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    Thread: Atheists who believe in objective 'right' and 'wrong'.

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      Atheists who believe in objective 'right' and 'wrong'.

      Atheists often say that they believe in objective right and wrong. They do not believe in an objective authority that distinguishes the two concepts, yet they still insist on using the term 'objective'.

      I have no problem with saying that I do not believe in objective right and wrong. I admit that there is a very strong feeling, that almost all of us have, that murder, rape, etc. are wrong. But "murder is wrong" is still a subjective truth. This recognition does not mean that I'm going to go out and murder someone, and I'm willing to explain to anyone who cares to ask why I wouldn't.

      A truth which is objective is one which corresponds to a fact about the real world. For example, "there is a computer screen in front of me" is an objective truth. In contrast, a truth which is subjective is one which is dependent on a mind's interpretation, which could conceivably be false in a different mind. For example, "63 degrees F is cold" is a subjective truth or falsity.

      If something merely has to do with the mind, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a subjective truth. For example, the statement "63 degrees F is cold" could be reinterpreted in the objective sense to mean "63 degrees F causes the average human to feel cold."

      This is exactly what atheists do who believe in objective right and wrong. When they say that murdering babies is 'objectively wrong', what they mean is that almost all humans feel that murdering babies is wrong. Or, they've redefined the term 'right' to mean something other than the 'feeling of rightness', something like "beneficial to society." Using that definition, or a similar one, "________ is wrong" does carry objective meaning.

      But the problem with this usage is that it makes things confusing, especially while talking with theists who are using the term 'objective' quite differently. The theist doesn't realize, right away, that the atheist has redefined the term 'right'. When the theist hears from the atheist that he or she does believe in objective morality, the theist assumes that the atheist believes that there is morality independent of thoughts, feelings, or even consequences. That some things just are wrong, for no other reason than that they're wrong. Then the theist tries to get the atheist to 'admit' that there must be some authority for that objective morality, or something along those lines. The two might go on for minutes or hours without realizing that they're using the terms differently.

      So why do so many atheists choose to assert that there is objective morality? It seems to be because they don't want to admit that they think, if the world were different, if our minds and the consequences were different, raping babies would be morally right. The idea, although they grasp it consciously, is so devastating to them that they choose to half ignore it, or at least refuse to admit that they believe it. So they redefine the word 'right' to mean, not a mere feeling, but something more objective, so that they can now declare that they believe in 'objective right and wrong' without feeling guilty.
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      It seems both atheists and dogmatists undervalue the subjective experience. They equate subjective opinion with falsehood.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Dianeva View Post
      So why do so many atheists choose to assert that there is objective morality?
      My question through your entire post was, "Which atheists?" Who specifically is claiming there's an objective morality?

      Quote Originally Posted by Dianeva View Post
      The idea, although they grasp it consciously, is so devastating to them that they choose to half ignore it, or at least refuse to admit that they believe it.
      It looks like you've already come up with an answer.
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      Personally I'm an atheist who believes right and wrong are always relative and subjective, but that there are definitely certain acts that are overhwhelmingly going to be considered right or wrong by almost everyone in almost every situation.

      I'll bet there are some very unusual circumstances in which murdering babies could actually be necessary, making it technically "right", but of course I don't think anybody but a maniac or psychopath would ever feel good about doing it.

      I think baby rape is pretty well outside of anyone's subjective opinion of what's right. Some people would do it, but most likely people who have issues understanding right and wrong (like sociopaths/psychopaths etc). They might actually believe that it's right because God spoke to them through a German Shepard and told them it was His decree or something... hmm I just realized I guess that means even baby rape isn't totally outside of everyone's idea of what's right. So yeah, they're concepts that are subjective and relative to social and cultural traditions etc.

      I believe you're right that there's a lot of semantic misunderstanding going on in debates between atheists and theists - actually on just about every deep and important issue. Once again I just wish we could all link up our minds by LAN and communicate directly without having to always translate thoughts into words and then send them to the other person so he can translate them into the thoughts he thinks you intended. So frustrating.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 10-07-2011 at 06:31 PM.

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      I've always thought it's the other way around, anything that a person can define is subjetive, because it depends on the 5 senses and conclusión of a measuring ( machines ) the things that are closest to being objective ( to us ) are our feelings, what we think and what we experience, because it's in direct contact with our mind.

      plus, something being objetive has no meaning at all, until we elaborate a conclusion/thought about it, or identify it, that is "subjective".
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      Quote Originally Posted by mowglycdb View Post
      I've always thought it's the other way around, anything that a person can define is subjetive, because it depends on the 5 senses and conclusión of a measuring ( machines ) the things that are closest to being objective ( to us ) are our feelings, what we think and what we experience, because it's in direct contact with our mind.

      plus, something being objetive has no meaning at all, until we elaborate a conclusion/thought about it, or identify it, that is "subjective".
      No.

