The Instigator
Haezed
Pro (for)
Losing
7 Points
The Contender
RoyLatham
Con (against)
Winning
17 Points

Resolved: All but the nihilist shares an operative form of faith.

Do you like this debate?NoYes+0
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Vote Here
Pro Tied Con
Who did you agree with before the debate?
Who did you agree with after the debate?
Who had better conduct?
Who had better spelling and grammar?
Who made more convincing arguments?
Who used the most reliable sources?
Reasons for your voting decision
1,000 Characters Remaining
The voting period for this debate does not end.
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/20/2009 Category: Religion
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,145 times Debate No: 9749
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (25)
Votes (4)

 

Haezed

Pro

Faith is a decision to act as if something were true. Faith accepts its subject's existence as an axiom. Faith holds essential truths to be self-evident. Faith is fiat of the will.

The axiom accepted by Christians is that God exists, loves us and has accepted us as part of His exquisite designs. If this is true, faith in humanities' importance logically matters. How we treat each other matters. The difficult part is accepting as axiomatic that a loving God exists. Many atheists call this acceptance delusional.
However, faith is not the exclusive province of the religious.

I contend that all but the nihilist shares faith. Faith in the value of individual human life and dignity flows from philosophy or is accepted as self-evident. Humanities' common faith may be encrusted with rituals passed down from the time of Mohammad or of Constantine or our faith may be newly born from scientific observations about our place in our universe. Even those who believe morals entirely evolved over four billion years have faith that a serial killer who discards these evolved morals is not admirable.

I have spent considerable time posting on the Internet forum of Dr. Richard Dawkins, the world's most admired and reviled atheist. I came away convinced that atheists have a form of faith every bit as operative as the faith of a theist.

Atheists make their own broad leaps of faith. Their faith, like the faith of a Christian, is that humanity matters. How we treat our fellows matters and not just those next door or a suffering child brought into our living room by mass media. Increasingly, our faith is that selective empathy for our own "tribe" must become a thing of a past. We shun those who wield the mortar and pestle of genocide: depersonalization and demonization of the "other."

Relationships define our universe at every level. Whether faith flows from the fiat of a believer, a chain of largely inaccessible philosophical reasoning or due to simple internal observations over a lifetime of experience, human life, with all its messy intricate connections, matters.

None of this keeps us from taking inordinate satisfaction in attacking the method by which others of our species arrive at this core belief. Atheists insist upon evidence. Theists doubt the atheist can truly believe that individual life and liberty have inalienable value unless endowed from a creator. The methodology of our common faith is a matter on which, many believe reasonable minds cannot differ.

Most save their deepest disdain for the lukewarm agnostic. Atheists doubt whether there really is such a thing as an agnostic. You probably know what the Bible has to say about the tepid believer.

I celebrate humanities' common faith, however derived.

We should not constantly focus on the borders of the map of human belief where there be contentious dragons while failing to recognize the vast tracks of humanities' largely uncelebrated intersections of shared faith.

Implicit in my argument is that the atheist (wherever he may be on Dawkin's seven point scale) cannot establish the worth of humanity only through reason. I will not give my argument on this point for fear of setting up a straw man. I would first like to hear the negative position.
RoyLatham

Con

Welcome to debate.org. You have offered five grueling rounds of debating the meaning of the word "faith." It's a nasty job, but somebody has to do it, so I'll have a go at it.

I think the debate arises from equivocation on the word "faith." "Equivocation is the type of ambiguity which occurs when a single word or phrase is ambiguous, and this ambiguity is not grammatical but lexical. So, when a phrase equivocates, it is not due to grammar, but to the phrase as a whole having two distinct meanings. ... The Fallacy of Equivocation occurs when an equivocal word or phrase makes an unsound argument appear sound. " http://www.fallacyfiles.org...

The type of faith that atheists have is not the same type as that which religious people profess when they refer to their religious faith.

1. Induction

The first task is to try to pin down what Pro means by "an operative form of faith." If it means "belief that induction is valid," then everyone, including the nihilist, shares that as an operative belief. No one wakes up in the morning and really wonders if gravity will be working throughout the day. Perhaps in philosophical discussions a person may raise the point that there is no absolute guarantee that anything will continue as previously experienced, but no one seriously worries about staying anchored during the day lest gravity suddenly cease. Richard Dawkins, Nietzsche, and the Jehovah's Witness at your door all share that form of "faith."

But that form of faith is not like religious faith, because it derives from the evidence of past experience. What is at issue with induction is not whether there is evidence, but what we may draw from the evidence. Gravity is observed directly to exist. The "faith" aspect arrives at the secondary level of what may be deduced from the evidence, not whether there was evidence in the first place. It may be that our "faith" in induction is a consequence of the biological programming that runs us as organisms, but no one fails to operate in accordance with that programming, but whatever it is, it is not doubted as we go about our business.

2. Values derived from the nature of mankind

Pro's definition is "Faith is a decision to act as if something were true. Faith accepts its subject's existence as an axiom. Faith holds essential truths to be self-evident. Faith is fiat of the will." Pro gives the example, "Faith in the value of individual human life and dignity flows from philosophy or is accepted as self-evident." It's fair to say that every human being is programmed to place some value on human life. Even serial killers place some value on their own lives, at least up to the point go completely made and become indifferent to even the value of their own lives. It seems that Pro's definition of faith is something like, "Faith is the operative acceptance by people of their genetic instincts as a cause for their actions."

That type of faith is tricky. If the doctor says, "This is going to hurt." we are likely to overrule our genetic predisposition to avoid pain is rational consideration of our broader instinct to want good health to prolong our lives. We have conflicting instincts and resolve the conflicts using reason as best we can. So humans do behave in accordance with their instincts, and they somehow resolve conflicts among their instincts. That's a "faith" different from induction, but it is operative and it guides action. There is no "fiat of the will" involved in choosing to take your hand off a hot stove.

3. Leaps of faith

Pro then asserts, "Atheists make their own broad leaps of faith. Their faith, like the faith of a Christian, is that humanity matters." Now we are at the point of departure. A creature living in accordance with its instincts is not making a broad leap of faith. It isn't a broad leap of faith to observe that humans have a nature and live in accordance with that nature. A plant that turns towards the sun does so, but does so without a leap of faith. Humans have complex instincts. A "leap of faith" implies that some cognitive act takes them out of their instincts and beyond what is inductively derived to do something other than obey their instincts. Believing in a god or gods requires a "leap" of faith, because it requires belief in something beyond experience. There is no leap in conforming to instinct. We have conflicting instincts, and resolving those instincts is problematic, but Christians choose to make leaps of faith that atheists need not make.

4. Religious and quasi-religious faith

Atheists need not make leaps of faith, but they sometimes do so. Life is too complex to analyze every situation from scratch, so people adopt guiding principles. Some ideologies, the 'isms of politics and culture, operate in a way similar to religions. For a believer in communism, all the evils of the world are believed to flow from capitalism. That overarching principle then short-circuits rational evaluation of evidence. I think that everyone holds some short-circuit principles they use to simplify making judgments. The test is not that people have such beliefs, the test is whether they cling to them despite all evidence to the contrary. If they admit no contrary evidence when cornered, then they have something comparable to religious faith. It is a faith held beyond all questioning or doubt.

I call an unshakable faith that does not concern the supernatural a quasi-religious faith. An atheist who believes that all of the social problems of the world can be traced to religion, and who cannot be shaken of that belief, has a quasi-religious faith. Various strong ideologies also fill that role. Atheists need not be quasi-religious, so that is not a defining characteristic.

