The Most Reliable Basis For Determining Morality Is Via Secular Means
Debate Rounds (5)
Morality - What we consider to be right or wrong
Secularism - actions and thinking that are derived from a non-religious standpoint.
Whoever decides to take up the role of "Con" in this debate, Pro requests of Con that that the debate follow this format:
Round 1 - Acceptance, as well as Con briefly clarifying their position, as well as, if they deem it necessary, adding any further definitions to other terms Con may wish to include within the debate as part of their arguments.
Round 2 - Opening arguments with no clash
Rounds 3 and 4 - Clash
Round 5 - Clash and Conclusion
The Burden of Proof is shared, and Pro also requesting of Con that we both ensure that whatever arguments we present follow are coherent and abide by good spelling and grammar. Incidentally, if Con is not British, I hope they'll forgive me for the fact that some of my spelling will be markedly different from American English. Pro also requests that we steer clear of trolling and ad hominem attacks.
Finally, Con must demonstrate that there is in fact a more reliable basis for determining morality than the secular method, and Pro expects that just as Pro intends to use very much reliable sources to support their position, that Con will do likewise.
I look forward to the debate, whoever decides to take it on.
I accept. My opponent is pretty new here, so welcome to the site!
I'm not going to do my usual speel about how shared BOP is impossible - it gets quite boring. Since we're both making constructive cases anyway, I suggested to my opponent that I assume the full BOP, to which they accepted. If you're one of those purists who thinks BOP should always be on Pro, then that's fine too, it's up to you. In general this debate should be judged on which of us made a more convincing argument for our position.
I'm going to very loosely define this word as "a good idea to rely upon", and take this topic to mean that pro is affirming secularism to have a better system of morality than religion, where better is measured by whether the outcomes that morality generates are beneficial or not.
In the comments pro defined reliable - after I accepted - as "how dependable such a thing is". Dependable is usually defined as "trustworthy" (http://www.thefreedictionary.com...) meaning "worthy of trust" meaning "a good idea to rely upon", so it seems like we're on the same page.
Pro offered the following additional definitions, so I'll add in those. I think they're ok, and I don't expect too much of this to focus on semantics.
Most Reliable - the aspect that we have the highest ability to depend on.
Basis - How much support and foundation there is for this argument
Determining - Making a decision
Means - The methods we use.
Just so that my opponent can avoid making an argument at cross purposes to mine, I will not be arguing religious morality is any better than secular morality, but rather that religious and secular morality are not any more reliable than each other. I will demonstrate that randomly guessing morality by flipping a coin (ie not derived from anything) is empirically more reliable than both the secular and the religious method.
My opponent has a very strange stipulation that there is to be no clash in round two. I will abide by this insofar as it does not conflict with my substantive arguments (and it is quite possible that a portion of my substantive will be in direct contradiction to a portion of my opponent's substantive). I just thought I'd put this under a heading so that everybody can see it right off the bat and nobody complains that I was slow on rebuttal.
Where I use sources, those sources will be reliable, but those who know my debating style will know I tend to use more logic than evidence. I hope that this will not count against me.
I look forward to the opening round!
My Opponent's Argument
Intriguingly, Con's position is not of religious morality being superior to secular morality, but that the two are no more reliable than each other, and that one can just make a random decision on the matter and it will apparently be more reliable than using either of those methods. I will not lie here: Con has set quite a momentously difficult task for himself. Essentially, the only thing I need do in this debate in order to counter Con is to show that, actually, secular morality does in fact show a considerably better level of results than religious morality or any other kind of decision like the method Con promotes. Because of this, it actually shortens what I would need to write in order to prove my case. So I believe it best to open by dropping a bomb.
The Health Of Societies In Secular And Religious Nations
Right at the get go we see that particularly more "religious" nations perform considerably poorer than nations who are more "secular" in nature (1). Just look at some of these particularly damning quotes:
"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies."
"The study concluded that the US was the world's only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional."
"The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America."
"The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. "
And on and on and on. Similarly, we see something similar with regards to a compilation of studies taken by Phil Zuckerman (2). Lower murder rates not only in more secular nations but also in the more secular states of the United States. Likewise on violent crime. Less divorce rates and domestic violence rates among those of a secular persuasion. Secular people are less likely to engage in unprotected sex. And speaking of sex, when it comes to the religiously inspired abstinence only education against the secular minded comprehensive sex education, there's only one winner, and it's pretty easy to guess which one was well thought out and which one... well... wasn't (3). I believe Con would have a very difficult job of attempting to explain how a coin flip on those kinds of issues would even remotely be the most practical kind of action. Especially on sex, I mean, surely between keeping people ignorant or actually educating people about what sex entails so that we end up seeing less people chastised by Jeremy Kyle/Jerry Springer/Any other talk show or news outlets for being morons and not knowing how to use protection, this kind of thing should be obvious and really not necessitate any kind of "I can't decide so I'll just make a decision at random" situation.
Going back to the Zuckerman study (2), we keep seeing even more stuff that demonstrates the superiority of societies where secular based reasoning has influenced the moralities of those residing there: Greater happiness, a higher percentage of populations donating money and time to poorer nations, a greater willingness to help the oppressed as seen in an excellent example of how the considerably more secularly-minded were more likely to provide aid to the Jews during the holocaust, considerably less support for the "negative" worldviews (nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, dogmatism, ethnocentrism, and authoritarianism) as well as being considerably LESS likely to support government use of torture. I think Con would agree with me that these are all incredibly admirable positions, or at least Con would perhaps agree with me on most of the positions.
Religious Actions That Fall Apart Under Secular Scrutiny
I believe Con would also agree with me that religion (in the form of evidence-free supernatural belief systems) contributes to a lot of the real problems we have in the world today. In addition to what I've already mentioned, religion or religious beliefs is responsible for the following:
-People refusing to take action on climate change (because their deity would never let that happen). (4)
-The Israel/Palestine/rest-of-the-Arab-world mess, even though there are other issues in play too, this is the dominant factor.
-The mobilisation of Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers.
