reject it, either.

      But my real underlying point here is that I wasn’t trying to support the existence of any particular deity, or any deity at all. I was summarizing the difficulties I see with materialism. One needn’t discuss the matter of God at all in order to reject that philosophy.

      Okay, I hope that makes things more clear.
      I’m on to the next comment.

      • holly

        I would be willing to discuss why you believe the other possibilities are not equally probable. I never disregard personal experience. I never readily accept it without due diligence in research and testing either. Having been hoodwinked a few times in ones life allows for one to be a bit more cautious on what they swallow. 😉
        Dropping the matter of god out of the picture, I still do not think you have successful proven that what you refer to as materialism is…bunk.
        I am willing to take any point you are.
        (If you are willing to allow that I may take a bit of time on responses. when i work overtime I am too exhausted to get on(

    • Debilis

      I’ll try to get to your thoughts as quickly as I can.

      My only thought here is that I don’t know how one can research and test one’s own basic experience. Certainly, one can try repeating an individual experience. But I don’t see how one can test one’s sense of a physical world, of moral truth, of consciousness, etc.

      Testing these things would seem to require relying on them as valid sources of information, which would be circular.

  • holly

    Also I think when you refer to materialism you seem to be representing more of a reductionist point of view. To me when both sides do this to the other we miss any opportunity of reasonable discussion.
    For instance, I can use the process of reductionism to make nearly anything meaningless and illogical…
    A christian believes that babies will go to heaven , Yes?
    Therefore in order to assure your own children’s salvation abortion would be a worthy sacrifice on your part if you truly love your children.
    (are you willing to sacrifice yourself for your child? (John 15:13)
    See, both sides can play these cards but is it profitable? Is it better to ask questions of each other and learn what the other truly believes/thinks and then begin there? As it is we must back track to the ridiculous before we can meet at a discussion point….

    • Debilis

      I’m not entirely sure I’m following you here. If you mean that I tend to refer to naturalism as being eliminative about the mind, this is true (I argue for why elsewhere, but will skip that for the moment).

      If, however, you mean that I tend to speak of all materialists in a single breath, I again have to admit that this is true. I fully agree that there are many exceptions to the generalities I noted. But I do see them as exceptions, not the rule. My purpose was not to present a 400 word argument that closed the door on all materialism (if that is possible, it is certainly beyond my ability).

      Rather, my purpose was to call attention to the issues with materialism, which those defending the view should address. I’ve often encountered people who believe that debunking theism is enough to establish materialism is true, and I want to counter this idea.

      But, as you’ve shown yourself willing to engage, I’m more than happy to do so. Poorly communicated as it was, that was my original purpose.

      Okay, I hope that was more clear. But, either way, best to you out there.

      • holly

        Okay, appreciate the further clarifications. (also apologize that my online time is a bit spotty.) I do believe the blog post did not accurately display any point of “materialistic” mindset.
        Over the past year I have been working out any of my own questions about (what you call materialism, and i still prefer probably naturalism) 😉
        I have been confronted by theists who say that as such, I have no leg to stand on regarding things like morals, justice, love etc. I do not find this to be true.
        I do find that it leaves this world, and my experiences here…all there is for me. But my experiences include an ability to choose my own path, make my own standards, and whether or not I will live with society and other peoples standards or all alone.
        If i do not understand a thing, It never means i am happy to remain ignorant, but rather that it remains to be seen. And I am always on the lookout for new, and better. In my position I find it good to be willing to question and requestion my own position and that of others. In this way remain capable of continuing to learn, and never submitting to dogma.

    • Debilis

      Okay, responding to both comments here:

      Of course, you are allowed as much time as you’d like. I think we should be concerned about what is true, not about who can answer quickly. So, please, feel free.

      I definitely agree that we should be careful. My main contention is really that I want to apply this same principle to materialism as to other ideas. I have become very skeptical of it as I’ve started considering its claims.

      Perhaps it would make more sense if I explained:
      Actually, I was once completely ready to accept atheism as a result of arguments I’d heard. I began to ask the confident debunkers of Christianity I’d been debating what they believed instead. I don’t think they realized how genuine my questions were, but I was consistently told that they knew of nothing at all that would stand up to their attacks, they just really wanted to make it clear that Christianity couldn’t.