I don't see the particular relevance of the status of agnostics. What counts relative to the debate here is whether a leap of faith is made in the acceptance of beliefs. That divides the world into believers and non-believers, that casts the agnostics as non-believers.

There is a common "faith" at the non-religious levels, if you want to call belief in induction and acknowledgment of the nature of mankind as types of faith. The departure in faith comes at the level of the "leap of faith." Atheists need not make any leap of faith if they allow questioning of their operative principles and will change their principles upon showing of good reasons. The measure of religious faith is intransigent belief, and that is not shared.

The "operative form of faith" that religious people have is not shared by atheists.

I challenge Pro to clarify what he means by "operative form of faith" and especially "leap of faith" in the context of what I have presented.

"Everyone has to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer." -- anonymous equivocation
Debate Round No. 1
Haezed

Pro

Thank you for the welcome and I look forward to the debate. I will restate my argument and, hopefully, in the process, clear up some of the ambiguities.

My premise is that both the theist and atheist have a form of "operative" faith. I took the word operative from Sam Harris who uses it to show that various verses from the Muslim holy texts mean what they say. My only point was that the type of faith I am describing guides the way we live. Faith in a higher power (i.e. God) or faith in a higher principle ("we hold these truths to be self-evident…") are operative. Indeed, these types of higher faith, if you will, guide much of our lives.

The faith I ascribed to the atheist from my observation from spending time on the Dawkins board was that atheists do believe that how we treat each other matters. However, I do not believe that you can arrive at that conclusion through reason and/or observation. Therefore, I call this faith because it does require a leap without reason.

Now on to Mr. Latham's excellent argument:

1. Induction: The form of faith I raised does not rely on reasoning.

2. Values derived from the nature of mankind.

Con states as a fact that even a serial killer at least values his own life. Con then redefines faith in this context as, "[f]aith is the operative acceptance by people of their genetic instincts as a cause for their actions." This is one of the mechanisms of faith which atheists often reference; however, I contend that it really goes nowhere in establishing a higher principle that humanity matters.

There is nothing sacred about our evolutionary heritage which was the product of four billion years of brutal planetary contest. To the contrary, our ability to protect our Pale Blue Dot may very well depend on being able to overcome some of our evolutionary heritage such as the highly selective nature of our empathy. As we reach a technological inflection point in this century, we will desperately need the software of intelligence and culture to override some elements of our internal architecture.

If humanities' morals flow entirely from evolutionary hard coding, there is nothing wrong with overriding that code for good, bad or no reason. Mr. Latham does not attempt to explain why acting morally matters or why acting outside of that moral coding is "wrong." However, I believe most atheists have an inchoate form of faith which would say that Ted Kaczynski was morally wrong.

Stanley Milgram, the Stanford Prison Experiment and much of the last century illustrate the danger in relying only on "values derived from the nature of mankind." Submission to authority and dehumization of the other once served their purpose in our evolutionary heritage. Survival often depended on being able to act swiftly to the order of a leader and mercilessly towards non-tribe members. Even today, armed forces necessarily tap into this automatic obedience which can be conditioned deeply into our species.

Much progress has been made but we seek a belief system which will stand up to authority when the spirit of the age is not so kind. If we are relying on the herd instincts we either evolved or somehow assimilated from early human cultures, we are in trouble.

In any event, our evolved evolutionary heritage is not sacred, trustworthy, and cannot by itself provide a reason for concluding that human beings matter.

"Moral genes" do not provide a basis for believing that human beings matter, that they have inalienable rights, and that crossing the evolutionary hard coding is a feat to be despised, not admired.

Moral Genes is an argument for why most atheists act as morally as theists; it is not an argument as to why they should especially care if they fall short of any higher standard.

A leap without logic is required.

3. Leaps of faith

Please allow me to ask a question: Why were the actions of Theodore John Kaczynski wrong, unethical or immoral?

Within the 232 numbered paragraphs and 36 footnotes of the Unabomber's manifesto, the only attempt to justify his actions was in a single sentence in paragraph 96. Dr. Kaczynski wrote: "In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we've had to kill people."

The manifesto is the product of a disturbed, singularly brilliant, mind. Perversely, we cannot blithely dismiss the value of some of Kaczynski's message for which he was willing to sacrifice other people's lives.

Many share Kaczynski's concerns about the future implications of technologies such as genetic engineering. Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and the co-author of the Java language, is no luddite. While detesting Kaczynski, Joy agrees with Kaczynski's central premise that the pace of technology needs to be slowed or that scientists at least have a moral obligation to think about the consequences of humanities' technological creations.

"In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we've had to kill people."

We dismiss this justification out of hand because the lives of Hugh Scrutton, Thomas J. Mosser and Gilbert P. Murray were more precious than some brainiac's epiphany even if correct in some respects.

"Precious" is not the word. If true, the Unabomber's message could have saved countless precious lives. Nonetheless, Kaczynski's quest to publish his message did not justify the taking of three individual lives. "Sacred" is the word which best applies to the way our beliefs operate towards individual life.

Each life is sacred so that, unless all society breaks down or war erupts, we do not make the calculation that three specific innocent lives can be destroyed to possibly save unknowable multitudes.

The theist has faith that Dr. Kaczynski had no right to "play God." The non-believer, likewise, has faith that Dr. Kaczynski was wrong even if his message was right. We do not want to learn anything from a Kaczynski or a Mengele.

If are morals are entirely a product of genetic hard coding, the Unabomber did nothing wrong. In fact, he might be admired for not being a slave to his kinder genetic impulses. I find this an unsatisfactory answer.

4. Religious and quasi-religious faith

Mr. Latham contends, "[a]theists need not make leaps of faith, but they sometimes do so." Little support is provided for the former assertion. Mr. Latham then argues, "[l]ife is too complex to analyze every situation from scratch, so people adopt guiding principles." He then goes on to detail some of the various 'isms of politics and culture. The existence of complex systems does not dispute that at the core of any system in which a good society can develop is that humanity matters. An ancillary but important point is that we are held accountable for how we treat each other even when, or perhaps especially when, it is against our genetic predispositions.

I would never present "a faith held beyond all questioning or doubt." Most theists would say that doubt is a precondition for faith. My presentation of this argument for debate is evidence of my own doubts about atheistic and theistic faith.

A "leap" is required because logic alone cannot take us to a point where we can say human life is precious, indeed sacred, even when all of our genetic impulses are urging us to obey the authority figure and turn the dial up one more notch.

Theists have faith in a higher power. Atheists have faith in a higher principle that overriding our genetic code to harm another person without cause is immoral. Both require a leap without the benefit of reason.
RoyLatham

Con

This debate is about the meaning of the words "faith," and now about the meaning of "morality." The moral nihilist believes that moral questions have no meaning. Thus asking "Is that action good or evil?" makes no more sense than asking "Is that rock happy or sad?" I think that most moral questions have meaning. Asking "Is that action good or bad?" amounts to asking "Is that action in accord the normal behavior of the human species?" In geek-speak, that question is, "Is that person's genetically coded software operating to the specifications for the species?" The human species survived by evolving and following instincts, so survival is the fundamental motivating force.

I will use an extreme example to explain. Suppose we are contracted to draw up a moral code for the species of praying mantis. (An unusually intelligent mantis made a fortune trading commodities and awarded us the contract, you see.) It is normal behavior for a female praying mantis to eat the male after mating. This supposedly supports the survival of the species by recycling protein for the next generation of offspring. It is part of the species' genetic programming that provides long-term survival. By my definition of morality, a female praying mantis that then fails to make lunch of her mate is committing a morally bad act. "Bad" means "not in conformance with normal genetic programming" and nothing more than that. Our moral code for the species would require mate consumption.