-Catholic officials believing that they were doing the world a favour by concealing paedophiles in order to protect the moral authority of their church.
-Ugandan Christians and many Islamic nations imposing brutal death penalties on gay folks just for being gay.
-The "witch child" persecutions in Africa. (5)
-The abuses of Scientology. (6)
-The horrific case that poor kid in the Dominican Republic to have her leukaemia treatment delayed until a court ruled that her life was more important than the clump of cells occupying her uterus, of which the delay may well have contributed to her death. (7)
-The unbelievable hate campaigns against Jessica Ahlquist (8) and Damon Fowler (9).
I'm pretty sure that Con would agree these are pretty disgusting things, and that anyone thinking rationally would consider these actions to be wrong.
So Why Does This Harm Con's Argument?
Throughout the course of this post we've explored aspects, among other things, like murder, rape, torture, mob justice, child abuse, and discrimination of people of different colours, genders, abilities, religions, and political opinions. Con wants to argue that a "coin toss" provides a more reliable basis for determining morality than what I am promoting, but what Con needs to realise is that those listed scenarios, these represent ten tosses of a coin, and I am pretty sure that both myself and Con don"t want to live in the actual real life societies that have quite clearly gotten one or more of the tosses wrong.
( 1 ) http://www.qcc.cuny.edu...
( 2 ) http://www.pitzer.edu...
( 3 ) http://www.advocatesforyouth.org...
( 4 ) http://www.pfaw.org...
( 5 ) http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com...
( 6 ) http://jezebel.com...
( 7 ) http://www.cbsnews.com...
( 8 ) http://freethoughtblogs.com...
( 9 ) http://freethoughtblogs.com...
I thank my opponent for opening their case, and apologize for the slight delay. They decided to start by dropping a bomb, so I'll up the ante by seeing their bomb and raising them one Hiroshima. Do I get extra credit for bad puns?
There is no good or bad in secular ethics.
Let us start from the presumption that I'm wrong about this. Consider a moral claim. Pro defined morality as "what we consider to be right or wrong" - present tense, future indicative. A moral claim, therefore, is in effect a prediction about the future made in the present and based on a near-future alternative. Pro gave several good examples of moral claims, so I'll just borrow one - "9/11 was bad".
Now how do we know whether that moral claim is true? The validity of any claim can only be tested by excluding all alternative claims, and can only be even determined as probable through the exclusion of some alternative claims. Something is only "certain" when no alternatives can be true. For example, say I come across a body of water. It is possible that it is a bay, but it could be a lake. Only when I circumnavigate it, or possibly just check Google Maps, can I be sure of what it really is. Let's apply that method. So to check whether the claim "9/11 was bad" is true, we need to that the world would be better off if 9/11 had not happened.
The problem with that is that you can't change time. For all we know Family Guy got it right and 9/11 not happening would in fact be way, way worse (not going to source that because it's not "reliable" - but then nothing about morality is). Because we can't change time, moral claims cannot be tested. Because moral claims cannot be tested, it is impossible to say for a certainty whether 9/11 harmed or benefited people more. And because of this, no moral claim can be verified.
Moreover, even if you can somehow prove that 9/11 was bad when it happened relative to the opportunity cost (which we don't know and cannot even reliably predict), that does not imply it will be morally bad for me to do the same thing to any other set of buildings in the future. It's like killing somebody. Most people agree murder is wrong, but what about in war? What about euthanasia? Abortion? Then it's a completely different moral question (and there are hundreds of other examples of "exceptions" like these many people hold). Therefore, morality is generally accepted (although we cannot prove it, just like nothing can be proved with morality) to be context-dependant. Since the world is always changing as time goes on, moral values of individual actions change as well.
And what's more, moral claims are subjectively relative. What I mean by that is that most actions do not merely have "good" or "bad" consequences, but some good and some bad. How important each of those are to us depends, naturally, on who we are. Think 9/11. Was it bad for the average guy who happened to be in the twin towers at the time? You bet. But was it bad for the oil tycoons who benefited from the resulting Iraq war? Well ... maybe, maybe not. Different context means different implications for moral values of actions. Maybe the apocalypse will strike tomorrow and the value of all moral decisions today becomes utterly irrelevant compared to the changed circumstances humanity faces. This is further complicated by the fact humans have competing wants - my conception of a utopia is probably very different from yours, so we probably make quite different moral judgements.
The claim that secularism can "determine" morality is incompatible with secular logic.
The value of a moral claim in religious morality is contingent on the existence of God.
Assuming that God does not exist, every claim pro makes about religious morality does sound pretty shocking, I agree. Assuming God does exist, it sounds like humanity is best off going to heaven earlier (after all, God, being omniscient and all, would know the true value of different moral claims). So religious morality is contingent on the existence of God much like secular morality is contingent upon being able to look into crystal balls.
The existence of God, however, like what secularists see in their crystal balls, can not be logically proven either. That's because if God did exist, then God would be so powerful as to be able to defy logic. Therefore, even if God is logically impossible, God could still exist, for God is not contingent on logic (the reverse, however, is possible - that logic is contingent on God). In laymen's terms, the religious folks can't verify their moral claims any more than the secular folks can. When it comes to the future, both are just as clueless.
Moral systems give absolute answers to relative questions
Any moral system, regardless of where it claims to be "derived" from, gives answers to moral problems. The problem is that moral claims are about uncertainty and things we cannot predict. At issue is whether it is better to give a certain answer to an uncertain problem, or whether we should toss a coin to change our responses to moral questions as they arise.
Aside from Murphy's Law, predicting the unpredictable with any kind of certainty has been empirically proven to be worse than telling a chimp to throw darts (http://healthland.time.com...) while more uncertainty over the future is, unsurprisingly, correlated with making more accurate predictions.
