Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Manata "Unmangles"

Manata attempts to set the record straight in this post over at Triablogue.

Paul Manata:
The first thing to point out his title - interesting choice of words given that he's an expert on "secular morality." Touchpebble says, "Manata Mangles Secular Morality." Since there is no such thing as "secular morality" then how did I mangle it? For example, prominent up and coming atheologian Jeffery Jay Lowder states,

"On that basis, atheism alone is not enough to construct a worldview. Atheism does not entail any particular ethical theory; all that atheism entails is a rejection of theological ethical systems, such as divine command theory."

So, I have no idea how I "mangled" a non-existent category, viz. "secular morality."
Well, that explains it, then. Paul just doesn't think it exists as a category. From this Wikipedia link:


Secular ethics is a branch of moral philosophy in which ethics is based solely on human faculties such as logic, reason or moral intuition, and not derived from purported supernatural revelation or guidance (which is the source of religious ethics). Secular ethics can be seen as a wide variety of moral and ethical systems drawing heavily on humanism, secularism and freethinking. The majority of secular moral concepts consist, on the grand scale of the acceptance of social contracts, and on a more individual scale of either some form of attribution of intrinsic value to things, ethical intuitionism or of a logical deduction that establishes a preference for one thing over another, as with Occam's razor. Approaches like utilitarianism and ethical egoism are considered rather more radical.
This article is not one of Wikipedia's gems, and there are certainly better resources for more in-depth discussion of the topic. But there it is, right in a trivially obvious place to look. Paul satisfies himself with a quote from Lowder, that suggests to him that it just "doesn't exist" as a category. Lowder is correct: atheist doesn't ENTAIL any PARTICULAR ethical theory. There are any number of particular ethical theories that can operate under the umbrella of secular morality, as noted in the Wiki quote above.

Whoops. Paul hears Lowder say atheism doesn't require any one specific ethical theory, and makes the leap to "atheism doesn't support ANY ethical theories". Lowder was rejecting supernaturalism, but doing so in a way to leave plenty of room for non-magical ethical systems.


Paul Manata:
Furthermore, as I point out in my post, there is no one accepted "secular morality." I wrote,

"This theory is certainly not the accepted view of atheists and naturalists. Some would say that moral principles are necessary truths expressed as conditionals (cf. Shafer-Landau). Some would say that ethics are the products of social contracts (cf. Hobbes). Some would say that ethical principles are the product of virtues (cf. Aristotle, Mill, etc). Some would say that ethics are supervenient facts, products of the natural world (cf. Brink)."

But, perhaps Touchpebble will reply, conveniently, that I am being pedantic. So let's move on...
This Lowder's point, which Paul used as a mangling device above. It's a category, a set of different constituent frameworks. We could say the same thing about theism: there is no one accepted "theism". Some would say God looks like Allah, some like Yahweh, others Quetzacoatl perhaps. But that doesn't "disappear" theism. Paul's instincts are pedantic here, but he hasn't even reached it yet. He's just confused at this point.

Later on:
Paul Manata:
And as anyone who read my post would surely note, the bolded portion was never my argument. In fact, I claimed that there is a sense in which the atheist most certainly can be moral (the minimalist sense agreed to by both sides). In fact, in this sense, many atheists may be more moral than Christians. I did not seek to "decimate" the Ethical Atheist's paper by what Touchpebble quoted. I simply pointed out that there is a sense in which the theist can say that the atheist can't be moral. I even said that an atheist would agree with me here. (For proof of my claim, note what is stated by Byrne on the SEP article on Moral Arguments for God: "Perhaps this is a point at which proponents and opponents of moral arguments for God's existence might agree on. Moral considerations give all a reason to examine the proposition that there is a God very seriously. For if there is no God, morality is a more perilous enterprise than if there is."
Ahh, someone from the Stanford site said something with some of the same words as Paul used. He's off the hook! It is Stanford and all. If you read Byrne here, this is not the basis for a "sense" -- however trivial and "not my argument" Paul now wants to claim it is -- that atheists CANNOT be moral. From just above Paul's quote in the SEP article:
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
These versions of moral argument partake of the flavor, and thus of the difficulties, that surround the pragmatic arguments for religious belief found in writers such as Pascal and James. They will meet with the same response: this is wishful thinking dressed up as argument. The non-theist may press this specific point: only if one is convinced prior to these arguments of the premise that
  1. The world is likely to be organized so as to meet our deepest human needs

will one find them cogent. But (44) is just the kind of hypothesis that would be false if there is no God. Arguments such as IX and X thus look circular.

