How can ‘moral science’ exist?

118

By Rob Johnson

 

The term ‘moral science’ is increasingly used in the work of rationalist thinkers. Traditionally in the realm of religion, our ever-increasing secularism has allowed for science advocates to attempt to theorise morality into science – or at least to theorise it into the world of the rational.

 

This idea is prominent in the work of many secular thinkers, from philosophers such as Patricia Churchland to the ever-popular Sam Harris. The latter produced what is probably the most widely read resource on the subject, entitled The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.

 

Harris’ work has not been without criticism, some of which is justified. It is not easy to see, for example, why the content of human values is able to be judged and determined scientifically at all. Science requires evidence and rational justification, whereas human values are entirely without justification unless we make additional ‘assumptions’ above and beyond rationality. For instance, one can rationally justify physical laws with reference only to evidence, but to rationally justify moral laws one has to make an extra assumption, over and above science, as to what principle should be adhered to (in other words, moral principles are not logically deducible from raw evidence).

 

If one can see this logical problem with ‘assumption making’ then this alone is enough to show why moral science is difficult to justify. However it isn’t immediately obvious to everyone why it is bad science to be making assumptions for the cause of morality; thankfully this point is also reasonably easy to explain. If I were to kill and eat my next door neighbour, and justify it to his wife on the grounds that I made the assumption that it is morally acceptable, we can see the problem with assumption making: it is subjective and entirely arbitrary (in the same way that one might have a favourite colour, one might have a preference for a certain action). Similarly, if I were to write this assumption down and call it the foundations of ‘moral science’, it doesn’t make the assumption any stronger.

 

Thus the idea of moral science creates a problem that is difficult to solve. Philosophers have grappled with it for centuries, and our most modern thinkers still have not adequately tamed it and have instead embraced different levels of assumption making. By making these assumptions and yet still calling it ‘science’, the scientific method – something which requires no arbitrary assumption making – is done an injustice. But there is an answer.

 

The theory of Rational Morality was my attempt to solve this problem of moral science in its more famous philosophical guise: the ‘is-ought’ conundrum. This is an age-old philosophical problem which argues that science can’t determine human values, as you can’t derive an ‘ought’ (what we should do) from an ‘is’ (the way something is).

 

The solution is not in some remarkable discovery, or genius breakthrough of logical formula – much to the pity of my book sales, and the desires of my publisher – but is rather in thinking around the problem. One need not show morality to be a system of naturally occurring and deducible facts like in physical or social sciences, in order for moral science to be advocated. If one needed to do this, morality could not be shown to be rational at all. Instead one simply needs to show that a rational theory of morality is possible, justifiable and more rationally able than the other moral theories on the table. So not just better than theological accounts, but also less-assumptive than many rights-theorists or utilitarian thinkers have come up with. The theory would then also have to be assumptive only to the degree that science is (i.e., assumptive only about the self-proving worth of rationality).

 

It would have to use the scientific method to develop a transparent set of social agreements about basic moral principles – whatever we agree those most basic of moral principles to be – instead of on the assumptions of natural moral facts (as there are no such things). To the non-philosopher, this translates as reducing the moral principles we wish our societies to be guided by to the most basic sets they can possibly be – however we wish this to look – and then using reason and science to build consistent moral rules, and make consistent moral decisions based on these most basic of principles. For example, we might look at our current principles about murder/violent crime and then reduce them to a basic principle that suffering and death should be avoided wherever possible. From there we would judge whether our laws were rationally consistent with what we socially agreed.

 

All be it a very different type of science, moral science can exist in a socially created space like this without contravening the rules of rationality, all the while allowing the most important of humanities problems to be exposed to the fruits of scientific method. Indeed, most areas of politics and morality need not be thought of as subjective at all once moral science is on the table, unless the problem is wholly without reason or evidence on either side. This doesn’t mean opponents of rationality will suddenly drop their beliefs and join us, but it does provide a consistent framework to stop people having to turn to religion or other methods in order to form moral beliefs. We shouldn’t underestimate the secular advantage this would have in future generations.

 

Moral science is important: it’s more rational than what we currently have, ie, a system where we just slightly amend historically decided ideas when we really have to. But more than this, it’s important because it gives us a chance to rationally judge moral issues – no longer having to allow for dangerous and often irrational subjective differences. What’s more, it allows for the whole method to be scientific in attitude; not allowing for certainty where there is none and helping to do away with as much potential for uncompromising aggression as possible.

 

 

Rob Johnson is a philosopher of science and ethics. The book Rational Morality: A Science of Right and Wrong is available now.

118 COMMENTS

  1. Last night a program touching on the intersection of science and morality was aired on a local television network. In this forum styled show, a group of doctors and patients discussed various experimental stem cell procedures in which patients had to pay for the privilege of being a test subject. The topic was hotly debated.

    The patients or would-be patients suffered from a wide range of ailments and conditions, from eye conditions to treatment for spinal injuries. Those clinics offering procedures of this type were described as being cowboys and snake-oil salesmen by the doctors suggesting caution. It appeared that the procedures were not carried out under proper test conditions.

    The costs to the patients were horrendous. Figures in the tens of thousands were mentioned, with one fellow spending $1/4 million for a series of treatments that seemed to have very few positive outcomes. People were prepared to travel around the world in order to be part of these studies, but in most cases they had no alternative. To my thinking this situation posed a moral dilemma.

    • That isn’t exactly the same thing as what this article is supposed to be about. I think what the author is getting at is that it’s possible to study ethics scientifically just as we study language and other “soft” subjects that used to be considered the domain of only the humanities and philosophy. What you are describing sounds like a different question, the morality OF science, the trade off between ethical values and the desire to create and leverage more knowledge.

      I agree with the author that such an analysis is possible but as often happens (I had the same reaction to Sam Harris’s book which I was eagerly looking forward to but very disappointed with when I reached the end) he spends the article arguing that science CAN have something to say about morality but doesn’t end up actually saying anything tangible or testable.

      • Hi Red Dog. I realised that my comment was not really appropriate at the time of writing, but decided to throw caution to the wind and say my piece because the TV program was still fresh in my mind. Although the link to the article was tenuous, I thought that with a bit of imagination I could squeeze it in. The gung-ho approach to stem cell therapy has been on my mind of late.

        Sam Harris started the ball rolling with his scientific approach to viewing morality and I liked that a lot, though I’m not surprised to hear that his latest book is disappointing. Anyway, employing these methods should prove interesting. I hope it means there will be less waffle and more substance.

          • Other sites have that actually. On some sites they just post an article called “Open Thread” every day or even every 12 hours and people can pretty much say anything that is relevant to the site. Here is an example:

            http://crooksandliars.com/2014/07/open-thread-gop-thanks-being-you

            Actually, on that one they do post an actual article but the article title is always Open Thread and people are free to comment on anything.

            I suggested that for this site a long time ago but they don’t seem interested. I actually think they aren’t that interested in hosting serious discussions here anymore and are trying to nudge people to Facebook and Twitter both of which I despise.

    • To NITYA:: Sorry , but you missed the point. Rational morality is not about chosing what is pragmatic but hurts the feelings and what is in agreement with our gut feeling but unpragmatic. Rational morality is about establishing how to negotiate socially what is MORAL & ETHICAL without submitting to any arbitrary e.g. religious, authority, but by the means of rational thinking. The example you gave does not link science and morality.. it links immorality with conmen.
      OH OK.. now I see that you noticed that your example was unfortunate. All clear.

      • graceboas and Rob Johnson,

        “Rational morality is about establishing how to negotiate socially what is MORAL & ETHICAL without submitting to any arbitrary e.g. religious, authority, but by the means of rational thinking.”

        And rational morality tells us …………..?

        Neither of you tell us any conclusions about this so-called rational endeavour. Where is it? What is it? Does it supersede Bentham or Kant? You say nothing.

        Our rational endeavour that we label “science” (common sense writ large) is about understanding the laws of nature and uses words such as facts, evidence, truth, testing and corroboration. By contrast, our moral laws are our decisions and are best made by parlimentary debate and scrutiny by our elected servants. Science cannot help us choose our moral laws. Not the study of ants, geese or evolution.

        • Neither of you tell us any conclusions about this so-called rational endeavour.

          I can’t speak for your other correspondents, but my two bobs worth is that science just provides the evidence. Morality and Ethics (Two totally different things) are matters humanity will decide based on that evidence. It was previously the bally wick of religion with things like the ten commandments and The Golden Rule but those times are passing.

          The behavioral rules of humans in tribes falls straight out of evolution. Because we evolved to live in small tribes, mostly related people, and our survival was dependent on the cooperation of the people in that tribe to ensure the success of the tribe, and hence the passage of your genes, commonsense rules (unwritten) to manage that behaviour evolved. These translate directly into the 10 commandments, but they are not religiously inspired, they are just commonsense.

          With the rise of critical thinking and philosophy, it was possible to examine these evolutionary rules, and make improvements. This was not done by the religious, but by the rational thinkers. The religious are still locked away 2000 years in the past.

          For example, the Golden Rule, Do unto others etc. That was the gold standard to govern our behaviour. But as that noted atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell so succinctly pointed out, “What if I don’t like what you are doing unto me.” The act of “Doing unto others” assumes that the recipient is just like the do’er, and shares identical values and ideology. An obvious mistake that commonsense can spot easily. That is, that the recipient would welcome the stuff done unto them. That, applying commonsense, is clearly not the case. The Golden Rule is one of the reasons religion has gone so badly wrong, and behaves immorally and unethically. The religious for example, go out to Amazonian tribes and “Do Unto Them”, converting them to alien religions that destroy their culture and values. Religions try to impose themselves, “Do unto others” and thus reek havoc with the world.

          A rule that supersedes the Golden Rule has been developed by philosophers and is sometimes referred to as the Zero’eth Rule. “First, do no harm.” It is the condensed Hippocratic Oath from the Greeks well before religion. You do harm when you try to impose your religion on someone else. It causes wars.

          Religion is fast dealing itself out of the game, because it can’t apply commonsense to the world. It can’t keep itself to itself, and wants everyone to believe what each particular adherent believes. “If only you all believed in my god, the world would be wonderful”. Times’ up. This rubbish has got to stop because it is immoral and unethical.”

          No, the study of “ants, geese or evolution” doesn’t directly lead to morals or ethics, but it gives a rational thinker evidence on which to work out what is moral or ethical. Evolution explains the ten commandments. The fact that ants and geese exist, turns the mind to whether they have a moral right, equal with all other animals to exist and whether our actions, in taking away those rights, destroying the planet, is unethical.

          • I think this depends on whether all altruistic behaviour can be claimed as being moral, strictly speaking. I was of the opinion that the universe (ie non-human living organisms) had no way of knowing or caring whether a decision was moral or not.

            ‘ Doing harm’ includes harm caused by non-physical means such as belittling, shunning, shaming, humiliating, ostracising and the many other ways of inflicting harm in a less tangible manner. I think human beings are the only ones capable of making such judgements.

          • Doing harm’ includes harm caused by non-physical means such as belittling, shunning, shaming, humiliating, ostracising and the many other ways of inflicting harm in a less tangible manner. I think human beings are the only ones capable of making such judgements.

            I totally agree. You don’t have to draw blood to cause harm. And is some ways, the mental harm’s you list, can be more life changing that a cut on the arm. They can cause harm that lasts for the rest of your life.

