A Humanist Bible

Dostoyevsky says, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” This follows logically but will not follow into human action, for most humans cannot disconnect their reason from the moral law of human nature. Now, Anthony Grayling, professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, has written The Good Book: A Humanist Bible. This is one more piece of evidence that we have a God-given law of human nature that we just can’t eliminate.

30 thoughts on “A Humanist Bible

  1. What on earth are you talking about when you write most humans cannot disconnect their reason from the moral law of human nature.

    If human nature is evidence for a moral law, then whatever people do is evidence. If people reason, then it’s evidence for a moral law. So claiming that most people cannot disconnect – whatever that means – their reason from moral law does not need to be stated. So AC comes along and publishes this book and you claim because he’s doing something we can allocate this as another piece of evidence for a “God-given” law… presumably the same thing as the ‘moral law’ mentioned in the premise. This is incoherent.

    AC has written a book over several decades laid out like the bible (but without theological claim to authority) to help explore and explain through reason rather than oogity boogity all sort of human concerns. From the Amazon site, we can expect the book to be about all the wisdom, insight, solace, inspiration, and perspective of secular humanist traditions that are older, far richer and more various than Christianity. Organized in 12 main sections—-Genesis, Histories, Widsom, The Sages, Parables, Consolations, Lamentations, Proverbs, Songs, Epistles, Acts, and the Good—-The Good Book opens with meditations on the origin and progress of the world and human life in it, then devotes attention to the question of how life should be lived, how we relate to one another, and how vicissitudes are to be faced and joys appreciated. Incorporating the writing of Herodotus and Lucretius, Confucius and Mencius, Seneca and Cicero, Montaigne, Bacon, and so many others, The Good Book will fulfill its audacious purpose in every way

  2. This moral law of human nature I’m talking about is not simply an observation of human behavior. A difference exists between “human nature” and the “moral law of human nature.” Human nature is our behavior that comes from our corrupted selves, whether the actions are well-meaning or destructive. The moral law of human nature is superimposed upon us. It is over and above our actions and informs us whether these actions are right or wrong. All men ascribe to this whether they believe in a right and wrong or not. C. S. Lewis says, “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “It’s not fair” before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong- in other words, if there is no [Moral] Law of [Human] Nature-what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?”

    1. You assert that The moral law of human nature is superimposed upon us. It is over and above our actions and informs us whether these actions are right or wrong.

      Bullshit. You are making a truth claim here. Back it up not with metaphysical musings and other misguided imaginings but with evidence.

      Consider: you don’t believe Poseidon exists. Along comes someone… let’s call him Daniel… who points at the sea and says, “of course Poseidon exists: he is the source of the sea. To deny my belief in Poseidon means you are denying the sea exists. The sea exists, ergo Poseidon exits.”

      Do you see the problem here, Daniel? You assert moral behaviour comes from god. You see moral behaviour so you claim to be evidence for god. You then claim that because moral behaviour is ubiquitous, it must come from somewhere other than our biology BECAUSE our moral ‘nature’ is corrupted (presumably on a moral scale). Nowhere do you or CS Lewis or Doctor Lane back up your theological claims with evidence. All you have is assertion that is based on terribly flawed reasoning.

      1. If there is no Moral law of human nature, in other words, if there is only subjective morality, why do we always impose our own view of morality on other people when we tell them that this is what they “ought” to do? What’s more interesting is that the other person does not deny this “thing that he ought to do”, but tries to negotiate with the accuser. If there is no superimposed moral law of human nature, we sure do act like there is one.

        You are ignoring the evidence. Humanity itself is the evidence. You, Tildeb, are the evidence. I think you see it but deny it. You obviously think that believers should be honest. This is a quote from you found in the Atheist Position post, “But rarely do believers admit even this much honesty. If they did, we would have a different world and a much more open and honest one, I think.” This is something you think they ought to do. Yet, if there is only subjective morality, why are you imposing your morality on believers? They may indeed feel that dishonesty is the way to go and who are you to call their morality wrong. If you start to evaluate their morality, the goal is still to tell them what they “ought” to do. If opposing subjective moral systems meet, they should only be respectful of one another because their is no real basis of evaluation. You can say one is more beneficial than the other, but you can’t call them wrong. That would be imposing your morality on them.