We have here a discussion of the difficulties involved in construction of moral frameworks with and without a God in view. And to be sure, proceeding to build moral frameworks without a supposed supernatural authority presents a significant challenge -- what Byrne calls a "perilous enterprise". It is this peril that points to the criticism leveled at theism -- so much "wishful thinking dressed up as argument". It's just the convenient utility of pointing to an invisible, unverifiable authority that makes theistic morality problematic.

Paul Manata:
So, Touchstone must say that Byrne mangles secular morality as well! Now, I'm a nobody. But to claim that Byrne mangles secular morality stretches credulity.) The obvious implication was, this is not the sense both sides are talking about when they come to the question: Can an atheist be moral? One can easily see, if one were to read my entire post rather than stopping and having a heart attack, that I made nothing of this claim of mine throughout the rest of the post. Touchpebble gives the impression to his reader that I intended the bolded portion to function as some kind of argument in my response to the Ethical Atheist. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. So, this is just flat out shoddy and sloppy work, even for Pebbles.
Paul is clueless as to what is being discussed in this article. Did you read the article, Paul?

Paul then proceeds to distance himself from the relevance or efficacy of the comments of his I looked at in my previous post on this. I'm taken to task for seizing on what really should be taken for what it is -- a trivial "throw-away" digression that really doesn't attach to the rest of his points, the good, relevant points in his post.

Paul thinks about my question of turning the tables...
Paul Manata:
I'd have to see the argument expressed more fully. At this point I'm inclined to say "No." In fact, I'd wager that most atheists don't have a problem saying that Christians can be "good" on myriad secular standards; realist ones, at least. Perhaps some subjectivists would say that those who believe in a god are immoral, and the factor that makes this right is the mere belief of the subject, then I'd agree that if that thesis were true, then I couldn't be good. Perhaps an emotivist thinks: "Theism, boo!" But why think anything of interest follows from that? If pebbles wants this point, I'll gladly give it to him.
This is to miss the point, and the way Paul responds to this 'turning of the tables' reflects the vacuity of his original sense. Indeed, there is a sense in which atheist can say 'theists can't be good'. He then says, without a hint of tongue-in-cheek, "But why think anything of interest follows from that?"

That was precisely MY objection to Paul's original "sense", this self-serving and narrow sense in which Paul gets to define the existential ontology ("God exists"), and the semantic freight too ("Gotta use my interpretation of the Bible to define the terms"). Yes, Paul, there is that "sense" on both sides of the coin -- self-serving and irrelevant. Paul complains that nothing "of interest" follows from the atheist side of that coin. But, well, there's a large paragraph devoted in his original post to the theist side of the coind. Nothing of any interest proceeds from that, either. But Paul is unaware.

Paul now begs off this bit of self-indulgence on his part:

Paul Manata:
Again, Pebbles is running with something that was never there. He's making something from nothing. I indicated that I was speaking about more than one sense. He's picking on what I called "my more qualified sense." That sense was only mentioned in (iv). It illustrated one small point. It was then left and never brought up again. It didn't factor in my "critique," at all. Pebbles simply jumped the gun. He is so ready to shoot his anti-presuppositionalist ray gun at anything that moves, he frequently shoots innocent bystanders. He's the Dick Cheney of atheologians! Pebbles is acting as if my critique was based off his bolded portion, when any one who reads what I wrote in toto can see that this isn't the case, at all. I furthermore do not believe that the "theism" in my post was "Calvinism." I think evangelicals of all stripes could affirm the vast majority of my views on virtue ethics. In fact, much of what I label "my position" on the matter has been gleaned from non-Calvinists. So, Pebbles is wrong on this score, too.
Paul's welcome to minimize his point. It certainly was exceedingly small. Paul here supposes he's hidden his presuppositionalism behind the curtain of "theism", but the larger point of Paul's post (which he stresses is what we should focus on, never mind his "more qualified sense") is that secular morality cannot point to a justification for its qualitative assessments -- "good", "bad", "virtue", "vice", etc. That's a key point for Paul, or any presuppositionalist because their worldview depends on a transcendental argument, one that theism in the general sense neither requires or embraces in many cases. That is, Paul MUST assert that secular morality cannot have a rational foundation because his faith is pinned to the idea that it cannot -- God must exist, presuppositionally, for there to be a basis for morality at all.

A theist who is an evidential, for example, isn't committed to this. He's free to question and doubt the foundations of secular morality, but the discovery or establishment of a secular basis for ethics doesn't invalidate his worldview as it does Paul's. So, whenever you get a presuppositionalist to comment on this topic, you can confidently expect the knee-jerk reaction, the only defense in the presuppositionalist playbook, and one which must be played and stuck to no matter what: there cannot be any basis for secular moral, because God is transcendentally required for morality.

