And so it continues… (Where is Ron to point this out to us?) I think we at least have an understanding that no one here speaks for “science”. We may assert that the other person has a view we personally think clashes with science, and we may even be able to show that the consensus of the academic community agrees with us or doesn’t. But hopefully we are past the unthoughtful and rather arrogant assertion the other guy’s view clashes with science, when what we really mean is the other guy’s view clashes with my philosophical premises/framework/narrative- regarding the science.
To begin, we were told in the comment section of the last post, toward the end, that Bernard holds the same philosophical premise as the majority of philosophical naturalists/empiricists/atheists to the effect that we can only “know” if something is true (objectively true, mind independently true) if we can prove such, by a preponderance of the empirical and scientific evidence—if not an outright confirmation by such. Now, this premise, (and here is the problem), only applies to physical forces and physical objects. To then apply this philosophical premise to every question, and especially questions of metaphysics, such as whether or not morality is objective, whether or not God exists, whether or not miracles are possible, and so on, is what’s called scientism. It is the philosophical belief (not scientific) that in every sphere of life, in every question, in every discipline, whether metaphysical or otherwise, science (read empiricism) has the last word—the only word really. Needless to say, while this view has some celebrity/scientist support, it is still a minority and very controversial view in the rank and file. See here.
So we finally get to what, I think any objective person has long suspected: As I have noted over and over, this has to do with philosophical disagreements, not scientific ones. Bernard (and JP and Burk) are not coming to this from a scientific point of view, but a philosophical one regarding the science. I am of course doing the same—but I say it up-front. And that was the point of my last two posts and still is to a certain degree with this one.
We now see that Bernard, and I suspect JP (although he never answered my question) use the words “know” “access” “get to” and so on to mean empirically or scientifically. And, of course, when the anti-realist tells us he “knows” or has “access” and can “get to” the truth there are no moral truths, he does not mean he “knows” that empirically or scientifically. So Bernard’s use of those words and what he means wouldn’t even apply to the anti-realist (Bernard’s belief). The anti-realist may believe the science is on his side and supports his view, but the whole point of the Stanford link and quotes was to show that whether it is or not is debatable. It is certainly not the consensus view. As noted (All quotes are from the Stanford link noted in the previous post):
“These issues remain challenging and controversial. But the controversies are as much ongoing philosophical ones as scientific ones, and it is therefore unlikely that scientific results will settle them. Science will plainly not settle, for example, whether or not there are moral truths; and if there are, they will likely play an explanatory role with regard to at least some of our moral beliefs—something we will miss if we approach these issues from an exclusively scientific point of view.”
If I “hear” Bernard and JP correctly, what they were concerned about was if we grant that moral truths exist, “how” would we “know” what they are? What is the “mechanism” that would allow us “access” them? Well, as I’ve noted over and over, if they mean by those words to “know” empirically/scientifically, they are begging the question because one, we don’t accept the premise that we can only “know” or “get there” by empirical/scientifically means; second, even most anti-realists don’t think their conclusion is proven empirically/scientifically. Nor would they agree (as it would be self-defeating) that science/evolution somehow prevents them from “knowing” or “getting to” the philosophical conclusion moral truths do not exist.
In other words, this argument doesn’t even get off the ground. It either begs the very question of how we can know something to be true, or it asserts something that would apply to the anti-realist as well. Further, according to Bernard and JP whether or not morality is objective or not wasn’t even the issue. So which is it? If the issue wasn’t whether or not moral realism is true (meaning empirically true—which no one asserts), then why the “how” and “know” questions? And if the real objection was, even granting moral realism to be true, “how” could we “know” which moral assertions were “true”, then the Stanford writer addresses those questions (obviously not in the empirical sense, but in the sense of coming to that belief/philosophical conclusion), whether Bernard of JP agree with him or not.
So let’s bracket what Bernard and JP are asserting. They are not asserting anything as to whether or not the moral realist is correct. Moral truths may indeed exist. What they are asserting is, even if they did exist, how would we “know” have “access” to or “get there”? What is the “mechanism” for this? Now, let’s leave aside the errors noted above–because if we leave those out and consider what most people mean by “know” and these other terms, which really mean “come to believe such” here is the answer and it applies to the moral realist and anti-realist:
“Autonomy Assumption: people have, to greater or lesser degrees, a capacity for reasoning that follows autonomous standards appropriate to the subjects in question, rather than in slavish service to evolutionarily given instincts merely filtered through cultural forms or applied in novel environments. Such reflection, reasoning, judgment and resulting behavior seem to be autonomous in the sense that they involve exercises of thought that are not themselves significantly shaped by specific evolutionarily given tendencies, but instead follow independent norms appropriate to the pursuits in question (Nagel 1979).
