values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

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values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  zntneo on Thu Nov 19, 2009 3:45 pm

i recently started arguing with a theist and he claims that in order to have a scale to judge something as better it must be non-physical which therefore if a naturalist uses the term better we are contradicting our creed since we do not have a non physical scale to measure better i am wondering if anyone could help me think about this and to maybe help me respond

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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  Jim on Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:52 pm

zntneo wrote:i recently started arguing with a theist and he claims that in order to have a scale to judge something as better it must be non-physical which therefore if a naturalist uses the term better we are contradicting our creed since we do not have a non physical scale to measure better i am wondering if anyone could help me think about this and to maybe help me respond
sure. that's nonsense.
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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  snafu on Sat Nov 21, 2009 1:14 am

"Better" is so subjective. It depends on the context, the objective being sought after etc... "Beauty" is subjective also, what is beautiful to one, is ugly to another etc...

So perhaps he is meaning to say something like subjective qualities cannot be measured using hard criteria (ie. physical scale) in an absolute sense. Individual people can judge something as better than something else, using their own personal definition of what "better" means in the context, but that definition and judgement of betterness cannot be extrapolated onto everyone. If that is his meaning, I would agree.

I would be interested in Jim's thoughts though, being trained in philosophy.
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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  Jim on Sat Nov 21, 2009 12:32 pm

snafu wrote:"Better" is so subjective. It depends on the context, the objective being sought after etc... "Beauty" is subjective also, what is beautiful to one, is ugly to another etc...

So perhaps he is meaning to say something like subjective qualities cannot be measured using hard criteria (ie. physical scale) in an absolute sense. Individual people can judge something as better than something else, using their own personal definition of what "better" means in the context, but that definition and judgement of betterness cannot be extrapolated onto everyone. If that is his meaning, I would agree.

I would be interested in Jim's thoughts though, being trained in philosophy.
i guess i'm doubtful that this is what zntneo's theist friend had in mind as, if it is, then a "non-physical" scale would hardly solve the issue.

that said, i don't think that the kind of problem you're describing is so dire. for most things it can be resolved by making clear in what "better" consists. for example, to say that one is a better basketball player if they score the most points makes it easy to discover objectively who the better player is. of course, it might be more complicated than that. it might be that being a better player consists in a number of features, some being more important than others. in that case we just make explicit what the variables are, what the weight of each is, and we run the equation. thus, even here we can objectively discover who the better player is.
now, it might be that we disagree on exactly what variables make something "better." but that doesn't seem to be any more complicated than what makes someone "tall." is 6' tall? is 5'10"? we might disagree, especially on borderline cases, but that in no way suggests that some super-physical scale is needed to solve the problem. adding in God no more solves any disagreement we might have over what makes something better than it does on what makes someone tall, something heavy, something messy, someone fat, etc. the vagueness built into such terms isn't solved by the insertion of a deity in any way.
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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  snafu on Sat Nov 21, 2009 6:27 pm

Great points Jim. If people can agree on the criteria to be used, then it is quite possible to measure betterness using a physical scale.

zntneo, does all this help?
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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  Jim on Sun Nov 22, 2009 11:16 am

i really don't understand how positing a god is supposed to solve all this "better" talk in terms of morality. even if i accept the argument that our values are merely subjective tastes and, as such, have no objective force, i don't see how God solves this at all. God has some perspective; He is a subject. that would make His values merely subjective tastes as well. if such tastes have no objective force, then God's values have no objective force.

funny enough, i recently wrote a blog post on this. i'm really not trying to pimp my blog on here (i haven't even been posting much lately), but for anyone interested in this, you can find the entry at http://theappleeaters.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/the-argument-from-morality/ .
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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  Nicholas on Sun Nov 22, 2009 11:18 pm

Jim wrote:i really don't understand how positing a god is supposed to solve all this "better" talk in terms of morality. even if i accept the argument that our values are merely subjective tastes and, as such, have no objective force, i don't see how God solves this at all. God has some perspective; He is a subject. that would make His values merely subjective tastes as well. if such tastes have no objective force, then God's values have no objective force.

funny enough, i recently wrote a blog post on this. i'm really not trying to pimp my blog on here (i haven't even been posting much lately), but for anyone interested in this, you can find the entry at http://theappleeaters.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/the-argument-from-morality/ .

Jim - I think the theist would tend to disagree with the notion that god would be a subjective anything. He wouldn't have a perspective on morality - he is morality, in a sense. It comes from him. It is dictated by him and as such his perspective would be correct morality.