            I don’t think deciding what is ethical or moral requires too much depth of thought. I think that commonsense solves most problems. I certainly have no problem deciding these issues. Most of the time, they are absolutely obvious. And you never need a angel on your shoulder.

          • I must take exception to your statement:
            “These translate directly into the 10 commandments, but they are not religiously inspired, they are just commonsense.” The first five commandments are explicitly religious, restating doctrine and requiring sectarian observance of the Sabbath. There is nothing commonsensical about them. As for the rest, I quite agree that these are rules commonly derived from the requirements of functioning social groups.

          • Is that your photo or Brian from the Monty-Python film?

            Excellent comments.

            I have always been in awe of Kant’s categorical imperative and I think you are being a little unfair. We are talking about morals, we are talking about good and bad behaviour. The message of the Golden Rule is “if you don’t like being robbed and harmed then don’t do it to others”. It is not about “I like being indoctrinted therefore you shall jolly well like it”.

            Wrt the Zero’eth Rule, just think of the Golden Rule as an appeal not to harm others. In a simmilar manner Popper pointed out that a political platform shoud be about reducing misery and not about increasing happiness as we can all agree on what is misery but no two people can agree on what leads to happiness.

  2. I think the big moral issues are the very powerful discoveries of science being freely available to benefit humanity, but ending up in the hands of irresponsible politicians, corrupt corporations, military regimes and terrorists who are still mentally in the bronze-age.

    Uranium/Plutonium nuclear physics, and insecticide/nerve-gas, are two of the more obvious ones, with automatic weapons and a whole load of expensive military hardware which sucks money out of the 3rd world poor to support corrupt elites in dictatorships and mischief-making foreign colonialists following on.

  3. Then there are political, commercial and legal issues like this over-riding honest science :-

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/11/08/1254247/-Texas-Frackers-Sue-Victim-of-Their-Water-Pollution-for-3-Million-for-Exposing-Them#

    Fracking outfit Range Resources slapped Texas homeowner Steve Lipsky with a $3 million defamation suit to bully him into silence about his polluted water but Lipsky is fighting back. Lipsky is a wealthy man, not used to being bullied, but the frackers think they can use their control of the state of Texas to bulldoze him. They have bought off the Texas Railroad Commission that supposedly regulates fracking in Texas, and intimidated the USEPA into inaction so they don’t intend to let minor matters like safe drinking water, private property rights and the first Amendment get in the way of their pursuit of profits.

    With aspects of the case still pending in his courtroom, Judge Trey Loftin sent fliers to voters saying he forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to back down.

    Because the EPA backed off the case, the Texas Railroad Commission, a regulator completely captured by the oil and gas industry it supposedly regulates, was able to hold a kangaroo court proceeding to present the appearance that Range Resources was the second coming of Snow White minus the seven dwarfs. Range was then in a position to try to silence its critics with the help of a Rush Limbaugh-loving judge.

    • @alan
      I don’t mean to reply on a different thread, but I was unable to reply to a comment you made on an older topic and I just wanted to be sure you had the chance to ponder it.

      You wrote: “In our universe there is NOWHERE where NOTHING exists!”

      The “nothing” you are referring to in that statement, is what I am speaking of. You seem to understand that concept clearly.

  4. It is not easy to see, for example, why the content of
    human values is able to be judged and determined scientifically at
    all. Science requires evidence and rational justification, whereas
    human values are entirely without justification unless we make
    additional ‘assumptions’ above and beyond rationality. For instance,
    one can rationally justify physical laws with reference only to
    evidence, but to rationally justify moral laws one has to make an
    extra assumption, over and above science, as to what principle should
    be adhered to (in other words, moral principles are not logically
    deducible from raw evidence).”

    Then how did we get moral principles in the first place? They don’t drop out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality, to paraphrase George Carlin on a completely different subject. They have to come from a material universe, from material matter, material stars, a material solar system, a material planet, a material biosphere, material eukaryotes, material animals, material mammals, material apes, material humans, with material brains, and material thoughts and feelings. The is-ought distinction is a transparently dualistic notion of how humans work because it relies on the idea that there’s just something super-special and magic about humans that doesn’t apply to anything not-human. As such, it’s obsolete and destructive thinking because it binds up one of our most important subjects, ties it to a floor, and pretends to be doing something else while there’s a stampeding elephant-in-the-room bearing down on the victim.

    I don’t think anybody can argue that human values can be judged and determined without scientific standards without invoking either mystical-magical rules or just straight up arguments from absence of proof, especially as we haven’t even fully begun to understand how the brain works. If human values aren’t empirically confirmable directly or indirectly (in case someone cites maths as a counter), that’s effectively saying they don’t really exist. If we can’t make testable hypotheses about value statements, then we might as well just assume they’re arbitrary and as good as each other, however repulsive we find that conclusion. If we can’t document and publish information about values, then it couldn’t be possible to talk about them to begin with, because publication and documentation is an extension of that.

    If values aren’t objective or at least intersubjective (in the sense of being available to everyone and potentially correct or incorrect) and can’t be subject to peer review, then that suggests a free-for-all in which we can make up any values without standards or even rhyme and reason. If we can’t model alternate scenarios of value and non-value and take something away from the comparisons, then we’re as good as admitting that they’re arbitrary. If values require more values to justify themselves, then we’re either doomed to circularity or doomed to an infinite regress, with the added problem that either way, we’ve cut them off from the real world in a Munchhausen trilemma of their own. And if statements about values have no practical application after review – a review which, in any case, is either arbitrary or impossible – then kiss goodbye to any field of science which is applied, because they rely on the same foundation.

    In my current but not necessarily iron-cast opinion, the biggest romantic drivel we tell ourselves is that values are in a world of their own and are off the table of rational scrutiny, and that science has nothing to do with them. That romantic drivel thrives in part because we’re too scared, selfish, uncertain, or muddled to consider that some values we hold dear might be unfounded garbage. If we think values aren’t supernatural or magical tack-ons to a material world, and if we really think ethics and morality must have something to do with the human animal, then let’s scientifically look at the human animal and the ethics and morality it preaches: including its values.

    • You’re on the right track. The biggest point is that, the only relevant understanding of morality, is based upon scientific conclusions produced by the human nervous system. Certainly we can make up laws to live by and put the label of morality on them, but not every thing claimed to have moral significance actually has any. If cultural or personal subjectivity is being used as a defense, then you can be sure that the morality law in question has nothing to do with a meaningful, relevant understanding of morality.

    • Zeuglodon Jul 16, 2014 at 5:08 am

      …If we think values aren’t supernatural or magical tack-ons to a
      material world, and if we really think ethics and morality must have
      something to do with the human animal, then let’s scientifically look
      at the human animal and the ethics and morality it preaches: including
      its values.

      Ethics and morality have everything to do with the human animal; the ‘big dog process behind the curtain’ mandates nothing about values, yet enables humankind to attempt to generate and install whatever values even an individual member of the genus can propose and make a case for. All such proposals are then subject to the process of natural selection and winnowing evolves. ‘Goodness’ (and even ‘truth’) is determined by the process and isn’t intrinsic to a given proposal.

      Many proposals conflict with others and fade, as the proposal of God, the Supreme Being, is fading at present. The human condition might be described as being condemmed to a life of neverending turmoil in a search for values.

  5. The author is a good example of bad philosophy brainwashing people into thinking of morality as some sort of discovery that is made by humans, being independent of the evolution of our nervous system. His entire piece rests on his notion of “assumptions”. It is clear that he does not understand what we are actually referencing when we talk about morals. Only someone who has been brainwashed into believing in a supernatural realm would be confused about morality. His confusion is clear when he writes,
    “whereas human values are entirely without justification unless we make additional ‘assumptions’ above and beyond rationality.”
    What a thing to say. Why is “above” and “beyond” rationality even an idea to consider? It makes no sense.
    A rational understanding of morality starts with the understanding of our nervous system evolving in a world where living things can cease to exist, shaped by a method that only propagates those organisms that can use their nervous systems to rationally navigate the deadly pitfalls the world offers.

    • nothink Jul 16, 2014 at 8:18 am

      His confusion is clear when he writes,
      “whereas human values are entirely without justification unless we make additional ‘assumptions’ above and beyond rationality.”
      What a thing to say. Why is “above” and “beyond” rationality even an idea to consider? It makes no sense.

      As with laws and codes of conduct, statements of whose or what’s interests are to be respected and taken into account, need to be made, and then considered on a rational basis. As you say, this process (when excluding woo) is certainly not “above” and “beyond” rationality!

      • I completely agree. I would only add that the criteria used when considering the morality of the law or code of conduct is very simple and does not accommodate cultural or personal subjectivity. If the subjective card is used, it is because bad philosophy has made that person forget the simple nature or morality.
        For example, if someone argues that something could be considered moral in one country but not in another (ie. male/female circumcision), then they do not understand morality in a meaningful way. First, the example of circumcision is an easy moral question to answer. The act involves mutilating (causing pain) to another human being without that person’s consent. If they themselves choose to do so as an adult, then it is neither a good or bad act because no moral question is raised.
        If you are confused about the morality of circumcision it is because you have accepted cultural or personal traditions/opinions as a basis for morality.
        There are also laws or codes of conduct that simply do not qualify as having moral charateristics even though they are touted as having so. Eating pork has nothing to do with morality, yet it is considered to be a moral dilemma by many. How confused they have become by muddling up tradition with morality.

        • nothink Jul 16, 2014 at 1:03 pm

          There are also laws or codes of conduct that simply do not qualify as having moral charateristics even though they are touted as having so. Eating pork has nothing to do with morality, yet it is considered to be a moral dilemma by many. How confused they have become by muddling up tradition with morality.

          I can see reasonable view of pork being “unclean” in primitive societies where pigs were fed on waste and human excrement – thus propagating parasites and disease, – but as you say – to continue the tradition in the era of modern health regulations on food production is utterly irrational. Likewise the Japanese reclassification of whales as “fish” to circumvent a prohibition on eating meat!

          • Even in those primitive societies, the outlawing of eating pigs for health concerns should be considered on par with the fda today outlawing the eating of seafood caught in polluted waters. Neither example has anything to do with morality, its simply a health precaution. However, the word “unclean” carries religious moral implications and that is a result of brainwashing.

      • If one finds it difficult to distinguish the moral difference between baby circumcision and baby vaccinations because vaccinations also cause pain to another without that person’s consent, then they are deliberately either adding health benefits to the moral equation of circumcision, or they are irrationally focusing on the pain without permission element and not considering the difference in good faith or intellectual honesty.

  6. Evolution has shaped us to avoid things that cause us pain because we might cease to exist. As our brains slowly evolved, we began to make more complicated connections between pain and social harmony. We began to understand mental pains such as lying or cheating by overlaying our base understanding of physical pain, thus we tried to avoid such pains. The “good” and “bad” concepts are manifestations of this scientific truth. Thus do not be confused by the “why should we” question. There is a very scientific basis for why we should act this way, not “should” as in personal intention or motivation, but “should” in the sense that a robot should act a certain way because it was programmed to do so.
    The truth is, we are aware of our ability to choose between doing good or bad, and we have paired that with our subjective view of personal opinion and freedom, thus we can define morality on those terms, however, that is a meaningless understanding because it does not answer the rational understanding of the morality question. When one asks, “Why should we act this way?” think about if they are asking it in a philosophical/supernatural light or in a scientific light.