Codfish characteristically eat their offspring. Male bears sometimes kill their offspring. Clearly we would not be able to make any moral rules derived solely from logic. The nature of the beast is inherently linked.

I think that Pro finds a mundane definition of morality unsatisfactory. He feels, I gather, that such a meaning is logically unenforceable. He says, "A "leap [of faith]" is required because logic alone cannot take us to a point where we can say human life is precious, indeed sacred, even when all of our genetic impulses are urging us to obey the authority figure and turn the dial up one more notch." Pro insists, it seems, that there must be an absolute morality that holds human life precious above all else, and that atheists and theists both get to that morality through faith not logic.

First of all, there is no common belief that life is precious beyond all else. The idea that life is "sacred" is a religious one, not shared by atheists. For nearly everyone, principles of self-defense hold it moral to kill another human for protection of one's self, family, or tribe. All of our genetic impulses are not telling us to obey authority. The instinct to obey authority may be supported by a tribal instinct, but in the modern world people subscribe to multiple tribes and the various allegiances conflict. Moreover, obeying authority may be a rational decision to defer one's personal judgment to someone who is more qualified. If a person wrongly identifies the qualifications of the supposed authority, that may lead to bad results, but if one systematically denies credentialed authority (like refusing to follow a physicians advice) that too may produce a bad outcome.

Situations arise that are full of moral conflicts. That is consistent with my my definition of morality, because human instincts are allowed to conflict, and we then attempt to reason out the most satisfactory resolution of the conflicts. The self-preservation instinct usually takes precedence over other instincts, but sometimes the family or tribe is put first. Instincts support survival of the species because they work most of the time, not because they resolve every situation perfectly. It suffices that 90%, or whatever, of situations have a clear right and wrong, and that the borderline cases are in doubt. Morality is clearly defined in most cases, but not in all.

Pro's is wrong that a leap of faith is done by everyone to take us to the conclusion that "humanity matters" or any other moral principle. It does not happen that way.

Pro uses the phrase "humanity matters" as the destination of the supposed leap of faith. He claims that no logical derivation can reach such a conclusion. Perhaps there is some abstract level of logic at which that is true. If an errant supercomputer took over the world, it would not have any values beyond what it was programmed to have. If it had no values programmed into it, it would act randomly and never derive a value structure. So while it is true that values cannot be derived from nothing, but we should not care about that. We care about the values of the human species, and those are derived from human nature. The reason that "humanity matters" is that we are programmed for it to matter. There is no logical derivation beyond that, and there is no reason to demand that there be one. It isn't a leap of faith that takes us to the conclusion the humanity matters, it is introspective and observed human nature.

Pro claims that the theist makes a leap of faith to get to the "sacred" nature of human life, or at least to the conclusion that humanity matters. But obviously, the religious leap of faith may take one to other places instead. Ancient Aztecs and ancient Hawaiians practiced human sacrifice to please imaginary gods. The ancient Hawaiians had hundreds of trivial crimes punishable by death, including a commoner possessing a yellow object, yellow being reserved for royalty. The ancient Hawaiian religion was overthrown by a Queen who came to her senses about such barbaric practices -- before Christian missionaries arrived. the self-evident nature of mankind trumped divine faith as it should have.

Over time, there are fewer and fewer outrageously immoral religions. Christianity once supported slavery and the divine right of kings. Now it opposes those principles. Did the Bible change? Did the Gods change? I attribute the changes to social evolution: the Christians changed. Over time, people have better understood the nature of mankind and tuned their religious institutions in accordance with the better understanding. Trial and error determined the rules of morality that work best for society. The process is ongoing.

Religion did not make a leap of faith to positing morality. Religion discovered morality in the same way that atheists discovered it, by evolving society to better conform to human nature. Religion chooses to claim that their gods gave them morality, but if that were true they would have gotten it right at the start of the religion, and every religion would have had the same morality at the outset. That didn't happen; the human institutions evolved.

Summarizing:

1. Morality derives from the nature of mankind.

2. Religions derive morality from human nature, then claim that whatever they are doing was derived from religious faith.

3. Atheists and theists end up with similar moral principles because both derive them the same way, albeit imperfectly.

4. Therefore no leap of faith is required by atheists, nor do atheists make a leap of faith.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 2
Haezed

Pro

Con boils morality to the thinnest gruel: "Is that action in accord the normal behavior of the human species?" The geek-speak translation is no more palatable, "Is that person's genetically coded software operating to the specifications for the species?"

The Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments as well as 20th Century history too depressing to detail, establish that our genetically coded software, leads to killing fields and genocide. This point is softly critiqued by the Con. However, Milgram's students predicted that at most 3% of subjects would obey the experimenter all the way through to the lethal shock labeled "XXX." 65% of the "teachers" continued, pressing the button at the experimenter's command to deliver shocks of up to 450 volts (the "XXX" level) to a person who had been unresponsive for as many as ten straight answers. Only 14 of the 40 disobeyed.

The Con claims, "The human species survived by evolving and following instincts, so survival is the fundamental motivating force." One of those instincts was to rally behind the leader in a time of crisis and to have no empathy for external threats. Using the example of the praying mantis with a grant money to spend and the codfish, Con contends, "[c]learly we would not be able to make any moral rules derived solely from logic. The nature of the beast is inherently linked." This helps my point. In any society in which I would want to live, there is a struggle to separate how we expect ourselves to act from the "nature of the beast."

Although I did not claim that "human life [is] precious above all else," I did claim that the prevailing view of any good society will reject the type of thinking presented by the Unabomber and refuse to even consider his message even if that message were important to human survival. The Con fails to take up my challenge to explain why the Unabomber was to be reviled for killing and maiming even if he had a potentially world-altering message.

Moral questions can be complex, but the core is that humanity, for some reason, matters. Perhaps the Con could make clear whether he thinks that is true or not. Does humanity matter? If not, Con is slip sliding near a chasm of nihilism.

If so, I have yet to hear how the Con gets to that conclusion by logic. Indeed, the first portion of his argument is predicated on the notion that we do not logically matter, except as intelligent beasts fulfilling our own genetic codes. In the later portion of Con's argument, there may be a subtle shift in position. I will let Con explain the apparent shift.

It is true that our genetic code does not yield a ". . .common belief that life is precious beyond all else." Why then should we reject killing three people and maiming several others for the sake of a message an author believes will save the world?

Con contends, "the idea that life is 'sacred' is a religious one, not shared by atheists." Certainly, atheists would deny treating human life as "sacred" but I am more interested in how people act more than what they say. Con drops the Unabomber example which is but one illustration of how, at least in Western cultures, we do treat life as if it were sacred.

Con then argues that submission to authority is not that much of a genetic imperative. No empirical evidence is provided to dispute the Milgram experiment. We could talk about the logistics necessary to accomplish genocide of the last century but I resist fulfilling Godwin's law.

Con does not say why it is wrong, evil, unethical, immoral to override what could be considered positive genetic coding, e.g. thou shalt not kill. At best, Con initially presents a circular argument: morals are the norm, the norm is not to kill; it is immoral to kill. Con thereby self fulfills his premise that this is a definitional debate.