The question is whether giving the same answer to a problem with a chance of being right is better than giving a chance answer. In fact, any strategy for determining the most moral action which involves switching will always yield greater odds of picking good outcomes, provided that there is at least one outcome you would consider bad which you can exclude. In statistics, this is called the Monty Hall problem (http://en.wikipedia.org...), but it's intuitive in this case because the moral systems might advocate those alternatives that are the wrong ones. As a matter of fact, my opponent has provided ample evidence that they do, and that he believes there are "wrong" alternatives (whether this is actually true or not, I'm trying to prove the relative advantage of flipping a coin, relative to my opponent's given assumptions of morality).
Therefore, as we learn more about what we individually define as moral results, our best option is to change our moral actions. Any morality "derived" from a body of axioms - be they based on an absolutist devotion to science like perhaps Sam Harris' secular morality, or an absolutist devotion to God like fans of Nick Cage - give objective moral answers to these subjective problems, and that is why they fail.
I look forward to my opponent's rebuttals.
Re: There is no good or bad in secular ethics.
The first line of attack Con uses is to appeal to 9/11, and ask us how we can know a moral claim surrounding it can be true. Excellent question. What isn't so excellent is Con then going to assert that "nothing about morality is [reliable]". This is plainly not true. And in order to demonstrate this, I'm going to use a considerably more basic example that was used excellently by Matt Dillahunty in his "The Superiority of Secular Morality" lecture (1), and that is of speed limits.
In the Bible, or in any other ancient religious text, there aren't any rules anywhere saying that someone can"t drive at 100 miles per hour on the road outside my house. No theistic morality of any "Holy Books" even remotely implies that that is IMMORAL, but evidently some other process of morality clearly did realise that it was immoral, because we do know that it"s RISKY. We have concluded, reasonably, that barring exceptional circumstances, in order to reduce the risk of harm, the driving rights are therefore restricted to a speed where there's less risk, like 30-40mph. This is morality derived from being REASONABLE.
Reasonableness is not based on God nor meaningless speculations of "What if?" " but on assessing rational considerations of evidence with respect to reality. Here"s the crux: we know that harm is a physical fact of the universe, and so morals don't require theological perspectives and we need not be constricted to just guessing and hoping for the best. I don"t require theology nor do I need to just guess in order to recognise that when balancing different options: we prefer life to death, and we prefer health to sickness, and so on. Those are the foundations upon which we build morality, ergo, secular-minded morality ultimately tends to be more than reliable enough.
Con also asserts that you can't prove 9/11 caused more benefit or harm? Really? I mean sure, it did mean more people became aware of what terrorists were willing to resort to and it did create something like an improvement in air security, but what about other factors (2)? There was a huge rise in obnoxiously nationalist attitudes, not to mention a whole bunch of "revenge crimes" getting committed against any people who "looked" Middle Eastern. We had that ridiculous outcry and hate campaigns directed against the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque". Don't tell me that 9/11 hasn't also been a big contributing cause in the rising level of economic hardship people now face, and let's not also forget the really messed up health issues people ended up suffering from. And even if Con COULD somehow prove that we can't demonstrate whether there was more harm than good, he'd still have to demonstrate that the ends would even remotely justify the means.
Con also brings up the example of "killing", and points out numerous examples of topics that fall under such a category, and then proceeds to point out that stuff is "context-dependant ... the world is always changing as time goes on, moral values of individual actions change as well". Sure, I guess, but Con doesn't seem to realise that secular morality figured this sort of stuff out ages ago (1) (3).
Con also then talks about "some good and some bad" consequences. Look, yes, nothing is intrinsically "right" or "wrong" but, at the same time, moral evaluations can be made with respect to values and without spiraling into moral relativism. Just as we can objectively evaluate physical health by comparing one's state to an ideal or norm (which may change) and we can objectively evaluate a chess position with respect to the goals, we can objectively evaluate moral questions with respect to values. What about the values? Well when Con goes on to talk about two different sets of people and what they would have gained from 9/11, Con staggeringly fails to grasp the devastatingly simple values of compassion and empathy, where people comprehend that their own pleasure and pain are just like those experienced by others. Most of us don't like . Would the tycoons have liked to be in those towers at the time? You can bet they wouldn't. And what about those who were in the towers? If we could go back in time and put them in the shoes of the tycoons, would they embrace those roles and look to exploit the tragedy? Maybe, as Con implies, some of those hypothetical people could be every bit as immoral as those hypothetical tycoons, but then we have a word for such people, and it's called "sociopaths". Maybe you would consider such a label harsh, but I'm pretty sure those victims of 9/11 would feel empathy and compassion for those victims and wouldn't want to exploit them.
It's all very well imagining a potential "Day After Tomorrow" or "2012" scenario, but until that kind of thing happens, all we have to work with is the here and now. And the here and now dictates that we look to the history of humanity in not only deciding what is moral, but why we would think that. This removes any external factors like the baseless "What If?" scenarios, and allows us to make our own informed decisions, with an end result that provides the best ethical results. Score one for secularism in this round.
Re: The value of a moral claim in religious morality is contingent on the existence of God.
I would propose a correction to Con's claim that religious morality is contingent on the "existence" of God, and say it's more to do with a "belief", since the existence has never been proved, but Con gives no basis for his claim humans would be better off in heaven (after all, if God is a tyrant and anyone who repents gets to be with him, would you REALLY want to live there?) and repeats the baseless claim that secular folks can't verify their moral claims, as illustrated by what I wrote above.
Re: Moral systems give absolute answers to relative questions
Con completely ignores the point I made at the end of Round 2 which gave ten topics that could be subjects for "tosses of the coin", and how, as I pointed out, I am pretty sure many people would hate to live in those societies were, for example, torture, rape, child abuse, and persecution based on certain characteristics are considered socially acceptable. Con's failure to answer this demonstrates that irrespective of what his sources say, the fact remains that when one actually carefully considers whether we should or should not engage in the above negative things, there's only one winner. Con's "chimp" link even contains a phrase that contradicts his argument, where the group that does better than it is ironically the one that applies more rational and wider analytical thought, exactly in line with what secular thinking entails. Moreover, secularism never claims to be perfect, and nor does this debate title. It claims only that it is the "Most Reliable Basis". The rest of what Con writes is something that's again already refuted above as to how secular morality really justifies our moral decisions.