This assumption seems hard to deny in the face of such abstract pursuits as algebraic topology, quantum field theory, population biology, modal metaphysics, or twelve-tone musical composition, all of which seem transparently to involve precisely such autonomous applications of human intelligence…”
“On the face of it, the mere fact that natural selection would not have ‘designed’ our moral faculties to track moral truths accurately (as it plausibly designed our perceptual faculties to track facts about medium sized objects in typical human environments) is not obviously problematic. There are, after all, lots of cases where we seem to be able to grasp genuine truths even though those truths play no role in the story of how our basic mental capacities evolved. We are able to grasp truths of quantum field theory or higher dimensional topology or, for that matter, philosophy (or so we are assuming in even engaging in this debate) even though those truths had nothing to do with why the basic mental capacities underlying these abilities evolved in Pleistocene hominins. Those capacities evolved in response to selection pressures in ancestral hunter-gatherer environments, and we have simply learned how to develop, train and exercise them in cultural contexts to discover truths that go far beyond any that were relevant to the evolution of those underlying capacities. Philosophers who endorse some form of moral realism have typically believed that we’ve done the same thing in grasping moral truths (see sections 2.4–2.5).”
And finally here (and remember these address all the “how” “know” “access” and “mechanism” questions if we are using them as the literature does, which is not empirically/scientifically—the error Bernard and JP make—but in the sense of coming to understand, to grasp, to believe such exists (or doesn’t) and so on):
“Finally, Street [Bernard and JP] challenges the realist [me] to specify what faculty or capacity [mechanism; or the ‘how’] might ground our capacity to arrive at [know, access] independent moral truths, how the former evolved, and how the latter could plausibly have arisen as a byproduct of it. She claims that there is no plausible story to be told here, since the capacity to grasp independent moral truths would have to be “a highly specialized, sophisticated capacity” akin to the human eye, and no such entity could plausibly emerge “as the purely incidental byproduct of some unrelated capacity that was selected for on other grounds entirely” (Street 2006, 142–43). But the realist’s story needn’t take that form. The claim will be just that our capacity to grasp moral truths—like our capacity to grasp philosophical truths about metaphysical necessity, say—is simply a byproduct of our general capacities for critical reasoning, combined with the evolved capacity for forming and employing normative concepts in our thinking and decision-making.” (Bold for emphasis)
And remember, any attack on this answer is an attack also on the anti-realist’s ability to do the very same thing, reason to the opposite conclusion, and thus self-defeating. Another clear error (also a very revealing one) Bernard and JP both made was assuming we could differentiate between some of the examples given (quantum theory, abstract mathematics) asserting that some are established by empirical proof. Well, proving any of those examples as being ultimately true isn’t even the point, whether proving means empirically or otherwise. The point is that they are all abstract, theoretical, and philosophical levels of discourse—and there is nothing in evolution that would preclude us from reasoning to any of the various conclusions in those areas (with some of those conclusions being morality is objective)—not that any of the conclusions are true or false (if we mean in the sense of empirically/scientifically). What was revealing was them telling us that whether or not moral truths existed wasn’t the point, but then the attempt is made to show that some of those truths can be shown (read proven empirically) to be true. Hopefully that wasn’t intentional and just ancillary to thinking the writer meant “grasp” and “discover” to mean proving empirically, the very same mistake made by Bernard and JP. And, of course, he meant no such thing. Why in the world would he have meant “prove empirically” when he noted at the outset that such a question is not going to be settled by science? Bernard and JP clearly miss-read the Stanford writer (and when they do read him correctly, they disagree with him, which means they disagree with the consensus view).
So, unless they were being disingenuous and not really trying to make the case moral realism is a false conclusion, meaning, in their minds, cannot be proved empirically/scientifically, and if they were really just trying to understand how we can “know” in the sense everyone else means here, then the above quotes from the Stanford source addresses those questions. It does absolutely no good to then keep claiming their questions are not being addressed. They are. If you don’t like the answers or disagree with them, then just say so. But to keep asking is a sure sign one is not listening.
Now, that we know the writer wasn’t using the word “grasp” or “discover” to mean empirically, we can see why they disagree with the Stanford writer. I’m sure most anti-realists do disagree with the writer. This whole area is debatable and not settled. But the consensus view is the view I share. If Bernard and JP don’t want to share the consensus view, that is their prerogative. Often the minority has turned out to be correct. They may be here as well. In the meantime however, what they cannot do and expect to be taken seriously is to suggest that moral realism—a philosophical conclusion, or our coming to that conclusion, clashes with science. And if all this time they meant by “know” and “access” and “mechanism” proving empirically, then they were being disingenuous and begging the question. Further, no one was arguing that one could even prove moral realism or anti-realism in that manner to begin with. Only Bernard and JP can tell us what they were really trying to get at here, but all the way around their arguments fail and it should be fairly clear their assertion of a clash with science was nothing more than what we suspected all along: A clash with their philosophical premises/framework/narrative’s interpretation and view of the science, which simply mirrors those of philosophical naturalism/empiricism and in fact is scientism.