A "follow the norm" set of morality would be disastrous. America's Bill of Rights was put in place precisely because the majority that defines a "norm" should not be entrusted with the natural rights of individuals. The entire idea of "natural" "inalienable" "self evident" rights is a leap of faith unsupported by the Con's logic. The vast majority of Atheists, I presume, would agree that such rights exist although Con provides no logic to support that view. The existence of exceptions merely proves the rule.

Con contends, "[t]he reason that "humanity matters" is that we are programmed for it to matter. There is no logical derivation beyond that, and there is no reason to demand that there be one." Our importance is, therefore, merely a state of mind. If we only matter to our own internal architecture, what is the loss if humanity winks out of existence? Our non-existence would not matter because we only matter to ourselves and we would no longer be here to care.

Any critique of theism is irrelevant to this debate since it is a given that theists have faith. However, I find this sentence very interesting because it may evidence a shift from the first part of his argument: "Over time, people have better understood the nature of mankind and tuned their religious institutions in accordance with the better understanding. "

What is this "nature of mankind" that yields liberal progressive religions and societies? This is an alluring primitivistic idea with no basis in science or history. The notion requires a leap of faith (i.e. a conclusion unsupported by reason) that the deeper "nature of mankind" is better than it appears on the surface so that when this nature is "better understood" progress is made.

Con also writes, "Religion did not make a leap of faith to positing morality. Religion discovered morality in the same way that atheists discovered it, by evolving society to better conform to human nature." I have read enough about prehistory to know (i) prehistorians rebel at the very label of "prehistory" and (ii) no adequate data exists to know whether the religious egg came before the moral chicken. This is a guess, without evidence, nothing more.

However, the important point here is to note Con's faith in some kernel of "human nature." Societies have evolved to better conform to this undefined kernel and progress results.

Con summarizes :

"1. Morality derives from the nature of mankind."
I have discussed why Con uses the phrase "nature of mankind" as a primitivistic ideal. After 100K year or so we "better understand" this "nature of mankind," so society improves. This premise is false.

"2. Religions derive morality from human nature, then claim that whatever they are doing was derived from religious faith."
Again note the appeal to a deep "human nature" as the motivating force for morals. No proof is provided.

"3. Atheists and theists end up with similar moral principles because both derive them the same way, albeit imperfectly."
I agree there are similar moral principles but only because there is a similar core of faith which cannot (and has not in this debate) been supported by logic.

"4. Therefore no leap of faith is required by atheists, nor do atheists make a leap of faith."
If no leap is required, you have to know what you are stepping on to get from point A (we are beasts driven by instinct) to point B (it is wrong to kill three people even if you believe you are saving the world).

Counter summary:

1.There is nothing in man's genetic makeup, or the "nature of mankind" which affords a basis that humanity's existence or interrelationships matters.

2.If humanity does not matter to some higher power, for some higher principle or simply as a matter of faith, we could destroy humanity and no wrong would be done. We could destroy a subset of the population based on an arbitrary criteria and no wrong has been done. We can override societal and genetic imperatives without fear of having done wrong.

Nihilism this way cometh.
RoyLatham

Con

I gave elaborate examples to show why morality is species-dependent, but Pro claims I presented no evidence. I gave multiple historical examples of religion evolving to eliminate things like human sacrifice, slavery, and the divine right of kings; but Pro clams I offered no evidence. I cited the instinctual conflicts between tribe (society) and individual rights (self-preservation) and gave examples of people willingly tolerating pain (e.g. from physicians) due to belief in authority. Pro claimed I gave no evidence.

I don't insist that Pro find my evidence compelling. If he does not find it compelling, he should present counter-examples and arguments as to his view leads to better generalizations. I strongly object to his ignoring the evidence I presented and claiming I presented nothing. He is not debating; he is preaching.

Pro skeptically questions "Our importance is, therefore, merely a state of mind. If we only matter to our own internal architecture, what is the loss if humanity winks out of existence? Our non-existence would not matter because we only matter to ourselves and we would no longer be here to care." The short answer is "Yes." Some theists might rebut, "Surely God cares." That is true only if a god exists, which is possible, and if it is part of the nature of that particular god to care. Possibly there are alien beings from Vega who patrol the universe and have a nature of also caring. It's possible. Similarly, humans care about the welfare of some creatures because it is in our nature to care. We care a whole lot about whales and not a whit about paramecium. That relative amount of caring does not derive from theoretical logical derivations or from the theory of the creatures, it comes from our nature. We happen to relate better to large warm-blooded creatures.

Back to the nitty-gritty, I reduced the argument to four propositions.

1. Morality derives from the nature of mankind.

Pro rebuts that this claim is "a primitivistic ideal." Primitivism is the belief that early cultures are better http://dictionary.reference.com...; I am arguing the opposite, that modern cultures are evolving to improve. Is there any question that mankind has a nature? We have very different natural tendencies from other species. For our discussion the most important characteristic are simultaneous instincts to preserve ourselves, out families, and our tribes. Those characteristics are, for example, distinct from tigers, who meet only to mate. We are social animals.

Consider:

". . . some species that, while unable to create structures to live in, have extremely advanced social organizations and relationships. Gorillas, dolphins, orcas, and wolves are just a few notable examples of these creatures, all of which are so distinctly human-like in some of their behavior that they've been said to have their own cultures. ... All these animals have in common that they rarely, if ever, 'go it alone.' ... Each of these species move about their surroundings with a territorial purpose, and defend what they deem as rightfully their own. They defend the members of their social grouping, and they care for their young, old, and sick. They use babysitters, they have affairs, they have deadbeat fathers and even the occasional runaway bride. They mourn their recently departed." http://webecoist.com...

There are endless examples of moral principles being derived from those instincts. More properly, moral principles derive as rules for resolving conflicts among instincts. "Thou shalt not steal" and "thou shalt not murder" resolve the self-preservation instinct with the tribal instinct. Extreme self-preservation, self-defense, and extreme tribal defense, war, arise as important special cases that engender special rules.

The Declaration of Independence attributed morality to a Creator. But how did the Founders know what the Creator wanted morality to be? The authors were Deists, so they did not believe God passed down rules as scripture. Rather moral principles were "self-evident." Madison said that the Constitution was derived entirely from "natural law," meaning observation of the nature of mankind.

2. Religions derive morality from human nature

Pro claimed I provided no proof. I gave significant examples of religion evolving. In his opening statement, Pro admitted that moral rules could be derived as self-evident. I have added the examples of the American Founders deriving morality as self-evident. He should address his previous admission as well as the evidence I presented rather than rote denial.

3. Atheists and theists end up with similar moral principles because both derive them the same way

Pro claims, "I agree there are similar moral principles but only because there is a similar core of faith which cannot (and has not in this debate) been supported by logic." In the previous round I argued that common principles cannot be derived from leap of faith, because a leap of faith can take you anywhere. Leaps of faith have in fact led to belief in human sacrifice, believe that slavery is morally correct, and belief in the divine right of kings. So why have many things once thought morally mandated as a consequence of faith now become morally prohibited as a result of faith? I say it is because the beliefs were discovered to be inconsistent with having a good society. If that is not case, then Pro should say why faith changed. He cannot point to logic or society, because his whole point is that it is necessary to make a leap of faith that ignores logic and experience.

I explained the the Milgram, et al experiments in terms of conflicting instincts for self-preservation and for conforming to group authority. People have conflicting tendencies to be resolved. Pro should explain why, if everyone has faith in the ultimate value of human life, virtually everyone failed the test of the experiments. He claims that all but nihilists have faith, then cites as proof that almost no one has the faith he claims.