    • nothink Jul 16, 2014 at 8:53 am

      …The truth is, we are aware of our ability to choose between doing
      good or bad, and we have paired that with our subjective view of
      personal opinion and freedom, thus we can define morality on those
      terms, however, that is a meaningless understanding because it does
      not answer the rational understanding of the morality question…

      Should a technocratic self-selected (or preselected before being put up for a vote) elite be in charge to ensure that society follows a course leading to progress and good?

        • Steven007 Jul 16, 2014 at 11:04 am

          My favorite candidate for office in the last two elections (in the
          States) has been described as:

          “a conservative technocrat-optimist with moderate positions”.

          I can deal with that.

          Your post illustrates your lack of bigotry, as the Wiki article states “…Huntsman served as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan for two years…”

          I wonder what his current POV on religious belief is?

          I, too, find people I respect, even if I disagree with them, from all walks of life.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Huntsman,_Jr.

      • A technocratic approach would lead to progress if the experts in those fields are acting rationally. However, I don’t see a connection between ensuring good and the characteristics you listed (self-selected, technocratic, elite).
        The purpose of the leader is to influence his followers, and so I would want someone in charge who was a critical thinker and who who spoke in a way that could teach the masses how to think more critically.

        • nothink Jul 16, 2014 at 12:47 pm

          I don’t see a connection between ensuring good and the characteristics
          you listed (self-selected, technocratic, elite).

          I agree!

          The purpose of the leader is to influence his followers, and so I
          would want someone in charge who was a critical thinker and who who
          spoke in a way that could teach the masses how to think more
          critically.

          That’s a tall order.

          That’s an area in which, IMHO, Obama has been a disappointment, even if such influence is measured only with regard to the Democratic (Party) masses. Obama means well, but he lacks the ability to rally people behind his agenda as Roosevelt and Reagan did.

  7. I’m looking to publish a paper on this topic actually, the application of math/science (First Order Logic to be specific) to ethical analysis. I would like to get it published in a journal but without connections it’s hard to submit something and even get it looked at. Anyone have any suggestions?

      • Any specific sites you would recommend? It’s funny on another article someone was complaining about the peer review process and my first thought (which I’m glad for once I didn’t say) was “loser who couldn’t get published” and now I’m kind of facing some things similar to what he was complaining about. The journal I really wanted was Trends in Cognitive Science. They published a paper by someone else on the same topic (Universal Moral Grammar) and IMO my paper is far better. But they have so many restrictions on how you have to edit the damn paper even before you submit it. And in their instructions for authors, the opening says things like “we welcome the most experienced and novice author alike” but then later on it more or less says (at least for the longer kind of paper I want to submit) “although mostly the stuff we publish are invited by the editors”. I.e., if we don’t ask you for a paper on the topic good luck.

        Oh well, if it’s not hard it’s not worth doing. ;-)

          • No problem, I figured it was a long shot, never hurts to ask. I found a journal that had much more reasonable requirements for manuscripts and genuinely seemed open to manuscripts that were not solicited. And it seems like a fairly well respected one, more philosophy than cognitive science but that’s cool. Probably will never be accepted but it’s a start

  8. “Harris’ work has not been without criticism, some of which is justified. It is not easy to see, for example, why the content of human values is able to be judged and determined scientifically at all. Science requires evidence and rational justification, whereas human values are entirely without justification unless we make additional ‘assumptions’ above and beyond rationality. For instance, one can rationally justify physical laws with reference only to evidence, but to rationally justify moral laws one has to make an extra assumption, over and above science, as to what principle should be adhered to (in other words, moral principles are not logically deducible from raw evidence).”

    A valid definition of “science” includes it´s methodology (not only the object), and the author seems not to be taking it into account, otherwise, you´d be a materialist in the true sense of Marx: “the material conditions of life determine our ideas”, with no room for a subject, subjectivity and imagination, besides not being necessarly materialist in Marx sense, doesn´t mean that the object isn´t independent.
    Morality exists in the natural World, there is no doubt, we didn´t invent it, that is not beyond objective observation.

  9. How can ‘moral science’ exist?

    Science is inherently moral in its adherence to scientific methodology to objectively evaluate reality, although in relationships between living organisms, it is incomplete, without initial definitions of the CHOSEN balance between conflicting interests of individuals and groups.

    Studies pretending to use scientific methodology as a badge of integrity or authority, but substituting “faith assumptions”, for all or part of that methodology, (as distinct from initially defining interested parties), is dishonest and immoral!

    I would say science is inherently honest and moral, as far as it goes. Similarly, false representations of faith based assumptions, as evidenced science, are dishonest and immoral, under any system of morality which values truth, rationality, and honest objective reporting.

    There are of course the pseudo-moralities of “Sod the people/animals/ecosystems, suffering etc.: – God likes it done like this!”

  10. Morality is primarily a list of things you should not do. It can be based on rationality, tradition or whimsy. Even if you perfectly conformed with some moral system, you would be a pretty pathetic and useless human being. True morality is about being of service to all of existence.

  11. Morality is a social contract among animals, including humans. It can only be objective among the animals agreeing to the contract. As the zeitgeist changes, so do the contracts as well as the participants. Forget science, philosophy and theology, including the theory of Harris. So the idea of assumptions in the article is probably closer to this idea.

    The only science in this is inductive in nature, that is, historical observation.

    • I think your view of morality is too all encompassing when you say,
      “Morality is a social contract among animals, including humans. It can only be objective among the animals agreeing to the contract”

      I can understand your correlation between animal behavior and human cooperation, but morality has the distinct property of choice from self awareness. When you say that animals can “agree” to something, you are muddling up the type of self awareness and determination that only humans possess, and which is the basis for the concept of morality, with the individual actions of any animal.

      Where there are no humans, there is no such thing as morality. What examples of morality can be found during the period of the dinosaurs?

      • Animals may have a “self-awareness” at some level. We also see compassionate behavior in animals, so in some sense, they may also have “morality”. I do not rule it out, especially in the higher primates or other animals with close association with humans.

        But I also agree with your statement to reserve human self-awareness for our species and speak of human morality in terms of our species.

        I can’t answer the question about dinosaurs, since any behavioral evidence may be lost.

        • I completely agree and have no doubt that since self-awareness is a function of the brain, we can expect to see different levels of self-awareness in the animal kingdom. One need not look further than how animals take care of their young to see behavior resembling human compassion. I have also seen examples of primates lending tools to other members, behavior which shows a level of altruism.
          While it would be irrational to claim altruistic behavior as completely unique to humans, I would say that morality is unique to humans because first, for any actor to be judged on the moral value of their action, that actor needs to have the intellectual capacity to understand concepts such as good and bad, personal responsibility, consequence and punishment, atonement and forgiveness, and many other nuances that in total make up our understanding of morality. (For example, we allow the insane to avoid punishment because presumably they are not capable of understanding right from wrong, and thus we see their actions without the moral lens typically used) Also, it is the intent of the individual, that faces moral scrutiny, intent, which is given its value through the interplay between the individual’s freewill and their knowledge of good and bad.

          • that actor needs to have the intellectual capacity to understand concepts such as good and bad, personal responsibility, consequence and punishment, atonement and forgiveness, and many other nuances that in total make up our understanding of morality.

            All of those traits fall straight out of evolution. They are obvious commonsense rules for tribal living. They have been bred into our brains over millions of years and are hard wired. No god required.

            Your altruism is limited to near genetic relatives, to pass on your genes. You are altruistic to the Shaman, who says you are going to die if you don’t do what he says, and to the chief for similar reasons. Today, we call it “Sucking Up”. And there is reciprocal altruism we now call trade. Apart from that, we are a selfish species out for whatever advantage we can get over our neighbour, without pushing it to the extent that Ugg and his kin come over and smash our heads in. We call this politics.

            Facebook thrives on our evolutionary desire to know who is talking to who and what they are saying. Who is allied with who. Who is on the rise and who is on the fall. Gossip in a tribe is a survival advantage. If you are good at it, combined with politics, you end up as chief, and pass on more genes. Anyone who as ever worked in a big office will see this primitive evolution trait in action.

            There is a brilliant David Attenborough documentary on the baboons of Ethiopia. 100 strong tribes. They have developed office politics to a fine survival art. If it wasn’t baboons you were looking at on TV, you could easily see family feuds and office politics from the human world.

  12. I like to be bold. This is my subject and has been since I was five.

    There are laws of nature but there are no laws of morals. We choose them.

    Hume trashed the idea of deriving moral laws from nature in one sentence. Gone are the evolutionists and Desmond Morris’ before they were born.

    Kant gave us two problems and neatly solved both ofthem; pure and practical philosphy. How do we know and what is right?

    On the subject of what is right he gave six proofs of the categorical imperative, the “Golden Rule”, “do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you”. Far and away removed from science, epistimology or pure philosophy. Practical philosophy.

    Popper has given an account of the difference between laws of nature and moral laws in “The Open Society and its Enemies”. Please let’s stand on the shoulders of giants.

    • David Jul 18, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      Kant gave us two problems and neatly solved both ofthem; pure and practical philosphy. How do we know and what is right?

      On the subject of what is right he gave six proofs of the categorical imperative, the “Golden Rule”, “do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you”. Far and away removed from science,

      Nope!

      https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Reciprocal_altruism.html

      In evolutionary biology, reciprocal altruism is a behaviour whereby an organism acts in manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organisms fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time. The concept was initially developed by Robert Trivers to explain the evolution of cooperation as instances of mutually altruistic acts.

      • Alan,

        You are hitting me with science but we are talking about morals. Science cannot help us with morals.

        We decide what is right and wrong.

        To repeat myself. There is pure philosophy and practical philosphy. There are laws of nature and there are moral laws. We cannot dispute the former but we can dispute the latter. We will not find a moral code from the study of evolution, geese or ants. We decide what is right and wrong and Kant, and not Bentham, has provided the answer.

        • David Jul 20, 2014 at 8:50 pm

          You are hitting me with science but we are talking about morals. Science cannot help us with morals.

          All mechanisms in the physical universe are the prerogative of science.

          We decide what is right and wrong.

          Yep! Our evolved electro-biochemistry does that! – http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html

          To repeat myself. There is pure philosophy and practical philosphy. There are laws of nature and there are moral laws.

          Moral laws are simply consensus positions on behaviour within social groupings which operate in the physical universe which is ruled by the laws of science.

          We cannot dispute the former but we can dispute the latter.

          We can argue the conventions adopted by particular societies, but we have evolved preferences built into our nature which affect actions regardless of structured messages in words.

          We will not find a moral code from the study of evolution, geese or ants.

          I wonder if the ants think they are taking their own decisions, when following their programmed moral behaviour codes?

          We decide what is right and wrong and Kant, and not Bentham, has provided the answer.

          While they offer commendable aspects, we are free to choose either or neither, as both views are matters of opinion.

          There are however underlying deep seated evolved motivations in humans, explained in terms of kin-selection, gene survival, social group cohesion, and reciprocal altruism.

          • Alan,

            Please excuse the delay in responding but I had to sleep on your comments. Not so much wrt antithesis but wrt ” how to you phrase arguments when trying to persuade one who has the opposite political point of view”.

            I agree that we can apply the scientific method to anything and everything. Science is “but common sense writ large” and the scientific method is no more than trial and error plus a massive dose of respect for the truth. But science cannot help us with our moral decisions as we cannot “derive ought statements from is statements” (Hume).

            If you ever run into someone who is utter scum and has no limits on how far they would go in lying and cheating for their own ends irrespective of the harm they inflict on you….. Then you might ask if they decide right and wrong based on their electro-biochemistry. I consider that they have the same lump of fat in their skull but no morals.