      If everyone looks at the dial on a gauge and all agree it's pointing at the 12, that's considered objective. Let's not confuse this issue with bizarre theories that maybe "reality" doesn't exist. Reality has consistency to it - things remain where they are until acted on by forces, and everyone agrees those things are there and agrees on their qualities. And those qualities remain consistent - if you see a brick wall you know you can't just disbelieve in it and walk right through it (unless you're dreaming). For the purposes of this discussion that's what's meant by objective - things people can all discern via their senses and all agree on their nature. Thoughts and feelings can't be directly observed by anyone else - thus they're subjective.

      Don't make me have to pull out Wiki on yer ass!

      Besides, if you really have no faith in objective reality, then you can't know that this thread or any of us even exists, so you must disqualify yourself from the discussion.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 10-07-2011 at 07:42 PM.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      No.
      If everyone looks at the dial on a gauge and all agree it's pointing at the 12, that's considered objective. Let's not confuse this issue with bizarre theories that maybe "reality" doesn't exist. Reality has consistency to it - things remain where they are until acted on by forces, and everyone agrees those things are there and agrees on their qualities. And those qualities remain consistent - if you see a brick wall you know you can't just disbelieve in it and walk right through it (unless you're dreaming). For the purposes of this discussion that's what's meant by objective - things people can all discern via their senses and all agree on their nature. Thoughts and feelings can't be directly observed by anyone else - thus they're subjective.

      Don't make me have to pull out Wiki on yer ass!
      So you're saying that objective is not equal to truth right?
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      No, you just have your definitions of objective and subjective backwards. Objective means something everyone agrees on - subjective means only one person (the subject) is aware of it. Thoughts and feeling are subjective, readings made by measuring instruments etc are objective.

      Truth has nothing to do with it. It's about whether other people are able to see or experience the same thing as you. If they do, and everyone experiences it the same, then that's objective. If you experience something nobody else is capable of knowing about unless you tell them about it and then they only have your word to go on and can't be sure you're not lying, that's subjective.

      Please look up the definitions of these words before you waste ten more posts arguing about something that's easily checked.

      ** edit **

      Holy schmoly!!

      I just went to look up the definitions and found this article that not only explains them (and I was right )

      But then goes on to state that misunderstanding of them is at the basis of arguments about morality... (not really surprising I suppose, just sayin...)

      Take a gander:


      Thinking Critically About the "Subjective"/"Objective" Distinction

      The words "subjective" and " objective" cause lots of confusion. Their misuse is responsible for subjectivism in ethics. Ethical subjectivism is the view that moral judgements are nothing but statements or expressions of personal opinion or feeling and thus that moral judgements cannot be supported or refuted by reason. Careless use of the terms "subjective" and "objective" also leads to odd views in metaphysics, e.g., the denial of material reality (idealism); and odd views in epistemology, e.g., the claim that all statements are equally warranted. In other words, if you're careless about how you handle the concepts of subjectivity and objectivity, you can end up saying there's no such thing as morality, reality, or truth!

      The ordinary non-philosophical (i.e., oversimplified) view is that the word "subjective" is the complete opposite (negation or contradictory) of the word "objective." If something is subjective, it's not objective; if something is objective, it's not subjective. "Subjective" is thought to mean "from someone’s point of view." " Objective" means "not just from someone’s point of view." An objective matter is one that everyone (who is sane, rational, and appropriately informed) will agree about. "Subjectivity" connotes lack of objectivity. Ethical subjectivism is the view that since we can’t be "objective" about morality, morality must be purely "subjective."

      Furthermore, on the ordinary non-philosophical view, "subjective" goes with words like "belief" or "opinion." The idea is that subjective matters are not certain. "Objective," on the other hand, means "certain" or "factual." "Objective" matters are those that can be measured or quantified. For example, the answers to questions such as "How many desks are in this room?" and "What is the current temperature in this room?" would be objective. Note that these questions have precise mathematical answers, and anyone with access to the appropriate properly-working measuring devices would agree what those answers are.
      / Argument.

      Note - the title of the article in the quote box above is a link. Click it to read the entire article. It is extremely relevant to this discussion.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 10-07-2011 at 08:17 PM.
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      Yeah that's correct, my bad, so much times having people saying something is false or useless because it's subjective, that I thought I'd make people think more about it turning objective and subjective around.