4. Therefore no leap of faith is required by atheists, nor do atheists make a leap of faith.

Pro rebuts, "If no leap is required, you have to know what you are stepping on to get from point A (we are beasts driven by instinct) to point B (it is wrong to kill three people even if you believe you are saving the world)." Point A is clearly well-established. We have instincts for preserving self, family, and tribe. We do not know where that will lead the outset. We try steps in different directions and eventually accept what works. Slavery, once believed moral, is now believed immoral. Since atheists need not pretend to know where a leap will end, they need not make one. Note the Pro seems to assert that he knows "it is wrong to kill three people even if you believe you are saving the world." He used that as the common destination at which every leap must land. Very few people would agree.

1. "There is nothing in man's genetic makeup, or the "nature of mankind" which affords a basis that humanity's existence or interrelationships matters."

Agreed, there is nothing that makes man's existence matter beyond man. It suffices that humans care about humanity as a whole. Is there any doubt that man is inherently familial and tribal? I know of none. that is why interrelationships count.

2. If humanity does not matter to some higher power, for some higher principle or simply as a matter of faith, we could destroy humanity and no wrong would be done . . . We could destroy a subset of the population based on an arbitrary criteria and no wrong has been done."

Nonsense. We are both self-preserving and social, therefore it matters to us at a very basic level. It suffices that our species cares about humanity.

==============

Evolution occurs only under stress. That is why morality has evolved with the challenges of modern society.
Debate Round No. 3
Haezed

Pro

Con stated, "Over time, people have better understood the nature of mankind and tuned their religious institutions in accordance with the better understanding."

Con thereby posits a progression of morality as our species better understands the nature of our species. Con continues, "Madison said that the Constitution was derived entirely from ‘natural law,' meaning observation of the nature of mankind."

Con appears to assume that all of the founders were Deists not Theists; therefore, he feels free to skip past the phrase, "we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men were endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. . . ."

As I suspect Con knows, the founder's views were influenced by John Locke. "Thomas Jefferson was accused of copying the Declaration of Independence from Locke's Treatise of Government. Jefferson denied this, but he was undoubtedly familiar with Locke's treatise and the principles laid out there in, which were in common circulation at the time." J. Locke, The Second Treatise of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration, Forward (Dover 2002).

Locke's Second Treatise begins with the story of Adam, talks about Cain and Able and clearly uses Theology as his foundation for the idea of "The State of Nature:"

"For men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker – all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business – they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his not one another's pleasure. …."

Con posits a preexisting "nature of mankind" which is driving a progressive society as mankind "better understands" its own nature. Apparently, this kernel of nature is embedded in us all, there for the understanding, and has been there since the first humans evolved.

Con's citation of progress in the last 10% or 1% of mankind's existence does nothing to make his point. To support his point, he would require evidence from prehistory, i.e. the tens of thousands of years which precede his examples. The antiquity of humanity was unknown to Locke or America's founding fathers.

I made clear in my argument that Con cannot provide any evidence from prehistory which would support Con's premise that progress results from a better understanding from some preexisting or innate nature of mankind. It was in this context, obviously, that I said Con had no evidence on point.

Con states, "In his opening statement, Pro admitted that moral rules could be derived as self-evident." I certainly did not intend to argue self-evident truths can be derived. If they could be derived, they would not need to be self-evident. Given the label of this debate, it is obvious I argued that the self-evident truth we are discussing requires faith and, therefore, cannot be derived from logic.

Con states he has now added the example of the founders deriving morality as self-evident. Whatever the founder's internal subjective thoughts (which no doubt were influenced by Locke without the benefit of any knowledge of prehistory), when it came to articulating the basis for liberty to the fledgling nation, they relied on the existence of a Creator.

I am not saying the founders were correct. I am saying let's skip the middle man and simply recognize that we all have a faith of sorts which says, "we matter." We don't know why but something is transpiring on the third rock from the sun which merits continuation. Let's just have faith that this fact is true because this fact cannot be derived. It, therefore, must be declared as self-evident whether or not endowed by a Creator.

Con declares a view which is not operative: I asked, "If we only matter to our own internal architecture, what is the loss if humanity winks out of existence? Our non-existence would not matter because we only matter to ourselves and we would no longer be here to care." Con admits, "the short answer is ‘Yes.'" I do not think this is the typical view of atheists. They may bandy it about in insular groups such as on Dawkin's board but which of them would argue this as a rational position in a public forum that is not anonymous. Any exception, again, proves the rule.

A question Con never adequately answers, is why it would be wrong to override our own genetic hard coding. What was wrong with the Unabomber's conduct?

Con poses a question which is difficult on the surface: "Pro should explain why, if everyone has faith in the ultimate value of human life, virtually everyone failed the test of the experiments. He claims that all but nihilists have faith, then cites as proof that almost no one has the faith he claims."

This is the paradox. I personally cannot find faith in religion. Nor could I find faith in some Lockean notion of natural law, after it has been stripped of its religion. In light of Milgram, I cannot believe there is some hidden, slowly revealing pure core of "human nature" which will lead us to the Promised Land.

Yet, I choose to believe humanity matters. I think most of us do even though it is illogical. If it were logical, I would not be operating by faith.

Dr. Janna Levin, a physicist at Columbia University, writes on the subject of free will in her book How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space:

"We're self-referential. Computers are not. So computers are neither sentient nor animate and have no free will. [Pulitzer prize winning author Dr. Douglas] Hofstadter believes that out of the tangled hierarch emerges a sense of will and, ultimately, human creativity. I'm not sure how to take this, but I'm happy with any ray of hope that I might find a notion of free will I could believe in without lying to myself. Despite the fear that it strikes in my heart, I still live my life with the persistent illusion of not only free will but also responsibility. I still hold myself accountable, and others. But I don't believe it intellectually. Nor do I not believe it. I'm agnostic on the issue of human will and freedom."

Dr. Levin's angst over the free will issue is palpable but she seems to have made a conscious choice to put the issue behind her and act (assuming in circular fashion that she has the free will to "act" to do anything) as if she has free will. She wills herself to act as if she had free will and hold herself and others accountable. Despite the protestations of agnosticism on the question of free will, this is an excellent example of the operation of irreligious faith. The claim is internally illogical and works only on the level of faith.

I argued, "If humanity does not matter to some higher power, for some higher principle or simply as a matter of faith, we could destroy humanity and no wrong would be done . . . We could destroy a subset of the population based on an arbitrary criteria and no wrong has been done."

Con declares, "nonsense" because we are programmed to be both self-preserving and social. That we matter only to ourselves, Pro contends is enough.

Note that Con provides no reasoned argument as to why mattering to ourselves bootstraps us into mattering at all. This is particularly odd because Con seemed to concede, earlier in his argument, that it would not matter if humanity winked entirely out of existence. If it would not matter at all if the whole is destroyed, why does it matter if a mere portion of the whole is destroyed? Illogical.

Also, whether humanity proves ultimately to be self-preserving is very much in doubt in this coming century. Rather than trying to better understand our "human nature" which I view as brutal and reptilian, we desperately must find another path.

