Paul Manata's Failed Attempt At Refuting Objective Morality
Right off the bat, Paul tries to mischaracterize both myself and my actions. In an effort to add more weight to his supposed ‘refutation’ of my position, he describes me as a “Ph.D. candidate.” While this is true, he neglects to mention that my doctoral studies have been in molecular biology, not philosophy, and thus are irrelevant to the discussion at hand. He also claims me to be an “intellectual hero” at ExChristian.Net, something that I have never claimed for myself and has never been claimed for me. He also claims that in my spare time I try to “convert Christians.” This also could be no further from the truth- neither have I ever claimed to be interested in ‘converting’ Christians, but if he’d listened to my conversation with his good friend Gene Cook on the Internet radio show The Narrow Mind, he would know that.
Unfortunately for Paul, he refutes himself with his definition of “objective morality.” Paul claims that “we can all agree that in order to establish a case for objective morality one should not present a case which rests on subjectivism or arbitrariness.” Whether or not I have been successful in doing so by arguing my position, Paul claims for himself an objective moral system. However, Paul’s moral system derives totally from the will of the Christian god- which grinds to a halt in the face of the obvious dilemma- Are God’s commands good because God is good, or does God command them because they are themselves good? We can all see how this shows Christian morality to be completely subjective, not only by its very definition, but also in their application- there are many moral issues on which Bible-believing Christians contradict each other on. If the moral system espoused by the Bible was so clear-cut and objective, we would expect there to be a moral consensus within the Body of Christ, but this is obviously not the case. Therefore, since Paul rejects any subjective moral system, he must also reject Christianity.
Paul’s first objection to my position is to say that I can’t “know” that humanity is the only objective moral system we have available. This is obviously wrong. Within secular epistemology, the only standard that is knowable to humans through observation is, in fact, our own humanity. Any number of other objective theories may be valid, but we can’t know them to be true. There is no way to verify the truth of an “Ideal Observer”, for example, but it is a simple matter to observe and verify the aspects of humanity.
Paul them claims that I flip-flopped my position when I revised my objection to include only DCT moral theories. This is also incorrect. Paul has become infamous for posing tangential questions and objections, neither of which stem from his own beliefs or ideologies. This seems to be a way to deflect others’ arguments away from his own soft underbelly, and so in the interest of cutting straight to the quick, I focused on DCT. Although Paul claims that I cannot show how DCT is not objective, I have already shown this above. In addition, James Rachels’ argument from moral autonomy shows that any relationship between a deity and human forces the human to abandon any moral autonomy. Therefore, if Paul claims to follow the Christian god’s will for morality, then Paul himself cannot know what is moral or not. Thus, Paul has no foundation to even critique my position on morality, and he has refuted himself for a second time.
Despite his now-obvious lack of moral judgment, Paul then examines the ethical application of my moral system. His only objection to my argument that human needs are the standard for ethical application of secular morality is to argue for rape as a human need. This is an obvious betrayal of Paul’s own ignorance of what constitutes a need, something that I attempted to rectify at length on Paul’s weblog, before he deleted all my comments. Obviously since rape does not provide for any material need, and can only (by definition) severely abridge another human’s social or political needs, rape is not a moral action. This is also true for Paul’s other objection, murder. But this is not a closed commandment placed in a vacuum, as Paul is used to as a Christian, but can only be interpreted in context. As a slight concession to Paul, I’ll postulate a situation where murder may, in fact, be moral- if a criminal is holding your family hostage with intent to do harm to them or kill them, and you find yourself presented with an opportunity to kill him, then doing so is completely moral.
Paul then attempts to poke holes in my position by arguing against the Terri Schiavo case. His claim is that, since we make subjective decisions on what a human is, that the moral system that uses humanity as a foundation is subjective. This is also untrue. If I were to construct a proscriptive system that judges things to be good or bad based on their “redness,” then just because individuals may disagree on what makes something red does not make “redness” any less objective as a concept. Likewise, although we may disagree on what constitutes a human being, that does not make “humanity” any less objective. Paul claims that I would not have anything to say to Hitler because of my moral position- as I told Gene Cook, I would argue, not primarily for my moral system, but for the humanity of the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and mentally handicapped that Hitler perceived as inhuman.
Paul then argues that because of the heterogeneity of the ethical proclivities of other humans, again the objectivity of humanity is called into question. I won’t address this argument at length, since it does nothing more than to show again that Paul misses the point I’ve made before. Not only is this moral system not voted on, but the individual ethical proclivities of humans are not its foundation. However, if Paul wishes to argue that disagreements on moral issues invalidate a moral theory, then he has invalidated Christian morality also, and thus refuted himself a third time.
Paul’s only argument against the concept of “human needs” seems to be that it is too inclusive. He seems to sense the weakness of this argument, so he goes on to attack some of the examples that I provided him previously. Paul cites hunger strikes as an example of cause being more important that survival. But the point of a hunger strike is meaningless without the fundamental understanding of survival being the most important material need that a human can have. But of course all actions take place within a context- in the case of a hunger strike, the political needs have provided the context within which material needs are displayed.
Paul then thinks to refute my moral position by appealing to Muslim terrorists. According to Paul, "The Muslim terrorist will tell us that the materialism of the west results in unnecessary human suffering!" This may in fact be true! Paul has done my work for me! If it can be shown that Western policies cause unnecessary human suffering within Muslim countries, then those actions can be judged to be immoral. But the complementary action of the terrorist can also be judged to be immoral, since it carries out the same ends. Ironically, the moral system that the terrorist follows is the same that Paul follows- the will of God, who tells humans to take “an eye for an eye.” For Paul to hold up the moral foundation of the terrorist as immoral is to also hold up the moral foundation of Christianity as immoral, and Paul has refuted himself for a fourth time.
Paul then attacks my moral position as one that appeals to Utilitarianism. But he knows that, given the contextual analysis of moral actions that I argue for, this is not true. Thus, he attacks the ability to determine context, and says that “how could finite man ever know if an action is immoral or moral?” But this is a false dilemma, since infinite knowledge of context is not required for the objective standard of humanity to be utilized, and neither is it necessary for ethical application of that standard. For example, if a criminal is holding your family hostage with intent to do harm to them or kill them, and you kill him only to find that the gun he was threatening you with was fake or unloaded, your action cannot be construed as immoral given your knowledge of the context. Paul may again appeal to the Nazis, as those with weak arguments are wont to do, and say that the Nazis had a limited knowledge of the context, making their actions moral. But the air comes right out of that argument, for I think there were undoubtedly Nazis whose knowledge of the context of their actions was severely limited, and who believed that they were doing a very moral thing. The only remedy for this deficiency is to increase one’s knowledge of moral context, which is something that I’ve attempted to do all my life.
In closing we can see that Paul has shown himself to be completely ignorant of objective secular morality. While advancing his own Christian morality as objective, Paul has contradicted himself four times, and has actually made more of a case for my position. We have seen that on his theory he can never tell us which actions are bad or good. And any moral theory that cannot tell us that is not a moral theory. Therefore we can see that the Bible is true when it says that “everything is meaningless.”