      PD: That toungey made your post funny xP
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      Thank you for being big enough to admit when you were wrong. That's pretty rare, even in this rather enlightened place. And it's a good thing you brought the subject up because it led to that very informative article.

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      Thanks for the article Darkmatters.

      Quote Originally Posted by Invader View Post
      My question through your entire post was, "Which atheists?" Who specifically is claiming there's an objective morality?
      The ones who claim there's an objective morality. I don't know if there's a certain type that tends to do so.
      Edit: I suppose the ones in the back of my mind while typing the OP were some hosts and co-hosts of The Atheist Experience, a Texas-based atheist show I used to listen to online. Most of the major claims they make, I agree with. But this is one issue I've had a problem with.

      Quote Originally Posted by Invader View Post
      It looks like you've already come up with an answer.
      Yes, I have an opinion about it. I've posted this to hear others' thoughts on it or to get alternative opinions.

      Quote Originally Posted by mowglycdb View Post
      so much times having people saying something is false or useless because it's subjective, that I thought I'd make people think more about it turning objective and subjective around.
      If someone were to say this:
      "Strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate ice cream, so you should stop buying chocolate ice cream."
      then it would make sense to point out that the statement "strawberry ice cream is better" is a subjective judgment. The statement is false because it's subjective.
      But I think you're right in other cases. The fact that I like strawberry ice cream is completely relevant to me, if I'm buying ice cream, or to anyone else who's buying ice cream for me and cares about making me happy.
      Last edited by Dianeva; 10-07-2011 at 09:56 PM.
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      I'm not sure I'm buying mowgli's reasoning here:



      "Yes, I pretended to be wrong so as to make everyone rethink their unexamined beliefs on the subject... "

      (Nice recovery though! )

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      Just to put this bluntly, atheists lack the knowledge that they need to rationally operate in as perfect a manner as the average animal emotionally operates.

      That's not a dig... we're working on it, that's what science is about. Let me try to find some common language between theists (with their fancy divine command theory) and atheists who try but have a hard time putting their impulses in rational terms.

      Theists were given a law. It's above their pay grade to try to analyses it.

      Atheists were given a law as well... actually many laws, which we call physical laws. Most physical laws are not interesting to talk about, as they apply to nonliving things as well as living things. But there is one law, we can call it a physical law, that is special because it only applies to living things. It is called natural selection.

      I have become quite convinced that both groups (as the problem was presented in the OP) are talking about rules derived from natural selection when they talk about their moral impulses. The problem with the atheist approach, believe it or not, is faith. The perception on both sides is that to explain something is to 'devalue' it somehow (I'd like to try explain that better... it's vague but do you see what I'm getting at? It's a lack of faith in explanations in general. You go about "explaining away" a phenomenon and it's not mystified anymore but the explanation is not necessarily correct... but we have to act on it from now on anyway because we can't go back to the "mystical" model. The cumulative effect is that to "explain" something is to marginalize it, especially if the explanation is only a placeholder to get us off of a mystical model).

      So if we've "explained away" our morality as being the product of natural selection, we are now free to murder babies, right? That's what both groups are afraid of.

      If something is true, explaining it will not marginalize it. Have more faith in natural selection, and the specific rules it has implanted in us (ex: don't kill babies. not all species were given that law, humans clearly were, exceptions notwithstanding.) I predict that as we gain more knowledge of it, we will start to see that it truly is an objective "higher authority" in a purely rational sense.

      Of the sentiment, "morality is the illusion of our genes", the only part I would care to dispute is the world "illusion".
      Last edited by IndieAnthias; 10-09-2011 at 01:12 PM.
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      Very well said Indy. It ties in strongly with a post I just made on another topic:

      most people consider this extremely demeaning. First let me say, this is merely an anthropological investigation into the origins of myths, including the Christian myths.

      And second, it does not devalue the power of those myths at all.

      As Jung taught us, myth comes from the collective unconscious and mythological figures are full-blown archetypal forms in all their power and glory. Being expressions of powerful parts of the deepest regions of the psyche, they have far more power than any thought or idea we're capable of generating consciously. So, while the Gods are indeed creations of man in a sense, we actually are more properly their creations, since the collective unconscious is older and far more powerful than any individual human consciousness. Projections from this deep realm are so powerful and primordial that we have no choice but to see them as something outside ourselves and much larger than us. The realization that Gods and Heroes come from inner space rather than outer is no more than a relocation of the powerbase.