Finally, Pro's first paragraph is inaccurate in many respects. I have shown how one of his examples takes my argument about prehistory out of context. It would not further this debate to analyze the remaining words in that paragraph.
RoyLatham

Con

Pro says, "I contend that all but the nihilist shares faith. Faith in the value of individual human life and dignity flows from philosophy or is accepted as self-evident. Humanities' common faith ..." and "... the type of faith I am describing guides the way we live. Faith in a higher power (i.e. God) or faith in a higher principle ("we hold these truths to be self-evident…") are operative. Indeed, these types of higher faith, if you will, guide much of our lives." Pro thus began by contending that personal morality derives from a leap of faith. Pro claimed that no matter how derived, everyone ends at he same place, putting paramount value on human life.

Pro's claim that everyone leaps to the same morality is false. People do not uniformly place the highest value on human life. They will sacrifice themselves for personal or group causes, and they will take great risks to protect their societies. To what degree they value life and for what ends varies greatly. What we observe is not a leap to a common morality, but a gradual evolution towards it. Human sacrifice is gone; slavery has been well purged; and authoritarian rule is at least in decline. It has all happened by increments, not leaps.

A leap of faith can go in any direction, but theists are generally moving towards the consensus of social evolution. The direction is determined by human instincts, not revelation. We see different types of moral behavior in other species. By "moral behavior" in that context, I mean "rules that describe the way they live," which is what Pro sought. Animal behavior parallels human behavior for a number of social species, and we may assume it was instinct, not leaps of faith, that got them their rules. For humans as well, the basic patterns of behavior are determined by instinct.

The details of the moral rules evolve with society. Pro supposes that social evolution did not occur in pre-history, and that its not occurring in prehistory undermines the case that it occurs at all. Because we only know things in prehistory that are deduced from bones and artefacts, we cannot say much about how social evolution occurred. Pro's claim it did not occur is there for unsupported by hard evidence. We do know that a great deal of social evolution has occurred in historical times, because we have observed it. I cited a number of examples, like Christianity reversing its position on slavery from slavery being immoral to its being moral. The fact that social evolution has occurred defeats any argument that it could not have occurred.

The physiology of creatures only evolves in response to environmental pressure. Horseshoe crabs have not evolved in 300 million years because nothing in their limited environment changed enough to change them. If humans lived in small tribes in pre-history, then there would be no need for their morality to change. Whatever rules they developed would continue to operate adequately to cope with their static social environment. We can image that moral rules might be challenged by environmental change, particularly as humans migrated to different terrain and climates. However, social evolution in prehistory is speculative.

The rise of civilizations around 10,000 years ago certainly put stress on the rules for living that sufficed for wandering independent small tribes. No society made a leap to new set of rules, rather many things were tried, and slowly some rules emerged as sound and enduring. Others have continued to evolve to cope with new possibilities and new social challenges posed by the size of the population and the technologically-developed tools for coping.

Pro objects, "In light of Milgram, I cannot believe there is some hidden, slowly revealing pure core of 'human nature' which will lead us to the Promised Land." I did not claim that thee was a pure core of human nature hat would lead us to a moral ideal. I said that instincts favoring preservation of the self, family, and society are often in conflict in the situations posed by modern society. Moreover, human reasoning ability allows consideration values relative to the short term and the long term. Therefore we have moral issues that are not easily resolved, and the best we can do is craft consensus compromises. Advances in technology change the issues and introduce new ones. For example, there were no moral issues related to cloning or maintaining a person on life support before cloning or life support existed.

The lack of a leap of faith explains why moral problems exist and often have no clear resolution. If Pro's claim of a common leap of faith were true, we would have common resolutions of moral issues.

Pro argues, "I certainly did not intend to argue self-evident truths can be derived. If they could be derived, they would not need to be self-evident." The laws of nature, for example, are self-evident, but nonetheless derived. Newton derived "force equals mass times acceleration" by observing nature and deducing the principle from observation. The formula F = m*a was not found carved on a cliff; that's not what self-evident means. Similarly, the Founders derived the moral principles in the founding documents from observing mankind.

All of the key founders, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin were Deists. They "sold" the concepts using religion. The basic argument was "All religious revelations must agree with the nature of man as observed, therefore these principles cannot be in conflict with your particular religion." That reflects the Deist belief that God made the world, but left it to man to discover moral principles. Refer to the book by Gaustaud http://www.amazon.com... for the primary sources. Atheist may similarly derive morality as self-evident, without making the assumption of a Creator.

If something requires a leap of faith, it is certainly not self-evident.

Pro references a discussion of free will that points out that computers, unlike humans, are not self-referential. That discussion is irrelevant to the current debate. I posed thought experiments relative to the topic. I asked what morality would be developed for hypothetical intelligent creatures with the basic instincts of, say, a praying mantis, a cod fish, or a bear. I asked what morality a computer that mimicked human intelligence could develop if it lacked any inbred or programmed instinctual drives. A subjectively conscious computer may or may not be possible, but that is irrelevant to the point I'm making: morality is only defined relative to genetic coding.

Pro argues "Note that Con provides no reasoned argument as to why mattering to ourselves bootstraps us into mattering at all." For x "to matter" with respect to an outcome y means that changing x produces a change in y. Thus a self-preservation instinct matters for human morality. It makes self-defense morally permissible, for example. There is no "bootstrapping" required for instinctive motivation to matter to humans. Instincts matter directly because of human nature.

Pro says, "whether humanity proves ultimately to be self-preserving is very much in doubt in this coming century." This irrelevant. People try not to get into car wrecks because they are concerned with their well-being. The nonetheless get into car wrecks through errors. With advanced technology maybe errors of a few humans will wipe out the species.

Pro wants some transcendental basis of human morality that would be compelling to space aliens and other species. That doesn't exist. He will never find explanations adequate because they do not meet his preconception.

No faith is required to affirm morality derived from and consistent with human nature. Modern society challenges conflicting instincts, but resolutions are found as a product of social evolution, not by leaps of faith.
Debate Round No. 4
Haezed

Pro

Con's definition of moral nihilism in the second round: "The moral nihilist believes that moral questions have no meaning."

From this definition flows a criterion for deciding your vote: Has Con provided a rational basis for believing that moral questions have meaning without any form of faith?

If not, Con loses. If so, Con wins because the resolution presumes only two alternatives: faith or nihilism. Con must provide another rational alternative.

Con would decide moral issues by asking two slightly different questions (the "Con's Questions"):

1."Is that action in accord the normal behavior of the human species?" or
2."Is that person's genetically coded software operating to the specifications for the species?"

There is not a rational basis for concluding that Con's Questions have meaning. Application of Con's Questions would find that every action consistent with either normal behavior of the species or our genetic code is, by definition, moral. Con, of course, emphasizes lines of the code like survival instincts while ignoring reptilian coding which is not as warm and fuzzy.

If all actions we are programmed to perform are moral, questions about morality become meaningless. For that matter, despite my repeated challenges, Con has failed to explain why acting outside of the norm or the genetic code, as did the Unabomber, would be immoral. Reductio ad absurdum, all actions are moral. Con has has provided only nihilistic alternatives to faith.

In an attempt to put some meaning in the broth, Con hints that there is something inside of that code, a kernel of human nature, not entirely pure, but which tilts humanity towards a better society.

It is in this context that Con argues that "self-evident" truths can be "derived." Con ignores my evidence that Jefferson was accused of copying these concepts from Locke, whereas Locke based his Second Treatise firmly on religious grounds. Even here, who cares if the founding fathers had said something entirely different so long as one of Con's Questions is answered positively?

In the end, Con has not improved his initial bare position: morals questions, for Con, answer the Con Questions. How can we know Con's second question regarding genetic coding is true? We just now decoded the genome only to reveal more complexity. An atheist insisting on empirical evidence should wait to understand our software/genome before making such any argument based on genetic structure.