          • David Jul 23, 2014 at 4:49 pm

            I agree that we can apply the scientific method to anything and everything. Science is “but common sense writ large” and the scientific method is no more than trial and error plus a massive dose of respect for the truth. But science cannot help us with our moral decisions as we cannot “derive ought statements from is statements” (Hume).

            Moral decisions are related to self interest and the interests of communities where we live. They are a reflection of genetic and memetic trends. putting it simply – a balance of selfish interests and social pressures.

            If you ever run into someone who is utter scum and has no limits on how far they would go in lying and cheating for their own ends irrespective of the harm they inflict on you….. Then you might ask if they decide right and wrong based on their electro-biochemistry. I consider that they have the same lump of fat in their skull but no morals.

            The environmental memetic programming may well be different, But Richard has explained in some of his books the science of the variations and balance of altruistic and selfish individuals, and the effects of these on the survival of populations.

            But science cannot help us with our moral decisions as we cannot “derive ought statements from is statements” (Hume).

            This assumes that these are individual choices – independent of evolved inherent tendencies. Scientific studies of behavioural psychology and mass hysteria etc suggest otherwise.

      • Alan,

        With all respect. You made the point below.

        “In evolutionary biology, reciprocal altruism is a behaviour whereby an organism acts in manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organisms fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time. The concept was initially developed by Robert Trivers to explain the evolution of cooperation as instances of mutually altruistic acts.”

        I’m sorry but “I will scratch your back if you will scratch mine” is teleology (end related) and not altruism or mutual altruism.

        There are superheros like the UK doctors who travel to Syria once a month on their days off to treat the injured. But I doubt altruism. I coined a phrase in my teens “show me an altruist and I will show you an egotist, show me an egotist and I will show you an altruist”.
        An altruist is an egotist if being altruistic is what floats his boat.

        I prefer to go for man the “problem solver” to the extent that I would replace Kant’s “rational being” with a “problem solving being” as it is a more generic term.

        I also prefer the term “argument” to “science” as it too is more generic. In parliamentary democracies we make the best moral decisions (they are all moral decisions) scientifically because we survey stakeholders and put new laws to the “test” of debate and scrutiny. We have first readings, second readings, green papers, white papers. And if there should be a negative unforeseen consequence we go back and change the law as is our sole perogative to do. Our decision as with all moral laws. We do not ask about brain cells, evolution, tribes, ants or geese (Konrad Lorenze).

    • Philosophy is not a subject that offers such complicated truths that we must appeal to authorities on the subject. Without reading the works of any philosopher it is still possible to come to similarly profound conclusions. There is no reason to think that the opinions of ancient philosophers has more merit than what our modern educated brains can figure out, in fact I’d say the opposite is true.
      In the end, philosophy is a simple subject with simple answers, and it does not warrant the type of reverence it receives. We should reserve that for real science.

      • Nothink,

        Always a pleasure to reply to you.

        You are correct. A six year old knows more about the world than all the ancient philosphers put together.

        Most of them were useless and there are none today. The mantel has been passed to science.

        But in their day, when others ate, drank and defocated, they turned the world upside down. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hume, Kant, Mill and Popper.

  13. I hear alot of people saying things like “what’s considered moral change over time”, or “there is no natural basis for morals except our own opinions at the time so it is constantly changing”. These attitudes give the false impression that our morals can flow from one extreme to the other since there is no objective basis for our morality. But clearly the moral zeitgeist flows only in one direction. The natural consequences of education and global awareness lead towards an increasingly moral society because of our naturally evolved understanding of pain and suffering.
    Is it really that easy to change moral truths as many claim?
    Why is the senseless murder of a neighbor considered immoral? Is it possible that in the future it could be seen as a moral act?
    Morality only progresses in one direction because of the natural evolutionary basis for our sense of morality.

  14. I challenge anyone to bring up a moral question that they think represents the subjective nature of morality. Or basically any question about morality, whether a certain act is moral, or how morality is defined.

    Every philosopher that has tackled morality has done so without understanding the natural basis for our sense of good and bad. What “good” and “bad” means isn’t understood correctly in terms of our natural reconciling of stimuli and survival.

    Why we should act “good” is an easy question to answer.
    We should act good because we want to live in a good society.
    But people refuse to accept that answer because of the philosophical nonsense they’ve been taught about absolute morality.

    • The goal of philosophy, very much like science, is to challenge and look beyond our common sense notions.

      Your definition of “we should act good because we want a good society” is just circular reasoning. You haven’t said anything meaningful, you are just rephrasing the question from one form (why should we be good) to another (what is the definition of a good society and why should everyone want one).

      In fact I would argue that there is plenty of evidence that many people don’t really want a good society. In my definition a good society includes basic rights and services for all such as Universal Healthcare. In the US there are plenty of people who make money off of the for profit healthcare system and resist government support of healthcare for all citizens because it will cut into their profit.

      • The goal of science is to rely on our reason (common sense) to explain the natural world.
        The goal of philosophy is as you say.

        I do not see the circular reasoning you speak of.
        The question is why the individual should act good towards other members of society? or why be moral?
        Thus, the answer of wanting a good society, addresses the motivation for the individual to act in such a way.
        You seem to be muddling up several different questions as if they were just being rephrased, but the question of the individual’s motivation to act good is different from what defines a good society.
        The only reason to see it as circular reasoning is if you simply do not accept human motivation as being sufficient in explaining moral acts.

    • Dear Nothink,

      With all respect. You cannot say “Every philosopher that has tackled morality……” when you have said repeatedly that you haven’t read any of them.

      You will be pleased to know that Kant said of his moral philosophy, which he termed, Practical Philosophy, that it was natural and known to all. You therefore do not need to read it but if you did give one philosoper a chance you would be blown away by argument.

      • I understand your criticism let me explain my stance. if I was to cite a scientistit would make sense because that’s it is a expert on that subject and thusthe citation carries weight. however what is the expertise that any philosopher brings. if I was to cite kant for example what if he had other thoughts about women or slavery I do not agree with. scientists have credentials which are based on rational criteria. what credentials do philosophers have that can be compared in the same way. I can only see citing ancient philosophers as a way to name drop or to show intelligence but I do not see citing philosophers as giving any authority to the truth of the statement.

  15. Cooperation amongst members of a species can be seen at every level. In fact, it is paramount for species survival. Before our brains were able to recognize self awareness and individual choice, we were hard wired to cooperate as a species.
    Yes we have the power to choose, but so what? The answer to the question of where motivation to be good comes from, is only confusing if the only acceptable answer is of supernatural origin. Yes, a “higher authority” is a supernatural explanation.

    • “Cooperation amongst members of a species can be seen at every level. In fact, it is paramount for species survival”

      Well since most species use sexual reproduction which requires cooperation between two different members it’s certainly true that “cooperation” is critical for a species to survive. But the idea that somehow evolution encourages traits like cooperation “for the good of the species” is an old fashioned idea that biologists no longer take seriously. In fact one of the people most responsible for showing the fallacy of that idea, you may have heard of this guy, is Richard Dawkins.

      • “But the idea that somehow evolution encourages traits like cooperation “for the good of the species” is an old fashioned idea that biologists no longer take seriously.”

        Nowhere did I say evolution encourages traits as if it had an agenda. I do not think you fully understand what Dawkins and other biologists are objecting to. They are objecting to the idea that evolution has a purpose in the sense that humans give purpose, instead of being a process guided by natural laws. They are not objecting to my point about the evolutionary beginnings of altruism.

        • When I say “evolution encourages” it’s just short hand for the more precise scientific way of saying it. BTW, Dawkins and others do that all the time as well. Of course I don’t think evolution is an agent with intentions and that wasn’t what I was criticizing in your previous comment. Your comment seemed to be accepting the idea of group selection, that traits such as cooperation will emerge in a species because such traits will help the species to survive.

          • “Of course I don’t think evolution is an agent with intentions and that wasn’t what I was criticizing in your previous comment.”

            I am not sure that it wasn’t that which you were criticizing, because you then say,

            “Your comment seemed to be accepting the idea of group selection, that traits such as cooperation will emerge in a species because such traits will help the species to survive.”

            The idea of traits emerging for a purpose sounds to me like a rephrasing of the agent with intentions nonsense which is what you said you weren’t criticizing me on.

            The fact that cooperation is a necessary trait for species survival doesn’t mean that species survival was the known goal to which cooperation emerged to satisfy, but it does mean cooperation is hard wired into surviving species.

  16. First, I will say that group morality is the implicit standard for morality; in that the intent of any action is considered moral if that same intent can be held and acted upon by all members of the group and still benefit the group.

    I would add that morality is only applicable to the person’s intent of said action, and thus there must be a choice of actions that allow for good and bad intent.

    For example, if one were faced with the dilemma of having to arbitrarily choose between killing their brother or sister, or else both die, neither course of action should be considered on moral terms because the restrictive conditions do not allow for moral intent to be exercised. Even the decision to make that choice isn’t morally measurable if one was to accept the parameters of this simple hypothetical. The point this example serves to illustrate is that not all actions merit a morality quantification. Only when the choices offered allow for intent, is it possible for the extrapolation of the individual’s intent against the group’s interests, thereby determining its moral value.

  17. As with all other social constructs morality is an engineered thing. Originally it was a discovered artifact about ourselves part of the observed “designoid” of our makeup. But like all such evolved artifacts we now seek to assume better control of the designoid with a more detailed complementary overlay of proper engineered design.

    Engineering assumes all the tools and insights of science and……invents….supplements. Apart from all the stuff that makes us happy (our evolutionary biology, neurology, sociology….) which we cannot unpick without unpicking ourselves, everything else is an invention, an intellectual prosthetic that helps us think, act and eventually feel in more sustainably rewarding ways.

    Talk of science here (unless it is in service of engineering) reflects a sadly religious type mindset. It betrays aspirations towards an ideal. With morality we’ll find we can always do better.

    (I’m staying true to my aspiration of writing only occasionally of engineering and invention. Honest)

    (Also ticks and plus ones to all of Red’s comments on the unattrative, dysfunctional and tiny space this has become.)

  18. Isn’t it the case that the term moral science is problematically because it includes two aspects that are interdependent but it I important to mark from which point of view you are looking at it?
    Science about morality is not lacking of evidence at all! The human mind – of which morality is a part of – is a product of the evolution that led to humans. Therefor it has functions that serve the survival of the individual and the species. Morality is one of these functions. It is obviously a counter part of using ones power rigorous to survive, as social behavior very often has a lot of advantages for the survival of the individual as for the survival of the genetic pool. So the extra assumption mentioned here in the article is the aspect of persistence. It is absolutely not unfamiliar to the question of morality of humans!
    There is a rational background of forms of behavior that seem from a perspective of strict Darwinism (although my assumption leads ‘social Darwinism’ ad absurdum!) rational inside the system of evolution.

    If we see what science delivers knowledge for, maybe moral science is even more important before science itself lacks of morality!

  19. Is this article suggesting that certain areas (for example: ethics\values\morals) can not be tested or proven but can nonetheless be looked at through the lens of a scientific type logic or reasoning? And that method would then be considered good enough (even though the result has not really been strictly proven with scientific tests)?

    If it is, the article would basically just be saying that all ethics must have a rational reason behind them.

    How is this anything new? So far as I know, religions have been backing their moral systems with reasons and rational for ever.