      So, to say that Gods are the creation of Man is not the same as saying "people just made them up" or "invented" them. The gods welled up unsummoned from depths too powerful to be controlled. And the Bible is not, as some claim, a work of science fiction, but rather a deep exploration of that Archetypal realm, though in somewhat distorted form in order to try to make the Archetypes conform to human ideals, which they refuse to do. And Archetypal form cannot be controlled or cleaned up to make it more presentable... if it represents something primal and powerful it will appear red in claw and fang like a nightmare creature and nothing can change that. Thus perhaps the Yaveh of the Old Testament in his brimstone and fire mode, and the New Testament's attempts to re-write and censor him into a kinder gentler God.

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      Wow, yep, good stuff. touche, bro. What thread is that from?

      edit: nevermind, found it
      Last edited by IndieAnthias; 10-09-2011 at 10:21 PM.

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      Last edited by Darkmatters; 10-09-2011 at 10:41 PM.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Omnis Dei View Post
      It seems both atheists and dogmatists undervalue the subjective experience. They equate subjective opinion with falsehood.
      Which makes NO sense, since if we only have our 5 senses... everything would HAVE to be subjective. At some point, regardless of where "information" comes from, someone experienced that information through senses, and then their brain arranged it in a way that makes sense to THEM.

      Snakes see Infrared. Birds see Ultraviolet. A typical black bird looks beautiful when viewing it through ultra-violet-detecting cameras... very vibrant. They have differing subjective experiences, and everything THEY know comes from that, too, doesn't it?

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      Question: Can you do something that you actually believe is wrong? By doing it aren't you making a this a special case where it isn't wrong?
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      Quote Originally Posted by ThePreserver View Post
      Which makes NO sense, since if we only have our 5 senses... everything would HAVE to be subjective. At some point, regardless of where "information" comes from, someone experienced that information through senses, and then their brain arranged it in a way that makes sense to THEM.

      Snakes see Infrared. Birds see Ultraviolet. A typical black bird looks beautiful when viewing it through ultra-violet-detecting cameras... very vibrant. They have differing subjective experiences, and everything THEY know comes from that, too, doesn't it?
      I should probably correct that statement to say people tend to consider any view outside their own as false until proven true. Unfortunately, many people who readily identify as atheist or a dogmatic religion are much less likely to listen to the proof. They just poke holes when they listen at all. To an atheist, being skeptical ends up becoming the same type of circular logic a dogmatist uses to confirm their own beliefs. Doubt is a necessary tool to survive this world. But listening is a more important tool.

      Quote Originally Posted by StonedApe View Post
      Question: Can you do something that you actually believe is wrong? By doing it aren't you making a this a special case where it isn't wrong?
      Even psychopaths, incapable of learning right and wrong in our sense, justify EVERYTHING they do. It's interesting because you'll never catch them saying "So what?" it's always "They deserved it" or whatever.
      Last edited by Omnis Dei; 10-12-2011 at 06:42 AM.

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      Quote Originally Posted by StonedApe View Post
      Question: Can you do something that you actually believe is wrong? By doing it aren't you making a this a special case where it isn't wrong?
      I don't see why not. If someone has a desire to rape someone, but doesn't because he thinks it's wrong. But then the desire overcomes him and he rapes anyway, while still believing it's wrong and that he's just weak-willed.
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      Animals usually murder babies because either its not their baby(or a chance it is not), and they are competition, or there is some problem with food and they cant feed them. The other thing is if they just get so stressed out they flip out and do something crazy, which humans can do as well. Humans probably don't kill babies because of how much effort we put into raising them. It isn't cost effective to kill a baby when it takes that much effort. Humans work as a group as well, and the bigger the group the more they can do. So competition isn't as big of an issue. So if you take the low competition it is more cost effective to allow someone else to have a child that will then help the group, than to kill all children to insure your the only one passing down your genes.

      Thinking this, doesn't in any way make people want to go kill babies though. Knowing how things work doesn't ever cause you to want to do bad things. Especially since most of our instincts come from working in groups, which we still do today.

      As for stonedape's question, sure. People do stuff they know is wrong all the time. Usually they feel guilty about it for a while as well, some times they might not. Most people are able to tell what is right or not, even if they are week willed like Dianeva said.

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      I wrote a lot of stuff than deleted it.

      Ethics/Morality is a trivial argument. The core of the confusion is derived from a standard to which something is measured. Subjective belief is that there are many different platforms and models, and that none of them is objectively valid, which actually presents a contradiction that if 2 models are independent yet equally right on the same stance, you arrive at a paradox or inconclusive decision for determining right and wrong. The other argument is that there is only 1 correct model and all others are invalid, which is the only possible correct model because it eliminates the possibility of contradicting models. I like to think that for human affairs, survival in of itself should be the core "good", and anything that digresses from survival can be construed as "bad

      is this not common sense? .