        The only way you can really evaluate other moral systems is to appeal to the moral law of human nature.

      2. The whole reason behind the Humanist Bible is to lay out a framework for behavior that we “ought” to exhibit. He’s trying to replace the moral law of human nature while imitating it at the same time.

      3. The problem, Daniel, is that you have created a false dichotomy in your mind that places a god-granted Moral Law on one side and a ‘subjective’ morality on the other. It is false because in place of a god-granted Moral Law I can substitute a biological explanation that is testable, repeatable, predictive, consistent, and useful in practical applications. No god, no oogity boogity, is required.

        What you claim is ‘the evidence’ – humanity – for the god-granted Moral Law is in fact no such evidence for that conclusion at all. It is more evidence that our morality is a function and product of our biology.

  3. Re the 8:05 comment,

    The reason behind Grayling’s latest is to show the human secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions are older, far richer and more various than Christianity laid out in such a way to be a secular alternative to the bible. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  4. Tildeb, you said,

    “in place of a god-granted Moral Law I can substitute a biological explanation”

    Are you saying that you can create an objective morality?

  5. I’m saying that humans have a biological explanation for why we have any values at all and which ones we emphasize, which happens to include morality. It is an evolutionary development that is ongoing.

  6. tildeb,

    If I might throw this in here and get your perspective on this:

    1) What evolutionary advantage would any system of morailty serve?

    If we look at humans of the past and present as merely animals with clothes, caring about others only increases competition for food and mating, things which endanger your own existence. In fact, any sort of evolved moral code that included elements like “don’t kill” could even endanger your own life if those other “primates” around you didn’t share your views.

    2) And if someone does accept that morality is merely a biological function of the brain, would one be more correct than another? Why or why not?


    1. As is so often the case, Joshua, it is very important to first understand what the term ‘morality’ means so that we are talking about the same thing. A very good definition is here that explores what the term is describing and the different ways we use it. In a nutshell, morality is the term we use to talk about right and wrong (versus ethics that talks about good and bad behaviours). In both cases – morals and ethics – we are talking about judging intentions. We can take the same act – let’s say killing someone – and have it fall somewhere on this sliding scale between it being a right act to a wrong act, a good act to a bad act. Note the act is still the same but what differentiates our various placements on a moral scale and an ethical scale is a consideration of achieving some goal of intention and how we implement it.

      When someone uses a term like a ‘moral system‘ what is he or she actually talking about? Laws? Conventions? Codes? Social norms? Religious beliefs? I don’t know, but each is a different way – a different template of concern – to consider intentions.

      My concern when addressing claims that there is single source from a god that bestows upon humanity a single set of laws intended to establish a single set of rules for right behaviours is so far removed from understanding intentions that in terms of understanding morality we’ve lost our way. A law or rule or code or what have you may be an expression of one kind of framework for judging intention but none reveal the source of that judging. In other words, why do we judge intentions at all?

      Well, we judge intention all the time to help us determine our actions. We judge the intention of what is beyond our control (which includes everything from people to the weather, from just about any input we receive to our own urges). To help us do this successfully, we come well equipped. We are particularly expert at reading intention into the slightest nuances of behaviour of others who can do us the most harm – from noticing the minute crimping of facial muscles and judging what level of trust to assign to our reading of another’s mood to assigning intention to tonal quality of their voices. Why do you think we do this?

      To help us better gauge the intentions of others, like all social animals our brains come with special neurons called mirror neurons. These activate not by direct cause but by observation. Because they activate in response to simply observing another, we have the astounding ability to put ourselves in the place of others who are undergoing an act. This allows us to put ourselves in a small non-harmful way into another place and judge for ourselves how this might feel. We call this empathy, and it allows us to better judge intention based on how we ourselves might feel if we were in actuality in another person’s place. We use ourselves as a template against which we can better attribute the intentions of another. Can you see an evolutionary benefit to this? Those who are able to empathize with others accurately may be better able to reproduce successfully when social abilities matter a very great deal.

      But like with any social animal, human interactions too must have rules of acceptable social behaviour. Although these rules vary in specifics across human populations, they do not vary in kind. This concern about intentions plays a central role in determining acceptable social behaviour. Killing others randomly – to take but one example – will be heavily condemned in every human social group and this is what we find, but killing others outside the social group is acceptable if it is necessary, and this is what we find. It’s not the act itself that is right or wrong: it is the social framework that decides if the act’s intentions are harmful or helpful. How this is carried out is the business of ethics. What is being carried out is the business of morality and it serves a vital function in the success or failure of social groups.