    Further more, to prove my point, the question of moral-science is not a question of adjusting societies most basic moral principles (example: don’t kill, don’t steal, be kind to all people… etc). Rather, it is a question of how these principles fit in with science. No one is suggesting to change these principles for they are already rational! And, since religion was first to come up with these basic unarguable rational “ethics,” it shows that religion has indeed been applying reason and rational to its ethical system for as far as it existed.

  20. fromtheotherside Jul 21, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Is this article suggesting that certain areas (for example: ethics\values\morals) can not be tested or proven but can nonetheless be looked at through the lens of a scientific type logic or reasoning? And that method would then be considered good enough (even though the result has not really been strictly proven with scientific tests)?

    There are two aspects to this.

    First the actual outcomes of alleged outcomes can be tested by science and reasoning, with many theistic claims resting on faith-based wish-thinking, debunked on the basis that they do not deliver the claimed outcomes. This CAN be objectively confirmed by evidenced reasoning.

    The underlying value judgements of values, interests of various parties , and desirability of outcomes, are a separate issue. values based only on benefits to some god, can be assessed as having a value to humans of zero.

    If it is, the article would basically just be saying that all ethics must have a rational reason behind them.

    Reason without an evidenced basis or defined objectives, is just self-consistent fantasy.

    How is this anything new? So far as I know, religions have been backing their moral systems with reasons and rational for ever.

    Not quite! They have been making up RATIONALISATIONS to try to support their dogmatic preconceptions.

    Further more, to prove my point, the question of moral-science is not a question of adjusting societies most basic moral principles (example: don’t kill, don’t steal, be kind to all people… etc). Rather, it is a question of how these principles fit in with science. No one is suggesting to change these principles for they are already rational!

    Privileged elites regularly establish and enforce laws which are neither supporting these altruistic principles, nor are they rationally argued – Usually being circular thinking based on the personal self-interest of minorities.

    And, since religion was first to come up with these basic unarguable rational “ethics,” it shows that religion has indeed been applying reason and rational to its ethical system for as far as it existed.

    What “religion”?? There are thousand of religions with a whole host of conflicting customs which they claim are “ethics”!

    (example: don’t kill, don’t steal, be kind to all people… etc).

    Try telling that to the Incas, Maya, or Aztecs,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sacrifice#Pre-Columbian_Americas

    .. . . . Or Vikings or the Crusaders wearing crosses on their armour!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades -
    The crusaders often pillaged the countries through which they travelled in the typical medieval manner. Nobles often retained much of the territory gained rather than returning it to the Byzantines as they had sworn to do.[8][9] Encouraged by the Church, the Peoples’ Crusade prompted Rhineland massacres and the murder of thousands of Jews.

    There is no rational consistency in the supposed ethics of the diverse religions or sects.

    Reply

  21. What “religion”?? There are thousand of religions with a whole host of conflicting customs which they claim are “ethics”!

    Ok fine lets take 1: the Jews. The Jewish bible seems to have introduced the ethics that everyone holds today as good, rational ethics (except terrorists and extremists etc.). As I mentioned before, some of the big ones are: no murder, no stealing, don’t trick people that don’t know better, love all people…. and the list goes on (all found explicitly in the Jewish bible).

    Now, these ethics, that everyone agrees on, that were first found to be laid out in the Jewish bible, are rational. Now, even if you don’t like everything you read in the Jewish bible, you must agree and do agree with the ethics I mentioned above. Like you said, in a previous world of religions that sacrificed their babies on the alter in the name of their gods―I will add that the Jewish bibles ethics were quite novel at the time. Can it just be luck that the Jewish bible came up with so many of the rational ethics that we still hold dear today?

    • “Ok fine lets take 1: the Jews. The Jewish bible seems to have introduced the ethics that everyone holds today as good, rational ethics (except terrorists and extremists etc.).”

      That’s a common claim of religious fundamentalists but it’s clearly wrong, both in terms of morality (what most people think of as being a “good person”) and legality (what most societies have laws against certain kinds of behavior).

      The Torah sanctions rape, genocide, slavery, the subjugation of women, and discrimination against people who are of a different tribe. When the old testament says “love they neighbor” it meant “love your fellow jews” it was considered fine, in fact God often commanded it, to be a real aHole to your non-Jewish neighbors.

      And around half of the ten commandments are about the appropriate ways to worship God or not worship the wrong God. In fact I would say you have it more or less backward, the ONLY people alive today who really are in synch with old testament values are fundamentalist extremists and terrorists like Al Queda or the US Christian Right wing.

        • Re: Rape

          Genesis, Chapter 19: Lot offers up his daughters for the sex-crazed crowd in order to save visiting angels. Given the effort God goes to in order to spare him, he’s clearly meant to be a kind of moral exemplar, or at least not bad enough to warrant the fire and brimstone treatment. Lot’s daughters later get him drunk and rape him, ostensibly to carry on the seed.

          Leviticus, Chapter 19: The rape victim is to be punished if she is a servant, betrothed, and neither redeemed nor freed.

          Leviticus, Chapter 20: “If a man lie with X”, then both man and partner die. No mention is given about the consent of X, so presumably this covers rape too.

          Deuteronomy, Chapter 22: Both rapist and betrothed rape victim will be executed if performed in the city, because the victim didn’t cry out loud enough in the city. If the victim is not betrothed, however, the rapist simply pays the father and becomes husband. Capital punishment for the man and for the man only occurs only if he rapes a betrothed in a country, where even if she cried out, she could not hear him.

          Numbers, Chapter 31: Moses tells his army to spare only the virgin women “for themselves” after massacring every other Midianite.

          Re: Genocide
          Re: Also throw in Discrimination Against People Who Are of a Different Tribe

          Ignoring for the moment God’s own massacres, (and his precise instructions for animal sacrifices in Exodus and Leviticus), that gives us:

          Genesis, Chapter 34: In retaliation for the rape of Dinah, and presumably because the rapists weren’t Jews at the time, Jacob’s sons massacre all the males of the town. The next chapter suggests they also spread terror across to other towns.

          Exodus, Chapter 14: God gives Moses the power to drown Pharoah’s armies.

          Exodus, Chapter 17: God-approved massacre of the Amalekites.

          Exodus, Chapter 22: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Also, anyone who makes sacrifices for any other God must be killed.

          Exodus, Chapter 32: Moses and Aaron are instructed by God to kill “every man his neighbour”, resulting in a death toll of 3,000.

          Leviticus, Chapter 24: Blasphemers, cursers, and murderers are to be stoned to death.

          Leviticus, Chapter 26: God tells the Israelites to kill their enemies.

          Numbers, Chapter 15 and 16: People who break the sabbath or who dare to challenge Moses are killed.

          Numbers, Chapters 1, 3, and 18: Kill strangers who come close.

          Numbers, Chapter 21: Massacre of the Amorites.

          Numbers, Chapter 31: Massacre of the Midianites.

          Numbers, Chapters 21 and 33: Instructions to Moses to kill the Canaanites, and actual massacres.

          Deuteronomy, Chapters 2, 3, 4, 7, 12: More massacres ordained by God.

          Deuteronomy, Chapters 13 and 17: Kill everyone whose religious beliefs are not your own.

          Re: Slavery

          Ignoring the fact that at no point does God or any of his followers condemn slavery and treat it as normal:

          Genesis, Chapter 9: The story of Noah and Ham was once used to justify slavery.

          Genesis, Chapters 24 and 26: God gives slaves to bless those he approves of.

          Exodus, Chapter 21: Instructions on purchasing slaves and how to treat them (beating is involved).

          Leviticus, Chapter 22: Slaves can even be owned by priests.

          Leviticus, Chapter 25: God gives instructions to enslave the heathen neighbours.

          Numbers, Chapter 20: God encourages the Israelites to enslave their war enemies.

          Re: Subjugation of Women

          This, basically, which produces 129 examples by the time it reaches the end of Deuteronomy.

          Lastly, it’s ludicrous to suggest the Torah was somehow an ethical pioneering legacy, both because that overestimates its quality and underestimates its predecessor societies. Quite apart from the fact that the God depicted in it commits several mass killings and plagues, which might make it more bloodthirsty than even the Aztec gods with their daily sacrifices, the few commandments that are in it that aren’t parochial (the endless details of animal sacrifices and the scapegoat concept), immoral (“Stone anyone who doesn’t obey the sabbath”), or just flat out God-centric (“Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”) are banal.

          “Thou shalt not kill”, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, and “Thou shalt not steal” are hardly Jewish inventions. Nearly every society (such as the Egyptian one), including hunter-gatherer ones, would have had social customs and traditional rules to deal with the risks of murderers, thieves, and adulterers, as these problems predate civilization and humanity. In any case, the Torah doesn’t add anything other than “Do it because God said so”, which is such a lame reason that it only works if you turn everyone into a complete dupe and suppress any dissent. And guess what’s encouraged by the books as well?

          If the Torah influenced modern ethics, it was as an instruction manual on how not to do it.

          • Thanks for that. I was just going to reply that if he couldn’t find the examples he obviously hadn’t read it but yours was a much better reply

          • if he couldn’t find the examples he obviously hadn’t read it but yours was a much better reply

            I did read it. Of course. And a little more in depth and thoroughly than Zeuglodon… “obviously…” For starts, I know the language its written in, I’m going to be risky and guess that you and Zeuglodon don’t.

            I could go through that whole list and make my arguments on how each example has been taken way out of context or hasn’t been looked at through the lens of a much bigger picture or how their just flat out wrong (like the first one: Lot is heavily criticized for many mistakes he made throughout his life, this, no exception and G-d is not praising him for the offering of his daughters), but I won’t, because I don’t have time and honestly, I don’t think it will bring more understanding or respect to your side of the table.

  22. fromtheotherside Jul 21, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Ok fine lets take 1: the Jews. The Jewish bible seems to have introduced the ethics that everyone holds today as good, rational ethics (except terrorists and extremists etc.). As I mentioned before, some of the big ones are: no murder, no stealing, don’t trick people that don’t know better, love all people…. and the list goes on (all found explicitly in the Jewish bible).

    Except that as well as “terrorists and extremists”, the Jewish Bible (Tora) applied these to fellow Jews -not humanity – with massacres of rival tribes or followers of rival gods, applauded! To find morality in religious texts, extreme cherry-picking is usually required to dodge all the self contradictions.

    Now, these ethics, that everyone agrees on,

    They don’t!
    As I pointed out previously, both historically and at present, numerous people and many cultures hold conflicting views which THEY claim (or have claimed), represent some god-given morality or cultural code!

    Can it just be luck that the Jewish bible came up with so many of the rational ethics that we still hold dear today?

    Or more likely – from all the contradictions, some people retrospectively read what they want to see, into “interpreting” and cherry-picking documents.
    YAHWEH or EL was the Canaanite god of war – not peace!

  23. They don’t!

    I was referring to those basic ethics that everyone does agree on. Or the vast majority of everyone. These ethics originated in the Jewish Bible.

    Or more likely – from all the contradictions, some people retrospectively read what they want to see, into “interpreting” and cherry-picking documents.

    Does the bible not say clearly, for example, “Thou shall not murder,” “Thou shall not steal,” “love your neighbor as your self.” ?

    the Jewish Bible (Tora) applied these to fellow Jews -not humanity

    Who said?

    was the Canaanite god of war – not peace!