      This struck me as very unreasonable–being more interested in winning arguments than finding the truth. Since then, I’ve come to feel that, while it is right to question religious beliefs, it is challenges to materialism that are missing from the discussion. That is why I spend so much time on it.

      I’m glad to read your posts. You definitely seem much more interested in seeking truth than some others here, and I’m probably guilty of writing this post with the bad examples in mind (so, apologies there).

      If you want something more substantial to chew on, I’d say that the strongest case against materialism is the problem of consciousness. Thoughts about things can’t be reduced to purely physical events, but that we have thoughts is too undeniably true to reject.

      I’ve talked about this idea on other posts, and will detail further if we get onto that.

      But, for now, best to you.

  • holly

    Thank you for explaining further. I too, ran into many atheist who readily debunked christianity. (I grew up in evangelical christianity) I did not however find the same that you found. I too , asked what they believed or stood for. I found some who didn’t really care for much. That scared me a bit…worried me. Made me wonder if religion were somehow necessary to give us morals/purpose/standards etc.
    But as it stood, I ran into christians (and all other religions) that had some morals/purpose and standards that I did not agree with as well.
    I slowly discovered that “atheism” did not mean anything regarding moral values, it only described one’s particular stance on the existence of gods, (or lack of evidence etc)
    If one wanted to subscribe to a set of values, there were groups like Secular Humanists that did such. They appealed to me more than other religions primarily because their set of values was not absolute. But allowed room for new evidence, new knowledge, learning, and continued critical thinking and compassion, to mold and remold the standards as needed. This fluctuating standard appealed to me as religious dogma, or the words in a book oftentimes allowed for standards that were left behind as we gained new insight, but many clung to the outdated standards regardless…

    Now, for your humdinger… 😉
    the problem of consciousness.
    Thoughts about things can’t be reduced to purely physical events…
    If you would like to link me back to the posts you would like me to read I will be happy to do so.

    “I think, therefore I am”
    As far as we know…many other things…”are” but do not think as we do…
    are they any less real?
    Does our ability to think about things, about ourselves, make us more real than the things that don’t?

    • holly

      Have you moved on? or were you interested in discussing this further?

    • Debilis

      I definitely find Secular Humanism a far more livable position than someone trying to promote “atheism” as if that addresses life’s questions. I can see why intelligent people are drawn to it (I have been, myself, at times).

      My only real issue with it is that I can’t bring myself to believe in relativism. I’ve always felt that a good moral philosophy needs to avoid both moral dogmatism (decreeing that the same particulars hold for every situation, culture, and time) and moral relativism (that there are no fundamental moral truths beyond what human opinion happens to be).

      Either of those extremes seems to run counter from my own experience with morality, and what most of us would say about it: that people out to be respected.

      To throw out an example:
      This means that we have no right to demand that other cultures obey particular traditions. But it also means that not imposing our cultural views is a universal good–not something that is either good or bad depending on one’s views.

      That being the case, the only view I’m interested in is one that accepts both of these ideas. Otherwise, I can’t make sense of any moral system.

      • holly

        Agree with you on Secular humanism, (though I don’t really see too many pushing for “atheism” as a standard for living?
        i may not see what you see though. Whenever I do see that, (from either side) I do try to explain that atheism in itself is only a descriptive term regarding ones view on god/supernatural NOT a measure for “how then we should live”.

        I believe part of the problem lies in the definition of relativism.
        We are afraid of living outside “absolute” and black and white. I believe that we are social creatures, and may very well agree to objective standards to live by, (just as we are able to set up standards on music. subjective on what people like or don’t like, objective on what are the notes, what is a scale, what is a fifth, what key signature something is in.
        Thank you for your willingness to explain, and discuss further.
        kind regards,

    • Debilis

      I think we basically agree on atheism (that it’s simply a position on God, not an approach to life).

      I also think you’ve put your finger on the real area of trouble: relativism. I agree that social codes of conduct can be said to be objective in the sense that they are well defined and agreed upon. (I think this is what you were getting at, but let me know.)

      My issue is that I think that morality is objective in a greater sense. That is, this seems a bit like arbitrary decisions made by cultures, whereas I feel that even cultures can be judged by standards higher than any and all humans.