      I hope you can see that morality is not a thing – a single framework in service of determining acts to be right from wrong. Morality is the term we use to describe intentions as beneficial or harmful not just to the individual but to the social group as a whole. And we do this because it is to our advantage to accurately read intentions within this social framework.

      I hope this helps explain why discussions that assign morality to anything outside of people as social animals (like derived from some god) cannot address what it is we’re judging, why we are judging, or how we able to do so. God’s rules (like the 10 commandments) are insufficient to this task even if we think they offer us some moral guidance. They don’t: they are just another set of rules inadequate for helping us to establish justifiable intentions.

      1. Thanks for the thoughtful response.

        1) In your mind, are you saying that the moral system proposed by theologians is one that is imposed from the outside (like the 10 commandments)?

        2) If so, what if the theologians argument is that the moral system in an internal one, not one imposed from the outside in, but the reverse; in other words, its a part of our human make-up?

        In one sense, correct me if I’m wrong, your view of moral systems / framework comes from chemical interactions initiated by observation. 3) Would it then be right or wrong (in any framework) to impose any standard on anyone else? (Parents to their kids, for example. Leaders / lawmakers on society.) (After all, who are they to say that such-and-such “chemical reactions” are right and all others are wrong.)

        And let me just say that I’m a firm believer in empathy. I would just hate to reduce it to a mere chemical reaction. 5) Furthermore, wouldn’t the abstract thought needed to accomplish what you so eloquently describe as empathy be beyond the mental capacity of an so-called “caveman”?

        And that prompts me to ask a slightly different question:

        5) In your view, how does evolution account for such intricate and complex mechanisms that you described? Or, even more simply, how does it explain the origin of the effects of mind on matter that occur in the human brain when making choices, especially moral-related ones?

        Thanks for taking time to respond.


      2. 1) I am saying that claims that morality derives from theology is demonstrably false and that such rules from scripture are an imposed framework by those who think such rules as the 10 commandments is morally meaningful when they are not.

        2) Of course morality is internal but it is an expression of our biology… a biology that is shared. The cause of your notions of what is right and wrong is the same cause I have, as anyone has. But the effects of our moral claims can be quite different. To paraphrase Sam Harris, morality is a term like ‘health’ that has a common reference point for you and me and others having something to do with the state of our physical well-being. What that health looks like specifically for you may be quite different than it is for me, than it is for others, but that does not mean that ‘health’ is somehow independent of our biology but a part of of it.

        If you ask a chemist, he or she will probably tell you everything is chemistry. If you talk to a physicist, he or she will tell you everything is physics. If you talk to a biologist, everything is biology. The truth is that everything people are and do is related in some way to each of these domains, for if you remove any of them, life as we know it ceases to be. How is it, then, that we are able to feel the pain and suffering of another when there is no biological, physical, or chemical link between us?

        If we attribute such experiences to some Great Beyond, some supernatural interventionist agency, some mystical gift bestowed on us, some magical connection that defies our ability to identify in terms of chemistry, physics, and biology, then how can we know anything about it beyond fanciful imaginings? Where do we even begin to inquire if we first make such assumptions?

        Well, to put it bluntly, we don’t. Our inquiries are over before we even begin. We willingly give up knowable answers that can be tested and verified for consistency and reliability and give in to the temptation to substitute pseudo-answers that look exactly like ignorant superstitions. Realizing this danger, how can we mitigate it and seek honest answers to the unknown?

        The scientific method is a human revolution in seeking answers. It is a method that directly links effects to causes by means of a knowable mechanism in nature. Without these three key ingredients – cause, effect, mechanism in nature – we can’t do science. All we can do is idle speculation that – if taken to assign the cause and mechanism to natural effects to exist outside of nature – is unknowable. If I do this and attribute some behaviour, let’s say, to some supernatural cause delivered by some supernatural mechanism, then I have left what is knowable. My pronouncements are empty of knowledge but full of speculation indistinguishable from ignorant superstition.