I'll leave you with a video by Christina Rad, called "The Objective Of Morality", and while I consider what she talks about to be more of a "shared reliable subjective morality" than an "objective morality" (which I'll explain my objection to in the next round), she still reiterates a good deal of my main points plus some other very good points.
Pro is wrong about religious morality, but we agree on the conclusion so it's not worth arguing over. Relgious morality is contingent on God. The way I see it, the crux of this debate is really whether secular morality is contingent on correctly predicting the future.
There is no good or bad in secular ethics.
Let us apply the process of exclusion I discussed earlier to the question "are speed limits moral". For this to be true, "speed limits are not moral" must be false. To work that out, we need to know what the moral outcomes will be if any given person speeds. Pro has absolutely no clue what these are, but to paraphrase their whole argument, "we can make a pretty reasonable guess".
I mean it when I say "guess". You can't prove that the murder of a person will lead to more harm than good. Maybe that person would have become the next Hitler. Maybe Family Guy was right that 9/11 was a pretty good thing. His standard is what seems reasonable given evidence - that's an extrapolation, which is another word for guess.
So first, my claim was that any "good" and "bad" secular logic claims can't be verified and thus aren't true. Pro conceeds the first part and advocates guessing based on evidence instead, being as close to the truth as pro likes to get. The inherent assumption here is that the evidence makes your guesses more reliable. Speed limits just so happen to be a perfect example of why this isn't the case. The vast majority of the time when breaking the speed limit, nobody gets hurt (for example, when overtaking). It simply increases the observed rate of accidents. But accidents actually aren't often caused by speeding at all - speeding increases the damage for those that do have accidents, relative to the safety features of the vehicle, which are evolving all the time. That's why going over 100kmph on the highway was a lot more dangerous in 1970 than it is today. That's one of the reasons why accidents on the German Autobahn have been gradually decreasing for ages (http://en.wikipedia.org...). Furthermore, the observed rate of accidents doesn't instantly become "bad" once you start breaking the speed limit. According to my opponent's logic, all accidents are bad. So why not reduce the speed limit by 10kmph, and get less accidents? There isn't any speed you can say is the optimal compromise, and no amount of evidence will help you in making that determination. I guess the more general principle that pro is trying to push is that morality is about the aversion of risk, and driving fast is risky, but then again all driving is risky. Not driving can be risky too. The relative risks and rewards may seem statistically quantifiable, but only based on past moral actions, not future ones. That's the problem.
Moreover, reasonableness is itself pretty vague. I might consider 110kmph to be more reasonable than 90kmph. The amount of reasonable objection to any given law, I think, justifies this point. Drugs are a big one. Is marijuana legalisation reasonable? Some drugs are reasonably dangerous, some are not, but marijuana seems to be on the borderline in people's general moral conscience. The secular answer pro is advocating? "Look at the evidence and guess for yourself". I discuss in more detail as part of my point why making certain moral judgments on the basis of certain criteria actually makes you less of an expert when the outcome is completely uncertain.
A third but more minor problem is that pro premised their case on certain axioms that are unjustifiable, for instance, that everybody prefers life to death (what about suicides?) or health to sickness (plenty of drug addicts will disagree) etc. It isn't necessary since there would be nothing wrong with pro admitting secular morality is subjective (it is), but the foundations on which pro has built some pretense of an objective morality cannot be justified since there are clear empirical examples of them not being true.
Of course I cannot PROVE that certain actions (ie 9/11) were more harmful than the alternative because like pro, I have no idea what the alternative is. In the same way, he can't prove that it's better than the alternative because pro's alternative (a world that sounds exactly the same as ours just without the wars and the twin towers still standing) is in all probability a fantasy. There are innumerable possible alternatives, and which one happens is impossible to predict given that the crystal ball has not yet been invented. So I'm not going to predict it, and it's simple arrogance to claim that just because something looks like an acceptable answer to a presently observable risk, that adopting that answer won't be a still greater risk, or that the answer will actually work. Maybe without 9/11, the west would have more compassion and empathy with the Muslim world.
The fourth problem is that secular answers do not allow for contingency. To some extent it is true that this is false - speed limits can be changed in wet weather, for example. But there are contingencies which will always come up which people haven't thought of yet. You cannot give a moral answer based on past reasonable assumptions if an event is unprecedented, for example. That's a problem for secular morality because history does not conveniently repeat like that. Each time anything happens, the circumstances are different.
At the end of the day, morality is about consequences that will happen, and secularism uses only evidence. From the future, we have no evidence. Therefore the two are irreconcilable, beyond the "oh yeah, that sounds good" standard of "reasonableness". Until pro justifies how we can know for certain what is reasonable, there is no good or bad in secular ethics.
Moral systems give absolute answers to relative questions
I didn't ignore pro's point, in fact, my case relied on it. Coin tosses are only more reliable if you can exclude at least one alternative, so by excluding the ten things pro doesn't want to see happen (regardless of their moral value) a coin toss would be better. Secular morality can easily be used to justify all of them. For example, if a country had just saved millions of lives by extracting information under torture, torture all of a sudden sounds reasonable. The problem is that secular morality, like all moral systems, gives absolute answers, in this case based only on what we know, which is a bit silly since we don't know the future. Pro thinks torture is bad, so following his moral code he would not have saved those millions of lives. I might add that a coin toss would not have led to torture either, since pro excluded that alternative. The difference is that a coin toss would not be prescriptive as to what the right answer is. If one solution has worked in the past, the secular view is to make that the moral solution - it worked back then, after all. In truth, this is almost never the case. A coin toss is thus more likely to generate a favorable alternative. This is both statistically necessary and empirically true.
"the group that does better than it is ironically the one that applies more rational and wider analytical thought, exactly in line with what secular thinking entails"
This is NOT what secular thinking entails (which is moral certainty over probabalistic events), nor what the article says. They said that the group that were the most rational and analytical about it realised that they knew the least, and thus generalised their conclusions more, rather than making any specific moral assumptions (ie torture is bad). They beat the chimps because that way they could cover multiple bases of possibility at the same time. I'm not holding secularism to a perfect standard, but the point is that there is zero evidence that it actually works better than a random guess. It's all well and good to say that it's OK because it's reasonable, but I want to know why.