So given all this, with the above in mind, let’s return to my assertion that it is Bernard’s claims that are illogical. From the previous post:
As for a view that is not logical, here it is: I believe God may exist, but if such a being did exist and acted upon the physical world it would be a violation of the physical laws or it would clash with what we currently know about physics or some other branch of science. Such is simply not a logical view; it also normally entails a straw-man view of God, and question-begging (so a triple failing). If God exists, such cannot violate any physical law by definition. For God to violate a physical law would mean the physical law was somehow inviolable in and of itself, a stand-alone force, uncreated, unmovable, impervious to the very being acting upon it who created it, the being from which it exists and has its law-like power. Again, it would be like suggesting that a person could not act in the ball experiment [see previous post]. Well, no, if they exist, then yes, they could. This belief comes from thinking of God as Bigfoot or some other object or force in the universe, rather than the ground of all being, the very thing making the universe possible to begin with including the laws by which it operates. If one is taking the actual view of the God of Christianity, Aristotle, Moses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, Mulla Sadra, and even Spinoza then it is logically impossible to assert such. One cannot make this argument against, as Hart has put it, that which is the:
“…one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.”
So this argument only works against some straw-man conception of God. It also begs the question when it asserts this God may exist, but this agent’s acting would violate physics or “clash” with what we currently know about physics/science, as this is the very thing disputed. Whether or not the clash is with science or a different philosophical framework/narrative is what’s disputed to begin with. Thus, not only is it not a logical view, it is question-begging and, in almost every case, based upon a straw-man view of God. All the way around it fails as any sort of logical response. At least the atheist is being logical knowing that only if we disallow God’s existence can we logically claim a causally closed universe with the ancillary logical implications. No such implications exist for the agnostic. Any agnostic out there worried about logic, should look first to this argument as it contains none. And by the way, it matters little if one does not like or agree with Hart’s definition of God—it is the one that needs to be addressed and not some straw-man view. And if one doesn’t understand the definition, then one needs to investigate and research it before commenting.
Another straw-man view of God trotted out in this argument is that, well, but if God can just, every now and then, capriciously intervene in the physical world, how can we trust the consistency of physical laws and the scientific method? Well, because God is not capricious or random or out of control in any imaginable fashion. God only acts for a reason and a reason always consistent with the nature and character of God as demonstrated in the life of Christ and the Christian narrative. So this straw-man objection is easily addressed. Like the agent acting in the ball example—he acted because he saw the ball was going to hit a child—God is not capricious or random. God is not a mindless tornado or earthquake or some trickster god.
And if one’s only objection is, yes, but it would still mean a miracle would clash with what we presently know about physics and science, one is not listening. The only thing it would mean is that there would be a clash with philosophical naturalism or the belief in a causally closed universe. Or, read post again. And if someone wants to show us how a causally closed universe is a recognized scientific fact, proven, widely accepted, and not a metaphysical belief—please do. Good luck with that. If one cannot however, then they need to give up this clear confusion of a metaphysical belief with “science” or “fact”.
Bottom line: the belief God may exist (agnosticism), but that this being acting within creation would violate some physical law or clash with our current view of science is illogical and inconsistent with the premise: “God may exist”. If God does exist, then logically miracles cannot be a violation of a physical law. Such would make the physical law greater than God and apart from God in some way that violates the very definition and understanding of “God” as given by Hart or classically understood. We can only violate a law when we ourselves are under the law—meaning the law has power over us. God, by definition, is under no such law. Further, if God does exist, then the universe is not a causally closed system, thus, logically, our view would be that physical laws are not violated and our current view of science remains consistent because such laws operate and predict consistently, except in those cases where God might act. This is not ad hoc, but a logical conclusion based upon the premise.
Thus, one cannot have it both ways. One cannot claim agnosticism, but then assert the world is such that we can know nothing of this being and characterizes this being’s (we can know nothing about!) acting in the world as a violation of some sort. These philosophical pre-set boundaries, these philosophical presuppositions regarding what this being (if such exists) can and cannot do are metaphysical faith claims, not science. To claim one is agnostic regarding God’s existence, but then basically assert, for all practical purposes an atheistic universe, is, in my view, not only illogical but disingenuous. Is one afraid to simply assert he is an atheist? Is it a pointless hedging of bets? What exactly is the point of asserting agnosticism but then outlining a (philosophical) view where God may as well not exist, because we could never know if such a being did exist (which is only because of the presuppositions I’ve adopted by faith) and if this being ever acted it would be a problem for science (and not really “science”, but his own world-view/philosophical framework)? I love it, an agnosticism that keeps all the doors closed (but claims they really shut themselves or that science proves they are closed) just in case there really is something out there! This may be agnosticism as neurosis or simply fear. It is certainly not logic. Further, if one is truly an atheist, or comes to the exact same conclusions they do in these areas, reasons the same way, then stand-up and be counted man. Otherwise, I think one is being disingenuous.