        When we talk about morality, do we really want to give any meaning importance to pronouncements indistinguishable from ignorant superstition? After all, there is no way to determine the claim’s validity. No way to test. No way to validate. No way to determine any knowledge at all about the cause and mechanism that is beyond the natural world – a world we know is made up of knowable chemistry, knowable physics, knowable biology… a knowledge we can apply with great effect and reliability in our technologies and practices, a knowledge that works all the time independent of who is utilizes it. Do we really want to equate this proven method to idle speculation that is unknowable?

        I don’t.

        If we know ahead of time that idle speculation indistinguishable from ignorant superstition cannot produce knowledge because it allows for causes and mechanisms that are OUTSIDE of nature, outside of chemistry, physics, and biology that exists IN nature, then why go there? For those who do, I think they have clearly established a motivation that has nothing whatsoever to do with finding honest answers that are knowable, in which case why bother even paying any mind to what idle speculations are put forth?

        But if we want real answers that are knowable, then we have to look at what exists IN nature, namely chemistry, physics, and biology.

        When we look at morality, we must accurately describe how these aspects of what is natural work. What is the chemistry involved? How does it cause affect in biology? By what physical mechanism is this carried out? How can we test this to find out if our ‘answers’ are consistent and reliable independent of who is doing the asking?

        So we come to a recent breakthrough in neuroscience that clearly establishes the root cause of empathy, how your brain chemistry is activated from afar, how these chemicals engage your biological limbic system(s) to ‘feel’ what another is experiencing, thus empowering you with a personal experience of a non-personal experience! We can test this. We can find good evidence that many critters possess this same biology, exhibiting the same signs of limbic engagement, and we can then test our prediction that these specialized neurons are responsible for much of what we call social behaviour. If we remove your mirror neurons, can you still make moral considerations? Well, it’s unethical to do so to you to satisfy our curiosity, but the evidence is beginning to mount that anti-social behaviour seems to be correlated to (not yet established to be caused by) the quantity and functioning of mirror neurons.

        This research is where we can find honest answers to honest inquires into what exists in the natural world. In comparison to the suggestion that morality is bequeathed by a supernatural sometimes interventionist god to his special creation called man, I hope you can begin to appreciate why the former carries more weight in knowledge than the idle speculation that is unknowable carried in the latter.

  7. Tildeb,

    1. Belief in God does not stop scientific inquiry. Understanding the origin of materials does not stop people from understanding the materials themselves. Maybe YOUR motivations would be diminished, but that does not stop others from inquiry. If anything, atheists are the ones who stop inquiry if it leads to knowing something about God.

    2. I would like to hear atheists recognize the arguments and evidences put forth by Christian apologists, and see them stop using words like “No evidence, no way to determine, etc”. Just because you argue against a premise does not mean that the argument is not true. As long as logical arguments exist for existence of God you cannot rightfully say things like “no evidence.”

    3. If morality, like health, looks different for you than it does for others, what legitimate right do you have to pronounce as wrong someone else’s moral system? I see you do it a lot. How do you justify it? After all, they are acting in complete accordance to their moral system.

    4. Empathy is no foundation for morality. Because something “is” does not obligate me to an “ought” Also, “ought” implies “can”, and if we are all just cause and effect and mechanisms in nature, there is no free will and thus no action in nature can be described as “ought” to be done and thus no morality exists.

    1. Oh ma, Daniel, these are such tired arguments you keep throwing out here:

      1) Belief in god has nothing to do with acquiring knowledge… about origins or anything else. If you want to investigate morality, drop the god stuff. It’s meaningless because it cannot be tested or verified. It needs no justification other than faith itself. And that’s not a path to any kind of meaningful answer but an avoidance of undertaking an honest inquiry. If you try to use faith this way in any other area of your life, it will prove to be a liability. Only in theology is it considered a virtue.

      2) No one is claiming that if an atheist argues against a premise it means the argument is not true. What I read over and over and over is that the premise requires so means to establish it as legitimate. If my premise includes the hollowness of unicorn wings, I need to establish why I justify this. Any argument with absurd premises can be made logical. That doesn’t make the premises true; it makes the form of the argument logical! That’s all. Logic alone is not evidence for the veracity of its premises. This is basic knowledge about logic.

      3) I can argue that the framework upon which a intentions are judged can be inadequate. If the framework is theological, is is without knowledge. It is an arbitrary set of rules to favour the beliefs masquerading as moral precepts to favour those who serve those precepts.