Total bullshit, I agree, but that's the view alot of my theist friends and family take. And the view all my theology and philosophy professors lectured about; the backbone of alot of the other nonsense they taught. The theist won't understand the idea of morality as separate from god unless he accepted that his/her god was fallible in judgment, or that something existed outside of said god's omniscience...and try getting even a liberal, new-age Christian to admit that. (This doesn't really apply to polytheists (as a rule), so needless to say I'm speaking mainly of Judeo-Christian-Muslim theists.)
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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  Jim on Mon Nov 23, 2009 9:52 pm

Nicholas wrote:
Jim wrote:i really don't understand how positing a god is supposed to solve all this "better" talk in terms of morality. even if i accept the argument that our values are merely subjective tastes and, as such, have no objective force, i don't see how God solves this at all. God has some perspective; He is a subject. that would make His values merely subjective tastes as well. if such tastes have no objective force, then God's values have no objective force.

funny enough, i recently wrote a blog post on this. i'm really not trying to pimp my blog on here (i haven't even been posting much lately), but for anyone interested in this, you can find the entry at http://theappleeaters.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/the-argument-from-morality/ .

Jim - I think the theist would tend to disagree with the notion that god would be a subjective anything. He wouldn't have a perspective on morality - he is morality, in a sense. It comes from him. It is dictated by him and as such his perspective would be correct morality.

Total bullshit, I agree, but that's the view alot of my theist friends and family take. And the view all my theology and philosophy professors lectured about; the backbone of alot of the other nonsense they taught. The theist won't understand the idea of morality as separate from god unless he accepted that his/her god was fallible in judgment, or that something existed outside of said god's omniscience...and try getting even a liberal, new-age Christian to admit that. (This doesn't really apply to polytheists (as a rule), so needless to say I'm speaking mainly of Judeo-Christian-Muslim theists.)
i guess i don't know what you mean by "he is morality." i mean, he clearly isn't actually morality. morality is, for the Christian, something that comes from God, but isn't identical to God. you're right that it comes from Him and is dictated by Him, but that doesn't mean He doesn't have some perspective on things. He must as a being. a "God's-eye-view" is still a view.
i addressed the idea that God's dictating of rules doesn't seem to get something objective in my post. it would still merely be His tastes. and, if tastes are merely subjective, then His tastes are subjective as well. as long as someone holds that tastes can never reach objective morality, then tastes can never reach that status. as soon as some tastes are allowed to be such, then that rule no longer holds, and, in that case, we no longer need a god to get to objective morality, thus defeating the entire reason for the argument.
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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  Nicholas on Tue Nov 24, 2009 12:36 am

Jim wrote:i guess i don't know what you mean by "he is morality." i mean, he clearly isn't actually morality. morality is, for the Christian, something that comes from God, but isn't identical to God. you're right that it comes from Him and is dictated by Him, but that doesn't mean He doesn't have some perspective on things. He must as a being. a "God's-eye-view" is still a view.
i addressed the idea that God's dictating of rules doesn't seem to get something objective in my post. it would still merely be His tastes. and, if tastes are merely subjective, then His tastes are subjective as well. as long as someone holds that tastes can never reach objective morality, then tastes can never reach that status. as soon as some tastes are allowed to be such, then that rule no longer holds, and, in that case, we no longer need a god to get to objective morality, thus defeating the entire reason for the argument.

What I meant was that to many Christians I know, god = morality/law in the same way that "Jesus = love". It's not a philosophically or logically defensible position (as if they have many at all!), but it's nevertheless the equation they make. I think it'd be more accurate to say they believe god's position on morality is objective truth. His dictation, then, would not be subjective, as being an omniscient being (with total knowledge), he could not be subjective (opinions or personal feelings) about anything. I guess. His perspective (as we call it), would be the way it is; anything to the contrary is subjective and, for Christians, wrong.
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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  Jim on Tue Nov 24, 2009 10:40 am