In conclusion, the moral value of past events does not indicate the moral value of future events.
Re: There is no good or bad in secular ethics.
The very first Con does is to jump all over the word "guess" and "extrapolation", while claiming the following:
A: I have absolutely no idea what the moral outcomes can be of speeding, and
B: I cannot prove that the murder of someone will do more harm than good.
A is blatantly false. We've observed what can and does happen when a person goes at a certain speed. We know that there's a considerably greater chance that someone will get run over, or that the one speeding will hit something else like another vehicle or a wall or a ditch or a bus stop or a tree or whatever. Sure, these risks still exist when a person is driving at normal speed, but provided that other circumstances aren't playing a part, the risk that I emphasised is still lower.
Con bases his argument for B based on the fact that the person could end up becoming the next fascist leader or that some other fantasy outcome like a second American Civil War may take place. Look, this is not the Terminator movies, although unlike the Terminator movies Con doesn't even have actual evidence that choosing to murder someone will fulfil a greater benefit than harm, since at least the machines actually KNEW that the Connors would contribute to them losing the war on mankind, you know? Furthermore, Con makes a really faulty criticism of extrapolation, deriding it as just "another word for guess". If that's the case, then Con should advocate that we throw out the entire scientific and maths processes, since extrapolation plays a big part in eventually coming up with theories that become universally accepted as the most reliable explanations we have for areas within those subjects. Con's definition of "extrapolation" is overly-simplistic, since an extrapolation is actually defined as "To infer or estimate by extending or projecting known information" or alternatively "an inference about the future (or about some hypothetical situation) based on known facts and observations" (1). In other words, there's actually solid grounds to make predictions, and there's a very good chance those predictions will be RIGHT.
Con tries to rebut my speed limit example by claiming that most of the time, people are not hurt, and that most accidents on the road aren't caused by speeding at all. But this plainly isn't the case (2) (3), as within the male teen drivers alone you have the fact that 39% of the fatalities were caused by them speeding. In 2010, the NHTSA found similar numbers for the teens and found that at least a third of fatal crashes happened because the driver was speeding. I will concede that there are a declining number of accidents, but this does nothing more for Con's argument. Yes, you can have accidents for reasons other than speed limits, but provided those reasons (EG: drunken driving, driving while using a phone) aren't in play, then again the speed limits are there to minimise the risk. If someone therefore decides to go above those imposed speed limits, they are making a conscious decision to increase the risks both to themselves and to other drivers. The fact that when speed limits were raised in certain states back in 1996, there was a direct correlation between the increases of speed and the motor vehicle accidents and fatalities just goes to prove my point (4), surely? The speed limits we have chosen so far have ultimately been demonstrated for now to be the most reliable means of both reducing accidents AND ensuring that people can get around the country easily enough and as quick as is reasonable without causing too much danger to others. Contrary to what Con says, we can in fact use the past and the present to make some pretty accurate judgments about what to do in the future, as morality is a social science, and is just as obligated to follow the scientific process.
Furthermore, Con does not fully understand the axioms. In my third source from Round 3, there's a very clear explanation given in greater detail about the axioms of secular morality, in particular the part about "all else about equal". In other words, if someone hasn't become depressed enough that they want to commit suicide/self-harm/drug-taking on themselves, then ultimately those people will prefer happiness to non-happiness. As IC points out, the consequences of the axioms are as follows:
"1. All else being equal, it is wrong to needlessly inflict suffering on people.
2. Except for the case of self-preservation, with all else being equal, it is best to avoid killing other people (on the assumption that they don't want to be killed).
3. Actions such as slavery and rape are wrong because they excessively limit people's happiness and freedom of action."
So Con's objections simply don't hold up in light of the above as well as also again pointing out empathy and compassion, as unless we get affected by attachment to a belief/ideology or get subject to mental illness or becoming a sociopath, we generally do not to like others getting hurt, because a lot of us either don't like to be hurt or ideally wouldn't want to be in a situation where they hate themselves so much they'd want to hurt themselves, and there are actual tests that show empathy is an inborn rudimentary trait that can be developed through the years that very small children grow up (5). This would again suggest that means beyond either a religion or a coin flip are sufficiently more reliable.
But again, Con's appeal to the "We can't know what would have happened if 9/11 didn't happen so you can't call it immoral" argument is irrelevant, due to the above paragraph. If Con had the equipment to orchestrate another "9/11" style-event, we cannot expect that he'd subject it to a coin flip and operate on the same "something good might happen!" basis. As for the "unprecedented" part, Con sorely underestimates the ability of secular morality to adapt to new situations. The Iron Chariots link has a whole section on bizarre hypothetical scenarios and how we could react to them using secular morality, as SM takes stock of present conditions too and is able to make pretty accurate judgments. Again, not perfect, but still the most reliable basis. And again, just because we have no evidence from the future just because we can't use evidence from the past and present to determine the future, otherwise Con might as well throw the entire theory of evolution based on its similar predictive abilities.
The Ten Coin Flips
Con again fails to prove that the ends can justify the means. There is no evidence given, for example, that a country would not have been able to save millions of lives via another method. I am baffled also that he claims secular morality gives "absolute" answers, a strange thing to say when a lot of secularists would actually agree with Con's point about the different kinds of killing he brought up in Round 2, suggesting that quite clearly that's not how secularists think. Torture has been found to be consistently unreliable (6), so the BOP is on Con to demonstrate that torture would have been the country's most reliable method. SM works on evidence - if a new solution comes along that is shown to be more reliable than the other, that solution will be adapted. Again, there's no "certainty" involved, but simply by making predictions to the best of our ability to do so. Hence why SM DOES match the group of the chimp link as they fit the techniques used of that group. The Harvey Dent method ISN'T reliable as reliable as SM.