      4)This is/ought argument is so tedious. Ought you wash your food if it’s dirty? Ought a surgeon use sterile equipment? Well, that depends, doesn’t it? If you are concerned about your health and physical welfare, you will. Oh lookee… you just derived an ought from an is. Impossible, I know and yet…

      There is terrific argument if there is any such thing as ‘free’ will. Yes, we can exercise choices within a limited scope but are these choices in fact ‘free’? Your logic is again based on the validity of its premises and you can’t just gloss over your claims as if they were true and knowable when they may not be. The veracity of your conclusion is entirely dependent on this fact, yet you continue to stick to the script as if this criticism doesn’t matter. It matters very much.

      And again, morality is not a ‘thing’ but you seem unable to wrap your head around this criticism. Morality exists only when judgment on intentions is made within a framework of particular considerations. That doesn’t mean there is only one ‘correct’ framework or no framework at all. You continue to rely on this false dichotomy. This si problem in your mind and not in actuality.

      1. Am I to understand that there are now such things as “food morality” and “surgery morality”? If the move I make in chess leads to my eventual victory, does that mean I am morality obligated to make that move? Are we now to impose our moral chess techniques on chess students?

      2. You highlight my point for me: it is not from the act we derive morality but from the consideration and judgment of the intention no matter what the act may be. If I operated on you intentionally using dirty instruments, could not someone legitimately raise concerns about the morality of my doing so… if knew of the effects?

        I think so.

        So, no, there isn’t a morality of food or surgery, but moral considerations of ‘ought’ derived from an ‘is’.

        Your continued use of the term ‘obligated’ implies a moral consideration about intention and not ‘evidence’ of some hovering and fixed set of morals.

  8. So with the former in mind, let’s look at question #3:

    Would it then be right or wrong (in any framework) to impose any standard on anyone else? (Parents to their kids, for example. Leaders / lawmakers on society.) (After all, who are they to say that such-and-such “chemical reactions” are right and all others are wrong.)

    Of course standards can be imposed and are all the time in every human organization. And no one is arguing that such standards are justified by chemical reactions. When I explained the biology of morality I was not claiming that each product was therefore ‘chemical’ in justification. Frameworks are subject to judgments about intentions… as I thought I made clear. It is the intention of an act we judge as moral and not the act itself. To judge an act as moral only in and of itself is infantile. Hence the 10 commandments are rules for infants: we do kill all the time and justifiably so, we do covet and this drive economics, we do take what doesn’t belong to us, we do bear lie, cheat, and steal when the situation demands it, and when the Nazis are at the door we do lie about harboring jews. There is a time place for all behaviours to be ‘moral’ but the commandments – so busy spending the first four demanding obedience and respect to some magical sky-father – fail to address the when and where and how and sticks to a set of rules that most humans over the age of 2 could improve upon.

    4) Furthermore, wouldn’t the abstract thought needed to accomplish what you so eloquently describe as empathy be beyond the mental capacity of an so-called “caveman”?

    Why would you think this? Based on what evidence?

    5) In your view, how does evolution account for such intricate and complex mechanisms that you described? Or, even more simply, how does it explain the origin of the effects of mind on matter that occur in the human brain when making choices, especially moral-related ones?

    Evolution is about changes in populations over time. You have put the cart before the horse here by suggesting evolution may be goal-driven. It isn’t. it’s impersonal, indifferent, and arbitrary much like erosion. It simply is. Why would the trait of empathy be more successful (produce more offspring with the same trait) over time than bipedals without it this trait? Because people working together probably are more successful in producing offspring that reach maturity than people working alone. The fact that people do place a great deal of importance on successfully reading intention is pretty good indicator that its serves a very useful function in terms of being a favourable trait. I’m sure your spouse would agree.

    When you write about the effects of mind on matter that occur in the human brain when making choices I don’t know what you mean. If you mean brain plasticity, then there are good explanations how we ‘grow’ our brains. If you mean translating thought into directed actions then there are good neurological explanations how this happens. If you mean why do we make the choices we do, then that’s a lot more complex.

    1. When I explained the biology of morality I was not claiming that each product was therefore ‘chemical’ in justification.

      Well — and correct me if I’m oversimplifying your conclusions — if morality in your view is not, essentially, just chemical reactions, what way could better describe it?

