Sunday, October 05, 2014

Deriving "Ought" from Dirt

In his blog entry Shooting Blanks, Steve Hays reacts to comments offered by members of in response to one of Hays’ own blog entries, titled Funeral for atheism.

One of the comments, by someone posting under the moniker “Rumraket,” included the following statement:
You still can't derive any moral "Oughts" from the "is" of whatever property you give your pet deity.
Hays countered this by interjecting the following unargued assertions:
Actually, you can derive an "ought" from an "is" if the "is" has a meaningful purpose. If it was designed by a wise, benevolent Creator, with a particular nature and telos.
According to what Hays claims here, so long as the “is” in question has certain qualities which Hays has stipulated, one can derive an “ought” from it.

The qualities Hays identifies are the following:
1. The “is” in question “has a meaningful purpose”  
2. The “is” in question “was designed by a wise, benevolent Creator”  
3. That Creator has “a particular nature and telos.”
Take for example my microwave oven. At first blush, it seems to meet these qualifications. After all, my microwave oven “has a meaningful purpose” – namely to heat food in a matter of seconds; it was, so far as I can tell, “designed by a wise, benevolent Creator” – i.e., by an ingenious inventor, probably many, possessing much greater wisdom in the special sciences than I possess; and that Creator, or however many there may been who contributed to the designing of my microwave, have “a particular nature and telos.”

Think of Thomas Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park” who invented all kinds of marvelous things that we still use and enjoy today. If anyone possessing “a particular nature and telos” ever earned the title “Creator,” I’d say Edison is a prime candidate. But there surely have been many more, and yet more will come in the future. These Creators bring our lives incalculable value, and I for one am very thankful to them. Without folks like Edison, we’d still be living like the primitives who penned Leviticus.

But given that my microwave oven “has a meaningful purpose,” it “was designed by a wise, benevolent Creator,” and its Creator has “a particular nature and telos,” what “ought” can I “derive” from it? Do I derive from my microwave oven that I should set it on high, submerge it under soapy dish water, throw it out of my 10th floor condo balcony? These criteria which Hays has stipulated do not at all seem sufficient to the task of deriving an “ought” that has any bearing on human life.

Most likely, however, Hays, the Michael Moore of Christian internet apologists, would object to my characterization of a “mere human being” as a “Creator” – i.e., with a capital C. A “Creator” (big C) for Hays needs to be invisible and possess all kinds of magical powers, especially the power to bring things into existence by means of mere commands. It just wishes, and – poof! – like the conclusion of Bahnsen’s TAG, whatever is desired becomes real, essentially by force of will.

Now, we never observe any consciousness in nature demonstrating such a power. But, don’t worry, we don’t need to find evidence of such an ability so long as we can imagine it. And no, we don’t find the conscious being that allegedly has such power in nature either. But so long as we can imagine it, that should be sufficient, right? We can even call it “supernatural” so that we have a ready excuse or not finding evidence of such a thing in nature. Indeed, no matter what actually exists, we’ll always be able to imagine something that is outside or beyond existence. So let’s just imagine, and let’s pretend that what we imagine is real. Okay? After all, that’s what religious belief needs to get things started.

So what did the Christian god qua “Creator” originally create? Well, according to what Christianity claims, the Christian created the entire universe. It essentially wished the entire universe into existence “ex nihilo.” It’s a neat trick.

But if the Christian god created the universe, what did it use to make the universe? Well, scientists over the centuries have discovered a number of elements. Perhaps it used these. But clearly, there is a distinction between things that are man-made – like microwave ovens – and things that are simply naturally occurring, like dirt. In fact, it seems that dirt is one of the most common things we find on the land surface of our lowly little planet Earth. Obviously, given what Christianity teaches, the Christian god created dirt. And since it was created by the Christian god, dirt must have “a meaningful purpose,” it must have been “designed by a wise, benevolent Creator,” and the Creator of dirt must have “a particular nature and telos.” Given all this, dirt surely satisfies the three qualifications Hays says are needed in order to derive an “ought.”

So the question now becomes: what “ought” can we derive from dirt? Do we derive from dirt the “ought” to dig into dirt? If so, how do we derive this particular “ought”? The logic eludes me. Do we derive from dirt the “ought” that we should throw it into people’s faces? Again, why derive this “ought” as opposed to any other we might consider?

Perhaps we should derive from dirt the “ought” that we should spit into a patch of dirt and smear it into a person’s eyes in order to improve his vision. After all, Christianity models just this. Consider the following passage from the Gospel of John:
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (John 9:1-6)
So if one applies Hays’ criteria for deriving an “ought” from an “is” against the backdrop of Christianity’s legend-infused dogma, one can be forgiven for supposing that one can derive from dirt the “ought” that we should spit into dirt and pack it into a blind person’s eyes. After all, the bible gives us precedence for such unseemly behavior.

Perhaps it is because Christianity’s moral formulae are so vague as what Hays proposes, that Christians bicker and squabble amongst each other (and have done so since its beginnings) about what constitutes proper moral conduct. The criteria which Hays identifies makes no reference to values or man’s need for values, and thus can be taken as confirmation that Christian teachings sever morality from values as such. After all, where does Jesus speak about values? The sermons attributed to Jesus in the New Testament make it clear that, according to Christianity’s presuppositions, morality consists of a list of duties that one is expected to fulfill regardless of any impact it might have on his values (up to and including the instruction that one hate his own father, his own mother, his own wife and children, his brothers and sisters and even himself – cf. Luke 14:26). According to what Christianity teaches, it’s clear that values are to be sacrificed - not earned, preserved and enjoyed. Why? Because according to ancient primitives, a supernatural consciousness which we can only imagine desires this. That is what passes for “objective morality” in Christianity.

by Dawson Bethrick


Anonymous said...

Good blog Dawson.

Actual ethics are normative and can be explicitly identified via objectivity.

Anonymous said...

Here's George H Smith from Atheism: The Case Against God on normative ethics.

Reynold said...

I like that Steve keeps saying that atheism is morally vacuous, especially given what his worldview would lead to:

Lisle says, quoting me at first:
Remember Joseph saying that it would be immoral to NOT kill a baby if god commanded it?

[Dr. Lisle: Joseph is right. What God commands is necessarily right. Any other definition of morality is ultimately arbitrary and therefore logically unjustified.]

Ydemoc said...

Good stuff again, Dawson!


johzek said...

Hays's statement, "If it was designed by a wise, benevolent Creator, with a particular nature and telos." is a bit ambiguous. You think that the phrase "particular nature and telos" refers to the creator but it seems to me that he is more properly referring to the "it" being designed, which is the "is" in question as you say.

If I am understanding telos correctly as meaning the end result of a goal oriented process then this seems more likely to be the case, but in any event it doesn't affect your argument at all.