At this point in our debate, I think we have established two things: if secular means can reliably determine anything moral, then pro's right, and secondly, that if secular morality can determine nothing moral, then a coin toss with exclusions is more reliable and I'm right. It might sound like a pretty big onus to prove secularism can tell us nothing about morality (it isn't, as will become clear in a moment), but I think this debate has exposed a far more interesting difference in worldviews.
Mine is very simple - that we know nothing about the future, that cause-and-effect never plays out in reality except in hindsight, that it's just as probable that the atomic number of hydrogen will change tomorrow by the power of some as-yet-undiscovered scientific principle as it is that, in the immortal words of "Captain Obvious", in one year it will be the present, or even (don't kill me pro) that evolution is predictive (as opposed to having only been true until God intervened last Wednesday and nobody noticed). Pro by contrast believes that the future is influenced by the present/past (as opposed to vice versa), and that the chances are good it will conform to our present "reasonable" (implying that the future can be reasoned) expectations in the fantasy land of "all else being equal" (really it never is).
The reason why pro's secular worldview is so appealing is because it adapts to conform to the one reality we know. Secularism is thus always consistent with the past, or at least what we know of it. When presently future events don't conform, as pro has himself said, it corrects itself, as it has done in the past. It is a fallacy to say, however, that because secular morality today is consistent with what many people consider reasonable, that secular morality was predictive at the time of any given moral decision, because secular morality has itself adapted to the outcomes of these decisions. It is not that secular thinking predicted the future, but that it was predicated on it. The only way secular morality holds any water is if those future experiences in some way conform to our past experiences - to put it another way, that history repeats.
I wanted to stress this context in response to my opponent making a fallacy the secularists don't even have a name for yet - I call it "appeal to logic". The idea is that because something makes logical sense in context, it must be true. In fact, lots of things that make no sense are true, and lots of things that do make sense are false. You cannot say, for example, that because a road has a 1% crash rate over the last 20 years, people travelling on the road have a 1 in 100 chance of dying. It might be an inductive, logical conclusion, but 1000 people could well travel down that road after that and not die. There might not even be any explanation for it. It could be put down to dumb luck, or maybe people are travelling more carefully after the high crash rate was exposed - who knows? But there was nothing beforehand to suggest this would be the moral outcome of doing nothing. Note how pro cunningly uses the present tense when referring to past data in an attempt to appear credible, when in fact his conclusion is entirely about future data.
Naturally those people don't know if the world would have been better or worse if it had been shut. Perhaps they would all unanimously agree it would be worse, like pro is assured a world with more murder or 9/11s is worse. But there's nothing reliable about that. They're making their own guesses that were no better than the logical guesses the secularists with their logic-based crystal balls did when they noticed the high crash rate.
It's this kind of absolute answer - "killing is bad", "that road is dangerous" etc - that puts secular morality in trouble. The truth is that it might be bad NOW, but such a moral principle cannot be extrapolated into the FUTURE. This would be true no matter how much you qualify your objective statement (ie "killing is bad if" etc). Pro's only claim is that if something is true now, there's a very good chance it will still be true later. I will remind pro that almost nothing humans believed 2000 years ago is generally believed to be true today. If there is something that is certain, it is not what we know but what we don't know. Pro can call their crystal ball reasonable all they like, they can shove whatever evidence from the past in there, they can interpret that evidence and assign it their moral values forever, and it still won't necessarily correlate to their moral view of how any action will pan out for them. Then pro will whine "oh but I didn't know that ...", and before they could point out some pertinent fact they didn't know, or how their own moral values have changed, I will simply be asking "then why was your crystal ball so sure?"
Pro has avoided the issue of morality having different impacts on different people by saying that we emphaise with others. In the western world, it's true that 9/11 generated a lot of sympathy for the victims. In other parts of the world, it generated a lot of respect for the attackers. The resulting decade-long war bears testimony to how different moral values can be placed on the same event. Oppertunists did use this as an excuse to get cheap oil, representing a third (not necessarily unsympathetic) moral position. And of course, let's not forget that many people around the world are morally agnostic about the event. Even if we could tell that 9/11 was "bad", that doesn't mean that not having 9/11 would be relatively better as calling 9/11 the less moral alternative implies. Unless you can prove both alternatives, the only secular judgement you can make comes from your own extrapolation of evidence. The fact that empathy is inborn does not make it moral.
Unprecedented and unforseeable events pose an even bigger problem. For sure secular morality can adapt to them ONCE THEY KNOW HOW THEY ARE GOING TO PLAY OUT. Before that, all you can do is make guesses and parrells to other situations. I might add that secular evidence is itself often contradictory. In debates about, for example, nuclear power on this site, both sides are able to use very good sources for and against nuclear power. Nobody who builds such a plant intends for there to be a meltdown - meltdowns are therefore based on things we didn't know when we built them. Some evidence may have existed that meltdowns would be a danger of the site, but I'll bet the engineers had their evidence too.
Finally, pro claims that what is "reasonable" is not subjective because those silly axioms I questioned last round must be true if they are true for people when "all else" is "equal". I have no idea what this actually means, but if I had to guess it's pro claiming that things like murder are not normal for people in most conditions. What we consider normal and moral is not necessarily correlated, however. It might be normal to not commit suicide, but that does not mean every suicide ever was bad. The truth is that we just don't know. The fact that secular people disagree on the morality of PAST actions proves that secularism doesn't dictate their morality, but only informs it (ie secularism may show deaths, but does not morally justify the assumptions people hold of whether particular deaths were good or bad).
Of course I'd toss the coin of truth about 9/11. It gives a much better answer than pro's crystal ball, that's for sure. I don't care if the ends justify the means, because you don't know the justification unless you know the ends, and since we don't know the future, this whole attack makes no sense.
This debate is about whether, to quote pro, "making predictions to the best of our ability" is the most reliable thing. I maintain that reality always surprises us with new moral perspectives, unforseen moral outcomes, variable moral consequences - and a complete lack of a moral standard to judge any action against, since we have no idea how things might have turned out.
Why Is Secularism Superior?