      Why would you think [empathy is beyond the mental capacity of an so-called caveman]? Based on what evidence?

      Well, I don’t believe in “cavemen”, but the answer takes a form of a question. I hope you don’t mind. What evidence is there that the ancient ancestors of humans in an evolutionary framework could think abstractly? Just because humans can do it now, doesn’t necessarily mean that any so-called ancient ancestors could, does it?

      In fact, I think the ability to think abstract thoughts is one of the many things that make humans unique.

      Evolution is about changes in populations over time. You have put the cart before the horse here by suggesting evolution may be goal-driven. It isn’t. it’s impersonal, indifferent, and arbitrary much like erosion. It simply is.

      No, no. Maybe I didn’t segue it clearly enough. (That is a problem I have living in a Far Eastern society and all..) My intention in bringing up the brain and mental capacities is that the brain is a machine. If we’re going to settle on natural explanations alone for how it functions — causing us to feel empathy and so on — then a question has to be asked: Can natural explanations be employed to explain the origin of that machine (the human brain)?

      And, maybe we’ll agree on this point, that the functions of the human brain are intricate. I’m boggled as I think how the immaterial mind influences the material brain. So again, how could such a complex machine come about by such natural means?

      I’m enjoying your responses!


      1. I don’t know how I can be any clearer: our moral sense is a byproduct of our cognitive functioning – we are born with this neural network for empathy – and not some extraneous ability derived or bequeathed from elsewhere.

        Are you suggesting that your cognitive functioning is not fully contained within your inherited biology? If you are, then it falls on you to provide evidence where your cognitive functioning comes from, how it is transferred to you, and by what mechanism. It follows that our inherited biology comes from our ancestors does it not? And the evidence for this is overwhelming, multi-faceted, and mutually supportive. Do you suggest that just because you and I and other humans are capable of abstract reasoning does not mean that our parents were able? If they were not, then where did this species wide ability come from? Well, the evidence for human abstract reasoning dates back to earliest archeological times. That means there is no reason nor evidence to assume oogity boogity played any part at developing this ability from some previous time. There is excellent evidence that other critters – social animals – also have a more limited ability to reason and we guess at how much or little of that falls under the term ‘abstract’. But we do know that the closer to our ancestry other critters fall, the higher the functioning of their reasoning.

        I will caution you in your use of analogies like ‘The brain is a machine’. It is not like a machine in that it is interactive and adaptive with its environment in some ways and is like a machine in others in that it either functions when activated or does not when deactivated.

        I find it puzzling that you present functioning as if there is any alternative to how it functions outside of what is natural. So far, there is no good reason other than to cover up our own ignorance to suggest some supernatural functioning is in play. It not that I choose to use ONLY natural explanations: it’s a case that only NATURAL explanations can be known. I can know nothing about specific causes, effects, and mechanisms of what you assign to this supernatural hypothesis. And neither can you. But we can look at evidence that should be there if the supernatural element were truly present. We can look at evidence that should not be there if the supernatural element were truly present. And in both cases, there remains no good reasons based on evidence to support the supernatural hypothesis.

        So, yes, a natural explanation not can be but is employed to explain the path of of our development leading back into deep time. It’s called evolution. But the origin is unknowable in certainty but certainly knowable in likelihood of probability. That we are genetically affiliated to every bit of life on this planet is knowable and verifiable. That all species on this planet is linked by common ancestry to more ancient life is knowable and verifiable. Where this more ancient life originated in locale can be supported as more likely here than there, but as to how the first life originated we can only hypothesize. Evolution takes us back into deep time but will never be able to provide this answer of origin. For that we have only best guesses… but guess that can still be tested as likely or unlikely. Reproduction of life is chemical conditions similar to geological conditions will go a long way to supporting one specific hypothesis of origin over another.

        It is perfectly understandable and verifiable how complexity develops in nature over time. What is not understandable is assuming that some supernatural explanation is preferable or necessary.

  9. Daniel, I came acroos Churchland’s new book and immediately thought of you regarding the is/ought divide and the paucity of problem-solving that deductive logic offers us in matters of what is. Let me quote from her introduction regarding the lack of inclusion of scientific findings about neuroscience in matters of morality:

    a lot of contemporary moral philosophy, though venerated in academic halls, was completely untethered to the “hard and fast”; that is, it had no strong connection to evolution or to the brain, and hence was in peril of floating on a sea of mere, albeit confident, opinion. And no doubt the medieval clerics were every bit as confident.”