      Perhaps an example would help. I’ll grab the obvious one:
      Like most, I believe that the Nazis were wrong to slaughter the Jews. And that it was wrong in spite of the fact that it was considered good in that culture.

      In fact, I think it would still have wrong even if the Nazis had managed to kill or brainwash everyone that disagreed with them–so that everyone thought it was good.

      This is to say that I believe that there is a standard of goodness that is above what humans agree on in a culture. This is my trouble with moral relativism–it doesn’t seem to explain what seem to me to be obvious moral truths (like “the Nazis were wrong, regardless of what anyone says”).

      I hope that made more sense, anyway.

      • holly

        Yes. It does make sense. I stood where you are for a very long time.
        Two problems I have.
        A. I don’t see morals based on the bible/god as not being any less subjective than morals based on any other system/ belief/etc.
        b. I don’t see morality being absolutely objective in the greater sense. nearly everything can become grey when subjected to various circumstances.

    • Debilis

      Those are the big objections, aren’t they?

      To offer my best response to them:
      A. I think this is absolutely true if we’re taking the direct statements made literally. In fact, I don’t think we can jump straight from objective morality to Christianity in the way that many Christians seem to think.

      Rather, I think that, if we see that objective morality requires some kind of grounding (which, at the end of a long argument, I would say requires theism), then we should start there. We should look for basic principles, not cling to dogmatic readings of ancient texts (even my favorite ancient texts).

      B. I think that I’ve already spilled into this one. It seems that morals must be some basic truths that take different forms in different circumstances. The principle is the same, but the action it demands of us will not be.

      At least, that seems the most reasonable approach to morality I’ve ever encountered. I’m fully aware that it’s merely a start. But it does seem to be a start.

      So, I hope that was in some way helpful.
      You’re comments are definitely helpful to keep me thinking.

      • holly

        Well, I would love to see you argument that the “some kind of grounding” requires theism.
        To be honest, I believe such basic principles and grounding can be done without theism. (in fact I think they are used in society already) We have seen nothing in history but the evidence of evolution of thought and morals. As new information is gained, (Hitler and others who once believed race/ skin color/ etc impacted and affected how we think/act/and live; slavery, the ideas that women, or people of color are inferior, that women/children are property and of less value than men etc; and many more)
        moral values/standards have evolved and continue to do so.

        As for a grounding, and basic principles…
        I believe this is obtainable on an individual basis, and then on a societal basis (like we do already such as voting on laws to abide by)

        May i ask you to consider an illustration?
        If one man is alone, (completely alone with no other beings)
        on an island…
        what then shall he base his moral standards on? How would he decide what is moral and what is not? would he need a moral standard? and what would they be grounded on?

    • Debilis

      Okay, I’ll do my best:

      The idea is that, for morals to be true (that is, not simply what people happen to think, but a real fact about reality) there needs to be something other than the physical.

      This doesn’t contradict at all the idea that evolution is one of the ways that people came to believe in morals. I don’t doubt that evolution could explain why people might tend to believe this or that thing.

      But my question is: is it true? Is it really true that the Nazis were wrong, or was that simply a stage of the evolution of human behavior patterns that we don’t happen to practice now?

      I’d say the former. I think the idea that Hitler was fundamentally wrong is more obviously true than the premises of any argument that he was simply one stage in the changing behavior of human society.

      But, that being the case means that morals need to be something outside of humans. We are constantly changing, both individually and as a species. Anything that is fundamentally wrong can’t simply be a trait of humans.

      Certainly, it can’t simply be what we happen to believe in a moment. Were it possible to travel back in time to WWII Germany (or some other point), I’d say that the killings were wrong even then (even though we hadn’t “evolved” this moral concept).

      If morals are something which makes even cultures right or wrong to do something, they cannot simply be products of social or biological evolution.

      In fact, it is no different than saying that religion is true because we are evolved to believe in it (as most evolutionary psychologists claim). The question isn’t “Why do we believe it?” but “Is it true?”.

      All this leaves us either with platonism (which accepts the existence of metaphysical objects) or theism (or both, but that can be set aside).

      My biggest issue with platonism is that it is extremely unparsimonious unless supported by theism, but I’ll not get into that in that no one here is arguing for platonism.

      Last, but certainly not least, I hope all is well with you.

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