Nicholas wrote:
What I meant was that to many Christians I know, god = morality/law in the same way that "Jesus = love". It's not a philosophically or logically defensible position (as if they have many at all!), but it's nevertheless the equation they make. I think it'd be more accurate to say they believe god's position on morality is objective truth. His dictation, then, would not be subjective, as being an omniscient being (with total knowledge), he could not be subjective (opinions or personal feelings) about anything. I guess. His perspective (as we call it), would be the way it is; anything to the contrary is subjective and, for Christians, wrong.
i guess i don't know of any apologists who make that logical identification. that's not surprising as, you're right, it doesn't appear to make sense. laws don't love or have desires or build things, or even know anything, and, clearly, God does all those things. in that sense i guess i want to be charitable and only address those Christians who would not insist that God literally is one and the same as morality or that Christ is one and the same as love (since when can love grow a beard?). plenty of serious Christians don't do that.
i get that a lot of these new apologists want to say that "they believe god's position on morality is objective truth," but that's exactly the assertion i'm calling into question, so just asserting that again would be begging the question. if the justification for that is that "being an omniscient being (with total knowledge), he could not be subjective (opinions or personal feelings) about anything," i don't see how that works at all. having knowledge of some things, lots of things, or everything doesn't seem to have any effect on that knowledge belonging to some subject, and it is by virtue of the fact that it is a subject doing the knowing that the views of the subject are subjective. and, of course, God has personal feelings. the Bible is full of His jealousy, anger, love, etc.
though it's hard to tell from the phrasing here, it might be that you're saying that because God has perfect knowledge, then He knows what is and isn't moral perfectly. ok, but that means, then, that such things are independent of Him rather than a function of His Will. perfect knowledge is irrelevant otherwise. but, if it is the case that there are objective moral facts independent of God, and this is how He knows of them, then He can't be the standard for those facts just because they are independent of Him. they're moral facts regardless of whether or not anyone knows about them, but it just so happens that God is omniscient, and, as such, He does indeed know of them. but, if that's the case, then the argument still fails as God can't be the reason such a morality is objective in the first place. rather, at best God is mediator of sorts, the thing that tells us what the laws are. of course, if that's the case, then the argument still fails as the whole point was that we already knew that there was an objective moral law. that was first premise of the argument. without that, the argument never gets off the ground, so the mere fact that God knows about the moral law is unsurprising. apparently such moral facts are supposed to be self-evident, and, in such a case, omniscience is hardly necessary for such knowledge.
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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  gorgardard on Wed Nov 25, 2009 5:40 pm

First off, it's an ad hominem attack. He is implying that because you are A, therefore your arguments are invalid. If you said he couldn't argue from a position of logic, because he believed in God, which defies logic.
Secondly, it's not true. There are plenty of non-physical things which are "better". Less stress is better than lots of stress, but stress is not physical itself. Stress can be MEASURED physically, sure, but so can something bieng "Better". Like Jim said, no one is going to argue that a basketball player who can't pass, jump, score or follow the rules of basketball is a "Better" player than one who can. Therefore, we have proved that better has qualities that can be measured physically.
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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  zntneo on Fri Nov 27, 2009 1:04 am

Sorry for not coming back earlier

I think I have basically thought about everything that has been said and I don't know if it helps me understand the problem let me quote some of what he said

The human mind certainly controls the movement of our body by way of electrochemical signals, but is the mind itself purely a physical, material object -- and our thoughts and feelings have measurable manifestations in our brains. But is the specific pattern of electrical signals corresponding to a given state of mind the equivalent of that mind? If the mind is purely physical (I contend that it is not), then if you and I disagree about something, it simply means that our electrical impulses are in different configurations, no more significant than that the Rockies are different from the Himalayas. If that is the case, then an scientific understanding is no better than an unscientific one. Knowing and living according to the truth is not better than ignoring the truth, and having a functional arm is not better than having a broken arm -- because in a purely material universe, there is no "better" -- there is only "different." In this discussion we've made an assumption that has gone unchallenged: that science helps us progress toward a better state than the one we occupy without science. If that state is not better, there is no reason -- no moral obligation -- to strive as we do to reach it. Furthermore, the fact that even self-professed naturalists live as though some things are better than other things betrays that their lifestyle is inconsistent with their creed. The burden of proof regarding the existence of non-material things lies not with the one who claims they exist, but with the one who claims that every single facet of our everyday experience can be understood entirely and adequately in terms of material things, including the undeniable perception that understanding is better than not understanding.

: given two hypothetical physical states A and B, in which a physical scale exists to define a property "goodness" so that A is "better" than B on account of its greater goodness, the goodness is merely another parameter of the state, and you're right where you started: you've got two physical states A and B. Is one better than the other? Sure, but the next question: So what? Ought we to prefer the better state -- should we make decisions that bring about better states? If so, why?