    “The complaint that a scientific approach to understanding morality commits the sin of scientism does really exaggerate what science is up to, since the scientific enterprise does not aim to displace the arts or the humanities. . . . . On the other hand, it is true that philosophical claims about the nature of things, such as moral intuition, are vulnerable. Here, philosophy and science are working the same ground, and evidence should trump armchair reflection. In the present case, the claim is not that science will wade in and tell us for every dilemma what is right or wrong. Rather, the point is that a deeper understanding of what it is that makes humans and other animals social, and what it is that disposes us to care about others, may lead to greater understanding of how to cope with social problems. That cannot be a bad thing.”

    Churchland describes the origin of the “is-ought” mantra in Hume’s’ writing and how this has been misunderstood and misinterpreted – partly intentionally. She describes the idea “you cannot derive an ought from an is” as a “smackdown of a naturalistic approach to morality.” And asks how it could acquire philosophical standing.

    Partly this is because many moral philosophers objected to Hume’s naturalism and “so they hung naturalism by the heels on Hume’s is/ought observation.” And today’s philosophers of religion are of course playing that one as hard as they can. But the other reason is semantic – again, very relevant today:

    “Deriving a proposition in deductive logic strictly speaking requires a formally valid argument; that is, the conclusion must deductively follow from the premises, with no leeway, no mere high probability (e.g., “All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, so Socrates is mortal”). Assuming the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Strictly speaking, therefore, one cannot derive (in the sense of construct a formally valid argument for) a statement about what ought to be done from a set of facts about what is the case. “


    “In a much broader sense of “infer” than derive you can infer (figure out) what you ought to do, drawing on knowledge, perception, emotions, and understanding, and balancing considerations against each other. We do it constantly, in both the physical and social worlds. . . . What gets us around the world is mainly not logical deduction (derivation). . . . In any case, that most problem-solving is not deduction is clear.”

    So here’s the thing: if you want to find out what morality means in terms of actual human behaviour, you cannot ignore the biological. And to investigate this means you must turn away from the armchair and look to science. And it is here where epistemologically the distinction between inference and deduction is important.

    1. Tildeb, could you provide some examples of this inference from an “is” to an “ought”? I feel like I would know better what you are talking about if I could see it in action.

  10. April 15, 11:54

    4)This is/ought argument is so tedious. Ought you wash your food if it’s dirty? Ought a surgeon use sterile equipment? Well, that depends, doesn’t it? If you are concerned about your health and physical welfare, you will. Oh lookee… you just derived an ought from an is. Impossible, I know and yet…

    We see it in action all the time everyday and participate in exactly this… deriving ought from is.

    1. I don’t see how this blows biblical morality out of the water? “Ought” is beneficial but it doesn’t touch the question of whether or not there is an irrefutable moral baseline. That is the real question here.

  11. The problem, Tim, is determining what biblical morality means and trying to establish this irrefutable moral baseline is. Clearly, there is no such framework that derives necessarily from scripture and that’s why you pick and choose what you deem to be ‘biblical’ morality.

    Morality precedes theology. On this matter the evidence is irrefutable.

    1. I don’t question that morality precedes theology. God precedes theology. C.S. Lewis had a thought about what a moral baseline could. I want your thoughts on this. He stated that one moral entity we cannot escape from is the idea of “grievance” – person A did something that person B thought unfair.

      1. Which god, I wonder? Just a thought…

        I don’t like the term moral ‘entity’ as if grievance was an independent thing. It’s a term we use to describe a problem in a relationship that we deem to be unfair.

        The sense of fairness is absolutely essential to empathy and we know the feeling we call empathy is directly related to mirror neurons activating sympathetically so that we experience what an action to another would feel like if the action were carried out on us. This is the biological trigger to which we then assign intention and it is intention we adjudicate in moral terms.

  12. Well, it would have to be “the god”. Whether we know who that is or not. I agree. There is no doubt that there is a biological trigger. However, was that a contrived mechanism? Or just accidental? And, if it is contrived, what implications does that have for our fate as created beings?