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      If he really believes it is wrong would he have a desire to do it? If he does I don't think he really understands the concept wrong. If a person really understands why force and domination are wrong they aren't going to use them unless they believe it will save lives or something like that.

      Though I see what you mean, and someone can probably do something in a fit of rage that they would normally say is wrong. But that would have to be a very weak belief. I'd assume it would be largely unexamined, basically an inherited belief, a belief they were told they should have, which almost isn't even a belief. You can't really believe something if you don't understand what that statement means.

      But can he do it while thinking it is wrong? If he decides to do it he has decided that it isn't wrong, at least for the moment. You'd have to be seriously delusional.

      Quote Originally Posted by Alric View Post
      As for stonedape's question, sure. People do stuff they know is wrong all the time. Usually they feel guilty about it for a while as well, some times they might not. Most people are able to tell what is right or not, even if they are week willed like Dianeva said.
      But is that really belief? Do they really believe that it is wrong, or do they just have the idea "this is bad, but it is justified because X"
      Last edited by StonedApe; 10-13-2011 at 07:30 PM.

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      Most people know stealing is wrong, but if they had a chance to steal a million dollars and there was almost no chance of being caught, a big chunk of them would steal it any way. You know its wrong, but its a million dollars. Most people know stealing is wrong but if they were starving they would steal food. Surviving in that case is more important than being morally good. You might really feel bad about doing it though.

      People do make excuses for them self as well, but often they know it is wrong, and the reason they make excuses for them self is to help them feel better about it.
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      As an atheist, I believe that morality is a social construction (this applies to animal societies as well) and is not objective. An objective morality asserts that there is a moral standard that exists outside of the human mind but morality makes no sense outside of the context of social relationships. In order to reap the benefits of living in a group we had to develop a standard of behavior that does not harm individuals in the group, thus hurting the group as a whole. If there were no human beings alive the assertion “gay marriage is wrong” would make no sense because this moral proposition exists only in relation to human beings.

      Also many supposed “objective moral systems” are not as they claim to be, consider the moral proposition “Though shall not kill (Killing is wrong)” this is a divine command from god yet the same god also commands the deaths of many people in various circumstances. Even though killing is wrong it is okay (according to Christianity) to kill under some circumstances (this is a subjective morality if I ever saw one). Also the fact that most religions cannot not agree on what god truly commands, this doesn’t make a convincing case for an objective morality.

      I think some people would assume that an objective morality exists because many animals share a similar behavior found in humans (like protecting their offspring). Consider an animal population that is its own food source (let’s say cats). There are 20 cats and one cat is enough to feed the entire group for one day considering also that it takes about 3-4 months for cats to give birth. The death-birth ratio would be disproportionate considering they would wipe out the whole group before new cats could be born. So we have an evolutionary incentive to not kill members of our own species because it is detrimental to the group as a whole as thus the individual. But this only is speculation on the origin of morality and although I think understanding its origins can bring us to a better understanding of morality itself, this information alone cannot tell us how we ought to act or ought not to act. As a true reflection of human social relationships, morality is much more intricate than the example above.

      Quote Originally Posted by Dreams4free View Post
      I like to think that for human affairs, survival in of itself should be the core "good", and anything that digresses from survival can be construed as "bad

      is this not common sense? .
      I have my doubts about this. Sometimes the moral action is to sacrifice one's self interest for the betterment of the group (this is not a political statement so don't take it as such). This reasoning cannot account for the altruism that is ubiquitous in nature. If we suppose that it is possible for an organism to behave altruistically, not for its own preservation but for the preservation of its genetic lineage, then in this context altruistic behavior makes sense. However this doesn't account for an organism sacrificing its well being for a member of its group that is not its offspring. I had said before that I do not think that knowledge of the origins of morality under the paradigm of evolution will tell us how we ought to act. Which is not to say that I don't think evolutionary biology can tell us anything about morality (on the contrary) but I do not think morality can or should be reducible to biology.

      In other words I think the Is/Ought problem is still relevant in that we cannot say "we have observed this behavior in nature" or "this part of the brain lights up when we do something bad" and derive from that fact how we ought to act.

      I also do not agree that "Ethics/Morality is a trivial argument" on the contrary it is an extremely practical discipline that is in no way a black/white issue.
      Last edited by stormcrow; 10-14-2011 at 07:56 AM.

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