Back to Paul:
Earlier in the post, Paul dismisses the argument the Ethical Atheist is adressing
-- "atheists can't be moral" -- as a "canard"; no one actually claims that, suggests Paul. But he can't hold off more than a paragraph or two before launching into just that argument.... "if theism is true", of course.
Paul Manata:
I dismiss it because the question he's addressing isn't framed that way in the standard literature. So, in this particular debate, the theist does not make that claim. I did point out, though, that if we did make that claim, the debate would progress beyong a mere discussion of normative or meta ethics. So, that claim could not be defeated by simply pointing out that atheists follow deontic principles, for the most part. That was the point. But, as my post indicated, I didn't wish, or need, to debate that point. I even cited W.L. Craig stating that our objection has never been "atheists can't be moral" (from our position, this is obvious. Thus Saint Paul: "There are none who are good." But we don't make that argument because it would take us right back into a "Does God exist" argument. If G then ~M. We would need to prove G first. Thus the argument could be thought of more like this: If objective morality, then God. Objective morality. Then God. If God then atheists cannot be good persons (in the fullest sense of the term). God. Then atheists cannot be good persons (in the fullest sense of the term). Thus the full argument here would be: {O --> G; O; :. G. G --> ~M; G; :. ~M.} But note that I didn't make this argument.), our objection, the one found in the apologetic literature, is that secularism cannot account for the deontic, normative action guiding prescriptions of objective morality, nor teleological normativity, nor axiological normativity. And that is what I was debating, not what Pebbles so underhandedly presents as my position in the context of the dialogue given the framing by the Ethical Atheist.
Yeah, snore. It's axiomatic for Paul: secularism cannot account for moral norms, because that would invalidate his worldview, a worldview he cannot arrive at reasonably, and can't be expected to leave reasonably. It doesn't matter what arguments an atheists presents, it's literally -- this is vanilla presuppositionalism -- a foregone conclusion. Say what you want, atheists, Paul doesn't need to consider or understand. He knows the TRUTH™ here, and all of this is just so much cynical philosophical swordplay in the fine traditional of van Til and his nihilist heirs. Atheists often make the mistake in reading statements like Paul's "cannot account for" as meaning it's theoretically possible, but atheists haven't succeeded.

That is a mistake.

Paul is telling us here that without God, one cannot account for moral norms, because, well God is the only account. You cannot, even in principle, atheist. All the random quotes Paul wants to throw out from SEP or wherever are just so much hand-waving distractions from the naked assertion he's committed to.


Paul Manata:
It's unfortunate that Touchpebble had to go on a quote mining expedition--he even states in his response to my that my comments were, "Pure gold"--in order to combat the evils I "most assuredly" spewed in my post. When one wears rose colored glasses, everything looks red. When one just "has it out" for you, then you get read in the worst light and, apparently, people don't even need to bother reading the entirety of your arguments. Like a Pavlovian dog, certain bells and whistles went off, and the machine just turned out a post. It doesn't matter if there is food or doggy doo-doo in the bowl, when the buzzer sounds, the contents of the bowl get eaten. No inspection, just conditioned response. Ironically, this is exactly what he charges me with, and I didn't even bring up Calvinism! Anyway, thanks for playing Pebbles, it's been fun, as always.
Poor Paul. The bad guys have it out for him. Well, I've read plenty in this post, and endless exercises in self-serving sophistry on this from Paul. It's no better on inspection than his "qualified narrow sense". If his Calvinism isn't showing through, then might ask: Paul, if the credentials of secular morality were established, what would that mean? For Paul, a presuppositionalist, his whole paradigm teeters and falls -- that's how he justifies his faith, his worldview, by the assertion of arbitrary, unnecessary axioms. Other theists -- even other Calvinists (there are more shades than just his particular one) -- can be honest and reasonable, at least in principle, with the presentation of such credentials. They don't hang their entire epistemology on God-as-only-possible-source-of-moral-norms.

The larger point, widening out from Paul's "narrow sense" in his long post is that for all its length, it is "content free" with respect to the arguments put forward by the Ethical Atheist et al. That is, when the statement is made that X is considered a norm by virtue of its status as social contract, Paul complains that that is not a sufficient "why". You can point to the evolutionary social constraints that established it, you can point at the biological and instinctual orientations humans bring to the table, their innate sense of empathy, desire, social connection and competition distilled through millions of years of development, and Paul will still say that's not a "why".


Because Paul has rigged any discussion he's willing to engage in in his favor, is why. The only legitimate "why" for any norm is "God", presuppositionally. So he can simply wave away all the mountains of research and knowledge you dump on his virtual desk. He doesn't even need to address it, any more than he has with the Ethical Atheist. He's presuppositionally right, and the rest is just "narrow sense" details.

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