    1. Your use the term ‘mechanism’ is problematic. Empathy is term to describe feelings and I think it causes a lot of confusion to think of this one feeling out of many as some kind of independent ‘mechanism’. It is part and parcel of how our brains now function (or not, if these feelings are impaired).

      Your question seems to me to be along the lines of “How did mirror neurons comes to be?” Well, we don;t know but we can collect evidence that leads in a direction.

      For example, many critters do have mirror neurons and many do not. Humans do. So can we find out what behavioural characteristics we share when these neurons are active? Well, again, we’re not positive but there is a very strong correlation between sophisticated social behaviours and mirror neuron activity. This indicates that these feelings we call empathy serve a social function, which provides a net benefit. In an evolutionary framework, the more advanced the social skills, the greater the chance of producing offspring who survive into maturity, and this is what we find in fact. Individuals with impaired empathy are much more likely to be shunned and marginalized than those with strong feelings of empathy. We can reasonably deduce that there is a greater benefit to feelings of empathy than if that ability is less or non existent. Furthermore, a strong case can be made that the ability would have died out over time if it caused a net loss.

      There simply is no evidence of us being ‘created’ in the sense of being a product of a creator. I know a lot of people assume there must have been at some point because their internal logic demands a starting causation so this causation must be god. But an understanding of evolution allows us an understanding of how life evolves and changes over time and there are gobs of evidence to support this.

      When we look at a complex being like a human, it’s like looking at the Grand Canyon. It’s awe inspiring and we wonder how such magnificence could ever come to be. But a study of the details reveals the root cause for both: something as simple and mindless as erosion – the movement of material due to gravity – over time can produce a Grand Canyon. No ‘designer’ for the end product we see today is necessary nor is there any evidence of some kind of intervention along the way to ’cause’ this fantastic natural feature. And, of course, the Grand Canyon is not finished because erosion continues.

      In the same way, it is difficult to look at the human creature and not marvel at its sophistication. But a study of the details reveals the root cause is something as simple and mindless as evolution – the branching of critters from common decent due to genetic and environmental interactions – over time can produce a human being. No ‘designer’ for the end product we see today is necessary nor is there any evidence of some kind of intervention along the way to ’cause’ this fantastic natural life form. And, of course, humanity is not finished because evolution continues.

  13. Either there is an orderly Creator/Intruder*/Sustainer of the Universe – ie. of this created, orderly universe that obeys “laws” interconnecting every particle/wave in tight mathamatical links (with a window of “random” probability *for God to insert newly designed irriducibly complex DNA designs, and probably much more control stuff) – OR there is NOT a such Creator/Intruder/Sustainer.

    Logic indicates there must be such an entity! (OR it all just “happened!” Denying causalities.)

    OK, so we are conscious entities, logically seeking directions or instructions – beyond what we can deduce observing nature & each other, as law/rules to enhace/prolong our personal existences.

    Logically we must seek it from the Creator/Intruder/Sustainer “God” as he would surely know what we “ought” to do! And so we hunt for such “higher wisdom.” Many groups have not found it and thus fabricate their own “word of God.” At most one group actually has such Word! (Since they all disagree, at most only one is correct. Some versions draw on many true [copied] words, but then they deviate. Islam has some things similar to Old Testament Law, but it also differs in key ways! The Koran and Old Testament law and examples CANNOT BOTH BE TRUE. The real one came first. Islam is a flawed copy, with manmade “humanist” deviations. The Koran is a “flat” work while God’s actual Scripture is filled with apparent internal and external contradictions, but these can be tightly logically solved along with “mysteries” and this incredibly complex book writen over long time stands out like a three-dimensional gem versus flat pictures of gems. Hence, it is the real deal! But commercial churching totally lost this vision because it keeps conforming to manmade “humanism.”

    I haven’t read this newest manmade “Good Book” but I assure you it disagrees with God’s Laws, with his calendar of events to keep**, and with the coming Warrior SAVIOR (of CALLED lineages only***) of Rev 19:11-21, who will overthrow all other regimes (I Cor 15:24-25) and rule all Earth (Zech 14:9). Until then we’re to get out of manmade law/money/politics “Babylon” (Rev 18).

    ** & ***
    Our sign to God (ignored by commercial Churching) is to keep original Sabbaths! (Ezek 20:12-20)

    Not all humans in the world are called! John 17:9 Much identity study is needed!

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