    And that’s why it says in the bible, “When approaching a town to attack it, first offer them peace.” (Deut. 20:10)

    Rabbi Akiva (2nd century CE, Israel) reported that he saw a son bind up his father and feed him to ravaging dogs in service of one of his idols. Part of their cult worship was to sacrifice children to the gods (Deut. 12:31), and modern archaeologists have found mounds of children’s bones by their altars. These nations were also involved in various sexual immoralities like incest, bestiality and temple orgies (Leviticus 18:27).

    The only nation the Jews ever waged war on sacrificed their children! The bible makes it clear that this was the reason for the war against the Canaanites. (Deut 18:12)

    And even so, the Jews went through painstaking measures to make peace with this cruel and animalistic nation.

    Before entering the Land of Israel, Joshua wrote three letters to the Canaanite nations. The first letter said, “Anyone who wants to leave Israel, has permission to leave.” If they refused, a second letter said, “Whoever wants to make peace, can make peace.” If they again refused, a final letter warned, “Whoever wants to fight, get ready to fight.” Upon receiving these letters, only one of the Canaanite nations, the Girgashites, heeded the call and settled peacefully.

    In the event that the Canaanite nations chose not to make a treaty, the Jewish people were still commanded to fight mercifully. For example, when besieging a city to conquer it, the Jews never surrounded it on all four sides. This way, one side was always left open to allow for anyone who wanted to escape. (see Maimonides – Laws of Kings 6:4-5, with Kesef Mishna)

    was the Canaanite god of war

    It appears I’ve done my research. You? Did you? Or did you just hear a few loose bits of information and except them as truth (thus leading to your statement above) because they fit some preconceived biases? Is this the type of effort you would put into a scientific experiment?

    Just because someone is an atheist doesn’t mean they can’t have respect for the bibles “ethics.” Which atheists and theists alike still cling to today.

    • Just because someone is an atheist doesn’t mean they can’t have respect for the bibles “ethics.” Which atheists and theists alike still cling to today.

      The first four commandments indicate a shallow insecure person with narcissistic overtones.

      I am the Lord thy God

      Thou shalt have no other gods before me

      Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image

      Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain

      Remember. These are the first things on god’s mind when he finally talks direct to his creations. Priorities??

      For a full psychological profile of the god you worship, check here.

      http://richarddawkins.net/2014/03/gods-psychological-profile/

      • Brian,

        You are letting me down. You have made good arguments above but we don’t do history.

        You get to 11 and you realise that you would need 100,000 lifetimes to read every book and you only have a few years before you are made and there is no changing thereafter. Get smart and be selective. Choose mega knowledge rather than junk knowledge. Newton’s second law of motion tells you something about everything that is moving, has ever moved and will ever move. Hume’s “you cannot derive ought statements from is statements” is also mega knowledge. To be in the know that my computer cannot do “A’s” is junk knowledge.

        History is junk knowledge and so often corrupt. History is only any good when it tells us not to make the same mistake again and for filling the school cirriculum when you cannot find any Socrates’ to teach them how to think.

        But the “biggi” that I must point out for readers here is that evolution is only history. It can tell us a lot of junk knowledge about history but it cannot tell us interesting things like “who is the fittest?” or answer the biggest question “how can we grow our knowledge faster?”

        If I may continue. The big boys, our greatest thinkers, Hume and Kant, junked Goddo and “you cannot derive ought statements from is statements”. Darwin, standing on the shoulders of his polymath grandfather Ersamus, gave us the theory of evolution 150 years ago. Popper told us that it was only history. Why do we have to relive the storm in the Victorian teacup today? Why can’t we just go forward standing on the shoulders of giants?

    • fromtheotherside Jul 21, 2014 at 4:37 pm -
      It appears I’ve done my research.

      Quoting from a version of a Bible is no evidence of objective research. It is just evidence of uncritical acceptance on particular versions of mythologies.
      Bible reading is not comprehensive archaeological research! It is only a tiny mythological aspect of it!

      There are many contradictions in the Bible and many contradictory interpretations of it in the different versions, even before we look at the the contradictions of it from historical records and science!

      Bible Contradictions – http://bibviz.com/

      There are also the alternative mythologies from the Gospels of the other Xtian sects, the Romans did not approve of around 300AD.

      http://gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html

      This immensely important discovery includes a large number of primary “Gnostic Gospels” — texts once thought to have been entirely destroyed during the early Christian struggle to define “orthodoxy” — scriptures such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth.

      http://www.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/document.html – (Gospel of Judas)

      http://gnosis.org/library/marygosp.htm

      Research involves artefacts, examinations of historical sites, historical records, and is more than just looking at one book!

      was the Canaanite god of war

      Did you? Or did you just hear a few loose bits of information and except them as truth (thus leading to your statement above) because they fit some preconceived biases? Is this the type of effort you would put into a scientific experiment?

      Yes I investigated objectively :
      The historical evidence is available, but you don’t seem to have checked it before biased replying: -

      Yahweh (/ˈjɑːhweɪ/, or often /ˈjɑːweɪ/ in English; Hebrew: יהוה‎) (Phoenician-Canaanite

        • fromtheotherside Jul 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm -

          I don’t see any worthy evidence.

          That has more to do with your indoctrinated selective vision rather than historical evidence!

          It could have easily been confused with the Israelites attacking the Canaanites.

          You don’t seem to have got the point that for many years the Israelites WERE the Canaanites before the gods evolved and segregated, and the followers of Yahweh / Jehova separated from the other Canaanites. The link on El, Baal, and Asherah was quite clear.

  24. fromtheotherside Jul 21, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Now, these ethics, that everyone agrees on,

    They don’t!

    I was referring to those basic ethics that everyone does agree on. Or the vast majority of everyone. These ethics originated in the Jewish Bible.

    Nope! Just wishful thinking! There is no world-wide general agreement on ethics.

    Or more likely – from all the contradictions, some people
    retrospectively read what they want to see, into “interpreting”
    and cherry-picking documents.

    Does the bible not say clearly, for example, “Thou shall not murder,” “Thou shall not steal,” “love your neighbor as your self.” ?

    Cherry-picking the The New Testament does, but that was written without any eye-witness accounts, decades of centuries after Jesus was supposed to have said it.

    The original OT 10 commandments in the King James version say, “Thou shalt not kill”, http://www.godstenlaws.com/ten-commandments/#.U82YuUCm7PU- which was referring to the rules within the tribes of Israel. The later recent substitution of “Murder”, means “illegal killing” which begs the question when discussing laws in relation to authority and morality!

    was the Canaanite god of war

    It appears I’ve done my research.

    Only to your own confirmation biases!

    You? Did you? Or did you just hear a few loose bits of information and except them as truth (thus leading to your statement above) because they fit some preconceived biases?

    I think you should be looking at psychological projection!

    Is this the type of effort you would put into a scientific experiment?

    Yes! – basic research into previous historical records looking at archaeology beyond the English texts in THE BIBLE. selected by the Roman bishops and subsequent scribes. Research involves looking at more than one book.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahweh

    Yahweh (/ˈjɑːhweɪ/, or often /ˈjɑːweɪ/ in English; Hebrew: יהוה‎) (Phoenician-Canaanite

  25. I was referring to those basic ethics that everyone does agree on. Or the vast majority of everyone. These ethics originated in the Jewish Bible.

    They may have been written down in the Jewish Bible, but that is only of interest from an archeological stand point. And early attempt at written law. As I explained above, the commandments are just commonsense rules for tribal communal living, and are common in native tribes around the world. You’re only claim to fame is that you may, and I stress may, have been the first tribe to write them down. I posted above that evolution has more to say about the origin or these moral rules.

    All of those traits fall straight out of evolution. They are obvious commonsense rules for tribal living. They have been bred into our brains over millions of years and are hard wired. No god required.

    Your altruism is limited to near genetic relatives, to pass on your genes. You are altruistic to the Shaman, who says you are going to die if you don’t do what he says, and to the chief for similar reasons. Today, we call it “Sucking Up”. And there is reciprocal altruism we now call trade. Apart from that, we are a selfish species out for whatever advantage we can get over our neighbour, without pushing it to the extent that Ugg and his kin come over and smash our heads in. We call this politics.

    It’s brave man that starts quoting from the bible in an attempt to claim the moral high ground for the Israelites, especially as it relates to children. The very same book says that the “Sins of the father will be visited on their children even unto the third and fourth generation.” And these are Jewish kids. A child, innocent at birth is going to burn in Hell???

    One wonders what the children of Moses did prior to receiving the rules from god. They had survived so long as a tribe and come this far under the impression that murder, adultery, theft and perjury were permissible?? Obviously these rules are just commonsense for tribal living and have no basis or origin in god. Every tribe on the planet has come to these or similar commonsense rules.

    There is nothing in the commandments about protecting children from cruelty, rape, slavery or genocide. Moses then goes on to set rules for buying and selling slaves and using an awl to bore holes in their ears. And what about the rules for selling daughters.

    In Exodus 32:27 Just after Moses has delivered the ten commandments, he has a hissyfit and instructs the loyal to “Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor. So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.…” and this is to his own tribe, the Israelites.

    But wait. There’s more. Numbers 31:27 gives license and warrant to the Israelites Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. 18″But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.…

    Nothing like a bit of genocide and child rape. But no, you say that the Ten Commandments were for everyone, not just the Jews. They are obviously a set of rules for Jews only, and everyone else is fair game. You write and quote how caring they are to children and other races. Taurus Excreta. This book was written by the tribe to reflect the conquests and values of that tribe. The winners history. Noting whatsoever to do with god.

    It’s brave man who comes to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and tries to quote the bible as an argument for anything, let alone a basis for morality. And don’t get me started. The bible is full of this stuff. Hand made. Man made.

    • In Exodus 32:27 Just after Moses has delivered the ten commandments, he has a hissyfit and instructs the loyal to “Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor. So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.…” and this is to his own tribe, the Israelites.

      Moses just didn’t order the random killing of random innocent people for no reason. If you would go back and read all of chapter 32 you’d see that the people in question here had committed a brazen act of rebellion. And they weren’t done yet. As clearly seen by a full reading of the chapter, they were in the midst of starting an uprising. As you and I both know, uprisings are dangerous and usually involve rebels that can not be trusted to lead a nation if they were to succeed in overthrowing the current leader. This mob was no exception. They were dangerous and had to go, for the protection of the innocent rest of the nation.

      But even so, Moses, as is custom, first offered peace: “And thereupon Moses stood at the gate of the camp and said: Who is for G-d, let him come to me!” (Exodus 32:26). So you see, first Moses tried to make peace, giving everyone equal opportunity to settle down and restore calm.

      This was a mini war. An uprising. Not a random massacre or genocide. And when the verse speaks of killing “brothers, friends and relatives” it is a warning to no have mercy on the dangerous rebels even if they happed to be your friend, brother or relative.

      In any case, 1 thing is clear. Things aren’t as clear cut and evil here as you so confidently laid them out to be.

      Next up:

      But wait. There’s more. Numbers 31:27 gives license and warrant to the Israelites Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. 18″But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.…

      Again if you read in context you’ll see that only those women that posed a threat by having manipulative powers which they would use to turn certain Israelites to rebel, again, in an unorganized dangerous fashion were ordered against. But the innocent ones, the ones that would not cause internal havoc and danger, were ordered to let live. Not raped, but married. Girls got married young back then and any marriage was a great win for them as they now had a husband to look after and care for them. Where did you get rape from? And if it was an order for free rape, why not spare all the women for rape, why only the virgins? There is no reason to say that this was a permission for rape. It was permission for marriage. And the bible elsewhere makes its clear stance on rape: its utterly forbidden.