Let's look at the moral systems we have explored throughout this debate. We have found that holding yourself to a view of morality only by an external force (in other words, God), implies that should that force be taken away, the individual would resort to immorality almost immediately. A "random" basis for morality is woefully unreliable and is based purely on "What If" questions that have no more evidence or basis in reality for the outcomes they propose than a gambler's confidence they'll keep hitting the same number and colour on a roulette wheel.
We (and our ancestors, and a whole bunch of other species) have considered it very much a "Pro" position to live in communities governed by reciprocation, pretty much simplified by the Golden Rule ("do to others what you would have them do to you"). We do this not, as some people claim, because we obey God's moral guidance, or because we thought "Heads for Empathy, Tails for Screw Them", but because it observably works to treat each other with kindness, dignity, and courtesy, as opposed to loathing, spite and murder.
Our lives have meaning because we are sentient, and so we can evolve our ideas of morality. Our morals come from society, and the values we share provide the basis and derivation (an those values in turn come from the values necessary for society to exist) and are developed through a continuing process of conversation, debate, enactment, and revision. It's ultimately a democratic system, where authority comes from within, rather than from outside, or from "pick one at random" decisions.
In the last round, I labelled Con's stance as the "Harvey Dent Method". And isn't that exactly what it is? We see how irrational this is in the Dark Knight where, thanks to deciding to take a case via a coin flip, he almost gets shot in the face, and then later he gets massively chewed out by Batman for trying to use that method to interrogate someone who didn't know jack about the Joker. And then at the climax of the movie, his coin flip method makes him spare the Joker's life and target Jim Gordon's family, as well as shooting Batman, even though those two were genuinely trying to save Rachel's life. In fact, the only sane decision Harvey makes with a coin is when he decides to help lure Joker into a trap for Batman to catch him by pretending to be the arrested real Batman, when we see that his coin is a double headed one.
Con agreed to assume the BOP in this debate, and yet what he has provided is little more than a Family Guy episode (which was purely played for laughs and otherwise extremely unlikely considering just how strong an argument the nuclear deterrent is and even the 2008/12 Reps haven't done this when losing to a black man) and a study that actually supported my conclusions when the group that did better than the monkey were the group that realised they didn't know everything there is used a variety of different methods and sources for help, which is exactly consistent with how secular thinking operates, contrary to what Con says.
Science is an applied philosophy, and Morality is a social science, which means it's perfectly fit to make predictions, but it can indeed also adapt. Again, Con seems to think that the purpose of SM is to provide perfect answers. I will concede there may be circumstances in the future that may make us do a complete 180 on our viewpoints, but just like all things in science, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If Con wants to prove that it's irrational to have 99% trust in the values we hold today when they are reasoned by a method that used secular, humanistic, rationally based reasoning, then he needs to demonstrate so, otherwise his claims are without merit.
Again, Con relies heavily on words like "could" and "maybe" when it comes to when we talk about the "What If?" points of roads or murders or 9/11-style events happening or not happening without presenting any evidence that his conclusions WOULD end that way (by Con's very own logic, we should subject every human being to the Harvey Dent method on a daily basis because one or some of them may become a dictator, even without evidence to prove as such). Con further asserts that we can't know what will happen, but that still doesn't justify the random morality argument. All it does is show that secular humanist morality is not perfect, but rational secularists have never said this in the first place.
Con ignores what I pointed out before about "absolute answers", about how secularists views about killing a guy for his wallet contrast greatly with their stance on killing someone because they're threatening your family at gunpoint. Con tries to claim we can't rely on our morals now because we don't believe most of the stuff that we used to believe 2000 years back. Sure, but we ended up vastly altering our viewpoints that were out of date via using the kinds of thinking that are consistent with the secular rationalist philosophies, especially spearheaded by the Renaissance where the secularists started thinking outside the religious box and came up with discoveries and philosophies about our world that replaced all that junk super naturalism as well as for the most part replacing the apathetic "Let's just see what happens" mentality that Con promotes. And now we see the results: the Pitzer link I gave above showed just reliable secular morality, where the more secular nations and US States had demonstrably better results. It's more than just a "crystal ball", it's actual empirical evidence with real data we can work off, which is more than can be said for Con's premise.
Morality is a science, and like in all science if a moral view is clearly irrational, it WILL get found out. So when we look at something like 9/11, we can empirically demonstrate, beyond relying on reason from on a faith-based deity or a "Meh, whatever" attitude is that ultimately those who look to hurt/kill people are sociopaths, and it's better for society when we lock those people up. The desire to hurt and take advantage of others does not reflect empathy but a lack of it. That's why terrorist desires that involve taking executing one person or a mass amount of people are wrong. So how do we derive moral goodness? It's staggeringly simple. We understand that actions have consequences, and we have no wish to hurt others needlessly, because we'd hate to have that done to us. I've really never gotten why Christians or non-secularists just can't get how simple this is. Con appeals to the nuclear debate, but fails to realise that disagreement and debate within secularists on topics is not only perfectly normal but HEALTHY, as we can come together to figure this sort of stuff, and eventually the most rational and moral viewpoint will prevail.
To Con's 9/11 argument, I said before that when we're absent of an irrational belief/ideology and any problems with mental health (this applies also to suicides) or sociopaths, then absent those the ideal result is that people would wish not to die. Con may contend he'd toss the coin on 9/11, but would Con still consider his non-evidence based coin toss rational if we yet again saw more bad than good from another 9/11? I think not. We may not know the future, but we can get a clearer picture of what it may entail from SM.
To conclude, when we look at love, hate, morality, compassion, empathy, violence " they make more sense and are proved to do so where natural, imperfect mere mortals with short life-spans using secular thinking to try to get by with one another. The coin toss method cannot say the same thing. Please, vote Pro.
It's precisely because we're imperfect and we don't know whether anything is going to turn out good or bad, that we should not presume we have all the moral answers. We might think we know some alternatives that are the WRONG answers - my method differs from Harvey Dent's because it's NOT statistically random - it's statistically variable. This misreading of my argument permeated pro's case.