Sorry if this post is too long but I thought giving context would really help

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Morality

Post  thecatslunch on Fri Nov 27, 2009 9:40 am

Interesting discussion.

I would add that the theist position does no better at explaining value. If morality comes from God does the statement 'God is good' have any meaning? If every one of God's actions is good simply because God does it, then morality is random and we can imagine a universe where God decides wearing a hat on Tuesdays is especially wicked. If God's actions are God for reasons OTHER than His simply decreeing them so, then we must ask the source of God's morals. Either way, a theistic worldview in no way solves the problem of morality.

I think the argument does not take into account the subjective experience of mind. It is in the mind (a subjective experience of physical brain processes) that we find the scale of values that decides that one state is 'better' than another. It is similar to the experience of preference for strawberry ice cream over vanilla. There is nothing in the physical states of either ice cream to make one 'better' than the other. It is only with the addition of the mind of the observer that such declarations may be made.

Now where does the mind get its values for morality? I would argue that genetics and social conditioning are perfectly capable of performing this task.

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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  strangeonetoo on Fri Nov 27, 2009 3:42 pm

Nicholas wrote:

Jim - I think the theist would tend to disagree with the notion that god would be a subjective anything. He wouldn't have a perspective on morality - he is morality, in a sense. It comes from him. It is dictated by him and as such his perspective would be correct morality.

Total bullshit, I agree, but that's the view alot of my theist friends and family take. And the view all my theology and philosophy professors lectured about; the backbone of alot of the other nonsense they taught. The theist won't understand the idea of morality as separate from god unless he accepted that his/her god was fallible in judgment, or that something existed outside of said god's omniscience...and try getting even a liberal, new-age Christian to admit that. (This doesn't really apply to polytheists (as a rule), so needless to say I'm speaking mainly of Judeo-Christian-Muslim theists.)

Nicholas, you seem to understand where Theists are coming from, but you claim it is "bullshit". Why?

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Re: values requiring a non-physical scale to compare them to?

Post  gorgardard on Fri Dec 04, 2009 6:24 pm

If the mind is purely physical (I contend that it is not), then if you and I disagree about something, it simply means that our electrical impulses are in different configurations, no more significant than that the Rockies are different from the Himalayas.
Classic false analogy. Mountains and brains are not in any way the same thing. One is a biosphere and the other is an organ. Besides that, the Himalayas and the Rockies are VERY different - in soil and sediment composition, temperatures, species inhabiting them, even size and area coverage. It's pretty obvious that two minds aren't Identical anyway.

If that is the case, then an scientific understanding is no better than an unscientific one. Knowing and living according to the truth is not better than ignoring the truth, and having a functional arm is not better than having a broken arm

This is where he hamstrings his own argument. It's easy to see, both empirically and WITHOUT needing a creator, why a whole arm is better than having a broken arm, or why knowing and living the truth is better than ignoring it. First off, you can do a lot more with an unbroken arm. Your body is in less pain. And if you choose to live a lie, you will be constantly having to ignore the truth, and you'll probably alienate some people, not to mention the stress of pretending something isn't true.

Here is the CENTRAL IDEA behind his argument: (Which he has cloaked by re-iterating his statement over and over in different ways)

...in a purely material universe, there is no "better" -- there is only "different."

Here he makes an assumption - ask him why? Why in a purely material universe is there only "different"? What DEMONSTRABLE principles is he basing this on? Once again, it's based on his perception of something he doesn't really understand. Like we've said, it's completely possible that one thing that is "better" in one context is "worse" in another context.

And secondly, why in a spiritual/metaphysical/whatever universe would it be different? This is the same argument that theists make saying morality comes from God, therefore anyone who doesn't believe in God doesn't have morals. It's a baseless accusation.

Finally, he says:
The burden of proof regarding the existence of non-material things lies not with the one who claims they exist, but with the one who claims that every single facet of our everyday experience can be understood entirely and adequately in terms of material things, including the undeniable perception that understanding is better than not understanding.

To paraphrase, "The burden of proof lies on naturalists, not supernaturalists."

Uh, first of all, no, the burden of proof IS on theists and supernaturalists. Science has never given us any evidence of the supernatural. Secondly, no one is denying that understanding is better than not understanding, and that has NOTHING to do with the burden of proof.

In short, the counterargument is “Ok, show me some evidence as to why there is no such thing as ‘better’ in a naturalist world.” Especially the arm example, I’d love to see what kind of insane troll logic drives that argument.
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