      Again, you have not solid proof to back up your claims on these 2 verses. In fact careful reading of the context shows that these situations can not just simply be dismissed as “genocide and child rape.”

      • It’s brave man who comes to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and tries to quote the bible as an argument for anything, let alone a basis for morality.

        Yes it is. And my stance stays the same: our basic ethics were first written in the bible. You yourself admitted to this. The bible was the first to see value in these ethics and to attempt to commit them to law and to publicize their necessity in the pursuit of a better world.

        I rest my case. Oh, and remember assumptionsaretherootofallevil? David R Allan, its nice to be arguing with you again. And I’ll have you know that you’ve not been arguing with some well versed middle aged Jew. Something to think about: I’m only just 18.

        • Yes it is. And my stance stays the same: our basic ethics were first written in the bible. You yourself admitted to this. The bible was the first to see value in these ethics and to attempt to commit them to law and to publicize their necessity in the pursuit of a better world.

          There is a long way from “First Written” which I do agree with, to the divine words of god as heard by Moses on Mount Sinai.

          At 18, I don’t know if you remember this phrase from Australia politics. “There are core promises, and non core promises.” If you don’t, ask a responsible adult. (No slight intended) It is an example of political spin. I was about to note that you are a master of this dark art in that previous forum, however the Moderator closed the topic. It doesn’t matter what the words of the Torah say, the rabbinical studies have found a way to “Spin” the words, so they match what is acceptable in a civilized society today. For example.

          But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves

          You say:-

          But the innocent ones, the ones that would not cause internal havoc and danger, were ordered to let live. Not raped, but married.

          A superb spun line between rape and forced marriage to an enemy and then “Consensual” sex within marriage. How saintly the conqueror. The politician who used the term “Core Promise” would be proud of your attempt. Tribes all over the world, prized virginal females of defeated tribes, as the spoils of battle. They immediately provide genetic diversity to the new tribe. It was the “Norm” of the day. I don’t think you need to try to “Spin” the words to mean anything other than what they say. They say the soldier could keep them for himself with all that entails.

          The Jewish faith will not fall if it admits to what is obviously the commonsense interpretation of the words in question. They are the true words for their time, written to reflect a firmly held belief in the rights of the conquering Israelites. Spoils of war. If I was a rabbinic scholar, I would say, yes, this is the history of our tribe. And yes, on modern moral values, this is abhorrent, but the world now knows this is unacceptable. Straight to the moral high ground. I think it makes your position look silly when you try to defend the indefensible.

          P.S. Welcome to this forum. You will be an asset. I couldn’t stand that other forum with the abuse and clunky “Moderate First, post 12 hours later. No way to conduct a rational debate.

          • It doesn’t matter what the words of the Torah say, the rabbinical studies have found a way to “Spin” the words, so they match what is acceptable in a civilized society today. For example.

            “Today?” Most of our “rabbinical studies” are what we call the Talmud. Talmud means to learn or to teach. But anyway, It was not written “today.” It was written nearly 2,000 years ago and being around 6,000 pages, it covers everything.

            As we can imagine, society back then looked very different. And still, one who has learned through just some of the Talmud will see that the Rabbis who wrote it had far more advanced and modern morals than the rest of the world at the time appeared to have had. There is an entire section of the Talmud that is devoted to ethics. Its called “Chapters of our fathers” or “Ethics of our fathers” (you can google it) A reading of this section will reveal just how advanced and thought out (and rational) the ethics of the writers of the Talmud truly where.

            Now, here’s something I bet you didn’t know. You seem to take issue with the Rabbis interpreting the Torah or putting “spins” on it. But, the Old Testament itself gives the Rabbis this ability, and the verse is crystal clear. “You shall do according to the word that they will tell you…. and you shall be careful to do according to everything that they will teach you.” (Deuteronomy 17:10)

            A little story found in the Talmud (translated from Aramaic of course):

            The Talmud tells of a disagreement in the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court) over a point of law. Of the 71 rabbis on the court, 70 say the law is one way. One holds the opposite view.

            “If I’m right,” the dissenter says, “let the walls of the study hall buckle inward.”

            The walls buckle.

            “If I’m right,” he says, “let the stream outside flow uphill.”

            The stream flows uphill.

            “If I’m right, let a voice from heaven proclaim it!”

            A voice booms out of heaven, “He’s right!”

            A rabbi from the opposing side gets to his feet.

            “The Bible is no longer in heaven,” he says. The Bible tells us to follow the majority view of qualified Sages (above verse). Miracles and voices from heaven are not admissible as evidence. You’re outvoted and that’s the end of it!

            This doesn’t mean the interpretations can be anything. After all, the majority of 71 elite elders had to agree on any one issue.

          • If I was a rabbinic scholar, I would say, yes, this is the history of our tribe. And yes, on modern moral values, this is abhorrent, but the world now knows this is unacceptable. Straight to the moral high ground. I think it makes your position look silly when you try to defend the indefensible.

            Would you? I mean, look at it from our perspective for a second. We believe (why we do is a separate topic) that were dealing with the words of G-d here. We can’t just dismiss the words of G-d as immoral. They need to be understood in context.

            I’ll also add that the Jewish bible does talk about peace a lot. More than it does war. War is looked at as an unfortunate reality. But as I said above, when certain people are sacrificing their children or threating to internally or externally destroy us, certain preventative measures must be taken.

            Furthermore, all of your “issues” that I’ve tried to “solve” in as clear way as I could, do not take away from the fact that, interestingly enough, the Jews were the first known people to have a moral code and society that resembles that of a democracy or Republic. 2000 years ago, the Jews had a supreme court consisting of 71 judges who had to be of peak quality. And in an ancient, death penalty happy world, the Talmud reports that “A court of Jewish Law that put 1 person to death in 70 years is considered murderous.” How many people has the USA given the death sentence to in the past 70 years?

            The ethics of the Torah are very rational and accepted, and for that alone, the Jews should at least be given credit. A priceless contribution to the forward progress of the human race.

            Anyway, I’m spending to much time here. I have to practice ukulele!!!

        • fromtheotherside Jul 21, 2014 at 11:29 pm

          It’s brave man who comes to the Richard
          Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and
          tries to quote the bible as an argument for
          anything, let alone a basis for morality.

          The bible was the first to see value in these ethics and to attempt to commit them to law and to publicize their necessity in the pursuit of a better world.

          Err no! Just because it is the first one you have heard of, does not make it a historical first. There were many earlier cultures with their own rules and laws: – Some stories from which (like Gilgamesh’s / Noah’s flood), were later copied into Israelite mythology.
          Nor does it make their aggressive destruction of peoples with other gods in anyway moral.

          • fromtheotherside
            The bible was the first to see value in these
            ethics and to attempt to commit them to
            law and to publicize their necessity in the
            pursuit of a better world.

            Err no! Just because it is the first one you have heard of, does not make it a historical first. There were many earlier cultures with their own rules and laws:

            There were civilised people organising and ordering their societies and building temples, long before the Canaanite-Israelites wrote bible stories.

            http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gobekli-tepe-the-worlds-first-temple-83613665/

            in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it’s the site of the world’s oldest temple.

            Prehistoric people would have gazed upon herds of gazelle and other wild animals; gently flowing rivers, which attracted migrating geese and ducks; fruit and nut trees; and rippling fields of wild barley and wild wheat varieties such as emmer and einkorn. “This area was like a paradise,” says Schmidt, a member of the German Archaeological Institute. Indeed, Gobekli Tepe sits at the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent—an arc of mild climate and arable land from the Persian Gulf to present-day Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt—and would have attracted hunter-gatherers from Africa and the Levant. And partly because Schmidt has found no evidence that people permanently resided on the summit of Gobekli Tepe itself, he believes this was a place of worship on an unprecedented scale—humanity’s first “cathedral on a hill.”

          • fromtheotherside Jul 22, 2014 at 12:23 pm

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dating_the_Bible#The_Hebrew_Bible

            The first five books of the bible in Judaism are called the Torah, meaning “instruction” (it was translated to nomos/law in the Septuagint), and are regarded as the most important section of the Scriptures, traditionally thought to have been written between the 16th century and the 12th century BCE by Moses himself. Followers of the Copenhagen School place its origins in 5th century Yehud Medinata.[5][need quotation to verify]

            Deuteronomy is treated separately from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. The process of its formation probably took several hundred years, from the 8th century to the 6th BCE.[6] It began as no more than the set of religious laws which today make up the bulk of the book;

            The huge temple called Gobekli Tepe, is about 11,000 years old, – So the claim for Israel to be the first organised tribes with a social structure and a priest/rabbi directed moral code, is several thousand years short of the mark!

  26. fromtheotherside Jul 22, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    If I was a rabbinic scholar, I would say, yes, this is
    the history of our tribe. And yes, on modern moral values,
    this is abhorrent, but the world now knows this is
    unacceptable.
    Straight to the moral high ground. I think it makes your
    position look silly when you try to defend the indefensible.

    Would you? I mean, look at it from our perspective for a second. We believe (why we do is a separate topic) that were dealing with the words of G-d here. We can’t just dismiss the words of G-d as immoral. They need to be understood in context.

    Would you? I mean, look at it from our perspective for a second. Aztecs believe (why we do is a separate topic) that were dealing with the words of Xipe-Totec, here. We can’t just dismiss the words of Xipe-Totec as immoral. They need to be understood in context.

    Would you? I mean, look at it from our perspective for a second. We believe (why we do is a separate topic) that were dealing with the words of Thor,/ Zeus,/Ra,/Jupiter,/Asherah, here. We can’t just dismiss the words of Thor,/ Zeus,/Ra,/Jupiter,/Asherah as immoral. They need to be understood in context.

    Perhaps you can see the “context” and fallacy of your circular argument (The bible is the word of god, because because the bible says it is the word of god) in the alternative comments with alternative gods who also have texts or relics proclaiming them?

    “Your gods are wrong, because mine is the right one because I have a book which says so”, is unlikely to impress people of other of equally firmly held religious faiths.

  27. fromtheotherside Jul 22, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Read discussion with David R Allan above.

    “I am not open to reason or scientific or historical evidence of errors or self contradictions in the bible”, because it says it is the word of a god” – Is not a rational argument!
    It is just blind acceptance of preached dogma and fanciful choosing of what you want to believe in accordance with your indoctrinated programming!
    It is not even consistent with what the various versions of the bible actually say!

    • “I am not open to reason or scientific or historical evidence of errors or self contradictions in the bible”, because it says it is the word of a god” – Is not a rational argument!

      Well that’s not what I wrote and that’s not my argument.

      I’m afraid our “discussion” has turned into a fight and although I have what to answer to all of your newest posts I don’t feel it will amount to anything. I’m sorry for anything I wrote that was a direct personal attack on you. I hope you don’t take it personally. I was just getting to much into it. Anyway, its been real.

      Oh and if your curios, I’m behind the comments by assumptionsaretherootofallevil (you can find in the archives).

      • fromtheotherside – I mean, look at it from our perspective for a second. We believe that were dealing with the words of G-d here. We can’t just dismiss the words of G-d as immoral. They need to be understood in context.

        fromtheotherside Jul 22, 2014 at 7:39 pm

        “I am not open to reason or scientific or historical evidence of errors or self contradictions in the bible”, because it says it is the word of a god”Is not a rational argument!