To win this debate, I needed to show two things. I'll explain how I've dealt with each of them in this final round.
1. That secularism is amoral
In his closing remarks, pro argues moral authority should come from us, not God or coins. The problem is that we have zero moral authority, because that would require knowing moral values, which is impossible without knowing the future, which we don't. Pro is wrong again about God - a moral God does know moral values, so any claim that religious people are immoral is based only on pro's untrue conception of what is morally right and wrong, not the reality of the outcomes of those moral values. Perhaps Leipzig was correct in presuming this is the best of all possible worlds. I don't know, because like everybody else I've never seen any other possible worlds, and would have a lot of trouble objectively evaluating all their moral advantages and disadvantages even if I had. My attack on religious morality - that any such moral authority cannot be known for a certainty (much like secularism cannot know the future for a certainty) - was not substantively contested by pro and was much stronger.
The problem with knowing morality for a certainty is that it especially applies to secularism. I always learnt that secularism focuses on the facts we know - evidence. To claim that it correctly can evaluate moral actions - a "crystal ball" as I've termed it, because that literally requires knowing the future - is just as untrue as the claim that prayer can reveal the future. Both are extrapolations based on things we think we know (be that science, or religious doctrine). Neither has any proven validity, any consistency pro has shown between modern secular thought and history I proved in round 4 to be based on historical revisionism. The evidence that secularism has from the future is none, and pro has not shown any. Without the evidence and without the facts, everything that goes into the crystal ball is assumption.
Assumptions which, I might add, don't change until proven wrong, which they will because as I've said throughout and pro never gave a clear answer to, moral values are context-specific. This is especially problematic when secularism must deal with new situations it has no assumptions for - and every second of time is a new situation.
Pro went further. He argued that secularism was democratic, vindicating the moral actions of any leader with widespread support (Hitler and Stalin come to mind). He then called morality an applied science, assuming that the scientific method can be applied to it, but science requires evidence, and pro has none. He claims that his morality is substantiated by "secular, humanistic, rationally based reasoning". I'd love to hear what this reasoning is. The only evidence pro has shown has been past evidence applied to a present context - not once has pro actually addressed the fact that all morality is about future outcomes. The first thing I told you in this debate was that the only way you can rationally reason something to be true is by excluding the alternative. Despite the amazing power of his crystal ball, pro could not provide any evidence outside of his own disbelief that alternatives to something as big as 9/11 were better (or worse for that matter). He argued that only secularism is reasonable, which he couldn't define, and couldn't exclude other alternatives from (since there are multiple "reasonable" answers with morality).
This does more than show secular morality is not perfect. It proves it is completely unreliable. Pro wants to trust in a method that can only determine what was good or bad in light of our present understanding in the world, in the past, to tell him about the future. But you can't use the past as evidence for the future because the past has no evidence of the future - anything else is subjective extrapolation.
I've also shown that non-individual moral systems are inherently poor because they rely on there even being a "wrong" and a "right" solution, when even past experience tells us that all moral actions have a range of different moral outcomes which will be evaluated differently by different people depending on their circumstance.
2. That changing your morality makes you a better person.
I will agree that morality needs revision - and the more frequently you switch to avoid bad alternatives the better your odds - but not that we can be the source of that revision. We know nothing about the future and we cannot knowingly control our fate. The human instinct is to go with what seems like the right alternative, and my opponent has been a perfect demonstration of this. The problem is that right since the beginning of the debate, I've proven that switching morality when the outcome is random will always improve people's odds.
The only real objection to this that pro has raised is the claim that the world is not random. This is the difference in worldviews I outlined last round. The very fact that secularism has never been able to identify a moral standard that it's been able to stick to for a century without adding dozens of exceptions, I think, proves this point, since this would not be true of an absolutely consistent world. The truth is that the future is exactly as consistent as secularism is able to crystal ball it, which is why the weather forecast is sometimes astoundingly accurate and other times incredibly wrong. As for
There is no single "moral answer" to a moral problem, it all depends. Perhaps by killing an innocent baby you stop the rise of the next Hitler. There might not be evidence for that, but that doesn't stop it from being true. The problem with all evidence-based systems, and the advantage that chance-based systems will always have, is that evidence based systems need evidence. By the time they have that evidence, however, it's too late because the future is there and, possibly something bad has happened. They might as well have excluded a few possible alternatives rather than pretend they knew the right answer all along.
Most tellingly, my opponent agreed the most rational (and he tried to claim the most secular) group of people, and the ones who I proved to be the most accurate of all - are those people who don't pretend they know the right answer. Who are unsure of what is right and what is wrong. Who keep discussing the debating even when science thinks it is certain. Most importantly, they are the ones who change their minds. And that's what makes them better people.
The only other thing pro disliked about my model comes from an imaginary Batman movie. Why he thinks reality would play out quite like that is beyond me, especially since as I've already explained, it isn't even analogous. There's nothing extraordinary about this at all - the question in this debate is one of well-established statistical theory.
Secularism is important, but pro has misunderstood its purpose. Secularism is about critically evaluating claims against evidence. There is no evidence from or for the future, and all that pro has proposed rely on another claim - that history repeats, that the past will play out the same next time. That's never been true, there's no evidence for it, and pro never supported it.
This debate is about whether the future moral value of moral actions can be determined in a secular framework. I showed this requires a large number of assumptions. Even if only one of those assumptions is just an assumption, pro's model does not hold.
I say that we can't reliably know the future, but we can improve our odds.
The resolution is negated.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by medv4380 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Con used the Hindu moral argument of Snakes and Ladders. I assume accidentally. Pro didn't anticipate this line of attack, and wasn't able to counter it. Pro also opened up with too much ad hominem against religion. A guilt by association argument isn't a good sound starting point. Especially given that there are Secular examples that would be just as damming if the ad hominem was an acceptable argument. Given that Pro requested that ad hominem be avoided I cannot side with pro.
Vote Placed by wolfman4711 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro made the insane claim that health of secular nations compared to religious nations health meant that secularism is better on a moral basis
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