Moral relativism from an atheist?

I’m usually a big fan of many of the popular YouTube atheists but I was rather shocked when one of my favorites, BionicDance, put out two consecutive videos promoting moral relativism. Because they’re very similar in content, I’ll only embed one of them while just linking to the other here.

Now many have taken issue with some of the ideas Sam Harris presents in his latest book The Moral Landscape, and certainly I think some criticisms are more legitimate than others. But to argue that Harris is wrong in favor of some moral relativism is, as Harris would say, untenable.

I’ve written a lot about morality in the past here and elsewhere and don’t want to take much time right now delving into the multitudes of arguments I could present, so I’ll just keep this brief for now.

We really need to stop using the Christian definition of “objective” which is in fact wrong. Objectivity only means lacking in bias. That’s it. We make objective decisions all the time. To suggest murder is only wrong subjectively or only as a matter of opinion is simply absurd. We have rational, objective & secular reasons to not permit murder that has nothing to do w/ personal bias. and the “is/ought” problem is itself a kind of faith that seems to get parroted in order to close the door to further scientific inquiry.

Now BionicDance responded to this criticism by writing:

“We have rational, objective & secular reasons to not permit murder that has nothing to do w/ personal bias.”No, we really don’t.

Rational? Yes. Secular? Yes. Objective? Hell, no. It’s 100% personal bias.

And to this I responded by saying it’s not. This is how evangelicals distort the meaning of objective & subjective. It doesn’t require the outside agency of a deity or “the universe”. Morality is both objective & subjective. You’re right that it only matters “to us” but to claim that makes all morality relative is absurd. The existence of an other w/ the goal of killing humanity doesn’t negate objective morality within human society. Why is human society not an acceptable arbiter of objective morals within humanity?

I also added that if she at least agrees our reasons for not arbitrarily raping & murdering is rational, then under moral relativism, what makes it rational? It seems that under moral relativism, the most rational option would be to strictly look out for one’s own self-interest & ONLY aid others likely to be in the position to reciprocate. Under that system, nothing could be more irrational than giving humanitarian aid to third world countries who won’t be in the position to reciprocate in my lifetime.

To which BionicDance responded thusly:

Even the outside agency of a deity wouldn’t make something objective because it would be the deity’s subjective morality imposed upon us from without. To be objective, something ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BE THE PRODUCT OF A MIND.There is not, cannot be, such a thing as “objective morality”; the two terms are mutually exclusive as morality is 100% perspective based.

Now the first part, I completely agree with and frequently argue with Christians myself. The existence of an outside agency like a deity does not make something objective but merely that deity’s presumably subjective opinion. I only say presumably subjective because said deity might have objective reasons but simply under the hypothetical scenario of a moral system that’s strictly asserted by an authority, that alone is insufficient to grant that authority’s morality by fiat objective.

However, after that first part, she loses me again. My response to her is this. Again, I contest that definition of the word “objective,” as does every reputable English dictionary. The word “objective” objectively does not mean “cannot be the product of a mind” nor is that meaning part of any common usage. If you want to invent another word for that, that’s fine, but the word “objective” does not mean that. And again, I ask what makes helping those in no position to reciprocate rational under your moral relativity?

Her response:

objective: -adj; not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased (source: Random House Dictionary)If you’;d like to explain to me how ANY mind can be not influenced by feelings, interpretations or prejudice, or can be unbiased, you go right ahead and let me know. People can STRIVE for that, but they’ll never reach it.

Other definitions of objective:-of or pertaining to something that can be known, or to something that is an object or a part of an object; existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality.

– being the object of perception or thought; belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking subject

– intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings

…all from Random House Dictionary. Still don’t believe me, pal?

To which I responded, you’re helping your case. None of those definitions fits yours. Rather some of them come closer to what you define as subjective. You’re taking “not influenced by feelings” way more literately than intended. It doesn’t mean the one making the decision is 100% devoid of feelings of any kind, only that the decision is for all intents & purposes rationally-based rather than overly based on biases. You’re creating a false dichotomy. It’s not 0% vs. 100%.

That’s all I have right now. I’m more than happy to have a larger discussion on this topic.

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