By his own definition, Con must find something "meaningful" embedded in the evolution of life on this planet both biologically and culturally. I agree there is something meaningful happening on this planet but refuse to put a name on it without evidence. I am completely agnostic but have faith (i.e. choose to act as if) how we treat each other matters.

Con states, "Pro supposes that social evolution did not occur in pre-history, and that it's not occurring in prehistory undermines the case that it occurs at all." Con attempted to argue from recorded history that social progress is linked to a better understanding of human nature. One of my responses was that there is a lack of empirical data for the vast majority of human history. I made no assumptions as to what that data would reveal and neither should Con.

Con argues, "Human sacrifice is gone; slavery has been well purged; and authoritarian rule is at least in decline." Why is it meaningful whether one genetically coded entity is enslaved to another? Using the Con Questions, anti-slavery advocates were acting immorally against what had been the "normal behavior of the species" since history began. Anti-slavery advocates wanted to act in one great leap of change instead of moving in small increments.

Further, there is no basis for making any conclusion as to the general direction of history. We have less chance of knowing in 2009 what will happen in the next fifty years than did Americans in 1909. Those Americans saw trench warfare, a rise of Eugenics, racial genocide, the rape of Nanking, indiscriminate bombing of civilians, the Holocaust and the birth of nuclear weaponry. We may well live in a temporal and spatial oasis which will not hold.

I have never contended that people act in lockstep with their faith although they do typically act as if human life matters. When put up against their genetic coding, some may still drive the trains to Treblinka or turn up the dial for a Milgram.

Faith's failing in moments of crisis does not deny its ultimate power. We learn from Milgram. Eugenics, considered a viable science, died in 1945. Even as there are Schindlers, Scholls and Sendlers, there are the survivors, the repentant, all of us who viewed the films of death on an industrial scale who knew viscerally and with utter certainty, "evil was here." With this knowledge, comes determination, "never again" even as it happens again in Cambodia and Darfur.

However Con wants to slice this point, the world did not see the Holocaust and shrug its collective shoulders, only to say, "There goes that damn genetic coding again."

Noting that complex moral questions are arising from emerging technologies, Con proclaims, "If Pro's claim of a common leap of faith were true, we would have common resolutions of moral issues." Hardly. From the core faith that humanity matters, we have certain universals: The birth of a child is a cause for great joy. The Holocaust was a great evil. Sendler should have been given the Nobel Prize, not Gore. (But I digress…) From this commonality, reasonable minds will differ on complex issues.

Con believes the self-evident inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness can be derived without faith much as Newton derived physical laws from observing the operation of inanimate objects. Con does not actually apply the Con Questions to derive the proposition that all men are endowed by their genetic coding and subsequent societal evolution, with certain rights, which are never for sale. Con's Newton analogy is inapt.

Con emphasizes that the founders were Deists. Consider what deists of the 18th Century actually believed. Such deists would not have known of evolution or even of the antiquity of humanity. An 18th Century deist would see a divine hand directly behind what exists and had always existed for a mere 10K years or so.

Ignoring Locke as Con repeatedly does (and must), the divine hand would only recently have been removed from Its creation. This is a powerful faith.

Con concludes: "Pro wants some transcendental basis of human morality that would be compelling to space aliens and other species. . . . No faith is required to affirm morality derived from and consistent with human nature."

Actually, Pro wants Con to satisfy Con's own definitions. A nihilist believes moral questions have no meaning. How meaningful is this contention: "Morality is only defined relative to genetic coding." Genetic coding matters because, Con says, "For x ‘to matter' with respect to an outcome y means that changing x produces a change in y. Thus a self-preservation instinct matters for human morality. It makes self-defense morally permissible, for example."

Therefore, any action caused by genetic coding, "matters" and is therefore, somehow, moral? Con provides no basis for distinguishing between good and evil, right or wrong, moral or immoral. Con's Questions have no meaning.

I never contended genetic coding does not influence humanity; however, the mere fact that our genome defines our predispositions, Con posits, wins the argument. Operate according to your programming, obey the latest cultural evolution and, bingo, you are moral.

The voting criterion is whether Con has presented a rational basis for believing that "moral questions have meaning." Because Con failed to meet this burden, I affirm the resolution.

[I thank Con for the fun and interesting debate. I hope he and persevering others enjoyed it as m
RoyLatham

Con

Pro claims that morality requires a leap of faith. I pointed out that leaps of faith go in unpredictable directions, so leaps of faith have taken people to believing that moral behavior comprises slavery, human sacrifice, jihad, and genocide. Pro explains that those products of faith are subordinate to the one critical leap of faith that everyone supposedly makes. That leap is that "humanity matters."

All social animals behave as if their species matters. Deer, elephants, monkeys, wolves, and orcas, to name a few, have collective behaviors that protect their groups. "Deer matter" is ingrained in deer, "elephants matter" is ingrained in elephants, and so forth. References I cited show that the behaviors of social animals mirror the behavior of the human species to a remarkable degree, down to the occurrence of wayward individuals within the group. Social animals other than man cannot articulate their rules of behavior as "beliefs," but the equivalent of moral rules clearly governs behavior nonetheless. No one contends that social animals are deriving their equivalent of moral rules by leaps of faith. It follows that no leap of faith is required, that rules of behavior are determined by instinct.

Mankind has complex instincts providing for protection of the self, the family, and his society. Moreover, man can consider whether something that seems beneficial in the short run is harmful in the long run, or whether in fact it is really beneficial at all. Man must make trade offs among his instinctual allegiances while attempting to reason the true effects of actions. The largely static tribal environment of prehistory has been displaced by the complex challenges of the rises of civilization. Hence we have to evolve new rules of morality to deal with the complicated relationships.

Pro claims that only a "leap of faith" resolves the Milgram experiments, in which an authority figure directs a subject to apparently torture a victim (actually an actor) in another room with electric shocks. I pointed out that since many people complied with direction from the authority, the leap of faith that Pro supposes as universal did not exist. Pro proclaimed that outcome a paradox. The outcome is completely consistent with my model of attempting to reason a resolution among conflicting instincts. It's at once reasonable to trust a university researcher giving instructions, and yet it conflicts with the instinct not to harm others.

Recall the Pro already opted out of his supposed leap of faith operating even at the level of human sacrifice or other atrocities. It could not therefore be applied at the level of the Milgram experiment. It turns out that the leap of faith accepting that "humanity matters." which is supposed to be the entire necessary basis of morality, has no operative consequences at all. It did not in fact stop Milgram subjects from torture, and more than it stops atrocities committed under assorted errant leaps of faith.

Pro argues, "If all actions we are programmed to perform are moral, questions about morality become meaningless. For that matter, despite my repeated challenges, Con has failed to explain why acting outside of the norm or the genetic code, as did the Unabomber, would be immoral." Notice that Pro acknowledged that the Unabomber acted outside of the norm. If whether something is outside of the norm for the species is a moral question, then Pro asked a meaningful moral question, and he answered it. My claim is that acting according to the norm for the species is the definition of morality. Pro had no trouble acknowledging that behaviors occur outside the norm and judging them as such, per the case of the Unabomber.

Pro cannot complain that I have failed to provide the meaning of moral questions, nor that the meaning leads to answers. He implicitly acknowledges that I've done that. His objection has to be that defining "morality" to mean "action in accord the normal behavior of the human species" is not the correct definition of morality. The arguments I presented in support of my claim included:

1. We can perform thought experiments on defining morality for supposed intelligent creatures having different instincts from human. For praying mantis instincts, morality would have to allow the female to consume her mate after mating. For codfish, morality would have to allow eating the offspring. If we did not allow those behaviors as moral, the species would be endangered, and every species has the instinct to survive.