        Well that’s not what I wrote and that’s not my argument.

        Either biblical claims can be dismissed when debunked by scientific and historical evidence on the basis of what is written, without “spun reinterpretations”, – or they are not open to evidenced reasoning and are simply asserted dogma which will be retained despite any evidence or reasoning.

        That is what your statement of “perspective” (quoted above) appears to say, – so if that is what it says, then it is not an evidenced rational argument, but is simply an asserted circular claim that the alleged “word of god” trumps all evidence and reasoning, so is not open to critical scrutiny or evidenced examination!

        By Zeus!! – This could of course be claimed by followers for the writings about any and every god on an equal basis. Thousands of them!
        (It’s true because my god’s book says its true!)

        You have years of your life ahead of you to discover a world of human cultures and a universe full of science. Much more than you will ever learn from one book!

  28. The Hadith’s are to the Koran what the Rabbinical studies are to the Torah. Both try to square the circle. Both try to rewrite “God’s Devine Word” so that it can make sense in modern ethical and scientific world. Both take “God’s Word”, leaking credibility, like a people smuggler’s boat, and try to plug the holes.

    Your quoted belief that you are dealing with “The words of G-d”, means that you have a mental block, rose coloured glasses that prevents you from stepping outside of your universe, looking back, and asking, “What if there isn’t a god.” The second you do that, you see that the Rabbi’s can still have their discussion and their law. Morals and ethics an be the subject of discussion by enlightened human beings from many backgrounds. it is a great discussion. But by adding god to the equation, you add an unnecessary complication to a simple argument. You breach Ockham’s Razor. God is not necessary to the discussion.

    You don’t have to defend tribal warriors who take the spoils of war.

  29. “What if there isn’t a god.” The second you do that, you see that the Rabbi’s can still have their discussion and their law. Morals and ethics an be the subject of discussion by enlightened human beings from many backgrounds.

    I have stepped back and done that but lets save that topic and first close this one. What do you say? Have I made a good argument: that the Rabbis had rational ethics back 2000 years ago? What about the verse I quoted about listening to the Rabbis? The Talmud’s story I quoted?

    • the Jews were the first known people to have a moral code and society that resembles that of a democracy or Republic. 2000 years ago, the Jews had a supreme court consisting of 71 judges who had to be of peak quality.

      I keep getting the impression that you feel that the Jewish nation is somehow special. Hints of God’s chosen people. While the Jews may have been ONE of the first nations to write laws down, I think it is a big ask to say that you were the first nation to claim the invention of morality and ethics. Hammurabi’s code is example that predates your 2000 years. Hammurabi’s Code is another example of a code of conduct for the good order of society.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi

      This from the Egyptians

      It is thought that the laws of ancient Egypt were at least partially codified. In fact, we learn from one Greek writer that in the Late Period there were probably eight books that set out the legal code. But nothing remains of these documents, or for that matter, legal codes from other periods. However, we can derive some of the laws of ancient Egypt from funerary texts, as well as court and other documents.

      The Chinese definitely had written legal codes to govern communal behaviour and morality.

      Most of the laws of Ancient China came from the moral teachings written in the legal-code books. The basic law was devotion of children to parents and obedience to the government. The rest of the laws consisted of orders that were handed down by the emperors. It was the duty of the mandarins (important Chinese officials) to teach the laws to the people, who would gather twice a month for this purpose.

      So no. Your history is nothing special. You are not god’s chosen people. And you continue to do great damage to the state of Israel and it’s future, by allowing people who hold this view, to dominate the politics of the region. I am of the view that the secular need to take charge, and the religious need to retire to the synagogue.

      • I am of the view that the secular need to take charge, and the religious need to retire to the synagogue.

        Well good luck with that view because its wishful thinking. It’ll never happen. I don’t know if you realize how strong and committed the religious Jews are. Were not going anywhere.

        Hammurabi’s Code is another example of a code of conduct for the good order of society.

        Not as good a system or as ethical as the Torah’s. Lets take a look:

        Ex. Law #22: “If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.”

        Really, death?

        In The Torah you just have to pay the guy back for crying out loud.

        I wrote this example before but I’ll write it again.

        And in an ancient, death penalty happy world, the Talmud reports that “A court of Jewish Law that put 1 person to death in 70 years is considered murderous.” How many people has the USA given the death sentence to in the past 70 years?

        The Torah speaks of 2 witnesses needed and a warning before any crime is broken.

        The Jews had the first supreme court at 71 elders.

        But, the Talmud writes that, “One who tries to hold on to much will end up not being able to hold on to anything at all.”

        So I’m just going to ask you one question which is really the point I’ve been trying to argue all along. Forget about the Jews. I’m talking religion in general.

        Did religion or religious people not come up with at least some of the ethics that we still cling to today as perfectly rational?

        If you answer yes, than it follows that although religion might be totally irrational to you in certain other areas or even other ethics, the majority of its ethics are quite rational and we can at least thank religion for something.

        • fromtheotherside Jul 23, 2014 at 11:42 am

          Did religion or religious people not come up with at least some of the ethics that we still cling to today as perfectly rational?

          Many did, but that is nothing specific to the Jewish or Christian religions.

          They also came up with many highly destructive dogmas putting the interests of gods, kings, and priests, before the interests of ordinary people. Many of them still do!

          The Jews had the first supreme court

          How would you know this? Have you studied other cultures, or are you just making it up?

          • Sorry. I keep on forgetting that you not a grumpy old man like me. You may never have heard of Aesop’s Fables. From the Greek civilization that predates the happenings in Judah. They are numerous and always have a moral point at the end. They use parables and stories to illustrate the point, which predates the Torah and the Bible in the use of this methodology. Here is one I like.

            The Bee and Jupiter

            A BEE from Mount Hymettus, the queen of the hive, ascended to
            Olympus to present Jupiter some honey fresh from her combs.
            Jupiter, delighted with the offering of honey, promised to give
            whatever she should ask. She therefore besought him, saying,
            “Give me, I pray thee, a sting, that if any mortal shall approach
            to take my honey, I may kill him.” Jupiter was much displeased,
            for he loved the race of man, but could not refuse the request
            because of his promise. He thus answered the Bee: “You shall
            have your request, but it will be at the peril of your own life.
            For if you use your sting, it shall remain in the wound you make,
            and then you will die from the loss of it.”
            Evil wishes, like chickens, come home to roost.

            There are many more here. Enjoy.

            http://www.aesopfables.com/

            P.S. Take a few along to Rabbinical school and see what they make of them. Report back. I would be interested.

        • Did religion or religious people not come up with at least some of the ethics that we still cling to today as perfectly rational?

          No.

          The things we call ethics are just commonsense rules for tribal living. Don’t steal, kill, rape or scam. These taboos are millions of years old and fall directly out of evolution. (Lots of science) They are obvious rules for the survival of the tribe, and hence the passing on of genes. If these commonsense rules did not develop (In the absence of God) you and I would probably not be here having this internet conversation. We would have died out if we kept killing each other, and revenge killing in return.

          What religion did was write them down, (plagiarism), and preach them, (claim authorship.) Again apply Ockham’s Razor. To add god is to add an unnecessary complication. There is a perfectly rational explanation, and god adds nothing to that explanation.

          I believe I lead a moral and ethical life, and I come to this position, because it is obviously the way behave. I’m not doing it because I’m terrified that god is going to put me on the Weber for eternity. The absence of a god doesn’t give me license to rape and pillage.

          Religions of all brands, try to claim morality and ethics as their home ground advantage.

          As for wisdom from the Talmud. There will obviously be wise, ethical and moral discussions that come from great minds turning their intellect on an issue. But I get great wisdom out of Aesop’s Fables that also highlight ethical and moral behaviours without god. The teachings of Buddha and Confucious also deal with the same material. Secular and religious philosophers come to similar conclusions because most morals and ethics are just plain commonsense.

          Judaism isn’t any more special that any other secular or religious deliberations on moral or ethical issues.

  30. fromtheotherside Jul 23, 2014 at 11:42 am

    I don’t know if you realize how strong and committed the
    religious Jews are. We(‘)re not going anywhere.

    Too bad that outsiders and foreigners (in the form of the UN and colonialist powers such as Britain) and political expediency (millions of DP’s spread across Europe who didn’t want to be there and whom their hosts weren’t eager to have remain there) essentially reestablished Israel and the resulting mass emigration of Jews to Israel. If only resident Jews and Arabs in Palestine had been able to reach agreement about Palestine lands themselves the world today might be a lot less contentious.

    No other displaced tribal people in history have ever been granted the right to legally reoccupy lands lost thousands of years previously. Israel became a special case because it was advantageous to Christain countries, the largest and most powerful religious bloc in the world to enable it. Unspoken guilt about Christain acquiescence to Nazi policies leading to attrocities probably also played a role toward the creation of Israel.

    Perhaps a couple thousand more years of turmoil are merely par for the course.

  31. fromtheotherside Jul 23, 2014 at 11:42 am

    You might like to reflect on your user name.

    Those who are blinkered salesmen for a particular religion, often see the world as two viewpoints – Theirs and the wrong ONE!
    This reflects a lack of study or lack of awareness, of all the others.

    There have of course been, thousands of cultures and versions of laws and ethics, with a diversity of benefits and drawbacks in them.
    It is very rare for there to be only two sides to an issue, unless it is as simple as “Is a particular assertion false?”.

  32. Really, toroid?

    There have been Jews in Palestine throughout historical times.

    The Jewish national home, as the nation that is the most tolerant, civilised, human rights based, open, democratic, scientifically and technologically advanced, creative and productive nation in the middle East, is not a cause of contention to anyone of sense and an historical perspective.

    Funny, we don’t see calls for the occupying Turks to give back Cyprus? Or how about payback for all the Jews whose lands were taken from them, beginning in Arabia in the seventh century and then throughout the rest of the region.

    israel has a greater claim than any of its neighbours, (those formed by brute conquest,) to be a fully legally established entity.

  33. First, morality would have to exist, then, perhaps, you could have moral science. Unfortunately, morality is in the mind of the “do-gooder”. It’s personal and is as unique to the individual as any religion (just compare the beliefs of two Christians and you’ll discover there are as many forms of Christianity as there are Christians). Same goes for morals, which makes them meaningless.

    Should science have a less negative impact (interfere with the quality of life and the ability of the environment to sustain that quality of life) on all equal members of the global society and the environment that supports us? I say yes unless it will cause our extinction. If humanity or the environment that supports humanity is under threat I would cause a negative impact on society to save the species. And I would be sad about it but do it anyway.

  34. I think the word should be Ethics not Morals and those ethics should be arrived at by analyzing the potential impact on the environment and living organisms.

    Ethical science is that which takes into consideration all the variables in order to minimize adversity caused by the scientific methods or results.

    Ethical science would take great steps to put environment first and money last.

  35. . http://youtu.be/SW5Hc6qzqok

    The above UK documentary supposedly casts a critical eye on the existence of the New Atheism. It contains interviews with many intelligent believers as well as those by people of the calibre of Richard Dawkins and Peter Singer.
    After watching, I came to the conclusion that it did as much to support the atheist stance as it did to condemn it. I must admit that there were times when I wanted to shout at the screen, but I managed to contain these impulses and watched till the end.
    IMO it was worthy of a watch and this thread is probably the best fit for inclusion.
    I really hope that someone else manages to avail themselves of the link because I’d be really curious about the opinion of others besides myself.

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