2. Moral questions that are difficult for us to resolve can be well-understood in terms of competing instincts. Thus I could readily explain the Milgram experiment, while Pro's leap of faith hypothesis leaves it a paradox.

3. There are many easy questions of morality that straightforwardly explained by moral being in conformance to instinct. For example, self-defense being morally permissible derives directly from recognition of the instinct for self-preservation.

Pro says, "Con, of course, emphasizes lines of the code like survival instincts while ignoring reptilian coding which is not as warm and fuzzy." What is it about reptilian behavior that is *not* warm and fuzzy? It is, of course, survival behavior -- which Pro just proclaimed to be warm and fuzzy. Keep in mind that Pro proclaimed immoral behavior to be a paradox, because it did not follow from his idea that everyone took a leap of faith to the warm and fuzzy place that "humanity matters." I have no problem explaining behaviors as aberrant or a consequence of conflicting instincts.

Pro sometimes implies that I am claiming that all behavior is programmed, and he sometimes supposes I must be implying that all behavior is therefore moral. I made it clear that I believe that there is a norm for the species and that immoral behavior was departure from the norm. Every person has a unique genetic code, so that provides inherent variation, and every person runs his code in a different environment: the garbage in, garbage out principle. Pro provided the Unabomber as an example of departure from the norm.

Pro protests that I did not derive specific human rights from the nature of man during the course of this debate. Rather than attempting that myself, I referenced the Founders, who did so and proclaimed them "self-evident." Pro says that Deists believed in God, and implies that supports his case that they were derived from faith. I said quite plainly that Deists believed in God. However, the Deists did not believe in scripture or revelation. Thus the only way to know God's will was through "natural law," meaning observation. The observation is the same whether or not one believes God was the origin of it or not. A Deist would say that F = m*a because that is the way that God designed the universe, but the only way to learn F = m*a is by observation. At that point God is irrelevant.

The Founders may have gotten some inspiration from Locke, but my book-length reference makes the Deist beliefs of the Founders abundantly clear, and they are as I have summarized. They derive rights from observation of mankind.

Pro supposes I am saying, "Operate according to your programming, obey the latest cultural evolution and, bingo, you are moral." Pro omits the lengthy explanations I gave for the existence of unresolved and difficult moral conflicts, and for new moral question arising from advances in technology. Nonetheless, there are clear moral and questions and many of them have clear answers, and those are readily derived from the nature of mankind.

Pro claims that morality is ultimately determined by a leap of faith. But given the wild leaps of faith that have occurred taking morality to embrace slavery and human sacrifice, leaps of faith resolve virtually no moral questions. Pro claims it gives us "humanity matters," but nothing of consequence follows from it.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 5
25 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Haezed 7 years ago
Haezed
Here's a clue: Your saying that normal behavior et al is the sum and extent of human morality does not make it so. Your claiming that you provided an argument as to why the unabomber's conduct was immoral does not mean that you did.

The truth is you did exactly what you accuse me of doing. You argue by fiat, making arrogant proclomations without bothering to think.

I attacked your "normal behavior" argument directly and your responses were meandering and obtuse. You consistently failed to fairly meet the substance of my argument, instead repeating yourself continually.

If I hadn't given you a substantive response, why did you spend so many words responding? Why didn't you instead simply say, "refer to my third full pargraph of round 1 which addressed this point?"

If this debate went no where it is because your "normal behavior" argument is sophomoric. I have debated many atheists who have come up with far a more convincing basis for morality that this tripe which is a bridge to nowhere.

I actually make a living through argumentation, earned my college bill by debating and generally know that blazing arrogance does not win arguments.

The debate speaks for itself. Quit trying to respin what you refuse to understanding.

I know better than to engage in discussion with you in the future.

Good bye.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
In the final round, you said, "If all actions we are programmed to perform are moral, questions about morality become meaningless. For that matter, despite my repeated challenges, Con has failed to explain why acting outside of the norm or the genetic code, as did the Unabomber, would be immoral." I explained it redundantly by proposing and defending the concept that normal behavior defines morality and giving the reasons why there are departures from the norm.

A rebuttal that engaged in debate would cite the arguments I made and attempt to counter them. For example, you could start with something like, "The thought experiments that claim to show that morality is species dependent does not eliminate the need for a leap of faith because ..." that never happened. Right to the end, you claimed I presented no arguments at all. I made two other arguments, that the claimed universal leap of faith was clearly not universal, and that leaps of faith are arbitrary and often errant, so they cannot be a common basis for morality. But you insisted that no explanations were ever given.

I have no objection to not finding my arguments convincing -- that's why we have debates. But to claim that I never offered any reasons oe explanations is rote denial, and a pointless waste of time.
Posted by Haezed 7 years ago
Haezed
To say there was no more meaning in the debate than you could gather from debating a flat earther is insulting and shows that you are engaged in dishonest hyperbole.

I showed how one example of your "no evidence" tantrum disingenuosly took my words out of context. I could have gone on had I wished to take the debate down that low path on which you now tread.

The notion that I engaged in rote denial is stupidly surreal.

I suspect you didn't like the actual outcome although I do not dispute you may have failed to learn a thing from the debate. That, however, was your choice.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
I did not like debate. You did not engage in debate, only rote denial. It's like debating someone who claims the earth is flat. After presenting all the evidence that the earth is round, the opponent just says repeatedly, "You have presented no evidence the world is round." That's not a debate, it is just a waste of time. Five lengthy rounds of that is a major waste of time.
Posted by Haezed 7 years ago
Haezed
I still enjoyed the contest and thank you for the battle.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
Not many people or going to read a debate that long. I suggest just reading the final Round.
Posted by Haezed 7 years ago
Haezed
*cricket sounds*
Posted by Haezed 7 years ago
Haezed
Okay, I now get that a five round debate is grueling! Anyway, as my truncated last sentence tried to say, thank you Con for the debate. I look forward to your reply!

Jim
Posted by Haezed 7 years ago
Haezed
"Because he is so loud about his atheism, he is considered a figurehead in the atheist movement."

I retract my comment if it implied he was the "best" atheist. On the other hand, I don't have have a problem with loud. I think our society needed a loud "emperor has no clothes" declaration.

Maybe I just like the way Brits sound. I like the man.

Jim

PS: RoyLatham, I agree wholeheartedly!
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
But even then, Dennett isn't the best figurehead (though out of the 4 most popular atheists, he is). I'd say people like Richard Carrier and especially Quentin Smith just demolish religion in their articles. Demolish.
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by dogparktom 7 years ago
dogparktom
HaezedRoyLathamTied
Agreed with before the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Agreed with after the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Who had better conduct:-Vote Checkmark-1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:-Vote Checkmark-1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:-Vote Checkmark-2 points
Total points awarded:07 
Vote Placed by Haezed 7 years ago
Haezed
HaezedRoyLathamTied
Agreed with before the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:Vote Checkmark--2 points
Total points awarded:70 
Vote Placed by Xer 7 years ago
Xer
HaezedRoyLathamTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:03 
Vote Placed by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
HaezedRoyLathamTied
Agreed with before the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Agreed with after the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Who had better conduct:-Vote Checkmark-1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:-Vote Checkmark-1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:-Vote Checkmark-2 points
Total points awarded:07